Monday 28 February 2022

A trip to the chain store

I implied in a recent post that I'd saved a load of money on fuel with all the cycling. This is of course true, but in the interests of full disclosure I should point out that it's not a totally cost-free option, at least not when done to excess. I bought the new bike in June last year - a mid-range model around the £600 mark - and have done about 2,000 miles on it so far. Apart from a bunch of inner tubes and a new rear tyre - the old one went bald at around 1,500 miles - the only maintenance had been a few broken spokes, fixed under warranty, and now hopefully remedied as I have a new front-handlebar bag which holds my travel tripod and dinky MM4 scope, thus spreading the weight which I suspect was putting too much pressure on the rear wheel. 

Marsh Harrier - after illness kept me off the bike for 2 weeks I broke myself back into it gently with a trundle to Middlebere (10 miles round trip) 
Funny looking Osprey at Middlebere
Friday saw me back in Wareham Forest where a few Crossbills kept their distance - here a male...
...and here a female

Firecrest in Wareham Forest on Friday
But recently there have been some grinding noises and unhealthy sounding feedback coming from the transmission so I booked it in to my local bike store for a service. A phone call soon after I dropped it off was the first sign of trouble. 'Has it had, err, a lot of use since you got it?'. Why yes I replied, about 250 miles per month on average. 'That would explain it then!'. Not only had my chain worn well beyond the normal extent to justify replacement but various cogs, cranks and sprockets (all very technical) had done likewise. The long and the short of it was that what started as a £40 routine service quickly escalated into a quote for £270 worth of parts and labour. 
My first butterfly of the year was this tattered Red Admiral in Wareham Forest on 25th 
First Adder of the year was at Durlston on 26th
This smart male Black Redstart was my main target at Durlston on Saturday 26th 
I located him at Tilly Whim caves, a regular haunt 
Fulmar giving great views at Durlston
Durlston Razorbills bobbing below the breeding ledges
A few Guillemot still in winter plumage

Although it's getting on for half the cost of the bike, there isn't much option but to get the work done of course, and it does come with the promise that the bike will run as good as new (which was very good) from the trustworthy team at my local bike shop. Plus, 2,000 miles in my car at 60mpg and £7 per gallon would have cost almost the same if one includes a bit of wear and tear on the vehicle. So in the round it's not a bad deal for the pleasure I've had from it over the last 8 months.

After the 12 mile ride to Durlston, another 5 took me to Studland where Ring-necked Parakeet was my next target
Just the one showed nicely near Fort Henry

Most of the Black-necked Grebes off Studland are now in summer plumage
A very smart plumage
Feeding on some kind of Pipefish
Black-necked Grebe (left) and Slavonian Grebe, Studland, 26th February
Slavonian Grebe still in winter garb
Slavonian Grebe
A bout of illness earlier this month somewhat curtailed my cycling efforts in the second half of February, but by the end of last week's half-term holiday I was well enough to put some miles back on the clock and add a few decent birds to the 2022 year list - highlights of which adorn this post. Friday saw me back in Wareham Forest where Crossbill and Firecrest were added.
Old Harry Rocks from Durlston
Med Gull at Studland, 26th February
Med Gull
Med Gull
Med Gull
Med Gull
Med Gull
Med Gull
Saturday morning's forecast also looked good so I headed for Swanage and Durlston Country Park to add a few seabirds and a lovely male Black Redstart to the list. I was feeling fresh enough after that for the climb up to Studland where I met up with the family for a late lunch and views of one of the local Ring-necked Parakeets. Sunday saw me back in Wareham Forest (for Dartford Warbler) before heading back to Swineham for one more look at the Tundra Bean Geese. This took my total mileage to just over 100 for February - my lowest monthly total since 2020. But just wait 'til that new chain arrives! 
3 Common Scoter were also off South Beach on Saturday - this a female...
...and this a male
Brambling, Wareham Forest
Dartford Warbler, Wareham Forest
House Sparrow, Wareham Forest
Yellowhammer, Wareham Forest
Yellowhammer, Wareham Forest
Tundra Bean Goose close but through a hedge at Swineham, 27th Feb
Nice to see these birds in the sunshine at last
All 3 still present and correct
Med Gull at Studland, 26th Feb

Thursday 24 February 2022

Park life

Now I've definitely used this blog post title before, and about the same park - namely Poole, where I spent a jolly afternoon earlier this week. Illness has kept me off the bike and largely confined to the house for the last fortnight, and the combination of no exercise, no birding and a brutally busy last week at work before a half-term break had left me feeling pretty low. 

