Setting Off From Sandwell valley

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Now At Wolves Wood RSPB Reserve and on 248 for the year - 4 to go!

Now what could be finer than to sleep in a church porch with the temperature way below zero, to awake at 1.10am and find that the 2nd Test against Oz is all over?

Well it could be going into a library and finding the friendliest librarians for months. No talk of health and safety here; just two lovely, friendly ladies, Charmain and Sarah and a cup of hot tea to unfreeze me. Thanks girls! [Hadleigh, Suffolk - top of the library Christmas card list].

Now the title tells you where I am now and also how many bird species I've now seen this year; with 4 more to go to beat the Non-motorised Year List Record. Here's the details from when I left Norwich.

1st December 2010

A very cold day with a strong, bitterly cold east wind. Metcheck states minus 9 C with wind chill and chill me it did. Found Surlingham Church Marsh RSPB reserve easily enough but not many birds as the marsh and small pools here were completely frozen. Wigeon and little grebes on the river; a few titmice, fieldfares and redwings seen. Spent the day searching for the RSPB reserves in the area, finding them and the few birds available. Five reserves in a small area, the final one was Rockland and here met a local birder, dave who gave me a light for the back of the bike. Another quick theft in Norwich had removed the last one whilst I looked for a book in an Oxfam shop. Birds here were as expected for a lake; gadwall, tufeted duck, good number of wigeon and 4 little grebes. Two redshank actually landed on the water and swam around for a while, strange! A marsh harrier soon got everything flying though.

The cycle to Olton was the coldest I'd experienced this year. Well my memory of last winter doesn't have the wind as bad as this despite that freeze. Got to Oulton and once again many, many thanks to a fabulous family who suffered my company for the night. Marjorie, Kevin, Kerry and Dad couldn't have been nicer and the warm bed and bath, not in that order was great.

2nd December 2010

Cycled to Minsmere along a busy, icy main road and enjoyed the last section of country lane into the reserve; sheer ice and a super slid with wellies to the ground. Light snow falling with heavier snow showers later in the day; still a very cold easterly but not as strong as yesterday, was met by Kathy and given a warming hot chocolate. Off onto this most famous RSPB reserve, trudging through snow a few inches deep, only to be called back to the centre to be photographed by Jon Evans, the local photographer whose fantastic photos adorn the visitor centre's cafe. [Mind you it hurt to see the king eider photos that had been at Minsmere for weeks before I arrived whereupon it had disappeared]

Actually saw some good birds despite the weather : a jack snipe landed on the ice for a nano-second before heading off over the scrape; an adult little gull circled over the small area of unfrozen water on the scrape for a couple of minutes before heading out to sea and 5 avocet came in.

Back at the centre met more people and the site manager, Tim took some details for the Minsmere newsletter. I had intended to get to Dunwich and sleep in the church there but with the snow getting heavier, as light fell and evening turned to night, I set the tent up inside a hide and curled up for the night.

3rd December 2010

Early morning birding at Minsmere but not a lot really. It had been an extremely cold night but the 2nd test kept me warm. That first over had me screaming with delight, which was probably by the couple of tawny owls nearby stopped hooting. Come On England!

In the centre met John Gibbs who told me of nearby woodlarks. Off to an area just south of Eastbridge but the stubble fields he'd mentioned were totally frozen out and covered with snow, with nothing on them. Spent a couple of hours searching nearby fields and came across an area with old sweetcorn crops on either side. Here there were lots of birds but mainly chaffinches and skylarks, red-legged partridges and starlings. Walked down the edge of a very thick hawthorn bush and there were 4 little beauties - woodlarks! Brilliant and another bird added to the NMYL. 247, 5 to go.

Back at Minsmere I attempted to find Caspian gull but to no avail. A superb female hen harrier did come very close though, both when I crossed the North Marsh causeway and again when I was inside the east hide.

4th December 2010

Was disturbed from my latest place of night-time rest by the cleaners arriving, Dave and Lizzie. They gave me a warming coffee and were very embarassed that I couldn't stay in the visitor's centre before it opened.

Actually it was slightly warmer than the previous days and I sea-watched for an hour seeing very little but enjoying the comfort of the shingle bank.

