Setting Off From Sandwell valley

Thursday, 30 December 2010

Long-eared Owl - bird number 251 Equals The Record

So got to Park Hall Country Park, near Stoke on Trent today and, thanks to the assistant warden, Patrick, saw a superb LEO. I even got a photo.

The non motorized record is now equalled with one day to go?

Destiny? Wait and see. Here's hoping.

All the best everyone.


Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Tuesday 28th - More problems!!

The day started so well. Stayed up for another overnight sitting watching the destruction of the Aussies in the 4th Test [cricket - the World's best sport, away from non Carbon Birding that is].

Got the bike packed up for the final assault on the record with an Iceland Gull at Bartley Reservoir yesterday. The route from my parent's home in Warwick would take me past both my Grandparents' houses from when they were alive as well as the house where I was born. Seemingly fate as a bit of nostalgia on the way pushed me towards destiny [how pomous!] {Actually listening to Bach's Toccata & Fugue in D minor - Sydney - on youtube as I type so excuse the pretensions}

Bike greased up, tryes pumped up and Sid the frog and Barnaby Bear aboard. Set off.

Seven miles later a puncture. Fixed. The tyre went straight down again. Walked the seven miles back home and spent the afternoon trying to find out why the punctures. tyre off and inner tube checked by me and Dad. No hole. Can't explain why it keeps going down. It still hasn't gone down and I'll try again tomorrow. I WILL GET THESE LAST TWO BIRDS!

Ashes to be retained tonight then back on the road - hopefully tomorrow. Even if I have to walk to the next bird I will.

All the best everyone,

Thanks to all who've Facebooked me. Appreciated.


Monday, 27 December 2010

Modest - Occasionally

Just been told that there's an article about my getting to Sandy, the RSPB's HQ reserve, on Birdguides website.

for the link.

Also I've started a new Facebook link. If you want to get in touch this way then please feel free. It'll be great to hear from you all. Just put Gary Prescott in the search box and find the photo of me in a flourescent jacket with the Leighton Moss RSPB girls behind me.

All the very best everyone,

Come on England [cricket!]


Could this be the bird to equal the record?

Been waiting at home for a few days now, waiting for news of a bird that I need to turn up near-ish home.

Watching Invictus with Mum and Dad when a vibration in the pocket told of a message on my mobile.

Iceland gull at Bartley Reservoir!    Need it and will hopefully see it tomorrow.

It feels like fate. Bill Oddie's teenage patch; Bartley Reservoir to the west of Birmingham, a concrete basin with a gull roost.

From there the intention is to go to the Wyre Forest to try for lesser spotted wodpecker before heading north to get to Park Hall, near Stoke for Long-eared owl.

Will I get all three? Wait and see.

At least the weather's changed and there's a chance.

Sunday, 19 December 2010


Wouldn't have been right for the final 50 miles to go smoothy.

Off from an empty Bedford at 8.30am, roads very snowy and the air freezing with misty patches. Actually found that the safest way to make progress was to cycle on the other side of the road so that any traffic would be coming towards me, giving me a chance to get off the road. Very snowy roads for 10 miles or so then . . . .

The first puncture! Great!

Eventually got that one fixed. Cycled on. Northampton - puncture number 2, or so I thought. Same tyre flat but coudn't find a hole once the inner tube was out. Onward.

4 miles before Daventry, tyre flat again. Out with a kinked inner tube and inflation. Thinking that this would be a regular requirement for the rest of the way, set off expecting another deflation. By now the journey had taken 5 hours. Guess what? No more problems, well not from the tyre anyway. Only problem now was the slushy, frozen snow on the roads but at least traffic was sparse.

Never so happy to see a county sign but the blue bear of Warwickshire came up as did a huge cheer and a few tears. Home.

Actually had another ten miles to go and the impacted snow on the road bewtween Leamington and Warwick almost had me falling off. Incredible how my balance has improved over the year. Can I call myself a cyclist now?

Time for reflection. Time for thanks and time for recuperation but not just yet. Iceland gull and Long-eared owl to find.

Back now clean, fed and sitting listening to Pink Floyd's Money live from the Pulse tour on Youtube. With my wonderful parents again. Done it!

Love to everyone,


Saturday, 18 December 2010

Sandy, a Garganey and Snow

What a totally unbelievable day!

Twelve Rspb cyclists cycled with me to Sandy. Fabulous people - Richard, Mark, Chris, Matt, Charlie, Fiona, Paul, Finn, Olly, Ralph and Harry.

