Saturday 7 October 2023

I'm Back! Let's Really Push the Green Birding Button. Future plans and Retrospective Plus BBI 2010 January 1st

 

Hello again.

Back to blog once more, my hope is that through future posts you may be inspired to join the world of Green Birding by participating in the activity, that you will share your Green Birding experiences through the various social media outlets, especially with me and who knows, maybe the world Green Birding and all of its forms and participants will change your life as much as it has mine over the last 14 years.

To restart my Biking Birder blog, I can think of no better way than point you in the direction of a superb blog, The World of Green Birding by Jim Royer of California.


 Image -  Cape May, USA Big Sit

https://greenbirdingworld.blogspot.com/ 

Being updated at the moment, the blog does have a great description of what Green Birding is and reason for it . . . 

WHY GREEN BIRDING?

Green birding has developed as a way to bird that does not have a negative impact on the environment. Even when talk of global climate change was fairly new to most of us, some birders realized that the extreme driving and flying that a few birders undertake for big years and big lists, is detrimental to the environment. If a person really cares about birds, it seems inconsistent to be driving and flying thousands of miles to pursue birds (with the extreme carbon footprint of such efforts). The BIGBY movement that developed in Quebec was an effort to bird in a more environmentally responsible way and to encourage birding in one's local patch. This also fosters the study all of nature in the birder's local area, not just birds. It leads to a deeper appreciation of your local area and, hopefully, even preservation and restoration efforts there. In this way, green birding often leads to green naturalism and nature activism.

There are birding advantages to green birding. On a bike or on foot, birders can see and hear birds all the time, not just at stops or for fleeting moments through the windows of a speeding car. Green birders are able to stop at any time to see and study birds found en route, not just at pullouts. Consequently, more species are seen in less distance and green birding big day species totals are approaching the totals once only recorded on big days in cars, even though the distance covered in a day by bike is far less. 

Green Birding also still satisfies the competitive urge possessed by some birders. The sport of birding can be done responsibly. The Big Green Big Year,  "BIGBY," was soon followed by all sorts of variations on big green years for counties, states and countries. Birders started green big days, green big hours, county green lists, walking big days and big years. The Big Sit, which originated independently of this movement, was now seen also as a way to green bird. Birders could satisfy their urge to compete at various levels in a way that was not bad for the environment and which fostered a greater appreciation of birds and all nature in their local area. This has been further promoted by eBird, the online bird database developed by National Audubon and Cornell, with its local patch challenge. With eBird, birders are not only encouraged to bird locally, but to note nesting and seasonality of birds, important data for the study of birds and the effects of climate and habitat change.

Green birding has a physical challenge not present in motorized big days and big years. Top big days often involve over 100 miles of cycling over varied terrain, and big years can involve thousands of miles of pedalling. This additional challenge heightens the satisfaction of a successful big day or big year. It usually pushes those participants, who are able, to new levels of fitness. For those who are not physically able, there is the big foot hour and the Big Sit. A wheelchair category in the green birding records is certainly open for any of the green birding categories.

Last, there is a more spiritual side to green birding which becomes more evident on long bike rides. The birder on the road for a big day, and especially for multiple days, experiences the terrain, the weather, the sounds of the wind, birds, cars, and sees the effects of man on the terrain more intimately than those speeding by in a car. The birder starts to feel more like a slow bird moving from one location to another. The green birder is apart from the people speeding by and, like a bird, is also vulnerable to those cars and the weather. Days on the road aren't boring; the birder gets into into a groove after a few days: where the 60 to 100 miles (or more) on the bike feels routine. The bicycle birder achieves a different and satisfying mental state on the road. In the quest for birds the green birder becomes like a bird - totally in the moment.


The page has a handsome Biking Birder at the top, wonder who he is, and photos of Dorian Anderson, Ponc Feliu Latorre and the incredible though sadly departed Theodore 'Ted' Parker.

Future posts will detail these three Green Birding superstars and others.

A brilliant book by Richard Gregson gives more details . . .


Available on Amazon . . . 

