Saturday 22 May 2021

Twitching on a school night

Building a non-motorised year list has involved three main types of birding for me in 2021: visiting local sites on foot or by bike for species which are expected to occur at some point, cycling to locations further afield where a wider range of species might be seen, and heading for a specific spot to see an individual bird of a rarer species - twitching, in common parlance. In the latter category, all of my long distance trips (Black-winged Stilt and Iceland Gull at Lodmoor, Glossy Ibis at Stanpit, Tawny Pipit at Cogden and Whiskered Tern at Longham) had been at the weekend or on days off when there was plenty of time to recover from the exertion.

Woodchat Shrike, Iford Golf Course, 18th May
This last week brought a new test of resolve - two in fact - in the form of distant rarities for which a snap decision was needed about whether to go or not given the possibility that neither would hang around (and spring migrants often don't). The first of these was on Tuesday, a bright male Woodchat Shrike on the 12th tee at Iford Golf Course the other side of Bournemouth, 18 miles to the east. When news broke earlier in the day I dismissed the idea of twitching on a weeknight, as with a holiday approaching at the end of the month work was backing up and I needed to be on top form the following day. But when the bird was still present late afternoon, I realised that with the lighter evenings I could probably get there and back by 2100 and still get an early night to be fresh for work the following day.
Bonaparte's Gull, Lodmoor, 20th May
The forecast suggested the evening would be dry with a westerly breeze - an aid to getting there and a potential barrier to a swift return, but having already prepared dinner in the slow cooker (a sumptuous venison casserole, since you ask), I didn't need to worry about getting back too early with that in hand. The cycle route as far as the Poole/Bournemouth boundary was very familiar, but after that I took a few wrong turns when following a google maps walking route (it doesn't do cycle maps for this part of the world yet). As a result the journey there took about 90 minutes, 15 longer than I had expected, but as I approached the golf course, two familiar faces from Purbeck, Rob Johnson and cousin James, assured me I was nearly there. I reached the 12th tee shortly afterwards. The shrike was out of view and I was concerned that it might have gone to roost early with the cold weather suppressing the availability of potential prey.

Bonaparte's Gull, Lodmoor, 20th May
Other birders present knew roughly where to look though and the Shrike soon perched up in view for a few photos. I didn't hang around too long in the cool of the evening, especially as the light was fading, and with the winds not as strong as I had feared, the journey home was smooth enough and completed comfortably before 2100. I was fine on the Wednesday, again probably underestimating my fitness level built up from the miles already under my belt this year.

Bonaparte's Gull, Lodmoor, 20th May
Thursday brought a sense of deja vu when a Bonaparte's Gull was located at Lodmoor during the day. Although the distance was about the same as for the shrike, one look at the forecast was enough to dismiss the idea as it would involve cycling directly into 50-60 mph south-westerly winds! With the experience of fighting into a gale at Cogden still fresh in mind, I shrugged my shoulders and tried to put it to the back of my mind. I finished work just after 1700 and the bird was reported as still present. It was obviously sheltering from the gale so unlikely to go anywhere, though who knows what it would do tomorrow?
Portland on a week night would be a bridge too far by bike - it would be dark by the time I arrived if leaving after work! So I indulged myself with a car journey to see this Chough on 11th May - a Dorset 'tick'.
This last thought was enough to tempt me into action against my better judgement, and within 10 minutes I was on the road again. In the end, whilst slightly hair-raising at times, the journey to Lodmoor never quite reached Cogden levels of terror - the headwinds slowed progress to a crawl at which very little damage could be done, and as they were hitting me head on the risk of being blown over by side-winds was greatly reduced. Which is not to say it wasn't an energy-sapping slog - on a scale of '0' to 'taxing' it was definitely at the 'taxing' end. But I pressed on through squalls and fallen tree debris and as I reached the edge of the Lodmoor reedbed I could see a few birders distantly on the west side where the Gull was last reported: a good sign that it was probably still there. Minutes later I was enjoying close views of the Bonaparte's and the efforts of the previous 95 minutes had all been worth it.

