Tuesday 25 October 2022

September's birding by bike

Last September was seriously hard work for building my non-motorised year list: I cycled over 250 miles and added just 2 species to the list (Wryneck and Little Stint). It wasn't 'wasted effort' of course, as staying in shape is part of the purpose of the exercise - but it's fair to say the reward to effort ratio could have been more favourable. September 2022 was a bit of a contrast as a steady stream of minor rarities kept me on my toes.

Whinchat, Wareham Common, 4th September

Garganey, Piddle Valley, 6th September
The first week of the month had been quiet but by Saturday the 10th things were moving with a smattering of Wryneck sightings across Dorset. None of them had really been pinned down so I decided to head to Durlston in the hope of finding my own. A pleasant walk along the coast path and back via the ridge didn't produce one. It later emerged that, unbeknown to me, around the time I was locking up my bike, the ringers were pulling one out of a net about a hundred yards away! 
Wheatear, Durlston, 10th September

Adonis Blue, Durlston, 10th September
As I was arriving at Durlston, another Wryneck had been reported at Lytchett Bay and I thought I might head there later if I had no luck at Durlston. Although this would involve retracing my steps for the 11 mile journey home and then carrying on for another 6 miles around Poole Harbour, I was feeling fresh enough to go for it. Unfortunately, the Lytchett bird also appeared to have moved on but as I searched for it, local birder James Leaver incredibly found a third Wryneck - his second in as many days - on Creech Heath, just 4 miles from home in Wareham. After returning home from this frustrating double-dip I grabbed some food and arranged to meet Steve Smith at Creech in the hope of relocating James's bird. 
Old Harry Rocks from Durlston, 10th September

Red-necked Phalarope near Abbotsbury, 11th September

At first glance we didn't fancy our chances as we arrived to find a site with plenty of dense cover in which a small, cryptically plumaged bird could hide. But after not too long a likely looking movement in distant gorse caught our eye, then, after we had advanced much closer, we had a brief but conclusive view of the Wryneck in flight.

Little Grebe, Wareham Common, 

Barn Owl, Wareham Common
After missing two Wrynecks earlier in the day it was very satisfying to finally catch up with one, and we hung around hoping for further views. As we did so, I heard the unmistakable call of a Bee-eater to the north. I called it immediately and within seconds Steve, who was in a slightly more elevated position, picked it up in flight. I ran to his side and managed the briefest of glimpses as it swooped low and then out of view. Whilst the briefness of the view was a bit frustrating, it was academic in terms of being added to the year list as I allow myself to count 'heard only' birds - so onto the list it went as species number 207 for the year.
Cattle Egret with Little Egrets in the Piddle Valley, 17th September

Black-tailed Godwit, Swineham, 17th September
After 36 miles that Saturday bombing back and forth in search of Wrynecks, I could really have done with a rest day on Sunday 11th - but the birds had other ideas. My neighbour Trevor Warwick located yet another Wryneck, even closer to home on Wareham Common. I joined him and as we tried in vain to relocate it, news broke of a Red-necked Phalarope on a tiny shooter's pool above Abbotsbury in west Dorset, a 54 mile round trip from where I stood. 
Along the River Frome, 17th September

River Frome, 17th September
This offered the chance to claw back a species which I had missed in the spring as work commitments kept me in Reading the very night that one was located with a wader flock at Studland. It was a one night only bird and a highly desirable one at that. So the opportunity to add this species to the year list was not to be missed. It was a measure of my improving fitness that, although I didn't leave Wareham until after lunchtime, I made it to the Phalarope site and was still back in time to rustle up dinner that evening. 
Parasol mushroom 17th September

Same mushroom 2 days later
Four days later and another opportunity to add to the year list arose in the form of a mystery Wagtail at Lodmoor. Initially reported as Eastern Yellow, opinion later veered towards Citrine with the possibility of a hybrid also being actively considered. It was certainly an ambiguous bird with a completely different pattern on the left-hand side of the head compared to the right. At the time I went to see it the identification was still being debated, but I figured either way it was probably going to be a Dorset tick so took advantage of the light evenings to cycle down after work, see the bird and treat myself to pie and chips at my favourite Preston chippy on the way home. Sound recordings subsequently confirmed the tentative identification of Citrine Wagtail so onto the list it went.
Citrine Wagtail, Lodmoor - the left hand side of the head looked good for Citrine...

