30 September 2007

The right choice...

This morning I had a choice to make, either go for a ride on the mountain bike, go for a long walk (as a warm up to the British Heart Foundation walk I’ll be doing in November), or go out birding. I chose birding and boy was it the right choice! The species count wasn’t too high but, after over 15 years of trying, I finally got my first Marsh Harrier in Derbyshire. To make things even better it was at my local patch, Willington Gravel Pits.

I arrived at Willington at 8:00AM and found much of the water covered with a light mist. The sky was clear and a light breeze soon moved the mist off the water, things looked good for a nice morning’s birding. The walk down the lane gave good views of many of the regular species including Robin, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Long-tailed Tit, Dunnock, Chaffinch, Goldfinch, Wren and Reed Bunting.

Early morning mist over the water.

The main expanse of water, Gull Pit, held a small number of duck, mainly Mallard and Teal but also two Wigeon and a handful of Gadwall. From the viewing platform that overlooks Gull Pit I also saw Great Crested Grebe, Little Grebe, Sparrowhawk and Willow Tit.

At just after 9:00AM it finally happened, Marsh Harrier! Flying in over Flyash Pit came the one bird that I have dipped out on more than any other at Willington. It’s not that Marsh Harrier is particularly rare here, they turn up a few times each year, it’s just that I’ve never managed to be in the right place at the right time until now! The bird showed well for around five minutes, being mobbed by Lapwings, before slowly drifting off to the west.

Morning dew on a spider's web.

After the harrier, anything else was just a bonus. I walked down to the end of the lane adding Sand Martin, Swallow, Skylark and Pheasant to my list. Just as I reached the end of the lane, and started to climb up onto the viewing platform, the noise of wings beating caught my attention. Looking over Flyash Pit I saw two birds starting to take flight - swans.

At first glance, I guessed that they must be Mute Swans, and then I saw the yellow on the bills. In a mad panic, I grabbed my ‘bins, almost dropping my ‘scope in the process, and quickly focused in on the now flying birds. I could have fallen off the platform backwards! Two Whooper Swans flew slowly across the water before turning away from me and heading off into the distance! Getting a harrier was good but this was totally unexpected!

The rest of the morning was a little more like a normal Willington day. Kingfisher, Jay, House Martin and Bullfinch all found their way onto my day list giving me a total of 49 species seen, plus three more that I only heard - Green Woodpecker, Great Spotted Woodpecker and Little Owl.

Autumn colour starting to show.

26 September 2007

Two side to nature...

This morning, I got to see two sides of nature - the dangerous and the scenic.

On the way into work on the mountain bike this morning, I had a VERY close call with a squirrel, so close that it almost fetched me off my bike! The little blighter had been hopping around on the riverside path some way in front of me but as I approached, at a fair old rate of knots, it ran off into the undergrowth.

Then, out of nowhere, it was about a foot in front of me! I hit the brakes that hard that not only did I lock both wheels but actually slide for a short distance with only the front wheel on the ground! I missed the little bugger, but I don’t know how!

Having regained both my composure and my speed I carried on my merry little way and was just starting to enjoy the ride alongside the river when BANG, a stonkin’ great dragonfly hit my smack on the forehead! I’m not certain just what sort of dragonfly it was but from the very brief view I got, in the split second before it hit me, I’d say that it was a Common Darter like the one we saw on Spurn Point. I didn’t stop to exchange insurance details with it but the ‘fly seemed to be none the worse for the impact and was happily buzzing around the side of the river as I looked over my shoulder!

So, with the dangerous side of things out of the way it was time to move on to the scenic part of the morning. At just after 8:45AM I was out in the yard at work, unloading a delivery, when I heard the unmistakable call of Pink-footed Geese. Moments later, as the noise grew louder, a skein of around 200 geese flew high overhead in an almost perfect V formation.

After returning to my desk, my phone rang, it was Lynda. She had just spotted another skein of geese flying over us on Pride Park. By the time I had run back outside the second flock was heading away from Derby, but yet another skein was in hot pursuit of the first two and was directly overhead, calling as they went! In total, I saw approx. 600 geese fly over, no doubt heading for their wintering grounds in Norfolk, but there could well have been a lot more.