The Chough in flight over Dorset's version of machair!
The return journey was probably my most enjoyable bike ride to date. I stopped pedalling at one point on the steep hill up out of Weymouth and realised I was still being carried along by the wind. I clocked 20pmh on another uphill stretch out of Poxwell on which I had been reduced to a 5mph crawl during the journey down. 95 minutes on the way there was reduced to 80 on the way back, the psychological barrier of twitching on a school night had been broken, and more quality had been added to the year list, bringing the total to creditable 185.
I enjoyed a brief close view of the Chough but it would not look up! A shame it didn't stay until the weekend or a bike trip would definitely have been in order.

Monday 17 May 2021

Missed by a Whiskered

My last post ended with the joy of seeing a Tawny Pipit at Cogden on 8th May during a 66 mile bike ride tempered only by the disappointment at missing a Whiskered Tern at Abbotbury by less than an hour earlier the same day. I slept in on Sunday 9th and, skipping breakfast, went straight for an early brunch: a family favourite in the form of one of my home-made omelettes. Or, to give it its proper name in the competitive Dad contest between me and my son's best friend's father over who can cook the best-sounding meal, 'Barn-fresh free range 6-egg omelette with grated Coastal Cheddar, field mushrooms cooked in butter, grilled vine-ripened tomatoes and Wiltshire smoked streaky bacon with a side of new potatoes sauteed in spring onions, allotment-grown Parsley and a Cornish sea-salt and five-pepper garnish'.
It was delicious, though I say so myself, and as we cleaned our plates my thoughts turned to that most decadent of possibilities: a midday nap. Around this time my friend Steve Smith phoned to say a possible Whiskered Tern had been reported at Longham Lakes. Longham has enjoyed many good birds over the years so it wasn't out of the question, but the site has also been the scene of a few misidentifications, so we assumed - hoped in my case given the planned siesta - that it might just be another one of those. Half-an-hour later though and the sighting was confirmed, by no less an authority than George Green who literally wrote the book of Dorset birds. 
After the efforts of the previous day, at one level the last thing I needed was another long bike ride, and a 28 mile round trip to Longham was definitely not the 'warm down' I had in mind! I had a quick consultation with another friend, Jol Mitchell, who had by this time become a sort of bad decisions coach for my green year list: his precise words were 'I think you're mad, but given what you're trying to achieve, I think you have to go for it'. He was right, and go for it I did. 
The adrenaline kicked in and with a slight following wind I sailed through Sandford, Lytchett Matravers and Upton to Alderney - site of my third-time-lucky Glaucous Gull twitch. From here it was all downhill to Longham. As soon as I reached the south lake where the Whiskered Tern had been seen I scanned with my bins and could just about make it out in the distance. I needed to get closer to be sure, but as I headed clockwise around the lake I lost sight of it. Turning the next corner, the reason became clear: it was sat on a post just yards from the bank, with half-a-dozen huge lenses pointing at it! 
The Whiskered Tern then put on a superb show, dropping off the post to feast on craneflies and returning repeatedly, enabling plenty of flight shot practice. The light was tricky and didn't look like improving, so I headed home with a deep sense of satisfaction at having caught up with 'the one that got away' just 24 hours earlier. The last 3 of the 94 miles I cycled that weekend were among the hardest into the wind and I was running on fumes by this point. But I was soon home, and even summoned up the energy to cook the traditional Sunday roast. Or, for the purposes of the competitive Dad contest, 'Corn-fed, butter-basted poussin in a rich...' etc etc

Sunday 16 May 2021

A mere, 32 miles from home

The weather forecast for the weekend beginning 8th May looked atrocious. For the technically minded meteorologists out there, I mean two-raindrops-and-a-black-wind icon atrocious. This was unfortunate as, having survived and recovered from the 60 mile bike ride to Portland the previous weekend, I was tempted to venture down to Abbotsbury - a few miles less as the cycle trundles - where a Whiskered Tern had spent most of the previous week. Sunday's forecast looked drier and suggested that the wind would ease considerably, so I resolved to have a lie in on the Saturday and play it cool, hoping that the Tern would stay another day. The presence of a Tawny Pipit a few miles further along the coast at Cogden's Burton Mere offered the prospect of two good birds in the same trip, so the 'sensible' strategy seemed to be to wait until Sunday, go for the Pipit first and return via Abbotsbury hoping to see the Tern on the way back.

