Sunday 8 October 2023

Biking Birder 2010 - January 2nd. Middleton Lakes RSPB Reserve and The MIGHTY Aston Villa


BB2010 Day 2

2nd January                                                                              Skating Away on the Thin Ice of a New Day

                                                                                                                                                                            Jethro Tull 


Awake early in my strange bed, too early for John and Mary so I lay reading a book that I had brought along with me, Birdwatchingwatching by Alex Horne. Interestingly written but I felt, lacking in birds. Maybe you will feel the same about my little tome.  I saw the last moments of a glorious pink sunrise as I watched from their back-patio window, counting the passing birds. Three large seed feeders were well positioned to one side of a large garden and a regular procession of titmice, Great, Blue and Coal Tit [40], Robin, Blackbird, Collared Doves [41] and Starlings came to inspect and feed whilst Lesser Black-backed and Black-headed Gulls passed over. Even a Buzzard [42] was seen, lazily heading west followed by attendant mobbing Carrion Crows.

Two inches of snow greeted me outside as I opened the door but undeterred, I set off for Middleton Lakes. John had wanted to accompany me on his bike but the snow and the ice prevented that. Photographs were taken at the doorway; thanks were given and I was off. Not so great navigation had me going in the wrong direction up the wrong street but kind words from a lady motorist put me right and I was soon cruising downhill towards Middleton Hall and through the rather posh entrance way into the RSPB reserve there. With Rook [43] added to the list on the way and a Grey Heron [44] seen on arrival, I walked around the immediate area near to the imposing hall and, on finding the tucked away RSPB offices, I was soon joined by Gary Jones, the warden, who I am delighted to say, spent a good two hours plus showing me around this new reserve. We were soon talking away as though we had known each other for years. So much chat in fact that the birdwatching seemed a little intrusive. A party of those fabulous ball of fluff birds, Long-tailed Tits [45], avian lollipops, were watched though. Oh, to one day see a stunning continental race bird with its pure white head, an ambition bird.

“This field will be developed for families. A sort of ‘do what you like’ area,” said Gary. Yet another RSPB warden met in two days, with each one displaying the same passion for their chosen reserve. It had been Chris at Sandwell Valley who thrilled about talking of future developments there and now here was Gary delighting in each new habitat.

Now here was habitat creation on a grand scale. Masses of reeds, Phragmites, thousands of them and all hand-planted by hundreds of RSPB volunteers in one area. There was also an area of wetland scrape. “Over there will be a broad walk,” explained Gary pointing to beneath the trees that contained a large heronry, each of the twenty or so nests with two holes in the bottom. An old joke I used to tell my young YOC-ers (Young Ornithologist's Club, the now gone branch of the RSPB for youngsters) which they, being gullible, believed were for the heron’s long legs to hang through so that the sitting bird wouldn’t get cramp.

Back in 2004 I had cycled here from my place of work at that time, a Special School named Castle School in Walsall, to what was then called Drayton Bassett Gravel Pits in order to see a very rare wader, a Broad-billed Sandpiper. It was not a lifer for me. I had seen one at Coton, just a few miles to the south years before. Now the area of working gravel pits had gone, to be replaced by what will be a fabulous, diverse range of habitats over an expansive area, once the habitat creation projects have matured. The thought of having such a reserve so close to my beloved Midlands was exciting.

Together we walked, Gary and I, birding a bit and chatting. There were clear views towards Tamworth, with the vertical drop of the Apocalypse ride at Drayton Manor theme park poking above the trees. I remembered going on that a few times in the past with my children, Rebecca and Joshua and my step-daughters Claire and Sarah!

As at Sandwell Valley the day before, birds were restricted to small patches of ice-free water. Still there were good numbers of Mallard, Pochard and Tufties together with a Great-crested Grebe [46] and a few Goldeneye [47]. Down to a pathway of sorts adjacent to the River Thame where thirty-seven Gadwall had found an area to their liking: the site for a future hide. Beside one large pool Gary pointed out a few stubs of darkened wooden posts sticking up near the water's edge. Here was evidence of a prehistoric fish pen which had been excavated by a local archaeological group. Uncertain of how old it may be, Gary said they thought it might be anything up to four thousand years old. What birds would the builders of this have seen so long ago and which ones would they have eaten? Back to the 12th Century Middleton Hall and into its café to warm up and enjoy coffee and cake.

Other birds seen during the visit included Cormorant, Herring Gull, Linnet, Shelduck, Grey Wagtail, Kingfisher, Reed Bunting, Great-spotted Woodpecker, Nuthatch, Fieldfare [48 to 57] and a male Kestrel. (Remember this last bird when I talk about my final year list will you please?)


 I cycled on, after saying goodbye to everyone at Middleton RSPB Reserve, to a ‘sacred’ football ground nearby, Bodymoor Heath the training ground for my team, Aston Villa. No players were there as I stopped to ask the security guard to take a photo of me by the Villa sign. They were all at Villa Park awaiting a match against Blackburn Rovers in the third round of the waning FA Cup; a match incidentally that the Villa won 3 – 1. I say waning as the FA cup is a pale reflection from what it was before the 'big' teams decided to put out weakened teams when playing in it. A sad reflection of how football has changed since the creation of a Premier League. How disgusting for Manchester United to boycott the iconic tournament in 1999-2000, in my opinion.

I will admit to being a passionate Aston Villa fan and have in the past been a season ticket holder. Always in the mighty Holte End, I have been there for the ups, like when we won the First Division back in 1981, as well as at the European Cup Final at Rotterdam in 1982. Playing against Bayern Munich, midway in the second half, Gary Shaw put a ball through to Tony Morley. Toney turned the full back inside out before putting the ball on a plate to Peter Withe standing alone in the six yard box. The ball came across and, via Peter’s shin, into the net it went after hitting the right hand post. Into the net went Peter With and on turning he was floored by the Villa midfielder, Gordon Cowans. Peter, Gary Shaw and Gordon all ended up on the floor as we, the massed Villa fans behind the goal went ecstatic! Better than sex, Villa held on to win the European Cup that day. I was there and took the consequences of missing a couple of days from work on my return. I did not take a sickie. Everyone in the school knew where I was! UTV. VTID.    

The rest of the afternoon was spent cycling to Warwick, the home of my Mum and Dad, Mary and Brian. I had a brief visit of Kenilworth Castle as I was passing. I had already decided that during the year I would visit as many special places as possible whilst circumnavigating the UK as well as visiting the RSPB and WWT nature reserves, castles, cathedrals, museums, prehistoric sites and the like.

I arrived home at 4.00 p.m. much to Mum and Dad’s amazement. I had not told them that I would be calling in. “You’ve only just gone!” Said Dad. “I’ve given up,” I joked.                                                                               


35.25 miles                                                                                                                                         751 feet elevation up   

                                                                                                                                                                 1054 feet down

Photographs of birds were taken during BBIII 2016


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