Saturday 19 November 2016

No Hooded Duck so on towards Edinburgh,Than... Oh Forget It!!!

Friday 18th November Light SW

Cold and sunny, 2 to 4C

I await news on the hooded merganser. By 10:30 a.m. I decide that I need to move on and head off towards Edinburgh. It is wonderful to be cycling with alight breeze behind me and with the sun shining. Snow tops the hill a north of the Forth and everything feels good; better than things have felt since leaving Orkney.

Through Bouness and the first push of the day up a hill, a text from George Gay is quickly followed by one from The Oracle, Phil Andrews:
It's back!
A decision to make. Do I turn around and go for it?
I text Phil:
Forget it. I am half way to Edinburgh.
I know that for the first time in a week I am feeling OK, just. I say just because I know I am very close to the edge both physically and mentally. I am constantly tired and my head is feeling very tense. There is the thought that soon I will see my family again. My daughter, Rebecca lives in Newcastle, 160 miles away and I am heading that way.
There have been times in my life when things thrown at me have caused stress problems and my decision to continue towards Edinburgh relaxes me.

The ride from Bouness is beautiful with views along the Firth of Forth and a relatively easy road.
I am surprised when I reach Queensferry and I spend some time photographing the three fascinating bridges from the small quay. To the east is the rusty red rail bridge. To the west the old suspension bridge and beyond that the almost completed new road bridge.

Cycle paths, convoluted and with confusing signposts that have distance to city centre numbers that would provide physics students with motion parallax problems; 7 miles, 5 miles, 6 miles, 7 miles . . . . I have cycled two miles but I am still seven miles from the City Centre. This becomes funny and looking at all the signs one has the feeling that the people who put them up were having a laugh at cyclists' expense.

Great to be in a hostel in Edinburgh; in fact it is called The Hostel. Adam, the manager couldn't have been nicer or more helpful and Helen, also behind the reception counter, is a biologist with experience of butterfly surveying in Mexico. Both are wonderful characters and a pleasure to meet.
As are the French couple from Nice. With all emails, Facebook names and blogs are swopped for possible future meetings in Peru.

28.17 miles 1659 feet elevation up 1562 down

Thursday 17 November 2016

A Summary of BIGBY - Green Birding and The Big Green Big Year

Thursday 17th November A Day Off To Recharge

With just over six weeks to go before the end of this amazing year and with around 500 miles still to cycle, I have decided, partly due to today's weather forecast, to relax, take stock and think about my Green Birding achievements. I also have emails to send concerning projects that start next year but more about those nearer to Christmas. Suffice to say for the moment, 'Butterflies and birding, Manu and Israel,' exciting future ahead.

A BIGBY logo from Laura Erikson's blog

Green Birding, a BIGBY, A Big Green Big Year, is one where a birder aims to see all of his or her birds without the use of hydrocarbons.

Jim Royer has collated the main Green Birding achievements together on website :-

Taking his statement from there to clarify what Green Birding is all about.....

Traditionally, a green birding record should entail the use of no hydrocarbons, but the use of public transportation, or a ride to the start or from the finish, still makes it much more green than driving the whole route. This list notes which green birding records used no gas and those which have some use of gas: to drive to the start from the counter's residence, or from the finish to the residence. It also notes which counts used local public transportation or a ferry ride. Given the carbon footprint, the use of airplane flights does not seem consistent with green birding, so green birding efforts where the counter(s) flew to the location and/or back are not included here. This list does not distinguish whether or not the use of gas for a count is technically outside the count period, since the point of green birding is to count without a carbon footprint (not just move it a short period before or after the count period.) Unlike the motorized big years, the green big years should be allowed to start any day of the year and finish at the end of 365 consecutive days. Otherwise, green birders who live in hard winter climates are penalized because of the difficulty of starting and finishing on a bike in a freezing snow-covered location. The prior use of a car to scout for a green big day is noted. Given the difficulty of knowing how each participant got to a Big Sit, no notations are made for Big Sits.

Dorian Anderson has the BIGBY World Record at 618. In 2014 Dorian cycled around the USA beating the previous record by around 300!

Dorian's incredible blog is linked below:-

I love to dip into it at random and read of his exploits. Exciting Green Birding.

Ponc Feliu Latorre had the European Green Birding crown until this year. Ponc saw 304 bird species in his native Spain in 2013.

So, time for my own Green Birding trumpet to be blown. Having almost spent 35 months cycling the end of the third year is approaching. Let's look at each year starting with 2010.