Walked to Dingle Marshes about three miles north and met three lovely young birders from Warwick, Clare, Anna and Dave. Walked and chatted with them whilst birding the sea and adjacent marshes. Red-throated divers and scoter on the sea, avocet, little egrets, a spotted redshank, marsh harriers etc on the marshes. No sign of any snow buntings, twite or shore larks.

On returning to Minsmere saw Jon Evans pointing his extremely large lens at a nearby silver birch. Delighted to see the 30 waxwings on it, the tree that is. Did joke with Jon that if he hadn't been there I would have found them myself. Lovely birds.

Back to Minsmere and a chat with John Gibbs about him and other Minsmere birders doing a BIGBY year list in 2011. John hopes that others will join him, particularly Joh Grant and Bob Card. I really do hope that that gets off the ground and that other reserves will have a go as well. See your birds by cycling or walking, or from your bed, as one Minsmere birder does.

Down to the east hide, chatting to Keith and Christine on the way, saw John running towards me. He'd found an adult Caspian gull and the telescope, commondeered from Ernie and Dave from Felixstowe, ensured that another one was on the year list. Bird number 248 - 4 to go.

Another night sleeping in the hide.

5th December 2010

Watched a marsh harrier feeding on a dead duck first thing. She spent maybe twenty minutes or so doing so. Also watched as hundereds of barnacle geese and greylags left heading north. Muntjac by the hide and 12 waxwings closer to the centre as I went for a warm up and a Horlicks.

Had seen 76 bird species over the time I'd been at Minsmere but it was now time to get going. Just before Snape a male sparrowhawk grabbed a blackbird and landed not twenty yards from me. He sat there with the blackbird initially noisy but soon quiet for quite a while before heading over a nearby hedge, no doubt but to enjoy his meal. Got to Snape RSPB reserve and met Matt, the warden, in the visitor's centre there. Great to listen to him getting a young lady to become a RSPB memebr. Walked the reed bed - estuary area for a while; seeing bearded tits, c.300 avocets, c.1,000 dunlin and others. then was shown the other areas of this reserve and a female black redstart. Snape will have an immense reed bed in a few years time and is another example of the RSPB's Futurescape programme.

Invited to spend the night At Matt's house and met Keiran, the warden of Havergate Island. Brilliant to meet him as he also is passionate about cricket and as England had been demolishing both cricket records and the Aussies over the last few days, the conversation was a little triumphalist. [England win by an innings and a half - and 71 runs!]

6th December 2010

Thick fog and 4 reserves to find, two of them unlisted on the internet RSPB website. Eventually found them all, including Boyton Marshes and Havergate Island. The latter I didn't land on but did see from the opposite bank. Birds very few and far between as everywhere was still frozen and the fog was very thick. A close barn owl was seen hunting and then catching a vole which it soon swallowed whole.

Cycled to Sutton Hoo but the ship barn was closed, apparently only open at weekends in the winter. Instead went to the burial mound area.

To Ipswich to get brake pads front and back at another superb cycling shop - ELMY CYCLES.

Coffee and sweets provide whilst Harry worked on the bike. Many thanks to Harry and Neil - great people; friendly and helpful.

Supermarket for food and after braving a very busy A road, walked along an icy country lane to Chattisham; finding a country church there with a porch. Soon asleep and woke at 1.10am as previously stated to find the 2nd Test match all over - bar the shouting. Shame about the Villa.

Less than two weeks to go now before reaching Sandy. Will then be cycling home from there.

All the best everyone,



  1. Hi mate, Good to see you're still adding species to the list - could be a close run thing. I see from Birdforum that you still need LS Woody and something else that escapes me at the moment. What else do you need that's a possibility?


  2. Nice one Gary! And what about Swanny eh? A bowling sensation!
    Saw your picture on the Minsmere blog today - don't know how you're cycling in these temperatures. Went out on the bike on Saturday and won't be doing that again in a hurry..
    Keeping fingers crossed that you get your last few.

  3. Ta both of you. Birds possibly available include Leo, Iceland gull and lesser spot. All 3 would do nicely. Otherwise it's a post Christmas cycle to chew valley for fudge duck! See you soon