Tawny Pipit, Cogden Beach, 8th May
Sure enough Saturday dawned wet and windy and I was happy with my decision to stay in bed. But by 1030 the rain seemed to ease and the birding grapevine confirmed that both birds were still present. Suddenly playing it cool didn't seem like such a smart plan - what were the odds that both birds would still be there tomorrow? I panicked myself into action and was on the road before 1100. Taking the quiet back-roads from Wareham towards Dorchester, I was relieved to find the mature hedgerows along this route were largely protecting me from the southerly winds, despite them gusting at 40+mph. 

With a target to aim for I made good progress and seemed to be in Dorchester in no time. There had been no news on the Tern since 0930 so I contacted the Abbotsbury swan-herd Steve Groves for an update. Steve said he had just seen it and, as I was less than an hour away, I made the fatal mistake of deciding on a change of strategy: rather than go to Cogden first, I resolved to head straight for Abbotsbury, mindful that views of the Tern would be better there from the shelter of a hide which would be shut by the time I got there if I did the journey the other way around.

Swans at the Swannery - a shame the Black Swans aren't tickable!
But first I had to climb up to the summit of the mighty Black Down, atop which sits the Hardy Monument, in what appeared to be deteriorating weather, before I could begin the long descent to the coast. If you've ever seen the Monument, it's a 72-foot monolith pretty close to the road so difficult to miss, but to give an inkling of the conditions at the summit, although I could hear the wind tearing around it, I couldn't actually see it!

Common Tern at the Swannery
With such recent good news from Steve though I pressed on, arriving at the Swannery shortly after 1330. Steve was at lunch but his right hand man Kev kindly showed me and another birder looking for the Tern out to the bund where it had occasionally been seen perching. I couldn't take much more than five minutes of this though as the wind was cutting through my thin cycling jacket, so we headed for Helen Hide where where we hoped for a more sheltered viewpoint. Wellies would have been advisable to get there but I only had my cycling trainers and managed to tip toe around the edges without getting them too sodden. 

Helen Hide provided a bit more shelter but not much - the wind was howling through the front shutters and spray was coming through the floor. Worse, there was no sign of the Whiskered Tern. Reinforcements arrived in the form of Steve with a telescope, and I felt sure it was only a matter of time before he located the Tern at the back of the beach with his superior optics and familiarity with the bird's habits. Unfortunately Steve couldn't find it either and, as he left us to it, my cunning plan seemed to be falling apart.

The imposing Hardy Monument: visible on the way back from Abbotsbury but not on the way down - the conditions were appalling!
I had put on my spare jacket by now but was still shivering in the biting wind. The swan-herds kept an old fleece covered in Swallow shit hanging in the hide and I hope they don't mind me confessing that I borrowed it for half-an-hour of life-saving warmth! As 1600 approached it started to feel like the Tern was not going to show, and I concluded that if I was going to rescue something from the day, I would soon need to head for Cogden, where the Tawny Pipit was reportedly still showing on the beach.

I put the fleece back on its hook, splashed my way back to the bike and set off up the second daunting hill of the day just west of Abbotsbury. Before I left I had checked the forecast and it looked like the winds would ease off in the afternoon, but this turned out to be some way wide of the mark. The worst bit of the whole journey was in fact the last mile or so before Cogden, and for the first time this year I was genuinely concerned that I might get blown off the bike into oncoming traffic on the exposed coast road. 
Tawny Pipit, Cogden Beach, 8th May
Pulling into Cogden car park slightly shaken, I was buoyed by news that the Pipit was still showing and being watched by several birders. A few friendly faces, including Cliff Smith, among the trail of birders heading back as I was heading out urged me on but the last of these, Paul Welling, broke the worrying news that the Pipit had moved further up the beach and that I was going to have to relocate it myself as he and his son were the last people to leave.
Tawny Pipit, Cogden Beach, 8th May
The path was pretty sodden and the trainers took another soaking, and by the time I had walked miles past Burton Mere and further up the beach without locating the Pipit the situation was starting to feel pretty desperate. I had been telling myself all year that even if I cycled miles for a bird and didn't see it, I would still be getting good exercise so it was a no-lose situation. In those moments on the beach, the magnitude of this self-deception became fully apparent. The day had been a disaster, and I still had a long walk and a 32 mile bike ride ahead of me. 