Citrine Wagtail - the more confusing right hand side!
The following weekend was extended by the unexpected bank holiday granted to mark the Queen's funeral. After British Cycling (now sponsored by Shell(!)) made a crass announcement discouraging *any* cycling on the day of the funeral I felt almost morally obliged to head out on the bike. Imagine the RAC or AA advising motorists not to drive! As it happened, news broke early that day of a Rose-coloured Starling on Portland - another species I had missed earlier in the year in Swanage due to work commitments keeping me away from home, so I could not afford to take second chances and was on the road soon after. 
A long-staying Wood Sandpiper at Swineham, 18th September

The Wood Sandpiper was joined by a Little Stint on 20th September
I packed double the normal amount of fluids and food assuming that every shop would be shut as a mark of respect, but was surprised to find that all the garages remained open. Clearly selling fossil fuels was not disrespectful the late monarch at all. And when I reached Weymouth it seemed that you could even buy a Greggs pastie, as long as it was from a Greggs within a garage, and the sale of the pastie was therefore incidental to the sale of the fossil fuel. Priorities!
Ruff, Blackwit and Lapwing at Swineham, 20th September

Ruff at Swineham, 20th September
On the way down to Weymouth I respectfully observed the 2-minute silence at the viewpoint overlooking the Osmington White Horse, carved in tribute to Elizabeth's great-great-great-grandfather George III. From there a rapid descent into Weymouth was followed by the gentle inclines of the Rodwell Trail to Ferrybridge before the daunting climb up the north face of the Isle of Portland. For the first time ever I made the ascent without getting off the bike to push, and within a few minutes was turning into Reap Lane. For the second time this year Julian Thomas was on hand to point out the Rose-coloured Starling immediately.
Green Woodpecker, Lodmoor, 19th September

Bearded Tit, Swineham, 19th September
Whilst I paused for breath and took some record shots, news came through of a Red-backed Shrike at Lodmoor. This would be a good year tick and was conveniently on the way home so I packed away the camera and retraced my steps. The Shrike had been found by Brett Spencer who provided some helpful directions to its location on the old tip, where Dave Bishop, last seen in a pub car park in Hampshire when I cycled to Blashford for a White-winged Tern, was watching the bird. The Shrike performed nicely, completing a two-tick day and putting a spring in my step for the 17 mile journey home. 
Rose-coloured Starling, Portland, 19th September

Rose-coloured Starling, Portland, 19th September
The Shrike turned out to be the last species I would add to the non-motorised year list in September, bringing the total to 211 (compared to 204 at the same stage in 2021). 222 miles had been cycled and 6 new species added during the month - a significantly better reward to effort ratio than September 2021!
Red-backed Shrike, Lodmoor, 19th September

Red-backed Shrike, Lodmoor, 19th September

Sunday 23 October 2022


Since my last 50+ mile bike ride (to Portland for a Rose-coloured Starling) on 19th September, I've been in danger of becoming what can only be described as a proper lardass. In the intervening month I sat in the back of my friend Bradders' car to go on a gastro-birding holiday to Shetland; I sat in the front of my own car with said friend and 2 others to get to Cornwall en route to the Isles of Scilly; and I lay down for countless uncomfortable hours on ships to get to and from both. All punctuated by consuming an unhealthy amount of pie. 

