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Thursday, 29 January 2015

Two Days, 3 RSPB reserves, 3 new year list birds and 3 fabulous people encounters.

Wednesday 28th January

From a comfortable night at Fishbourne, near Chichester, in a room called Tiberius, the cycling was tough as there was now a strong westerly wind hitting my face. Please let me have the wind behind me one day.
To Thorney Island and the checkpoint for the Ministry of Defence. I was given instructions from the officer on charge on where to go and found the west seawall that would lead me to Pilsey Island RSPB reserve.
A lovely lady allowed me to hide my bike and belongings at her house and despite torrential rain and a strong gale, I set off. Getting through the security fence, I found it difficult to stay upright as the wind battered me and the mud on the path was deep and slippery. Great fun!
At West Thorney I found a greenshank, Bird number 124 for the year, and as the weather was improving I took a few photographs.
Further along the path were a dozen or so red-breasted mergansers, bird number 125.
Finding the sign eventually for Pilsey Island after a hour or so trek was a cause for celebration as now I could retrace my steps and have the wind behind me for a short while.
More rain and stinging hail in it too.
Stopped at St Michael's church to look at the WW2 graves and noted German as well as British dead. So young,
Collecting the bike, the long ride into the wind continued to reach Langstone Harbour RSPB reserve. The temperature had changed throughout the day. What had been a mild day was now bitterly cold. Still that's what I am out of the comfort zone for.
Into Portsmouth and a stop at the football ground to look at details of the Portsmouth Pals, deaths and actions during WW1. 6,500 dead from Portsmouth!
To Southsea and a meeting with an incredible woman, Lez Hannibal, a woman full of life, opinion and with a past! She is now a photographer but in the past was in the Geisha Girls band. Her ex partner was in Quadrophenia, Spider (Gary Shail) and she approached me to ask about whether I could do something about the macho men who tazz their radio controlled speed boats around the park pond, disturbing the birds.
Lez told me about film locations in Southsea, especially for The Who's Tommy! A brilliant person to meet.
Thursday 29th January
Over to Gosport to see the ever present, well almost ever present ringed-billed gull. The bird did try to camouflage himself by hiding his ringed bill in very black mud but his yellow iris gave him away. Well, that and the fact that he was the only bird on the emptied pool's mud other than black-headed gulls.
Back in 2010 he had eluded me but today he became bird number 126 on the year list.
Next it was over to the Isle of Wight to get to Brading Marsh RSPB reserve. Here I had been looking forward to looking over the sewage works there. In 2010 there had been a number of birds on the biological filters, the circular pits full of stones that has the effluent sprinkled over them by a rotating boom. No chance this time as both filters had been dismantled. Progress!
It reminded me of when I used to live in Swanage, Dorset. A new sewage works stopped sewage going directly out to sea and ruined the birdwatching off Peveril Point. A very good friend, Gordon Barnes and I, went to the sewage works to ask for sewage to be allowed through once a week!
Along the bridleway having views over the reserve, I made my way eventually back to Ryde via the back roads, all the time looking out for red squirrels unsuccessfully.
Back at the hotel I received a phone call from a great mate from Upton Warren, Vern Hughes. His son, Daniel and Daniel's girlfriend, Katie would be visiting me at 7.
What a shame that two smashing young people had to sit with an old fart like me but we spent an hour or so with a drink and a chat. Now what was the chances that Katie would mention that one possible study at university was of tapeworms in sticklebacks? My thesis 37 years ago had been on the parasitology of the three spined stickleback, gasterosteus aculeatus and when a secondary teacher in Wolverhampton I used to show the students tapeworms emerging from dead sticklebacks collected from the local canal. Strange coincidences.
The lovely couple ended the visit by passing over a £20 note given to them by their Dad, Vern to give to me with the strict instructions that I buy myself a good meal!
It's wonderful to have wonderful friends.
The third friend I have yet to meet. An ex student from that school in Wolverhampton messaged me on facebook to arrange a coffee tomorrow. We haven't seen each other for 31 years. Brilliant.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Four Day catch up - Shoreham to Fishbourne January 24th to 27th 2015

3 days away from the internet!


Saturday 24th January 2015
Cycled to Shoreham and explored the south edge of the Adur estuary RSPB reserve, viewing the houseboats. Hamish's were still there and as creative as ever. His house boats include a coach on one with washing machine windows, a fire engine on another and a Robin reliant on another!

