Setting Off From Sandwell valley

Monday, 28 February 2011

A Tribute to Gordon Barnes

It was five years ago last week that my dear friend, Gordon Barnes, died a few days after returning from a birding holiday to Luxor.

Gordon was the most wonderful friend. A fellow Brummie, he escaped city life by setting up home on Fair Isle in 1960 ; initially as an assistant warden at the Bird Obs and then as a crofter. There he met his wife Perry and together they lived there for fifteen years.

One thing that Gordon may be remembered for is the finding, and the subsequent looking after of a great bustard on Fair Isle in 1980. He looked after the female bird by feeding it mice and cabbages. The bird became part of the first great bustard release on Salisbury Plain. Unfortunately the project didn't succeed and the bird was put into a zoo where it crashed into a fence and died. Here are a couple of items from that time :

I met him in Swanage in 2000. By then they both had set up home there. I met him one day when going seawatching at Peveril Point. A more fabulous friend one couldn't wish for and I miss him still. I just know he's been watching over me throughout all of last year.

When I get the chance I'll write about him in more detail for his is a story that deserves to be told. A magnificent man.

all the best everyone,


Tuesday, 22 February 2011

A Fabulous Sunday Birding - Radipole RSPB Reserve with an Unsung Birding Celebtrity

Back home from Saturday's successful twitch for the love dove, a text and up at 4.30am the following day. The text was from an ex-pupil of mine from over 20 years ago. Jason Oliver had been one of the best teenage birders back in the 80s but had lapsed because I flushed a red breasted goose. Well, that's how I'll say it but other things probaby caused his birding passion to demise; girls probably and the fact that his best friend had the same goose tattoed onto his forearm! Maybe it was also becuase I didn't just flush it once that fateful dipping day but twice. I, Alex 'the Bear' and Richard saw the bird. Jason didn't. I popped my head up and off they went. Refound but flushed again as we came around a sea wall too close to the flock we hadn't known were there. Long time ago.

Alex, Jason and Richard were pupils at Coppice High School in Wolverhampton and very keen members of the YOC [Young Ornithologists Club]. So keen were they as birders that local experts used to take them birding all over the country and the adventures they had deserve a book. Hurricanes on Scilly, sleeping in the Coastguards Hotel at Cley and birds that many are blocked by now - little whimbrel anyone? They had it on their lists. These were the schoolboys who pointed out a strange duck to John 'Black Country' Holian, who noticed that although scaup like it wasn't quite right and so the first lesser scaup for Europe was found.

Jason had asked whether I wanted to see the long-billed dowitcher that seems to be a permanent fixture at Lodmoor RSPB reserve in Dorset. I'm back!!! And so we were off; me accepting another carbon twitch.

Lodmoor but no sign of the dowitcher on a walk and search around the whole reserve. A small flock of 13 dunlin, a couple of blackwits, a few cettis calling and a number of year ticks all seen and listed.

Off to Radipole and the easily seen mediterranean gulls on the car park and on the water outside the superb RSPB visitor's Centre. Met Gwynne and Michael, Dan and Tony, RSPB staff whose friendliness was appreciated. Remembered how fabulous everyone had been last year at Radipole and so very helpful. Wonderful people at a wonderful RSPB reserve. One of my favourites last year and improving all the time.

Jason and I decided to go to Portland Bill, stopping at Ferrybridge on the way. 14 Med' gulls, a black brant and a couple of hybrid Brant/brents amongst the brent flock but no waders here. Very high tide, where were they all?

Portland Bill, usual welcome from Martin Cade and then a few books bought from the Portland Bill bookshop, my favourite bookshop as it makes money for the obs. 2 black redstarts down by the lighthouse, the usual irds off the Bill, gannets, shags, guillemot, razorbills but where were the fulmars?

Back to Lodmoor after lunch in the cafe and a meeting with Nick Quintrell, the brilliant assistant at Lodmoor and Radipole and a superb RSPB volunteer, Will Scott.

Will Scott, me, Jason Oliver and Nick Quintrell
Chatting and looking at the dunlin I tapped Jason on the shoulder, not wanting to interrupt Nick's conversation with the news that the dowitcher had just come out from behind a bush and was probing mud not 30 yards in front of us. Great views of a Yankee and a lifer for Jason. Perfect.

Goodbyes and a quick trip to Middlebeare gave we two a flock of around 700 black-tailed godwits, a couple of little egrets but little else. Very quiet with the tide receeding.

To Arne and a short walk into the woods to see a tawny owl roosting above us in a pine tree. Always good to see a tawny in daylight hours. Down to the shore going past the large field sown with finch attracting crops, past a herd of maybe one hundred very close sika nd then views over Poole Harbour with the most mud exposed tha i can remember seeing. Waders aplenty including godwits, knot, redshank, oystercatcher and dunlins; red-breasted meragnsers on the water.

So, with darkness falling back to the car and back home. A fabulous birding day with fabulous company and superb RSPB reserves visited.

All the very best everyone,


Monday, 21 February 2011

Saturday 19th February 2011 Happy Birthday Son!

A massive HAPPY BIRTHDAY to my wonderful son, Josh. Happy Birthday Son!

