30 April 2009


Once again, I’m raising money for the British Heart Foundation and I need YOUR help.

Every year, thousands of people die prematurely from heart disease. It remains the UK's single biggest killer and for the increasing number who survive, life can be frightening and hard. The British Heart Foundation is the nation's heart charity. Every day they save lives, through pioneering research, providing vital information to help people reduce their own heart health risks, campaigning for change and supporting and caring for heart patients.

In 2005, 2006 and 2007 I took part in sponsored walks for the British Heart Foundation, last year I decided on a change of event and a change of transport and took on the challenge of the 36 mile Hearts First Robin Hood Bike Ride. I enjoyed the mud and pouring rain of that ride so much that I’m now having a go at the 40 mile Vale of Belvoir Bike Ride on May 9.

I know it’s only a matter of months since I last asked for your help but please dig deep in your pockets, search under the cushions on the sofa and raid the piggy bank, give as generously as possible to help the British Heart Foundation help others less fortunate than ourselves.

You can sponsor me on-line via my Justgiving web site at...


Thank you for your support.


29 April 2009

RSPB Long weekend...

Last weekend was our annual long weekend away with the Derby RSPB Group, we were based in Bournemouth and visited the RSPB reserves at Arne and Radipole, Portland Bill and also Durlston Country Park. As a group we saw or heard a total of 107 species with Lynda and myself managing a list amounting to 76 species. The number of birds was down a little on past years but the weekend itself was, as usual, of very high quality.

On Saturday we visited RSPB Arne, a reserve with a mixed habitat of heathland, mature woodland and also tidal marsh. Birds of note here included Little Egret, Spoonbill, Whimbrel, Curlew, Stonechat and a pair of friendly Wheatear that gave us some very close views. Large numbers of Sika deer were also seen during our walk around the reserve.

RSPB Arne.


At 4:45PM we left Arne and headed for the Riviera Hotel in Bournemouth. As with all the previous long weekend trips we’ve been on with the group, the non-birding side of the break is equally important - good food and a bar are as important as the birds! This year’s hotel provided us with superb food, both at breakfast and the evening meal, and also had plenty of space to relax with friends over a few drinks at night.

My birding started just before breakfast on Sunday when I took a stroll down to the sea front. Although I didn’t take my ‘bins with me I was still able to add Sandwich Tern to my trip list with numerous birds fishing just off the shoreline. Once back at the hotel a full cooked breakfast set me up for the day.

Bournemouth view.

Our first stop off on Sunday was RSPB Radipole in the centre of Weymouth. Despite it’s urban location this reserve is still rather scenic and also provided the group with some great birds. Great Crested Grebe, Shelduck, Gadwall, Teal and Tufted Duck were all present as was the somewhat dubious Hooded Merganser that has been on the reserve for some while now. I’ve recorded my sighting of this bird but reckon that it’s almost certain to fail the “wild or not” test of the BOU!

RSPB Radipole.

Other birds of note at Radipole included Marsh Harrier, Swift, Sand Martin, Swallow, House Martin, Cetti’s Warbler, Grasshopper Warbler, Sedge Warbler, Reed Warbler and Blackcap. We also managed to get a couple of views of Bearded Tit as they flew, very quickly, over the reed beds!

From Radipole it was just a short coach ride to Portland Bill where we spent the rest of the afternoon. Portland could have been the perfect location for a few hours of birding if only the weather wasn’t so nice! The morning had started off dull and misty with one or two heavy rain showers. The wind was also rather strong and coming in off the sea, great for a bit of sea-watching. The problem was the rain cleared away, the sun came out and the bird movement suffered as a result. I did manage a count of around 320 Manx Shearwater in a little over an hour but failed to see any skuas at all.

Portland Bill.

Gannet, Shag, Turnstone, Guillemot, Razorbill and Rock Pipit were all seen at Portland along with a single Whimbrel that was wandering around the cliff top rocks. I would imagine the Whimbrel was a recent arrival on this side of the Channel and was resting up before continuing its journey north. Our birding for the day came to and end at 4:30PM when we set off on the return journey to the hotel. The evening was spent relaxing over another great meal and a few more drinks.