 A long cycle from here to Horsham included a stop at a Triumph motorcycle shop to look at Bonnevilles.
A fabulous evening with my cousin Honor and her husband Ian with a visit to my over 90 year old Uncle Harold, ended the day. Lots of WW1 memorabilia from my Dad's dad, my grandfather to look at and marvel at the fact he survived, just.

 Sunday 25th January 2015.

Eventually cycled to Pulborough Brooks RSPB reserve, after pulling myself away from the wonderful company of Honor and Ian.
Met the famous birder, Garry Bagnall and enjoyed his company and chat.

 No sign of the tundra bean goose seen here the day before but enjoyed the birding nonetheless.

Monday 26th January 2015.

Treecreeper started the day at Pulborough Brooks and another for the Green Year list, now at 123.

 The morning was spent birding here before the cycle ride to Amberley Wildbrooks RSPB and Sussex reserve and on to the WWT reserve at Arundel.


 43 bird species at Pulborough compared with 31 at Arundel.
Onward to Littlehampton to try to find the Kumlein's gull, unsuccessfully and a bit of luck in finding a lovely B and B, Victoria Hotel. Diana's collection of shells and Toby jugs, amongst other clutter and the general old-fashioned feel to the place was delightful. Diana being the proprietor.

Tuesday 27th January 2015

Breakfast not until 8.30am so an hour or so spent searching for the Kumelin's gull again and again unsuccessful.
Breakfast was immense and after debating climate change with the forthright Diana, I found the rare gull as it was flying near to the mouth of the river. Unfortunately it was flying into the sun and went off a long way east. I followed it carefully though as it turned and headed back towards me. More bad luck came as it went off over the back of the buildings out of view. I cycled around and tried the river side but to no avail. Only the worst of photographs obtained.
Cycled to Pagham via Bognor Regis and pushed the bike along the harbour wall that makes a route through the Pagham Harbour nature reserve.
Very low tide so all waders were at a distance but a large group of Brent geese flying nearby was impressive.
Into the RSPB visitor's centre nearby for a hot chocolate and then up to Selsey Bill.
To the new RSPB reserve at Medmerry but no sign of the reported spoonbills. What a change to this area! Five years ago lorries were transporting shingle along a compacted road adjacent to the beach. Now there are large lagoons and a breech in the shingle to allow the high tide waters to enter the reserve. Superb habitat and an area that will only improve as it matures.
Having seen the changes at Wallsea Island and now Medmerry, I can but just reflect with wonder how brilliant the RSPB and their partners are in creating these mega reserves.
Gritty cycleways and a busy main road to tonight's B and B, The Woolpack at Fishbourne where my room is named after Tiberius! Well Fishbourne does have the amazing Fishbourne Roman Villa.

Photos to come.

All the best everyone. xx

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Tudeley Woods and Broadwater Warren RSPB Reserves Day 22 January 22nd 2015

A portion of last night's chicken something left over from my Chines meal sufficed for breakfast and I was soon off to Tudeley Woods RSPB reserve a couple of miles north of Pembury. I was off un-encumbered by three of the heavy panniers as well as I left them at the B & B, knowing it would not be to much of a detour to return that way.
The A21 was as unpleasant as yesterday but at least now it was light. I actually overshot the right turn into the lane that goes to the reserve car park and it didn't take too long before a kind lorry driver, noticing my plight, stopped the mass of traffic for me to cross safely.
Tudeley Woods RSPB reserve, I remembered being there back in 2010. Now the car park is sadly closed but it was good to see all of the notices still up. The ones at Cliffe having been vandalised. I took photographs of them and craftily closed in on an excellent photograph of a marsh tit. Looks good but I have yet to see one this year.
The big cycle push through a very quiet forest, management work seemed to have concentrated on an area of heathland within a fence compound to the south and scrub clearance in a large meadow.
Birds were very few in number and only over flying black-headed gulls reached double figures.
In fact so quiet was it that I stopped to do a video diary update for youtube.

Through out the walk I only met one other person and that was Steve who lives in the house in the middle of the forest.

There may have been no birds due to the time of year but it was so serenely beautiful, It reminded me of Scotland and but for the noise from the dreaded A21.

Eventually I reached the public footpath giving an exit to the south and I made my way back to the B & B.

Next to Broadwater Warren RSPB reserve, via Royal Tunbridge Wells.

On arriving it was immediately apparent that there had been management work carried out here on a massive scale. Gone was the claustrophobic feel of being within the dark confines of a sterile conifer wood. Instead huge open areas of developing heathland. Brilliant. Given a few years one could see that this would be superb habitat and so much better than previously. I remembered seeing the same sort of habitat change through management at Farnham Heath. There they had done a lot of conifer clearing and it will be good to see how that has changed over the last five years.

