Up early and out before light and before breakfast in order to look for hawfinches. Being in Parkend, I walked over the rail bridge and up the back lane to the church. Almost immediately in the poor light of a cloudy morning a crossbill went and peerched on the top most twig of a tall tree beside the churchyard. Then the real prize bird did the same. Hawfinch UTB, Birds number 159 and 160 for the Green Year list. Fabulous start to the day.
A birder from Swindon, Andrew Whittaker arrived. Andrew explained that he wanted to see hawfinches for his 50th birthday and together we waited and searched for around an hour but no further sign of any.
I had to get back for breakfast and was actually a little late as I walked back down the back lane towards the railway station and The Fountain Inn.
3 hawfinches in the trees just by the railway line, I ran back up the hill shouting for Andrew. He came running and eventually he had his telescope trained on a male bird high in the trees. Lifer for him, good deed for the day for me.
After a hearty breakfast with lads from Essex it was out into the now drizzly damp day and immediately met a group of Brummie birders. The West Midland Bird Club were having a trip around The Forest of Dean and were searching for hawfinches and seeing them as some of these fabulous birds flew overhead, A grey wagtail landed on the Inn roof.
Brilliant to meet my fellow Brummies, I asked for a photo of them all and they obliged as seen below.
One of their number, Jane Tavener was a young girl and a very keen birder. It's always a thrill to me when I see young people out birding.
After they'd gone I watched as more hawfinches came to the area of yew trees by the cricket pitch. I then cycled to the nearby Nag's Head RSPB reserve and spent over two hours there, half of that in the hide overlooking a small pool with two ladies, and the other hour or so pushing the bike around one of the trails. I was looking for lesser spotted woodpecker. They had been reported here but I wasn't lucky enough to see one.
I did meet the Caerphilly Ramblers though and thanks to them for the donations.
Off to Newport wetlands, the rest of the day was spent cycling to there via Chepstow. At there was a superb system of Roman walls. I complete surprise, this place screams at me to come back one day and spend longer exploring it.
On eventually reaching Goldcliffe with the sun going down, I met four young Polish people about to socialise in one of the hides overlooking the lagoons there. Instead of their expected cigarettes and booze hide away, they had me showing them the avocets and black-tailed godwits, the sun silhouetted lapwings and redshanks.
Another early birding session had me counting all the waders in front of me on the main lagoon at Goldcliffe. There were 47 avocets, 48 black-tailed godwits, 1 greenshank, 5 oystercatchers, 74 redshank, 14 dunlin and 25 lapwing, one of which was sitting.
A female marsh harrier going over put them all up and by the time I had to leave in order to get to Newport wetlands RSPB centre about 3 miles away, I had seen 31 different species of bird.
The visitor's centre was closed when I arrived there so I went up onto the area not owned by the RSPB but by Natural Resources Wales. Sounding more like a renewable energy company, this is actually the name for the organisation owning the nature reserves of the area and this one is a huge area of reed beds and lagoons with good paths around and through them. Immediately on going along one of the paths a cetti's warbler called and then a small group of bearded tits tinged giving brief views as they flew over the reeds.Down by one of the smallest lighthouses one can see in Britain I suspect, the tide was fully in and there were very few birds on the sea; just some wigeon, mallard and shelduck.
A peregrine went between the electricity pylons and day list went up to 49 very quickly.
The RSPB visitor's centre was open by the time I had cycled and pushed around a lot of the reed bed area and I met Lisa at the admissions desk. The centre is a beautiful building with a great cafe having large windows overlooking a feeding station and small lake. A little egret was walking around the lake's edge and goldfinch, greenfinch and pheasant took the day list to 52. It always feels good to me to see over 50 birds in an early morning winter birding session. Buzzard flying over then made it 53.
A fabulously lovely surprise was Rob and Lyndsay from Arne suddenly coming over as I enjoyed a bacon bap and a hot chocolate in the cafe. I had met this superb couple of enthusiastic RSPB at Arne a few weeks back and they were on a tour of various RSPB reserves as a holiday. They are such a brilliant couple.
Another conversation with a mountain walking enthusiast, whose name I'm sorry to say I can't recall, had this old gentleman tell me the reason the Eiger was where it was was in order to keep the 'Old Monk' away from the Young lady. The three main mountains near Grindlewald in Switzerland being the Monch, Eiger and Jungfrau. I well remember a family holiday there with a large trailer tent. Karen, my late wife and the four children had got onto the train to go to the top of the Jungfrau while I got the train tickets. The train left without me!
It was then a chat with Anthony Crook, a profoundly deaf RSPB volunteer who used lip reading to understand me. He told me that it was good that my beard didn't cover my lips.Eventually time to go, I took a photograph of all the RSPB staff. Thanks to them for a great visit. Birds and breakfast. Brilliant.
