By Christmas Day I had seemingly exhausted all the possibilities which Dorset offered to add to the non-motorised year list. At this late stage of the year, it would have been tempting to hang up my bicycle clips and settle for the grand total of 221 species which had been amassed thus far. But while the Dorset possibilities may have been exhausted, there was always Hampshire...
Following reports of a Great Grey Shrike in the New Forest earlier in the winter I had been contemplating a big day in the area. Unfortunately the Shrike had gone off the radar several weeks ago, but potentially three December 'ticks' were still available if I was willing to make the effort.
|Female Red-crested Pochard, Ibsley North|
|The cunning plan|
|Red-crested Pochard (female), Ibsley North|
East Dorset birder Olly Frampton had been keeping tabs on the Red-crested Pochard, a female, which had been present a few weeks, and he very kindly confirmed its continued presence early morning, giving me the incentive to press on despite the deteriorating weather at my back. Google maps for cycling is pretty good, but on this occasion, having taking me over the Canford bridge - a narrow 3 plank job with gaps between the planks big enough for my wheels to slip through - it then directed me along the muddy bank of the River Stour to a double stile, requiring heavy panniers to be removed before the bike could be lifted over. Unhelpfully, the weather chose this moment to do its worst, and by the time everything was reassembled I was seriously wet and doubting the wisdom of the exercise.
|Essence of Fudge Duck (!), Kingfisher Lake|
This returning bird has some notoriety as Kingfisher Lake is surrounded by a 6 foot fence, clad with a solid canvas matting to protect the bashful fishermen inside from view. Famously, therefore, visiting birders wishing to see the Fudge Duck are advised to bring a stepladder! Such a thing would not fit in my panniers, but the Portsmouth lads had brought one so I arranged to meet them there in case it came in handy. It turned out that standing on the bike pedals gave me just enough height to see over the fence, but we scoured the fence line looking for a clear view in vain.
|Ferruginous Duck (left) with Wigeon|
With two year-ticks in the bag, lunch - the inevitable leftover turkey sandwich - was taken sheltering from the rain and wind under a bush. The sensible thing to do at this point would have been to give up on the third target for the day - a New Forest Hawfinch - head home and be satisfied with the day's haul. But since when did sensible have anything to do with the non-motorised year list! The plan dictated that I would need to be at Blackwater Arboretum - a well known pre-roost site for Hawfinch - another dozen or so miles to the east - by mid-afternoon.
|Ferruginous Duck showing sharply demarcated white belly|
As it turned out, I couldn't locate the target species at Bolderwood, so to Blackwater it was, with precise directions provided by Phil Saunders who had seen Hawfinch there within the last couple of weeks. As I rolled into the Arboretum, it was a nice surprise to see Garry Hayman, who has been present at the end of several of my long distance bike twitches this year, and his wife, obviously also hoping for a Hawfinch.
|The wheels at Bolderwood|
I took the Burley route back to Ringwood, crossed the Dorset border and followed the excellent Castleman Trailway as far as Ferndown before heading for the comfort of tarmac for the final 15 miles. At 1930 I completed the 73.5 mile epic - my second longest journey this year after Lyme Regis in June - and could safely chalk up three more additions to the year list. Barring something extraordinary happening on New Years Eve, that really does look like it for the year - a grand total of 224 species seen travelling under my own steam, all but 4 of these in Dorset.
|Hawfinch, Blackwater Arboretum, 28th December|