Setting Off From Sandwell valley

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Fairburn Ings 28th - 29th October 2010

Another brilliant RSPB reserve! I hadn't been here for 20 years and how those years have been kind to the area; thanks to the RSPB. A superb visitor's centre, miles of walks with fabulous autumn colours, lots of birds and a special group of great RSPB people.

Met by young Joe, who was exited over having just found a common waxbill. Ah sweet youth and naivity. Me, old cycnic that I am. I wasn't too upset at not seeing it.

Now Joe [Joseph!!!] was fabulous. In fact he has been the first person that I've met on an RSPB reserve who has actually asked whether I was a member! I showed him my membership card and gave him my complimentary one - signed. You should have seen him blush. Brilliant.

A great welcome. Met Zoe, a keen roseate tern fan with a tattoo to show her love and Duncan, a peat bog man.

A quickish walk around part of the reserve with Graham [Thanks!] with kingfisher coming close and lots of tree sparrows, goldfinch and itimice, including willow all seen.

An evening spent in the company of three smashing lads in the RSPB house. Condition of my staying there for the night was that I watched Kate Humble on Autumnwatch. No hardship there.

Friday 29th October

A day of fun with the photo session on an Halloween Theme. The reserve is having a Ghostly evening and from all of the preparations going on in the centre's office I know the children who attend, and their parents are in for a spooky time. I'll put some photos on when Joe sends some that he took to me.

A superb drystone wall is being built and thought you might like to see the progress:-

Thanks to Darren Starkey and everyone who I met there.

Off around the reserve, both in the morning and again until sunset, with a long walk after viewing from the hide near the centre. A beautiful walk surrounded by the golden leaves of silver birch. Goosander, pintail, shelduck, goldeneye and six black swans [bred here this year - future British Bird?] on the water with 100s of coot and other more common species; kingfisher, green woodpecker, willow tits, tree sparrows, siskins, lesser redpoll amongst other titmice, finches etc. Birds of prey also seen, peregrine, sparrowhawk a few times, buzzards and kestrels.Great day's birding with it ending at sunrise with snipe tazzing about and dozens of cormorants coming in to roost. 66 species over the day - the best day's birding numbers -wise in Yorkshire - so far. Will Old Moor RSPB reserve give a better total?

So now for a short rest before the final stretch from Fairburn to Sandy via Lincolnshire, Notts, Cambridgeshire, Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex, etc. Just a short jaunt really!!!

Thanks to everyone who's donated and thanks for all the messages of support.

All the best everyone,



Thursday, 28 October 2010

Now on the way to Fairburn Ings - Thursday 28th October

Arrived at Wheldrake Ings yesterday at around 11.30am and had a relaxing day. Thrilled to meet an Upton Warren birder Tim Jones who's moved up to York University. [Thanks for the donation Tim and good luck at Uni'] We were both here to see an american wigeon and after a few hours of enjoying peregrines and common ducks and geese, the am wig was found and three great lads let me have goodish views through their scopes. Bird 240 for the year. 12 to go for the record.

Had had a seawatch Tuesday early on but not a lot seen. A woodcock off the sea, a couple of unid'd skuas and a few fieldfare coming in. Rain was falling so an invite back to Richard Bains house with Ben Green [artist and Villa fan- good lad!] and Duncan Poyser, for a warming cup of tea was welcome. It's great to be in the company of birders for a couple of hours. Guess what the conversation was about?

Over to Phil Cunningham's house to collect the bike and stuff that had been left there during the seawatch. Thanks to his Mum in Law and her brother, Brenda and Jack, for the donation.

Early morning rise to get to Fairburn Ings today. Lovely to meet Paul Doherty and his directions were perfect. Great bloke.

Right time up at the library.

All the best to everyone. 2 months to go.


