Setting Off From Sandwell valley

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Back to Slimbridge Tuesday 30th March 2010 Biking Birder moves on.....

So after visiting 'my' school yesterday, Rigby hall Special School [hello Kieran!!! - and class 3.3, oh and Taylor Ann, thanks for the Villa cards and class 4.3 - missing you too and all the children and all the staff - missing all of you.] got to Worcester and went to the Cathedral for an hour. Thanks to the ladies at the reception for the donations. Eventually got to frampton where I set up the tent and just as I settled down to read Bill Oddie's Little Black Bird Book, down came the rain. Me as snug as a bug didn't care and despite heavy rain overnight I slept well.

So Tuesday - awoke to the alarm of my mobile phone at 6.00am and listened to the dawn chorus which today included the first willow warbler of the year and the first singing blackcap.

Now I may have said this before but I love Slimbridge. I went back today ostensibly to but the latest edition of the Collins Bird Guide, which with money off at £15 was a bargain. Indeed if one was to join the WWT at Slimbridge you would get a copy free; now there's a great reason for going and joining.

Holden Tower - 2 willow warblers, 2 wheatear; a male and a female, 2 greenland whitefronts, the pink-footed goose and a distant great white egret. Good list with 27 swallows too and now the year list up to 163. Barnaby Bear and I gave out stickers to children who said hello to him and through the rain I cycled to gloucester where I am now on the internet for free!!! Good old Gloucestershire.

Gave £7.01 to the WWT from my collecting 'tin' from the front of my bike and that together with the £74.00 last week means a tidy sum for the WWT.

Met a lovely young 4 year old with her Mother who said her name was an Ethiopian version of Emily from Bagpuss. She was disappointed at the lack of wood duck but on the way to try to see kingfishers. Another maya Rose in the making. Watch out Maya you've got competition.

Right now to go to Gloucester Cathedral and then on to Higham Wood RSPB reserve. Looking forward to those and then Symonds yat and the Forest of Dean. Should be good. Will I see goshawk and hawfinch. They're why I'm here at this time of year so here's hoping.

All the best everyone,


PS Councils. .Pplease fill in the potholes

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Sunday 28th March 2010 Rest Day

Well Earth Hour has gone and news of it on the BBC news this morning was brief. I love those images though of major cities around the world doing their bit; Sydney, Paris, Hong Kong etc.

Now I've just seen an advert about Nestle and their rainforest destruction. I haven't had their coffee or Kit Kats for sometime but this reinforces my feelings over their practises. Have a look at it ...

Great to see the 10,000 birds website [  ] advocating the same. Boycott Nestle and let them know you're doing so. Maybe they'll stop detroying the rainforest.

So after the hospitality of the Craig family at Chew Valley reservoir, I went around the area again searching for the fudge duck but no luck there. Did see the lesser scaup though up by the dam in pouring rain and with a very strong gale.

Then went to Stanton Drew stone circles. I'd never been here before but considering they are only 10 miles or so from Bristol they are amazing. 3 extensive stone circles with large stones associated with them. The local pub also had 3 large stones in their beer garden. Well worth the visit and I'll be doing some research on them when I can. I'd met some ladies from the US of A here but they asked not to mention who they were until April! OK girls I'll hang on.

Into Bristol and what a wonderful city. I'd only been through it before and that was 30 plus years ago on the way to seeing Villa against Bristol City. Found the recently refurbished youth hostel and then went to both the Art gallery and the cathedral.

Next day off towards the Severn Estuary by following the Avon to Avonmouth and then north to see both Severn Bridges. Found a black redstart at the older of the two bridges and then a phone call from Slimbridge and rain starting to fall, persuaded me to get to the WWT centre a day early.

Met by Sally Monroe once I'd arrived and photographed by James Lees, the warden in front of the Peter Scott bust. Massive works going on around the grounds so despite looking like a building site at the moment, a visit next year, once I'm finished with 2010, will be interesting. Down to the Holden Hide but only the pink-footed goose on view.

An evening with the two Daves and Jane, Dave Paynter's wife was extremely enjoyable and the chilli wasn't very hot.

