29 June 2008

Race day...

If being out of a race car for eight months can make a driver a little “rusty around the edges” then Gary didn’t show it today! He was back to winning ways from the very first lap of the first race!

When I arrived at the track this morning the M219 MG was already unloaded, had been through scrutineering and was all ready for the first race. Nothing has changed on the car since last season other than it having a couple of new front wings fitted and also a new front bumper and spoiler. Oh, and two new sets of side numbers! Other than that it’s a case of “if its not broken, don’t fix it!

New wings, new numbers, same old dents!

In Gary’s first race of the day a very quick Citroen, which had travelled up from the Radford club, beat him away from the start line. Within ¾ of a lap Gary’s track knowledge had taken him past the Citroen and into a lead that he held comfortably until the chequered flag fell.

Getting a nose in front...

Pulling out a lead.

The second race saw the Citroen again go into the first bend in the lead, with Gary very close behind. This time, getting past the Radford car proved to be somewhat harder - it wasn’t until half way around the penultimate lap that Gary had what could be called a comfortable lead. From that point on it was foot to the floor and hang on!

The battle for the lead.

The third race started the same as the first two; the MG just wasn’t quite quick enough away from the start line and Gary went into the first corner 3 or 4 car lengths behind the leader. For the rest of the race Gary tried every trick he knew to get ahead - and a couple of times did manage to gain a half a car length advantage - but this time had to settle for second. It wasn’t until the MG returned to the pits that I was certain of the result; from where I was stood in the pits I couldn’t tell who had won! The cars crossed the line side-by-side and there must have only been a matter of inches between them.

By the time it came for Gary’s final race of the day, the weather had taken a turn for the worse, it was pouring with rain! The track had turned from super smooth, hard packed soil to what can only be described as a lake! The track was still hard packed underneath but a layer of very wet slime now covered it. The other drivers in Gary’s class chose to load their cars up and call it a day; Gary climbed into his car and headed for the start line! Hero, or fool?

As the MG was the only Class 6 car to make the grid the start marshalls sent the Stock Hatch cars out with it. Lap one was very slow as the cars struggled to find grip away from the start line. Lap two saw cars sliding all over the place as they had now built up speed but had very little grip, it also saw Gary pull off the track and head for the pits. He was the only Class 6 car on track and was basically racing himself. The car was also over-revving due to the lack of grip. Putting the car on the trailer was the wise thing to do - we had two race wins and a second place, why risk damaging the engine?

So, apart from the rain that hit the meeting late in the proceedings it was a pretty good afternoons racing. The car never missed a beat all day, it made it to the end of the meeting without any damage and we had some good close racing. Oh, and we also got a little bit wet too!

British Summer Time... it takes some beating! Even when you're in an MG!

28 June 2008

Back on track...

It’s been over eight months since I last went Autograss racing but tomorrow I’ll be at my first meeting of 2008. It will also be the first meeting that Gary has raced at this year, and the first time that his car has turned a wheel in anger since I raced it back in October last year. No doubt Gary will be throwing the MG around the track a lot quicker than I did! Fingers crossed for a dry day.

I’ll report back on how the meeting went tomorrow evening.

24 June 2008

Real birding...

After the rather disgraceful way I birded the Black-necked Grebe at Ambaston on Sunday (watching it for less than 10 minutes) I decided that by way of punishment I would “treat” myself to a few hours of real bird watching last night - no rushing around, no chasing after rarities, no going looking at birds found by other birders. By 6:30pm I was walking the lane at Willington Gravel Pits, slowly! I had to walk slowly as I spent the first quarter of an hour with my eyes fixed on three Buzzard that were riding the thermals over head, a great sight in the clear blue evening sky.

The “heads up” birding also gave great views of Swallow, Swift and Sand Martin as they raced around in search of food; they weren’t going hungry as there were swarms of insects everywhere! The trees and shrubs along the lane also held Dunnock, Robin, Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, Garden Warbler, a family party of Long-tailed Tit, a few recently fledged Blue Tit and also a couple of Greenfinch.

Out on the water the ducks were not looking at their best, the summer moult is now quite clearly underway. Not so much the ugly duckling, more like the ugly duck! Even the male Wigeon, that has decided against migrating this year, was looking very shabby. Gadwall, Mallard and Tufted Duck tried their best to hide their scruffy plumage but were seen anyway.