Monday, 25 October 2010

Post Saltholme and on to Bempton RSPB Reserve

Well say my beautiful, funny, exhilerating daughter Rebecca for the evening. An evening of new culinary delights; namely a 'Parmo' - cheese on chicken and a DVD of Terry Gilliam's film Dr Parnassus.

Now I love Gilliam's other films; Baron Munchausen, Time Bandits etc but my favourite is Brazil. The scenes when Sam flies amongst the clouds with those wonderful silver wings. [OK I like the bit with the ribbon too but my Mum might be reading this!]

Great to see 'Rebs' again and I'm very proud of her. Love you Angel.

Next day, Friday, got to Commondale to try to see a rough-legged buzzard. Just missed it when I arrived and then the whole of Saturday was spent doing the same. Well, not quite the same as most of the day was heavy rain. So by dodging the rain sheltering in the village pub, a little birding gave a sprog but no Rough-legged. Oh well. Should see one sometime this winter.

Moved on a good distance on Sunday. In fact cycled 56 miles through hail, rain but with a northerly pushing me first to Whitby [lovely], then Scarborough [likewise] and eventually to Bempton. Now Bempton is one of my favourite reserves. When I was first with my wife so many years ago, we all, that's Karen, the children and myself, used to stay at a caravan near to here so I got to know the area quite well. Now Bempton has a huge chalk cliff for its main habitat and although the nesting birds might have all left, it's still a very impressive sight. Met Jonathan, the information assistant; Nick, the retail manager and Sue, a local volunteer. Nice people one and all. After I'd apologised for being early - three days early! I went out to have the first look from the cliffs. The cold north wind was still blowing but gannets were passing and a good number fo kittiwakes too. Arriving as I did at around 4.00pm I only had an hour or so.

Monday 25th October

Up with the lark and straight down to the cliffs. Keep it short, saw 41 species of bird including my first sooty shearwater of the year [year list 236] and a lapland bunting. Also met a non-typical local birder. Here's the conversation I had when i approached him and I quote :-

"Good morning" [silence] "Anything about?" "Who said you could come in here?" Sorry I didn't know" "You knew you couldn't!" "I didn't. I'm not from around here. Listen to my accent" "Read the notices, ...Private."

At this he turned his back and walked off. Now I'm a friendly chap and all I'd seen was a birder, and according to people I met later they all say that this 'gentleman' is a brilliant birder, and I'd gone up to ask what he'd seen. There were no signs to say that I was indeed out of the RSPB area. Indeed the gate had a notice saying what common hedgerow birds might be seen here. Nothing else. So ended a meeting with the most ignorant and bad mannered birder of the year - allegedly. So I say this to you Terry Nolan. Lighten up and join the human race. Good manners cost nothing and I feel sorry that you feel the need to be so disgusting towards other people. You sad, lonely, little man.

Right I've got that off my chest. there's no need to be like that. I wonder what makes Terry behave so.

Back to the birding.

Enjoyed the walk around the whole of the reserve. Corn buntings and stonechats; a goldcrest in the Dell. Red-throated divers on the sea and dozens of tree sparrows [good fun gently pishing them] at the feeding station.

Met Ian Kendall, the site manager and Allan Dawson who I'd met earlier by a watchpoint. Smashing people.

Off to Flamborough with 4 target birds for the year list. Met Phil Cunningham and Andrew Malley along the Lighthouse road and immeadiately saw a target bird on a telegraph wire. Waxwing! [237]. Lunch in the cafe, thought I deserved a treat, and then seawatched with Phil by the foghorn. Now there weren't many birds but I did find a little gull [238] and a couple of little auks [239], as well as a passing possible glaucous gull. Looked good to me with my Opticron bins but Phil said he could see a small greyish smudge on an inner primary. A number of red-throated divers were on the sea and a couple of great northerns flew past; as did a sandwich tern. Great 3 of the 4 target birds and a growing year list 3 closer to the record.