A long natter with Sue started because they though I was a RSPB warden and they wanted to argue about the no dogs off leads from February rule. Sue said that there were foxes and badgers, which is true but I mentioned dog numbers being much larger than the numbers of those and that the place would be very special for ground nesting birds. The usual talk about plastic bag/dog pooh disposal and then the conversation went towards birds.

After twenty minutes or so I heard a call and on turning 180 degrees I saw a small flock of siskin going onto a row of tall conifers. Time to be off, bird number 122 on the list and seen well though photographing them proved impossible as they were so high in the trees, Also here were a small group of long-tailed tits.

The long push along the muddy pathway south continued for another mile or so before I reached Elridge rocks, the only sandstone outcrop on the south east, so the Essex Wildlife Trust notice stated.

Back on the bike with two very long pushes up long hills and even longer no pedalling required descents got me to Uckfield, East Sussex. The latter of the two pushes had been the never-ending push through Crowborough, the home of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes.

Another day, another bird.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

I am a megastar!
Why the self glorification? I reached Pembury, just outside Tunbridge Wells today despite the constant rain and the terror of the A21 in the dark with rush hour traffic.
Tomorrow I can get to Tudeley Woods RSPB reserve and then cycle onto Broadwater warren RSPB reserve the other side of Tunbridge Wells.
Today was about going the distance and saying thank you to three special people who helped me when I cycled this way back in 2010.
First port of call was a roadside cabin with 'Arnold'. This was what one of her customers called her. This lovely lady gave me a free cup of coffee last time and so I stopped to remind her of her kindness. She offered me another one but I refused.
Next, after getting lost (twit) I called in on Jim and Kate Lawrence.
In 2010 the bike's gear system failed me as I cycled towards Forewood RSPB reserve and I arrived there when it was almost dark and like today, it was raining. This lovely old couple took me in when they saw me trying to repair the bike and gave me a bed for the night.
Now Jim, now 91, used to play for Manchester City back in the 50s and worked with Walter Winterbottom as a coach after that. On that evening in 2010 we spent it looking through all of his football memorabilia, including two tickets from the 1966 World Cup final.
Today I accepted a glass of water, which was delicious, and a bar of chocolate. I refused Jim's repeated offers of a whiskey and ginger!
I also declined kate's offer of a meal. Last time she had arranged tomatoes and eggs on wholemeal toast for breakfast so that it looked like a flag. Beautiful people and their reaction to seeing me again was humbling and affectionate.
"Don't forget to write and always remember that there's a bed and a meal for you anytime." I felt like the prodigal son yet I am but a stranger to this wonderful pair.
Another re-encounter was at Stiles Garage in Battle. These fabulous people fixed those gears back in 2010 for free and today they quickly checked my brakes which were a little loose. Thanks Tom!
The rest of the afternoon was spent cycling north to Pembury, back into Kent and the less mentioned about the A21 once darkness fell the better my dear Mum will sleep tonight!
Now I have over-faced myself at the local Chinese take away and will save one tub of something containing chicken for an extra breakfast item.
One last maybe spiritual thought.
This morning I lost my way. Actually I hadn't looked up where Forewood RSPB reserve actually was, thinking that I would remember on the way.
I didn't and ended up about 6 miles north. Feeling foolish but in too much of a good mood to really care, I was pushing the bike up a hill, the roads seemed to have long upward pushes followed by long lovely descents all day, when I came upon a 2p coin on the side of the road.
Now Paul Coelho's book, The Alchemist states that one should always look out for omens when aiming towards one's dream.
Why is a 2p coin an omen? Remember Mary Poppins? Feed The Birds song? How much a bag? Exactly.
Just a little way up the hill was a piece of debris from I presume a car. On it was written "Alex Original". The original Birding Clam members will know why this was an omen also.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Day 20 Rye Harbour Nature Reserve

