Setting Off From Sandwell valley

Monday, 28 June 2010

Hodbarrow RSPB Reserve - 25th June 2010

Early rise, packed and the hunt was on for bee orchids, which I eventually found near to the old renovated [thanks to a local Primary School] lighthouse.

Once again, as at Leighton Moss, 50 bird species before breakfast including eider, lesser whitethroat, stonechat and sandwich terns. Also a new butterfly for the year with some graylings seen well.

Off to the local library and then a ride to an excellent Roman Bath House at Ravenglass.

Mid afternoon by now and Wast Water reached. I conned myself to stay at the youth hostel by saying to myself that I would ask about camping but when the receptionist said there was a bed I accepted it quickly.

Talked with a lovely lady, Jayne, who was with a group of 'Fix the Fells' workers and they kindly invited me to their evening BQ. My contribution was all I'd got; a tin of sardines and a pot of cheese spread.

Midges seen off by Avon and then 3 bikers from the Derby area came over saying they'd found a dead bird of prey. It turned out sadly to be an adult osprey. The lads were Bob, Tony and Roy from Swanwick and they were as gutted as I was by this sad demise.

Saturday 26th June [thought it was Friday for most of the day]

Breakfast at it's usual brilliant best at the youth hostel. Tried phoning the RSPB over the osprey but no reply. It may have helped if I'd remembered to say that it was dead!

Now the views of this valley are said to be the best in Britain and it was easy to see why it was voted such. Breathtaking views as I cycled to the end where to start a walk up to the 4th peak - Scarfell Pike. Stunningly beautiful.

Chained up the bike and started walking. Lots of people were doing the 3 peaks challenge for a variety of charities.

RAF Benson, Squadron 78 were carrying stretchers in order to Help The Heroes and UCARES

Met the Fix the Fells people again and joined them until lunch where I carried on up the mountain. These people are beyond amazing and wonderful. To give up so much time to fix the paths, mend dry stone walls, litter pick etc; they deserve so much praise and admiration. So to Jayne, Dave, Heather, Ian, Ivan and Lauren - and especially Alfie, here's to you and thanks so much. It was truly fabulous meeting you all.

Now at Workington Library after having successfully got to the top of Scarfell, having met friends from Upton Warren and having met 2 very dear friends from too long ago; 28 years ago in fact.

More next library time.

All the very best


Haweswater - Golden Eagles and Golden-ringed dragonflies

So after an evening of enjoying pied and spotted flycatchers and an England victory in the real sport of cricket, a gratefully received cumberland sausage and lovely chat with Rex and Irene; got up the next morning early and after tiying up saw the tree nursery with Dave Shackleton, the warden of Haweswater RSPB reserve. A fabulous tree nursery tended by a superb man. It was great to see the hundreds of juniper and oak trees and know that Dave and his team would be planing them in the area. I remember a book about an old French man who spent his final years sowing acorn seeds and by the end of the book he's changed the local climate from desert to forest. A lovely book and I feel the Dave is the English equivelant.

Cycled down to the south end of Haweswater, after meeting a couple who were editors for a large magazine about the lakes and having my photo taken by them. Chained Sid - the bike up and walked around to the RSPB viewpoint for the golden eagle. A red squirrel came close running along the top of a dry stone wall, a male redpoll did similar after washing in the nearby lake, it preened nearby and a family of wheatear were also very close.

Met 2 lovely police ladies from Essex at the viewpoint and Rex and Irene from the warden's house came and joined me. Together we watched for over an hour before through irene's scope I saw a raven coming over the ridge near to where the golden eagle is known to roost. "Keep on the raven," was the instruction from Irene who knew a lot of the eagle's habits and I did as it dived down the cliff face to join another obviously mobbing something on the cliff. There it was the male golden eagle. It flew, landed and continued to be mobbed for some time. After a while the ravens left and the eagle took aff again and did a superb glide down over behind a stone brick wall to somewhere we could n't see. Brilliant bird and number 207 on the year list.

After a littel difficulty with a gentleman who wanted access to the valley; quite correctly denied to him as this is a schedule 1 bird and the only one in England, Rex, Irene and I walked back to the car park and I cycled back to watch the England match [should I have bothered?]

Oh yes after almost 6 months I've found out how to put photos on the blog!

Met Spike and other volunteers who were on their way to the pub but watched the 1 - 0 win with Rex. I'd intended to join Spike and the rest at the pub but got a bit lost and ended up at a pub where I met a great couple, Graham and his partner [I really must remember to put down names straight away because at my almost senior age I soon forget!] Graham has said about going to Mont Blanc next eyar and I really must keep in touch with this wonderful couple.

Played the game of nail the nail i.e. hit the nail with an axe. Was hopeless at it despite a local boy showing how it should be done then cycled to Ullswater.

Had a fabulous thing happen whilst cycling along a small lane. Some jackdaws were causing a fuss and all of a sudden, in a split second a sparrowhawk almost hit my helmet as it wooshed past. So amazingly close and an absloute thrill. Imaging the headlines "Biking Birder knocked over by a sprog!" Brilliant.

Slept in a field beside Ullswater and a bit of overnight rain was heard.

Next day got to Ambleside, then Coniston via a hilly cycle path where I met Pete, a sustainability scientist and his wife [thanks for the water and the donation].

Yew Tree tarn was totally dried up hence the fishing sign :-

Thanks to Carl and Maxine whom I met there and Jan and Graham for their donations.

So onward to Millom and the lovely sight of watching 4 possibly 18 year olds, 2 girls, 2 boys from my camping position. As the sun went down they played ....... hide and seek using their mobiles. "Where are you?" Sweet!