I trudged back disconsolately, feeling certain that the birds I would see on the way back would be the same ones I saw on the way out: Wheatears skipping away from me with the flash of a white rump. Then as I approached the point where Paul had last seen the Pipit at about 1800, I noticed a bird skipping away from me along the beach which didn't have a white rump. I raised my bins and there was the Tawny Pipit. I sat down exhausted but relieved, let it get comfortable with my presence and crawled a bit closer for some photographs. I spent ten minutes with the Pipit as, both a bit windswept, we sought what shelter we could at the back of the beach, then headed back to the bike.

Tawny Pipit, Cogden Beach, 8th May
Seeing the Pipit gave me the shot in the arm I needed to convince myself that I could make the journey home without phoning home to beg for a lift or jumping on a train at Dorchester, which I would have been tempted to do had I not seen the bird. I clocked a record 35.8 mph on the downhill stretch to Abbotsbury, and was glad of some wind assistance as I began the long climb back up to the Hardy Monument, which was at least visible on the return journey. My customary cycling snack of a bag of chips in Dorchester provided much needed fuel for the last leg in the dark and although the wind picked up again in the last 5 miles or so, I knew the worst was behind me. 

I got home just after 2200 feeling utterly spent but at the same time deeply satisfied to have added Tawny Pipit to the year list under my own steam. I felt pretty unlucky to have missed the Whiskered Tern by less than an hour, and put it down in the mental note book as 'one that got away'.

I realised how far I had come when I could see the towering cliffs of Burton Bradstock to the west

Of whites and wings

With all the birding by bike lately I've been something of an absentee father so when it was 'suggested' that I take my youngest son to a tennis tournament this afternoon, I could hardly say no. The competition - an away fixture between local rivals Wareham (my son's team) and Swanage - started at 1400 and we arrived in good time for a quick warm up before hostilities commenced. My lad looked the part with pristine white kit, Nike trainers and cap but went down 6-1, 6-3 in the first match, an unflattering scoreline which didn't quite reflect the effort he put it. 

The match was over in about 45 minutes at which point news came through of an Iceland Gull at Lodmoor. I know what you're thinking and just don't: the thought of ditching him there didn't enter my head. But I confess I did start to wonder whether the tennis might finish in time for me to get home, kit up and cycle down to look for it after the match. Four pairs of boys were competing in the first round of matches and it turned out that there would be only one more set of matches after this - a game of doubles to complete the tournament. No problem then - a quick couple of sets and we'd be home by four, I thought, and I could head off guilt free with parental duty fulfilled. 

Before the doubles could start, however, the singles had to be completed, and after the brevity of my own son's match, I hadn't factored in the possibility of two of the older lads slugging it out Nadal v Federer style in the 3rd and final set which eventually ended almost hour later after an Isner-esque number of games. Following this marathon the combatants understandably needed a breather before the doubles could start, and it didn't seem appropriate to say 'can you get on with it please. I've got an Iceland Gull to see'.

When it finally got underway the doubles was mercifully brief (two crushing defeats for the gallant Wareham lads) and both games ended about the same time. I don't wish to belittle the tragic effects of Covid-19 but one of the teensy silver linings is that they appear to have dispensed with the laborious ritual of handing out tacky plastic medals and other tat at the end of kids' tennis tournaments for fear of passing on infections, so after the briefest of the customary courtesies we were free to go. 

