Setting Off From Sandwell valley

Friday, 28 May 2010

In Belfast!!

..... and so much has happened in the last few days. A gut-wrenching double dip involving Seaforth Docks, visits to both the Catholic and Anglican Cathedrals in Liverpool and a ferry ride over to Northern Ireland; all part of the roller coaster of emotions experienced recently.

Imagine, arrive at Seaforth Docks knowing that the only views will be through the iron fencing on the Crosby side. Couldn't see much so asked a guard at the barriers whether it would be possible to go in. Unfortunately no because an American cargo ship had just arrived. Went and caught a train to go on my rest period with my parents. 10 minutes into the journey, whilst passing Runcorn, a text message - Wilson's phalarope at Seaforth. AAAAAAARRRRGGGGHHHHHHH!

Return to the 'Pool and the phalarope has gone. Oh well better luck next time. Stay at a wonderful B & B - The Liver View Hotel, 44 Church Road, Wallasey CH44 7BA 0151 639 5723 - and get the ferry to Belfast. Passing the Isle of man - another text - WHITE-TAILED PLOVER  at ...... Seaforth.

Double dip.

Oh well.

Stop crying and enjoy Belfast. Black guillemots in the harbour, eider too - feel better. Beautiful double rainbow in the sunny rain shower. - Feel even better.

Met Stephanie from the RSPB in a pub, together with many other wonderful RSPB people. They were saying goodbye to a colleague leaving for Australia. Me a gatecrasher with his first pint of Irish Guiness. Actually couldn't have been made more welcome and many thanks to all there.

B & B - Roseleigh Guest House - 02890644414 - superb accomodation and many thanks to James and Donna.

Now on my way to Belfast Lough RSPB reserve and so excited about the next three weeks in Northern Ireland.

So, thanks to everyone who has made a donation to one of the charities and a special thanks to John White who has made a donation to all 3!

Thanks to all people who I've met.

And thanks to God for teaching me that birding isn't easy and that double dips of Mega proportions will teach me that lesson.

All the best everyone,


Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Nora Batty and a couple of dotterels

Celebration time. 200 up on the year list after 2 dotterel last night and quite a few red grouse today.

So, from Bakewell made it to Abney Moor and found the otterel with the help of 'the mouth from the south'; a nickname for a birder who with his mate, Mark ensured that we saw the birds. Actually after searching with Mark and Jo [Of Pies & Birds blog] from Sheffield and listening to the shouts from the fore named birder, the two dotterel flew quickly to the north and seemed like they were off for good. Still with the great reed warbler in the morning well chuffed with the day and well worth the 60 odd miles cycled. [199]

No room in the Youth hostel at Haversage so camped in what I thought was an empty field.

Wednesday 19th May 2010

Today started strangely with a cascade of water heard from my sleeping bag at around 5.00am. Turned out to be a rather large horse having a pee next to the tent!

Up onto the moor east of Lady Bower res but no montagu's harrier. There was a pair of ring ouzel though and lot of red grouse [200!!!] and curlew.

About 6 miles further and a phone call from Phil Andrews to say that the montys had been found. Must be honest and despite wanting to go, too exhausted from yesterday's efforts to face the 25 mile round trip. Will probably regret that later but at the moment sitting here in Holmfirth's library seems like the wisest decision as I still have Saddleworth to negotiate this evening.

Crossbills and siskin, cuckoos and stonechats; decent birds well seen and another celebration after a phone call to my fabulously brilliant daughter, who's just passed her driving test first time. Well done Rebs! I failed mine once because I didn't have a driving license.

To Holmfoirth and a cup of hot chocolate in Sid's Cafe, exactly as one might see it on the tele in Last of the Summer Wine. Then invited in to look at Nora Batty's kitchen by two lovely people from Middlesborough, Geoff and Margaret Johnson.

Even bought a new pair of trousers at a charity shop. The previous pair were a tad dirty. The lady who served me, Jan Widdop, has a son who teaches at The Bromsgrove School, about a mile away from the school I'm absconding from at the moment, Rigby Hall Special School.

Right 100 miles in 2 days. Not bad for an old slaphead of 53. [birthday next month so start saving up].

Off to Compo's chip shop for tea then over Saddleworth Moor, an RSPB reserve towards Oldham. Need to be at Martin Mere near Southport for Friday morning.

All the best everyone,


Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Coombes Valley RSPB Reserve and beyond . . . .

