February 3rd 2015
Open the curtains and what does one find? Two to three inches of the white stuff, snow. Oh well, it is February after all so after a great breakfast served by Donna Wade, Aunt to the famous darts player, James Wade, I packed everything up and …a phone call from my daughter.
Half an hour later on the road and not too bad. Gentle hills along the busy motorway-like A303 but then a puncture in the rear tyre. I can't complain as this was the first of the year.
The air valve had become detached from the inner tube so I put a new inner tube in and pumped it up. That one burst immediately! Luckily I never just take one spare inner tube with me and thankfully the next one was fine.
Not much to say about the next three hours as all it entailed was me making progress towards the next RSPB reserve, Westbourne Downs, north of Salisbury. I did stop a few times including for a couple of wildlife casualties; a mink and a tawny owl. Actually I saw two dead tawny owls, sad to say.
On reaching my next accommodation, Chordleton Youth Hostel, I left the panniers and such behind a shed and cycled to the reserve a couple of miles away.
On reaching the RSPB car park I pushed the bike around a large field, over to a large chalky bank created for butterflies. Great idea!
Few birds were around due to the snow and ice but interesting to watch a buzzard that decided to go over a rookery. It was soon chased off.Back at the youth hostel, which is attached to the Rare Breeds farm, I had half an hour before the opening of the reception. I spent the time photographing the setting sun through the trees and various bird footprints. Across the road from the farm 7 female peacocks were sitting on a wall and a male strutted his stuff below on the path.
Back at the farm, a year tick, yellowhammers and about time too. What's happened to farmland birds? It used to be that yellowhammers were everywhere. Not today.
Tomorrow, trusting that there won't be too much snow, it's off to Stonehenge to visit the Normanton Downs RSPB reserve there. Back in 2010 I only saw this reserve in the dark!
The Great Bustard Group on Salisbury Plain had phoned me and asked me to visit. My reluctance changed to desperation as they told me that they had my friend's bird! My dearest friend, the late Gordon Barnes had found a female great bustard whilst he was a crofter on Fair Isle back in 1970.
Nurturing the sick bird back to health on a diet of cabbages and mice, it was taken to Salisbury Plain as part of the unsuccessful first reintroduction group. It was captured and put in a zoo where it promptly killed itself by hitting the fence. This was not before it achieved a measure of fame as the subject of a Giles cartoon.
That was the last Gordon ever heard of the bird but the Great Bustard Group had the stuffed female great bustard and I had to see it.
See it I did and it meant that it was dark by the time I reached Normanton Downs. I still birded the reserve however, hearing barn owl, lapwings and red-legged partridge. I also managed to clog up the wheels of the bike by pushing it through very thick mud!
After Normanton Downs it's off to Salisbury with a promised NE wind behind me. So Year list is now at 129. In a few days I hope that is increased by a few rarer birds available in Dorset.