Monday was our last day of the trip and unfortunately the weather took a turn for the worse. It was raining heavily as we ate breakfast and continued to do so as the coach drove to Durlston Country Park. We spent four hours at the Country Park and the rain persisted for much of that time. By far the most welcome sighting here was the Lookout Cafe where we enjoyed getting dry whilst having a bite to eat!

The Lookout Cafe.

What birding we did do resulted in sightings of Fulmar, Gannet, Peregrine, Guillemot, Razorbill, Stonechat, Whitethroat and, surprisingly, our first two Great Tits of the weekend! At just after 2:30PM our coach started the long journey home, just as the rain started to pour down again. It wasn’t the ideal end to the weekend but it certainly didn’t ruin it either.

As we headed north along the A34 towards Oxford a Red Kite flew low alongside the road and gave most people on the coach one last new species for the weekend - those that weren’t fast asleep that is! I was lucky enough to be awake at that moment!

24 April 2009

Willington hits the big time...

For the second time this week I took the shortest route home from work that I could, on the bike, so that I could be at home as quickly as possible, and once again it was all down to a bird. Well, in this case, 11 birds! All afternoon my mobile phone had been going off with updates on a rather special event at Willington Gravel Pits. At one point the texts were coming in so often that I had to switch the phone off - work was very busy and I was getting too distracted! I was also getting just a little bit worried that the birds would move on before I could get to “the ponds”.

At 6:45PM I pulled into the lane at Willington to be met with a mass of parked cars. They were all over the parking area, the grass verges, the pavement along the road and part way down the lane. A couple of cars were trying to find a space as I drove straight past them and down the lane - my contacts had told me to avoid the roadside panic and to drive down the lane as the parking was easier down there. They were right and this saved me an extra few minutes.

So, why the rush? Why the sudden influx of cars? Well, if you’re a keen birder you’ll have worked it out by now or even been to Willington yourself. I was there for the Whiskered Terns! Whiskered Tern has only been recorded on one previous occasion in Derbyshire and that, apparently, was back in 1883 when one was shot on the River Trent near Barrow. I wasn’t responsible for that horror as I wasn’t around on that day! I’ll certainly remember this day for a while though!

The terns showed very well from the end of the lane with all 11 being seen together on a number of occasions. Just one of these gorgeous birds would have made my day, if not my year, but to see them in such numbers and on my local patch was pure magic. Not only are the birds a great county record they are also believed to be the largest group of Whiskered Terns ever seen in Britain. Birding history was being made and it was happening within my “10-Mile Zone”!

As well as the terns I also managed two other new species for the year, Common Tern and Cuckoo. My sighting of the Cuckoo managed to raise a bit of a laugh amongst a few of the visiting birders too. I’d heard it calling for a while but could not locate it, when I did it was through my ‘scope and it was some distance away. I let out a quiet “yes, got ya!” under my breath, or so I thought. I was heard by one of the other birders who enquired just what I’d found - they all found it somewhat amusing that 11 Whiskered Terns were flying around and I was watching a Cuckoo! Each to their own I guess!

So, three more birds for the “10-Mile List” which now stands at 125 species.

22 April 2009

Cetti's - by bike...

I left work in a big hurry this evening, rode like the wind on the new Cannondale all the way home, quickly grabbed my binoculars, changed to my old Claud Butler bike and then set off to ride the 3 miles to the site of the Derbyshire Cetti’s Warblers. Less than half a mile from home and I was cursing the old bike again - the gears were skipping badly once more. Jumping back on the old bike again made me realise just how good the new one is! Still, the route to the river Derwent is far from smooth so there really wasn’t any other option, apart from walking. I rode on and continued to curse under my breath.

Almost before I stopped the bike by the river I heard a Cetti’s calling, I had species number 122 for my “10-Mile List”. As I got off the bike I heard another, more unwelcome, sound. It was, yet again, the dreaded “hissssss”! I’d picked up a rear wheel puncture. Maybe it was the bike’s way of paying me back for relegating it to second best? Luckily, I had all I needed to fix the tyre in my rucksack and did so whilst listening to the two Cetti’s singing from across the river.

In the ¾ hour I spent by the river the Cetti’s never showed but I wasn’t really expecting them to. A “heard only” tick is good enough for me on this occasion. If the birds stay around a while longer I may try again to see them but next time I’ll talk nicely to the bike on the way there!

21 April 2009

The new Bad Boy...

