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!