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Green-Birding-Birds-Protect-Environment-ebook/dp/B00CBX00M2/ref=sr_1_1?crid=1VX0Z19IY7K42&keywords=green+birding+gregson&qid=1696659697&sprefix=green+birding+gregson%2Caps%2C81&sr=8-1 

Now before starting with the story from my beginning, January 1st 2010, just a quick mention of next year, 2024.

On May the eleventh, which by a huge coincidence is St Ponc's day, the patron saint of beekeepers and herbalists and also the name of the European Green Birding champion extraordinaire, Ponc Feliu Latorre, eBird will be having their amazing worldwide Global Big Day.

Ponc and I hope that Green Birders everywhere will take the opportunity to do a Global Big Day and make it the world's biggest Global Big GREEN Day.

A lot more on that to come.

So, lets go back to my first day on a Biking Birder adventure, 2010 when after years of local patch watching by bike, I left my Special Needs teaching post to cycle around the UK . . . 

1st January 2010                                                            Rock n Roll [Led Zeppelin Live]

                                                                                                          Alright, let's go!

 

It was near dawn as I walked down an icy country lane atop a high hill at Romsley, Worcestershire. Stars shone in the clear sky and Orion, the Hunter, was easily seen as distant traffic hummed on the M5. The hunter would look after a kindred spirit, wouldn't he? For what is birding but a form of modern-day hunting? A bird not for the pot but for a jot, a pencil mark in a notebook.

I strained to hear the bird that I wanted to be the first bird on my Green year list for 2010. That bird I hoped would be a Tawny Owl. Conditions were perfect for the owl, the air being very still and very cool, with a deep, crispy frost making the country lane slippery underfoot. The owl’s haunting call would travel a long way in these conditions and its mate would respond with a similar refrain. Tu-wit . . . tu-whoo. No rain this morning, the wooing would be intense. No too wet to woo.

The way became steeper as I approached the small English Oak woodland along the northern edge of the road, silhouettes of the trees showing their presence against the grey sky, with the distant kaleidoscope of the Black Country streel lights providing a backdrop. With an almost full Moon setting behind the woodland, I waited, straining my ears for the slightest sound.

Birding radar primed with my hands cupping my ears, a minute passed. Then another. Somewhere distantly an early rising dog barked.

A sudden sound.

CAW!

A Carrion Crow cawed. [Bird number – 1]

Damn!

My first bird of the year was a crow, symbol of doom and death. Hadn’t Van Goff used them to say so in his last painting before committing suicide, The Cornfields? That caw was a great omen for what was to pass over the coming months, yet maybe it was “cor!” Read these pages and decide for yourself how I viewed the Biking Birder year at the end of my adventure.

Actually I like crows and the whole Corvid family, for they are intelligent, enterprising and in some cases such as the Jay, extremely colourful birds. Indeed so wondrous are the colours of a Jay’s feathers that, as a teenager, I had an after school part-time job, using them to make flies for the fly fisherman. Sitting around a large, rectangular table, covered with the brightly coloured feathers of many birds, a small vice in front of me to hold the barbed hook and the merry Brummie-accented chatter of the many older ladies with the same, was a lovely way to earn extra cash for my pubescent hobbies; fishing, football and feathers. All the ‘F’s, a mantra for every teenager. Make sure your hobbies begin with this letter by adding philately and photography to the list. Flinging for cricket!

A few seconds after the crow the Tawny Owl [2] hooted, disappointed at being relegated to second. I tried hooting myself with licked, cupped hands but the tawny recognized the falsity and stayed silent.

Now if you haven’t tried this before, here are some simple to follow instructions.

Put your hands together as if you’ve just clapped. If the Tawny Owl had hooted first, I would have done. Then clasp your fingers around them, slide your thumbs together and open up the palms, still with fingers clasped, to make a sound box. Put your thumbs together and open them against an index finger to make a small hole revealing your inner palms. Blow into the hole over the middle knuckles of your thumbs. Practice and make a hoot. You’ll have a hoot trying. If it doesn’t work straight away, lick around the inside of your palms to increase the seal. Wash your hands first though, Health and Safety!

