Tuesday, January 10, 2006


The book version of my 2005 big bike year is now available for sale, priced just £5, with ALL PROCEEDS going to the Sri Lanka tsunami relief administered by my employer, Winchester College.

For ordering details, see this page.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

A miracle! Life goes on in 2006. 218 species NMHLL

Seriously, honestly, truly: I wrote the last posting on New Year’s Eve 2005. And what happened today? A phone call from Chunky at the Sewage Farm – ICELAND GULL! What?!?

Julia and I drove (ooops!) up there to see it, but after just a short time, I raced home, flung on my muddiest kit and pedalled back, just in time to see the bird, an ultra-pallid 3rd winter, sailing off high to the south-west.

The irony is rich – my longest (double) dip of 2005, nailed in the first week of 2006! Well, life goes on....

Saturday, December 31, 2005

"And so, the end is near...." 217 species - the FINAL TOTAL

Well, it had to be done - a nice bright New Year's Eve morning, no commitments, and the joys of my trusty old one hour ride around Cheesefoot Head to behold.

This was always going to be a largely ceremonial ride, but I saddled up, turned my optimism boost up to maximum, and headed off. Dreams of a Rough-legged Buzzard (there was one at Cheesefoot Head in 1975 - so only 30 years late...) evaporated, of course, but I did flush a Brambling among a Chaffinch flock at Lane End Down, and I did see several Bullfinches, which I hereby nominate as the "bikiest" bird of the year - I have seen them on well over half of all rides!

My emotions on returning home? Satisfaction, overwhelmingly, but also relief and even a touch of sadness. The year list had taken on a life of its own, and it'll be sad to think of eZCEYL_2005 disappearing into the ether come midnight tonight. But then again, I always have a Hampshire bike LIFE list to maintain..... Iceland Gull, anyone?

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Mealy good! 217 species in total

Acting on a nice little snippet of information gleaned from HOSlist, I set off in temperatures of about -4°C at 0830 – it never got above freezing all morning, making this certainly my coldest ride of the year.

I reached Roke Manor (a Siemens research centre near Romsey) in good time for my rendezvous, and successfully met up with Richard Cheater, who had kindly agreed to arrange access to the Manor grounds to see ‘his’ flock of Redpolls.

Very quickly, we located the flock – there were rather more than he had thought! Estimates are always hard, but there had to be 150+ birds present, sometimes giving exceptional views in the trees right over our heads. Nearly all were dull, buffish Lesser Redpolls, but as hoped, there were four or five bulkier, much whiter, bright pink-breasted birds among them, and close scrutiny through Richard’s scope confirmed that they were indeed Common (or Mealy) Redpolls!

This Scandinavian redpoll form has only recently been officially split from the commoner Lesser Redpoll, and it is a very rare visitor to southern England. Indeed, it constituted yet another Hampshire tick for me – a hell of way to finish the serious birding for the year!

Also in Richard’s nice stubbly field were two Stonechats, at least 10 Reed Buntings, a dozen Skylarks and plenty of other finches and thrushes.

Very pleased indeed, we enjoyed a warming cup of coffee at the security desk, and then it was back off onto the icy roads for the one hour burn back to Winchester. Port Lane one more time!

Monday, December 26, 2005

1.5 gross (or 18 dozen) up - 216 is an interesting number!

With a belly full of Christmas dinner and a bit too much booze, I crawled into bed after Eastenders and set the alarm for some illegal time in the morning – Slavonian Grebe and Scaup were calling!

By 0745, I was away into the freezing darkness. It was indeed a slow and toe-numbing ride south through the New Forest, and almost 2½ hours later, I finally reached Pennington, where my support crew shortly appeared with the traditional hot water bottle and warm socks.

We had just two targets today, and we headed straight off towards Normandy, where we scored easily with the first-winter male Scaup bobbing about on the pool with the local Tufted Ducks. Scaup are true Arctic ducks, and just a few of them penetrate as far south as the English Channel each winter – they’re by no means easy in Hampshire, though luckily they do tend to stick around for a while.

The tide was very, very low – good for excellent views of waders (including Greenshank, 5 Spotted Redshanks and stacks of the commoner species), but not so good for our other target bird.

All the sea-ducks and grebes were a long way off, and despite diligently scanning all the way back to Pennington, we simply could not find a Slavonian Grebe among the Goldeneyes, Great-crested Grebes, Red-breasted Mergansers and others – which did include two female type Common Scoters. We also scored with two Kingfishers and at least two Dartford Warblers, plus a Peregrine, Golden Plovers and lots of common wildfowl.

A bit disappointed, I finally headed off for home at about 1430 – the ride was less cold, but even more tiring – at one point I even stopped to check my wheel wasn’t buckled and slowing me down! No – just my own poor performance.

But I did see a couple of good birds en route – a Hawfinch just south of Brockenhurst, and a Woodcock flushed from the roadside near Hursley.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

More like Norfolk than Hampshire! 215 species in total

After taking a rather risky week off in the sun in the Canary Islands (all currently recognised and marginal endemic species seen, plus Blue-winged Teal, Houbara Bustard, Cream-coloured Courser, Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Trumpeter Finch etc.), it was back to the grey and cold wastes of Hampshire, where what I hoped would be one last ride to Titchfield Haven was on the agenda. Bitterns are regular at this site, and perhaps two had been seen intermittently this winter.

I rode down early in the morning, bought my ticket, and headed straight for the Suffern Hide. I settled in, with a text message telling me Julia was also on her way down by car, and scanned the reeds. Almost at once, a dark brown shape appeared off to the right, flapping unsteadily over the Phragmites! Bittern? No! First-winter Marsh Harrier! This was a species I had pretty much given up for lost - while they are regular passage migrants (not that I'd seen one in 2005), they are really pretty rare in Hampshire in winter. A nice one to round off the trio of Harriers, too.

Much scanning from the Suffern and Meadow Hides failed to turn up the bird - plenty of other birds to see, including Kingfisher, lots of ducks and some waders. Gripping news appeared in the form of a report of a 3rd winter Iceland Gull over the reserve early morning - surely the Gosport bird of last winter having returned?

Over a coffee and cake, I decided to postpone the Bittern hunt for a few hours, and to ride off along the coast to Gosport on an Iceland hunt. I followed the shore as closely as possible, checking every group of gulls - but there was no sign, even way down at Walpole Park in central Gosport. I did find at least five Mediterranean Gulls en route, and better still, a male Black Redstart by Workhouse Lake. A Christmas bonus!

Back at Titchfield by 1500, and a final hour in prospect in the hides. i chose the Meadow Hide, since the Bittern had indeed been seen that morning, but well up the valley - this was perhaps my best chance. And so it proved! After just ten minutes, a much more promising brown shape appeared over the reeds, and the heavy, almost owlish flight confirmed my suspicions - Bittern safely OML! What a relief - though to be honest I thought I had little chance of the bird at the start of the day. After just 10 seconds, it dropped abck down into the reeds, and vanished.

The ride home was once more in darkness - the highlight was getting stopped by a police patrol car. "Your back light is too dim." We examined it, and he changed his mind. "Well, it's not bright enough for a following driver." We agreed there was not much I could do about it. "You are putting your life at risk." Meek smile, Happy Christmas, carry on home.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Two more - when will it ever stop? 213 species in total

Today I was due to go flying with a colleague, to gather some photos for the Geography Department, but sadly we had to cancel on account of low cloud.