A peregrine was the first bird seen next day and I had the privilige [that seems to be a running aspect of my trip] of going around the reserve with James Lees in the morning at Slimbridge. There weren't many birds to see, just a fall of chiff chaffs apparent but hearing his stories was the real delight. How can someone find 6 American waders in one day at Slimbridge? James did - semi-p', 2 buff breasts and 3 pecs. He also talked about his time on North Ronaldsay and of finding a Syke's warbler, Calandra lark and a veery. I suppose over the last almost 3 months now I've met 3 brilliant birders and James is one of them. A superbly talented birder and a real inspiration to meet.

On the radio later in the morning, BBC radio WM with Louise Pattersen of the RSPB. A nice phone call from Crutchley, a birding friend from Wolverhampton, said that I was OK and that my Brummie accent sounded strong.

Now it's the final day of my 3rd rest period. I've cleaned the bike and got everything ready for the off tomorrow. I intend to visit Rigby Hall Special School on the way to Gloucester and look forward to seeing colleagues and children there. They've just had their Ofsted. I hope it went well.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

EARTH HOUR 2010 - 8.30pm March 27th It's THIS SATURDAY!!!! Biking Birder

How time flies. Last year the children at the school that I am at the moment away from took part in the International EARTH HOUR. google search -  earth hour WWF  - for details.

Now it's that time of year again when as a message to the World's leaders we're asked to take part in the event that started in Sydney, Australia.

Well I'll be doing my bit and if you can take part, turn off your carbon devices at 8.30pm this Saturday then please register. the link is :-

Sunday, 21 March 2010

The Perfect family! Chew valley Sunday 21st March 2010

I've met them. The perfect family. A family of wonderful, enthusiastic birders with Mum and Dad, Helena and Chris together with a most brilliant 7 year old with a life list of 350, a year list of 324 for 2009 and notebooks that tell of her adventures. Well done Mya-Rose! You're an angel and to run Lee Evans so close last year was fabulous. Have a look on surfbirds for 2009 and you'll see what I mean.

Met Chris at Chew Valley today, whilst spending hours waiting for yesterday's ferruginous duck to show - it didn't. Swallow [159] did though with over 100 sand martins, and an adult kittiwake.

Yesterday had been at Shapwick, as the day before, and saw the long-tailed duck, a female smew, the 3 glossy ibis, 2 great white egrets, a bittern [heard more booming] and 8 whooper swans, with a black swan. Actually although most of these birds were seen on Shapwick nature reserve, one great white egret was at Sharpham. So another RSPB reserve seen and memories of last year's little bittern seen so well and heard even better.

Had visited West Sedgemoor RSPB reserve afetr Greylake and was surprised to find that most of it was a deciduous oak woodland. Great views of nesting herons.

OK - time for bed.

All the best everyone.

Chew Valley again tomorrow. Another attempt at the fudge duck. Then on towards Bristol and beyond.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Thursday 18th march 2010 - Greylake and West Sedgemoor, Somerset

2 spoonbill greeted me at Greylake, after I'd pushed the bike over along the footpath crossing the marshland near to the site of the last battle to occur in England. I'd visited the memorial at Westonzoyland to the Battle of Sedgemoor, where the rebels under Monmouth, was defeated by King James' army. I'd also been in the church with many excellent display boards detailing the event.

Had a stoat charging at me along the footpath; until it saw me, reared up and turned to leg it the other way.

Greylake - 21 egrets, a marsh harrier and the 2 very close and very active spoonbills. Spent the night nearby!

Early morning and a peregrine, a merlin [number 154], 2 marsh harriers, a kestrel and 3 buzzards were seen. The spoonbills came in again at around 7.20am and the forecast rain hadn't arrived. In fact it never did; well not up until now anyway.

Visited the Willow and Wetland Centre before cycling along a 'deja vue' road. I'd been here before - black-throated thrush a few years ago. Curload. I remember it well.

Found the RSPB reserve at West Sedgemoor. Not what I'd expected; turned out to be an oak wood on a hill. Herons in their nests on view from a hide and various titmice and nuthatch seen. A chiff chaff was also here.

Thanks everyone for keeping with me on this all.

Best wishes,


Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Can't count Dots! Somerset Wednesday 17th March

The dots in question were probably the reported velvet scoter and scaup out on the Bristol Channel at Stolford. Only 2 ducks out there. One was definitely a scoter sp. The other one wasn't but without a 'scope I couldn't get the detail on either of them needed to count the, Oh well, I'll hopefully see both species sometime during the year.

