05 May 2010

Down, but not out...

At the end of my last update I was thinking about an early start to the following Sunday morning so that I could try and catch up on some birding - that didn’t happen. Instead, I missed out on both my birding and cycling for the whole of the following week; I was laid up with an attack of shingles! The rash came out on my head, neck and face, looked none too good and hurt like hell - I do not recommend it as a way of getting time off work.

After that little set back it’s been a case of, once again, trying to play catch-up. Over the past weekend I managed to fit in just over 12 hours of birding and as a result added a further 14 species to the “10-Mile List”. Previously to that, on May 24, a short cycle ride to the pub (I was only allowed soft drinks!) resulted in my first sighting of a House Martin this year. Beer gardens have their uses, even when alcohol is not involved, as this was the 100th species located within my recording zone this year.

So, onto the past weekend’s birding. It started off with an hour of garden watching on Saturday lunchtime. By just sitting on the kitchen door step, binoculars in hand, I recorded 11 species with Sparrowhawk, 2 Common Buzzard, House Martin and Swift being of note. The group of around 40 Swift were my first of the year.

The remaining 13 new species all came from trips to Willington, and also Barrow-on-Trent, gravel pits over the holiday weekend. They were, in the order located, Garden Warbler, Cuckoo, Common Tern, Lesser Whitethroat, Common Redshank, Sandwich Tern, Wheatear, Reed Warbler, Dunlin, Common Sandpiper, Hobby, Yellow-legged Gull and Yellowhammer.

The bird of the weekend has to be the Sandwich Tern. This was the first time I’d ever recorded this species in Derbyshire let alone within my 10-mile zone. To make it just that little bit more special, I found the bird myself and managed to get the two friends with me at the time onto the bird before it flew off as quickly as it had appeared. A couple of photos of the bird, not taken by myself, can be found in the DOS photo gallery along with a great photo of the Cuckoo that was showing well the same morning.

The “10-Mile List” now stands at 114 species, 12 less than I had at this time last year. There is still a lot of birding to come this year but I’m starting to think that, maybe, I’ll not be beating last years total.

16 April 2010

Bringing the birds up to date...

No, I haven’t given up on birding, cycling or for that matter blogging - I’ve just been a little too busy to post any updates. Okay, so I’ve just been plain lazy and couldn’t be bothered!

Over the past month I’ve managed to add another 16 species of bird to this year's “10-Mile List”, five of which I came across whilst cycling.

March 16 - Chiffchaff alongside the River Derwent in Derby.
March 25 - Sand Martin in flight over the River Derwent in Derby.
March 28 - Red-legged Partridge by the roadside in Ingleby.
April 8 -Willow Warbler alongside the River Derwent in Derby.
April 15 - Grey Wagtail alongside the River Derwent in Derby.

The other 11 species were all located last Sunday morning when I managed to drag myself out of bed at 6:30AM and then spend over five hours birding in the Trent Valley. This area is fast becoming my second (outdoor) home, as I seem to be spending more and more of my free time there. If I’m not birding in the area then I’m cycling in it. The year ticks were, in the order I came across them, Common Whitethroat, Grasshopper Warbler, Green Sandpiper, Sedge Warbler (my earliest record for this species), Blackcap, Little Ringed Plover, Yellow Wagtail, Tree Pipit, Swallow, Linnet and Ruddy Duck.

After a rather half-hearted approach to listing this year I have now managed to locate a total of 99 species within 10 miles of home. This time last year the total was 120 species! I have a lot of ground to make up if I’m going to pull that little deficit back. Maybe another early start is needed this Sunday.

14 March 2010

The local list, and beyond...

After a good morning’s birding last Sunday I awoke on Monday to another dry, bright day. The idea of spending it inside, at work didn’t really appeal but I had no choice, the money pays for the bikes I enjoy so much and also for the fuel to go birding! I did try and make the most of it though by taking a bit of a diversion on the ride to work. I went in search of Cetti’s Warbler.

Two Cetti’s took up residence by the River Derwent last spring and it looks like they have managed to survive the harsh winter we’ve had here. Both birds have been heard singing over the past couple of weeks and on Monday I was lucky enough to hear one of them. Maybe if I had had the time the bird would have shown itself but, for now, I’m happy to have species 83 on the “10-Mile List”, even if it is a “heard only” .


Yesterday, Lynda and I spent the day birding in Thetford Forest with the Derby RSPB Group. This is a trip I look forward to each year. The birding is usually good, the weather okay and the walk, at both sites, is enjoyable too. This year proved to be just as good, if not better, than any in the past.

The day started off at 7:30am when the coach left Derby. By the time we were on the outskirts of Nottingham I was already dozing off to sleep! The trip to Thetford, by coach, is not the quickest of journeys so it gives you plenty of time to catch up on the shut-eye. I did managed to be awake in time for the breakfast stop on the A17 - a sausage & bacon sandwich - and also to see a group of around 40 Golden Plover fly alongside the coach at one point. Two zebras and two camels, outside of a circus tent, completed the excitement for the journey.