Pride Park may not be the most scenic of places but those geese, flying against an almost clear blue autumn sky, certainly made my week!

23 September 2007

A day at the races...

Oh, that was a laugh! Today has been one of the more fun autograss meetings that we have raced at over the past four seasons, and we even did a bit of winning too!

The two titles that were up for grabs eluded us - Gary hadn’t qualified for the Champion of Champions race, and the car broke a driveshaft in the East Midlands Open - but we did manage a 2nd place in the first heat, followed by 1st place in the next two heats, and then a 1st place in the Class 6 final.

The old MG ZR is starting to look a little tired now.

Fuel always helps!

Quick, cover it up before someone sees!

Just about ready for the off!

The only slight downside to the meeting was Gary having to pull out of the Open final when it was looking like he would be in line for a good 2nd place. The handicap system used to equal up all the different classes made it almost a foregone conclusion that we wouldn’t get the win but when the M219 MG ZR suddenly snaked left and right up the back straight, with around half the race gone, it was clear that something was wrong.

By the time Gary reached the next corner, he was rapidly losing speed and came off the racing line so as not to slow other cars down. With the car back in the pits, a broken driveshaft was found. A bit of a disappointing end to the meeting but not so much that it would detract from the rest of the day.

2nd isn't good enough...

trying the inside line...

up into 1st place...

building up a lead. Another race win.

Ever since Gary returned to autograss racing we have always tried to make each meeting a fun day out and not let things get too serious; most of the time we manage it and today was one of those days when the terrible twins were right on form! Nothing, and no one, was safe today. Everything was turned into a joke, even when one of our mates managed to crash his single-seater special at high speed we could only see the funny side. Well, it’s not everyday that someones fire extinguisher accidentally goes off in their car whilst they are racing and fills the car with so much dry power that they can’t see a thing! Luckily, Ben was fine and could see the funny side too, even if he couldn’t see where he was going!

Ben, just before the "fire extinguisher moment"!

Brussels Sprouts… now there’s a funny thing. Well they were today, but that’s another story! Still not sure how they found their way into the conversation. However it happened, I finished up on the floor laughing so much that my ribs started to hurt again.

"Please! Don't make me laugh! It hurts!"

Oh, and do not mention "cob envy" or I may just start and sulk!

"Hey! How come you get the big cob? And you've got chicken, AND stuffing!"

It's not the winning, it's the taking part that counts!

The heck it is! :-)

22 September 2007

The results of my blood tests came back yesterday - the ones that the doctor sent me for, being as they hadn’t seen me in over 10 years! - and everything is more or less okay. The only slight concern was my blood cholesterol level, which gave a reading of 5.5. It’s nothing that I need to be too worried about, so I’m told, but I do need to start and watch what I’m eating a little more.

Five-point-five is the average for people living in England, according to info I found on the British Heart Foundation web site, but is high when compared to some other countries. Apparently, the average for China is just 4.5, so maybe I need to eat more Chinese take-aways!

Tomorrow I will be off to help my mate Gary with his autograss car again. Due to Gary only racing at his home club track this year, and me being away for one of the meetings, this will be only my second meeting of the season. The weather forecast isn’t sounding too good at the moment but just so long as it doesn’t pour down all day it should be a good meeting.

The “East Midlands Open” title is up for grabs and the “East Midlands Champion of Champions” will also be decided. Due to the lack of meetings that we have raced at this season, I’m not sure if Gary will be eligible for the champion of champions race. The “East Midlands Open” title winner will be decided by a series of class races followed by a run-off between the best car in each of the 10 classes on the day. No doubt, whoever comes out on top at the end of the day will have battled through some pretty tough races.

18 September 2007

I’m getting there…

Well, it’s been a month now since I managed to damage the muscles in my chest and side but today I feel as though I may well be on the road to recovery, at long last.

