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Saturday, 28 March 2015

An Eclipse, A Lesser Spot and The Who. An Eclectic Mix of Days.

Friday 20th March

A solar eclipse, 90% so would be good one drew me out of the B and B before breakfast when it had just started. Three students had welding glass and passed it over for me to view the chunk missing on the right side of the Sun. After breakfast around 50 people, mostly students were on the cliff side awaiting the moment of maximum coverage at 9.30am. My front tyre was flat so I pushed everything along to the seafront end and thinking that the repair could wait, used binoculars to get an image of the eclipse on a white fence post. Quite a pronounced crescent, I next took photographs using my bridge camera set at its darkest setting. Even at maximum the Sun was still very bright but the photographs showed its brilliance and the shape of the eclipse to the left.

Some students had no protection at all. Others were using just a sheet of paper! More sensible ones had welders goggles and one person had a steel colander which created fabulous images of the eclipse, a superb arrangement of crescent suns in a patterned circle.
Eclipse waning away from the maximum, everyone started to disperse and I started on repairing the puncture. Only I couldn't find a puncture. I took the front wheel off and took the inner tube out. I pumped it up. No puncture. Next problem was, once I had deflated it again and placed it back in the tyre I couldn't get my pump to work.
Leaving the bike at the B and B, I took the wheel to a nearby cycle shop and found out that the pump had broken and that there was indeed nothing wrong with the inner tube. Strange how it was flat as I came out for the eclipse. Poltergeist!
Pumped up and raring to get to the next RSPB reserve, I cycled the 12 miles or so to Ynys Hir.
Say goodbye to the bearded Biking Birder
Now this is one of my absolute favourite RSPB reserves. It is large with a wide range of diverse habitats from oak woodland to wet grasslands, views over the Dyfi Estuary and reedbeds. Leaving the bike safely hidden in one of the RSPB garages there, I walked around to the spot where a lesser spotted woodpecker had been seen 3 times during the week. I sat beside a tree and hoped. 2 hours later there had been a number of treecreepers, nuthatches and great spotted woodpeckers but no lesser.

Chatting with three birders, including the rare nowadays birding reserve warden, Russell was fascinating as birding chat always is to me. Russell and the lady opposite who's name I can't recall were talking about their forthcoming trip to Belarus birding. Great time of year to go.
With it starting to get dark, I had one last go at seeing the lesser spot, not seen and retired for the night.

Saturday 21st March

Up at 5.00am in order to be back at the lesser spot spot, I got there and almost immediately heard it drumming weakly. Quickly putting the bike and stuff against the gate I ran to where I could here the drumming coming from and soon found the little bird on the top most branch of an oak tree to the right of the path's crossroad. Brilliant. I punched the air and tried to get photographs. This proved impossible as the bird was at the back of a mass of twigs and branches and the camera would not focus on it. Still I was watching it and onto the list it can go. Bird number 164 and a very special one as I missed this bird completely in 2010.
The bird flew off over in the direction of the empty RSPB house and so I settled down in my armchair like spot against the tree again hoping it would return so that I could get some photos of it. Now this may sound daft but I feel guilty if I don't get a photograph of each bird I see. If you remember I missed photographing the ferruginous duck at Blashford Lakes as I chose to text all my friends to tell them I'd got it first. Now there are only three that I haven't photographed out of the 164 on my list so I'm not doing bad on that front.
As I sat against my tree, a visiting birder arrived and I told him of the lesser spot. Now I had met this gentleman before back in 2010. His name was harry Pepper and he had shown me my first manx shearwaters when I was cycling along the seafront by Aberystwyth Castle.
Together we went down to the Saltings hide to watch a huge tide cover the grasslands next to the estuary. Listing the birds I wrote down red-breasted mergansers and goosanders, little egrets and bar-tailed godwits along with the commoner birds. The tide came in all the way to the grass covered dyke and pushed the waders onto a stone wall and a small area of grass on a raised hummock. It was a superb hour or so watching as everything was covered by the fast incoming tide.

As the tide receded, we went up to a small hill to get an elevated look over the area. 8 little egrets were on an island to one of the pools overlooked by the hides but there was only 3 close raptors; one buzzard and two red kites. More distantly we could see a few more red kites over a distant hill with a conifer plantation on it.

Saying goodbye to Harry after taking a photo of him, I spent the rest of the day exploring every footpath on the reserve. A broadwalk over a habitat creation project area was gorgeous. The area was a conifer plantation with an understory of rhododendrons. Now it's a raised peat bog in its early days but already showing sphagnum and rush development.
Down to Breakwater Hide with the hope of seeing the reported bean goose. I couldn't find the flock of white-fronted geese that it was associating with. The flock had either gone or had moved further down the saltings to a position out of view from the hide. There was also a heat haze to make distant viewing impossible.
No problem, I should catch up with a bean goose or two later in the year. The lesser spotted woodpecker had been the better bird to get.
Butterflies and bumblebees in the warmth of a perfect Spring afternoon. Spring, the first day of, I spent an hour shaving my winter plumage, my beard off. I left the trimmings on a picnic bench for the local birds to use for nest material, Later in the day people enjoying taking the rise out of my two tone appearance; a sun-tanned upper face, a white lower.
Peacock and comma butterflies, a few bumblebees that I will have to put names to later, I ended my walk on 59 bird species, the best number so far this year for a day list.
Leaving the reserve I went north along the A road, beautiful views over the river were soon stopped by a high stone wall preventing one from seeing any more.