I turned back, returning to my sister and brother-in-law, Donna and Charlie’s house nearby. I had spent the previous night seeing in the New Year here, celebrating the New Year with close family members. A New Year beckoned and what a year it was about to be. I was going to cycle to every RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) and WWT (Wildfowl & Wetland Trust) nature reserve in the UK. I was extremely daunted by the task ahead but exhilarated at the challenge. I was innocently excited at the prospect of 365 days of birding and siteseeing around our fabulously diverse country.

A black male Blackbird was on the lawn and a Wren was noisily singing and ticking in the bushes next to road. Strange to hear such a loud song from such a small bird and at this early time of the year.

These being the next additions to the year list, they were closely followed by a couple of Magpies in a Blackthorn bush, two for joy, with Black-headed Gulls flying overhead. [3 to 6]

Thieving Magpies are beautifully iridescent in places with blues and green when the light reflects the colours from their darker feathers. They're not just black and white. Marmite birds, a lot of people are like that with this member of the crow family. You either love them or you hate them and many are they who would like to see a Magpie cull, blaming them for the lack of songbirds around nowadays. However I have seen it put by Bill Oddie in one of his books, that over the lack of songbirds these days one should blame the cat. Yet the preferred moggie gets a better press. No one dare take on the cat crazy, crazy cat brigade, no matter how many billions of birds are slaughtered around the world by them.

Here I might be naughty and suggest that an escaped Eagle Owl’s diet of a number of cats in the West Midlands recently did more to save little tom tit than any shooting of the local magpies would ever have achieved. 

8.00 a.m. a quick breakfast of cinnamon-flavoured porridge and orange juice whilst listing birds from the kitchen window; Blue and Great Tit, Dunnock, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Robin, and Jay. [7 to 13]



I always love listing the New Year birds on a new notebook page as the birds come so quickly and all those common birds briefly have an added importance. When listing like this a Blue Tit is as vital as a Siberian Rubythroat and in different contexts would be equally as exciting. Imagine what would happen if a Blue Tit turned up in Central Park, New York or a Robin in China!

The relaxing start to the day was interrupted by a phone call from BBC Radio WM for a live broadcast slot. So, whilst standing on the lawn watching the bright early morning star, Venus fade and the Sun rise for the new decade over the nearby Waseley Hill, I listened to Every Breath You Take by the Police. Then there was the over the top introduction from the DJ, all about New Year’s resolutions and how there was a man whose plan would take this to the extreme.

The ten minute interview went quickly. I was relaxed on this occasion and it ended with a sincere, “Good luck and keep in touch.”

Goldcrest, Goldfinch, Wood Pigeon, Redwing and Siskin were seen and heard during the interview as I walked around the garden, added to the growing list as we talked. [14 to 18] Eighteen birds seen already, not a bad start.




Soon it was time for me to get the Cannondale bike ready with packed panniers all mounted and binoculars swinging from my neck. Ready, I sat astride my Cannondale ‘Fatty’ bike, a true Rolls Royce of a bike, especially compared to the mountain bike I had been training on for the past few years. I was ready for day one of the Biking Birder 2010 experience. Now I would cycle 5,000 miles on this bike this year, or so I thought. It would actually turn out to be quite a lot more.

At 9.00 a.m. a good friend, Gez arrived from Kidderminster to see me off. Gez and I had become very firm friends when we both worked at a local special school, Rigby Hall. There we had developed the Eco Schools project to such an extent that the weekly non-recycled rubbish, landfill stuff, for the whole school was down to a couple of full carrier bags! Everything else was reduced, reused, recycled, as the '3 is a magic number' song goes. Food waste was either composted or Bokashied; the latter being a system for dealing with cooked foods. Around the school playground were a number of circular stacked wormeries where the children would place their fruit waste, apple cores, banana peels and the like. The liquid collected from these was incredibly rich and the soil was some of the best potting medium I had ever seen.

Gez, together with Donna, Charlie and my little niece Emily, shouted good wishes and took photographs as I set off. Waving goodbye to them all I was saddled with naivety over what lay ahead.