Santon Downham, as usual, was the first venue we visited and although I recorded just 30 species it was a very rewarding couple of hours of birding. Just a matter of yards from the coach and we were watching a group of 8 Crossbill. Whilst admiring these stunning birds we were interrupted by 3 Marsh Tit as they flew around above us and then landed in a small bush by the roadside. A little further down the path and we came across 3 Yellowhammer, a Great Spotted Woodpecker and the first of many Long-tailed Tit, Coal Tit, Great Tit and Blue Tit.

As we continued on towards the open heath area my thoughts started to turn to finding Woodlark, one of the target species of this trip. It was at this point that I was mugged! That’s right, mugged! By a group of sheep! They had decided that they were hungry and that my beef and onion pie was going to be on their menu for lunch. What they didn’t realise is that I’m rather well know on the RSPB trips for my love of food and that I do not share it! They stood no chance.

The bandits move in for the kill...

The ring leader!

Once past the sheep we soon heard a Woodlark singing. That was the easy part, we then had to try and see it. After at least ten minutes of scanning the ground around the area we thought the birds were we finally spotted a Woodlark. It was flying around above us! What Lynda and I thought were two birds singing from the floor turned out to be just one bird in song flight. I was so used to seeing these elusive little brown jobs on the ground that I never even thought about looking up! As we moved on from the Woodlark we also added Jay to our day list as a single bird flew from the cover of a small wood by the railway line.

Brambling was the next species we located with around half a dozen birds feeding on the railway embankment and also showing well from the lower branches of a group of beech trees. As we started to head back to the coach we paused for a short while in a small wooded area by the church and located Wren, Treecreeper, Siskin and Goldfinch. The walk along the river was rather quiet but did turn up Mallard, Pheasant and Green Woodpecker. Lynda and I also managed distant views of a Goshawk that would have taken bird-of-the-day award if it had been just a little closer. As it was, the views were just too distant, and too brief.

The second part of the day was spent at Lynford Arboretum and the, now, rather grandly named Lynford Water. For years we have visited the arboretum and also checked the gravel pits at the rear of the car park. Now that the gravel extraction has finished we are able to visit Lynford Water... the same gravel pits but without the machinery and with some information boards! Actually, that is a little unfair. They have done a lot of work to landscape the area and have also put in a number of gravel paths and a hide. It was from the hide that we came across possibly the most unexpected bird of the day, a Mediterranean Gull. Ten Common Gull, 4 Lesser Black-backed Gull and around 200 Black-headed Gull were also present. Other birds on the lakes included Great Crested Grebe, Mute Swan, Greylag Goose, Gadwall, Tufted Duck and a female Goldeneye.

In the arboretum we located Coal Tit, Nuthatch, Greenfinch, Siskin, Goldfinch, Lesser Redpoll and another group of 8 Crossbill. At least 3 Hawfinch were in the usual trees at the back of the arboretum and they showed well despite the light not being too good. Two Redwing were also in the trees here and a small group of Pheasant were feeding in the field, one of which was one of the pure white ones that we have seen here in previous years. The walk back to the car park turned up a Moorhen, Wren, Robin, a couple of Song Thrush, a single Goldcrest and also another Marsh Tit.

In total, 41 species were seen at Lynford. When including birds seen from the coach, from Santon Downham and also Lynford we recorded 51 species in all. It may not be a huge total but it did include some great birds.

07 March 2010

Five more...

The “10-Mile List” has suffered a little of late, with no serious birding having taken place since the end of January. On Thursday, a brief stop-off at Alvaston Lake, whilst cycling to work, gave me another new species for the year, a Common Gull. I’m not quite sure where all the Common Gull have been hiding over the past three months but this is the longest it has taken me to see one locally at the start of a year. Species 78 was duly added to the year’s list.

A rather lazy start to today saw me arrive at Willington Gravel Pits at just after 9:15am with the sole aim of seeing the Whooper Swan that has been on the reserve for the past few weeks. The walk down the lane was rather quiet with just Willow Tit and Bullfinch being of note. The heavy overnight frost, that was still lingering where the sun hadn’t managed to melt it, and the clear blue sky made for a pleasant walk all the same.

In the lane.

Viewing the main area of water from the first viewing platform, soon revealed that, thankfully, the Whooper Swan was still there and I had species 79 for my local year list. Having already seen Mute Swan and Bewick Swan in Derbyshire this year, the Whooper means I have now seen all three of the UK swans in the county, in the same year, for the first time since I started birding.