So I took the opportunity to get back on the bike, and again to ride south to Hill Head/Brownwich, on the eastern shore of Southampton Water. I completed the ride in record time – 1 hour and 22 minutes.

But even by 1455, when I arrived, it was getting dark and gloomy, and it was clear I wouldn’t have much time to search the sea for my target species. So I lay down (prone) on the beach with my scope, and started scanning.

After about ten minutes, a distant dot swam a bit closer, and resolved itself into a smart Red-necked Grebe. These north-east European breeders are only scarce winter migrants to Britain, and have become rather rare in Hampshire in recent years – although I had already missed at least two earlier in the year!

Pretty happy with that, I continued enjoying the Eider flock, several Red-breasted Mergansers and lots of Great Crested Grebes. But then my eye was drawn to a lumbering bird flying south past Fawley refinery, very distantly towards Lepe. Brent Goose? Cormorant? No – Great Northern Diver! I knew one had been in this area earlier in the week, but I didn’t really expect to see it.

Thinking my luck was in, I cycled down to Titchfield Haven for a dusk vigil at the reedbed, in the vain hope that a Bittern might fly by – one didn’t!

A Kingfisher brightened up the gathering gloom, and a Cetti’s Warbler sang briefly from dense cover. But it was now well and truly dark, and I set off for the now familiar ride home, in absolute blackness. The Nightrider has returned!

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Deep Purple, 'Mot(t) the Hoople and The Velvet Underground - a 70s rock trio. 211 species in total.

With a full service of my bike completed, new brake pads/cables and a new chain fitted, I was ready for a pretty serious undertaking – a mega-early (0530) start and off into the sub-zero Hampshire countryside, heading for Portsmouth. The temperature on departure was -2.9°C, which gave a windchill ‘real feel’ of -10.5°C at 24 km/h! Brrrr! So it was on with the full thermal gear, plus two pairs of gloves, waterproof Merino socks, neoprene overshoes and a beanie hat under my helmet.

I rode in total darkness all the way down to Gosport – and it was a chill, grey dawn for the first hour after that. I took the foot ferry across to Portsmouth, and cycled on to Southsea Castle. A Rock Pipit and a Turnstone welcomed me on the seaweed covered rocks, but within a few minutes, I had found my main target – a Purple Sandpiper feeding unconcerned at just a few metres range. This is the only regular Hampshire site for the species, and it was a real relief to get it OML after failing earlier in the year.

Unexpectedly, a Guillemot also added itself to my list, in almost exactly the spot where I’d seen a Razorbill back in February. Bonus bird!

It was now 0815, so I headed back across the ferry, and cycled on towards Hill Head. I went via Gosport, where I did not see the regular Ring-billed Gull (in the briefest of searches), and HMS Sultan fields, where there were lots of Brent Geese and Golden Plovers. I arrived shortly after 0900, and immediately connected with Chunky, Robin Turner and Malcolm Dixon by the beach huts. They were scanning for sea ducks – only Eider so far.

I warmed up with a welcome cup of coffee ‘à la King’, and we continued searching. There were two sizeable rafts of Eider, totalling about ninety birds, and several Great Crested Grebes. Chunky found a female-type Common Scoter – but my main quarry was nowhere to be seen.

Chunky had to go ‘on duty’ at Titchfield Haven, but he kindly lent me his scope, and I set off along Brownwich cliffs with Robin and Malcolm. We set up an observation post after half a mile or so, and scanned the Eider flocks once more. Result! I quickly picked up a slightly smaller, black coffee coloured duck, which I was sure showed a small pale cheek patch. It put its head up, and sure enough, I added Velvet Scoter to the list. This Arctic breeder is a very scarce winter visitor to the Hampshire coast, and was never guaranteed on the year-list.

With time pressing, I returned the scope to Chunky, and pedalled off northwards, getting back home with just enough time to shower before returning to the classroom and teaching a lesson – appropriately enough, the topic was the windchill factor!

Sunday, November 20, 2005

I am on FIRE! 208 species in total

Another bitterly cold morning, but I overcame the little demon saying ‘stay in bed’, pulled on my alarmingly kinky, brand new neoprene overshoes, and pedalled off into the sub-zero dawn.

This really was the coldest yet, and I simply could not feel my feet by the time I reached the New Forest. I jumped up and down to restore a bit of feeling in my toes!

But, frostbite notwithstanding, I reached Lower Pennington Lane by about 1010, and stepped off the bike for my customary look at the flooded fields by the last bend in the road. Three Meadow Pipits flew up from my left, accompanied by a larger bird – Song Thrush, I thought. But it dropped down on the right of the road with them, in a wet field, hovering momentarily before pitching. Blimey!

Sure enough, a quick glimpse was enough to confirm it was a large pipit, and although I can’t say I had feather-by-feather views, its strident flight call when it shortly flew off strongly to the west had me in absolutely no doubt – Richard’s Pipit OML! This is a rare bird indeed in the county - only some 25 or so previous records. Surely my luck would run out soon, however?

Not yet! Julia arrived a few minutes later, and we walked off towards the Normandy area. There, we met Marcus and Zoe Ward coming the other way – no sign of the Snow Bunting, alas. We chatted for a bit, in the glorious sunny (and now a bit warmer) weather, and then carried on in our opposite directions – for about five seconds! “Simon!”, called Marcus urgently – we spun on the spot, and there was the superb male Snow Bunting flying towards us, tinkling away.

Snow Buntings are scarce autumn and winter visitors to lowland coastal Britain, but they are really very scarce in Hampshire – this was only the third one I’d seen in the county.

Much encouraged, we moved on towards Salterns, via a smart Spotted Redshank. Casually ambling past Eight Acre Lake, I saw what I assumed was a buffy-grey Black-tailed Godwit, oddly sat on a gravel island. On raising my bins, however, it became more serious – it was a first-winter LAUGHING GULL! [Can you believe that Laughing Gull isn't in bold? I still can't!)

Once we’d taken a second to check the ID (especially eliminating Franklin’s Gull, outrageous though the idea was), we quickly called Marcus, who said something rude over the phone and hared round back out from home to see the bird. He, Pete Durnell and Russell Wynn all connected, plus a few rather bemused semi-civilians who happened to be passing.

It’s impossible to be absolutely certain, but it seems very likely that this was the same individual bird as the one at Gosport two weeks ago – not that that detracts from the excitement of finding a pukka British Birds rarity by bike!

Thoroughly elated, we enjoyed a further couple of hours in the field, seeing three Kingfishers, numerous Little Egrets, stacks of roosting small waders, and lots of Great Crested Grebes on the sea – although sadly no Red-necked Grebe! You can’t get too greedy.

The ride home was fine – funny how good birding can take the weight out of your legs and the chill out of the air!

Friday, November 18, 2005

Nice and icy - but no new birds. 206 species in total

Today I was finally able to combine my personal year-list pursuit with the best bit of my job – taking some of my students out into the field to see birds. The Winchester College Natural History Society was founded in the 1860s, and ever since has had a small but keen following.

My colleague, Hugh Hill, drove a party of boys down to Farlington Marshes at lunchtime, where I met them, having set off at about noon on my bike. On a cold and frosty day, with a good high tide, we expected to be able to show them plenty of birds, and no-one was disappointed – stacks of newly arrived Brent Geese, lots of common wildfowl, a Goldeneye, Kingfisher, tons of waders, two Dartford Warblers, several Stonechats, a couple of very elusive Bearded Tits and a Merlin.