Phil left as the sun went in and it grew immeadiately much cooler. He was replaced by three birders who went further down the cliff to the famous seawatch ledge, Richard Baines and two Cambridge birders.  Richard Baines gave a donation to the RSPB on the behalf of the Flamborough Bird Observatory [Many thanks for that]. Not a lot of birds moving now but a snow bunting landed on the grass just behind us. Nice.

Sundown and a shortish ride back to Bempton.

Now you may remember Roz savage; she of rowing the Atlantic and Pacific fame, well she has put some words of advice on her latest email message. Check them out -

Reading her emails is always a pleasure and her fortitude has been an inspiration for me over the year.

Thanks to everyone who has been looking at my blog. Seeing who is following me on Twitter and the like is a real motivation and I am very grateful to you all.

Right, time for bed for tomorrow will be another very early seawatch at Flamborough day.

All the best,


Sunday, 24 October 2010

The Most Amazing and Wonderful RSPB Reserve - Saltholme

After a quick visit to Saltholme in the afternoon after leaving Washington WWT Reserve and after having cycled down the busy A19, slept nearby with a view of the opening Bladerunner scene. The lights of a nearby oil refinery shone brightly as an almost full moon rose with Venus at its side. How romantic.

21st October 2010

Got to Saltholme RSPB reserve early and met a lovely volunteer, Barbara, who was doing some birding herself on the way in. A little egret was in Bottom Pool, along with shovelor, teal, a good number of gadwall and a few teal. Nice start to the day.

Met the warden next and then was taken in over the swingbridge into the reserve centre. Now I've seen a few impressive visitor centres before but the one at Saltholme takes some beating. A large modern centre with awards for its 'green' credentials.

The reserve centre was busy with dignitaries from English Nature and the higher echelons of the North East RSPB but dave Braithewaite gave some of his time to show myself and the English nature photographer around the reserve. Dave was brilliant! A hugely charismatic enthusiast, Dave told me of breeding success for this year and their future plans. All these were discussed with much mirth and I enjoyed his company tremendously.

He left me in the Pool Hide where I met up with hide wardens, Dennis and Adam as well as meeting up with the delightful Barbara again. Sat there for a couple of hours watching the birds; black-tailed godwit, a few dunlin, a few hundred golden plover and a variety of duck including pintail and goldeneye. Also met people here from York; part of the 'University of the third Age' [U3A] group. Lovely people who certainly knew how to enjoy their birds.                 is the link for their home website.

By now 37 species and a male sparrowhawk hunting in front of the cafe made it 38. Speaking of the cafe!!! Many, many thanks to Dave Braithewaite and to the wonderful Anne, Dawn and Angela for the fabulous dinner. After a few days of pitta breads with jam and peanut butter, it was great to have soup, then dinner of such a superb quality and quantity. Thanks so much. Very much appreciated.

Whilst enjoying these culinary delights, met a fabulous young girl, Lyndsay, who was working with local school children from Yalm Primary School on an art/bird project. She showed me the children's creative work on her laptop and we chatted fro half an hour or so about such projects. One of their projects is viewable on you tube :-

Eventually off and onto the Transporter Bridge. Well over the river and back. Then along the cycle path and onward. Another fabulous RSPB reserve visited.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Washington Wildfowl & Wetland Trust Centre - Wednesday 20th October 2010

19th October 2010

What a brilliant place! OK call me a dude [my friends do] but I enjoy having red-breasted geese waddle up to me whilst I sit enjoying the autumn sunshine. I like hearing the sexy call of eiders close to and I love watching people, who may not be super birders, enjoy birds.

This is my first visit to Washington WWT Reserve and the people here couldn't have made me more welcome. I arrived three days early because the migrants on the Northumerland coast had disappeared with the westerly winds. Also the RSPB have, thank goodness, got 2 more reserves that need visiting and therefore I need to push ahead of schedule for a bit. So a surprised staff greeted me very warmly and so my visit began.