Other birds out on the water included Little Grebe, 5 Great Crested Grebe, 7 Shelduck, 10 Teal, 4 Shoveler, 20 Pochard, 1 Goldeneye and 7 Goosander. Two or three Water Rail were calling deep within the reed beds but, of course, they never showed. A pair of Oystercatcher were another new species for the year and they spent a while flying around the reserve before coming to rest on the spit. A couple of Snipe were seen skulking around on the edge of Gull Pit and a single Lesser Black-backed Gull was roosting on the spit, along with a small number of Black-headed Gull.

Four Buzzard were seen in flight at the rear of Flyash Pit, a single Lapwing flew over and both Pheasant and Green Woodpecker were heard but not seen. Yet another new species for the year was a single Skylark that flew low over the third viewing platform whilst in full song. By now, time was getting on a little and I had to head back to the car. On the way back up the lane I stopped off at the first viewing platform again and was rewarded with close views of 8 Curlew as they flew slowly overhead and onto the reserve. The call of the Curlew has always been a favourite of mine and I was very pleased to hear all of this group calling as they flew by. A great end to the morning's birding.

The addition of Common Gull, Whooper Swan, Oystercatcher, Skylark and Curlew takes the “10-Mile List” on to 82 species.

02 March 2010

Happy cycling...

I post nothing here for weeks and then it’s two updates within 24hrs! This time it’s the cycling that is the subject of my random waffling.

The improvement in the weather during much of February enabled me to use longer, and drier, routes to and from work most of the time and as a result my average daily mileage has crept up a little. The total mileage for the month was just a fraction short of 200 miles, not bad seeing as I missed a whole week of riding whilst on holiday. As of now, my total mileage for the year is 467 miles. I’m already over 70 miles ahead of my mileage at this point last year but it’s a very long way to go until I reach my 4,000 mile target for the year!

As well as the target I have set myself for the year, I also want to complete my first 100-mile ride this year and, perhaps, take part in one or two long distance sportive rides too. The Cannondale Bad Boy, that I purchased last spring, proved to be a great incentive to increase the distances I rode and set me up for a great summer of cycling. The longest ride I did on the bike was just over 70 miles and, at the end of it, I still felt in good shape - that was when the idea of doing 100 miles in a single ride started to look like a real possibility for me. With all of that in mind, and the fact that me and my knees aren’t getting any younger, I made the decision over the winter to treat myself to the kind of bike I’d always admired but never actually owned.

Please meet the reason I was so excited in last night’s blog post, my new Cannondale CAAD8!

Cannondale CAAD8.

VERY green, and surprisingly comfortable.

The "gear box"!

Brief spec is...

CAAD8 54cm frame.
Carbon fibre front forks.
Shimano Tiagra gearing and levers.
FSA Omega triple ring (30/39/50) chainset.
SRAM (12-26) 9 speed cassette.
Shimano R540 SPD-SL pedals.

I’ve also invested in a pair of Shimano road cycling shoes too. These shoes, and the matching pedals, now mean I’m locked securely onto the pedals whilst riding and also “look” like a real cyclist when I walk in them! You know the look.... a bit like Daffy Duck on ice! All stiff footed, clomping around like a Shire horse and with no grip whatsoever!

Shimano SPD-SL shoes.

I’ve ridden the CAAD8 for just over 23 miles since I picked it up on Saturday and it’s a case of so-far-so-good. The riding position is very different to my two other bikes, and the tyres are so thin that they’re almost non-existent, but once I’ve put a few more miles in I’m sure it is going to be a long and happy partnership.

Roll on summer!

01 March 2010

February, all wrapped up...

Seeing as I only managed one update on here during February I guess I'd better try and bring things up to date a little!

The best part of the month, by a huge margin, was spending a week at Center Parcs. We’ve been countless times before but I still love it just as much as ever. The food, the drink, the wildlife, the messing about in the swimming pools, the water slides, everything. And also just being able to relax and do absolutely nothing too! Being able to spend the week with very good friends was the icing on the cake - thank you, Mark, Sheila, Adam, Charlie and Ben! When can we go back? Highlights, for me, included...

Monday, our evening meal was in Huck’s, the American themed restaurant. Here, I was able to sample my first ever “Pat’s style” Philly Cheese Steak. This combination of shaved roast beef, sautéed mushrooms and onions on garlic bread covered with melted cheese is something that my American friends have raved to me about for years but I’ve never seen it on a menu over here, until now. I think it’s fair to say that it may not be the healthiest thing to eat on a regular basis but it was well worth the wait and I loved it! The ice cream that I shared with Lynda went down rather well too!

Cheese Steak.

Ice cream - for two!

On Tuesday Mark and I took ourselves off to the spa for 3 hours of chill-out time. Perhaps “chill” isn’t the best word to use when describing the spa as the steam rooms have temperatures that are just about hot enough to cook your Christmas Pudding in! The effect is certainly relaxing though and I’d recommend it to anyone.