One of the young lads was very keen, despite knowing next to nothing about birds – he wanted to see that Robin which we glimpsed as it shot across the track, and spent five minutes stalking it! He’s even started a life list (he’s on about 25), despite my grave warnings about where such dangerously obsessive leaning can lead!

So, no sign of the Long-tailed Duck or any other year-ticks for me, but a thoroughly excellent afternoon out for all concerned.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Hayling strikes again! 206 species in total

While I suspect I've seen the rarest Hayling bird of the last week, Andy Johnson continued his 'purple patch' today by finding a Hoopoe at Sandy Point. Absolutely no chance of me getting down there to see it, however!

Sunday, November 13, 2005

There IS a God. There IS a God. 206 species in total

A true anecdote (you’ll have to take my word for it): about a month ago, when contemplating the likely autumn cycle rides, I casually mentioned to Julia that it was amazing Hayling Island never seemed to get really rare birds. I reckon it’d be good for a Desert Wheatear in late October or November, I said.

Fast forward to today, a freezing cold morning after a clear, starry night. Frost covered the cars and the watermeadows as I pedalled off to the south, departing just after 0700, my face chilled by the cold air. My target for today was Black Redstart, which had become a bogey bird after two long-distance dips last winter, both at Hayling Island. George Spraggs had reported to me that a first-winter male had been in residence for about a week, and was site-faithful, so I decided to go for it, especially as there were some other possible year-ticks (e.g. Great Northern Diver, Velvet Scoter, Red-necked Grebe, Little Gull, Long-tailed Duck) which might just be on offer.

The familiar ride to the furthest, most south-easterly corner of the county took me just over 2¼ hours – my feet felt like blocks of ice once more. But it was with optimism that I started combing the seafront houses, though with no luck in the first twenty minutes. Then I bumped into Andy Johnson, who gripped me off with a report of a good passerine passage at dawn, including a Snow Bunting.

After a minute or two, he remarked, “That looked like a Wheatear”, pointing his bins in the direction I’d just come from. I scanned, picking up first a Pied Wagtail, and then a brown, vaguely variegated passerine on the beach. I directed Andy to where I was looking, and to our mutual delight (we were both thinking the same thing, I am certain), he called it: “DESERT WHEATEAR!” Joy unrivalled, delight unparalleled. Awesome, awesome, awesome.

First photo courtesy George Spraggs - other two by Julia/me

This crippling male was only the second record for Hampshire, the first being way back in November 1961, and it was a British tick for me. And here I was, just off my bike, watching it, right now! My mobile rang that instant – Julia had just arrived by car. Better still! I ran down to the road to fetch her, but (fatefully) returned briefly to see the bird again while she got organised – while we watched it and phoned the news out, it ‘flicked’, as passerines sometimes do, and neither Andy nor I could see where to! Julia arrived – no Desert Wheatear.

Shortly, the Hayling cavalry arrived – despite 1½ hours of scouring the beach, no Desert Wheatear. Long faces all round.... For me, the morning was, however, completed, by a great view of the Black Redstart on one of the houses – the target bird, remember!

Photo courtesy George Spraggs

But still no Wheatear – Julia and I had what we call a “White’s Thrush moment” on our hands (after an agonising half hour on St Agnes in 1999 when she had seen it but I hadn’t). We decided to leave the crowds for a bit, searching first Black Point, then moving up to the oysterbeds at the north of the Island to look for the Long-tailed Duck. We didn’t see it – but Black-necked Grebes, Red-breasted Mergansers and lots of waders and gulls made up for that – a bit.

Pager alert! Desert Wheatear relocated at Beachlands car-park, a full mile and a half west of the initial spot – clearly the bird was working along the beach. So we scorched back to the shore (by car, yes), roared to a halt in the gravel car-park, and joined the crowd – no bird! It had moved west again. So we walked west for a few tens of yards, and then Julia connected. We then enjoyed stunning views in excellent light of this right crippling mega. It was a life tick for Julia, too!

Another look at the oysterbeds area produced no Long-tailed Duck again, so we packed it in after a late lunch, and I then rode home in a record slow time with a slightly tweaked hamstring. I also lost my rear light in Twyford – smashed, then immediately run over by a car! Did I care? Not a lot! What an unbelievable day.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

A close shave - mixed feelings! 204 species in total

Yesterday (Friday), a juvenile Sabine's Gull was found on the shoreline of Hayling Island, and showed well all day. This would be a Hampshire and (of course) a year-tick for me.

I simply could not travel for it, due to work commitments, so it was an overnight sweat. At about 0900 on Saturday, the news came through: "no sign of the Sabine's Gull".

Now, this goes to the very core of what this year's been like. How did I feel? Disappointed? Frustrated? No! I felt (to be honest) relieved. It's enough to drive you crazy, this nonsense.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Two in a day? In November? 204 species in total

I set out for a winter afternoon's ride in search of two species I really should have seen before - and scored with both!

The first was a real slice of luck - I fluked a Merlin hunting Meadow Pipits by the road at Half Moon Common - rakish, flickering wings, all speed and panache. Brilliant.

The second was more predictable - I met up with Julia at a well-known site in the northern Forest, and together we walked a couple of miles to a viewpoint overlooking a deep valley. Sure enough, at about 1600, a ringtail Hen Harrier quartered the heath to the west of us.

Well satisfied, but with a very low day-list, I headed off back into the darkness - the year really is beginning to turn full circle.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

In Dream-land. 202 species in total

While I was half-expecting to visit Gosport once more this winter, probably in search of a returning Iceland Gull, little did I expect to be making the mad dash down there today to see a first for Hampshire - but that's exactly what happened!

At 1.30pm, the news broke, and after (not much) umming and ahhing, I was off. After a record-breaking 1 hour 22 minute ride, I was on site, and immediately had flight views of the 1st winter LAUGHING GULL.

Third photo courtesy Chris Turner - other two by ME!

Stunning stuff! The bird proceeded to fly up and down the sea wall a few times, to the delight of the gathered and seemingly almost complete Hampshire birding fraternity! Deeply happy, and with several adult Med Gulls to add to the day list, I 'streaked' home in a rather slower time, especially as I punctured near Waltham Chase, luckily close to a bike shop!

What a tick!

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Hampshire tick! 201 species in total

Red hot news this morning of a confiding Hampshire tick near Titchfield - but I couldn't get into the field until mid afternoon - would it stay?

YES! After a windy ride to the coast, and meeting up with my 'support crew' once more, I walked the 3/4 mile west along Brownwich cliffs, to be rewarded with point blank views of a really crippling Lapland Bunting. Stunning stuff - a real Hampshire blocker nailed, and an unexpected eZCEYL species!

Thursday, October 27, 2005

THE DOUBLE CENTURY! 200 species in total

At long last, I today achieved what I thought would be pretty much impossible back in January - 200 species in Hampshire in a year, by bike and on foot.

I have cycled 3827km (or 2378 miles), I've been in the saddle for just shy of a WEEK, and the average distance per species is 19.1km (or about 12 miles).

