Saturday 8 January 2022

Week One Biking Birder VI 2022 The Birds



Week One – January 1st to 7th 2022, 

Biking Birder VI and Biking Birder History

          A week goes by and birding opportunities have lacked because the focus of the week was getting as far north as my unfit legs would take me, heading towards the long-staying and hopefully not leaving Belted Kingfisher.

          January 1st And He’s off!

Birds in Mum and Dad’s back garden in Romsley, North Worcestershire, UK include Norman, their beautiful Aston Villa-coloured Nuthatch. Always brilliant to see Norman come to their bird table. Titmice include Blue*, Great*, Coal* and Long-tailed* and a lovely male Great-spotted Woodpecker* fed on the RSPB fat blocks.

          Buzzard* and Raven* are added to the list as I cycle away towards Stourbridge, Stock Dove* too.

          The first day ends with my BIGBY, Big Green Big Year list standing at 26, a total that reflects the lack of any visit to a nature reserve.

          Back in 2010, the year of my first Biking Birder advneture BBI, my first day of birding was at the excellent Sandwell Valley RSPB reserve. I ended that wonderful day with my bird list on 39.

          In 2015, my second Biking Birder adventure, BBII, started at Upton Warren, a superb Worcestershire Wildlife Trust Nature Reserve just south of Bromsgrove, my ex-patch from a time when I was a Special Needs teacher and I saw 53 bird species. Great to start with so many friends to have a natter with. Life as a Biking Birder is often very lonely.

        2016, Biking Birder III, BBIII, a very fit Biking Birder started his New Year’s Day birdwatch at Upton Warren once more. Actually I had slept in a hide there to try and get Tawny Owl on the year list. Successful with that aim, I videoed one hooting early in the morning. Sixty-four bird species seen that day included an extremely rare back then in 2016 Great White  Egret. Jack Snipe put in an appearance and of course it was a lovely start to the New Year being at such a favourite place     

January 2nd and 3rd   

Heading towards Aqualate Mere, Shropshire.

From Stourbridge High Street on the 2nd to Aqualate Mere, arriving there at 3.00pm on the 3rd, each day involves a short distance cycling compared to my previous exploits with a sleep in an unused, fortunately, disabled toilets. Rain had started to pour on the afternoon of the 2nd and finding the toilets was lucky. I sit and watch my beloved Aston Villa lose to Brentford and afterwards slept well.

Cycling had been tough and the mountain bike that I had instead of my usual touring bike was sluggish, partly because of the lack of muscle on my legs but also because of the gear configuration and overladen weight. Maybe a bike change will be required in the spring.

Kestrel, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Rook and Mallard were the only birds added to the BIGBY list on the 2nd. The day ends with my Bigby list now at 30.

Back in 2016 I had seen a Hoopoe in Kingswinford!

The cycle to Aqualate Mere on the 3rd is mostly along small, narrow country lanes and bird seen includes Lapwing*, Grey Heron*, Pheasant*, Sparrowhawk*, a lovely big female that flies across an adjacent field at head height before crossing the lane in front of me, Wren*, Song Thrush* and Moorhen*.

Aqualate Mere, a reserve I had never been to before despite my living for ten years in nearby Wolverhampton, turned out to be large with an excellent bird hide and nearly all wildfowl were on the far side of the water! I had come here to try and see a reported Ferruginous Duck but without a telescope the chances of seeing it were slim indeed.

Birds I did see here include new to the list birds; Cormorant*, Mute Swan*, Great-crested Grebe*, Canada Goose* and Tufted Duck*, Gadwall*, Goldeneye* and Coot* on the water, together with Marsh Tit* on the nearby feeder. Cetti’s Warbler* and Water Rail* Mozarted and pig squealed from the reedbed.

Lovely to watch so many Titmice, Nuthatch and Robin close by attracted by the large feeder.

A couple of close Tawny Owls* keep me awake in the night!

The Bigby list ends the day on exactly Fifty.

January 4th to 7th   Peddle, Peddle, Peddle!

More birding at Aqualate Mere in the morning of the 4th, a small boat came on the water, apparently the Environment Agency doing some sort of survey and this moved the duck around the lake closer to me. Scanning the large flocks of duck and Coot, Pochard*, Shelduck*, Little Grebe*, Teal*, Wigeon* and Shovelor* were listed but no sign of the Ferruginous. Two birders with scopes arrived but had no luck with the rarity. We had a sort of disagreement over the identity of the Marsh Tit. I was convinced it was Marsh. One of them said it was Willow. His friend refused to say, preferring to sit on the fence over the identification. Marsh Tit* it remains on my list.