Cycling towards Cardiff I saw a Lloyds Bank so I went in to close my very long standing account there. I should have done this years ago but the final nail in their coffin as far as I am concerned was when I saw their CEO being interviewed over their current position. I was appalled by the arrogant, smarmy way he brushed off the question of his annual wage with a casual comment of 'well that's what they pay me.' No banker should receive £11 million a year! Strange how not one of these thieving ********* that have caused the financial problems Britain is suffering from, no it wasn't Labour! Has ever been prosecuted. Fraud on their scale requires government bale outs. What a society.
OK back to the birds.
I cycled to Cardiff Bay Wetlands and soon found the long staying lesser scaup, bird number 161.
Now lesser scaup is a very special bird to me as three students from the Coppice High School YOC group that I ran in the 1980s found the very first one for Europe at Chasewater, Staffordshire.
Alex Barter, Jason Oliver and Richard Southall found a small male duck that they didn't recognise. They alerted some local birder experts to the bird who didn't know what it was either. A week of research and a visit to Slimbridge convinced them all that the bird was new for the Western Palearctic, a male lesser scaup and the news went out. Hundreds if not thousands of birders and twitchers arrived to see it over the next few days.
Now I had one in front of me.
Alex sadly died too young from heart attack but Jason still birds nearly every weekend as a member of The Birding Clams. Their ongoing birding adventures can be seen on the Birding Clams facebook page. By the way Clams stands for Clear Lunacy and Madness Society!https://www.facebook.com/groups/492704280806443/
It's a massive thrill to me that lads from my school teaching days at Coppice High in Wolverhampton (on Ashma!) are still birding. Thanks to Ste Alcott, Jason Oliver and Alex's brother Antony for so many fabulous birding days, weekends and even holidays birding in Scotland and France. Thanks lads. Clam on!
After a superb night at the brand new, opened the previous Friday, Cardiff Youth Hostel and after enjoying see Arsenal beat Utd the evening before on a TV in the dormitory, I cycled around much of Cardiff bay searching for the reported Bonaparte's gull. Needle in a haystack job and no chance. I did see the lesser scaup again though before heading off on a long cycle to Clydach. The day was the best yet, weather-wise, very sunny and almost no wind. 49 miles covered during the day, I got to Clydach via Bridgend, Port Talbot and Neath and put my tent up on a boggy hillside and slept for 11 hours solid.
One thing to mention was a Muslim shop keeper who came out of the shop where I had just bought some milk, to give me a large chocolate swiss roll for free. Thanks.
The 200 yards from my campsite to the RSPB reserve at Cwm Clydach didn't take long as it was a white-knuckle downward hill. Now the reserve reminds me of Raiders of the Lost Ark as it's shape is that of the crescent moon. I long river valley, well wooded, I walked the bike along the path until I reached the footbridge. Just beyond there there was a gate by which I exited the reserve with a long push up hill to the village. I had seen 3 grey wagtails, a dipper, a treecreeper and a nuthatch excavating a nest hole.
Having a biscuit breakfast in a bus shelter I saw a pair of red kites fly over. I had seen one the day before near to Cowbridge whilst cycling. Great to see them spreading around the whole of Wales. No reintroduction here, just the spreading from the Tregaron-Lampeter population from years ago. Visit one of the Welsh feeding stations like Gigrin Farm near Rhayader to see masses of these amazing birds.
Cycling over towards the WWT Llanelli Wetland Centre, I stopped to photograph one of the solar farms that have cropped up since my last cycle trip around the UK in 2010. Here I met another Essex bloke in Nathan who quizzed me about my journey.
Now I like solar farms and would love to see more of them. Have the sheep feed on the grass beneath the solar panels and everyone's happy aren't they? Fields of plastic sheeting or fields of solar panels, I know which I prefer.Rain had started to fall by the time I reached the superb WWT Llanelli centre but I still had a fantastic day there. I met Nigel, the site manager and various WWT staff including the 'come and meet the Biking Birder ' Beryl! I also met Wendell, a local birder who remembered, as did I, our previous meeting at the Gwenfrydd Dinas RSPB reserve back in 2010. We'd seen wood warblers and pied flycatchers on a broadwalk area there.
I walked around a lot of the reserve in drizzle and sometimes rain and saw exactly 50 bird species including an obliging water rail, a video of which I have put on Youtube and a female pheasant pointed out by one of the cafe ladies.
Thanks to Phil, a local birder who left a donation for me at WWT Llanelli. It went straight to them Phil, Thanks.
Now please have a look at my facebook page - https://www.facebook.com/bikingbirder2015
Also if you could please make a small donation to any of the charities that I am supporting then please click on the links to the right. I know I put this onto the end of every blog posting but I really get a boost from every donation. The RSPB, The WWT, Asthma UK and Chaskawasi-Manu. I would be so grateful if you could make a donation however small. Thanks.
All the very best everyone. Love to you all xx