Up the hill and around the corner, avoiding the icy kerbs, I came to my first junction. So far so good, as it was for the next mile and a half, careering down a very steep hill towards Halesowen; the cold air bringing tears to my eyes. A Mistle Thrush [19] flew over, as did a few Lesser Black-backed Gulls [20].

The first roundabout, a very busy one, was circumnavigated carefully with me taking the road to the right towards Birmingham. A hill to cycle up and a full stop, I got off and pushed. Why? Cyclists don't get off their bike no matter how steep the hill, do they? I did. I didn’t know how to change the gears! I hadn’t a clue. It was something to do with some levers on the handlebars but which ones and how to move them?

If the truth be known, despite my nickname for the year, Biking Birder 2010, I was then and possibly still am, more Birder than Biker, a bike rider more than a cyclist.

Now the Cannondale bike had been kindly and amazingly, given to me only three weeks beforehand by someone I had only met for the first time at a work party at Upton Warren nature reserve, Worcestershire.

During every autumn, through to each following spring, on the first Sunday of each month and every Tuesday, around twenty people spend the day carrying out various conservation tasks such as reed removal, brash bashing and grass mowing. All fine tasks designed at getting the reserve in tip top shape for the next breeding season. Well, a new volunteer, whose name is Gert, on listening to the lunchtime chat in the Flashes hide, asked what everyone was on about when talking about my chances of me completing my challenge. I explained pompously that I had three aims for the next year namely to:

  • Cycle to every RSPB {Royal Society for the Protection of Birds} nature reserve in Britain. Around 200 of them to visit.
  • Cycle to every WWT {Wildfowl & Wetland Trust} centre, all nine of them.
  • Beat the Non-motorized year list BIGBY record then held by Chris Mills of Norfolk. Back in 2005 Chris had seen 251 bird species cycling around East Anglia. There'll be more about the amazing contest that Chris had with Simon Woolley from Hampshire, both doing a BIGBY, a Big Green Big Year as the Americans call it, later.

“I’ve got a bike you can have,” Gert had said unhesitatingly. Two days later it arrived at my place of work, Rigby Hall Special School and as it needed a few repairs it spent most of the rest of the time before January the 1st in the repair shop. Hence the lack of riding on the bike. Thanks for such a fantastic bike Gert!

After pushing the bike up that first hill of many, up to the Quinton Road, the rest of the way to the first reserve on the year’s itinerary, Sandwell Valley RSPB Reserve, was uneventful and relatively easy going. In fact so easy was it that I was the first person to arrive there. No friends and family yet to see me off, no RSPB staff, no press, I was early. The roads, that had taken me through the Black Country via Blackheath and West Bromwich, were delightfully quiet. People obviously had better things to do than be out early on New Year's Day driving around. Song Thrush [21] and House Sparrows [22] were seen along the way. Hellos and Happy New Years were shouted to the Black Country folk with my bon homie comments being reciprocated favourably despite the early hour.

I spent the time waiting for the official ‘Go!’ by birding, adding even more birds to the growing year list.

Sandwell Valley RSPB Reserve was an obvious choice for me to start the year. First, as I am a proud Brummie, born and raised in Birmingham, the reserve was chosen because it is the closest RSPB reserve to that fairest of cities. Secondly, way back in 1985, I had been interviewed for the RSPB warden’s job there. I remember the day well. It started with a walk around the reserve with other candidates for the post and the various RSPB officers. Then a meal at a plush hotel in nearby West Bromwich and back to the reserve for the individual interviews. I think I scuppered my chances by asking why the RSPB never bought small woodlands in places such as Trench Wood in Worcestershire. Instead their reserves to my na├»ve mind consisted of being mostly on remote Scottish Islands. I was to learn over the coming year how myopic that view really was and how insultingly wrong.

Back in the early 1980s, Trench Wood, close to Droitwich in Worcestershire, had a few pairs of Nightingales and beautiful Marsh Fritillary butterflies. Now both species are gone yet it remains a lovely woodland and a great place for orchids and butterflies, being a beautiful, tranquil Butterfly Conservation Society reserve.