All the best everyone


Friday, 25 June 2010

Leighton Moss - The Biking Birder Visit

OK, can someone help me with the meaning behind my recurring dream. I frequently dream that i am driving a double decker bus. No problem here one might think but I am always driving it from upstairs and always worried about two things. One I can't reach the brake pedal and 2 I can't see what's immeadiately in front of me. I've had this dream with a lot of variations for years and had the same last night. All thoughts would be gratefully received.

An hour's birdwatching from 6.30am with marsh harrier and bearded tits seen.

So to the morning moth breakfast on Sunday the 20th of June. All previous night's moths neatly arranged in plastic containers on the table of the education room, ready for everyone's perusal. people arrived and I sat chatting and photographing each species. One thing I liked is that with birds aI would be thinking that a golden eagle is a better bird to see than a blue tit. Both lovely birds but one has the wow factor and it's not the blue tit. With the moths I had no idea on their relative 'values' and enjoyed each. I knew quite a few from when i had my own trap but quite a few were new to me. 40 species photographed and then outside for the opening of a trap that had been left on all night. More new species and the fun of release.

Off to explore the reserve. First to the Eric Morecambe hide but no birds because no water. Lunar landscape of a totally dry scrape with only sheep tracks crossing the mud. Then to Wharton Crag RSPB reserve with peregrine chicks attended by the female on the cliffs of the quarry and the male some way to the left. Up the crag and soon saw small pearl bordered and high brown fritilaries and northern brown argus butterflies seen.

Back to the reserve at leighton and off with Dagmar, Ruth and 'oh dear I've forgotten her name' to see the fly orchids near by. A new orchid for me so chuffed to bits and afterwards explored the quarry face by climbing around the edge to get to the top.

Back to the reserve and this time a walk with Michael, an assistant warden to see lady slipper orchids. I couldn't believe that I was seeing this and despite the fact that the flower head had faded to a seed head I was thrilled to get another orchid sp. on the list. I remember that not so long ago lady slipper was down to one plant so where did this one come from. Glad to see that it's protected by CCTV.

Late evening 9.15 onwards spent birdwatching for a change. Marsh harriers, little egrets and a great-crested grebe with a chick. 4 red deer at the Grizedale hide.

Still time for bat detecting before bed. Pipistrelles heard, sounding like "a massage from the Swedish Prime Minister!"

Monday 21st June

Early morning quest to see 50 bird sp. before breakfast and moth trap opening at 8.00am. Made it with a lapwing and a swallow at 3 minutes to 8. Male and female marsh harrier and very close party of bearded tits preening seen. All of these over at the west end of the reserve so now I'd walked around the whole area.

27 moth sp. in the trap; after which I met a wonderful assitant warden, David, who had started his RSPB career at Minsmere many years ago, with Bert Axell as his much appreciated mentor.

So thanks to all at Leighton Moss. A fabulous reserve which must be in the top 5 RSPB reserves. Brilliant place with brilliant people.

Off to Gait Burrows after a bit of hassle over getting a new tyre but thanks to DYNO START in Carnforth. Found dark red helleborines at the reserve and this made 3 new orchid species in 2 days. I'd seen these in Switzerland but never over here.

Cycled to Arnside and on lorraine's advice [a superb volunteer at Leighton Moss] had fish and chips here. Met children from Kendall College before cycling to camp in a field nearer to Kendall itself. I don't know whether there has been an explosion of scarlet ermine moths but 35 meters of the hedgerow was covered with what looked like huge spider's webs with thousands of pupae visible inside.


Thanks to everyone who has donated :-

Edna and Grayson from Carnforth.
Lorraine from Leighton Moss.
Magada and John from Bolton Le Sands.
Iver and Wendy nr Kendall.
Zaedd and Jude from Kendall College.
Bev and Allen from Perth Australia.
Annie from Penrith.
Chris from Bretherdale.
Graham at the pub!!
Pete at Hillcrest.
Carl and maxine at the totally dry Yew Tree tarn   and
Jan and Graham.

Also to those who have donated using the JUST GIVING sites on the right.

Many thanks to you all.

All the very best,


Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Tits and Kiss me Quack at Leighton Moss.

Well I was met at Heysham, despite the boat being over an hour late in due to a low tide.

5 young ladies - Jen, Lorraine, Rachel, Annabelle and Dagmar were on the quay, shouting 'Biking Biredr as I came up the ramp off the boat. I had tried to get in amongst the leather clad motorcyclists to get some street cred but ended up alone.

What a wonderful way to come back into England. I felt like kissing the ground. Too shy to kiss the girls!

We cycled to the Eric Morecambe statue and to their great credit the girls sand 'Positive Thinking' brilliantly. Thanks Harry for holding the camera so well. Am trying to put the video onto youtube and will tell you when it's uploaded successfully.

Next to a pub! A quick shandy and donuts before getting to Leighton Moss RSPB reserve. Now these girls were not ardent cyclist so for them to have cycled 30 miles there and back was wonderful and shows what characters they all are. To say it was fun would be an understatement. Brilliant!

No time for birding - it was off to the railway station to catch a train to Lancaster for a pint at a pub [you may get the feeling that these people know how to have fun] and then to a restaurant for a meal. Back late but still time to join in with the moth watch going on at the reserve. More on that on the next blog.

In Kendall now on the way to Haweswater.

Will update you on Leighton Moss next time but put it briefly - 63 bird sp. 3 new orchids for my British list, 80 moth sp. red deer, 12 butterfly sp inc high brown and small pearl bordered frits. Superb place with superb people.