The magic species finally fell after a pretty agonising five day wait - it had been found last Sunday, but I was in Cornwall (Wryneck, Yellow-browed Warbler, Grey Phalarope, Hawfinch, Chough, Black Redstart all self-found) with a day trip to Scilly (Blackpoll Warbler, Sora and a vast dose of seasickness in SW6 winds!). And with Titchfield Haven only open Weds-Sun, I had to wait...

I arrived at about 0930, and decided to check the floods just south of the village first, as this is where bird had been reported on and off the day before. Within a few minutes - there it was! The first-winter LESSER YELLOWLEGS provided a suitably rare and spectacular 200th bird. My joy was complete when Julia arrived a few minutes later to share the bird (her first significant drive since her accident in the summer), and we happily headed off down to the Haven for tea and cake, before trying our luck on the reserve. There was little around - a Dartford Warbler and a late Swallow were the highlights, plus Clouded Yellow, Common Darter and a single Migrant Hawker - no sign of yesterday's Grey Phalarope.

But in highly unseasonable warm sunshine, and with a warm southerly breeze, who cares? Mission accomplished - thought there are still 9 weeks of birding to go before the end of the year!

Monday, October 17, 2005

Better than a Baird's - 199 up! 199 species in total

A fantastic stroke of fortune this morning – a year tick not 300 yards from home!

I was out early am (0750) delivering some paperwork before work, with a few Redwings and Song Thrushes passing low to the west in the gloom, when a rasping chacking had me looking straight up at a Ring Ouzel moving with them! Not exactly crippling views, but quite unmistakeable and firmly ON MY LIST! Much more satisfying (and easier) than cycling for 2 hours to see a poxy American vagrant at Pennington!

Only my fourth Winchester record, after a winter bird back in 1985, a couple of spring males in 198(?)7, and another male in May 1993 on a back lawn. Easily the best value, however, givent his year’s bike effort....

One to go for the 200 – severe weather forecast for Weds, so maybe it’ll be a Sabine’s or a Little Auk?!? We shall see....

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Miserable dip in miserable weather. 198 species in total

Feeling very optimistic, I set off after lunch on Saturday in search of the Red-necked Phalarope found the day before at Lee-on-Solent. The bird was still present at 1100, and I had high hopes of completing the county Phalarope grand slam for the year. No such flippin' luck! No sign of the bird at all, at a spectacularly grotty pond by a new housing development - just 2 Little Grebes and a bunch of gulls by way of compensation. And to cap it all a (predicted) cold front arrived just as I gave up, and I got cold and wet all the way home. The only thing achieved today was the km/species count creeping up to 19!

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Another Yank wader. 198 species in total

After a poor September (nearly a month since my last new species), Pennington came up trumps again. After two days of sweating, I was finally able to head off early across the New Forest, and shortly after arriving, locked on to the juvenile BAIRD'S SANDPIPER which had been present since Thursday.

Photo by Tony Mills, www.notjustbirds.com

A classic 'Weetabix-on-legs' job - very smart and distinctive, if a little furtive in amongst the rushes and sedges at the back of the Fishtail Lagoon. I've plainly lost some form and/or am still suffering from last week's heavy cold - my legs felt incredibly heavy and useless on the way back, which was essentially a slow kill torture!

Saturday, September 03, 2005

An unplanned monster ride - and a wader triple-whammy! 197 species in total.

I'd been waiting for the last few commoner passage waders with increasing trepidation as September began, and at last information arrived of one of them at The Vyne, with the bird still present this morning. I headed noth-east for the long, straight and rather boring ride to Basingstoke, and beyond the town to the flooded watermeadows where the bird had been reported. It didn't take long to find - Wood Sandpiper on the list! Many thanks to Martin Pitt for the very accurate local knowledge. Also a few Green Sands, Snipe and a young Peregrine here, the latter panicking all the waders just as I was leaving.

But my plans of a return in time for a late lunch were quickly shattered by breaking news from Titchfield - a quick route plan and very large gulp at the hilliness and distance of the route, and I was away. My legs felt empty on the ride south to Alresford, but a lunch injection and extra water intake did the trick there, and it was on (via some nasty hills I've been avoiding all year) to Cheriton, Kilmeston, Droxford and down the Meon valley to Wickham. From there, I was back on a familiar route, and by mid-afternoon, I was at the Haven. I saved paying for my ticket until after doing the hides (but I was honest!) - from the Meon Shore hide, the Little Stint was quickly bagged, but the news regarding the other target species was less good - it had apparently flown 'high up the valley' half an hour before.

Undaunted, I trudged round to the next hide, and scanned the north scrape - the news sounded better here! After maybe ten minutes, I locked on to a scruffy brown looking wader among a group of maybe half a dozen Curlew Sandpipers - yes! Pectoral Sandpiper also nailed!

Photo by Peter Raby

Elated but really shattered and dehydrated, I headed off (via the ticket booth and water refill), and sped (not!) the 1.5 hours ride home - it was nearer 2 this time!

A huge 145km (or 90 miles) covered today - and my legs are telling me about it - but well worth it - three in a day at this stage of the year was pretty unexpected.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Another August bonus. 194 species in total.

Another snappy response to the pager called for today, but it was with a sense of foreboding that I went off in search of the Wryneck reported at Farlington - it's a tricky area to work for passerines (and near-passerines!), and I've dipped the species before there.... On arrival - no sightings for over three hours....oh dear. I worked the bushes with some success - a Grasshopper Warbler was a real bonus, plus several Garden Warblers and Lesser Whitethroats, and lots of Common Whitethroats. After about an hour of wandering around, I returned to the area where a few people were looking, and a distant wave and point suggested the bird had been relocated. After just a minute or two I had brief flight views, and then a cautious approach resulted in good views of the bird perched warily in brambles and elders - Wryneck safely on the list! Pretty elated, I pedalled home in bright, warm sunshine, feeling good. But I did ping two more spokes on the rear wheel somewhere en route....damn.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Two phalaropes in 5 days - the score just keeps on rising. 193 species in total.

More hot pager news had me saddling up and heading south-west through squally showers to Pennington this morning - it really is a long ride (2 hours+), but I was rewarded immediately on arrival with good views of the juv/1st winter Grey Phalarope found by Russell Wynn this morning, on Butts Lagoon.

Photo by Russell Wynn

With a few Whitethroats and other migrants in evidence, I then headed quickly round to Normandy Marsh (via a Kingfisher and two Greenshanks), in the hope of a new migrant wader. It didn't take long checking the Dunlin flock to find a cracking juvenile Curlew Sandpiper right by the seawall - I did look for a Little Stint, but I think that's just being greedy! The ride home was pretty tough, but slightly wind assisted, and not too wet. 216km this week for five new species.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

2000 miles up, and 2 new ones. 191 species in total

A hot pager bleep at Sunday lunchtime had me flinging on the hot weather kit, and heading off for the coast. A record run to Farlington (1.5 hours) and the juvenile WILSON'S PHALAROPE was still showing very well on the main lagoon to the assembled crowd.

Photo by Nic Hallam

Photo by Richard Ford

Worth just as many 'points', but of course much less difficult, a Yellow Wagtail called in flight overhead, shortly followed by three seen distantly over the fields. Add in lots of waders (although none of the reported Curlew Sands, alas) and a bonus (but very brief) Spotted Crake, and this was a pretty good day out! Also a distant Whinchat - inevitably after having gone for one in the week.... I saved my legs and didn't walk round the reserve to try for the Garganey and Osprey that were also present - ah! the luxury of having done the work earlier in the year!