Another thing that diminished my chances of RSPB employment at that interview was my concentration wavering between answering the rapid-fire questions and watching and listening to what was going on just outside the office window. Whoever arranged for Snipe to be drumming outside that day hadn’t helped me. I couldn’t stop myself from turning to watch and listen to that wonderful humming sound. Snipe, as you may know, fly high in circles around there chosen territory and suddenly dive, their outer tail feathers vibrating as they do so, creating the distinctive thrumming, drumming sound.

The final question in the interview was “how many marks out of ten would you give yourself on bird identification?” I think I said 8. Nowadays I would give myself a … I remain modest.

I didn't get the job.
So, I arrived at the reserve at 10.20 a.m. early and alone. Not for long though as down by the frozen lake I met a lovely couple of older ladies looking for a memorial bench dedicated to a neighbour of theirs. Muriel and Nora from nearby Aston had stories to tell and were delightful with their strong Brummie accents and humour.

Eventually back at the large visitor's centre I was soon joined and greeted by friends, the Upton Warren birders John Belsey, Dave Walker and Gert. A million thanks to these wonderful lads for the send-off.
Ian Crutchley and Steven Allcott were the next to arrive - the T.I.T.S were together again [Terpsichorean Inspired Twitcher Society] - Bearded Tit Ian, Great Tit Steve and Tom Tit - me. Ian and Steve were pupils of mine many years before back when I ran a YOC [Young Ornithologist’s Club, the junior branch of the RSPB now called Wildlife Explorers] at Coppice High School, a large comprehensive school in Wolverhampton.

Each half term the club would go out in a 50-seater coach on an outing to some well-known nature reserve. A few teachers and some local birding experts would travel to various birding hotspots every half term. Slimbridge and Martin Mere WWT [Wildfowl & Wetland Trust] reserves were visited, as was The New Forest. We even had long weekend trips to Norfolk, staying at youth hostels there. Norfolk never knew what hit it! Forty odd council estate kids turning up to explore the villages and reserves and enjoy the sensation of getting soaked by large waves crashing over the sea wall at Sheringham. Long time ago.

Now in their early forties, the two lads are still very keen birders after all those years. So the nickname for our little band of carbon twitchers from the last Big Year, 2005, that we did together was resurrected for a short while. In that year the three of us had travelled all over Britain, carbon twitching by car to be truthful, to each try to see 300 bird species, hence the term Big Year. Ian had managed it, actually reaching 350! Steve had over 300 birds too. I missed out on 293, a whole summer having been spent driving around France and Spain birding and hill climbing.

That year was mostly fabulous but it still has some bitter memories for me. I dipped the Belted Kingfisher! You may know that the bird was found on April the 1st, not a good day to find a less than five ever, seriously mega bird [CMF – Bill Oddie? Definitely!] Who would believe that a large, gaudy American kingfisher, only seen twice before in Britain, would be found in Staffordshire and so close to where I was supply teaching at the time in Dudley? Well at first no one did. Every birder whose pagers gave the mega alert tone thought the obvious. It must be an April Fool’s Day prank. Only it wasn’t. The bird was performing fabulously beside a lake near Sherbrook House on the edge of Cannock Chase to the few believers, including my friends Ian and Steve. They had rushed there on hearing that wonderful whoop on the Rare Bird Alerts pagers. By the time I knew about the bird it was late evening and I had travelled to my brother, Paul’s house in Warwick by train and bicycle.

Outside the house my huge, old VW LT 35 camper van was parked on the drive, my home at the time. I was too late to get to Sherbrook.  Indeed it would have been illegal to go for the bird. The car tax on my van had expired on the last day of March, the day after the discovery of the bird.

