26 July 2009

Cycling and birding - it just works

I start with something I never thought I'd hear myself saying: the cycle ride to a birding destination is often at least as enjoyable as the birding itself, and never more so than in high summer.

How so, and how especially so in high summer?

Well, at any time of year it is a pleasure to enjoy the feeling of liberation that cycling confers - a feeling of motion without undue haste, hassle or cost (either to your bank balance or the planet). There are sights and sounds to enjoy which are a mystery to passing motorists - little byways and alleyways, things just over hedges, birdsong, and people to greet with a cheery "mornin'".

So there is always the danger that after a fabulous 10 miles or so, the birding itself might fall a little flat. And this risk is at least doubled at the peak of summer, when the birding can often be best described as ordinary. No migrants, nothing much moving, birds gone to ground after breeding - you just cross your fingers and hope some times.

Well, by happy chance today was one of the lucky days - great cycling and great birding (mind you, I'd not been out much with either recently, so perhaps I was easily pleased). The 11 mile ride to Brandon Marsh was superb - pleasant but mild weather, the wind at my back, Yellowhammer and Greenfinch calling from every hedgerow, and plenty to see on my way - including an interesting array of fungus which I must go back and inspect more closely.

Things initially seemed quiet at Brandon, but then the birds emerged one by one. A Kestrel then a Common Buzzard. Mallards, Coot and Moorhen of course, and a Grey Heron hunched low in waterside scrub. At East Marsh hide I found 60 or more Black-headed Gulls, black heads rapidly fading, and 200 or more Lapwing. A Green Woodpecker exploded noisily from the grass banks, and around me Reed Warblers could be seen and heard.

Among all of this was a less common, but by no means rare, Ringed Plover, then a Cormorant, Great Crested Grebe and, with a flurry of black, white and orange, and Oystercatcher. Hidden among rocks I found a Common Sandpiper, and while I studied it closely I heard calls to confirm that three Common Terns had just arrived over the water.

I was already pretty pleased with my haul, but a quick trip to Carlton hide added three Redshanks, a Green Sandpiper, two more Cormorants and a personal favourite, Sand Martins. I presume the martins bred here this year, a very welcome development. And of course, alongside all of the birds, there were the flowers and the insects - the stripy caterpillars pictured above caught my eye, but I'm afraid I'm far too lazy to look up what they are.

All superb, and you'll excuse me if I gloss over the cycle ride home - into the wind, some serious uphill work, persistent light rain, and aching knees. I'm just rethinking my opening line - I'll get back to you on that.

Bird of the day: Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos), a super little wader with a distinctive comedy bob as it walks, and a diagnostic clean white 'swoosh' up its side.


Anonymous said...

re. caterpillars....I haven't checked for ages but I seem to recall that they belong to the Cinnebar moth

Keith said...

Hiya, Yes indeed they are Cinnebar Moth! In relation to the Sand Martins, yes they have bred very successfully and I can tell you that nearly 50 young have been ringed!
Keith (Brandon Conservation Team)

Hornet said...

That's fantastic news Keith, well done to everyone involved in trying to bring breeding Sand Martins to Brandon over many years.