The mileage count went over two grand today - 138 hours (or 5.75 DAYS!) in the saddle, at 17 kilometres/species, just to mix up the units of measurement completely....

Friday, August 19, 2005

Creeping up - thanks to the Lakeside link. 189 species in total

A hot tip from Simon Ingram had me pedalling the half hour down to Lakeside Country Park in Eastleigh for my first Whinchat of the year - hardly a species I was worried about seeing eventually, but nice to get it under the belt and to keep the species total ticking over. Now only Yellow Wagtail remains on my list of 'shoo-in' or 'gimme' species!

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Two more, including a Brucie Bonus. 188 species in total

Having missed the species at the same site back in January, it was good to get a second bite at the cherry at Ibsley Water today - the GREAT WHITE EGRET was not too hard to find, wading about in a good looking muddy area with a few Little Egrets. A not completely unexpected (but pleasantly surprising) bonus bird was a juvenile Black Tern over the same pit. Also around the gravel pits were three Green Sandpipers, an LRP, a few Common Terns and very large numbers of Sand Martins, Grey Herons and Mute Swans. 100km under the belt today, making it a total of 3140km so far!

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

"Wild" goose chase scores a double. 186 species in total

A very long ride to north-east Hants today (and even over the county boundary into Berkshire at one point). First to be unblocked (after the totally plastic, ringed bird at Titchfield Haven) was Egyptian Goose - 19 of them looking completely unconvincing but as wild as Gyppos ever look on a small pond near Eversley Church. There were two more looking slightly less dubious at Eversley gravel pit, but no sign of the much harder Snow Goose there. I checked various nearby waters, and scanned various farming vistas, without luck, and was thinking about giving up, when two white blobs in flight near Hartley Wintney resolved themselves into Snow Geese! They carried on and then appeared to drop, out of sight, into some stubbly fields in the distance. I'm pretty unhappy about adding both these to the list, really, but they appear in the main section of the Hampshire Bird report, and that's the rules - so there! Also a Hobby and a Kingfisher at Eversley today. The ride home was long and tiring, and into a headwind - not much fun! Today's ride took me over both 3000km and 16km/species....

Sunday, July 31, 2005

Better! Large raptor gets the count ticking over again. 184 species in total

In what is turning out to be a pretty good raptor year, I added Osprey to the list today, at Lower Test Marshes. After a false start, where I broke a spoke and warped the rear wheel within 5 miles of home (bizarrely, Chris did exactly the same thing today in Norfolk!), I went home, changed bikes, and was at LTM by 1000. Chunky and Simon were waiting glumly, not having seen anything, so it wasn't looking good - but at about 1020, all the gulls went up, and the bird cruised in from the south, circled, and perched in one of the dead trees. This may well be the bird which has been in the general area since about May - it's a very rare bird in Hampshire in summer.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Big ride, big dip. 183 species in total

A long ride today, to Farlington in the hope of seeing the reported White-rumped Sandpiper. The tide was unfavourable, alas, and there was no sign of the bird - small recompense was had by way of a Whimbrel, Greenshank, a few Sedge and Reed Warblers and numerous Little Egrets. Titchfield Haven 'on the way' home (actually quite a big detour) was also disappointing - no sign of the Black Tern, which would've been new for the list, nor any Roseate Terns - just a single juvenile Med Gull as a consolation prize.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Back on track as autumn begins. 183 species in total

With the birding year having turned, but no new species since May, it was time to nail one of my three remaining shoo-ins, and an evening ride down to Eling Marsh at high tide duly turned up 5 or 6 Yellow-legged Gulls loafing about. Hardly the most exciting way to start the autumn run, but they all count!

The plan was to have been 3 weeks in Malaysia in July, but unfortunately that's had to be cancelled, on account of Julia being laid up in hospital with a serious back injury (but she'll be OK in the end - so I don't honestly care about Malaysia!).

So....what will be the July mega wader at Pennington this year? Little Whimbrel, anyone?

Monday, May 30, 2005

Two ultras in one day - but all top secret... 182 species in total

I headed out again late afternoon to try for the singing Quail, which Julia and I had actually managed to hear earlier on a car-based jaunt - success! A territorial male Quail whetting away in the flowery fields.

Almost unbelievably, I also relocated a male Montagu's Harrier which I had totally fluked earlier in the day at another site some 15km away - for obvious reasons, I'm not going to go into details, except to say that much hopping up and down, air punching and fruity language were in evidence! A fantastic bonus species spurring me on in the quest for 200 - which now looks possible....but very difficult.

To add to the raptor fun, a distant Red Kite (while not 'needed' for the list) was a very welcome sight.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Dipping in the dark. 180 species in total

What turned into another night ride, acting on information received of a singing Quail not far from Winchester - but unsuccessful. Four Little Owls and several Tawny Owls were nice, but nothing 'wetting-its-lips' at all....

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Darts! The Nightrider rides again. 180 species in total

Acting on hot gen from the Test valley, I left home after work commitments at about 2215, towards the end of extra time in the Champions' League final. The familiar 45-minute run was marked by a Liverpool triumph and warm, still night air, and by 2300 I was on site in the valley. Past the squeaky juvenile Tawny Owls, my quarry was singing loud and clear - a territorial Grasshopper Warbler. Result!

I decided to press on for my other remaining nightbird, and reached Great Covert, Chandlers Ford, by about 2345 - and after a few minutes of silence, a distant Nightjar made itself species number 180. Rather more (post-match) traffic than last time I did a night ride, but still safely home by 1230, with two real good 'uns under the belt.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

"The yellow of its eyes" - a crippling encounter. 178 species in total

Three new ones in three days - motoring nicely just now. The now familiar ride to the New Forest was well-rewarded, with (after about an hour of waiting) an absolutely stunning sighting of a male Honey Buzzard lifting out of the very closest trees, circling and gaining height rapidly. It was within not more than 40 feet at first, close enough to see every feather and the striking yellow eye. Awesome. Also at this site were a big fat female Goshawk, many Common Buzzards, singing Woodlark, Redstart and Cuckoo, and a Raven. Elsewhere on the ride there and back, I had a Firecrest in song - didn't even have to get off the bike!

Now past 2500km (or 1500 miles, whichever you prefer), with 100+ miles in two days, and over 107 hours of riding! Average 14.1km per bird, mind you....

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Be in no doubt: the Iron Man lives in HAMPSHIRE - a Cup Final day twitch. 177 species in total

This was the toughest yet, despite it not being very cold, and it not being the longest ride. Acting on a pager update, I left home at about noon in torrential rain, getting freezing cold and utterly bedraggled as I cycled mostly uphill to the north-east of Winchester. More positive news steeled my backbone, and the uphill continued, albeit with a following wind. Exhausted and very chilled, I reached Odiham and Tundry Pond at about 1400, and ran (yes, ran) down the towpath - I was not going to dip for the sake of a lazy five minutes on foot! Immediately on arrival - contact! The very fine adult WHISKERED TERN was still present with three or four Common Terns. A Hampshire tick, my first BB rare on the year-list, and a right mega. I felt so smug alongside Simon Ingram and several other car-based Hants listers!