Now the centre was just a few empty looking farm fields back in 1975 and now? Well it looks a fabulous place for children with many features of fun for them. There's the usual collection birds but not too many and there's woodland to explore, a brilliant feeding centre with hide for close views of woodpeckers and willow tits and a wader scrape down by the river, where recently over 750 curlew have roosted. After a lovely chat with Jane the Centre manager and Leanne, the marketing manager, and after having enjoyed watching the cranes chasing off a grey heron that had wandered into their enclosure, I went for a late afternoon walk around the grounds. I ended up at the wader scrape and checked all of the teal there and generally just enjoyed the peace after a day of hair-raising cycling down the A1, the A189 and the A19.

Once the centre was closed I was lucky to have a fabulous evening in the company of three great ladies: Gill, Leanne and Giselle {whose surname is Eagle and who will be working as an ornithologist on Bardsey with her boyfriend. Well, she will be once she gets a ride over to the wonderful isle.}. A million thanks for the evening girls.

20th October 2010

No cloud, a cold northerly and lots of late autumn sunshine. A quick look around the collection part of Washington and then a series of ridiculous looking photos of me with a toy flamingo for the Sunderland Echo and an interview with a reporter from the same. All great fun and my embarassment over doing such things lessening - slightly.

Have just returned from exploring the wilder areas of the reserve having seen 28 species in an hour and a half. Siskins, great spotted woodpeckers, willow tits, goldcrests and bullfinches were the highlights of a very enjoyable time. Wonderful light and lots of birds close to. Might not be the rarities that so many crave but I like it.

It's incredible what they've done with this place. For the local people it must be great to have all of this on the doorstep and tucked down in a tree surrounded valley, one can't see the large offices just up the road. What one can see is a green roof covered centre, pools and trees both large and small with autumn colours and lots of birds. A brilliant place - or have I said that before. I'll be back.

Now to get back to the A19!!!

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Vane Farm RSPB reserve.

What a great reception from everyone at Vane Farm. Thanks for it. Much appreciated.

What a great reserve too. Brilliant facilities with a cafe overlooking the Loch, a lovely pond dipping area with classroom sized hide and a combination of habitats that gave me 50 bird species in the morning. What with the arrival of a few thousand pink-footed geese, a good number of whoopers and a female hen harrier amongst the commoner birds, it was a great visit.

The early morning up gave views of the leaving pink feet from the hides and then I walked to the top of the hills behind the excellent visitor's centre. The view atop was wonderful; Bass Rock on view as well as Largo Bay and a few smaller islands. To the north a line of autumn coloured hills looked resplendent in the early sunshine. A very close by roe deer stood uncertain whether to depart but did so just as the camera focussed.

The staff at Vane Farm are of the usual standard for the RSPB i.e. the best!!! So what better place could their be for a relaxed day's birding? Great birds, superb views, great cafe with superb, friendly people to meet.

Was thrilled when a local cyclist [I hope I'm right when I say Linda] came in to say that she's come to the reserve to meet me. I was honoured.

An afternoon ride down to Largo Bay unencumbered by panniers didn't give any views of the scoter species I'd wanted but the 30 miles covered were actually fun.

Leaving was fun too. The ladies came out to push me off 'Conga' style! Brilliant.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Fowlsleugh and loch Of Kinnordy RSPB Reserves - and J.M.Barrie!

A quick summary of the last two reserves visited. Inbetween each enjoyed strenous cycling in order to cover the miles so I wont bore you with the details.

Fowlsleugh RSPB reserve

Early morning seawatch - 1 great northern diver, a number of small flocks of eider, a few gannets, 1 kittiwake and a number of gulls.

Along the cliffs - 7 tree sparrows, c.40 yellowhammer, a few chaffinches and meadow pipits and a number of song thrushes and robins.