May 16th 2010

A quick bike ride from Congleton to Coombes Valley [Quick - who are you trying to kid? It was the usual getting lost when trying to find a short cut along a canal towpath. Twit!] to be met by Steve Allcott, an ex-pupil from when I was a Secondary teacher in Wolverhampton many moons ago and then by Kerry and Heather; 2 lovely RSPB Vols. Both of the girls were superb and a credit to the RSPB, being very friendly and knowledgable about the reserve and its birds.

Ste and I went for a walk, clockwise [!] around the reserve and soon sawa garden warbler. It was here I met up with Alan and Beryl Turner from Ashton under Lyme. Coincidence here was that I'd met Alan at Inner Marsh Farm RSPB reserve last week. Indeed Alan was well remembered because I think he wanted to clonk me one because of my sincerely meant comments on a certain Man United manager. Friends now and comrades in arms looking for birds.

Pied flycatcher and redstart and a very obliging male orange tip butterfly that rested on my finger.

Steve had to go so I cycled to the reasonably nearby Churnet Valley reserve; receiving texts on England's progress against the Aussies in the 20:20. More of the same as at Coombes but a beautiful walk down to the canal and back.

Evening spent celebrating England's win with a fruit loaf and some orange juice.

17th May 2010

Up early next morning, 5.00am to walk around the whole of the allowed part of the Coombes Valley reserve. 7 redstart, 4 garden warblers, 3 male pied fly', 1 cuckoo, 1 raven and usual birds for the time of year.

Enjoyed the site of 3 Dexter cows being celebrities on Radio Stoke, as they were released into an area that requires grazing. Met Emma, Chris, Ella and Gracie Shufflebotham, the owners of the Dexters. What do they say about tv and animals [remember the Blue Peter elephant of years ago?]; well, these were similar. 2 ran off immeadiately and the third only stayed for the press photos because of a harness.

Fun over, met Jarrod Sneyd and just for him I'll say that Coombes valley is the best woodland reserve in Staffordshire that I've been to this year. In fact memories came flooding back at every turn as 32 years ago I cam here as a volunteer. I couldn't do much work at the time as I'd been in a bad motorway accident and my left side was in a bad way. Still Coombes Valley is a wonderful reserve and if you enjoy proper woodland birding, as I do, then it's for you. No hides but that's all for the good because you need ears and eyes in a wood. The benches are creative and wonderful. The views are fantastic and luckily there were a lot of butterflies too.

Another volunteer, Rebecca, emptied the moth trap from the previous night, showing me mostly drabs and Hebrew characters but also powdered quacker and waved umber.

Then it was off to cycle to Carsington via a cycle path that took me to Thor's Cave [Brilliant!] with a lot of orchids on the limestone banks along the Manifold Valley.

Stopped at Tissington to see the Well Dressings and arrived at Carsington where the RSPB has a prescence in the shape of a superb shop. Kath and Tamzin greeted me, gave me coffee and biscuits and photos were taken for their blog. Both were lovely and Kath impressed me with her tale of cycleing from Land's End to John O'Groats.

To the wildlife centre, which has to be the most comfortable hide I've ever been in with its remote control video monitor so that one can see waders on the far side of the island and central heating, as well as huge windows.

Cycled to the Paul Stanley hide and at last, had willow tits here. [197]

18th May 2010

Cycled to the great reed warbler near Ilkeston and heard it straight away. Seeing it was more difficult until it came to the edge of the small reedbed and gave fantastic views. [198]

Now I'm in the library at Bakewell, having cycled over 50 miles today. I'm on the way to try for the dotterel that are about 10 miles or so north. Fingers crossed.

OK, time to go.

Thanks go to Mike Rogers, a very dear friend who put me up in Congleton for a few nights rest and his brilliant children Vicky and Mikey.

Get cycling people. The wetaher's perfect for it.

All the best


Friday, 14 May 2010

St Mary's Catholic Primary School Visit - 14th May 2010

There have been some amazingly wonderful days on my trip and I know that you must be getting a little jaded from my constant use of superlatives but today has been ...... wonderful.

St Mary's Primary is quite simply the best Eco School that I have visited ever - period.

The children are delightful; friendly, polite and inquisitive. The staff likewise and upsettingly for an old timer like me, very young and with Miss H.Pile at the helm, the Head Teacher they all make St Mary's a very special place indeed.

My visit was because of one of those wonderful coincidences I love so much; a coincidence that shows me that my guardian angels are looking after me. [I have  few!]

Whilst at college I had one particular friend who was extremely special to me. Mike Rogers. Years went by and we lost touch with each other but thanks to this blog Mike got in touch a couple of weeks ago and to cut this short I came to visit him in Congleton, Cheshire. Now it just so happened that I met his two beautiful children at the end of their school day at St Mary's and I couldn't get over what I was seeing around the school grounds. Raised beds with veg growing for each class, willow mazes, composting bins everywhere and I asked Mike's daughter whether this was an Eco School and to my delight it was - and is - a Green Flag Eco School.