I called in to the Osprey viewpoint place on the Dyfi River and saw that the video screens and shop was undamaged after an appalling attack by mindless vandals last week. Apparently they smashed up some computer equipment and stole about £12.
A cycle ride to Machynlleth followed, just a few miles of mostly cycle path.

Sunday 22nd March.

A day of completing an article for a magazine which will hopefully be published and a fabulous surprise when a family of good friends turned up.
The article is about Green Birding around a part of Morecambe Bay. It contains maps, route and expected species. My first attempt at such and I hope it is alright and useful. I would love more people to take up the 'sport' of Green Birding. Doing a day list by cycling has its proponents, such as Chris Mills and Nick Moran who in 2011 did a Big Green Day around Norfolk. Unbelievably they saw 144 birds that day. Incredible achievement and must be a record.
Have a read of the article about their amazing day on Birdguides.
Sue Rowe on the same day, a Green Birding Big Day event coordinated by an American, took on the carbon twitching Lee Evans in their home area and . . . drew. To me these two achievements epitomise what Green Birding is all about from the Big Green Day perspective.
As for doing a Big Green Year, well the tactics are different; very different indeed to a carbon Big Year. My plan is to include all sites where I can pick up the regular birds that one would expect to see during a Big Year around the UK. As I travel I hope to pick up each regions rarities present as I pass. Then certain counties and islands need to be visited when they are their peak for getting those 40 plus national rarities that I need to beat the British record. Hence my itinerary includes the month of May in East Anglia where I will also pick up the regulars I missed back in 2010 due to being too far north for them. These include hobby (!), nightingale and turtle dove, Montagu's harrier and stone curlew. Then the Autumn is spent on the Northern Isles; August is for the Orkneys with both September and October on Shetland.              
When cycling to an itinerary its hard to turn back for any long distance when you hear of a bird that appears at a location you left a couple of days before. At the moment I am averaging 27 miles a day cycling with a fully loaded bike. To go back just 20 miles would therefore take a day out of the itinerary. Mind you I am sure that some birds will turn up which will have me peddling like the clappers to get to.
On the other hand the 'carrots' texted to me by great friends act as an incentive to put in those extra miles. The next 'carrots' are the surf scoters off North Wales. The snow bunting and lapland bunting on the Great Orme are less of a pull as they will be seen later in the year, most likely at easier to see them locations.
Enough of all that. I just wish others would take up the challenge and have a go. You don't have to include the visiting of every RSPB and WWT reserve. I do because I think they are both superb charities that do much to protect and enhance our natural history that deserve my support in whatever I can do.
Now to be truthful a thought has recently come into my mind that if I don't reach the magic figure of 300 then I'll turn around and do it all over again with a different route and itinerary, not visiting the reserves but going for reasonably close together rarities as well as for the regulars. It's something I think about as I cycle along, when I'm not singing that is. I do want to reach 300.
My list now is 164. I figure that there are just under 100 regulars that I will get over the rest of the year and that leaved around 40 rarities to beat 300. Listing the possible rarities that I could get, with a lot of luck, makes me realise how difficult this is going to be but I have got to have a go. “Failure is not an option!”
Back to the afternoon, I received a text from Tim and Mary, father and daughter birders from Upton Warren. They with other family members had spent Saturday on Anglesey and they asked whether I was still at Machynlleth. Then around 2 o'clock a phone call with Tim saying he could hear my phone ringing from my bedroom window. There he was standing outside the hotel!

A wonderful afternoon was spent catching up on Upton Warren news, Tim and Mary's birding and interests and activities of the other family members, daughter with Man U supporting fiancé and wife.
Like when The Birding Clams, my dear close friends from Wolverhampton came down to Dungeness to see me and do a spot of birding, this was a very special afternoon for me. Having friends is a wonderful thing in life and I am so lucky to have such good ones. Thanks to you all.

Monday 23rd March

Up early but this time to have a carbon day. Taking the 8 o'clock train to Wolverhampton to meet my son and then carry on to London to meet my daughter, Rebecca had to be done because Roger Daltrey, the 71 year old lead singer of The Who had had a sore throat back in December and the three tickets I had for the postponed concert were valid for today's concert at the O2 Arena.
We clocked in at Earl's Court Youth Hostel, walked to the London Natural Museum for a sandwich, cake and drink and joined the queue to look around the dinosaur section of the museum. Superb.
A long underground train journey to North Greenwich and there was the incredible Dome, massive and modern.
Once inside we found our seats high up at the back and awaited the 8.30pm start.
Casually the old men walked onto the stage, introduced themselves and were into I can't Explain, a song they first sang 50 years ago. Roger's voice was still strong and Pete's playing still brutal. I wanted it louder and that may be the reason why, for the first time ever at a Ooo concert, I sat and banged my knees to the music instead of leaping about at the back; my more usual concert activity. I sang every lyric and noted when Roger went wrong, which he occasionally did. It didn't matter. It was fabulous. No encore, they'd played everything.

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