The main aim for 2010, other than to survive it as the Winter weather in the UK was the worst seen since 1963, was to visit every RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) and WWT (Wildfowl & Wetland Trust) nature reserve. Over 200 nature reserves to be visited in a year, my route I had mapped back in 2005 as an idea to help me keep my sanity during a time of tremendous personal stress.

The weather was atrocious at both ends of the year and really I didn't have the money to do the year comfortably. I camped or slept rough most of the year. I remember vividly one night of extreme cold sleeping in a church porch in Essex, wriggling most of the night to try to stay warm. Sardines and doughnuts and waiting for supermarkets to reduce some food items at the end of the day kept me going; that and a determination to not only visit all of the reserves but also beat the UK Green Year list record then held by Chris Mills of Norfolk.

I achieved my aim on an icy day in Bedfordshire when a group of RSPB staff cycled with me the last few miles to the HQ, Sandy. I went over the finish line with a flat front tyre!

That day ended with ten inches of snow falling in an hour and me having to push the bike to Bedford. The following day I cycled back to my parent's home in Warwick. 55 miles cycled that day along snow-covered, slushy roads, four punctures endured.

I ended the year on 253, a new record. Looking back later I removed sooty shearwater. I considered the bird I thought I saw to have been not well enough seen to be fully certain of the identification. That brought me back to 252.

Then the British Birds Rarities Committee report into the rare birds of 2010 decided that the red-breasted goose that I had seen in Devon at Exminster Marshes RSPB reserve was an escape. I was now level with Chris on 251.

2010 was a wonderful tour of the whole of the United Kingdom. England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland, I visited them all, criss-crossing to remote areas, visiting ancient monuments, cathedrals and museums, schools and colleges along the way. I had a whale of a time meeting so many fabulous people and seeing how diverse a country the UK is.
I collected money for charity, for the RSPB, the WWT and also for Asthma UK; the latter due to myself having asthma.

Back then I didn't consider the fact that the list might be an European record. That was until one day when I was sitting looking at a western sandpiper at Cley. Sitting next to me in Daulkes hide were two Belgians who had come over to see the mega rare American wader from Brussels. They recognised me as The Biking Birder and told me that their friend, Laurent Raty was trying to beat my European record. News to me that birders from Belgian knew me, I never did hear whether Laurent beat my, and Chris' total of 251.

In 2014 though I heard about Ponc Feliu Latorre though. A Spaniard had not only beaten 251, he had gone past 300! I had to beat that! I started to plan for 2015.

2015, I wanted to be the first British birder to get past 300. I wanted to visit every RSPB and WWT nature reserve again and yes, I really wanted to beat Ponc. England versus Spain, bring it on!

A similar route to 2010 except for May being spent in East Anglia. I had missed several easy birds n 2010 by not going over there. If I was to get close to 300 I needed to see turtle dove, stone curlew, nightingale and hobby.

By June I realised that the 300 target would not be achieved but I kept going. The hope of a phenomenally good Autumn in the Northern Isles and the desire to visit all of those fantastic nature reserves kept me pedalling.

I ended up on 290. Creditable but not 300. I slept in a bird hide on New Year's Eve and carried on.

Now I have seen 300 and I have beaten Ponc. My total BOU (British Ornithological Union) is 315. AERC, the European listing authority has me on 312; hooded crow, mealy redpoll and Northern Harrier aren't treated as separate species on here.

I am still collecting money through donations for the three charities previously mentioned; Asthma UK, the RSPB and WWT. Also I amcollecting money for the incredible rainforest children of Chaskawasi-Manu in Peru.

 These wonderful children leave their homes from deep in the Manu rainforest, to stay with volunteers and staff at the Chaskawasi centre, in order to access the local school and get an education. Their desire is to help protect their rainforest and I had the privilege of meeting these children in 2014. I will be returning there next year. A truly wonderful project that deserves mine and hopefully your suppport.

Please if you can make a donation to any of the charities then please do so. The links to each are at the top right hand side of the page.

Many thanks to all who have already done so.

Six weeks to go. Will Ponc have a go at beating the new record? Will another Green Birder have a go themselves? Hope so.

Meanwhile I await the news on a hooded merganser. It flew away yesterday and is being searched for as I relax.

No problem . . .  it is back!

Wednesday 16 November 2016

Onward into The Wind and Rain

Wednesday 16th November Fresh to strong SW

Cold with a few heavy showers.

