Monday 22 April 2024

*Skip intro*

Drafting my last post was quite therapeutic so here's another, catching you up on the (very) early stages of my year of birding by bike [just 'skip intro' if you prefer your news more current]. After three years of going for pretty much everything that circumstances allowed, I decided to try to take it a bit easier in 2024, concentrating on 'bike ticks' - species which I have never seen before by non-motorised means. I say 'try' because old habits die hard, and the year listing is what keeps me fit. As a result, the intention was to still keep a careful tally of what I saw, but just be a bit more, well, choosy.

Waxwing was the star bird of the January 2024 non-motorised year list

Adult male Waxwing, Upton, January 2024

The flock of 8 at Upton lingered into February
The year didn't start brilliantly - as a result of over-indulgence on New Year's Eve my first trip out on the bike wasn't until 2nd January, to Studland in a literal gale. With the wind behind me on the way there I clocked up 25mph on a stretch of road through Rempstone Forest which would normally be done at a stately 11mph. There is a small ford just west of Greenlands Farm which is normally dry but with water from the storm piling off Godlingstone Heath, on this occasion it was a raging torrent. I thought twice about crossing, unsure whether the bike would make it, but there was no other easy way around, and I had already done 10 of the 11 miles to get to Studland so there was nothing for it: I rolled the bike back up the slope to get a good run up and ploughed through the flood with my feet in the air.
Male Waxwing, Upton, January 2024

The 'Upton 8' were a popular fixture of late January among local birders

Waxwing, Upton, January 2024
Fortunately the momentum carried me through, despite the water being above my hubs, and 5 minutes later I was opening the door of the Brand's Bay hide in search of shelter. Rob Johnson was inside holding on to his hat, hide shaking like the proverbial outhouse door in a blizzard, and broke the welcome news that he was watching a long staying Long-tailed Duck - a good bird for the year list. By the time I had shut the hide door and got my 'scope out, however, the Duck had vanished around Redhorn Point and I could not relocate it despite an extensive and rather windswept search between there and Jerry's Point to the north. To rub salt in I then had to retrace my steps home into the teeth of the gale.
The Waxwing were feeding on Mistletoe berries - and what goes in...
...must come out
1st winter Waxwing, Upton, January 2024 
A similar but slightly more successful experience occurred the next day when Steve Smith phoned with news of a Goosander on the floods at Holmebridge, just 2 miles from home. I pelted down, knocked on the roof of his car on arrival only to hear him shout 'It's just flown!'. I just about got a tickable view of it skimming the treetops of the distant horizon but it was not the most satisfying experience!
Very distant Red-necked Grebe in Portland Harbour, 6th January
Red-breasted Merganser just after dawn, Portland Harbour, 6th January

Great Northern Diver, Portland Harbour, 6th January

By the following weekend the weather had calmed down enough to merit the first ride of the year down to Portland Harbour, where I was pleased to add Black-throated Diver, Red-necked and Slavonian Grebes to the year list. A birthday Black-necked back at Studland completed the set of Grebes later in the month.

I saw Black-throated Diver way out in Portland Harbour but this one in Holes Bay was much closer (photographed en route to B&Q!)

Black-throated Diver, Holes Bay, 7th January

Black-throated Diver, Holes Bay, 7th January
A small flock of Barnacle Geese visited my patch at Swineham a couple of times mid-month but frustratingly I was unable to catch up with them. It seemed like my luck was out again on 19th when, shortly after boarding the train to Reading for work, news broke of a flock of Waxwing in Upton, just as I was passing nearby Poole. Fortunately they stuck around until the weekend, and I was there first thing Saturday morning to admire them.
Black-throated Diver, Holes Bay, 6th January
Black-throated Diver, Holes Bay, 6th January
Black-throated Diver, Holes Bay, 6th January
What was left of January left just enough time to try out my new bike - a proper mountain bike for the off-road journeys which my trusty hybrid isn't quite up to - with a long distance twitch to Ringwood via the Castleman Trailway for a Glossy Ibis. Another tricky species which it was good to get under the belt so early in the year. The month ended with 99 species on the year list for my 153 miles cycled, both a fair bit down on previous Januaries but respectable in the context of 'taking it a bit easier'!