Little Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, Mute Swan, Oystercatcher, Common Redshank and Common Tern were much easier to see as they were all in full summer plumage and were more than happy to be seen. The one bird that would have looked superb, if it hadn’t landed between the setting sun and my ‘scope, was a Kingfisher. As it was I got very close views but the backlighting washed out the colours somewhat. I did manage a few “record shots” though - my first photos of a Kingfisher.

Kingfisher. I think it saw me as I took the last photo!

Two birds that I didn’t expect to see, but did, were a Knot and also a Black Tern. The Knot spent the evening feeding on the spit that is in the middle of the main pool; the Black Tern flew through later in the evening and showed no sign of stopping any time soon!

At 9:20pm I changed location and went off in search of Barn Owl again. This time I had a new site to try, after drawing a blank 10 days ago, and this time things looked a lot more promising as soon as I parked the car - the habitat looked spot on. By now the sun was setting and the resulting sunset was one of the best I’ve seen this year; I could have spent quite a while taking photos but I had an owl to find.

Within 10 minutes of leaving the car I had found my target, or should I say, my target had found me! The Barn Owl appeared out of nowhere, as they tend to do, and flew straight towards me. The second I spotted it I dropped to me knees and used the trunk of a tree to break-up my outline. At this point I became painfully aware that I am not Simon King, of Springwatch fame.

On one of the last Springwatch programmes this year Mr King encountered a Barn Owl and sat low to the ground calling the owl closer to him - he didn’t bite his cheek as he hit the deck. I did! All the time I was watching the owl I could taste my own blood and feel the inside of my mouth throbbing where I had bitten myself. On returning home Lynda found the story rather amusing, I wasn’t so sure myself.

Once the owl had moved on I started the walk back to the car. I was more than happy with the evening and my return to real birding and decided to call it quits for the night, the birds had other ideas. Just a few hundred yards away from where the Barn Owl had been hunting, two Tawny Owls flew from one small wood to another; on the drive home I spotted a Little Owl sat out on a telephone wire. Two weeks ago I needed to find my first owl of the year for my “10-Mile List”, last night I saw three species in the space of half an hour - that was real birding.

My “10-Mile List” now stands at 127 species.

22 June 2008


Bike Week turned stressful for me on Thursday when the exertion of riding the extra miles, in wind and rain, finally took its toll and the dreaded “death rattle” set in! Every turn of the wheel hurt more than the last and the “death rattle” became louder and more frequent - I needed some intensive care, and quickly!

My faithful old bike and I managed a slow ride into work on Friday morning but, by the time I arrived, things were even worse than the previous evening. By lunchtime the patient was on the way to the ICU - my poor old bike had a totally wrecked rear gear cassette! Luckily, The Bike Shop in Derby had the parts needed to cure the problem and were able to fit them for me. Today, I was reunited with the now healthy bike and was able to ride back from the shop to home without any nasty noises.

The new Hyper Glide gear set.

My total mileage for the week was just under 54 miles - a little over double the 25-mile target for Bike Week 2008.


This morning I had planned on having a few hours birding at Willington Gravel Pits before I needed to fetch the bike back from the shop. As it turned out the wind was blowing with such force when I woke up that I couldn’t be bothered! Staying at home was the better choice in the end as I received a text message whilst having breakfast to tell me that a Black-necked Grebe had turned up on a small lake just a few miles down the road.

As soon as I had finished my breakfast I set off for the grebe - 10 minutes later I had yet another new species for my “10-Mile List”. I had hoped to be able to get a few photos of the bird but the wind was blowing so hard that I would have had no chance of holding the ‘scope and camera steady enough, I didn’t even attempt it.

In true twitcher style I watched the bird for a short while before getting back in the car and returning home - I didn’t even have to walk any more than 50 feet from the car to see the bird! It’s not the way I like to do my birding but today it was a necessity, I wanted my bike back!

Back in safe hands!

My “10-Mile List” now stands at 126 species.

17 June 2008

Bike Week update...

As I thought, covering 25 miles on my bike during Bike Week 2008 was not a problem - the ride home from work this evening took my total to just under 27 miles, and there are still five more days of Bike Week left! Quite how many more miles I’ll clock up remains to be seen though as the weather looks like going downhill from tonight with heavy rain forecast.