After all the stress of last week I was more than happy when the weekend arrived, even though I did have to work on Saturday morning. Normally, after a bad week at work, I look forward to getting away from phones, computers, cars and people and I head off birding, that wasn’t going to be enough last weekend. I needed something more. I needed retail therapy!

Now, me and shopping are not the best of friends. Never have been, never will be. The only time I feel as though I’m even close to enjoying shopping is if there are “boy’s toys” involved. A quick phone call on Saturday morning and I was all set for a shopping trip that I knew would be right up my street. I was going to treat myself to a new bike!

The idea of a new bike has been running around in my head for months now but I kept talking myself out of it for various reasons. I wasn’t sure if I wanted/needed a mountain bike, a pure road bike or a hybrid. I wasn’t even sure I wanted to pension off my trusty old Claud Butler either - we’ve been together a long time you know! A couple of problematic rides on the old bike, combined with a bad week at work, finally made up my mind. I WAS going to treat myself!

Ladies and gentlemen, please meet the new Bad Boy! A Cannondale Bad Boy to be precise, and its a none too shabby little cruiser.

Cannondale Bad Boy.

I wasn’t sure about the colour at first, it’s a semi matt black finish, but at the price I couldn’t let that put me off. As it’s a 2008 model the price had been dropped from £450 to £399. When it came to paying for the bike in the shop both myself and the sales staff got a bit of a shock as the computer price was set incorrectly. After much button pressing on the PC, a calculator and two other PC’s I finished up paying the grand total of £279! I came away feeling as though I’d just robbed them in broad daylight - not that I’m complaining!

So far I’ve covered almost 35 miles on the Cannondale and it feels pretty good. The higher gearing, narrower wheels and almost slick tyres mean that the bike is quicker on the road than the old one but I’ll now have to avoid some of the rougher routes that I used to ride occasionally. Like any form of transport you have to make compromises at times I guess.

One neat little trick I do like about the colour of the bike is the material used for the frame decals, it's light reflective. In normal light the decals appear to be a satin black colour. Add an extra light source, such as car headlights, and they light up a very bright silvery-white colour.

Natural light...

... with "flash light".

20 April 2009

Missing out...

On a couple of occasions recently I’ve raised the question as to whether there is such a thing as too much information when it comes to birding. The past seven days have confirmed it for me... too much information is bad for your health! Well, my health at least!

The stress levels started to creep up on Tuesday morning when I received news that a Cetti’s Warbler had been located just a mile or so from my work place. This was only the 3rd ever record of the species in the county and I was stuck at work with no chance of getting away. As it turns out there are now 2 Chetti’s singing in the same location, and I’ve still not had chance to go and “tick them off”. Fingers crossed they’ll hang around another day or two.

On Wednesday things really started to go down hill. The messages from the local grapevine were coming in thick and fast - Kittiwake and also Arctic Tern had both been located at Willington Gravel Pits. Once again, I was stuck at work! Sedge Warbler, Reed Warbler and Lesser Whitethroat were also reported but at least they would hang around for a few months.

Thursday arrived and with it come enough text messages to raise my blood pressure to dangerous levels... Barnacle Goose, Whimbrel, Little Gull, Common Tern and yet more Arctic Tern were all seen at Willington at some point during the part of the day I was working. This was really turning into one of those weeks when I should not have been at work! By 6:15PM I’d managed to get away from work, cycle home, pick up my birding gear and drive to Willington. I arrived in time to see 8 Arctic Terns and also 2 House Martins, both new birds for the year, but I missed out on everything else.

On Friday it was the waders that showed up. Sanderling, Dunlin and another Whimbrel spent time at Willington whilst I spent time at work. The “10-Mile List” was really missing out and I was thinking of selling my binoculars and ‘scope or throwing my mobile phone in Alvaston Lake. No phone means no text messages, means no bird info and less stress!

On Sunday I finally managed a full morning of birding. I was out of bed at 5:45AM and at Willington Gravel Pits by 6:30AM hoping and praying for something to come along that would make up for everything I’d missed during the week. Well, I waited and waited and waited a little more. All I had to show for my efforts was one new bird for the year, Lesser Whitethroat. The only other birds of note on a very quiet morning were a single Arctic Tern and a Grasshopper Warbler that was heard a number of times but never seen. A brief stop off at Barrow on Trent proved to be equally quiet so I headed home in plenty of time for lunch. A huge plate full of roast pork and vegetables made me feel so much better.