I went swimming on Sunday night and managed 60 lengths of the outdoor pool at David Lloyds without too much of a reaction from the injury, so this evening I tried a light cardio workout. All I did was a 15-minute bike ride, 10 minutes on the cross-trainer and then a 20-minute walk on the treadmill but I felt fine afterwards. Actually, fine is a bit of an overstatement… I was just about dead on my feet by the end, but at least my ribs felt okay!

If all goes well I’ll be back at the gym on Thursday and, weather permitting, I’m on the mountain bike to work tomorrow. I can’t see me doing too much of a workout just yet but I do need to at least try to get into something like a state of fitness before the British Heart Foundation walk. Sponsorship details for that will be up on here soon.

17 September 2007

Derby 1-0 Newcastle

It’s taken a while coming but Derby have their first Premiership win since returning to the top flight of English football!

Derby County new boy Kenny Miller scored the only goal in his debut for the club, having only arrived from Celtic on the last day of August. His £3,000,000 price tag is already looking like money well spent if tonight’s showing is anything to go by.

As well as the much-needed three points that Derby get for the win it means that they now move off the bottom of the table. The four point total puts Derby in 19th spot but equal on points with both Reading and Tottenham who sit above them on goal difference.

All we need now is a few more games like this one and Derby may just stand a chance of staying in the Premiership.

16 September 2007

Spurn Point.

Canal Scrape - Spurn Point.

A Common Darter - I think!

Yesterdays birding trip to Spurn Point didn’t kill me off completely, in fact it may well have helped me along the road to recovery a little. My ribs held up a lot better than I thought they would and didn’t give me too much trouble during the day. The fresh air was more than welcome after being sat around the house all week and the birding, which was much better than I expected, will probably have kick-started me into getting out more over the coming weeks. The walk along the wet sand also gave my legs a bit of a workout too!

Nothing but sand, sea and sky.

Looking back along my boot prints!

The old military defences, being claimed by the sea.

The total bird count for the day wasn’t too high, 58 species for Lynda and I, but it did include some great birds. In terms of rarity value the highlight, I guess, had to be Great Shearwater. This was a “lifer” for me but as the bird was a fair way out to sea, the view wasn’t all that good - maybe my next one will be better!

At just before 1:30PM news started to filter through that a Snow Goose had been sighted off the east coast of England, flying south with a flock of Pink-footed Geese. A small group of us gathered on the shoreline and waited. One of the reserve wardens was stood close by and we heard over his two-way radio that the bird was heading our way. Another few minutes and the geese came into view. Even with only my binoculars, the Snow Goose was easy to pick out - the only white bird amongst a large flock of grey geese! As the birds passed by us, we got great views with both our ‘bins and through a ‘scope belonging to a friend.

The Snow Goose was “tracked” from Filey, to the north of us, right down to Holkham in Norfolk a journey of approximately 100 miles. Quite how far the goose flock had flown yesterday is unknown but they would have started their journey from the breeding grounds in Iceland. On October 13, we will be going to Holkham, on anther RSPB coach trip, so it will be interesting to see if we can find “our” Snow Goose again there.

Map showing the Snow Goose sightings along the English coast.

Locations and times for the Snow Goose.

Later in the day technology once again provided us with another good bird, an Osprey. A group of us were sat in or around the sea-watching hide when a warden’s radio burst into life… “Osprey, heading south, just out to sea. It’s passing Sandy Beaches now!” Well, Sandy Beaches was only just north of us so it was just a case of sitting and waiting. A short while longer and we had Osprey on our day list - this was getting a little too easy!

Other notable birds seen during the day included Red-throated Diver, Manx Shearwater, Common Scoter, Merlin, Golden Plover, Grey Plover, huge numbers of Knot, three Great Skua and small numbers of Arctic Skua. Overall, not a bad day for saying I had to leave my ‘scope at home - it felt like I’d lost my right arm all day!

As the birding had turned out to be better than expected I didn’t have too much time during the day to play around with the camera but I did manage half an hour or so late in the day to take some shots of the old wooden sea defences.

