Sunday, January 23, 2005

Aagh! I hurt! The first 'biggie' of 2005 - 78 species in total

Me at Vales Moor NF, just after ticking Great Grey Shrike, and (more importantly) eating lunch!

A 119km (74 mile) mega-ride today, to tick off a couple of pesky Avon Valley specialities, and (as it turned out) a few New Forest blockers too.

I set off at 0800, reaching Eyeworth Pond two hours later (via several Pied Wagtails), with two blocks of ice in my shoes – utterly blue skies and icy puddles to crack through. I scored immediately with Mandarin Duck and a calling Nuthatch, and fluked a fly-through Peregrine, too. Back up the road, and then another ½ an hour west to Ibsley Bridge (with a Stonechat on the way), where I bumped into George Spraggs and Dave Wheatley, who kindly let me scope the 8 Bewick’s Swans on the water-meadows. My back-up team (Julia) soon arrived with soup, a hot-water bottle and sympathy!

Still naffing cold, we checked the gravel pit complex – no Great White Egret, alas (we missed it fly onto the water-meadows by just a few minutes, it later transpired), but many ‘common’ new species – Great Crested Grebe, Canada Goose, Shelduck, Wigeon, Pintail, Pochard, Tufted Duck and Great Black-backed Gull. We also connected with another Peregrine, perched on a gravel island, and successfully found three tricker ducks – Ruddy Duck, Goldeneye and 3 Goosanders, all on Ibsley Water.

Pushing on, I cycled through Ringwood and down to Vales Moor in the Forest, where a Shrike had been reported a week or so ago. We wandered around for a bit after a bite of lunch, successfully ticking off Dartford Warbler, but appeared to be dipping on “the big one” – until we met Alan Hayden from CHOG, who had an accomplice a mile or so to the south, reportedly watching the bird now! So we marched along with him for a while, and when he spotted Leo in the distance, we scoped up, and there was a very distant but tickable Great Grey Shrike – cashback! Cheers, Alan.

Photo courtesy Alan Hayden

Next and final stop was Blackwater Arboretum – we arrived just after 1400, and walked about, narrowly missing Crossbill, unfortunately. But we did hear a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker – that avoids an icy morning’s ride to Denny Wood in March, then.... And right on cue, just before 1500, a single Hawfinch flew in and perched very showily in the conifers by the bench.

Photo courtesy Alan Hayden

21 species added over the whole day, with a day total of 67 - not bad at all.

Mission essentially accomplished, I set off, unencumbered by bins, fluorescently into the afternoon. There’s no point denying it – after Lyndhurst, it became flaming hard work, but by 1705, I had finally got home, with the dusk just closing in. Never has a cup of tea tasted so good, or a bath been so welcome!

At this point I must mention my good mate Chris Mills in Norfolk – inspired (?) by my project, he’s now set himself up in healthy and friendly rivalry – Hants v. Norfolk it is, then! See his blog at Birderonabike.