So, bird wise it’s been a case of what might have been. I’ve missed out on 7 species I need for the year and have yet to find time to go after the Cetti’s. Tomorrow evening I may well try and rectify that.

Arctic Tern, House Martin and Lesser Whitethroat now take the count for my “10-Mile List” to 121 species.

13 April 2009

The Easter break...

Friday... The forecast was for a dull, cloudy start and then rain by late morning. It turned out to be just so. I decided against any birding and instead took a trip to the garden centre with Lynda. Garden wise, it turned out to be a reasonable choice as we picked up some cheap bedding plants (that need growing on) and also a few rather nice alpine plants too.

By the time we returned home the rain had started and we then spent the next hour or so potting the plants up whilst trying to shelter from the worst of the rain under the open garage door! Any normal people would have taken the car out of the garage so that they had room to work inside or, better still, left the job for a dry day! I guess we’re not so normal!

The alpine tub.

Bedding plants.

Bird wise, the garden centre trip cost me dearly! Osprey, Avocet and Tree Pipit were all seen at Willington Gravel Pits during the morning, the place I’d have chosen for my birding if I had gone out!

Saturday... Lynda had an appointment with her chiropractor mid-morning so that meant I would be left without the car for the morning. I could either stay home or be dropped off somewhere en route and be collected later. I chose to be kicked out of the car at Long Eaton Gravel Pits for a few hours.

I spent just over 3½ hours strolling around the old gravel pits and also along the adjacent river recording a total of 50 species. Birds of note included Egyptian Goose, Shelduck, Gadwall and Goldeneye; Sparrowhawk and Kestrel; Great Spotted and also Green Woodpecker; around 30 Sand Martin and a single Swallow; Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff; 2 stunning male Yellowhammer, numerous Goldfinch and also 3 Linnet.

New birds for the “10-Mile List” were Blackcap (3 singing males), a single Swift and also 2 Common Whitethroat. Just a few hours after I left Long Eaton I received reports that a Little Tern had been seen there, twice! Another bird missed!

Sunday... I started the morning off at Long Eaton Gravel pits in the vain hope that the Little Tern may put in another appearance - it didn’t. I spent just over an hour waiting for the tern before moving on to Aston-on-Trent Gravel Pits. This was another “just in case” stop off as the wandering Avocets had been spotted here late on Saturday evening. Of course, by Sunday morning they’d wandered off again! I did hear my first Grasshopper Warbler of the year though so that was some consolation, and also species 115 on the “10-Mile List”.

Species 116 was both unexpected and rather welcome - it was a Jay! Yes, after more than four months of trying I finally found the elusive Jay! Well, to be honest, the Jay found me - I was driving along the A50, heading for Barrow-on-Trent, when it flew across the road and landed in a roadside tree. I was overjoyed but I somehow think the moment was lost on the bird - it didn’t even wave as I passed by.

Barrow kept the year list ticking along by providing me with my first Wheatear of the year. Wheatears are common enough in the north of the county but within my recording zone they are only passage migrants - next stop the Derbyshire moors or somewhere even further north. I spent 2½ hours at Barrow, recording a total of 42 species. Notable sightings included 12 Shelduck (my highest count of this species here), 2 Buzzard, a Red-legged Partridge, numerous Sand Martin, 2 Swallow, 2 Chiffchaff and a female Blackcap.

The only minor downside to the day? Two Avocet turned up at Aston-on-Trent Gravel Pits late evening just as I’d settled down to watch the golf on TV! Three days in a row I’d missed out on birds within 15 minutes of home!

Monday... I started off with a very quick visit to Aston, just so I could be certain of not seeing the Avocets. I succeeded in my task, the Avocets had moved once again. I did manage to get brief views of the Grasshopper Warbler that I had only heard the day before though so that species is now a full tick on my list and not just a “heard only”.