On the 19th day of February my true love gave to me . . . .

Early morning dash down to Chipping Norton with Steve Allcott, an ex-pupil birder from Wolverhampton, to join the queue in the rain. Enjoyable chat about birding queues from the past and same housing estate birds; golden-winged warbler, black-throated thrushes, rose-coloured starlings, Baltimore orioles.

An hour or so of the same and then a rush of wet waxed jackets. I slightly touched a closing umbrella as I tried to join on to a watching crowd from the side and was greeted by profanity from the umbrella owner. I gently asked him to grow up [subtle] and moved around the birders to kneel down at the front, next to someone with a 'scope trained on the bird - crafty! Rufous turtle dove on the list and no £5 paid to the RSPB via the bedroom entry fee.

The bird was good and a lifer too yet better than that was seeing friends who I hadn't seen for years; 'Black Country' John Holian and his lovely wife, Sharon were greeted with hugs and excitement. A fabulous couple, John was instrumental in the identification of a small duck found by two schoolboys on Chasewater back in 1986. That was Europe's first lesser scaup and more about the schoolboys later on. John was on fine form, happy and chatty as was Sharon and news of them now having four grandchildren reminded me of how old we're all getting. Eric Phillips, another cycling birder was there too and Dave Walker from Upton Warren, my beloved patch. From last year's epic there was one of the talented Essex lads met on Fair Isle and Mya and Chris, the Chew Valley birding celebrities, famous from their TV appearance in a programme shown last year called 'Twitchers'. Other people recognised me and chatted and congratulated. John Fortey, a dear ex-Midland birder who died last year was talked about with respect and generally the atmosphere amongst the 200 or so was happy. All excepting two idiots who squared up to each other over getting a clear view. Sense prevailed as their stupid actions were shown up for being just that - stupid.

The bird? Well it sat near the top of a tall ash tree, occasionally preening which showed neck pattern, silvery grey tail and darker primaries and secondaries below the warm brown edged coverts. Well seen and appreciated despite the weather; the rain having not stopped despite the BBC's promise of it doing so.

On the way back to the metal box came across three enterprising young girls with a canopy, a table and a wide selection of home made cakes, coffee and tea. These brilliant young maids were selling their wares for the RSPB! £7.00 spent from my pocket and the RSPB got their fiver after all. A photo with Mya and the girls was taken and heaps of praise for their endeavours given in this poor weather. More chatting before heading off for Rainham RSPB reserve. The slaty-backed gull had been seen again and Ste decided that we should go for it.

Now some of you might think that a biking birder should be saying "Nay" to such activities but the chance to see Rainham again was the real lure. Love the place and the two visits from last year had been wonderful. Arrived in good time, the M25 car park being relatively empty and after a quick snack walked around the reserve. Had met Dave and the cafe ladies who I remembered so well before going out. No views of the penduline tits seen the previous day and then news that the gull was at Pitsea refuse tip. Oh the romance, a gull on a tip! A dash in the car but only lesser blacks and hundreds of black-heahed gulls seen. A group of disgruntled twitchers spoke of a group of birders who'd had the special one in front of them but hadn't put it out on the grapevine because they couldn't identify it. Oh well, next time.

Darkness and home. A smashing day in so many ways and it didn't end there. A text from a very special friend asked whether I'd like to go for the RSPB Lodmoor dowitcher on Sunday? What could I say?

all the best everyone,


Friday, 18 February 2011

Off to see a Turtle Dove - hopefully!

Haven't been birding for a bit but tomorrow will change that as Ste' and I will be joining the early morning Chipping Norton queue to try to pay our fivers to see the Rufous turtle dove. Fingers crossed.

Busy at school and have a really enjoyable time. despite that I've been working on a few cycling dreams. Well it keeps me motivated. See what you think. Pie in the sky at the moment but so was last year at first.

1. Cycle to Sumatra where the RSPB have their only foreign reserve. Now what way to go? Overland via the Ukraine and the Himalayas or over the sea? Fun planning and oh what birds on the way.

2. Audubon Centres in the US. Around 100 of them. Would it be possible to cycle to them all?

As I said, dreams but we have to have them.

Speaking of dreams . . ..

Have just watched the Susan Boyle 'Dream' song again on youtube [59,000,000 views!!!]. From it found a lnk to a beautifully sad piece of artwork. Have a look at

and see what you think.

Seems to be a theme this week as I also spent an evening watching the dvd of Days of Glory.

Have also finished reading both the romantic and sensitive book by Rory Mcgrath - Bearded Tit, thank goodness it ends happily, and Alan and Ruth Davies' Biggest Twitch. In fact this book was so good I got to the end and started reading it again. Wonderful. What a fabulous couple they must be. Such love for each other is inspiring.

Earth Hour is coming up soon. I love it, watching the images of cities having their one hour of Green concern, turning off those lights and going dark.

One last thing - sorry to everyone for the spelling errors on the blog last year. I've been going through it to add to my notes for a book I'm writing about last year and I'm disappointed by how many errors my text contains.

Right time for dreams.

Love to all,

Save the planet.

Gary x