Arriving home just after 1700, the bike was packed and ready to go within 15 minutes, and I headed out into a brisk south-westerly wind. It was a measure of its strength that it took me 90 minutes to get to the outskirts of Weymouth compared to 75 on my previous twitch for the Black-winged Stilts, and it was approaching 1900 when I arrived at the post box on the north side of Lodmoor. The Iceland Gull had been reported from the pool visible from here but there had been no news since the original message four hours earlier, and no sign when I arrived. I was a bit relieved to be honest: it had been a tough journey and I had resolved to get the train home if the bird wasn't present.

But then I scanned beyond the pool to the West Scrape and was sure I could see the Iceland Gull in the distance. It was too far to photograph and I knew that my neurotic self would talk me out of the fact that I had seen it if I didn't get a better view, so I tazzed around to the west side of the reserve to find the white-winged spectre disconcertingly absent. Then it appeared from behind some vegetation and any doubt about the identification was finally removed. I took a few photos, went anti-clockwise around the reserve to check the Common Tern colony for a Roseate (there wasn't one) and headed for home. Gleeful townsfolk appeared to be cheering me on - I thought modestly 'it was only an Iceland Gull' - but it turned out they were Leicester fans celebrating their FA Cup victory.

I think it was the cycling coach Sir David Brailsford who came up with the philosophy of 'marginal gains' - the idea that if you break everything down that goes into riding a bike, and then improve it by 1%, you will get a significant benefit when it's all put together. Readers of the post about my previous Lodmoor twitch may recall that I made the mistake of wolfing down a bag of chips in Preston on the way up out of Weymouth before attempting the steep climb to Osmington, resulting in chronic indigestion. I wasn't going to make that mistake again, so, inspired by Brailsford's example, I took a leaf out of the Team Sky book (the marginal gains book, not the testosterone patches book) and applied it to the journey home: rather than scoffing supper from the Preston chippy at the bottom of the hill, I scoffed it down at the top this time. Dave - I don't think he'd mind me calling him that now we're basically in the same game elite sports-wise - would have been proud.

It was raining by now so supper was in fact taken in the exotic environment of a bus stop which proved surprisingly warm as well as dry. I worried for a moment that a bus might actually stop thinking I wanted to get on, but then remembered this was rural Dorset and I was more likely to be offered table service from the pub down the road than to see a bus. Thus satiated, my progress from that point on was so rapid I thought the chips might have been spiked with nandrolone, but it was of course just the wind which had so impaired progress on the way down now hastening it on the way back.

I arrived home at 2130 having not just added Iceland Gull to the year list but achieving another couple of important milestones: 1000 miles cycled since I acquired my handlebar mounted GPS-gizmo in mid-February, and my first sub-12 stone weigh-in since the end of the first lockdown. Not a bad hat-trick for the day, even if the tennis was not quite as successful as the twitching. 

Thursday 13 May 2021


At the start of 2021 the very idea of cycling to Portland Bill would have seemed outrageous to me. By the start of May my stamina and commitment to the non-motorised year list were such that it seemed the obvious next step to add new species which I was much less likely to see closer to home. But Wareham to Portland Bill is still 27 miles so not a journey to be taken lightly - literally, in view of the need to carry heavy optics to make the most of the sea-watching opportunities at the Bill. 

