Setting Off From Sandwell valley

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Tuesday 17th February 2010 The Unexpected makes the Day

The plan for the day - cycle to Figsbury Rings, a superb iron age hill fort NE of salisbury; find Winterbourne Downs RSPB reserve; cycle to Stonehenge and marvel at the stones then finish the day looking over Normanton Downs RSPB reserve and finish up ay Old Sarum.

How did it go? Unexpectedly.

Figsbury Rings magnificent and so large with a brilliant central ditch system.

Winterbourne Downs, well didn't get there until 12.30 because I was the wrong side of Porton Down and the road to Porton was closed for total redoing.

Then a few phone calls, initially to ask 'where is Winterbourne Downs reserve?' turned into why not visit the Great Bustard project? A phone call from the wonderful Lynn had me in tears as it turned out that my dear late friend Gordon Barnes' great bustard, one that he found whilst a crofter on Fair isle, was at the Great Bustard Group's site at Winterbourne Gunner. Back in 1970 Gordon found the female and had to look after it for much of that winter 40 years ago. With serious motivation to go the extra mile made it and wondered at the coincidence. Gordon was a fabulous person and I was so lucky to know him and be able to call him friend.

On the way down the stony lane to get to the caravan a bustard flew in front of me and joined 4 others on the hillside. I only had eyes for these birds and cycled past 2 very obvious land rovers and the bustard centre. Returned to meet Alasdair Dawes and Lynn, two charmingly fantastic people and together we pieced together some of the story of the stuffed female bustard. Photographs taken and the promise of Gordon's photos with the bird to be sent for display.

Now here we go - can I count the eventual 7 great bustards on my non-motorised year list? It would make it 140.

Here are some comments from friends who I contacted via text to discuss such an issue :-

"No way - are you counting plastic stuff now?"

"Can you count things with wing tags?"

"You have no morals - you'll get an extra 50 species at Slimbridge at this rate."

"Those Salisbury chaps are charming."

Now Alasdair wants me to make it bird number 140.

So eventually got to Stonehenge just as the light was fading and after meeting a couple of blokes from Wolverhampton [thanks for the donations lads!] rode over as far as I could along the western edge of Normanton Down. RL partridge, pheasant, lapwing and little owl calling but really it was to dark by now to see anything but the beautiful crescent Moon, Orion and the Dog Star and Mars amongst the stars. Once dark cycling impossible along the bridleway so push until the main road about a mile or so further on. Finally made same road with the bike clogged up with thick mud and ate the last of my malt loaf.

Now for a request. Where the Bridleway meets the A360 [Grid referemce SU 099393] there is a white barn type building. This is where I ate the last of my malt loaf, where I recovered from the push in the muddy dark and where I stupidly left my pannier cover, yellow and vital. If anyone is passing the spot and can post it to my parents' house at 79 hanworth Road, warwick CV34 5DX, then obviously I would be more than grateful and would recompense anyone for  any expense incurred.

So on getting back to the youth hostel in Salisbury at 8.10pm, ate, talked and reflected on such a totally unexpected event - Gordon's great bustard. A great bird found by a great man 40 years ago almost to the day.

PS. why not visit the Great Bustard Project Centre and meet Lynn and Alasdair? Also maybe go on a guided tour. 5 minutes drive from Stonehenge [cycling took a bit longer]

telephone   07817 917 327


website      http://www.greatbustard,org/

You'll find the centre just north of Enford on the A345. I saw 7 great bustards there and 'WHAT A BIRD!!!'


  1. No worries, Gary, Ill swing by in the morning and see if I can find your cover... and your puncture repair kit ;-)
    Thanks for a great afternoon, just sorry you ended up in the dark!
    But surely it was worth it for number 140?

  2. Yes, count it. The only reason it's "plastic" right now is because we screwed with it or its environment and it's had to be re-introduced. Go back a few centuries on your time-bike and it would have been a certain tick.

  3. sorry, no joy with the cover.
    walked down the bridle way and drove down the road to see if it had come off elsewhere.
    bin liner it is then!
    those damn bustards, eh?

  4. Thanks Andy for trying with the cover. As you say bin liner it will be. That walk over Normanton Down in the dark was actually fabulous. Thick sticky mud, loads of stars, Mars and a beautiful crescent Moon. Birds too and a great laugh pushing the bike. Now at home [!] for 2 days rest and have received a wonderful letter of support from Bill Oddie.
    All the very best Al and Lynn. Your Otis magazine was a great read and I'll try to get those photos of Gordon barnes with the bustard.

  5. Dear Andy. I fully concur with your sentiments over counting the great bustard and hopefully in the not to distant future, thanks to the wonderful work of the Breat Bustard Group, the question of counting them on a life or year list won't arise.