14 September 2007

Just a bit of an update on the past few days…

I’ve been off work since Tuesday due to the rib injury and have been trying to take things extra easy so that the muscles can have a chance to settle down. To be honest, I don’t think it is helping too much.

The pain in my lower chest/side is still about the same first thing in a morning and then slowly starts to ease during the day. By the end of the day, it doesn’t feel too bad, if I don’t move around a lot or twist my body too much. Come the next morning, I feel rough again. The doctor did say that it will take some time to heal fully but I want it sorted now!

Tomorrow, Lynda and I are off to Spurn Point, bird watching. This is a Derby RSPB Local Group coach trip so I don’t have to worry about driving, but it does look like I will have to leave my birding ‘scope behind - there is no way I can carry that weight all day. I guess I’ll just have to make sure that I tag along with someone that does have a ‘scope with them!

Depending on what the weather is like and the amount of birds that are moving through, I may just spend time enjoying being in the fresh air and messing around with the camera. Having said that, there will probably be rarities all along the 3-mile point and I’ll finish up walking myself into the ground!

Yes doctor, I am taking things easy!

10 September 2007

Trust me to open my big mouth! Only last night I said, on here, that “The problem I’ve had with my side has just about cleared itself up…”. Well, I spoke too soon! This morning I was awoken by a pain that felt just like someone had stuck half a dozen knives in my ribs - and no, it wasn’t Lynda doing it!

I can only assume that I had either lay on my ribs for too long or had twisted my side whilst rolling over in my sleep. Whatever I did it seems to have put me back to were I was a week or more ago.

After spending the first hour or so at work hoping that the pain would wear off, I decided that it was time to call it quits and get myself to the doctors. It turns out that I’ve probably torn my inter-skeletal muscles or something! Basically, the muscles between my ribs are now no longer properly attached, or something! I never did like or understand doctors.

As for me getting better - I just have to take it very easy and “not aggravate” the injury. Err, excuse me doctor! I’ve not exactly been teasing the thing like a dog with a stick! The funny thing is I was told I should be okay to carry on my cardio work and also swimming. I may just give that a miss for another few days though.

09 September 2007

The past week...

In a moment of madness I have once again registered to take part in the British Heart Foundation High Peak Trail Winter Challenge Walk (what a mouth full that is!) so on 18 November I’ll be setting out on another 17.5 mile sponsored walk in the Derbyshire Peak District. I’ll be posting details of how you can sponsor me during the next few days.

The problem I’ve had with my side has just about cleared itself up so I’ve managed three days on the mountain bike this week, but no gym as yet. If all goes okay, and I feel up to it, then Tuesday should see me back at the gym doing a light workout and maybe a swim. I need to be getting myself in shape for that walk!

On Thursday, I had been planning on going over to Crewe to see The Reasoning play at The Limelight Club. As it turned out work was a total pain, as it has been for much of the week, and that added to the thought of battling the rush hour traffic saw a last minute change of plan - I stayed at home with a pint instead!

Saturday, it was the Eco Fest. at Markeaton Park and Neverland played a gig there. Well, Neverland playing so close to home… I had to be there! The P.A. was rather small shall we say, the stage not much bigger, but the music was great! For saying that this was not a music festival, but an environmental awareness event, the crowd loved it.



Today, Lynda and I went to Donington Park for the Renault World Series event. It was a good day out, even better for being free, but was a total pain to get to and from! The circuit is only 10 miles from home but it took us over an hour and a half to get there and almost an hour to get home! The traffic was horrendous!


My mate Gary was also there so it gave us a chance to chill out with a few beers, catch up on everything that’s been going on and generally act like a pair of terrible twins! Thankfully, Lynda and Suzanne, Gary’s girlfriend, were there to keep us out of too much trouble! I never did get a chance to take photos of the Renault promotional girls!



Highlight of the day for me had to be watching the ING Renault F1 Grand Prix car doing its demonstration laps - the speed and noise were just awesome.



I’ve stuck the video clip above so that I can test the new Blogger video upload - taking video on a stills camera is not the best way to do things!