Our evening meal on Tuesday was in the Italian restaurant and was equally as enjoyable as the one the previous night. Pizza was the most popular choice with our group, closely followed by pasta. I chose Risotto, just to be different. Lynda & I also shared an excellent bottle of wine, which certainly helped lighten the mood - it was very, very good! Ben, in true Ben style, provided the entertainment. All he needed was a spoon.

Ben and his magic spoon.

Wednesday started off rather more energetically - Mark, Sheila and I went for a run before breakfast! Now that is something I don’t tend to do when on holiday I can tell you! We only covered a distance of around 2½ miles but it was enough to make my legs burn for the rest of the day and part of the following one too. I may cycle a lot but I use a totally different group of muscles for that, apparently!


Greylag Geese.

Mute Swan.

The rest of the day was much more relaxing. We spent time watching the local wildlife coming for food we had put out, we went swimming, and we sat in the warmth of the swimming dome reading and listening to our MP3 players. Life was good in there. Outside, it was very cold and snowing. The evening was then spent in the on-site pub where, once again, we all ate and drank plenty. Somehow, whilst waiting for our food to arrive, we found ourselves taking part in our own mini music quiz. I’ve still not quite worked out how it happened but we certainly dragged up some strange songs/artists between us! Nena - “99 Red Balloons”! Splodgenessabounds - “Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps Please”! Hmm, maybe I’ll stop there!

Thursday saw a more gentle start to the day. Breakfast in one of the restaurants, a gentle stroll around the forest and village paths and then a game of ten-pin bowling. I enjoyed the game very much, even though I played terribly and finished with a score of 118 - somewhat short of the 180/190 games I used to play years ago. It was still great fun though. The lighting in the bowling area was a little different to your run-of-the-mill alley as well!

The bowling alley.

We didn’t have an evening meal as such on Thursday but instead chose to spend time, after dark, in the swimming dome. The place takes on a totally different feel once the sun goes down and the subtle, coloured, lighting comes on. Food wasn’t missed out on though and we made good use of the fast food available inside the dome. A quick stop off at the on-site supermarket, on the way back to the villa, allowed me to pick up some extra supper to go with the cold beers that we had waiting in the fridge. Well, when you’re on holiday you have to eat and drink at every opportunity, don’t you?

An evening by the pool.

Friday was the final day of our break and once again we returned to the swimming dome, before Lynda and I spent a very relaxing afternoon at the spa. In the evening, before heading for home, we enjoyed another great meal in Huck’s - I had the Cheese Steak again, Lynda finished the holiday off with a cocktail!

Lynda with her cocktail.

As a result of our holiday, the weather and also work, I’ve not been out birding at all since the end of January. No new birds have been added to the “10-Mile List” but I have picked up a few species for the year outside of the area. A brief trip to Hampshire gave me views of a Red Kite as we drove along the A34 near Oxford.

At Center Parcs I did manage to keep an eye out for birds around our villa and also spent an hour or so in the wildlife hide. By the end of the week I’d recorded a total of 40 species. New birds for the year were Egyptian Goose and Siskin. All being well, I should be able to get back to my local birding again this coming weekend.

So, that just about wraps things up - apart from the cycling. That will be updated in the next day or two with (for me) some exciting news and photos! Safe to say, I’m feeling like a little kid at Christmas and have a grin from ear to ear!

07 February 2010

Steady progress...

It’s been a mixed couple of weeks since the last cycling update. Mixed weather, mixed fortunes and, as a result, a mixed attitude to my riding!

The last week of January saw a run of dry, ice-free days and so I was able to continue my push for some slightly quicker average speeds. Most rides came in at around the 16.5 to 17.5 mph average. The one bad day was Friday 29th, I picked up another rear wheel puncture just as I arrived at work. What should have been an easy job to fix turned out to be a bit of a nightmare - stripping the inner tube out of the wheel revealed not one but three punctures! I’d clearly found a lot of broken glass somewhere.

February hasn’t treated me too kindly, weather wise, so far with two icy rides, 3 in heavy rain, 4 on wet roads after rain and just one ride when everything was nice and dry. As a result, the bike I use for bad weather and winter riding was in a bit of a state by the time this weekend arrived. This morning I treated it to a bit of a clean up. Two hours spent out in the garage had things back in order and ready for another week of commuting. Hopefully the weather will be a little better this coming week.

Just some of the things needed to keep a bike running!

All clean, oiled and ready to go - just the wrong way up!

I hope Lynda has finished with the washing-up bowl!

My total mileage for the year now stands at just under 300 miles, 294.57 to be precise. If the weather picks up a little, and the roads dry out, I’ll be fetching the Cannondale Bad Boy out of hibernation in the next week or two and start getting some longer rides in. Roll on summer!

31 January 2010

Insomnia has its benefits...

