31 December 2009

2009 - Game over!

It’s New Year's Eve and I have lots of food and drink to consume. This will be a brief update!

Since my last blog I’ve managed to stay upright whilst cycling to and from work (more by luck than judgement with all the snow and ice we’ve had) and I’ve covered another 180 miles, bringing my total for the year to 3,573 miles. I set myself a target of 2,500 miles in 2009, so I’m rather pleased with the final outcome.

The birding has really taken a backseat over the past few months and as a result my “10-Mile List” hasn’t grown quite as well as it perhaps could have. Having said that, I did add Tawny Owl to the list on December 22 - a male bird calling in Alvaston Park as I cycled home after work. This was the final addition of the year and leaves me with a total of 138 species on the “10-Mile List” for 2009, two more than last year.

So, 2010. I’ve already set myself two targets for my cycling next year - I want to ride at least 4,000 miles during the year and also complete a single ride of 100 miles or more. I managed a ride of 70 miles back in October so the step-up to 100 shouldn’t be too much of a problem, I hope! If I can ever pick a bike that I really like then there may well be another purchase to be made early in the New Year too. I’ll be taking the plunge and finally becoming a Tour de France look-alike. As for the Lycra, it remains to be seen if I dare go that far!

I’ve not yet decided how to approach my birding in 2010. The challenge of chasing “ticks” within 10-miles of home over the last two years has certainly got me out and about a lot more but has also made it somewhat of a chore at times. If I’ve been alerted to a bird within my recording zone I’ve felt that I had to make the effort to go for it. At times, this has taken some of the pleasure out of my birding. I’ll see how things work out during the first month or two of the year before making a decision on how I’ll continue.


07 December 2009

Pride comes before a fall...

How true the above statement proved to be last week! On Monday evening I was rather proud of the fact that I’d managed to spot a folded £20 note laying by the side of a cycle path whilst I was riding home from work. The rain was falling, the wind blowing, I was riding at a fair pace and the path was completely unlit but my ageing eyesight was still keen enough to see the cash. I stopped, picked up my treasure and continued on my way, a little better off and rather pleased with myself.

On Friday morning I was riding to work, along the same stretch of cycle path, when I experienced “the fall”. It wasn’t just a fall; it was a big fall followed by a big impact, a slide and an abrupt stop! Mountain bike tyres, speed, freshly laid tarmac and ice don’t mix well, apparently! I’m still not quite sure exactly what happened but, to cut a long story short, I went around a bit of a curve and hit some ice that sent me crashing to the ground.

The impact with the ground would have been bad enough but I somehow managed to get my left leg trapped under the frame of the bike as I fell. That meant that the full length of the slide along the ground (around 15 feet) was carried out on the inside of my left knee and my left foot. The end result was a pair of cycling leggings with a large hole in, an over-shoe that looks like it had been subjected to a shark attack and a left knee that looks like the leftovers from a butchers block. My right wrist also aches and my left shoulder feels a little tight - the good news is that the bike came out of it almost unscathed!

The remains of my over-shoe.

This morning I decided that I ought to give my somewhat tattered flesh time to heal and so didn’t use the bike to get to work but went in the car instead. Tomorrow, I’ll be back on the bike. There is no way I can cope with all the traffic two days running! I may well have to ride a little slower than usual, perhaps a good thing, but at least it will be more enjoyable than sitting in a traffic jam.

On a more positive note, I’ve now cycled almost 3,400 miles this year. I’d quite like to predict what my total distance for the year is going to be but that may just be tempting fate a little too much, and I’ve also seen the weather forecast for the end of the week.... ICE!

29 November 2009

November in a nutshell...

It doesn’t take much to work out that things have been very quiet here for the past month - no news means no blogs. But, as the end of yet another month is just around the corner I guess I should make a bit of an effort to keep the page up to date. So, here goes...

Lynda and I were both off work for the first week of November and, although we didn’t have too much planned, the poor weather meant we spent much of the time indoors. Monday was spent over in Nottingham walking around the shops. I can’t really say we went shopping, as the only things we purchased were chocolates! Admittedly it was very nice (and slightly expensive) chocolate but that was the sum total of our purchasing! Hotel Chocolat does, however, come highly recommended in this house!

Nottingham Council House.

Nottingham Market Square.

Whilst in Nottingham I managed to get my cycling fix by spending a little time looking around the Evans Cycles shop. Somehow I got out of the store without spending money, a rare event indeed these days! We would have looked around Nottingham Castle too, if it had not been closed. I guess Monday would be a good day to try and storm the castle if the need arose - nobody would be home!

Robin Hood - the only one left at the castle!

Whilst on our way back to the train station we passed Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem, England’s oldest inn. I’d have loved to have stopped off here for a pint or two but as time was running short we had to make do with a quick photo of the outside. At least I now have a reason to go back to Nottingham.

Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem.

The rest of the week was spent relaxing at home and eating out at lunch times. We visited three different pubs for lunch; The Bonnie Prince at Chellaston on Tuesday, The Dog and Duck at Shardlow on Thursday and The Newdigate Arms at West Hallam on the Friday. Wednesday was a healthy day - we stayed out of the pub and went for a walk around Elvaston Castle instead! After all the recent rain I had hoped to be able to photograph lots of different fungi but there was very little showing. We did manage to stay dry for the whole of the walk so that was something at least.

Elvaston Castle.

Much of November has provided a feeling of déjà vu on most days - I’ve ridden the bike to work, often in the rain, and almost always on wet roads. I’ve ridden home again in the dark and often in the rain or on wet roads. I’ve also picked up yet more punctures, two in the space of four days! The first left me pushing the bike the last half a mile home, the second was a slow puncture that saw me ride home, in the pouring rain, at near record speed so that I could get back before the tyre deflated fully. The rain was falling so heavily on that occasion that the air leaking from the tyre was actually blowing bubbles in the water! The bike was thrown in the back of the garage in disgust that evening and I didn’t go near it for another two days. Despite the weather, and also my bike, I have managed to keep adding a few miles to my total each day and have now covered a total of 3,331 miles this year.

That just about brings things up to date other than a few photos taken yesterday at the latest round of the Notts & Derby Cyclo-cross League. The racing took place at Sinfin Moor Park, which is just a short cycle ride of around 3 miles from home. Even after all the rain we’ve had in the past few weeks the course looked to have stood up to it very well and, from my view as a spectator, rode pretty fast. In true cyclo-cross style there was a fair amount of mud around but it tended to be the sort of stuff that didn’t clog up the bikes to any great extent. I’m still waiting for the official results to be posted on the league website but I’m pretty sure that Geoff Giddings, of the Raleigh Avanti team, managed to snatch victory on the line after a very fast sprint finish that saw the first two riders cross the line almost as one.

The charge away from the start line.

Steady on the down hill.

"Scream if you want to go faster!" But maybe take your road reflectors off!

Working together.

Team Raleigh on a charge!

The 1, 2 and nearly 3.

01 November 2009

Just bikes...

One way or another, cycling is slowly taking up more and more of my time. If I’m not riding one of my bikes I’m fixing or cleaning them. If it’s not my bikes then I’m out watching someone else. If I have to stay at home, I try and find cycling to watch on the TV! I think I may be getting the bug!

A couple of weeks ago Lynda and I went to the Moorways Sports Centre, which is just a short walk away, for the National Trophy Cyclo-cross racing. Riders from all over the UK took part in the day's racing as well as riders from Germany, Belgium and, I think, France. The weather wasn’t great but at least the light rain that fell for a time added to the excitement - if you were watching and not riding that is! The sharp, off-camber downhill turns caught many of the riders out and resulted in some rather impressive face plants. Luckily, everyone got straight back on their bikes and carried on as if nothing had happened.

This was only the second cyclo-cross event that I had been to, and the first big event, but I’m hooked. I already have other events pencilled in the diary that I’d like to attend. If anyone out there fancies sponsoring a total novice to the sum of around £3000 I’d be happy to take your money and spend it on the equipment needed for me to have a go!

And that was just the warm up!

The sprint away from the start line.

The transition from grass to tarmac.

The climb out of the sports arena.

Over the planks.

L to R... 3rd Jan van Dael. 1st Johannes Sickmueller. 2nd Paul Oldham.

My own cycling has been ticking along nicely each week and I’ve covered a total of 3,120 miles since the start of the year. Now my goal is to reach 3,500 miles this year - 1,000 more that I had initially hoped for. October was my best month of the year so far with just over 412 miles ridden. I also managed my longest single ride so far last month, a 70-mile hack around South Derbyshire! The ride should have been a 55 miler but I got carried away and just kept on adding extra bits to the pre-planned route I had in mind. In the end, the only reason I returned home when I did was because I knew that there was a roast dinner waiting for me! There was no way I was going to risk a burnt, or worse still, no dinner!

The past week has seen the run of warm, dry weather come to an end and I’ve had to contend with a number of wet rides to and from work. The Cannondale is now tucked away in the back of the garage and will be staying there until I can be sure that it’s not going to get a soaking on wet roads. If that’s not a good enough excuse then how about “I can’t ride it because it has no lights”?

Lynda and I are now off work for a week so I’ll start November with little or no cycling. I’ll just have to keep my fingers crossed that I can make up the mileage later in the month and hope I don’t have too many pub lunches over the next few days! Yeah, like that is going to stop me!

12 October 2009

High days and holidays...