The ride home was pretty diabolical - OK, the ride was net downhill, but the ever-stiffening headwind made it feel uphill! Add in a misaligned rear wheel and a slow puncture 10 miles from home (my hands were shaking so much I had trouble changing the tyre!), and this Whiskered Tern was one bird I had surely worked hard enough to deserve.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Another shoo-in. 176 species in total

Acting on some nice specific gen from HOSlist, a short evening ride to Chilland near Easton in the Itchen valley produced a Spotted Flycatcher on a rooftop aerial. (We followed this with a slap-up meal at The Bush in Ovington!) The regular birds in central Winchester have not returned - yet?

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Norfolk pulls ahead, but Hampshire gets one back. 175 species in total

Chris had been scoring very heavily this weekend up in Norfolk (Garganey, Montagu's Harrier, Woodchat Shrike and Stilt Sandpiper, no less!), so there was nothing for it but a bit of blind optimism, and the hope that the two Roseate Terns at Hill Head would extend their spring stopover to three days. So 1.5 hours of pedalling on a chilly morning saw me in place on the seafront by 0900, at low tide. Plenty of Common and Sandwich Terns about, and a single Little Tern flew past, plus about 40 Eider offshore, but an early scan of the distant shingle banks produced just a 'possible' Rosie which quickly got lost in a tern dread. Pinning my hopes on the rising tide, Julia (who had joined me by car) and I worked the reserve - plenty to see, including 2 Peregrines, several Buzzards and Sparrowhawks, four Avocets, a few migrant Dunlin, the plastic Egyptian Goose and a completely wild and genuine Red-crested Pochard (the same one I saw at Curbridge, AND AM HAVING - it was still hanging out with two Shelducks). Many Whitethroats, Cetti's, Sedgies and Reed Warblers too, plus a quick Hairy Dragonfly fly-by.

Back to the shore - a check of some 30 Common Terns on a small island, and there they were - 2 Roseate Terns safely on the list. Much harder to pick out in strong sunlight than on a grey autumn day, but quite distinctive, and easiest to relocate when all the Common Terns displayed, and they sat there doing nothing!

Buoyed up, the ride home in warm spring sunshine was a genuine pleasure.

Friday, May 13, 2005

This non-motorised birding is EASY! 174 species in total

The first garden bird addition to the list since January 29th - a Hobby screamed around causing panic among the Swifts and Swallows this evening, effectively saving me several hours of pedalling about and scouring the skies in the New Forest! Only about our 3rd or 4th garden Hobby ever, and a really welcome boost in a hopelessly busy period at work. And the weather forecast for the weekend looks poor - so I may be getting a bit stuck....

Sunday, May 08, 2005

A long slog for one more. 173 species in total

After a couple of local dips for the species, I headed out east to Noar Hill, near Selborne, for a 64km round trip, with just one target species in mind. I arrived late afternoon just as some heavy showers did, and proceeded to dip horribly for about an hour - but finally, when the sun came out and the wind dropped, a single Turtle Dove started purring contentedly in the scrub on the east side of the reserve. Success! The ride home was pretty miserable, into a stiff headwind and a low, bright sun. Not much fun....

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Election day dove dip. 172 species in total

34km with no target species - no Turtle Doves to be found at the formerly regular site of Micheldever, alas. Dingy Skipper, Common Spotted Orchid and Twayblade provided the only compensation in sunny, but windy conditions.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Birding by night - Mr Whiplash is in town. 172 species in total

A night ride, departing home at 2200 to ride 'a certain distance' in 'a certain direction' to 'a certain site', meeting up with 'certain people' at the far end. After a bit of getting lost in the dark, I found the right spot, and in between bursts of Nightingale song - there it was! A Spotted Crake proclaiming territory loud and clear in the marsh! Fantastic stuff.

I cycled home in the light rain - getting back at 'a certain ungodly hour'.....

Sunday, May 01, 2005

The longest ride yet - with good returns! 171 species in total

145km today, starting at 0530 - I remain "Iron Man"! Off into the dawn and south through the New Forest (beautiful), arriving at Keyhaven at about 0800 - in thick fog! Oh dear....not good for seawatching.

I gave it an hour or two around the marshes to kill time, bumping into 'the three amigos' (Tim, Marc and Russell), and saw a few good birds - Common Sandpiper was new but hardly unexpected, but there were also two Garganey (a pair) behind the Fishtail Lagoon, plus a smart Golden Plover, and Whitethroats and Sedgies in abundance, plus heard only Bearded Tits.

The sun finally looked like it was going to win the battle, so I set myself up on the beach, where I was soon joined by Marcus and Zoe, although not before scoring big time with a pale phase Arctic Skua right over my head, looking pretty lost in the fog, and tailing a Whimbrel! Also new were six Kittiwakes moving east. Things looked bright to begin with, with a few Common Scoter and a Red-throated Diver east, but it then dried up, and we were left with just the local Little Terns to look at. But dribs and drabs turned up - the best of which was an Arctic Tern with a group of five Common Terns, inevitably migrating eastwards.

I packed in just after 1300 (whereupon another Arctic Skua - much more distant - flew by!), and cycled north. I'd misjudged my fluids, and had to stop to rehydrate and rest - pounding headache! But I was OK after Brockenhurst, and decided to try a speculative side-excursion to Mark Ash Wood. Within literally seconds of entering the wood, and without even getting off the bike - a singing Wood Warbler filled the air with its shimmering glissando (did I really just write that?!). A good finish - five new ones, with some decent quality.

Postscript: I also had a singing Firecrest 'somewhere in the New Forest' today....

Saturday, April 30, 2005

Rattled - then nailed. 166 species in total

After a very damp hour and a bit around Morestead Down in the early morning, I was beginning to think my target species had gone extinct. But a short afternoon ride in hot sunshine to Magdalen Hill Down provided that 'Ivory-billed Woodpecker' moment - a single singing male Lesser Whitethroat, rattling away unseen in the blackthorn scrub - also lots of Green Hairstreaks and some Orange Tips here today.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

A week with nothing - in late April!

In the last week I have done 116km and seen precisely NO NEW BIRDS! The lastest failure was a cross-country hike in windy and cool conditions round Morestead Down on the MTB - no lesser Whitethroats or Turtle Doves, and nowt exciting at the sewage farm. At least there are hirundines and Swifts in in numbers now, but still virtually no Whitethroats, and few Sedgies either. Worrying.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Quite a big venture, nothing gained. 165 species in total

With a stiff SE breeze and rain in the offing, things were looking good for a seawatch, and the three possible target species (Arctic Tern, Arctic Skua, Little Gull) had all been seen in the past 36 hours - so Stokes Bay it was! I set off at about 1600, riding into the headwind all the way to Gosport in about an hour and a half. On arrival, things looked quite bright, with several Barwits, Curlews and Sandwich Terns migrating past, and a few hirundines in off the sea - but then I sat and had nearly two hours of virtually nothing! Not even a Common Tern....

I felt thoroughly deflated, and my tyre decided to show sympathy by having a puncture along Browndown seafront.....grrrrr. Titchfield was equally deathly from the road - just two Cuckoos were of note, and certainly no sound of a singing Gropper, albeit in increasingly windy conditions.

Riding home via Flagpond Copse, I didn't even hear a Nightingale - so my return home at 2130 was after a 75km fitness ride with virtually nothing birdwise to show for it! Now up to 11.6km per bird....

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Succumbing to the 'arch splitter'. 165 species in total

For the sake of comparability, I have succumbed to Chris's dubious taxonomic wisdom, and am treating Black Brant as a full species - at least we have both seen one!