Biking Birder III - 2016

Looking back at 2016, the year of my last UK Biking Birder adventure :

Grey Phalarope at the superb Slimbridge W&WT centre on the 4th of January, 2016 was the highlight bird of a location I am always thrilled to visit, no matter what birds are there.


The next few days involve pushing and cycling, going from small Shropshire and Cheshire towns such as Newport, where a small number of Pied Wagtails* came in to roost in the trees of the Parish church, Market Drayton and Middlewich until I reach where I am now, comfortably ensconced in a lovely big double bed in Winsford. The last time I was in this town was back in 1975 when I met Noel Edmonds whilst hitchhiking from Chester to see Aston Villa!

Sleeping quarters over the last few nights varied between a lovely hotel in Newport and a shed in Adderley. I kid you not, I was lucky to meet Barry the gardener of the local church, who told me of the shed. It was minus 5C that night and there was nowhere available within my cycling range.

 Inflatable mattress and a very good quality four season sleeping bag meant that I not too cold overnight, as long as I keep myself tucked down deep inside the bag and rub my thick socked feet together occasionally. It was so cold that I didn’t even peep my head out to watch the Test Match on my Smartphone. Those who know me know of my obsession with world’s best sport, other than Green Birding that is.

Another night is spent in a fabulous Air B & B, the first Air B & B I had ever spent a night in. The owner, Sarah was just brilliant, conversational and kind with her offers of drink and food. Sarah didn’t need to give me a bowl of cooked beetroot to add to my lentils but she did. The place was spotless and her small cockapoo or whatever they call them, DiDi was delightful if rather randy! LOL.

Birds seen en route includes a nice flock of Golden Plover*, two Treecreepers* in a roadside Oak tree, a single Mistle Thrush* on a school field, small flocks or individuals of Fieldfares*, gulls in one field includes Great Back Backed Gull* and a lane when approaching Winsford had Greenfinch*, around twenty of them. At the end of Friday the BIGBY list stands at 63.

The aim in week two of the Biking Birder VI adventure is to get to Samlesbury, the location of the Belted Kingfisher, hopefully see that bird and then head towards Southport’s Marshside RSPB Reserve, my local patch back in 1977 and 78 and Martin Mere W&WT centre.

I have a history of dipping Belted Kingfishers in Britain and seeing them in Florida has never been much compensation for that!

Wish me luck.

Love to you all, Gary

January 1st 2022 - The first Day of a New Year - Stourbridge Nostalgia


I look old as a selfie with Mum and Dad seeing me off from the door testifies. 65 and a half years old and yet still I am off with an overladen bike on yet another Biking Birder adventure. This will be my fourth whole year cycling – Birding BIGBY, Big Green Big Year, in the UK and my sixth overall. 
It is a warm Winter’s Day, too warm, the warmest ever recorded at 15.8C and it is dry with a little hazy sunshine as I leave Mum and Dad’s housing estate in North Worcestershire and push the bike to the main road. This bike is heavy!

    The aim of a BIGBY is to see as many bird species as possible without using any fossil-fuelled transport to get around. In the past I have beaten both the British and European BIGBY records, seeing 318 bird species in 2016 but as I used ferries to get to quite a fair number of islands, these records are tainted.

    This year I will NOT be using any ferries. Neither will I take a train to take a break and see my family, something I did in the past occasionally during the Biking Birder years 2010 and 2015. Mum will be 90 this year and I will cycle home for that major family event.

I will also cycle home from wherever I am at the end of February in order to participate in an event at Villa Park, the home of my favourite football team, Aston Villa, for Acorns Children’s Hospice.

 One of the most important aspects of my adventures is the support I give to charities. When I think of what it is that keeps me going day by day, through all weathers and obstacles, it is the fact that I am helping a charity by fundraising and that if I gave in, decided that it is too tough to keep going, then the each chosen charity would not receive the money. This year I am fundraising for Acorns Children’s Hospice in Birmingham and also doing the same for the RSPB. I won’t let them down because I know after having done whole year cycle around the UK events three times before, I know what is in stall. I know that I can get through anything and achieve my goals.

Acorns Children’s Hospice – 


    Donations and pledges keep me going and I love to see the amount of money each bird seen will raise rise day by day as more people make a pledge for a charity. I will donate 1p for every bird species you see Gary, or whatever amount per bird species. It mounts up and adds to the thrill of seeing birds. More about the hoped for pledges on a later date.

    So, I leave Mum and Dad after having seen seventeen birds from their garden; Nuthatch, Great Spotted Woodpecker, four Titmice species, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Coal and Long-tailed Tit, Jay, Carrion Crow, Magpie, Blackbird, Chaffinch and Goldfinch, Dunnock, Wood Pigeon, House Sparrow (1 – 17)and the bird that started the 2022 BIGBY list, a Robin, Britain’s National bird.