The lads, Ian and Steve came to rescue me and take me very early the next day to where a thousand plus expectant birders waited in the growing daylight. A birder unknown counted each person present as he always did at every twitch. Hundreds! The wooded slope adjacent where the bird had last been seen was covered by birders and their optical paraphernalia. The well-known, and the not so well-known bird photographers were lined up as at the goalmouth edge of some Premiership football match, each with their over large lens pointing towards the dead branches extending over the dank waters. A couple of hours flew by with no sign of the obviously departed bird. People started to leave and we started to consider doing the same thing. “It was on that branch yesterday,” didn’t help ease my disappointment but ever the optimist I waited.

Suddenly there was a rush of people stampeding towards their cars. The bird had been seen near Goole, Yorkshire. An hour or so later we were there, negotiating the crush of cars, birders and bemused police. The bird had chosen to be seen at a small nature reserve and the way to it was via a very narrow country lane. Panic ensued as the police tried to make a way through the chaos for a stranded local bus, stuck unable to go forwards or backwards so great was the crush of cars and excited birders. Ian, Steve and I followed the crowd but the news wasn’t encouraging. Seen but gone was the gossip. We had to look for ourselves.

A couple of hours later, we had to admit to myself that it had gone. A pair of Garganey, including the splendid male was little compensation.

Neither did my woes over this bird end here. Oh no! The following week was the school Easter holidays and my two wonderful children, Rebecca and Joshua wanted to visit their grandparents down in glorious Dorset. So I hired a small car, the campervan being out of action due to the tax, and everyone was so happy as we drove down to my favourite county. Then the news broke that that blasted [I would do the blasting if I saw it now!], Belted Kingfisher had been re-found, near Aberdeen! For a few days I couldn’t go. Now would a fanatic twitcher be so unselfish? The visit of my Rebecca and Joshua to their grandparents was paramount. I did manage to sneak off over to Shoreham to see a Great Spotted Cuckoo on a golf course early one morning, which was some compensation. Not a lifer but a good bird for the year list being only the second one I had seen in Britain.

By the weekend Rebecca and Joshua needed to be back home with their Mum, my sadly divorced Jewish Princess. So on dropping them off I hared up the M6, over the border into Bonnie Scotland, not for the first time that year, and got to the riverside location of the Belted Kingfisher just before dawn. I spent the rest of the day, as did many others, walking the riverbank searching. Someone said they heard it but I have my doubts. It had gone again. The direction it had gone from Staffordshire to the east coast of Scotland would have it heading in a beeline for possibly Iceland with a short hop over to Greenland or Newfoundland. I do hope it made it back over ‘the pond.’ I dipped!
Back at Sandwell Valley RSPB Reserve, Phil Andrews and his partner were the next to arrive but Paul, my brother, was lost, having gone to the wrong Sandwell Valley centre. I phone called some instructions to him and relayed what had happened to the general amusement amongst the birders. Eventually he arrived with my children Rebecca and Joshua. I felt proud to have them all there.
Chris, the warden of Sandwell Valley RSPB Reserve opened up the visitor’s centre and everyone chatted, drank coffee or hot chocolate and enjoyed the views through the windows over the reserve. That nemesis bird from the 1985 interview, Snipe became bird number [23] and then Lapwing [24], both of which were seen through the centre’s telescopes, the former not drumming but sitting beside a frozen pool. Bullfinches [25] were on the feeder and bird table outside the visitor’s centre, Redwings, Starlings [26] and Jackdaws [27] were flying overhead and the occasional Siskin.

Now if you haven’t been to Sandwell Valley you might imagine it to be surrounded by high rise flats and industrial buildings, council estates and motorways. Nothing could be further from the truth. True, the sound of the nearby M5 can be heard and the way to the reserve entrance, before the magnificent bird-sculpted metal gateway, is through a built-up area of mostly older semi-detached houses on expansive housing estates. Yet the prospect from the visitors' centre is predominantly green and you can’t see any of those buildings. Oh all that I’ve mentioned is there alright; after all Sandwell Valley is in the centre of the West Midlands conurbation. Yet over the river, beyond the lakes, pools and fields, there is a hillside golf course and all the built up areas are hidden by the same hill and the thousands of trees, many planted by the RSPB. Thankfully West Bromwich Albion's football ground is hidden by the same hill. Beautiful views were enjoyed by all, especially on this day, the first Biking Birder 2010 day, with a deep hoar frost and strong winter sunshine.