Saw England's tallest tree, a Douglas fir, yesterday. All alone at the Tall Tree place just south of Dunster. Taller than Trafalgar Column, so it says on the plaque there. Lots of siskins stinging about.

Cycled to Blue Anchor and studied the rocks. The cliff has a major change from a clay-like brown, soft rock to a harder grey cliff with peachy quartzite streaks.

I do hope that Patrick from Bridport made it! I met him at Stolford at 5.00pm and pointed him in the right direction for Burnham; a place he'd canoed past hours ago to get to where he was. He'd canoed down from Chepstow and was heading for Taunton but had missed the entrance to the River Parrot. Hope he made it.

A night in a wood beside a busy A road. The dawn chorus, lovely at 5.00am gave up as the traffic started to pass.

Right 2 minutes left on the internet at this library. £1.20 for 20 minutes. Somerset the most expensive library internet service yet.

All the best everyone,


Back - quite a lot better thanks.

Monday, 15 March 2010

Monday - Sunny Monday - Minehead Somerset 15th March 2010

Happy Birthday Sis! 21 today, 21 today - we wish!

Awoke to the sound of bramblings. A pair in the beech tree above the tent. Poked my head out to look and found a frostly scene with the sun just rising. Had found the corner of a field just east of Exford on Exmoor. Tawny in the night and a wader call I didn't recognise.

Yesterday had been a day of contrasts. Golden plover to wake me from my slumbers, also from the tent just outside Braunton, Devon. Explored the amazingly large sand dunes at Braunton Meadows and had then cycled to the RSPB reserve, number 43, at Chapel Wood. Indeed it does have a ruined chapel. Goldcrest, titmice, ravens, buzzard and a very hard to discern hill fort. Met an RSPB girl who I'd met before at Arne 2 weeks ago. What's this - are they checking up on me?

The rest of the day was spent cycling to my sleeping spot on the moors with amazing views of Lundy and the Taw Estuary as the sun went down.

Back feeling a bit better but that may be the tablets.

All the best everyone.


Saturday, 13 March 2010

Saturday 13th March - Holesworthy by Noon

Travelling agian, this time towards the RSPB reserve at Isley Marsh near Bideford, Devon. I must start by saying a huge thank you to Malcolm and Sylvia from Launceston. They rescued me when on Thursday I cycled from Bodmin along the A30 despite tremendous pain in the lower back. Heat pads and voltorol tablets helped but more so did the roll of a towel under the back as I lay on a bed. Thursday, well as well as the back the back brake lock had gone, disappeared as the pin had come out. To Halfords and a meeting with the wonderful specialist, Robin who fixed that and then was good enough to come 6 miles from Bodmin to help when the chain had broken as I cycled towards Colliford Lake. Another attempt to see the black duck, in vain unfortunately. Did see the lesser scaup again but this time on a nearby smaller lake whose name I can't remember but it begins with D!

Wednesday had been spent trying to get my back back in shape in Bodmin. Boots the Chemmists for advice and a library visit to take my mind off the panic of the pain.

Friday, a visit into Launceston for cycle repairs at the superb Launceston Cyles with Nigel giving much needed advice over cycle repair and usage. Too much oil so gear replacement and chain. Tried to see the castle but closed until April. In the church of St Mary Magdeline looked at each memorial stone and particularly the one about the Lawrences. Mum and Dad died around the age of 40 but their 4 children didn't reach that age; 2 died as infants with no age specified and the other two around the age of 20 each. Sad.

Bought a book in the Oxfam bookshop; Bill Oddie's Gripping Yarns.

Malcolm and Sylvia were great company and together we watched the Birds of paradise Natural World programme, followed by the same about Scottish wildlife. Midges, look forward to those this summer!

No I've cycled to holeworthy. The back is not good but must keep on schedule. Any advice for lower back pain? Dr Crutch has texted details of doing the 'cobra' and any other things that people do to get rid of the problem would be appreciated.

As usual please consider donating to any of the charities that I am doing all this for - the RSPB, Asthma UK and the WWT. Details on my website

All the best everyone.


Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Tuesday 9th March Redruth.

Well I've got a problem. My lower back is causing what one might call - jip! A night in the tent at Godrevy Head and I fell asleep watching the stars. Awoke cold and stiff and I thought that it would ease up but at the moment it hasn't. Oh well, I've got to March without any health problems so this will only add to the experience. rather be without it though.

Day - Monday was spent at Marazion and Hayle. A bittern was seen flying around over the reeds at the east end of the reserve. The east wind wasn't quite as strong as yesterday but strong enough to slow me down. Can't have it both ways; the weather is dry and very sunny.
Hayle was the place of my happiest family holidays when a child and I found what I thought was the house/chalet that we stayed in at Hayle Towans. Down onto the beach and found the caves I remember so well and the beach as large as ever.

Sunset over St Ives was beautiful but the total lack of cloud meant that it wasn't the spectacular I'd hoped for. Jupiter could then be seen just above the horizon. The lack of cloud and being sheltered from that keen east wind meant that there was a frost when I woke up in the morning. Packed and down to Gwithian nature reserve where I'd failed to see wheatear the night before and also failed to meet Ashley [sorry]. Found 2 cracking male wheatear this morning though. 151 on the year list.

Cycling has been very painful but made it to Portreath. Had a very close encounter with a stooping male peregrine whilst going along the coast road near the the National Trust's North Cliffs.

Now time to get going. The aim is to get as far as I can along the North Cornwall coast.

If anyone can offer any accommodation along my way to Bideford in the next few days then please phone 07988754090. Thanks.

Thanks to those who have made donations. Please do so on my website  where justgiving links direct you to your chosen charity.

All the very best everyone.

Monday, 8 March 2010

Monday 8th March. Back up Cornwall

Well that's the plan for today. I feel as though a major first part has been achieved, i.e. the south coast and now it's 'up' the country towards Shetland. Let's do the west side!
Yesterday had a great day exploring the Land's End peninsula. Cycled to St Just with the strong east wind at my back. Found a headless dead snipe on the road and saw a little weasel on a raod side bank.
27 golden plover on Land's End airport and then down onto the beach at Sennan Cove. Met an artist, Jim, who was painting with oils. A lovely man who coincidentally was a reading fan. Those who know will realise the coincidence. Myself a Villa fan, the match timed for 2.00pm was to be Villa v. Reading. A stunningly beautiful day at a spectacular location, photographs were taken of the lighthouse and cliffs but shelter from the wind was impossible except by going indoors. I did just that to watch the match at the large restuarant at the end of the land.
Shock horror and dejection at half time; 2-0 down and playing appallingly. Elation, relief and ecstacy 10 minutes into the second half as Villa got 3 goals back before winning 4-2. [No I swear it wasn't me who broke the chair whilst celebrating the 3rd goal!] Enjoyed the banter with the staff, particularly Joe, a genuine Arsenal fan.
The cycle back to Penzance was tough with the wond now in my face and very cold and strong. A puncture to the front tyre didn't help. Saw the whooper swan at Drift reservoir to get me to 150 for the year. Couldn't find any rare gulls at Newlyn but did receive donation from a local sitting on the harbour key.

My previous blog had me camping at the Eden project. Well I went back in a spent most of the day there. What a fabulous place but what would I give for the rainforest biome to have the butterflies and birds that such a place should have. I was so glad that I'd camped there to allow me to have longer there.

Had cycled towards Truro and set up camp beside the Fal Estuary, about 2 miles before the former. Beautiful calm sunset with greenshank, curlew, redshank and tawny owls calling. A little egret came close as the tide came in. The birds seemed to spend all night calling to each other and it came as a big surprise when I opened the flap of the tent only to have a sprinkling of ice come down on me. It hadn't seemed that cold.

To Truro Cathedral and sat for a while listening to the organist practising his pieces for later.

Met the warden of Stithians reservoir, Simon Taylor [thanks for the £10 donation!] and daniel Eva, a Cornish birder. Saw a water rail in a place where they shouldn't be.

Cycled to marazion the country road way with great views to the north and south Cornish coast. Past St Michael's Mount. Looking over Marazion one can see fields of polythene. I wonder how long before this area begins to look like Almeria in Spain? [Have a look on the satellite image for Almeria and realise that the white are thousands of plastic greenhouses.]