Still parky of a morning - but two more pinned down. 164 species in total

Flippin' chilly this morning, in thick fog at times, and with a surprisingly chilly east wind. The 0500 wake up plan worked, and I was at Casbrook Common in the Test Valley by 0615, and hearing 2 singing Nightingales immediately on arrival - target species nailed instantly! One of them got very showy and sang right out in the open for several minutes. Also it was a relief (but hardly a surprise) to hear a Cuckoo singing distantly in the mist as the blood red sun got up.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

By the cold light of dawn....nuffink! 162 species in total

An 0530 start, and up to Winnall Moors to try for a Gropper, completely on spec! No joy, although there were several new Sedgies in, and the usual three or four Cetti's in song. Then up to Morestead down to try my hand at Lesser Whitethroat - again, no luck, but there was a Common Whitethroat in song. No Cuckoos anywhere to be heard either, although I did finally catch up with the singing Cetti's Warbler by the Itchen south of the College on the way back - the first on territory there for some years.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

The big weekend - part 2. 162 species in total

Up at 0545, and swiftly out into the field – as we got my bike out of the garage, a guttural ‘growk’ overhead had us both looking up and calling “Med Gull!” – a garden and Sway tick for Steve – a good start! On the way down to Hurst, in frosty and very calm conditions, I heard a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker drumming – they’re clearly a bit commoner than you imagine sitting in a car!

I was in position at the base of the beach at 0645 on a truly glorious, flat calm morning, and had the place to myself for the best part of an hour, before first Phil Lord & David Thelwell, and later Marc Moody arrived for company and more pairs of eyes! I quickly connected with several flocks of Common Scoter milling about offshore, and there were many Gannets and a few Fulmars drifting past. A tight flock of Eider heading east made a long-anticipated debut on the year list, and we had three Red-throated Divers rapidly east too, though these were easily trumped by a close Black-throated Diver (a Hants tick for me), flagged up in advance by a phone call from Steve up at Barton-on-Sea. Steve also successfully tipped us off on the position of the semi-resident Shag near the yellow buoy!

A very few Common Terns also moved through, along with several Little and Sandwich Terns mooching about in the area, and a hoped-for but not really expected addition was Great Skua, with two migrating strongly east. Another Hampshire (albeit tart’s) tick in the bag! After the first, we phoned Steve, who quickly got onto the second one – a Barton tick for him! Nice to be able to return the favour….

Once things had dried up by about 1100, I headed back to Keyhaven, and stopped by the lagoon, where two birders had their scopes up. Any luck? Yes! The drake Garganey was on show – result! Buoyed up, I headed on to the balancing pond area, where a Gropper had been in song at dawn – no joy, needless to say…. But a Reed Warbler grumbled away in the reedbed, and I heard and glimpsed several Bearded Tits over the Phragmites too, in addition to several quite showy Cetti’s Warblers, and yet more Swallows appearing over the marshes. Finally for the coast, I connected with the singing Whitethroat near the jetty.

A speculative stop in the New Forest on the way home, hoping for Wood Warbler, produced instead a singing Garden Warbler – a fitting end to a very good day and weekend, packed full of quality birds and the thrill of migration time. 18 new species for the weekend!

The big weekend - part 1. 151 species in total

I was pretty much ready to go for the ‘big weekend’, when breaking news of the reappearance of the “Longparish Chiffchaff” made me change my plans. I had missed this bird the previous week as I was up in London, but it had now been relocated, and informed opinion seemed to be inclining towards Iberian Chiffchaff – I couldn’t not go for it! So it was off on a 40km warm-up ride to the north of Winchester. I heard the bird immediately on arrival – and it didn’t sound quite right. It was pretty convincing for a while, but then slipped into pure ‘chiff-chaff’ song – at best a dreaded ‘mixed singer’, or maybe a hybrid? Certainly an interesting bird, but my legs could have done without the mileage! Never mind….

So after that false start, I set off just after 1100, and surprised myself by reaching Pennington in only just over two hours. I spent the rest of the afternoon doing a long walk around Pennington, Oxey and Normandy marshes, with good results. After seeing a couple of Med Gulls, and a pair of very smart White Wagtails on the beach, I scored my first new species with a flock of 10 Whimbrel, the first of about 25 seen over the weekend. In quick succession, I had several Little Terns (at least 10 were around the area), plus the hoped for 4 Spotted Redshanks and at least 7 Greenshanks, in addition to a few commoner waders, including the superb Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits, now in almost full breeding plumage. A moderate Swallow passage was also going on, with about 200 an hour mid-afternoon.

I returned to my bike, and pushed it along the back lane to Keyhaven – sadly no sign of the drake Garganey which had been present until at least Thursday. But up at Hurst Beach, I scored quite quickly with a distant Fulmar and a couple of House Martins in off the sea. The light wasn’t great for other seabirds, so I kept my powder dry, and headed for Milford-on-Sea. From the clifftop, I had another, much closer Fulmar, and better still, a pretty early Swift flew low over the houses as dusk closed in. I treated myself to a slap-up Italian meal, and then pedalled up to Sway, to check in with Steve Keen, who had very kindly offered me a bed for the night. Once introduced to the family (including Barney the puppy), we went out for a beer or two at the local hostelry, but I crashed out soon after 2200, with seven new birds in the bank!

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Gross - achieved with an easy one. 144 species in total

A specific and very local bike-pootle with Julia to Winnall Moors NR this morning produced a far from unexpected singing Sedge Warbler, but still no Cuckoo, House Martin etc.! Also a Cetti's Warbler in song - nice to hear this only 1.6km from home!

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

1000 miles completed - and one new species. 143 species in total

A day of two halves! A 33km 'mystery tour' in search of another rare breeder turned up distant but tickable views of a Red Kite 'somewhere in central Hampshire' - good average speed over hilly terrain, despite heavy legs! On my return home, and with a hot bath beckoning, I got a phone call from Simon Ingram down at Lakeside Country Park in Eastleigh - the Gropper he'd found this morning, and which I'd dipped on a brief car-based drop-in at lunch time, had been singing again at 1300! So I put my cycling kit back on, and made the 15km journey down the valley. He called again to say it was reeling at 1845 - I arrived at 1910, feeling pretty confident....and dipped horribly! I left after 2000, getting cold and with the darkness closing in - blast! Perhaps a dawn ride tomorrow? I'll wait for news before testing my legs still further!

A big milestone today - 1000 miles clocked up in the quest for birds, at 7 miles (11.6km) per species.

Monday, April 11, 2005

The human splat-o-meter! But very definitely worth it.... 142 species in total

In beautiful spring sunshine, I took a 77km 'mystery tour' of the downs north and west of Winchester, with one big target species, and the hope of a few early migrants in the warm valleys. None of the latter at all (apart from a few Swallows and lots of Willow Warblers), but a big Hampshire speciality nailed in the shape of a pair of Stone Curlews at a traditional (but necessarily secret) site, where I also had two Grey Partridges.

Parts of the ride were incredibly insect-infested - big juicy black ones which were quite painful at 30km/h! Glad I wore shades. Also the first Orange Tips of the year (unsplatted.....)