Last week Lynda and I took a few days off work. We had nothing really planned and just went with the flow. On Monday, after a couple of much needed extra hours in bed we headed into Derby. This was the only part of the break that was planned; we wanted to take a ride on the big wheel in Derby Market Place. Okay, so it’s not the London Eye but it was still well worth it! The wheel is 60 meters in height and gave us views much like the ones we had from the top of Derby Cathedral last summer. The information at the ticket office states that the ride lasts for around 15 minutes, we were on the first ride of the morning and it lasted for at least 25 minutes.

The Derby big wheel.


The Guildhall.

The Cathedral and the new Jury's Inn.

Me, with a load of steel work.

The new Cathedral Green.

The Guildhall tower and clock.

The Market Hall.

The Market Place.

After our big wheel adventure we spent the rest of the morning in Derby, shopping. The pain of this was eased, for me, by a stop at Muffin Break for elevenses - a slice of bacon and onion quiche and a mug of Cappuccino soon had me smiling again! I’m not a shopping fan but I do like coffee shops! Actually, that’s not quite true... Lynda took me to Costco on the way home and treated me to a mixed case of Wychwood Brewery beers. Now that IS my kind of shopping!

After stopping off at home to unload the shopping, and for me to change into my cycling clothes, we headed off to the bike shop to collect my Cannondale which had been in for it’s free 6-month check-up. All was pretty much as I expected with the bike, it had had a new chain fitted due to the original one having stretched but nothing else was needed - or so I thought. Before the chain was fitted the shop had told me that I really should be fitting a new gear cassette and front chain rings. Okay, so I’ve covered almost 1,000 miles on the bike but there was no way I was paying out almost a 3rd of the price of the bike after only 6 months! I told them to fit the chain and I’d see how things went. Needless to say, on the ride home a couple of the gears were skipping.

First thing Tuesday morning - well, okay, about 10:0AM - I went shopping for a new rear gear cassette for the bike. A little bit of internet research the night before had turned up a cassette that had a slightly wider set of gear ratios that would give me an extra 2 or 3 MPH for the same pedal effort. These were soon in my possession and, after a quick stop off at work to borrow a torque wrench, fitted to the Cannondale. After a short test ride to make sure everything was working as it should it was time to think about lunch - off to the pub we went! Lynda and I decided that we’d give The Bonnie Prince at Chellaston a try as we’d never been before. It turned out that the pub had only re-opened that day due to a complete refit. The pub was very nice, the food excellent - we’ll be back at some point in the future.

Wednesday, and it was shopping time again. This time it was a couple of garden centres that we visited. At the first we picked up a load of winter bedding plants that are now safely in the garden and at the second Lynda found a couple of Camellias that she instantly fell in love with and just HAD to have! The fact that they were priced as “two for one” just added to their appeal. The Camellias are also safely planted in the garden where we eagerly await them bursting into flower next spring! With all the plants we needed safely stowed away in the car there was nothing left to do but retire to the pub for lunch again. This time we finished up in another new to us hostelry, The Seven Wells at Etwall. The Seven Wells is part of the same chain as The Bonnie Prince so the menu was almost identical. Once again the food was excellent and we were left feeling full but not quite bursting - the Ruddles County ale was also very much to my liking! I can’t wait for our next time off work!

11 October 2009

Autumn colour...

Okay, this post is late, very late, but here goes anyway!

A few weeks ago - September 20th! - I spent a very enjoyable few hours out birding in the Trent Valley, visiting both Ambaston and Barrow-on-Trent.

The birding at Ambaston was okay but nothing spectacular. A small number of summer migrants were still enjoying the early autumn sunshine with 8 Swallow, 1 Reed Warbler and 2 Chiffchaff being recorded. In contrast, 4 Wigeon were a sign that winter is just around the corner - these being my first of the autumn. Two Snipe were also probably birds that had returned to the area after breeding elsewhere. Other birds of note included 5 Little Grebe, 9 Mute Swan, a Lesser Black-backed Gull, 80 Black-headed Gull, 5 Stock Dove, 3 Grey Wagtail and a Jay.

As I had left the house before Lynda was awake I took the opportunity to borrow her camera and managed to capture a few shots of the autumn colours...

From Ambaston I moved on to Barrow-on-Trent where once again the birding on offer was okay but I didn’t turn up anything unexpected. As things were a little quiet I decided on a bit of counting - I tend to count birds quite a lot when it gets quiet! Some of the better numbers were... 34 Cormorant, 122 Tufted Duck, 170 Lesser Black-backed Gull and c1000 Black-headed Gull. The highlight of the morning though was the number of Common Buzzard, 15 of them soaring over the lake! This was by far the largest number of Buzzard I had ever seen together in the county and it is a sight that will stay with me for a long while. Some of the other birds seen included 2 Kingfisher, a handful of Swallow and House Martin, 2 Reed Warbler and 4 Yellowhammer.