Barred Warbler, West Bay, 22nd October
The low-carbon birding halo would have slipped down around my ankles had it not got stuck on my paunch, and by Friday night I felt that if I didn't do something dramatic to atone I might never again be able to hoist myself onto the bike. Fortunately, a long-staying Barred Warbler on the cliffs above the coastal town of West Bay provided a good reason to roll off the couch and load up the velo. 
An acrobatic bird
The Warbler had been unearthed thanks to diligent patch-watching by Gavin Haig and kept tabs on by Tom Brereton, whose assiduous recording of the birds of the area have added a number of desirable species to the local list. I contacted both on Friday evening for site directions and to ask if they would be kind enough to relay any news should they receive it while I was en route on Saturday morning.
It was a bit dark at West Bay with thick cloud overhead
Getting to West Bay - some 34 miles west of my starting point in Wareham - at a decent hour would require an early start and with the bike packed the night before I was away shortly before 0600. The first hour or so would have to be completed in the dark, the lowlight of which was at least a dozen frogs or toads (I'm afraid I didn't stop to study them) - squished on the tarmac of the Puddletown Road.
A chunky bird lumbering around the scrub
The sun was rising behind me as I approached Dorchester and was above the horizon by the time I passed King Charles's suburb at Poundbury, after which I rolled down into Martinstown and steeled myself for the daunting 2 mile climb up to the Hardy Monument. At the junction for the Monument, however, a road closed sign caused some consternation, especially when I realised that the detour would redirect me to the A35. 
Barred Warbler
The PTSD from the last time I cycled on the A35 hasn't quite gone, so I ignored the closure sign and hoped that there would at least be enough room to get the bike through. Indeed there was, and as I pressed on and approached the crest of the South Dorset Ridgeway, news came through from Tom that the Barred Warbler was still present. I knew the worst was behind me at this point and topped 35mph as I hurtled down into the Bride Valley, dodging pheasants as I went. From there it was mostly downhill to the coast via national cycle route 2 but for the short climb up out of Burton Bradstock before rolling into West Bay. 
A Ring Ouzel was in the same area as the Barred Warbler
The Barred Warbler was in a patch of coastal scrub half a mile west and a few hundred feet in elevation above West Bay. Gavin had recommended an inland route on tarmac before turning south to the coast but being an idiot I ignored this sensible advice and pushed the bike up the muddy coast path. I was pretty bushed after 3 hours of cycling and the slippery conditions underfoot almost saw me slide back down to West Bay. But I persevered, shimmied the bike through the kissing gate at the clifftop, and was soon at the right spot, marked by Tom and his bike, Steve Carey and his long lens and a couple of others. 
If there is a heaven, it will definitely have one of these: the milkshake vending machine at Martinstown
The Warbler hadn't been seen for 10 minutes but a Ring Ouzel entertained us as we watched. Tom had to leave but Steph and Rob Murphy, over the border from Devon, joined us and Rob soon picked up the Barred Warbler high in the scrub near the cliff top. It eventually made its way towards us as it foraged acrobatically around Elders and Ivy.
A young Hobby at Swineham, 23rd October
After a couple of hours I had enjoyed good views and managed a few photos. In keeping with the theme of the previous month, my thoughts then turned to food. Before long I was checking out the kiosks of West Bay and procuring brunch from one which said 'Biker's Welcome'. I'm not sure a muddy pushbike is what they had in mind but I was made very welcome anyway. Sheltered in the lee of the cabin to finish a cup of life-giving tea, I looked forward to adding Barred Warbler as the 212th species on my 2022 non-motorised year list - and number 254 on my non-motorised life list. Before doing so, however, I would need to complete the journey home under my own steam, without mechanical or medical failure getting in the way!
Hobby, Swineham
I took it easy on the way back, aided by a following breeze, but hit 'the wall' around Martinstown, no doubt daunted by the incline back up to Dorchester. As luck would have it, this dip in energy coincided with the discovery of the Eweleaze Dairy's milk/cheese/ice cream roadside vending machine emporium. 
Hobby feeding on the wing
I'd noticed the machine previously but assumed it was just for plain old milk, and nothing as outrageous as milkshake. A litre of Stawberry-flavoured nectar later and I was positively bounding back onto the bike, buzzing at the novelty of the vending machine as much as the sugar rush I think. From there the off-road route via national route 2 took me to Maiden Castle, before directing me to the southern suburbs of Dorchester.
Brambling, 23rd October - another good bird for Swineham
A small flock of Pink-footed and a Barnacle Geese have arrived in Dorset recently - either of which would be good species for the year list - so I took a few minor detours through the goosier bits of the Frome Valley on the way home, but without success. However, today's warm down saw me hobbling around the much-neglected Swineham patch where an unfamiliar yapping call drew my attention to a lone Barnacle Goose distantly over the Point, bringing the year list to 213. With 70 miles exactly on the clock from Saturday's effort, perhaps I'd earnt the luck!
Barnacle Goose at Swineham - #213 on the non-motorised year list

Tuesday 18 October 2022

200 up

The non-motorised year-list got off to a flying start in August with a post-work twitch for a Black Tern at Blashford Lakes over the border into Hampshire on the 1st of the month. It was a good job I took the scope for this dainty bird as it hawked insects distantly over Ibsley Water. I dipped the same species at the same site in 2021 which made it a particularly satisfying evening. 