Unbelievably I had a front tyre puncture 30 yards before Sandy's entrance. Took a long time to fix as the tyre had contracted because of the cold. Thanks Grahame and Mark. Also many thanks to the people who were there to greet me at the gateway, especially Laura who despite being very I'll with flu had come in to welcome me. Thanks everyone.

Great to be shown around the reserve by the site manager, Peter. A lovely, intersting man, Peter had a beautiful neolithic flint tool to show me, found at Sandy.

Bike eventually fixed, video interview completed and final phots taken. Time to see a new bird for the year, a nearby male garganey. Bird seen well through Mark's scope. Bird 250!!!

Goodbye to Mark and the start of what I had hoped to be a long cycle back home to Warwick. No chance! Very heavy snow started to fall - unbelievably the worst weather of the year saved for my last reserve day.

Now in Bedford from where I hope I'll be able to walk home from tomorrow. Nothing is easy that's worth doing.

So 50 miles to walk and push the bike. Great!

All the best everyone,


Sandy ...... The Final Reserve!

So here goes.

The last RSPB reserve. Feel very excited about the day and I know I've got a great number of people to thank.

I've seen wonderful things this year and the fantastic people who work for the RSPB have been a privilige to meet. Wardens, assistent wardens, site managers, volunteers, etc, etc, all talented, dedicated and enthusiastic people. My thanks to them all.

In less than an hour the Cycle to Sandy begins from the market place in Potton.

Thanks everyone,


The Biking Birder!!!

Friday, 17 December 2010

Captain Beefheart

Rest in peace Don.

Thanks for the music and memories.

Rye Meads and Fowlmere RSPB Reserves

In another lovely, warm library at Potton, near to sandy, Beds, with two lovely ladies : Lesley and Debbie.

15th December 2010

Early morning breakfast at Chesunt Youth Hostel; a lovely hostel with large log cabins and the 'all you can eat' breakfast appreciated. early morning cycle along the Lee Valley to the well signposted RSPB reserve. Well, well signposted once you realise that the white duck denotes the reserve.

Met by many super staff in the superb visitor's centre and then out to 'bird'. Now Rye Meads was a big surpirse; a great reserve with super hides overlooking a wide variety of habitats. I like 'urban' reserves and this is one of the best with excellent hides and lots of birds. Water rail from three different hides, ducks a-plenty and a nice flock of lesser redpolls all seen. An afternoon walk with a wonderful volunteer and a brilliant view of a close, walking bittern.

Time to go and slept in a hide on the other side of Rye Meads. Very comfortable and warm.

16th December 2010

Cycled to Fowlmere via Ware. Not without problems though as a puncture whilst cycling along the A10. No pump becuase of another theft and lovely people at a nearby garage helped out.

THANKS Gill - HC Motoros, High Cross, north of Ware!

Lovely ride to Fowlmere actually despite persistent rain. Enjoyed it without a thought for how far places were.

Arrived at the reserve office and met Doug, the site manager. A brilliant man, helpful and friendly; he invited me to join a great group of people, nest monitors, for a meal that evening. So thanks  - Alli, Louise, Alan, Carl and Vince for a smashing evening and for allowing me to gate crash and pontificate.

17th December 2010

What happened to England. Everything going well in the Ashes 2nd Test and then - crash. Come on lads!

Early morning attempt at seeing long-eared owls but the snow and well below freezing temperatures didn't help. Birds not on view so back to the reserve for a couple of hours walking around, guided by Doug. Water rails, cettis warblers and winter thrushes on a very frozen reserve; beautiful with snow a hoar frost.

Right time up at the library. Special day tomorrow. The arrival at Sandy, the HQ for the RSPB and the final RSPB reserve to visit. Meet various people at Potton for a cycling cavalcade to Sandy at 10.00am tomorrow - Saturday the 18th of December and that will be that. Every RSPB reserve visited in one year by cycling only.

Don't know how I'll feel when it's all over. I'll find out tomorrow.

Thanks to everyone who's donated to the charities. Really appreciate your kindness.

Love to everyone,


Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Two Days In London

A rest, from the bike anyway, as I walked the capital's streets and went to the Science museum on Monday and the British Museum on Tuesday.

Now one of the reasons for my eleven months sojourn around the British Isles has been to highlight what we can all do to prevent climate change. So I looked forward to seeing the latest exhibit at the Science Museum on just that. Enjoyed it too; with interesting artefacts and great graphics on the interactive programmes. Well worth the visit and I've taken away with me even more determination to do my 'bit'.

Also had to look in on the Apollo material on view. Always was a favourite of mine, I just wish that I could climb aboard the Apollo 10 command capsule; you know just sit in one of the three seats. How about letting me climb down the LEM ladder? One small step for Gary.