I’m not sure whether I’d had too much fresh air on Saturday morning or whether a couple of beers and a bowl full of Pringles were to blame, but I did not sleep well at all last night. I managed to see every single hour on the alarm clock during the night and by 6:00am I gave up on the idea of sleep and got up, had breakfast and headed off out birding. Overnight there had been another heavy frost and it soon became clear that the council hadn’t gritted any of the roads, it was very icy even on the main roads and dual carriageways.

At just before 7:00am I arrived at Shipley Park and the moment I switched the car off I was aware of a Tawny Owl calling not too far away, a new species for my year list. As I opened the car door a second Tawny called back to the first one, this then set the first bird off again! This carried on for a couple of minutes whilst I was pulling on my coat and walking boots and then, all of a sudden, one of the calls became a lot louder - one of the Tawny Owls had landed in a tree less than 30 feet away! As this point I’d like to thank Leica for making such amazing optics - my 8x42 binoculars were pulling in more than enough light for me to get great views of the owl!

Sunrise over Shipley.

As the sky was now starting to show a little more light I headed off in search of my target species, a Short-eared Owl. The SEO had been reported at daybreak most mornings for almost a week so I was reasonably confident that I’d be able to locate it. The owl had other ideas and didn’t show at all. I did manage to get good views of two more Tawny Owls though, so the morning wasn’t without its highlights. Once it became clear that the Short-eared wasn’t going to show I briefly checked the lake and scrub area around the old American Adventure theme park. In total I managed to record a total of 24 species before heading back to the car.

Although I didn’t make any counts, birds of note included Great Crested Grebe, Wigeon, Gadwall, Teal, Pochard, Tufted Duck, Green Woodpecker, Pied Wagtail, Bullfinch and, of course, the 3 Tawny Owls. I was starting to feel the cold, I was tired, but I was also very happy! At 8:45am I was back in the car enjoying the warmth from the heater as I headed back towards home.

As I left Shipley the plan was to drive straight back home and spend the rest of the day inside, perhaps trying to catch up on some sleep. Just a couple of miles from home and I changed my plans. I decided to try, once again, for Whooper Swan at Ambaston. I spent a further hour checking the River Derwent here and still didn’t locate the swans. I’m slowly starting to think that they may well have left the area. Birds I did see included 9 Mute Swan, 4 Goldeneye, 2 Goosander, a male Sparrowhawk, a Buzzard, 1 Snipe, 12 Fieldfare and a Jay.

With the time now 10:00am I was really starting to feel the pull of a warm house and a large mug of coffee, but chose to delay both just a little longer and checked Ambaston Gravel Pit. This proved to be good decision as the very first bird I put my ‘bins on turned out to be a stunning male Red-crested Pochard, another new bird for my “10-Mile List”. I did manage a couple of record shots of the bird but they, unfortunately, didn’t turn out too good. Either I was too cold and shaking the camera or the duck was equally as cold and shaking as much as I was. The result was a number of slightly blurred photos!

Red-crested Pochard.

Sharing the water with the pochard were a Little Grebe, a Great Crested Grebe, 2 Mute Swan, a pair of Wigeon, 2 pairs of Gadwall, 22 Tufted Duck and 60 Coot. A female pheasant was skulking about at the edge of the reed bed, a couple of Black-headed Gulls and 5 Stock Dove flew over. Wood Pigeon, Blackbird, 12 Fieldfare, a Blue Tit and a couple of Magpie were also noted. At 10:45am I set off for home and that mug of coffee, complete with a tot of whisky!

Tawny Owl and Red-crested Pochard move the “10-Mile List” on to 77 species.

30 January 2010

Saturday stroll...

A relaxing morning’s birding kicked-off at Swarkestone Lake today, with a gorgeous, clear blue sky and a light covering of frost on the ground. It was cold, around -4°c, but that was just another plus as far as I was concerned - I’d much rather have a cold winter's day than a very hot summer’s one. Just so long as it’s dry that is!

A frosty approach to Swarkestone Lake.

One of the very first birds I came across was a stunning male Smew. The bird had been around for a few days and was the main reason I’d decided to start the day here. After missing out on this species last weekend I was rather pleased to find this one so quickly. Unfortunately, the bird kept its distance and I was unable to even attempt photos.

Other birds of note, of the 27 species recorded here, included 1 Little Grebe, 2 Great Crested Grebe, 65 Canada Geese, 4 Teal, 92 Tufted Duck and 2 Goosander. Away from the water a Buzzard, 1 Kestrel, 1 Great Spotted Woodpecker, a few Redwing and 4 Bullfinch were the pick of the bunch. Just a short distance from the lake a group of 64 Greylag Geese were feeding in a field alongside the entrance to the sailing club.

Swarkestone Lake.

A quick scan of the fields and river by Swarkestone Bridge revealed a large herd of swans grazing. The total count was 85 Mute Swan, but not a single Whooper again. I’ve still not given up on finding Whooper within my 10-mile zone but they are proving to be rather tricky so far!