A very friendly teacher, Mr Thorpe took me to the Head Teacher, Miss H. Pile and a visit was arranged for today. Mind you it came at the price of working on the willow structure.

What a fabulous school, with a great atmosphere and as I've already mentioned great children and staff. Stuart [hope that's how you spell it], the site manager showed me around and one of the children, Matthew with a TA, Mrs Woodcock [good name for a birdwatcher to meet] did likewise.

So what makes St Mary's so brillaintly special Eco-side? well;

An amphitheatre just like the Romans,
A meadow for wild flowers
An orchard with a carefully placed buddleia for insects to aid pollination,
Raised verg beds for each class - and all of them planted up and being used.
Hanging baskets everywhere
A nest box with video link to a monitor in the classroom with blue tits nesting inside sitting on eggs
More nest boxes and bat boxes around the grounds
A pond with picnic benches
2 willow structures
More raised beds for flowers and herbs
Composting and recycling bins
Dens using large logs
pallet insects houses, not just one but many
Log piles for the same purpose

I could go on because I've been blown away by the enthusiasm the whole school has for outdoor education. Classes had just returned from Anglesey for instance.

What a wonderful school and what a wonderful day.

Thank you so much Mrs Pile, Mrs Woodcock, Stuart, Mr Thorpe, Mrs Pilling and all the other staff who chatted but whose names I didn't hear. thanks to the dinner ladies for a lovely dinner and especially thanks to the children. Parents of these lovely boys and girls can be proud of them and be proud that they go to St Mary's Catholic Primary School, Congleton, Cheshire !

All the best everyone,

Eco monitors, committee members abound

Thursday, 13 May 2010

The Dee Estuary visit.

There's a group of 4 wonderful people at Inner Marsh Farm RSPB reserve and a million thanks to them. My visit here was one of the best and I am very grateful to :

Paul Brady, Colin, Geoff and Rhianne [I've probably spelt her name 3 different ways by now on the blog - sorry] made me so very welcome and the atmosphere here was brilliant.

Paul, although a Middlesborough fan with a Scouse accent, took me around the area where some amazing new developments are to take place; new visitors centre planned, 6 hectare scrape and walkways though woods and around ex-fishing lakes, as well as hides and screens. Building to start very soon, the reserve will become one of the RSPB flagships.

Having camped nearby an early start gave me common tern [195] and much the same birds as the previous evening; yellow wagtail [194], black-tailed godwits and dunlin, pintail pair and a few wigeon. Grasshopper warbler reeling behind ther hide and a partial albino jackdaw with white wings.

Met local birders Stan Skelton and Keith Dockers. More birdy chat appreciated.

Off eventually to Parkgate and lovely chats with passers by [sincere and grateful thanks to Johnnie Hardie and 'a lady I met' but I'm sorry I didn't write down your name in the book], as well as suasage gravy and chips from a famous chippy there. I'd last had chips from this emporium 36 years ago [yes I'm that old] when myself and 2 students from my days at Chester College, Charlie Wildman (?) and Peter Martin went on the bus to bird the marsh. I well remember the flying chips as a close by male hen harrier [my first] came out of the grass in front of us.

Indeed the whole of my visit to the Dee Estuary has been like the return of the Prodigal Son. Even a few tears as I came through Burton and remember photographing aswallow on a tv aerial there and walking for my first view of Burton marsh. Lots of memories and good times. Changes to with less water in the Burton marsh area and the rookery there now gone along with the trees that held it.

Met 2 brilliant people whilst chomping chips, Paul and Sara, police officers from Chester. Sara - get your pictures onto the net and email me. I'd love to see them. A great day for meeting interesting people today.

Time I think to move again. I'd mamaged to pay for a bit longer on the net - £1.60 but time up.

Remember to please look at Roz Savage's blog.

Stay Green and get on your bike.

All the best


Gronant, Black Grouse and the Dee - hopefully.

Camped and Gronant and a whinchat outside the tent greeted me as I opened the flap. Nice start to the day but still that nagging NE wind. Met Mike Ratcliffe, a local birder and together we went down onto the sands to 'have a look'. Little terns, lots of them flying high and landing inside the electrified fencing made it 192 for the year. great to be with a talented, dedicated birder and the conversation was appreciated.

To Point of Ayr and after a meeting with a local OAP poet, whose work was recited over a coffee, met Geoff, the warden of the reserve and his wife Jude. A fabulous couple of hours with maybe few birds; whimbrel being the highlight, but what a great couple. Brilliant to meet them.