All the best everyone. [especially the people at leighton Moss and the children and staff at Kendall College; Jo, Tash, Josh, Zaeed, Sophie, Jude and all]


Friday, 18 June 2010

Isle of Man The West Coast

Awoke very early - 4.00am and searched the area for birds but nothing too special found. Choughs were here, stonechat and whitethroat too and the views over towards Anglesey and Snowdonia were the clearest yet. The Mountains of Mourne, which had been so clear the previous evening wer very now very hazy.

The stone circle atop the hill near to the Sound was unusual in having 6 T-shaped cysts arranged in a circle instead of the usual.   Meayll Circle, Meayll Hill, or Mull Hill -Chambered Cairn.

Also up here were 2 pill boxes, still accessible but smelling of the usual urine and an air raid shelter.
Cycled down to look out for whether any boats were going to the Calf but no one was around the harbour and it stated that 4 people were required for a trip to go ahead. Cycled instead, well pushed for most of the way, up to the summit of Cronk ny Arrey Laa; from which I could see the 6 'Kingdoms' - England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man. The sixth, the Kingdom of God.
Met Rachelle from Bury St Edmunds here and we talked for half an hour or so.  
Down the hill to a flat back tyre. 
Repaired and off again, soon reached the Isle of Man - Manx Wildlife Trust reserve - Dalby Mountain. Very hot now with full sun and little or no wind; I explored the area and photographed cotton grass, sundews and heath spotted orchids.
Into Peel after a short visit to a very small church and after doing rathlin on the blog, went into the castle. Got mobbed by a very irate herring gull. Wasn't sure why until I found a chick hidden in the corner of the ruined house I was standing in.
Next cycled to Close Sartfield adn spent the evening and night here. Fabulous place with thousands of mainly heath-spotted orchids, but also common-spotted, northern marsh and twayblades. Down by the hide was a huge amount of royal fern. 2 woodcock roding for about half an hour, brbbing and a cuckoo cuckooing entertained as another beautiful sunset set in. Slept on the bench to be found on the hide roof. A superb spot this as the hide has a viewing platform to look over the surrounding willow Curragh.
Thursday 17th June
Woke early and erad my book from my elevated position. Frightened a birder from Stevenage who hadn't expected anyone to be around so early and after breakfast of the usual a male hen harrier was seen. Then across the opening in front of the hide hopped out a wallaby! Then another - and another. I took some what will be appalling photographs. If any deserve the title 'record shot' these will.
Went along the broadwalk back towards the field that contained the most orchids and, as I came out of the bushes, the male hen harrier was seen fantastically close, no more that 10 metres away.  It spooked a little at the sight of me { and who wouldn't? } but continued quartering the field inperturbed.
Cycled to another Manx reserve, Cronk y Bing on the north west coast and was amazed that i was the only one on such a huge beach. Felt like Robinson Crusoe! [Come along now - do you remember the them tune to the series in the 1960's? Da da da da da daaaa. Da da da da da dada da!]
Little terns and gannets were  here and six-spot burnet moths on the marram grass, which hid a few pyramidal orchids.
Walked about a mile or so to the north to a delapidated hut on the cliff and then back to carry on to the next Manx reserve at Ayres. There met Keren, who with her husband maintains the Isle of Man Birding website  [  ]  She took me to see the diminuitive moonwort plant. A real stunner at 3 cms high but a real rarity too. We also looked for the scarce crimson and gold moth but to no avail. [Until later when I returned to the spot in the evening and found it, photographed and realised how we'd missed it in the afternoon - it's tiny!]
Also saw some dark green fritillary butterflies here and watched about 200 gannets feeding offshore using their spectactular diving technique.
Walked along the coast to the lighthouse at the Point of Ayre and camped about half a mile or so to the south on the east side of the isle now.
There - up to date at last!!!
Now to climb Snaefell and go to a pub in St John's for a live folk music evening. Maybe they'll have the match on too.
Tomorrow the ferry to Heysham where I'll be met by some RSPB volunteers who want to cycle with me to Leighton Moss. Hope they go slow. Will be paying our respects to Eric Morecambe at his statue in ... Morecambe so maybe see you there. About 1.30pm tomorrow. make a date.
All the best
PS. still on 206 for the year but now with 16 butterfly species seen.

Happy Birthday to Me 2 - Isle of Man

If you go on holiday to the Isle of Man then don't miss seeing the cafe/restaurant at The Sound, overlooking the Calf of Man. Luckily for me I was there on Tuesday the 15th of June with the sun setting and the sea very calm. Fabulous sunset, best of the year - so far.

Had met a lovely gentleman who worked as the cricket professional at the nearby King William's independent school at Castletown in the morning. Originally from Accrington, Lancs he'd coached david 'Bumble' Lloyd and guess what we talked about for half an hour or so?

Also had been for a swim at the Castletown baths. 50 lengths and a hot shower. talked with a local girl who, with her husband runs a Physics education software company - Furry elephant [ ]. Just been on their blog and learnt a few things!

Explored St Mary's and even lay on the beach at St Erin's in the hot sunshine reading my latest book - Boy in the Blitz by Colin Perry.

Back to The Sound. What a fabulous view to be had from a seat in the cafe. A superb vista seen through large tinted windows. Treated myself to coffee and carrot cake and watched the sunset develop.

Met a cartoonist/artist, John Hancox from Rugby Warwickshire with his son, Warren. He gave me 2 sets of his brilliant motorcyling comedy postcards. Great postcards. [ ]

Great place to watch choughs with a family of 5 flying around and a couple of other pairs. Grey seals too on the rocks here and some auks tazzing around.