Little Tern, Ferrybridge, 2nd May
I don't mind a bit of rain on the bike but wind is a killer, so Sunday 2nd May looked like a good option as the forecast suggested only a light northerly breeze to push me down to Portland, swinging around to the south west later to push me back. Plus there was a Bank Holiday to look forward to the following day so I would have chance to recover before returning to work. Light winds meant a lower chance of a good seawatch, of course, but this felt like a necessary compromise given my understandable desire not to die of exhaustion in the process.
Little Tern, Ferrybridge, 2nd May
Laden with double pannier bags bursting at the seams with telescope, tripod, camera, bins, spare inner tubes, lunch and fluids I left home with the sun still below the horizon and the aim of arriving at the Bill by about 0900. This would avoid the worst of the traffic, which I expected to be pretty unpleasant as people got out and about to enjoy the long weekend. The 20 mile journey as far as Ferrybridge was uneventful, with most of the steep bits downhill, but by this point I had already added two species to the year list without even getting off the bike: Common Tern over the road at Lodmoor, and Little Tern over the road at Smallmouth. The latter were perching and fishing close to the road so I took the opportunity for some photographs in lovely morning light. 
Little Tern, Ferrybridge, 2nd May
A quick look over the wall into the charming gardens of Portland Castle seemed worthy of a short detour, and when Pete and Debby Saunders advised that they had just seen a Pied Flycatcher there - a potential year tick for the bike list - it felt like more than a cursory scan was needed. Over the next hour Redstart, Willow Warbler, Blackcap and Garden Warbler appeared but no Pied Fly. However, my first Spotted Flycatcher of 2021 delivered the third year tick of the day before I concluded that it was time to move on or risk not making the most of the morning on Portland.
Spotted Flycatcher, Portland Castle, 2nd May
I baulked at trying to cycle to the Portland Heights and pushed the bike up the Old Hill footpath where a sleepy Garden Warbler posed for photos. It was a gruelling climb despite being out of the saddle, and I was glad to reach the top of the gentle slope all the way down to the Bill, interrupted only by a brief stop at Reap Lane to look for another Pied Fly and a Turtle Dove reported there earlier. Neither species appeared and time was ticking away so I headed to the Bill for the planned seawatch and an early lunch.  
Redstart, Portland Castle, 2nd May
As I had feared, the sea was hardly alive with birds, but after a couple of hours I had eked out a bit of quality if not quantity: both of the 'easy' Skuas (Great and Arctic) were added to the year list, while a Puffin (thanks to a shout from some fellow seawatchers at the Obelisk) and, most surprisingly, a drake Garganey drifted east on the fast moving tide. Further entertainment was provided by a middle-aged kayaker who manfully struggled against the infamous 'Portland Race' around the Bill towards Chesil Cove. 
Arctic Skua miles out at the Bill - the Bonxie was even further!
I watched him for a good 15 minutes in my scope paddling furiously but going nowhere before he gave into the brutal current and hurtled back in an easterly direction, sweating profusely whilst trying to look cool! I shook my head in pity at middle aged men pushing themselves beyond their limits in a vain attempt to turn the metaphorical tide of their advancing years, then remembered I was 52 and had a 27 mile bike ride ahead of me. I felt slightly ashamed and quietly applauded his efforts lest karma give me a puncture, or worse, on the way home. 

Garden Warbler, Portland, 2nd May
The sea may have been pretty empty but by this time the Bill was crawling with visitors and a couple of their persistently whiny drones were putting me on edge, so I started the long journey north in the hope of arriving home at a sensible time. But before leaving the island there were a couple more potential year ticks to hunt down. A second visit to Reap Lane was more successful than the first when a female Pied Flycatcher revealed herself, but the Turtle Dove continued to elude me. The Little Owls had sadly deserted their normally reliable haunt of the Obs quarry but thanks to some local gen from Pete Coe I managed to catch up with one elsewhere before steaming back down the precipitous incline to Fortuneswell, disc brakes aflame.
Drake Garganey bobbing past the Bill, 2nd May
There was still a daunting distance to go before I could legitimately add any of the new birds for the year to the list - the journey home also has to be completed under my own steam for a full-fat tick. But, for those who like stats, after 60.17 miles, 3,907 feet of elevation gain, and 6 hours 8 minutes and 37 seconds in the saddle at an average speed of 9.8mph, I limped through the garden gate and had made it. 
Pied Flycatcher, Reap Lane, 2nd May
While it could have been better had the Turtle Dove or another good seabird appeared, I was pretty satisfied with seven new species for the year list, most of which I would struggle to see in the course of the year if I hadn't made the effort. The list had leapt from 170 at the end of April to 177 in one fell swoop, making it almost certain that I would get to 180, a figure I was doubtful could be reached at the start of the year.