A carvery for £3.50. Food!!!! Afetr a few days of Primula sandwiches [I wonder if they'll sponsor me for the plug I've just given them?] it was a delight to have 3 different meats and as much veg as wanted.

A visit to the lovely St Asaph's Cathedral, 12th Cathedral I think on the tour, and two about 10 year old girls looking around too. One of the girls was there because her Grannie had just died and she wanted to come to the Cathedral to think of her.

Slept at the Black Grouse site, meeting Ian the owner of the Mountain Bike Centre, as I set up the tent. Now how to make one feel humble. Ian has cycled over the Himilayas and his travels made my trip look like a bike ride through a park, which of course it is. Fantastic bloke and his Mountain Bike Centre is brilliant.

Up at 4.30am; packed away quickly and soon meeting Julie, the RSPB guide, who was to prove to be excellent throughout the visit, and Frank, a local volunteer whose wife turned out to be the cousin of my assistant headteacher back at the special school where I am a teacher, namely Rigby Hall Special School, Bromsgrove, WORCS.

Julie took the group which included a couple from Southampton, a father and two lovely children from Epping Forest and some birders from Stevenage, up to the Black grouse hide. She was great with very good ears for the calls, a good manner with beginners and 'experts' alike and good eyes, spotting whinchat, siskin and crossbills quickly.

The black grouse males were leking as expected [193] and not far away too.

Breakfast [thanks Ian 'Badger'.] and chats then cycled to the Dee Estuary.

Now I love fate. Call it Karma but things do seem to happen which are beyond coincidence. take this for example.

Lost in Connah's Quay. Well, couldn't find the cycle route to the new bridge over the river so I knowcked on the last door of a line of three houses just north of the town. Explained what I was looking for and the reply was "you're not the bloke with the robin on the front of your bike are you?"

Yes I am so invited in and a 2 hour tour of the garden, lots of water and squash [thanks!!!] and I'd met Steve and Margaret. Steve had been on the internet the night before to look up ospreys and had seen my photo at Glaswyn on their blog. Uncanny coincidence or what?

So much to tell but almost time up at the library.

I still need to talk about the fabulous group of people I met at Inner Marsh Farm RSPB reserve but time is against me.

So, I'm now in Congleton where I am visiting a friend who I haven't seen for 10 years or so. taking a day out to catch up but tomorrow will be on the way to Combes Valley RSPB reserve, Staffs.

Year list now stands at 196 - wood sandpiper at Sandbach following yellow wagtail and common tern at Inner Marsh.

Thanks to all who follow me, all who donate and all who think "I think I'll get on my bike and get out there". Love to you all and finally

Have a look at Roz Savage's blog. Google her name and prepare to be amazed at her exploits. She's eloquent, beautiful and a true inspiration.

All the best everyone



Monday, 10 May 2010

The Dee Estuary, Radio Merseyside and a million thanks. 10th may 2010

Practically a week since access to a computer and so much has happened. Thanks to those people who have left donations, either by using the blog links or by putting money in the robin. £63.32 from the robin went to the RSPB at Inner marsh today. Brilliant.

Well the next morning at South Stack they were all back; thousands of guillemots and razorbills. Mind you there blatent cowardice in the face of a raven was embarassing to watch. The poor guillemot left lonely protecting briefly her egg from the raider as all of the others were by then on the sea was craven. sandwich terns would have got together and beaten the ....... out of the raven but this one got away with a bright blue egg easily.

Cemlyn. Thanks to Dawn Wild, the reserve warden for the chat and thanks to the birds. Brilliant watching the sandwich tern courtship dance.

To Lynn Alaw and met Owen, the warden and shared chat with fishermen, especially one named Hugh, a fabulous local with a thousand stories, coffee and a welcome Twix. Other helpful people met included the huge smile on a traffic warden in Llangefni, a lovely lady on Church Island at Menai; met whilst I reminisced on biology field work 30 years ago plus, the administrator at bangor cathedral and the staff at Bangor swimming pool. Thanks to all.

6th may 2010

The Spinnies, Bangor

18 whimbrel, 7 eider [189] and lots of oystercatchers, little egrets, red-breasted mergs and other shorebirds.

To Aber falls and an amazing time. First just before the information cottage, a female goshawk was perched on a large oak. Instead of the panicked speedy flight of a sparrowhawk, she just gently took off and circled over my head before disappearinfg into the low cloud. Best view I've ever had of one. Brilliant!

A family of treecreepers with 3 small youngsters close to and unconcerned over my presence and then a dipper visiting a nest, likewise unaware or unconcerned over my presence. 3 garden warblers were the first I'de had this year  [190].