Had felt a little down this afternoon; wll not down as such but aimless having no reserve or bird as a target but this place had set me right back on track. [as had singing 'positive thinking' by Morecambe and Wise!]

Almost caught up - lunch break!!!

Happy Birthday to me!

Right, better catch up on where I have been since Rathlin Island ;-

Saturday 12th June

After a long cycle, with a strong wind behind me for a change, from Ballycastle, had reached Glenarm when after 2 soft tyres camped beside the sea and the coast road. Cyled on to larne, couldn't go swimming in the baths there due to refurbishment, watched the local football and shopped. Then on the way through Glynn, stopped when I saw a Vintage tractor and engine rally in aid of disabled riders. Paid my £3, chatted with the girls on the entrance desk and spent a few very pleasant hours looking around, photographing the cars, tractors and motorbikes and meeting people. Thanks to the girls on the refreshments counter, especially for the Florentine cake! Thanks also to Gladys Elliott for her very generous donation.
Met the farm's owner, Ian DJ McKee, who made me feel most welcome and listened to the music provided by The Grousebeaters. Their male leadsinger had an unusual stage presence, preferring most of the time with a loo of Albert Steptoe!
At the back of the rally's ground there was a large lake adjacent to the Lough and on it there was a whooper swan. Must be an injured one that hadn't gone back north with the others from the winter.

Got to a point opposite Magheramore Island and try as I might couldn't find any roseate terns here. Another case of where a telescope is needed.

Got to Carrickfergus and after advice from the local constabulary had a meal at a pub and watched the England USA World Cup match. A geriatric slug could have saved that one!!!

There had been a large pageant that day in carrickfergus. Shame I had missed it. It was for the 60th anniversary, the Siege of Carrickfergus in 1689 by the Duke of Schomberg. The two police officers I'd met joked that he was the reason why they were wearing body armour and carrying guns.

It was almost dark after my meal and I eventually camped on a lawn at the back of a church! My usual rules applied and I am sure that no one would be able to tell that I'd been there. I even put upright any grass flattened by my backside.

Sunday 13th June

Heavy rain overnight and packed up the tent in the same. Got to the port for the ferry over to the Isle of man early; very early and had a coffee with the girls on the reception desk.

One of the workers there had arranged a skit on the security guards. There was a consigment of monkeys and bats due to make the crossing in a van. Well the guards were told that there was a robbery at Belfast Zoo the night before and that police were looking for monkeys and bats that were still missing. A code word was arranged so that the reception girls and I would know when the van had arrived but in the end it all went rather flat as only bats arrived! [Hello Christine and Liz. Thanks for the coffee]
If you do make the crossing from Belfast on the Isle of Man ferry ask the girls to tell you about the man with the donkey!

Maybe a silly thought as the ferry got to full speed as it passed the power station at the end of Belfast Lough; how much oxygen does a ferry like this add to the seawater as it's engine surge out? Just a thought.

Black guillemots, manx shearwaters and gannets seen on the crossing and we arrived at Douglas 2 hours late because of the number of motorcyclists leaving the boat at Belfast after the TT races.

Monday 14th June

Lloyds bank closed on Mondays in Castletown and the libary only open at 2.00pm, so spent the morning exploring the castle and the House of Keys, which is the old government house of the Isle of Man. In this there was a great audience participation show using the original room and furniture. One was asked to vote on certain issues appertaining to specific important dates in the history of the island's parliament. Good fun but what a shame that there was only myself and a fellow Brummie in there.

Also went in the old grammar school house there.

Had lunch on a bench overlooking the bay and rushed for my bins when a summer plumaged great northern diver flew around before landing on the water in front of me. Fabulous bird. Shame I couldn't phone anyone to say of its presernce as the Isle of Man is treated as a foreign country by my mobile phone provider.

After bank and library cycled to the nearby headland, Dreswick Point, seawatched and counted the seals on the rocks here; 18 grey seals.

Met some people whilst sitiing here and was informed that the beautiful large lighthouse here was one of the homes of Jeremy Clarkson. Some dog walkers it seems resent this but others seem to think that he has done an excellent job restoring the building and so what if a some of the headland is fenced off. Considering the amount of dog faeces and the usual faeces filled plastic bags on evidence here I don't blame Mr Clarkson for doing so!

More in a bit. Coffee first.

Happy birthday to me ........


Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Rathlin Island part 2

OK so I know I am a little behind but i will try to catch up, honest!

Spent the evening exploring the cliff tops around the RSPB seabird centre. The centre was closed for the night and the only other person around was a person camping [not allowed!].

I can't describe the scene that greets one as the approach road from the harbour ends and the new stone visitors centre is reached. Huge rock stacks with stacks of auks gathered for the evening; thousands of them crammed onto every space available. Kittiwakes and gulls circling around too, calling and adding to the cacophony. Ravens, gannets, fulmars, pipits, thousands of fabulous birds and on this occasion weather to match despite a strong North wind.

Health and safety people would have fits but I love to peep over the edge of a high cliff and did so to look down on razorbils and guillemots by the thousand, puffins in the tens and all busy doing what birds do at this time of year; pair up, mate and lay eggs.

A chough flew past and a great skua [205] flew along a grass ridge at the top.

Ridges climbed, cliffs looked over and photographs taken. The views here are wonderful. The cliffs are immense and the surrounding fields are full of thousands of heath spotted orchids.

To the north the islands of arran and Islay could be seen and to the east, the headland that includes Cambeltown. Just visible was Ailsa Craig where large groups of gannets, all adults and sometimes flying in a v formation, were heading.