Artefacts of a different kind and age were on my mind when visiting the British Museum. I wanted to see the Olduv[p]ai hand axes. After having been diverted by the Sutton Hoo helmet etc, the Rosetta Stone and all things Egyptian, Roman and Greek, I arrived in the appropriate room to find a lovely lady with three such axes available for one to hold. Beyond my dreams I held each in turn. Aged at around 1.5 to 1.25 million years old, these three were not made by Homo sapiens but by H. erectus or habilis. Each one beautifully crafted and each made of differing stone; the lemon quartz one was exquisite.

Now at Cheshunt awaiting tomorrow's visit to Rye Meads RSPB reserve. Going to be great.

Almost there - well, almost every RSPB reserve visited. I will be at Sandy on Saturday at 10.00am. Before that Fowlmere on Friday.

Then the cycle home and the quest to find three new for the year birds to break Chris Mills' record. I just hope I get a couple of days off for Christmas.

All the best everyone,


Monday, 13 December 2010

Southend to Rainham - the long way!

So early in the morning - just as the sun was rising .....

I laid down a carpet of stale teacakes, old toast and crumbled old scones on the beach across the road from a famous ice cream stand; Rossi's at Westcliffe on sea.

Down came a collection of gulls and waders; mostly black-headed but also three mediterranean gulls, a few common and herring gulls and . . . .

Rossi, the ring-billed gull. Bird number 249 for the year and only 3 to go to beat the NMYLR.

Waders such as sanderling and turnstone came very close to feed on the crumbs.

The important business done it was time to head back towards Harwich to visit the omitted RSPB reserve, Stour Estuary. Also needed to visit Wallasea Island RSPB reserve as I hadn't been able to get to this one back in January due to the snow back then. Got there and explored the huge expanse that, from the artist impressions in the portacabin, will be a major reserve in a few years time. At the moment there are some interesting creeks with waders such as avocets, grey plovers, godwits etc on them. Otherwise the area is an immense area of flat grassland just waiting to be landscaped.

More cycling filled up the rest of the day and I reached Old Hall Marshes much to the surprise of the staff there who hadn't expected me to be back. Slept there and in the morning, bright and early, I set off for the Stour estuary reserve. Through Colchester and along the main Harwich road, reached the reserve car park in a large oak and sweet chestnut wood, reputedly planted by the Romans. Explored this but very few birds then went to the estuary itself eventually finding the hides and viewpoint. Brents, pintail, shelduck and the common waders seen with goldcrest and bullfinch the better birds in the woods along the way.

Back to Maldon via Colchester, B & B in Langford nearby.

Cycled to Rainham RSPB reserve for the promised return visit and was met by Howard Vaughan by the shop. By now absolutely shattered so accepted the proffered hot chocoalate before heading out along the reserve pathways to 'bird'. Cetti's seen, stonechat and water rail also.

Now Howard had suggested asking for a room at the Premier inn nearby but there was no room there so I ended up sleeping in a 'proverbial' stable near to the reserve [!]. Very comfy too but the heavy frost in the morning was a shock.

Early morning birding at Rainham, lots of birds including sparrowhawk, marsh harrier, many waders and gulls seen. In fact over 50 species by lunch.

Goodbye to Howard, Brenda and everyone, cycled along the Thames cycle path, meeting some people on a West Midlands Bird Club outing from Solihull. Thanks to Mr Boyle for the donation for the RSPB. The cycle along the old A13 with a cycling equivalent of a motorway was great; much better than the sleet and slush negotiated back in January.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Good news and some bad, well for me anyway!

Well now at Old Hall RSPB reserve with a feeling of Deja vu. I've been here before - yesterday in fact. Today is the 9th of December and I've already seen Rossi, the ring-billed gull (bird 249 for the year)and visited Wallasea Island RSPB reserve. Yet I'm back at Old Hall Marshes.


I missed out a reserve!!!

Stour Estuary RSPB reserve should have been visited after Wolves Wood and before Old Hall Marshes. I forgot so this afternoon was spent cycling back in the direction thereof. Southend to Wallasea Island. Then onto Maldon and a rest at Old Hall Marshes. Still 30 miles to cycle to get to the Stour Estuary reserve.

Blame it on the cold, my age or the fact that I am cream crackered.

Anyway I will be there tomorrow and from there it's a jaunt of 50 miles or so to Rainham to keep a promise made last January.

Thank you to Clare, Christine and Trevor (and family) for their donations.

Also thanks to the hotel Gleneagles in Southend for a great B and B last night. Lovely people.

All the best everyone


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,