Aquatic Warbler, Lytchett Bay

Aquatic Warbler, Lytchett Bay

A few days later on the 5th I was again taking advantage of the light evenings to head in the opposite direction to Ferrybridge for a White-rumped Sandpiper. I was very lucky to arrive just in time for Julian Thomas to get me on to the bird shortly before some thoughtless kayakers beached their boats nearby and flushed it, never to be seen again. The Sandpiper was an addition to the non-motorised life-list as well as the year-list.
Aquatic Warbler, Lytchett Bay

Aquatic Warbler, Lytchett Bay

Pied Flycatcher had eluded me in the Spring, so I resolved to find my own amid a flurry of local reports in the second week of August. An early morning ride to Greenlands Farm near Studland on 11th seemed like a good option where virtually the first bird I set eyes on was a Pied Fly! I was joined by Steve Smith who promptly found a second among the other migrants which included Willow Warbler, Redstart and Spotted Flycatcher.
White-rumped Sandpiper, Ferrybridge

White-rumped Sandpiper (left-hand bird)

The Lytchett Bay ringers caught an Aquatic Warbler on Saturday 12th and with others of this species being seen elsewhere and the weather being as it was, they felt there was a good chance they might catch another the following day. Being less than 30 minutes away I decided to head over early anyway just in case and sure enough en route news came through that they had done just that. 
Pied Flycatcher, Greenlands Farm

Spotted Flycatcher, Arne

I quickened my pace and arrived shortly after for a high-quality Dorset, bike and year tick. As I was catching my breath scanning the fields for waders the ringers caught another - not every day you get to see two Aquatic Warblers in the hand! I vacillated about whether to tick 'in the hand' birds last year but it was an academic problem as the situation never arose - but was ultimately persuaded by birding friends that I should have no qualms - so onto the list it went as no.196.
Willow Warbler, Greenlands Farm

Distant Wood Sandpiper, Swineham

Waders offered my best change of building the list for the remainder of August and Swineham again delivered when I located a Wood Sandpiper during an evening stroll on the 19th. My next year tick required a bit more effort - another marsh tern, this time a White-winged, on Rockford Lake, back over the border into Hampshire, a 50 mile round trip. Dave Bishop was on site to kindly give directions and I was soon enjoying views of the bird from a pub beer garden! Closer to home were a pair of Little Stints at Lytchett Bay on 23rd, and 200 for the year was finally brought up with a Whinchat on a local heath having flogged around several evenings looking for one.
White-winged Tern, Rockford Lake, Hants

White-winged Tern, Rockford Lake

I always plan a big day out on the bike on a Bank Holiday weekend these days, and with a few 'easy' waders left to see, a return to Hampshire and the complex of coastal lagoons at Keyhaven/Pennington seemed like a good plan. Heading off early, a call from Shaun Robson at Lytchett Heath required barely a detour to see a couple of Grasshopper Warblers which he had trapped and ringed at Lytchett Heath - a great start to the day. 
Grasshopper Warbler, Lytchett Bay

Knot, Keyhaven/Pennington

From there the best route took me down the Hamworthy peninsula past Poole Old Town to Baiter, Whitecliff and Sandbanks all the way to Southbourne, well ahead of the 10 am prohibition on cycling on the seafront during the summer months. I made good time to Keyhaven in breezy conditions where Ruff, Curlew Sandpiper and the main target of a Pectoral Sandpiper had all been reported recently. 
Ruff, Keyhaven/Pennington

Pectoral Sandpiper, Keyhaven/Pennington

The Pec was simple enough to see as several people were already watching it when I arrived, but Curlew Sandpiper proved more of a challenge. One had been reported on Normandy Lagoon, a few miles east of the Pec, and I headed there, enjoying close views of Ruff on the way, but could not locate it. Time was pressing on so I retraced my steps and on reaching the lagoon where the Pec had been found not one but two Curlew Sandpipers to add to the yearlist.
Little Stint, Keyhaven/Pennington

Curlew Sandpiper (right), Keyhaven/Pennington

It was a gruelling ride home and 71 miles one of my longest of the year to date - but a productive one which brought the year list at the end of the month to 204, compared to 202 at the same stage last year. 12 species had been added to the list during the month, three times the tally added in August 2021.
Spotted Flycatcher, Greenlands Farm

Redstart, Greenlands Farm

Whinchat - species no.200 for the 2022 year list

Spotted Flycatcher, Middlebere