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!