Red-breasted Merganser, Poole Park lake
Drake Red-breasted Merganser is a beautiful bird - bottle green head, red bare parts, rufous breast and vermiculated flanks 
A real treat to see one so close
A rare bit of sunshine appeared on Monday afternoon but the chesty cough I was carrying was still too bad for a bike ride to be sensible, especially in the strong winds. I'm so out of the habit of birding by car that it took a while to occur to me that in such circumstances I could still indulge myself in a short drive around Poole Harbour in search of birds to photograph - a bit of 'brown' birding if you will, just like the old days.
I waited ages for an open bill shot
Almost a display pose - but there was no-one to display to!

A nice symmetry to this shot

An obliging Red-breasted Merganser, photos of which had been posted online, provided one such target so I headed there first. Poole Park Lake often holds a few of this species, usually way out in the middle, but I have also seen them along the southern edge, so parking in the south east corner, I headed clockwise around the lake. I had walked three-quarters of the way around before I found the Merganser but when I did it put on a great show, and although the light wasn't quite behind me it was good enough to get some pleasing shots.

 Lovely blue-grey plumage on this Water Rail
After a few obscured views it eventually came into the open
Another great bird for this urban location
And I also saw some good birds on the way, especially for such an urban location - a dozen Med Gulls were starting to moult into breeding plumage, a few Common Gulls were hanging out with them and a couple of close Black-tailed Godwit and Oystercatcher were feeding on the exposed mud. We used to live a short walk from Poole Park when the children were younger so it holds many happy family memories as well as some good birding ones, such as when a Long-billed Dowitcher and a Ring-billed Gull spent some time there just a few yards apart in February 2011.

The Poole Park Ring-billed Gull from 11 years ago 
Long-billed Dowitcher which graced the park at the same time as the Ring-billed Gull

Common Gull, Poole Park
Back to February 2022 and having enjoyed close views of the Merg I thought I would try my luck with another park speciality, a Water Rail which had been seen regularly on one of the smaller lakes near the park's miniature railway. After a 10-15 minute wait I caught a glimpse of the Water Rail's legs and frosted side markings partially hidden behind a log before a Moorhen spooked it, then a similar view after a further 15 minute wait, before it eventually came out into the open. A Kingfisher flitted past to add colour to the moment. 
Kingfisher, Poole Park
Black-tailed Godwit, Poole Park
Black-tailed Godwit, Poole Park
There was still an hour or two of daylight left so I headed off to another old haunt - the shore of Baiter Park, where one can often sit in the car and watch 'Russian' Dark-bellied Brent Geese feeding on the waterlogged grass. On this occasion they were notable by their absence but as I was photographing a Benelux-ringed Med Gull in the surf a small flock flew in to pose for pictures. 
Pale-bellied Brent Goose, Baiter Park
Pale-bellied Brent with Dark-bellied Brents
Another good bird for an urban environment
Among then one bird stood out - it was a Pale-bellied Brent, of the sub-species which breeds in Greenland and Svalbard. The small flock were wary but approachable with care, enabling a few more photos to be taken in lovely light. Having fed in the shallows they eventually made the short hop onto the park itself where they looked glorious against the green grass.
Mediterranean Gull, Baiter Park
A colour-ringed bird
Bar-tailed Godwit and Oystercatcher on Shore Road
The sun was dropping fast now but there was just time to nip down to Shore Road to look for Bar-tailed Godwits. With so much disturbance from watersports enthusiasts and other beach users, just the one was present over the high tide, but another 120 turned up as the water dropped to reveal more mud. A lovely afternoon about town then and just the tonic I needed.