Before heading home to Lynda, and my Sunday lunch, I rattled off another few photos on what had turned into a glorious autumn morning. I must try and sort out a new camera for myself at some point in the near future!

15 September 2009

Another target met!

At the beginning of the year I set myself a little challenge, I wanted to try and cycle at least 2,500 miles this year. At the time, I thought it should be attainable if I didn’t chicken out of riding to work when the weather was bad and also threw in a few longer “fun” rides at weekends. Well, today I passed the 2,500 mile barrier!

On the whole it’s been an enjoyable experience so far if you ignore the five punctures I’ve picked up, the numerous soakings when I’ve been caught in the rain and the occasional close call with cars/vans/buses that treat cyclists as target practice! February 3 is one day that stands out above most this year; it was the day I lost the use of all but one of the 21 gears on my bike due to the whole of the gear mechanism freezing up! Conditions that day were not good!

The purchase of the Cannondale Bad Boy in April had a positive effect on my riding and I soon started to up the mileage I was riding. In early May I completed the 40-mile Vale of Belvoir sponsored ride for the British Heart Foundation, the following morning I rode for another 25 miles just to spin my legs out. There have also been Sunday morning rides of 30 miles, 40 miles (twice), and a 50 miler. I also got a little carried away on a rather nice Sunday morning in June and returned home with 60 miles under my belt! The plan is to work up to a 100-mile ride at some point next year. Well, that’s the plan!

At the end of Sunday’s birding blog I posted a couple of photos taken with my phone, that’s because I’ve killed my poor old digital camera! After being with me for more years than I can remember, and taking over 7,000 photos, the Kodak gave up the ghost on September 5. I’d cycled over to Allestree Park to watch the cyclo-cross racing and after taking just two photos the camera died. The last ever pictures from the camera are below!

Cyclo-cross at Allestree Park.

As for the racing, I don’t think I’ll be taking it up any time soon. The standard of riding in the senior’s race, and the quality of the bikes, was way above my level! I hope to attend more rounds of the race series over the next few months, hopefully with a fully operational camera!

13 September 2009

"10-Mile" update...

Six weeks ago I was on a birding high after adding Bittern to my “10-Mile List” at Willington, I was also a little unsure as to whether or not I could reach last years total of 136 species within my recording zone. Well, all that is history. My total species count now stands at 137!

The five new species are...

Osprey. Whilst on a cycle ride on August 23 I was lucky enough to have an Osprey fly slowly over me as I headed into Mickleover. I managed to get very good views of the bird as it passed overhead and it was the highlight of a great, 52-mile, ride. I think I deserved that one, even if only for being crazy enough to be out riding for 52 miles on a Sunday morning!

Dunlin. I had to double-check all my records for the year before I added this one to the list - I couldn’t believe it had taken me until August 30 to see a Dunlin locally! Three Dunlin were seen at Willington Gravel Pits on a rather quiet Sunday morning when the only other notable sightings were of a single Hobby, 2 Green Sandpiper, and a Kingfisher. Things were so quiet that I even resorted to counting the Canada Geese! I recorded a total of 492, slightly less than the 500 Black-headed Gull. Well, I did say it was a quiet morning!

Shag. I had planned on a bike ride on the evening of September 6 but a quick check of the sightings on Birdguides had me heading off to Willington instead - a juvenile Shag had been located. Not only was this a new species for the “10-Mile List” it was also the first I’d ever seen inland. Other than the Shag it was yet another very quiet visit. A Buzzard showed well at the rear of Gull Pit and 23 Snipe were seen in flight. Summer lingered on in the form of Common Tern, Swallow, House Martin, Sedge Warbler and Reed Warbler.

Greenshank. A very brief visit to Aston-on-Trent Gravel Pits this morning resulted in species number 136 for the year. I had hoped for something a little bit special to match last year’s total, but I’ll take the Greenshank all the same! To be fair, it was a rather smart looking Greenshank and it did show very well - but it was still a Greenshank. Green Sandpiper, Dunlin and Chiffchaff were the other notable sightings.

Little Egret. This has always been a bit of a bogey bird for me in Derbyshire; I only saw my first in the county last summer. Today, at Barrow-on-Trent, I found 5 of the things and, in the process, moved my “10-Mile List” on to 137 species for the year. I’ve been trying to locate one of these little white herons all summer without any success so I was rather pleased that Little Egret was the species to take my total ahead of last year’s. Also at Barrow were 105 Cormorant, 17 Grey Heron, 100 Tufted Duck, 7 Buzzard, 2 Chiffchaff and 2 Jay.

Two very poor photos of a Little Egret. These were taken with my mobile phone through my ‘scope - the reason why will become clear in my next blog post!

With just over 3 months still left of 2009, can I move the list on to 140 species? I really haven’t a clue!