The waterfall was a impressive as ever and the gravel paths were a surprise.

To Conwy RSPB reserve and met at the door by the fabulous Robbie. Made to feel extremely welcome and saw a little ringed plover there [191], as well as 2 barnacle geese and 5 fox cubs cavourting on the earth bank near to the furthest screen. Masses of hirundines and swifts here.

7th May 2010

Early morning - 5.00am - walk around Conwy again and 58 species of bird seen before leaving to take the cycle path all the way to Gronant along the North Wales coast - into a north-easterly gale. Tough but enjoyable.

Time is almost up and I've got to give the Dee Estuary, Paul, Geoff and Jude', Julie, Colin and Rhianne, Steve the Raptor Man, his wife Margaret, Johnny Roques, Frank and Mike the write up they deserve.

So year list now 195. Off to Chester next and over to Coombes Valley in Staffs.

Thanks again to all who have chatted, donated or even just looked at my blog.

Love to you all,


Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Snowdon and Anglesey - now May 4th 2010

Thanks to Priors Field School, Kenilworth, and Jasmine for the donations to the RSPB. Brilliant and gratefully received.

Now in the library in Holyhead relaxing after a few hard days but obviously if you know what I'm like, immensely enjoyable ones.

After leaving the Osprey site at Glaswyn near Porthmadoc, cycled to the Snowdon ranger youth hostel. A quite full traditional hostel and superb dormitory company with Stuart, a zander fisherman from Hebden Bridge and his brother.

Saturday 1st May

From there walked up the Snowdon ranger path to the summit; a path stated to be the easiest route to the top. Grasshopper warblers trilling on the way up and pleasant company with Norman from Chester made the walk seem quick. What a shock at the top. Hundreds of people. The las time I'd been at the summit of a mountain was in the Pyrenees last year, atop the Petit Vignamale, and then there were only 3 of us. This time there was a queue to get to the summit viewpoint. Mind you didn't stop me getting a year tick as a female snow bunting dodged the legs.

Pyrenees - griffon vultures and alpine accentors. Alpes - alpine chough and golden eagle. Snowdon - herring gulls, lots of them and all to willing to share my 'Oggie', a very large Welsh version of the Cornish Pasty. The gulls didn't have too much. I was hungry and the new cafe was full. £4.50 an Oggie and a coffee - so was lunch.

Walked towards Crib Goch, with the cloud sometimes obscuring the area; sometimes allowing views of the |Isle of Man and the Lake District. Sat on the highest peak, the other one over 3,000ft and waited for the Aston Villa result against Man' City - disappointed after a couple of hours but never disappointed with the views.

Back down to the Youth Hostel in pouring rain. Who would believe that I could go through Wales and only get wet twice?

Sunday May 2nd

Back up to the first ridge on the same path as yesterday to look for the grasshopper warblers again but this time it was blowing a gale.

Cycled to Morfa Dinlle, which I eventually found but not with the help of any RSPB signs because there weren't any. 2 whimbrel here but little else at a very high tide.

Through Caenarfon but wasn't allowed into the castle because of the bike. Disappointed but wasn't prepared to argue. Couldn't leave it locked to the railing outside as was suggested because of the risk of the theft of the collection box on the front happening again.

Over onto Anglesey via the Britannia Bridge. Shame that electricity cables spoil the view down the Straits.

A burial chamber visited after a quick photo opp at Llanfairp................  well you know the rest!

Slept by camping near the RSPB reserve at Malltraeth Marshes but not before seeing swift at last. [187] and then had a lesser whitethroat singing close by as I snuggled into my sleeping bag.

Monday 3rd May

Rain in the night and lots of snow on the Snowdonian peaks in the morning. Stunning views in the strong sunlight. Still a cold NE wind. Explored the reserve and saw a female marsh harrier, a dozen or so wheatear and lots of reed warblers singing. Met a local birder, Tudor Williams. Saw a weasel whilst chatting and then went down to the Cob to pay my respects to the late Charles Tunnicliffe.

To Valley Wetlands RSPB reserve and lunch of Primula sandwiches. Few birds, a few ducks but there was 3 ruddies there. Memories of before the cull when Belvide Reservoir used to have hundreds of them. Smashing little ducks with their brilliant blue bills.

And so to South Stack RSPB reserve and instead of the expected thousands of guillemots and razorbills there were ..... 2 guillemot and 9 razorbills! There were chough flying around and the shelter from the wind afforded by Holy Mountain was welcome.

OK time to move on. Thanks for the donations and thanks for the interest.

All the very best everyone