11th june 2010

Awoke to the sound of auks and seabirds. A twite [206] landed on the fence near the tent. Heard a foghorn as the fog descended after breakfast. The phantom foghorn of Rathlin Island -there isn't one at the lighthouse!

Met Stephen and John as they opened the lighthouse viewing platform and shop on the lower level. Sea fog had come in after a reasonably fine start to the day and as i walked onto the viewing area overlooking the birds on a nearby stack I am not ashamed to say i had a few tears. What an amazing view! Thousands of birds, a terrific noise and all in a fantastic setting. This has got to be one of the RSPB's jewels in their crown. A fabulous place.

People arrived after Stephen kindly gave me a cup of coffee; a Japanese group which included a small, frail but very active 90 year old, a man from Slovakia and a lady named Katrina who was here to make a documentary on seabirds for the Gaelic TV channel. She eventually interviewed me, after spending over an hour with Liam, the warden doing the same.

Thanks to John and Sue from Welford, Northants for their donation.

Heard the story of Prince Edward and Sophie's visit to the island. Don't believe everything in the Daily mail; the meal in the pub was great according to the pair, or so the locals told me.

Photos with Liam, Stephen and John - all brilliant people and so very welcoming to one and all; followed by goodbyes and a cycle back to the harbour. Met there by Katrina who took some photos and footage of me leaving the island on the boat.

A truly wonderful day.

If you ever get the chance, visit Rathlin Island RSPB reserve. it would be worth the effort but make sure you go when the seabirds are on the cliffs. Be aware that the seabird centre is 4 miles from the harbour but there is a bus service.

Next time goodbye to 'Norn Ireland' and a ferry to the Isle of Man. Clarkson's house and hot, sunny weather, castles and government.

All the best everyone,


Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Rathlin Island

So the boat was taken over to Rathlin Island. Everyone was asking whether I was going there so was rather excited. Eider ducks in the harbour with eider ducklings in the harbour and over 50 common seals on the rocks nearby - Heaven.

Cycled down to the first RSPB area south of the harbour and walked around there for what seemed like an hour but was actually four. Wonderful views from the cliffs of Rathlin Sound and the Mull of Galloway. Wheatear, peregrines, auks, kittiwakes and gulls. In places there were 100's of heath-spotted orchids. Beautiful.

Lunch wa staken opposite the rocks where the seals basked and time alternated with me either being alone or with a number of people according to how many people the small local bus dropped off. Most people spent a short while watching the seals before drifting away toawrds the tea rooms around the harbour. Four members of the Cedars Walking Group, from County Armagh, mostly Lurgen, stayed longer and chatted. So Hello to Liz, Marine [Emma], Lyn and Francis - thanks for the hugs girls. These four had 'cheated by catching the bus back from the RSPB Seabird Centre at the far western end of the island. I met more of the CWG later as I cycled to the same location.

Found a pair of spotted flycatchers in some conifers along the newly gritted road. [204]. I'd been getting worried about adding them to the year list and had almost consigned them to the ' I won't see them now list'. That list includes garganey but maybe Leighton Moss will give me a repreieve.

Got to the seabird centre and will write those details next time. Best bird place yet!!!

All the best


Monday, 14 June 2010

Drumskinny to Rathlin

So the midges got me at the stone circle but at least the twit at Ballymagorry didn't.

Had stopped at the 'Tinnies' on the road out of Strabane, a group of very large metal sculptures of musicians, fallen asleep on the grass and talked with a local cyclist. I said that Northern Ireland was almost perfect but I couldn't find any cricket. 3 miles later a cricket ground in Ballymagorry and a tournament of young ladies playing cricket. With the 2nd test against Bangladesh on the tele in the club house I was in seventh heaven. Away from the idiot who dead eyed me over being a Villa Fan [you figure out why] the afternoon was fabulous with the team from Belfast, the one I was supporting losing every game very narrowly and excitingly. Had a long chat with their manager and everyone, well almost everyone, couldn't have been more friendly. A great club.

Went through Londonderry/Derry/ - City very quickly and camped on the edge of a long reedbed near the sea wall of lough Foyle. Didn't see another soul here and at elast the sea wall protected me from the strong northerlies. How long is this north dominated wind going to be with us. We're supposed to have a SW prevailing wind but not this year. Climate change? Good number, 73 bar-tailed godwits were the best birds here but at least another RSPB reserve had been visited.

8th June 2010

Rain and lots of it. It lasted all day and I indulgently relaxed in the company of a wonderful man, Paul, whose wife Majic, had gone to work. The previous evening I'd met these two brilliant people after they'd invited me to stay. They had heard me on BBC Ulster and phoned me up offering accommodation. Meeting them and sharing a meal, tales and ambitions, dreams and events, was a true highlight. Paul and Majic got married in Las Vegas, with Elvis attending and singing a few of his hits. This September they'll be returning to the US in order to participate in the Bonneville speed trials in a VW Beetle. Paul went last year but didn't drive. Team Ireland though did take part and missed the record by only a few Mph. Paul talked about his taking part in the Shasta Snow Trip '08 [ ] and the forthcoming 'wedding' reception. Majic loves elephants and they're planning to go next year to Kenya.

In the evening we sat and ate popcorn whilst watching a great film about Burt Monroe. IF YOU DON'T FOLLOW THROUGH YOUR DREAMS, YOU MIGHT AS WELL BE A VEGETABLE - A CABBAGE. Burt took an Indian Scout motorbike to Bonneville and broke 200mph. The story can be found on this link and is well worth reading.