Using the Everyday Cycling web site to keep track of my mileage has now got me thinking of bigger and better challenges. I’m pretty sure that by the end of the year I can get close to, or even pass, the 500-mile mark. It will depend quite a lot on the weather - not having access to any showers at work means I have to avoid heavy rain - but I may just give it a go.

Whilst on the subject of cycling, I have another little idea ticking over in the back of my mind at the moment... The British Heart Foundation Robin Hood Mountain Bike Challenge. As anyone that has been reading my Blog for the past few years will know, I’ve been taking part in a 17 mile sponsored walk for the BHF for each of the past three years, this year I may do a bike ride instead. I may even do both!

Then again...

15 June 2008

A weekend round up...


Last Wednesday evening the “blues” hit me over the lack of gigs I’ve been to this year so, to ease the pain a little, I ordered a couple of CD’s. Okay, it’s not live music but at least it’s something new for me. The two CD’s are “Eye Of The Storm” by Albannach and “Discordant Dreams” by Touchstone. The Albannach CD will take a little while to arrive as it’s coming from the US; the Touchstone CD arrived just 36 hours after I ordered it! Lynda is sick of hearing me say it but... I’m very impressed with the on-line ordering service from Amazon!!!

As for the CD... it’s GREAT! I’ve been playing it at every opportunity since it arrived - it’s playing right now too. All the tracks are superb but, if I had to pick a favourite, “Blacktide” looks like being the one that stands out above the rest. When I saw this band back in April 2007 they impressed me, after hearing “Discordant Dreams” I’d say they’re now even better! I need to be seeing them play live again - and soon!


Bike Week 2008 started on Saturday and I’m taking part in my own little way. The aim of Bike Week is to get more people out of their cars and onto their bikes and a number of events will be taking part around the UK. The “event” that caught my eye was the challenge of cycling a minimum of 25 miles in Derbyshire over the week. I’ve registered with Everyday Cycling, a web site that is running the challenge, and have already got the first 8.92 miles under my belt by riding to work and back on Saturday. The 25-mile target will be no problem! That’s if the weather doesn’t force me into the comfort of the car!


I added species number 125 to my “10-Mile List” this morning and it proved to be even easier than I expected. Ever since I started listing the birds seen within a 10-mile radius of home I’ve known that Little Owl would be an easy tick, I just needed to go and visit my chosen site. Today was Fathers Day so I went to see my Dad - and the Little Owl! I arrived at the farm at just after 10:00AM and after spending a short time in the house chatting with my Mum and Dad I went off in search of the owl.

As it turned out, there wasn’t any real field craft needed to track down the smallest of the British owls. I walked across the garden, through the gate at the bottom that took me into the farmyard and there was the owl sat on a shed roof looking at me! As soon as it saw me it took off and disappeared from view. Over the next hour or so the owl reappeared on a number of occasions but wouldn’t quite sit still long enough for me to photograph it.

My Dad reckons that the bird was so flighty because it didn’t know me - it will sit tight and let him work in the yard whilst it sits and watches. I reckon it may be because the owl was worried I may have a grudge against it! It turns out that a Little Owl - probably the one I saw today - has been raiding Blackbird nests around the farmyard and taking the baby chicks. Much as my Mum likes the owls she is not impressed by this behaviour! Having had one of “my” Blackbirds taken by a Sparrowhawk a few weeks ago I can see her point!

This evening I went for a short walk in search of Spotted Flycatcher, like the Barn Owl on Friday, I didn’t see one! It was a nice walk though, even if the grass pollen did start to set off my hay fever. I only walked for around a mile or so but I saw 23 different species of bird, numerous rabbits including a couple of very small young and also a fox that was, no doubt, out to try and catch one of the rabbits! Birds of note included a pair of Bullfinch, a male Yellowhammer, a Common Buzzard and numerous Swifts that were screeching around overhead. It was also good to see at least 6 House Martins together, as numbers of this species seem very low this summer.

Nice habitat, but no flycatcher!

The not so nice grasses!

My “10-Mile List” now stands at 125 species.

13 June 2008

Night owl...

This evening I’ve been in search of Barn Owl - I didn’t find one! But the evening wasn’t a total loss as I did find a Tawny Owl! If anything I’m even happier to pick up the Tawny, as it has always been a tricky species for me and, to be fair, any owl is great to see. The owl moves my “10-Mile List” on to 124 species.

