Setting Off From Sandwell valley

Saturday, 1 January 2011

The Last Day - Sandwell Valley and destiny?

After enjoying the previous day with the long-eared owl at Park Hall Country Park, near Stoke on Trent and then cycling to my old patch, Belvide reservoir; where chatting with the main Belvide man Steve Nuttall was fabulous and the 23 Bewick's swans that flew in at dusk gave me a Belvide tick, the last day of the year was going to be exciting.

Would the non-motorised year list record be broken by the iceland gull that had been seen at Bartley Reservoir for the last three evenings be there in the afternoon? Who'd be at Sandwell Valley RSPB Reserve to celebrate my journey?

So, set off from Steve Allcott's house on Ashmore Park, Wolverhampton early morning. Steve was a pupil of mine when I was a secondary teacher at the school his house overlooks 21 years ago. Steve became a very keen birder back then and has been a close friend, together with another ex-pupil Ian Crutchley who lives around the corner. Nattering with both had only stopped at 1.00am; shared memories and talk of birds and birding.

Got to Sandwell Valley at around 10.30am and cycled along the path beside the river to enter the reserve down by the lake. Willow tits, goosanders and bullfinches but then the devastated visitor's centre, burnt down earlier in the year greeted me. Gutted out by fire and gutting to see; what local vandals do to so many reserves has been depressing over the year. So many times the actions of so few has affected the pleasures of many.

Alan, the local Express & Star newpaper photographer arrived for the last media photographs of me for the year. Nice bloke with an interest in classic British motorbikes, Alan took a few photos near t the Sandwell Valley RSPB display board.

Lee, the reserve warden, Fen, the RSPB media officer for the Midlands, my daughter, Rebecca, my brother Paul with my little niece, Maya and some friends - Dave, John, Phil, Steve and Tim all arrived to celebrate the end of the biking birder 2010 year. A pressie from Fen was much appreciated as were the sandwiches, cookies and coffee, eaten as we stood in the hopefully secure and unburnable offices near to the entrance to the reserve.

Off at 1.00pm to try for the iceland gull, cycled through West Bromwich and Blackheath before coming across a gentleman walking down the middle of a very busy main road, wearing only shorts and a t-shirt, screamimg "help me, for God's sake someone help me." Not one car stopped to do so; everyone of them slowing down to avoid him before carrying on. I got him to come to the roadside verge and on asking what I could do, he just kept apologising and saying nothing else. He had large, bleeding sores on his legs and arms but I couldn't get any sense out of him and he limped off into a housing estate. I phoned 999 and an ambulance was sent out for him.

Got to Bartley Res' at 2.30-ish and met up with Tim and Steve who'd gone on ahead with their 'carbon transport' to look for the iceland gull. Steve Whitehouse came a bit later and Phil Andrews and together the five of us searched, watching every gull come into roost o the water. Time went quickly and at around 4.30 I had to acknowledge that the iceland gull wasn't going to be seen and that therefore the record was to be equalled but not beaten. C'est la vie!!! Actually it feels good to have equalled the record. I just hope that my efforts, and Chris Mills' exploits in setting up the record in the first place, inspires someone to go for it next year. If you do please get in touch with me. I'd be thrilled to know how you get on.

Hand shakes all round and New Year wishes; then a not uneventful cycle ride to my sister, Donna's house about 5 miles away. Cycling down a steep, narrow country lane in the dark suddenly came across an area of icy slush and the back end of the bike skidded one way, then the other with me clinging to the handlebars. In the split second of the whole event I thought on the second skid that at least I'd fall onto the grassy verge but actually managed to stay upright and the slush stopped and I skidded to a halt, shaking like a leaf. The bike was damaged in some way but I couldn't see how with my torch. My left leg was also hurt so I walked the rest of the way. Amazing. A whole year and so very nearly a bad crash. Very lucky! My leg has luckily turned out to be nothing more than nastily bruised and an ice pack eased the large lump.

A wonderful evening with Mum and Dad, Donna and her fabulous husband, Charlie and my little neice Emily. A great meal, a few games and then the most brilliant fireworks over the Milleneum Eye, London on the tv to see the New Year in and bring closure to a most wonderful year.

Wonderful people met, beautiful birds seen, brilliant reserves, amazing weather [!] and inspiring scenery and landscapes. What a superb year! Thank you everyone for being there for me.




  1. Gary

    A pity you didn't break the record but equalling it is still a great achievement. Well done.

    I empathised with your description of the near crash. Whenever that happens to me I end up shaking so much I almost wish the crash had happened. Fortunately old age has reduced my bravery/daftness so it doesn't happen so often these days.

    Happy New Year!! What challenge have you set for 2011?


  2. Challenge for 2011? Well, back to work as a special needs teacher, I need to knuckle down to that as I'll be teaching a subject I've never taught before; namely Design & Technology. Back in on Tuesday, looking forward to seeing the children and staff again. A book or two about last year will be fun to write. Listening to hour after hour of good rock and classical music again. Hours of Frank Zappa! Travel to Greece for a summer's birding with ancient sites, hopefully with my daughter, Rebecca. Fishing and cricket with my son, Josh.
    Birding challenge will be to set a record for how many bird species seen by cycling in my county, namely Worcestershire and on my patch, Upton Warren. seeing all my friends there will be good too. Next challenge is to raise enough money to be able to get to Indonesia where the RSPB have a reserve and cycle there. Should be good. Finally I want to build an eco house. I have been drawing sketches of what i want for a few years. Now's the time to get more concrete plans set down. With family commitments, cricket to watch and charity work as well, it's going to be a busy year.
    Looking forward to the start of the 5th Test tonight. Sorry Martin but I'm hoping for more ritual humiliation of the Baggy Green. Nothing personal.
    All the very best

  3. Hi Gary, WELL DONE! We have followed your journey ever since our meeting at Glen Uig, then again on the side of the A9 at Tain, it was a nail biting finish. We are so impressed by your achievement, especially during the artic conditions we experienced. Your determination, perserverance and strength, both physical and mental, along with your kindness is an inspiration to us all. I hope our paths cross again, you are a truly inspirational man and it has been a privilidge for our family to be a small part of your journey. Cheers Colin, Sophie, Rowan and Dougal