Off to the Giant's Causeway next day 9th June 2010, via Bushmills [shame I don't drink whisky - World's Oldest distillery here] and just in time to see Prince Edward and Sophie leaving. This amazing place was very busy and after a walk down to the rocks, I took my lunch sitting on a particulary attractive hexagonal one. OK so there were 40,000 other ones that look almost the same.

After lunch walked around the whole of the World Heritage site. Immense cliffs and superb views with the whole arena making the causeway look quite small. Back to it though, now with fewer people and a couple of real rock doves [so I'll now count them on my year list - 203] flew around. A common seal came quite close, inquisitively and a lot of adult gannets were fishing here.

Right, who in their right mind would push a fully loaded bicycle 5 miles along the cliff edge, from the Giant's Causeway to Dunseverick and enjoy every minute of it? So what if there were large stiles and many steps up followed by many steps down. The whole push took a couple fo hours and the views are amazing. Fabulous cliffs with thousands of heath spotted and early purple orchids in the adjacent fields.

Cycled to the Carrick a Rede ropebridge and camped nearby. The end of yet another wonderful day.

Next the boat to Rathlin Island.

Question - should a tax be put on plastic bottles to pay someone to pick up the thousands thrown out of cars and now to be seen on any road side?

All the best everyone.


Wonderful, wonderful people and give my love to Hobbs!

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Now Nearing Rathlin Island

But first there's the Giant's causeway to see.

Well the radio BBC Ulster interview was great fun and may I say many many thanks to John Toal and Helen for coming out to Ennislikken to meet me there. One outcome from the interview is that a wonderful and extremely interesting couple have invited me to stay at their house for the night. Indeed I am at Paul and Majic's house at the moment on a day of continuous rain. They are a great couple and I can encapsulate their intersts as VWs [Paul went to Bonneville to race a Beetle over the salt beds of Utah], elephants, Hobbs the cat and eco living.

Right, after the radio interview and after watching Killen beat Enniskillen at football 2-1, I camped on the shore of Lower Lough Erne about 5 miles NW of the town. A very calm, peaceful sleep eventually broken by calling great-crested grebes on the water.

Cycled to Lower Lough Erne RSPB reserve, well one of the reserve areas anyway as they have 38 islands etc of responsibility around the Lough. The RSPB noticeboard was found next to a boarding quay, not near the car park. Spent a hot day exploring the reserve but didn't see many birds. A day flying medium sized bat was unusual.

Met 2 men who asked what I was up to and the older of the 2 said 'don't you recognise him', pointing to his companion? Being Eglish I must admit that I didn't but he turned out to be a BBC presenter and producer and my search on google showed that he's also an author. Who was it ---- Darryl Grimason. He and his companion were going fly fishing for the afternoon and I appreciated the interest they showed in my trip.

Onto the island of Lusty Beg via a small car ferry manned by Cyril and a meeting with 2 lovely families each with brilliant children. RSPB badges given out and damselflies shown. Thought I had a brief glimpse of a spotted flycatcher but I couldn't find it as it flew from a perch into the woods.

Later on in the day reached Drumskinny and a farming family gave me coffee and cake, the coffeee having milk straight from the cow. A look around the milking sheds and conversation before off again to look at the nearby waterfalls, which although pretty, were pretty dry. Then to Drumskinny stone circle and enlignment stones for the night camping.

Midges! How can something so tiny bite so hard? My first experience of them this year but I suppose I'll have to get used to them, especially as I've got a summer in Scotland coming up.

Will add a bit more later.

All the best


PS have a look at Roz Savages blog - she's asking for possible talking dates in order to get some finance for the next part of her rowing trip - she's planning to row across the Indian Ocean! What an inspiration.

Friday, 4 June 2010

Aghatirourke RSPB Reserve 4th June 2010

Well the cycle ride from Portadown to Aghatirourke wasn't too bad but, to be honest, I wasn't up too early this morning. The short rain showers around 6.00am were no excuse but I eventually got up at 10.30am. I deserved the rest and enjoyed reading Douglas adams' Life, the Universe and everything. Mind you I kept waking and heard a cuckoo, a whitethroat and a willow warbler from the snug confines of my sleeping bag.

Packed up the tent after breakfast and hid all panniers etc under a hedge before making my way to the top of the plateau. Not many birds around on the way up and even fewer at the top.

Met 2 peat diggers, John and William, who were busy stacking cyclinders of peat in small wigwam-shaped piles for them to dry out, ready for using as fuel.

Once down to collect my belongings and over lunch a very close male hen harrier came floating overhead. Superb bird and one of my favourites, it landed some way up the limestone slope beside a large hawthorn bush.

Now at Enniskillen, in the library. The Cathedral was closed and I now await a phone call from the BBC. Radio Ulster want to interview me tonight and we need to organise a rendezvous point.


On the way to here yesterday visited both the Catholic and the Anglican Cathedrals in Armagh.

In Roslea, after scooting through a small bit of the Republic of Ireland, met a family whose daughter wore the best shirt I'd seen during my time in Northern ireland - an Aston Villa shirt. Beautiful! [Thanks Shayna! And thanks to you as well Vincent. Great handshake.]

After quite possibly the worst chips and gravy I've ever eaten, I went through kinawley and saw that there was a large number of children enjoying themselves playing Gaelic football. Stopped and watched and met Brenda and Ender, both of which were the coaching experts for the local team [!?]. It was fabulous to see the children's enthusiasm and skill in playing this game that's a bit like Aussie rules football. Kick the ball, hit it, throw it and score points or a goal.

Right time to check out where next and hopefully have a good swim in the local pool.