From Swarkestone it was just a short drive to Willington Gravel Pits where I spent a couple of hours just enjoying the day and unwinding after a none-to-enjoyable week at work. A steady stroll along the lane to the viewing platform at the end, an hour or so viewing the two main pits, and the walk back to the car resulted in a total of 46 species, plus one fox.

Flyash Pit, Willington.

Birds noted in the lane included Sparrowhawk, Kestrel, Great Spotted Woodpecker, 8 Redwing, 2 Willow Tit, 2 Goldfinch and 4 Bullfinch. A Song Thrush kept me entertained for a while as it smashed it’s way into a snail shell and sightings of Treecreeper and Goldcrest were both noteworthy for this site. The Treecreeper is the first I’ve seen here since 2002 and Goldcrest is a species I only tend to see around once a year on the reserve.

On the water, which is now ice free, were a Little Grebe, 9 Mute Swan, 1 Pink-footed Goose, 74 Greylag Geese, 68 Canada Geese, 2 Shelduck, 60 Wigeon, 1 Gadwall, 30 Teal, 1 Shoveler, 30 Pochard, 12 Tufted Duck, 4 Goldeneye and 8 Goosander. Mallard were also noted but once again I failed to do a count. Birds in flight included 2 Buzzard, 2 Lapwing, a small number of Black-headed Gulls and a single Jackdaw.

Sleeping Wigeon.

The addition of Smew and then Greylag Goose takes my “10-Mile List” on to 75 species.

27 January 2010

Two missed, four gained...

I set out for my morning’s birding on Sunday with just two target species in mind, Whooper Swan and Smew. After 2½ hours moving between various sites in the Trent Valley I gave up, the swans and Smew were nowhere to be seen. The morning did however provide some rather good birding with a total of 52 species being seen.

Highlights from a brief visit to Aston-on-Trent gravel pits were 3 Shelduck, 4 Gadwall, 30 Pochard, 6 Goldeneye, 2 Buzzard and 2 Kestrel, 1 Peregrine and 1 Kingfisher. The three raptor species proved to be the best part of the day with some great views of all 5 birds interacting with each other. Watching the Peregrine being mobbed by the other birds more than made up for the missing Smew!

Next stop was the River Derwent at nearby Ambaston village. Here, I had hoped to catch up with a small group of Whooper Swan that had been in the area since early in the month, again I missed out. My hour-long search wasn’t without some small reward though with 2 Pink-footed Geese, 5 Goldeneye, 2 Goosander, 3 Stock Dove, 6 Pied Wagtail and 80 Fieldfare being amongst the 20 species recorded.

The next hour or so was spent driving slowly around the Swarkestone/Barrow-on-Trent area in search of another Whooper Swan that had been reported, on-and-off, for a few days leading up to the weekend - once again, I failed.

With a little over an hour left before I needed to be heading home for lunch I decided to spend the time birding an area that I hadn’t visited for a number of years, the canal and river at Weston-on-Trent. The mix of habitat here - the canal with it’s wooded banks and the river and flooded fields - gave me a total of 30 species, the highest of the morning. The walk from the church, along the canal and then up onto the bridge over the river, gave close views of Little Grebe, Grey Heron, Tufted Duck, Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush, Marsh Tit and Goldfinch amongst the numerous other more common birds.

Retracing my steps back to the car took a little while longer than the outward walk due to spotting a feeding station placed on the edge of a garden, high up on the wooded bank. In the short time I stood and watched the feeding station a total of 14 species visited it. If only my own feeders were so busy. Great Spotted Woodpecker, Robin, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Chaffinch, Greenfinch and Jay all put in an appearance but were overshadowed by two species that were new to my “10-Mile List” this year - a male Brambling and around half a dozen Tree Sparrow. The Brambling was the first I’d ever seen within my 10-mile zone, my first in South Derbyshire and my first in the county for almost four years. Maybe I should get out more?

On the final part of the walk, from the canal back to the car, I came across 12 Fieldfare and 24 Redwing. One last scan over the flooded river revealed a total of 44 Mute Swan - but not a single Whooper!

With four new species located during the morning - Shelduck, Marsh Tit, Tree Sparrow and Brambling - the “10-Mile List” now stands at 73 species.

23 January 2010

Stepping up a gear...

With the milder weather continuing over the past week I’ve been able to up my game a little on the cycling front. Now that the cycle paths are ice-free my average speed, for the daily commute to and from work, has risen from a little over 10mph to almost 17mph and I’ve once again been able to choose my route based on mileage and not safety.

Since Monday morning I’ve covered a total of 80 miles and my mileage for the year now stands at 180 miles, 26 miles more than this time last year. The week hasn’t been without the odd hitch though; on Wednesday morning I had to stop and fix a rear wheel puncture, six miles into a nine-mile commute. The ride home from work today involved having to ride through a flood that was about 30 feet long and 2 inches deeper than I had pedal clearance for. With hindsight, choosing another route may have been easier and would certainly have meant that I didn’t arrive home with two rather damp feet!