As you may have gathered by the lack of bird related Blogs here over the past week or two things are rather quiet right now. The passage birds have all “passed”, the residents are all breeding and have been “ticked off” on my list and, if I’m not careful, I’m going to fall back into the “can’t be bothered” attitude that I’ve been wanting to get out of this year. The great start to my birding year really kick-started me again but it remains to be seen whether I can come through this quiet patch with the same enthusiasm! Time will tell.

I am hoping to try for Spotted Flycatcher, and also Woodcock, over the weekend so at least for the next couple of days I have something to aim at. If I’m very lucky I may even pick up an easy Little Owl too - I have a plan in mind for that one!

08 June 2008

The trip to church...

Okay, maybe church wasn’t quite the right word to use - cathedral would have been more accurate. Derby Cathedral to be precise. Today, as part of BBC TV's Springwatch/Breathing Places project there was a number of guided tours to the top of the cathedral tower and Lynda and I joined in.

We started the day by calling at Starbucks for coffee. That’s not quite true either, we actually had Frappuccinos. It was the first time I’d tried Frappuccino but it certainly won’t be the last! I had the Dark Mocha, topped with whipped cream, and it was delicious! Lynda chose the Caramel version, again with the whipped cream. At 428 calories for the Mocha it’s not ideal for your diet though!

From Starbucks we drove into Derby, parked the car and made our way to the cathedral, after trying to find a bag for Lynda’s new camera. We looked at quite a few different bags, in different shops, but nothing was quite right.

The tour of the tower started with a brief overview of the history of the cathedral and then it was time to start the climb up the very steep, and winding, 189 steps that took us to the top. We did get to take a breather at around half distance when we stopped off at the room used by the bell ringers. This room also houses all the equipment that is used to beam the live webcam pictures of the Peregrines and their chicks.

Once at the top of the tower we were treated to some far-reaching views of both the city and also the surrounding countryside. Crich Stand was easy to pick out to the north, as was Radcliffe on Soar power station away to the east in Nottinghamshire. Willington power station was also visible, just, but I couldn’t quite see onto the gravel pits - I hope I didn’t miss any good birds!

Below are some of the photos Lynda and I took. I’ve tried to arrange them so that you get a clockwise view from the top of the tower starting with the view north and then going east, south and west. There are also some photos taken inside the cathedral after we made it back down to ground level, which was easier said than done from almost 65 meters up! As usual, if you click on a photo it will open a larger image.

07 June 2008

Today, I’ve had a day off work and I’ve NOT out been birding! After racing around in search of new birds for my “10-Mile List” for several weeks now, I decided on having a rest day today and let myself have an extra hour or two in bed.

As it happened, I actually had four extra hours in bed and didn’t surface until almost 11:00AM. I think I may have needed to recharge my batteries after all the great birding I’ve had over the past few months - or the kind hospitality of our friends, Paul and Ali, last night may have made me sleep a little better than usual!

We spent a very enjoyable evening with them, and also Rachel and Bethany, chatting and drinking beer in their new conservatory. I also got involved in a rather in-depth discussion with Rachel, who is 6 years of age, over who was the more important character - Winnie The Pooh, or Piglet. In the end, Rachel came to agree with me that without Pooh Bear there is no need for Piglet. Winnie The Pooh is, therefore, a much more important character! Discuss...

Tomorrow, I had toyed with the idea of going to Coventry for the Stock Car Racing but, as is often the case with me, my plans have changed once again. Now, instead of having the roar of all those V8 engines in my ears and all the dust from the track in my eyes, I’m going to church instead! Well, it IS Sunday! You’ll have to come back here again to find out quite what that strange little statement is all about.

* 6:30PM update... the weather forecast for tomorrow looks very good! Clear skies; sunny; 21°c; wind 5mph. Fingers crossed, it should be ideal for the trip to church!

02 June 2008

And not a bird in sight...

I’ve just been checking one or two of the reports that my page hit-counter gives me and, over the past week or two, a single word, and also a string of words, has been pointing search engines my way. "Neverland" is the single word being searched; "Doom Garden Jelly Fish Blues" is the phrase being looked for. I guess it’s safe to say then that the world wants to know about the forthcoming Neverland gig at The Strawberry Moon Festival at Tittesworth Water, in Staffordshire, on June 28.

I have to be at work on the morning of the festival but the plan is to drive straight over to Staffordshire as soon as I can get away from my desk. Neverland aren’t on stage ‘til 5:00PM so I shouldn’t have any problem in getting there in time and, if the traffic isn’t too bad on the way, I hope to catch one or two of the bands that are playing before them.