Glossy Ibis, Ringwood, Hampshire, 28th January

Wigeon, Holes Bay, 7th January

Shag, Holes Bay, 7th January

Sunday 14 April 2024

Back with a whimper

So long is it since I posted anything in this space I had to blow the dust off first. Not sure why exactly - there never seems to be enough time I suppose, but I am hereby resolving to make time rather than doom-scrolling through social media of an evening - and invite you, dear reader, to doom-scroll through this one. Because if I've had a shittier afternoon this year I can't recall it. 

Sandwich Tern, Arne
It started well enough with a genteel visit to the local garden centre with the lovely wife - yes we're that old, and we really needed that trellis - when news reached me that a Forster's Tern, the same individual which turned up in the area this time last year, was back at Arne. I felt almost obliged to go despite already having spent some 15 hours in the 4 days after I returned from an Easter family holiday in Scotland (more on which later) looking for it without success.

Little Owls haven't always played ball on my visits to Portland by bike - but yesterday one sat out nicely
There are of course worse places to sit than the beach at Arne, which affords views of Long, Round and Brownsea Islands, against the backdrop of urban Poole, but I confess the sight of it was wearing a bit thin by my fifth visit in a week. The Forster's had been pretty faithful to Shipstal Point during its extended stay last autumn but not so this spring, its appearances being both fleeting and erratic. It has been reliably seen on Brownsea most days, but this is not really accessible for the purposes of my non-motorised yearlisting exploits.
Red-throated Divers were heading east past Portland Bill fairly regularly
It's a 25 minute bike ride from home in Wareham to Shipstal Point, so even on the occasions when I have been able to go 'on news', there has still been plenty of time for the Tern to have rested up and gone fishing again by the time I arrive - I missed it by minutes on one occasion last weekend. By the time we got back from the garden centre, therefore, I knew today's effort was something of a long-shot. As I rolled up to the bike rack at Shipstal Point my rear tyre deflated but at least this happened at the end not the start of the journey. I figured I would pump it up it later just before heading home, as the self-sealing inner tube would likely just need re-flating rather than replacing.

A summer plumaged Great Northern Diver was heading the opposite way to the Red-throats
Before the Tern appeared, my plan had been to have a lazy afternoon at home watching Liverpool beat Crystal Palace to regain their rightful place at the top of the Premier League - but I realised thanks to the wonders of modern technology, I could set up the scope on the beach, keep one eye out for the Tern, and the other on the football streaming live to my phone. To cut the long story of the next couple of hours short, Liverpool lost the match and the Tern failed to reappear. 
A quick stop at Lodmoor on the way home from Portland produced over 50 Med Gulls
I tweeted how 'things could be worse, I could have two punctures', then returned to the bike to find that I had just that. Had my friend and massive Palace fan Marcus Lawson not moved to Scotland I would have laid odds that it was he who let the tyres down, just to rub it in. In the end he just had to make do with trolling me on social media. Neither self-sealing inner tube would hold pressure on re-flating - for one not to do so is unfortunate, for two not to do so unheard of. Fortunately I was carrying a couple of spares and after some faffing around to replace them I was on my way, cursing my luck, the Forster's Tern and Eberechi Eze, the scorer of Palace's winning goal. 
Med Gull at Lodmoor, 13th April
These are, of course, very much first world problems and entirely of my own making - no-one is forcing me to obsessively twitch Forster's Terns by bike or indeed support Liverpool - but it still made for a pretty crap day. Better, then, to think happy thoughts of yesterday, when I made my first trip of the year to Portland by bike, confident that a few new birds would be added to the non-motorised year list. 

Med Gulls at Lodmoor
Whilst chasing around for Pied Flys and Ring Ouzels proved unsuccessful, in the end I managed six new species for the year - Wheatear and Little Terns at Ferrybridge, Little Owl at the Bill, and Kittiwake, Red-throated Diver and Manx Shearwater on the sea. This decent little haul brought the list to 149 for 2024 - way down on the tally for the last 3 years, reflecting the fact that I am trying to find a slightly better balance this year between birding by bike and fulfilling other duties. But don't tell the Forster's Tern that!
Linnet on Wareham Common added a splash of colour to the day