To Penzance youth hostel, the most luxurious yet with deep pile carpets and refurbished rooms.

Thanks to those who have made donations. Please do so on my website  where justgiving links direct you to your chosen charity.

All the very best everyone,


Friday, 5 March 2010

Eden Project Thurs/Fri March 4/5th Biking Birder

A cold night, very cold camping at Colliford Lake but saw the male lesser scaup both before 'retiring' and upon rising. Obligingly it flew towards me and landed just in front of me. The day, Thursday, had started with a cycle ride to Roadford Lake to see the ring-necked drake; also seen well. This now puts me onto 149 for the year.

The Eden Project, so good I thought I'd go twice. Actually if you pay to go in once and get your card registered you can go as many times as you like for the rest of the year. Well worth it too and I particularly enjoyed the very tame grey wagtails in the tropical rainforest. Well, that and the Cornish Pasty.

A cold night spent in the tent again, adjacent to the Project grounds gave me 17 specie of birds inc tawny owl, sparrowhawk and a female great spotted woodpecker drumming on the metal part at the top of a telegraph pole. Made a better sound i suppose. Also saw a badger; all these from my sleeping bag, as I wasn't going to get out of it with the heavy ground frost all around!

Thanks to those who have made donations. Please do so on my website  where  justgiving  links direct you to your chosen charity.

I'll be cycling up the North Cornwall coast over the next week; needing to be at Isley marsh, Devon by Saturday next [the 13th].

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

What A Beautiful Day - Dartmoor 2nd March 2010

Everywhere white with heavy frost this morning and a smashing breakfast at the youth hostel to set me off. No cloud and no wind. Perfect. Also no noise from cars - first time this year and only the sound of chaffinch, siskin, crows and thrushes, with the occasional dog to be heard.

Cycled and stopped at the many picturesque points along the way. Bridges and moorland, Dartmoor prison [!] and a stone circle with stone lines and a high standing circle. All the latter were at Merrivale on the road to Tavistock.

Arrived in tavistock and immediately saw a dipper from the bridge there. Another one for the year list.

Into the library and hence the blog.

Planned itinerary for the next few days :-

tomorrow - Colliford Lake to hopefully see black duck and lesser scaup.

Thursday - St Austell and the Eden Project.

Friday - Truro Cathedral

Saturday - get to marazion via Stithians Res'

Sunday - Marazion.

If anyone can help with a bed I'd be grateful - please phone 07988754090 if you can.

Best weather day yet - beautiful sunshine and a slight east wind at my back.

Monday, 1 March 2010

Morning Sunrise from the tent. Labrador Bay RSPB reserve Monday 1st March

A lovely night sleeping in the tent on a public footpath near to Labrador Bay, the new RSPB reserve specially for cirl buntings. Frost and sunrise, a beautiful combination which meant that there was blue sky and no wind as I opened up the front.

Packed up and at the reserve for 7.30am. Now this is more like it. Birding in the early morning and as I walked towards the right hand [south] cereal field, a cirl bunting was singing. Settled down on some large logs cut down as part of the management work here and soon had very close views of a pair. Bird 145 on the year list.

Walked around the same field and down the cliff path to a viewpoint where 3 gannets, a fulmar, 2 shags and a great northern diver [146] were the only things on a mill pond sea. A lovely trail of sea fog was entering the bay via the Exe Estuary and a kittiwake flew past with a few herring gulls.

Cycled down the Newton Abbot and had new brake pads fitted at Halford's and stocked up on hot X buns at Tescos. A very helpful security guard here. Thanks.

Yesterday had the disappointment of first, not being able to count the views that I had of the surf scoter at Dawlish Warren. Too far out and the waves obscuring the bird for long periods. There were a number of common scoter but I was in need of a good 'scope to nail it. Hope I don't live to regret the dip.

Second, gutted over the Villa losing to ... well that other team in the final yesterday. Thanks to the pub in Dawlish Warren for the shandies and the match TV.

Now on my way, on this beautiful sunny, windless day, to Bellever Youth Hostel on Dartmoor.

One thought - how do mergansers find their food in the soup that is the Exe Estuary water?