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Still no new migrants! 141 species in total

A speculative ride along the Itchen Valley today (30km) on a beautiful (if slightly windy and cold) morning produced precisely no new birds - none of the hoped for House Martin, Cuckoo or Sedge Warbler being in evidence.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Just more kilometres.... 141 species in total

No new species in today's 43km exploration of the downs, but another Swallow, lots of Yellowhammers (still in flocks), breeding Lapwing and good low-tempo muscle conditioning!

Monday, April 04, 2005

The magnificent seven – both blockers and shoo-ins on a wet spring morning. 141 species in total

The forecast was grim, and at 0530 I had to make a choice – go for it, or roll over and postpone until another day. I made the right choice, and left the house by 0600.

A Tawny Owl on a hedge near Hursley was a promising start, but as expected it started raining, just after Romsey. And it got wetter and wetter as I headed into the Forest. A solitary and very bedraggled Swallow provided further encouragement, however, and I heard a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker calling at Half Moon Common, along with the first of many singing Willow Warblers today. I had about 8 Buzzards on the deck alongside the road in the early morning – after earthworms?

Ocknell Plain was plain medieval in the (now driving) rain and cold headwind, although somehow I fluked a Dartford Warbler en route, a Woodlark gave a brief “lululu” of song, and there were lots of Stonechats and Meadow Pipits to see. My first site stop was Milkham Enclosure. In rain and low cloud, I walked into the pine woods, and scored quickly with two Tree Pipits, one in song, in the main clearing. There were also lots of calling and singing Siskins, a species I had recorded only once before this year. It took a good half an hour of walking about to find the other target species, but as so often happens, once I’d had one contact, I had lots more, including two right over the entrance gate - Crossbill!

With spirits definitely up, I headed south, under the A35, and on to the Bolderwood/Blackwater area. The weather improved markedly at this point, and that was the end of the much-vaunted rain. In this area, one of my favourite bits of the Forest, I scored really heavily – all three ‘peckers, including three more Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers (two drumming), Redstart in song, 50+ Bramblings, many in song (thanks to Mark Litjens for the gen on this one), 2 flyover Hawfinches, another daytime Tawny Owl, Marsh Tit, Nuthatch, Treecreeper – all that was missing was Wood Warbler, and not for want of listening! A bit early yet....

Quite satisfied, I headed for home, unbelievably finding yet another drumming Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, this time at Bramshaw Wood (5 contacts today!), along with lots more singing Willow Warblers and Meadow Pipits in the improving conditions. 90km covered at a pretty steady pace, and home by 1130! One hell of a Forest morning, by any standards at all.

Plus: I added singing Firecrest to the list today as well – for obvious reasons, I will go no further than to say “somewhere in the New Forest”....

Sunday, April 03, 2005

One up, but the big prize was something else.... 134 species in total

A late afternoon trip to the sewage farm produced the much-anticipated Sand Martin (albeit grotty views of a very distant single bird!), as well as a pair of Yellowhammers down by the feeders, and a nice flock of 43 Golden Plovers over to the east, many of them in smart summer plumage.

But the best bird, and a true **mega** in that it was actually a new species for the sewage farm, was a hulking and rather tatty RAVEN over Morestead Down. It was going to appear one day, given the changing status of the species in the county, but I'm just chuffed that it was me that got to add it to the list! Little Gull, Arctic Tern and now Raven - my hat-trick of 'firsts' complete!

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Fog-bound, but successful. 133 species in total

On the road by 0630, and a rendezvous with Julian McCarthy, my non-birding cycling companion for the morning – I met him on the internet (ooer) when shopping for my Lemond bike back in February. Avoiding the matching ‘Harold & Hilda’ outfits to go with our matching bikes, we headed north-east out of town, and quickly onto quiet but very foggy roads around Micheldever and towards Basingstoke. This is an area of the county I hardly know at all, and it was good to see somewhere fresh so close to home.

We got to Ewhurst Park by about 0810, locked the bikes up, and headed into the coppice. I had warned Julian that I’d either be about 5 minutes or hours – he had a contingency plan in the latter case – namely buggering off home on his own! As luck would have it, virtually the first bird contact in the wood was the target species – a calling Willow Tit, being seen off quite vigorously by a pair of Blue Tits. This bird was a good ½ a mile away from the spot where I’d seen one on my recce mission a fortnight back – so perhaps the population in this wood remains viable?

Anyway, bird in the bag, we rolled back via Overton (coffee and pastries), and (guess what) yet ANOTHER rear flat near Egypt. It really doesn’t appear to be me....but I’m going to fit thicker tape just in case. To add insult to injury, once I’d inflated the (brand new) spare, the valve promptly blew out. Start again! The belt and braces 2nd spare came out, and got me home! We also had a potentially nasty incident here – a riderless horse bolted past us down the hill and straight across a busy road – I ran back up the hill to look for the rider, fully expecting something very unpleasant. Luckily, the rider was fine – she was much more worried about the horse than her bruises. All OK in the end, thank goodness.

We cruised home – drafting really does work if you can dare to get close enough to the rider in front! – and dropped in for a quick drink and a ‘hello’ at Julian’s girlfriend’s house in Winchester. Home by 1215 – mission accomplished and a very pleasant social ticked off too! Also, over 10km per species today...

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

At last! Tyres and tide combine to produce the right result. 132 species in total

A drizzly, damp dawn did not deter me from making the now familiar 50 minute trip to Curbridge, this time without any flat tyres, and with a more favourable tide. I walked along the muddy riverside path for over a mile, initially dipping completely, but having almost given up, I turned back, and there was the drake Red-crested Pochard sat on the mud with two Shelducks. I must have walked past it on the way down! Tickable, or plastic as hell? It stood up, revealing ring-free legs, looked nervous (with the old ‘bouffant hairstyle’), and promptly flew strongly off, with immaculate primaries. Good enough for me - for now at least, the bird gets the benefit of the doubt! Thanks to John Faithfull for the detailed gen on this one.

Also present were a dozen Curlew, about 10 Little Egrets, lots of Green and Great Spotted Woodpeckers, several Redshanks and a Buzzard, although none of the hoped-for Greenshanks as yet, and no hirundines (can’t say I blame them). Additionally, Wood Anemones were out in abundance, and I saw my first Bluebells and Cowslips in flower.

A late afternoon jaunt to the sewage farm in the Scotch mist was deeply unsuccessful. Still no hirundines!

Monday, March 28, 2005

Blown out once more. 131 species in total

I was going to take a day off today, and Julia and I enjoyed a car-based early morning at Hengistbury and in the Avon Valley (Sand Martin, Wheatear, Sandwich Tern, Cetti’s and Dartford Warblers, LRP, Goosander and Goldeneye). But an email from John Faithfull got me going to Curbridge again – the Red-crested Pochard had been seen again! But once more, disaster struck, with another puncture, this time just south of Fair Oak. Cursing, I reached again for my spare inner tube – double disaster! I’d managed to bring the wrong size – the one I had was for my hybrid, not the road bike......grrrrrr. I had no option but to call for ‘back up’ – thanks for the lift home, Julia!

Feeling like a right berk, I decided to make the best of a bad job, and headed up onto the downs on the trusty old hybrid, for the exercise, as much as anything! I had a flyover Peregrine at Cheesefoot Head, and loads of Skylarks, Yellowhammers and Chaffinches, plus a small flock of five or six Corn Buntings, several Buzzards and Lapwings, and a few Bullfinches. Sadly, I could not locate any Bramblings among the finch flocks, and I did not manage any other ‘hoped-for’ raptors. They will come....