All in all, not too bad a week for the cycling, and we didn’t even get the extra snow on Wednesday!

16 January 2010

Riding out the storm...

It’s been tricky at times but I may just have come through the big freeze relatively unscathed! Right now, locally, all the snow and ice has gone and the temperature has reached the dizzy heights of 6°c. And about time too, I reckon. The snow had been fun to ride in but when it all started to turn to sheet ice it took on a rather more dangerous side.

On Wednesday morning the ice caught me out and I found myself sliding down the road on my backside again. Luckily, this time I was moving at a lot slower speed and the fall was rather more graceful and a lot less painful too! Getting back to my feet and then on the bike proved to be a little tricky though as the ice was rather extensive. One lesson I have learnt from this latest fall is don’t tell any one at work! If you do, then expect ridicule!

Someone I work with thinks they're funny!

All the ice has meant that I’ve been choosing my routes to and from work based on safety and not mileage this week, so I’ve only covered 40 miles. With 100 miles now covered since the start of the year I’m a little behind this point last year, but that can easily be pulled back. There’s a long way to go but that 4,000-mile target will be beaten... once we get the heavy snow forecast for next Wednesday out the way that is!

10 January 2010

Ice, snow, bikes and birds...

I don’t know about you but I’m getting just a little bored with the weather so far in 2010. Ice, snow, sleet, slush and even a touch of rain today, I’ve put up with it all over the past week and I’m ready for a change! Problem is, it looks like we’ve got at least another week of it to come. Great!


My cycling year started off steadily and then got even more steady. The roads and cycle paths on Monday, and again on Tuesday, morning were very icy. By Tuesday evening I was cycling home in snow. On Wednesday morning things had deteriorated to such an extent that Lynda didn’t like the idea of driving to work - we both chose to walk.

The walk to work.

Lynda, enjoying the snow!

On Thursday, Friday and Saturday I was back on the bike and actually starting to enjoy the adrenalin rush from riding on packed snow and ice. The minor roads were not so good but the cycle paths were not only smooth but offered a surprising amount of grip from the packed snow. By the end of the week I’d clocked up 60 miles. It’s not my best mileage for a week's commuting but at least I’ve been able to get a few miles under my belt.


This morning I was faced with a decision - get out birding for a couple of hours or stay in the warmth of the house watching the snow fall and the freezing cold wind batter the trees, and anything else in it’s path. I rather enjoyed my walk, even if it was cold and a little thin on the ground bird wise!

As pretty much all still water is now frozen solid in the Trent Valley I decided to spend a little time in search of woodland species. With the roads still not fully free of ice in places I chose to head to Elvaston Castle - it’s close to home and I could reach it easily on roads that had been gritted. In a little over 2 hours of birding I managed to locate a total of 31 species, five of which were new for the year.

Elvaston Castle, and the frozen lake.

With the two lakes being almost completely frozen over, as expected, waterfowl were very thin on the ground with just Mute Swan, Canada Goose, Teal and Mallard being recorded. Sparrowhawk, Buzzard and Kestrel each gave brief views but didn’t hang around for long and the only gulls were a group of 36 Black-heads that were roosting on the ice of the main lake. Robins were much in evidence with at least 12 being noted; no doubt making the most of the food that people put out around the woodland paths here. A number of Redwings also showed well as they feed in small groups around the woods and allowed much closer views than usual. Three Treecreeper were busy searching for food until they all met up on the same tree. They then seemed more interested in the territorial battle that ensued than finding food to help them survive though yet another freezing cold day and night.

On reaching the bridge over the main lake I set up my own mini feeding station for the birds and put out a mix of seed and crushed peanuts. Within moments the birds were queuing up in the trees waiting for me to retreat to a safe distance. In total, 11 species came for food - Wood Pigeon, Dunnock, Robin, Blackbird, Coal Tit, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Nuthatch, Chaffinch, Jay and Magpie. A single Goldcrest was flitting around in the trees here and a small flock of Long-tailed Tits moved through without stopping. The nature reserve within the park was a little quiet but it did hold 2 Grey Heron, 6 Teal, a single Kestrel, a pair of Pheasant and 3 Bullfinch.

The nature reserve.

The addition of Coal Tit, Treecreeper, Goldcrest, Jay and Nuthatch takes the “10-Mile List” onto 69 species.

Something's out there!

03 January 2010

2010 - Here we go again!

On New Year’s Eve, I posted here that I had not yet decided on my approach to birding in 2010. By the time I’d dragged myself out of bed on New Year’s Day it was all sorted. The “10-Mile List” is underway once again! To anyone reading this for the first time, that means I’ll be recording all the bird species I come across within a 10-mile radius of home, which is on the southeast edge of Derby. Just like the past two years, I expect a good proportion of my birding to take place at Willington Gravel Pits but I’ll also be making the effort to try and get to a number of other local sites too.