A strong breeze in the face greets me as I turn from Kinross High Street around to the west, onto the road to Falkirk.
It is a cold wind and the road is a busy one with lots of large lorries passing. Rain showers make the going even more over
Eventually over the old Kincardine Bridge, past the Falkirk Horses and into Falkirk. 

I need a rest. The weather forecast for tomorrow is vile. My eyes are bloodshot and after five days cycling, I am going to have a day off.

26.11 miles 718 feet elevation up 967 down

Tuesday 15th November Fresh SW

Mostly sunny, another lovely day. 10C

Across the long Tay Bridge from Dundee and along roads that take me west along the southern coast of the Tay Estuary. Autumn colours come to the fore, vivid reds and oranges.

I pass a group of Eastern Europeans are working hard covering a huge area of a brassica crop with mesh. They wave, I wave back. They shout “good morning;" and ask how I am doing. “fantastic!” I shout back.

Hills and quiet country lanes, pheasants and signs asking for cars to slow down. The local farmer doesn't want his pheasants hurt by cars. No, not when he can shoot them himself or be paid by bird murderers who enjoy blasting easy targets out of the air. Daft thoughts go through my head. Why don't they shoot sheep? They are just the same sort of easy target. Some people get immense pleasure out of shooting lions, elephants, giraffes. Some people!
I hate the hypocrisy of it all and cycle on.

Today's landscape is far more hilly than of late, which means more, get off and push moments.
Through Newburgh and over to Auchtermuchty, in both places I stop awhile to peruse the World War Memorials. More slaughter, as evidenced by the names, some of them repeated on plaques. To the glory of God, King and Country; each memorial gives a variety of responses to this basic idea of why the brave boys were killed. Last year I observed the two minutes of silence at 11:00 a.m. on the eleventh day of the eleventh month at Auchtermuchty.

I have dozens of photographs of War Memorials around Britain. I have collated them over the last two years. I must make a Facebook group page on the subject. The memorials never cease to dismay me as the massed names demonstrate the devastation caused to each community and family visited. Lambs to the slaughter.
My Grandad Prescott, My Dad's Dad, was there at the Somme. Wounded three times, he survived, physically.
Negative thoughts.
I need my latest strategy to move onto new, happier thoughts. Disneyland yesterday, how about birds whilst cycling today. I try to think of special birds chronologically but my memory won't allow such disciplined order. I want to think of the rarest birds seen yet my mind immediately goes to a black redstart that came and sat by me at the lookout over The Severn Bridge whilst I was eating a tin of mackerel back in 2010.
The strange, washed out but very beautiful stonechat seen with Howard Vaughan at Rainham Marshes RSPB reserve pops into my head next.
The Syke's warbler at Channerwick, Shetland, now that is more like it; a real mega rare bird.
Tomorrow I will try to remember the special birds from last year's New British Green Record list.

34.87 miles             1981 feet elevation up                1699 down

Four Days of Cycling . . . I want to go Birding!

Monday 14th November Fresh SW

Mild and mostly sunny, a lovely day. 14C

Scanes of pink-footed geese fly overhead as I pass Montrose Basin, an large inland estuarine habitat. No time to stop at the superb Visitor's Centre sadly; I need to push on.
Push it is as I climb a hill towards Arbroath. The wind at the top is in my face yet again and becoming rather tiresome. I need a strategy to stop what I call the demons from dominating my thoughts. At times like this, when every day is a long cycle ride, negative thoughts take over the eternal conversation inside my head. Incidents from my past turn up vividly, especially those involving my late wife, Karen. Why the sad or bad ones? Recent political events take over. Disappointment and disgust. Climate change, thoughts of the people who deny it is happening.
I pass some large wind turbines.

Happy thoughts required. After over twenty two months on the road I know what to do. I choose a holiday destination from the past, Disneyland Paris. One replete with wonderful moments, as a family of husband and wife with four children we went there a lot.
In my mind I can see ever attraction, every pathway, even every toilet! I choose a circular route, clockwise.
I start with arrivals. The first time with my own two children, Rebecca and Joshua. I had driven to Paris from Wolverhampton, taking an overnight ferry and they being so young at the time, seven and five years old, had no idea they were near Disneyland. 

Their faces as we came up to the archway entrance brought tears to my eyes then. The memory of that moment makes me laugh out loud and tear up again. I remember how poor I was at the time, 1993 and how when my second wife divorced me, I promised my children that one day I would take them to Disneyland. Well we may have had to camp instead of enjoy the expensive luxury of Disneyland Hotels but we had made it there.