Day 20. If every day of this year's Biking Birder tour is going to be this good, and so many days have been fabulous, then the tales at the end will keep me goinbg to my dotage.
Snow, around an inch or two, made everything picture postcard beautiful this morning and finding daffodils in full flower was a surprise. Close by jays under an oak and sheep in a snowy field adjacent to an avenue of Limes, that was the scene as I went in Winchelsea on the way to Rye Harbour nature reserve to look for the Lesser yellowlegs.
Now the Yankie bird wasn't recorded yesterday but undeterred I was going to give it one day before saying 'oh well; and heading off to try and get back on track with the itinerary.
Down at the seawall three birders pointed out three common scoter, bird number 119 and said the LYL had been seen.
On arriving at where they stated it was there was no sign. I waited. A ruff, bird number 120 but not the yellowlegs. The phone rang, with my sister giving news on the condition of my Dad. He'd had an accident a few days previous and she, Donna new I was worried.
Then as she talked I heard a call and in came the special one. "Got to go Sis."
It stayed for just two minutes, enough to check id' and take just one photo. One is all it takes. UTB Bird number 121 and another of the '54's.
Searching around didn't give me any more views so I headed off to Rye Harbour nature reserve proper.
I stopped at an old lifeboat house to read the details of a long off disaster and went in a hide to photograph the massed oystercatchers and nearby little grebes.
At the far end of the reserve, the eastern end, whilst photographing WW2 pillboxes, I met two superb gentlemen, Leo from South Africa and Maurilio originally from Italy. We chatted, when do I not? for an hour or so as we went in a hide nearby and I heard about Leo's life during the apartheid years when he was placed in solitary confinement by the police for his views.
Both were photographers and as the morning sun disappeared and the rain began, they packed up their equipment and we said goodbye.
On the way back to Winchelsea, where I am staying at a lovely lodge, I stopped to seawatch for an hour behind the lifeboat house already mentioned.
Around 250 common scoter were some distance offshore and good numbers of dunlin and grey plovers came past and landed to feed as the tide receeded.
Past the yellowlegs pool, no sign, so cyclied into Winchelsea and decided to ahev a look in the ancient church there as the rain was pouring down.
Warmth, beautiful stain glass windows and medieval tomb effigies and then . .
Spike Milligan's grave!
When I stayed at St Paul's youth hostel in London just a couple of weeks ago, I went and stood in the place where I had met Spike on the day of Charlie and Di's wedding. Here I was now standing at his grave. A wonderful surprise.
My last surprise was that I managed to change e brake pads for new ones. As I may have said before I am a birder, not a cyclist.

Monday, 19 January 2015

OK it's the 19th of January 2015 and I have seen 118 different species of bird on my cycling tour so far.
The Biking Birder 2015 blog is inaccessible by me so here's where the news and updates will be, as well as on my Facebook community page called --- Biking Birder 2015.
I am now in Winchelsea, just into East Sussex after 2 very successful days birding around Dungeness. In fact three days when I consider that I had a '54' bird on Saturday, a night heron.

A '54' bird is one that I didn't see when I did the tour of all the RSPB reserves back in 2010. Please google Biking Birder 2010 for details of the wonderful time I had that year. the worst weather in Britain on record at both ends of the year and I still cycled every mile. I ran out of money and was sleeping in bus shelters, church porches and bird hides for the last three months but I had to finish and finish I did.
Now the reason for the number 54. Well in 2010 I saw 252 bird species, a new British Green year list record. Then the year after the people that know took one away from me, deeming that the red-breasted goose at Exminster Marshes RSPB Reserve was an escape and so I ended up level on 251 with the inimitable Chris Mills of Norfolk
Now to break the European record, held by Porc from Barcelona, which stands at a formidable 304, I need 54 birds over and above the ones I saw in 2010 to beat it. Get it?
Now thinking about today I had two birds that I only saw one of each back in 2010. First up a hard to find sleeping red-crested pochard took over an hour to find. Then on arriving at a field where 2 cattle egrets have been practically ever present for some time no sign of them. Another hour long wait and in one flew.Now I think of these two as birds that I might have had difficulty getting so was extremely grateful that patience paid off.

Now the list of birds that I have seen so far is on Bubo.
gary prescott: Britain Year List for 2015
and I am trying hard to ensure that I photograph each bird, especially the special ones. The photographs may not be the most aesthetic but at least they are recorded.
Right time to upload and see about adding images.
All the very best everyone.

Gary aka The Biking Birder 2015

Now can I ask if you could please make a donation to one of the charities I am supporting. here are the links.

For the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust started by my childhood environmental hero, Sir Peter Scott.

Then for Asthma UK whom I am supporting because I have been an asthmatic all of my life.

and also the RSPB, the world's largest environmental charity. 

The final charity I am supporting is in Peru! At Chaskawasi Manu, children from the rainforest have the opportunity of an education. I will detail more about this fabulous project later.