Interesting cliffs made of a large-boulder filled conglomerate. I wonder why the stream hasn't eroded its way down to the sea? Nice waterfall instead into a large crevice in the rocks with a large cave by its side.
Next onto Loch of Kinnordy via Montrose to have a look in the basin. Wanted to go to the Scottish Wildlife Centre but the £4 admission charge would be a day's food so cycled on.

Arrived at Kirriemuir and met Heidi, a local member of the Kirriemuir Heritage Centre. She told me of J.M. Barrie's birthplace and 150th anniversary celebrations.
By now it was almost dark but found the birthplace and a house named 'Window of Thrums', made famous in one of his books.,en,SCH1/objectId,SIG49357Svs,curr,GBP,season,at1,selectedEntry,home/home.html

13th October 2010  Loch of Kinnordy RSPB Reserve

Early morning birds included sceins of pink-footed geese going over in their hundreds heading east. A flock of 143 landed on a recently harvested cereal crop nearby.

At 7.15am a few hundred jackdaws left their roost in conifers on the far bank of the loch.

On the water - lots of mallards, a few teal, 2 pochard and a few mute swans. Greylags and canada geese as well.

Now in Glenrothes library having a rest after a 40 mile cycle, which included riding over the Tay Bridge.
Just a few miles to get to Vane Farm RSPB Reserve. have been here before and looking forward to seeing it again. One of my favourites.

All the best everyone,


Monday, 11 October 2010

Aberdeenshire - Loch Of Strathbeg RSPB Reserve

Can't be a better antedote to having come off Shetland than visiting Loch of Strathbeg RSPB reserve. 3 pectoral sandpipers [year list bird], and around 10,,000 pink-footed geese, as well as over 70 other species.

Had got off the ferry from Lerwick Thursday am and cycled to Rifigi farm to look for the pec sand there. Couldn't see it, did see 2 ruff and 87 curlew, so cycled 40 miles north to get to Strathbeg. Stopped at the Ythan Estuary to revive memories of my last time there 20 years ago when I twitched a king eider. Beautiful place.

Donughts [how do you spell it?] from Morrisons at Peterhead and an early arrival to the Loch. Was due on the Friday but wanted to see the geese arriving for the night.

Met Mark, Dave and Dominic and relaxed in the superb visitor's centre and the tower hide. Fabulous views of thousands of pink feets coming in for the night.

Up early next morning to join the Goose Watch. A strip of orange sky brightened as the geese took off and Dave told jokes and statistics to the members of the public who'd likewise wanted to see the spectacle - and hear it.

To the plantation next and a couple of yellow-brows with a few other migrants. ( lapland bunting were seen next adjacent to the sand dunes. {!}

About to have breakfast/lunch when the news of a black tern at the south end of the loch got me back on the bike. The RSPB people took the car but when I arrived the bird had gone to the other end. Oh well, more peddling and eventually views of a black tern [year list bird] through a telescope.

Now I have decided that the Scottish crossbill that I'd counted is no longer valid. Aberdeenshire/North east Scotland only count them if proof of a sonograph is available. Not having one on the bike I've decided to remove that so with the pectoral sandpiper and black tern the year list now stands at 234.

Stayed at the Fen Hide after the rest of the people had gone and whiulst looking at the tern saw a hen harrier land in the distant reed bed.

Exactly 70 bird species seen during the day.

Saturday 9th October 2010

Cyled to Troup Head but first saw the Goose Watch again, with larger numbers of geese taking off at one time than the previous morn. Also stopped at Crimond Church to see the 61 minute clock and the beautifully engraved windows celebrating the writer of the music to the hymn of the 23rd psalm. Was invited into the local church hall by Ann, after being shown around the church by Marlene [many thanks to both] where a Macmillan's coffee morning was taking place. Had a great time chatting with local people, drinking coffee and eating 'Rowie's'. Thanks to George for the information about the area.

Also many thanks to Marlene, Ann, Elma, Olive, Rachel and Eileen for their donations to Asthma UK.

Also thanks for the donation from 2 citizen wardens in Aberdeen - thanks.