For all of you searching the web for Neverland there’s all the info you need about the festival HERE!

Neverland - Rain Like Stars And The Blues.

Just over a week ago Lynda treated herself to a new camera, a Kodak digital compact, and this evening she had her first real play with it. More and more plants are starting to come into flower in the garden now so Lynda had a go at capturing some of the colour - I think the results are pretty good! I may even hand Lynda the job of providing all the photos for my Blog from now on; then again....

It’s a little early to say for certain but, if the weather is okay, I may well be at my first BriSCA F1 Stock Car meeting in over 15 years this coming Sunday. Peter Falding, one of the sport's top drivers, has a testimonial meeting at Coventry and it sounds like the perfect excuse for me to make a return to watching the sport I used to follow all over the country. If nothing else, it’ll be good to hear the roar of all those huge American V8 engines thundering around the track again.

Stock car on board with Dan Johnson at King's Lynn.

01 June 2008


If you take work out of the equation, it’s been a cracking weekend! Yesterday I picked up the Avocet and Knot at Willington and today I added another three ticks to my "10-Mile List" - Turtle Dove, Red-crested Pochard and Sanderling.

This morning started early for me again; I was up and about at just before 5:00AM, had breakfast and then set off in search of Turtle Dove. I had a couple of sites in mind for the doves and luckily the first site I visited came good. Within minutes of arriving on-site I could hear a dove calling but I then had to spend the next 45 minutes searching the woodland before I finally located the bird.

Turtle Dove - taken through my 'scope.

When I did get to see the Turtle Dove it was sitting out on a telegraph pole just clear of the wood and gave good views for around 15 minutes. As I watched this bird a second appeared, briefly, as it flew between the trees. Whilst searching for the doves, and walking back to the car, I noted a further 21 species including Buzzard, Kestrel, Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Garden Warbler, Goldfinch, Linnet and Bullfinch. I also found a rather nice wild rose too.

Wild Rose.

With Turtle Dove added to my list - species number 121 - I abandoned my plans to visit the second site and instead headed to Calke Park. Calke Park is an ancient woodland site with some of the oldest trees in the UK, and Europe. It has also been a site for Spotted Flycatcher in the past, but not today! My three hours of birding in the park did turn up a total of 36 species and I also stumbled across one of the 1000 year old trees - The Old Man of Calke.

The Old Man of Calke.

Bird highlights included Common Tern, Stock Dove, Kingfisher, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Swallow, Mistle Thrush, Treecreeper and Tree Sparrow. The walk around the park was very pleasant with nothing but bird song to break the peace and quiet and I only saw a couple of other people all morning. All very peaceful! Oh, and I got some great views of the Fallow Deer that are kept in the parkland.

Fallow Deer.

From Calke I had planned on returning home, for a coffee, but that idea got thrown out the window when I received a text message about two male Red-crested Pochard at Willington. Within the blink of an eye I was on my way! I have to admit I twitched the Pochards - I was only at Willington for just under an hour. I parked the car, walked quickly to the end of the lane, saw the birds, checked the rest of the pits for a short while and then headed for home. Species 122 was ticked off in record time.

By mid-day the car was back in the garage and I had finished birding for the day, or so I thought. At just after 1:30PM, whilst enjoying my lunch, I received another text message; a group of eight Sanderling had turned up at, you guessed it, Willington Gravel Pits! Now, I had a dilemma - I needed the Sanderling, having missed them a couple of times already, but there was home made rice pudding in the oven and I love Lynda’s rice pudding! A compromise was reached; the Sanderling would have to wait around for an hour or so whilst I enjoyed my meal. I would then pay them the respect they deserved by going to have a look.

By the time I arrived at the Canal Scrape there were only four Sanderling still there but the quantity didn’t really matter to me; one bird or four, I had species 123 for my "10-Mile List". Other than the Sanderling it was a little quiet with the only birds of any note being a Buzzard, three Red-legged Partridges and a sight of around 400 Swift feeding over the water. Smaller numbers of Sand Martin, Swallow and House Martin were also in amongst the Swifts and gave some great views, often down to just a few feet!

To top the day off... I returned home to be told by Lynda that I had won £60 on the lottery! It’s been a cracking weekend!

The "10-Mile List" has now reached 123 species.