The new year kicked off in traditional style, a mid-morning start to the day after the previous evening’s food and drink. Lynda and I then went for a walk around Alvaston and Elvaston to clear our heads, and also to get my bird list underway! By the time we returned home, after a walk of just under 5 miles, I had a year list of 30 species. The pick of the birds seen included 2 Little Grebe and 3 Goosander on the River Derwent, a Sparrowhawk, 30 Fieldfare, 50 Redwing and 2 Goldfinch as we walked through the centre of Alvaston and a Great Spotted Woodpecker as we entered the grounds of Elvaston Castle. Meadow Pipit, Mistle Thrush and Long-tailed Tit were noted close to the new Alvaston by-pass.

The River Derwent.

Walking back towards home gave us an opportunity to check on the progress being made with the new industrial park that is being built alongside the Alvaston by-pass. Although I cycle this route most days it has been during the hours of darkness for a while now. Seeing the site in daylight revealed the progress being made... very little! Apart from a few new access roads, and the associated street lighting and signage, nothing much has happened in the past 16 months.

September 2008.

January 2010.

September 2008.

January 2010. Not a lot changes!

On 2 January I added another four species to the list with Herring Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Dunnock and Jackdaw all being seen from the garden at home.

This morning saw my birding year get into full swing with a visit to Willington Gravel Pits. I was awake by 6:30am, loading my things into the car by 7:30am and in the service area on the A50 eating a full English breakfast by just after 8:00am! In my eyes, there is no better way to start a morning’s birding than with a plate full of sausage, eggs, bacon, beans, tomatoes and mushrooms. Two slices of toast and a large mug of coffee just topped it all off! By 8:45am I was walking down the lane at Willington. The ground had a covering of frost, the sky was a beautiful, clear blue and the temperature was a refreshing -5°c. It had the makings of a nice day!

Breakfast awaits!

After walking just a few feet from the car I had my first new species of the year, a Kingfisher. The bird was perched just a couple of feet above the small stream that runs alongside the lane, looking somewhat put out by the ice that covered it’s hunting grounds. Moments later and it was flying off up stream, no doubt in search of open water and the hope of a meal.

A rather frozen Willington.

Lapwings at Willington.

The gravel pits themselves were, as I expected, rather quiet due to much of the water being frozen over. What was lacking in quantity was certainly made up for by the quality of the birding. Ducks were represented by 30 Wigeon, 6 Gadwall, 10 Teal, 110 Mallard, 4 Shoveler, 4 Pochard, 8 Tufted Duck, 1 Goldeneye and 1 Goosander. A Sparrowhawk, a Buzzard, 2 Kestrel and 2 Peregrine took care of the raptors. The wader list was made up of 700 Lapwing (yes, I did count them all), 49 Golden Plover and 3 Snipe. A Green Woodpecker spent a while perched in a small willow tree in the middle of the reed bed and a Great Spotted Woodpecker was heard calling, but not seen. Fieldfare, Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush, Willow Tit, Reed Bunting, Goldfinch and Bullfinch all added to the interest but couldn’t quite make the cut when it came to trying to pick “Bird of the Day”. The three species I short-listed were Bittern, Pink Footed Goose and Stonechat.

The Bittern really should have taken the award for best bird, but it just didn’t want to show itself well enough! For around half an hour it sat in the reed bed giving us views of it’s bill, head, wing, back and even a leg. It point blank refused to show all of the parts at the same time - a point lost.

The Stonechats, there was a pair, showed very well and in some of the best light I’ve birded in for years. Although they never came overly close, the views were superb both with the bins and the ‘scope. But, they lost a couple of points (one each?) due to them not being the scarcest of birds. Harsh, but true!

So, the Pinkies get my choice as “Bird of the Day”. Yeah, I know, “How the heck?” Well, it was just one of those moments... the weather, the light, the sound, the vision, the unexpected. There were 30 geese and they had formed a perfect V formation, they were heading north-west and so I guess they were moving between feeding grounds on The Wash and the Lancashire coast. The sound of a Pinkie calling is one of the true sounds of winter birding for me and that, added to the perfectly clear blue sky and the stunning light made for a truly stunning sight. For me, at least, bird(s) of the day!

By the end of the morning my “10-Mile List” had reached 63 species but there was the possibility of just one more new bird, Bewick’s Swan. A short journey back along the A50 and I arrived at Church Wilne, a small village between Sawley and Draycott. After a very slow drive around a couple of narrow, and ice covered, roads I managed to locate a small group of swans. Sure enough, there was the Bewick in with about 12 or 14 Mute Swan. Another tricky species safely ticked off.

After just one short walk and a separate morning’s birding the “10-Mile List” stands at 64 species.

"You lookin' at me?"

A rather cheeky fox at Willington!