Got to Troup Head and had an early night.

Sunday 10/10/10 - I like that.    Troup Head RSPB Reserve

Had a morning off and read Bill Bryson for a bit. Eventually got up and explored the valley by the RSPB car park, finding lots of song thrushes, a few chiffs, a blackcap, a willow warbler and a reed bunting. Nothing special but I love finding migrants.

To the cliffs and sat watching the gannets on the cliffs. wrote down some specific behaviours observed - love and marriage.

5 wheatears on the way back to where I'd left the bike.

Cycled to Pennan, the location for the film Local Hero and had my phograph taken to the red phone box there.

Next stop was for a huge burial cairn at Memsie.

Then back to Fen Hide at Strathbeg but surpirsed to come across a Stock Car racing meeting. Enjoyed watching tha last three races; a ladies go-cart race, a 4 car saloon race and finally a demolition derby where the last car going out of around 30 was the winner. Chaos and mayhem, smashes and bashes. A winner and everyone homeward bound.

Now at Petehead cycling towards Fowlsheugh RSPB reserve, my next port of call.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Fair Isle photos

Thursday 6th October - Goodbye Shetland

5.30 ferry and then off to Aberdeen for the morning.

Last morning at Sumburgh but nothing new bird wise. was thrilled to see four friends from Worcestershire - the Upton Birders. They've been mopping up with every rare bird available and had seen a few that I'd missed. Oh well. Great to see them.

After having seen the Upton birders I met Dennis Coutts this morning with his friend Ian Cumming. Had wanted to meet Dennis because not only of his fame as a birder but also he knew well my late friend Gordon Barnes. We talked and laughed for about half an hour before time pressed on and it was time for me to start the journey north to Lerwick.

Thanks to Neil Alford, Mel Billington, Dennis Coutts, Ian Cumming and Jim [Sumburgh farm] for their donations.

Thanks to Roger, Paul, Graham, Gary, Steve and Dennis for their birding chat and help.

Thanks to Helen and Newton at Sumburgh RSPB Reserve.

Thanks to everyone at the Shetland Community Bike Project.

Thanks to Jim at Sumburgh Farm.

Thanks to Jim and Florrie, Darren and Angela, , Stewart and Trinona, all the children and staff at Fair isle School, Dave at South Lighthouse, the people of Fair Isle bird obs - especially Jack and Deryk, and many many thanks to Neil and Pat, together with the lads of the Good Shepherd.

Thanks to the girls [and boy] of Scatness Archaeological site - Theresa, Teresa, Jane and John.

Thanks to Farhead at Lloyds bank, Lerwick and many thanks also to Ann and Hugh.

You've all made my time on Shetland and fair Isle so very special.

They may regret me saying this but I've got to come back here.

Monday, 4 October 2010

I love Shetland!

Fabulous people. Exciting weather and brilliant birds.

Now on 233 for the year with arctic and sykes warblers and red breasted flycatcher since last blog. Fetlar was wild with storm force ten winds with rain to match . Found rosefinch there but couldn't get enough on a possible american golden plover to count it. It was ducked down in the grass avoiding the gale. Oh well!

At sandgarth met a fabulous couple, Tony and Beth. What they have created with their garden is one of the best birdy habitat creation areas I've seen. A yellow browed warbler proved how good it could be. Lovely couple. Speaking of great couples, thanks again to Hugh and Ann Arthur for putting me up for the night. Married for over 40 years, they're the couple I'd always wanted to be with my wife.

Today back towards sumburgh despite a strong wind in the face. Saw not only a mega rare sykes warbler but also four great friends from my patch in worcestershire, upton Warren. Brilliant to see them.

So 19 to go to beat the record and although I don't want to leave shetland, I must be at aberdeen soon; Thursday in fact!

Thanks to Graham from chorleywood for his kind donation to the WWT. Nice to meet you.

Love to all.