    Onto the bike, it feels so good to be back in the saddle, I head north and take the narrow country lanes towards Stourbridge. I shout Happy New Year to everyone I pass and occasionally stop to have a chat. Coronavirus has isolated so many people over the last twenty two months and meeting people even if socially distanced, is a thrill.

    Jackdaws and Collared Doves are in the gardens of a lane in Romsley and then Redwings, (20) just a few of them fly over, all adding themselves to the bird list.

    I am stopped by two dog walkers, Jason and Katy of St Kenelm's Dog Club, who are just putting two large dogs into the back of their van and am promised a donation for the charity of their choice.

    Next a stop at Ufmoor Wood, a Woodland Trust nature reserve with a good car park and information boards. 

A young girl, four-year old Mia, out walking with Mum Nicky and Nanny & Pa, is fascinated by the crew on my overladen bike. I tell Mia the name of each and tell the whole family reason they are with me.

Albert the Albatross - represents the RSPB, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

Bobette the Butterfly - is the beautiful logo of the superb Butterflies of Britain Business :

Sid the Rainforest Frog – might seem strange but this is to remind me of the Wildfowl & Wetland Trust. I bought him at Slimbridge, the amazing HQ
and visitor’s centre for the W&WT, over a decade ago now.

    Now you know! 
Actually when I left Lima debarking on Biking Birder IV, a Peruvian Green Birding adventure, I had eighteen cuddlies on the bike!

A Buzzard (21) circles overhead as I enjoy yet another natter, this time with Lily from nearby Hayley Green, originally from Quarry Bank so a proper YamYam, Black Country girl, now an older than me lady out for a country walk.

    Cycling on a few gulls fly over, Black-headed Gull and Herring Gull. (23)

    Stourbridge was the town of the happiest years of my childhood and as I reached Wychbury Hill memories flooded back of picnics, sheep, Sweet Chestnuts and Christmas Trees.

    A Raven (24) flies over as I stop to iPhone photograph the scene, a memory of a family picnic by the now renovated obelisk being disturbed by a sheep in the next field suddenly giving birth to a new-born lamb. Well, it would have been a calf, would it? The reason the memory is so clear in my mind as I lean on a 5-bar gate and look over the fields, is that all of the other sheep in the field rushed over to surround the mother, encircling her with their love and concern.

Carrying on and heading towards Pedmore, a Stock Dove (25) is in the stubbly area of a field as I photograph the view north towards Dudley and
Brierley Hill and a Green Woodpecker (26) yaffles and flies off towards Wychbury behind me.

    A little further down the lane I stop at the place we used to walk so often to access Wychbury Hill. Back in the mid-1960s there was an awful and evil mink farm here that I used to be both fascinated by and appalled. Even at the age of ten I was sure that having animals in such tiny cages, dozens of them, was wrong. Glad to see that there is no sign of it now.

    Wychbury Hill, maybe the one place where my love and passion for nature really began. Newting, tree climbing, woodland exploring, making dens, the area had the lot for a young inquisitive boy.

Down to Hob Green Primary School, my school when a child. Memories of Mrs Turley and Mr Gould, my two favourite form teachers there. Memories of kiss chase and Bulldog, fights and hide and seek, football and cricket, the latter had me captain of the school cricket team and in a match against the teachers, hardly fair, was it? I missed the wickets for an easy run out from a few feet away!

    A sad place to pass is where our family’s first dog, Penny got run over and killed as she followed me to school. I had kept trying to get her to go home but too late. Penny went under the back wheels of a car she chased and that was that. A morning off school as the driver took me to a police station to report the incident and then took me to school to explain why I was late! Strange to think that that seemed OK at the time.

    To St Stephen’s Park next, our family’s favourite park and brilliant for kids, after cycling past our first Stourbridge family home, 67 Drew Crescent. Stopped to natter with two lovely ladies, mother and daughter, Gaynor and Jo.

    Into the park and stopped once more, this time by an amazing woman, Sally Grainger, who told of her cycle ride for a charity, Myeloma Research, from Land’s End to John O’Groats.

Past another Stourbridge family home, 43 Brackendale Way, next door back in the mid-19060s to a famous snooker player, Rex Williams and into, eventually Stourbridge Centre.

    The state of my room and the service received at the B & B for the night will be left to you imagination. I never write negative reports but this place, fascinating as it was for its 1930s features came close to receiving one!
Day one complete with a short ride, lots of nostalgia and the realisation that maybe, just maybe I may be too old for this lark!

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

5 th January                                                            Tragedy                                              The Bee Gees   ...