Little Owl, Portland, 2nd May

Wednesday 12 May 2021

(A complete absence of) April showers: part 3

I had done pretty well with additions to the non-motorised year list in the first half of April, and had a number of targets for the rest of the month which ought to fall into place if I was willing the make the effort. A 30 mile jaunt on 16th in the middle of a week's leave saw me heading back to Studland early morning (with the first Cuckoo of 2021 heard en route on Hartland Moor) to tick one of the tiny colony of Ring-necked Parakeet which resides there. 

Puffin, Dancing Ledge (16th April)
Puffin, Dancing Ledge (16th April)

Puffin, Dancing Ledge (16th April)
With Parakeet in the bag I returned to Dancing Ledge for a second attempt of the year at another tiny colony of colourful Dorset favourites: Puffins. I had arranged to meet the family there and we enjoyed a pleasant picnic lunch on the ledge - but of Puffins there was no sign.

Brimstone, Studland (16th April)

Shag, Dancing Ledge, 16th April

Fulmar, Durlston (24th April)
The rest of the team were getting restless after a couple of hours but I was determined to stick it out until a Puffin appeared so while they headed off, I nodded off as the exertions of the day took their toll. On waking, there was still no sign of a Puffin but within the hour a bashful pair dropped down from an unseen position on the cliff for a wash and brush up in the early evening light. As I was packing up to leave, my first Fulmar of the year floated past capping an excellent day.
Whinchat, Stoborough Heath (21st April)

Whinchat, Stoborough Heath (21st April)

Whinchat, Stoborough Heath (21st April)
Sunday the 18th was my last day off before returning to work and I headed out into Rempstone Forest more for some exercise than to add to the list. Whilst I was deep in the forest, news broke of a pair of Garganey at Longham Lakes on the other side of Poole Harbour. I dismissed the idea of going for them but after about an hour, I calculated that I could just about do it and still be back in time to cook my obligatory Sunday roast. From my position on the southern shore of Poole Harbour the quickest route would have been via the Studland ferry - but that would have involved motorised transport, so prohibited for the purposes of the year list. There was nothing for it then but to go the long way around.
Wheatear, Stoborough Heath, 21st April

A couple of Green Sandpiper were on and off at Swineham since January (taken 17th April)
At least 1 Little Ringed Plover was at Swineham most days through late April (taken 17th)
After a 20 mile canter I arrived at Longham to find no-one looking for the Garganey, but helpful directions on the local grapevine suggested I should head for a bench on the far side of the south lake. The same directions suggested that a telescope would be needed to see the distant birds. I didn't have such a thing about my person, but my trusty Swaro 10x32s soon picked up the Garganey scudding around an island on the lake and the camera enabled a couple of records shots.

Drake Garganey, Longham Lakes (18th April)

Pair of Garganey, Longham Lakes (18th April)

Wheatear, Stoborough Heath (18th April)
The gamble had paid off, and I was buzzing all the way home as a result of seeing these birds on the back of such an effort - a 44 mile day in total. Hilariously, four days later I would find my own pair of Garganey within walking distance of home at Swineham! But there were no regrets: the great thing about the cycling was that the exercise was doing me the power of good and there was no such thing as a 'wasted' journey.
I 'fell off the wagon' a couple of times in April, driving to Portland on rest days between cycling trips - once for this Wryneck on 17th 
Ring Ouzel also on Portland on 17th - this a male (by car)
Female Ring Ouzel, Portland 17th April (by car)
During the latter part of the month, Whinchat, Whitethroat, Swift and Garden Warbler were all added to the list closer to home on either Stoborough Heath or Wareham Common while an enjoyable afternoon visit to Durlston on 24th, necessitated by my failure to see Razorbill on two earlier trips to Dancing Ledge, saw me add not just that species but a bonus flock of Manx Shearwater in a brief seawatch. 

Razorbill, Durlston (24th April)

Guillemot, Durlston (24th April)

Razorbill, Durlston (24th April)
I thought that would be it for the month and that April would end with the tally on 169, frustratingly short of a nice round 170 - but a cheeky Stilt twitch on the final day of the month nudged me on to that important milestone. 
Durlston Auks, 24th April