A photographer from the local newspaper, the Express and Star arrived. He soon had everyone outside doing the Conga behind me at the front on my bike. Their pushes ensured I got off to a good start. One for the album. Mind you, his last photograph, of everyone doing their preferred finger gesture advising me to get going, wasn’t the one chosen for the next day newspaper article! For those who knew of my musical obsession with the late Frank Zappa's music, the gestures all seemed most apt. Arf! Arf! Arf!

One o’clock and time to go and they all did just that; friends, family, RSPB staff and press photographer all left, leaving me to go around the reserve on my own. I rode down to a small area of unfrozen water where there were plenty of ducks to count. There were seventeen Tufted Duck to be seen, a pair of Mute Swans, sixteen Teal, a few Canada Geese, thirty six Mallard, two male Wigeon, eight Pochard and a male Gadwall, over 150 Coot, around twenty Moorhen, around 200 Black-headed Gulls and, best of all, six splendid Goosanders [28 to 38], four of them males, standing on the ice.

I met a birder, Dave from Gornal near to Dudley and together we stood watching a small reedbed from behind a screen. Whilst chatting there we hoped to see Willow Tits. We didn't see any but a fox flushed out a few Snipe and then a Water Rail [39] scampered nearby


Next, I met a lovely couple. Tracey and Steve Potter, birders from Derby who were down for the day for a spot of birding. They were Aston Villa fans, so we had couple of things in common!

Once I had explored the whole reserve; all birds seen being listed, I set off towards my first night’s accommodation. With the new knowledge of how to change the gears I soon got to John and Mary’s house in Four Oaks, Sutton, which was close to the expansive Sutton Park, a former hunting area for King Henry VIII no less, to the east of Birmingham.

Still reasonably light as I approached Four Oaks, I walked through parts of the frozen park, an area looking and feeling like the Arctic tundra with frozen heath and birch, with lovely views of a setting sun over the distant Black Country hills. I watched as Redwings came into roost for the night in holly bushes. Soon I found their home and was treated to a lovely meal, during which I enjoyed a long conversation about the pleasures of being a cyclist. Both of them were very keen members of a local, to them, Cycling Club with a garage full of bikes. The long day ended with a fabulous and well-deserved hot bath and a dive into a comfy bed.

At the end of the day the year list stood at 39 and the distance I had cycled was 24 miles.

January the first is the traditional day for birders to see as many bird species as possible. Over in the USA birders prefer their ‘big day’ to be on Christmas Day. Over here we’ve more sensibly chosen the first day of the year. Well, who wants to miss the Queen’s speech or is it the turkey fare that is the real attraction, that and the pressies?

The last few January the firsts have seen me birding locally in my home county of Worcestershire, famous now not just for the excellent sauce of the same name but also for being named as a castle in a Shrek movie!  On these days I’ve seen up to sixty-seven birds within the county boundaries, including Firecrest and Glaucous Gull, not bad for such a land-locked county in the centre of England.

I used to live in the beautiful coastal town of Swanage in Dorset. There I abided by my wife’s rule that the furthest I could go from home on the first of January had to be within a 15 mile radius of the town. Within that area I could bird nearly all of Poole Harbour, Arne RSPB reserve, Middlebeare, Durlston Country Park and Studland, as well as huge areas of pastureland. By timing which habitats I visited with the incoming tide I would see close to a hundred bird species. The most I ever did have on a first of January day was ninety-seven in 2002. The special birds seen that day included a male Lesser Scaup, a small American duck, that came back to Little Sea at Studland for a few winters running after that first encounter.

 

23.34 miles                                                    1168 feet elevation up   1529 feet down


Let's finish with a mention that there is a Facebook group dedicated to Green Birding, Green Birding Megastars, which at the time of writing has exactly 500 members. Take a look . . . 

https://www.facebook.com/groups/620268465096967 




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

5 th January                                                            Tragedy                                              The Bee Gees   ...