Oh to be in Gwent! Mind you I don't need it. I saw the first one up on Midhope Moor, South Yorkshire, when my ex-wife jane walked with me over the moor to see the mamora's despite being rather pregnant at the time.

All the very best everyone,


Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Another Incredible Biking Birder Day - Portmore Lough RSPB Reserve 2nd June 2010

Having arrived at Portmore Lough the previous evening and having camped amongst the picnic benches, awoke early and had a walk down to the hide whilst the tent dried out from the early morning dew. Tree sparrows had woken me. Well, that or a large aircraft flying either away from or to Belfast Airport. Sedge and reed warblers singing, blackcaps and willow warblers too and a gorgeous sunrise over the large 'lough'. Apparently the lake had been created 1500 years ago by a huge meteor burst. Now this is the theory and I must look into this further. Common terns were busy on the raft and a few duck and great crested grebes, together with a large number of non-breeding mute swans were on the water.

Back to the tent for a healthy breakfast of 5 jam donuts, just in time to meet Steve the assistant warden. John the actual warden and then Laura, a volunteer arrived and I was invited [with a half nelson to persuade me] to join in with the day's work.

Actually the morning spent working with these three fabulous people was immensely enjoyable. Together we drove down in the caterpillar tracked vehicle, took a boat out to put 2 large poles into the silt at the bottom of the lake, adjacent to the tern raft, and placed tree branches near the shore for tern roost sites. The poles are to anchor a platform whose fubction is for tern chicks that fall off the tern raft  to clamber onto instead of drown. As we put up one pole a tern chick was trying to climb back to its nest having fallen off, demonstrating the need perfectly. Over 50 nests were counted on the rafts by John and Steve and the poles and branches were soon being used by the terns and swallows.

Being a gentleman I won't say which one of we four went in the mud up to their knees.

I hope health and safety won't mind but John allowed me to drive the vehicle back to the centre. Over fields and through ditches. Great fun!

The afternoon was spent at a nearby peat bog searching for and finding lots of Irish damselflies; a new one for me and one totally unexpected. Cracking little things that allowed very close photos to be taken as many were in egg laying tandems. There were also dozens of four-spot chasers, a good number of hairy dragonflies and just one large red damselfly. Lots of sundews were here as well.

Back to the reserve in time for a visit from the environment minister for Northern Ireland, Edwin Poots and his daughter, Lydia. She was there to name one of the Polish pony foals [Cookie] and it was a real thrill to walk around the reserve with John and Steve, together with such a distinguished personage. He showed a lot of enthusiasm for the work being done on the reserve and had no qulams over getting amongst the reed bed, with Lydia, to get closer to the group of ponies. Excellent man and lovely daughter.

Once they'd gone, it was time for me to move on also and, after buying a carton of orange at Kelly's shop in Aghagallon [Thanks Marie for the donation!], cycled to Portadown where I met Sid once again and had a great evening [and a bath] with Sid, janet, William and Sandy.

Bit nervous about tomorrow. 70 miles to cycle to get to the next reserve and then an interview with BBC Ulster on Friday. Ah well, tomorrow night will arrive with me somewhere or other.

All the very best everyone and a million thanks to everyone I've met today. You're all brilliant and a credit to Northern Ireland.


An evening with Sid & a shy ring-necked duck - Oxford Island, nr Lurgan Lough Neagh

A quick visit to the doctors in Lurgan and a few inhalers for my asthma got. Then got to Oxford Island and had a lovely evening with Sid Irwin. We searched for the American ring-necked duck that had been around for the last few days but it wasn't in front of any of the hides. A beautiful reserve this with a wonderful centre and excellent facilities. The buzzer flies didn't bite so no problem there. Sid and I walked around the whole of the area and the views over Lough Neagh reminded me of Florida; immense lake and so beautiful with a setting sun. Around 8.30pm Sid left and I went around the visitor's centre to look over the lake from the long pier there. It was from here that i saw that the ring-necked was in front of the first hide that we'd visited. Back to it, shut but views of the bird could be had through the reeds. My third ring-necked drake this year but my first for Northern Ireland. Closest one of the three too but it didn't come to bread!

At last, my run of bad luck is over and a good bird under my belt [utb].

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

To Slieve Donard and beyond! June 1st 2010

Castle Espie WWT reserve has had a lot of major work done to it and is still more like a building site in places. It was fascinating going around the reserve with Carl [Thanks also to the ladies behind the reception counter, Frances etc for being so wonderfully welcoming]. Carl has worked there for 17 years [and the girls behind the food counter still don't know whether he has a six-pack] and he's very proud of the place and rightly so. The hides are brilliant, the views over Strangford Lough are spectacular and with the history of the area going back 9,000 years, there's a lot to see and learn about there. Well worth a visit. It'll be interesting to go back and see how the new areas change.

Birds? 5 pale-bellied brents left over from the winter [30,000 there in the winter], a few eider, bar-tailed godwits and a couple of red-breasted mergansers were the highlights but I just enjoyed exploring htis new reserve for me.

Another plus, and this has turned out to be typical of my trip around Northern Ireland, was the lack of plastic rubbish on the tideline. I'd walked along the tideline of the Ribble Estuary a couple of weeks ago and the contrast of that with this one was very striking. [Actually the same happened yesterday where the difference in the amount of rubbish disguarded on Snowdon and that on Slieve Donard was equally marked. Yesterday's walk up Slieve Donard had me carrying every piece of litter to be found, 3 plastic bottles to be exact. On Snowdon I would need a very large bin liner at least!]

