15 February 2009

Brandon by bike

Brandon Marsh, the flagship reserve of Warwickshire Wildlife Trust, lies on the eastern edge of Coventry, about 12 miles from my home. Perfect cycling range in fact.

So, with a free weekend to spare and no car, it was the perfect opportunity to test the route I had planned - out via Offchurch, Cubbington and Baginton, and back via Weston-under-Weatherly, Hunningham and Offchurch. I'm delighted to report it's a great route - a few hills to test old knees, of course, but basically fairly smooth, with not too much traffic on a Sunday morning and plenty of countryside to enjoy. 23 miles at 11.5 mph is a pretty good workout in my book.

Cycling really does make the journey as enjoyable as the destination. I passed fields full of Fieldfare, Redwing and Starling, a Yellowhammer popped up among the Blue and Great Tits, and Buzzards, Kestrels and Jays passed close by. Once I got to Brandon I found a reserve only just 'waking up' from its icy weeks, the water still milky white in places and one or two of the smaller waters still iced over.

From East Marsh Hide I watched a full array of 'winter ducks' - Tufties, Mallards, plenty of Shoveller, a couple of Pochard, a few Teal and the odd Gadwall here and there. Among them were the usual Coots, Moorhens, Greylag and Canada Geese, Black-headed Gulls and Cormorants. But there were also less common birds to arouse the interest - a pair of Goldeneye, three Snipe, a Cettis calling behind the Carlton Hide, and, from the same hide, a lazy close fly-by by a female Sparrowhawk.

On the way back to the visitor centre (where I enjoyed a full English breakfast with which I won't bore you) I heard a tiny little sound which turned out to be a Water Rail foraging among the watery undergrowth. Since I haven't seen one for at least a year (too lazy to look up exactly how long), I was absolutely delighted. Even if I did have a 12 mile ride home to look forward to.

Bird of the day: Water Rail (Rallus aquaticus), a beautifully marked bird which is reasonably common but scarcely seen, due to its secretive habits and love of densely-packed reedbeds. See here for details on the Water Rail from the RSPB.

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