Another memory, Joshua with a twig and a short length of fishing line, a hook and a worm, caught a small trout! Delicious addition to a meal shared with a family in the tent next to ours.

Another arrival, once more the children having no idea where they were. This time though with four children. I had met and married my late wife and she had two children, Claire and Sarah. Whilst staying at my brother Paul's house in Brittany Karen and I took the children to 'the beach', or so they were told. Leaving very early in the morning, with four children sleeping in the back of the car, their ages now so perfect at ten, nine, eight and seven, I drove to Paris. Only when Rebecca and Claire, the two oldest, noticed Disneyland signs on the motorway about ten miles before the famed destination, did the penny drop. Their faces captured in a photograph, comes into my mind to dispel all the negatives.

That's better, happy moments. Cycle on Pressa!

Through Arbroath and a wonderful cycle path is adjacent to the busy dual carriageway practically all the way to Dundee. It has great tarmac and the almost flat landscape means that the cycling is reasonably easy despite the wind.

31.41 miles 1131 feet elevation up 1104 down

Monday 14 November 2016

On The Road Again

Sunday 13th November Fresh SW

Cloudy morning and heavy rain in the afternoon.

Cricket delays me. England may beat India in the First Test match. Wicket after wicket is falling.
It is a draw. Very creditable for England though.

Trees. Large, tall beech trees arch over the road with a variety of colours of Autumn leaves. These are the first such trees I have seen for over three months. No such trees on the Northern Isles. Well not along any roads that I have cycled down.

A great tit on a roadside fence post. The first great tit seen in over three months too. No great tits on the Northern Isles too. I remember that a blue tit on Fair Isle, seen back in October, was a very rare bird there.
Back to the reality of the Mainland the plan for the day is to cycle just twenty two miles from Stonehaven to Montrose. The weather forecast is for heavy rain from 4:00 p.m. Add to that the wind is in my face making the going rather tough.

My body has to get used to cycling distance again. A different group of muscles are needed compared to the ones used for walking and general birding. The last three months spent mostly birding, mostly walking around the ditches and dykes, cliffs and geos of Fair Isle and North Ronaldsay, have been superb but now I need to cycle many miles every day.

I stop at a War Memorial to pay my respects.

Rain starts to fall at 2 o'clock.

In a beautiful Bed & Breakfast, The Hermitage in Montrose; one where I stayed last year too, I find a friend request on Facebook from my wonderful nephew Tim. Friendship accepted, I message Tim to say hello. He replies asking whether I have broken the European record. I go to Jim Royer's superb Green Birding Record blog to show Tim and am surprised to find that the banner photograph at the top of the page is me! Thumbs up Pressa.
I send a message of thanks to Jim. Here is his reply:-

You've really done well this year! And you've been a great ambassador for green birding. Congratulations. I've enjoyed following your year. Good luck for the rest of the year!

Thanks Jim and Tim.      

22.11 miles        1077 elevation up          1065 down

Sunday 13 November 2016

Hell on A Ferry.

Saturday 12th November             Light W                        Sunny

What a night! Maybe one of the most terrifying journeys of my life, the ferry from Kirkwall, Orkney to Aberdeen was truly horrific. Lying down on the floor between some seats in the cinema the boat rose and fell with a huge swell. It banged and shook violently with every fall and rocked from side to side, I have been on the same ferry a number of times in the past and experienced calm seas and rough but never as bad as this.
Kiss the ground and cycle away fast. Morning is calm and sunny. Where has that gale gone? It is a beautiful day.
Now to get back to serious cycling again. Back to the demons and angels of distance cycling, the thoughts that enters one's head include ones that aren't wanted. Back to the loneliness and pain. I want to go home.

Reaching Stonehaven late morning I feel tired after the night with little sleep. On seeing a Bed & Breakfast I stop to consider having a rest. Luda, the owner comes out and I am soon fast asleep in the most comfortable bed I have had for months.

On waking I go into the town and buy a couple of books from a charity shop. Then I am accosted by a lady with a tray of chocolate truffles! How can I resist? I can't. Truffles are my favourite sweets. I meet the maker, a young lad who has started a new business making and selling these chocolate delights. 

I buy a box of them and share some, not all, with some young people in uniform, army and navy who are selling red poppies for The British Legion.

15.39 miles                 719 feet elevation up       713 down

BB 2010 Oops, crash and a motorway Abominable Snowman in Hemel Hempstead January 5th

5 th January                                                            Tragedy                                              The Bee Gees   ...