Another delight was the amount of sandhoppers and sea slaters under the rotting seaweed on the strand line. In case you don't know, sea slaters are large woodlice type creatures about 2 to 3 centimeters long.

Walked out at low tide over the sands to the brown mussel beds just as the sun was setting, giving beautiful views towards Strabo Tower. I love this place!

Sunday 30th May 2010

An early morning birdwatch around Castle Espie, another piece of that fabulous cake and then cycled along the minor roads south, through Killyleagh with it's impressive castle before getting to Quoile National Nature reserve. The centre warden, Gregg from Ballymena, was helpful and very friendly and when he tried to put the blue tit nest box tv on it came up with Father Ted instead.

Ever onwards and this time to Killard head where there's a colony of 200 plus green-winged orchids. Now here's where it gets spooky. Regular readers will remember the uncanny coincidence of meeting someone whose opening words were 'are you the man with the robin on his bike?' Well, this time I went up to the door of one of the cottages in order to ask whether I could leave my bike in their garden. After seeing the orchids returned with some new friends, a family, Janet, Sidney and William [future birder at the age of 10] and the owner of the cottage Catherine, said 'were you at Tintern Abbey in April? It turned out that she remembered seeing me there with Barnaby Bear [my teddy] when she was visiting her son! Incredible.

Sidney and William were new birders, with Janet, Sidney's wife for 30 years making this a lovely family to meet and walk with; Pentacostal Christians deeply into their faith.

Camped that evening, after chips and gravy [rivetting stuff this Gary], in a field just before Killough. Beautiful views over an inlet.

Monday 31st May 2010

What fabulous views of Slieve Donard as I cycled along the road. Got there for lunchtime and left my bike at a sheltered accommodation home [Thanks Jackalyn]. Got a bit lost amongst the forest but as usual on this trip fate leads me. Met a brilliant family of Mum - Rita [Queen of Speed!], Dad - Dave and sons Tom [forget that football team of yours - try ASTON VILLA!] and the joker, Connor. They were camping out using hammocks. Must get me one of those. A Hennessey hammock.

What's small, round and white and can't stop laughing - a tickled onion. Thanks Rita.

Up Slieve Donard, a long climb but relatively easy with a good path the whole way and a large stone wall along the side of the upper slopes sheltering one from the wind/gale.

Met a group of folk musicians from Birmingham. They were going down as I was going up but we had a long natter anyway. The Tamworth Folk Club

Met Mark at the top, a man who has walked up Slieve Donard over 300 times. A real inspiration this man as he'd only been up once before he was 52.

Thanks Keiran from Armagh, for chasing after me with my pen that I'd dropped some way up the mountain.

Boy was I.lucky, the weather at the top was clear even if rather cold and with a gale blowing. So the views over to Scotland, the Isle of Man and towards the Wicklow Mountains were clear also. A few clouds bubbled up but these were below the summit and added to the atmosphere.

Down the mountain, collected the bike and journeyed through castlewellan, camping about 5 miles to the NW on the Banbridge road.

Tuesday 1st June - the 6th month - day 162 and still going.

Heavy rain overnight and some water and a few slugs in the tent. Really though had a good night's sleep and was up and at them at ... 9 o'clock.

So, heading for Oxford island where a ringed necked drake has been seen recently, called in to a library in Banbridge, after a meal at Tesco's cafe there. Many thanks to all the wonderful staff at this library who let me use the internet for so long that this blog has now gone past the interesting phase to the .. when is he going to shut up phase.

Thanks to Pamela, Caroline and Ruth at the above library - lovely girls one and all.

Thanks to to all of you.

all the best


To the Top of Northern ireland - Slieve Donard, Belfast Lough RSPB and Castle Espie WWT reserves

Belfast Lough, wonderful place and where else would everyone who visits be greeted with a scone or biscuit and a cup of tea/coffee? Must be Northern Ireland, where the poeple are so wonderfully wonderful. Chris, the warden, met me and showed me around the reserve. Actually that doesn't do this brilliant character justice because he was fabulous. He looks like Bruce Springsteen and his life stories are not typical of an RSPB warden. It was a privilige to meet him and going around with him was great. Maybe not many birds, mind you I did add black guillemot and hooded crow to the year list, now at 202, but that didn't matter as Chris is such an interesting and enthusiastic bloke. Thanks to him and also to Marion and her husband, Denis, who offered a night's accommodation. [Thanks for the hot water bottle Marion!]

Also a million thanks to Stephanie Sim who couldn't have made me feel more welcome. As with all of the RSPB people I meet, she is a keenly dedicated person and I wish her all the very best.

Whilst in Belfast for an evening at Kelly's Cellars I saw the CRITICAL MASS cycle group. Seems that every month cyclists, some in fancy dress, follow a bike with a PA system aboard playing very loud pop music around the streets of Central belfast. I wish I'd known - I would have loved to join in. But well done to everyone involved. Great idea and hope it grows. Let's do it in every major city. let's get the bikes out and have some fun!

Cycled along the brilliant 'Greenway' from Belfast to Castle Espie WWT reserve. This must be one of the best cycle paths I've been on. Well done Sustrans! Coincidentally I met the leader of Sustrans Northern ireland, Chris Patterson, at the beginning of the cyclepath.

Castle Espie, not expecting me or so it seemed but soon was out birding with one of the wardens, Carl. Castle Espie has a fabulous 'Eco' centre with superb displays and even more superb cake. My example had cherries etc atop and was more substantial than it looked. Please post me some more!

Right, I'll stop there for a bit because i don't know how much longer I've got on this library computer. Thnaks to Jackalyn and Bob of Newcastle's Gelnnfold House for the donation.

All the best