The rest of Monday morning was spent at Willington Gravel Pits. I was on the reserve for almost 3½ hours, much of it on the viewing platform at the end of the lane. All the expected resident birds were to be seen along with a good number of migrants. Sand Martin and Swallow were over the pits whilst Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff and Blackcap were in the lane. A Grasshopper Warbler was reeling close to the viewing platform for a while whilst at least four Sedge Warbler were singing and displaying in the reed beds. One bird was particularly showy and constantly returned to the same bush to sing, that was until a Sparrowhawk flew by causing the warbler to turn its attention to staying alive! The Sedge Warblers were species 118 on the “10-Mile List”.

Sedge Warbler, in full song.

The Sparrowhawk flys over!

Just as I was about to leave a pair of Jay flew low across the reserve... I wait four months to see one and then they start turning up everywhere!

So, that’s the Easter break over with. All I have to look forward to now is another week at work and I can’t say I’m too excited about it. Still, if you look hard enough you can just about see next weekend on the horizon!

"I can see the weekend from here!"

10 April 2009

One more try...

Having to work with computers all day means that sometimes I really can’t face spending time after work trying to put together a blog post that actually makes sense and is almost worth reading. I’ve had that problem this week! Last weekend's birding was both enjoyable and rewarding but my brain just couldn’t get into gear when it came to blogging - I tried at least three times to do an update and gave up each time.

On Sunday I visited two different sites during the morning and was pleased to see Oystercatcher, Ringed Plover, Little Ringed Plover and Redshank back on breeding territories at both. Chiffchaff were much in evidence and Willow Warbler were seen, and heard, at both sites - species number 108 for the “10-Mile List”. Two pairs of Yellowhammer, one at each location, brightened up the day with both their song and stunning yellow plumage. Skylark also filled the air with song and showed well in the clear blue skies. Spring was definitely in the air.

With a wider mix of habitat at my second location of the morning I managed to see a larger number of species - 51 in total - but failed to add any new “year birds”. As the weeks roll by duck numbers continue to decrease locally but the pools here still held a number of species with 6 Shelduck, 3 Wigeon, 2 Gadwall, 12 Teal, 2 Shoveler, 12 Tufted Duck and 2 Goldeneye present. There were also a number of Mallard but I never take time out to actually count them! Other birds of note included 4 Buzzard, 2 Red-legged Partridge, Common Sandpiper, Yellow-legged Gull, Great Spotted and Green Woodpecker, 4 Sand Martin and 4 Linnet. The waders mentioned earlier added to the site total and made for a good mornings birding. At just after 12:00PM I headed for home and my Sunday roast.

Late on Sunday afternoon I headed back out again, to Foremark Reservoir, and was able to add species 109 to the “10-Mile List” in the form of a female Red-breasted Merganser. The bird had been at Foremark since March 31st but work had prevented me from going for it until Sunday. Luckily, the Merganser hung around and I managed to see what is a rather scarce bird this far south in the county. On the downside, Foremark was heaving with people out enjoying the sunny weather so I quickly moved on to Willington Gravel Pits for a couple of hours.

Willington proved to be a lot quieter both in terms of people and birds seen - just 35 species. Two Wigeon remained on Gull Pit along with 6 Gadwall, 6 Teal, 8 Shoveler, a Pochard and 27 Tufted Duck. A Buzzard was perched on a fence post at the back of the reserve. Waders included Oystercatcher, Lapwing, Curlew and Redshank. A group of around 40 Sand Martins flew low over the water a couple of times before heading off into the distance again. Great Spotted Woodpecker, Mistle Thrush, Chiffchaff, Yellowhammer and Reed Bunting were all seen in the lane. As the sun set it was time to head home once again, with yet another week at work to look forward to - great!

On Tuesday evening I made another flying visit to Willington after work, this time it wasn’t to the main reserve but to the Canal Scrape area. This wasn’t to be a relaxing evening watching birds but a battle to add yet another tick to my “10-Mile List”. The wind was howling, the rain clouds were heavy and very low, the light was terrible. To make matters worse the water was as choppy as the North Sea in November! Somewhere out there a Black-necked Grebe was waiting to be found. I knew that from all of the text messages that I’d been sent by other birders during the day!

Whilst searching for the grebe I picked out a group of 6 Yellow Wagtails (species 110 for the list) feeding around the edge of the water and a short while later located the bird I’d come in search of. Black-necked Grebe, another reasonably scarce bird for Southern Derbyshire, becomes species 111 on this years “10-Mile List”.

*certain location details left out due to breeding birds.