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

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