Saturday, 2 January 2016

2015 review and 2016 resolutions

Well at the end of 2014 in what became one of those legendary pub debates with mates I took up a challenge. It started as an off the cuff remark by a non birding friend who questioned "if birders are concerned with the environment why do they travel everywhere by car". It was a fair point people will and do cover vast miles in a car, birding alone I'd travelled some 16,000 miles in my Golf in one year my only saving grace was that it wasn't a diesel but a Gti.
With an expanding waistline (bacon junkie) and wanting to prove a point I accepted my challenge "TO ONLY BIRDWATCH IN NORTHAMPTONSHIRE AND DO IT BY FOOT, BIKE OR PUBLIC TRANSPORT". hmmm. I done a bit of cycling in 2014 but this was different a wager was in place and I don't like handing money over, especially to mates.
January didn't start well with me being knocked off my bike and broken arm bones putting me out of action. I tried using public transport and walking but it doesn't work in Northamptonshire the public transport sucks, not linked up correctly and only one bus operator means it's very much a cartel.
My wager didn't start until February really and after examination of many maps I got my areas and routes sorted and for fun set myself a not unachievable 120 birds for the year for my "carbon free" list.
This site is a firm favourite of mine. It's underwatched and mixed habitat.
A Marsh Harrier thought to be migrant was the first true star of the site, but is it now the bird that's taken winter residency?
The site is fantastic for warblers.  A Grasshopper Warbler greeted me with it's loud reeling call but a tricky customer to get images of.

 Plenty of Common Whitethroat on site too but surprisingly a lack of Reed Warbler and no sign of Sedge Warbler at all. Nearest Sedge to this site was at Ecton Mill a solitary male! Not good.


There was briefly three pairs of Hobbies occupying old crows nests sadly two nests disappeared as did the Hobbies. I was pissed off to say the least

The other star bird for Quarry Walk was the Cuckoo and again bleeding hard to photograph.

Another bonus of this site is the cycle up the road brings you to Summer Leys. However an unfortunate encounter with some self appointed idiot meant I didn't venture up there too often. Apparently pushing a bike around the reserve in his mind is cycling (which obviously ain't allowed) after I questioned his parentage and whether he thought bringing two dogs up to the reserve was a good idea I came to the conclusion people are idiots and I would just stay clear of the place which was a shame as I got cracking male Redstart
On paper it should be devoid of any wildlife of note but it isn't and 2015 was a good year for the quarry. Not in actual interesting birds as such but for it's future. Plans were in motion to start quarrying again but those plans have now been axed for good.
The year started off nicely with three Wheatears stopping off on migration
The Sandmartins moved in and despite a small landslip covering their original holes they restarted and tried again and the number of birds and nesting holes doubled, result? Yes and no.
On one visit I witnessed a stoat drag two Sandmartins from their hole. The Buzzards, Kestrel and Sparrowhawk all showed interest but the main culprit was the stoat and I believe the motocross bikers finding the site was at fault, bike tracks near the colony further evidence , until gates and even an off road biking copper nicking people stopped them visiting the site. I turned up one morning and the Sandmartins had all gone 100% desertion, gutted. The flower meadow didn't really bloom which meant little butterfly activity too.
Still I did get one of my hunches proven with the Little Owl turning up right were I had hoped for.
I have to say thanks at this point to Martin Swannell who was very helpful in lot of things regarding Moulton Quarry but also providing many delightful encounters/jokes (though bad ones lol) during the summer.
But sadly the Northants birding scene lost one Blogger and very friendly and good birder John Finlayson who suddenly passed away and will be sadly missed.
I did visit other sites like Welford, Cottesbrooke and Blueberry Farm/Maidwell and Pitsford reservoir. I also found wildlife in the most unusual places too, it's fair to say I was getting hooked on cycling as the weight fell off it got easier too.
Wildlife would often find me. A cycle up a quiet and tree covered lane had me stopping off for a refreshment break and getting out of the sun for a few moments,  I had a wonderful encounter with a Chiff-Chaff.
It came and used my camera bag as perch to catch/search for  insects. It kept coming and going and even left a deposit on my bag but it was great just sitting in the shade,  occasionally taking a photo and enjoying the ambience of a country lane time had forgotten about, surely this is what birding is all about?
One area I'd pencilled in for birding was the Brampton Valley railway line. A popular footpath/cycle path that leads all the way from Northampton to Market Harborough without going on a road. It's proving a migration hotspot as well as a home to more common breeding birds. On one section you'll never see so many Goldfinches once the juveniles are out, however I'd originally pencilled it in for Autumn migration hoping to see a Redstart that I'd had here the previous year. However I got a Tweet from Stuart Mundy telling me of a Barn Owl. Off I went and after the third person asking me "are you here to photograph the Barn Owl" I knew I was in the right place. This was actually my first summertime Barn Owl and not having to worry about frost bite was a pleasure.
It wasn't just about a Barn Owl to be fair. Kingfisher, Hobbies, good numbers of common species, Red Kites, Grey Wagtail and almost unobserved a breeding pair of the scarce Yellow Wagtail was a really pleasant find, in my opinion of course. I saw just three juvenile Yellow Wagtails fledge and leave but better than none.


Annoyingly I even managed a Sedge Warbler from this location

The summer came and went too quickly. In my opinion Autumn migration really didn't take off, sure bits and bob's were passing through but no real big surge, the best moment from my perspective came over three days on the Brampton Valley. The first day was a late hatching of flying ants that attracted every bird and gave a good view what lurked along this section. A day later saw loads of juvenile Lesser Whitethroats, a female Redstart, a Quail  and a pair of Whinchats
The mild winter so far has failed to help my "carbon free" list with little wildfowl that I didn't get at the start of the year. My list total is annoyingly stuck on 119, frigging typical but I got until January 20th to get one more (technically when I started this bet) and collect a total of £110 from sceptical friends.
So my resolutions for this year:
1)Stop picking fights with self appointed idiots (that's going to be a struggle)
2) keep on cycling- it's become addictive. I even got a new bike, again. But still no lycra lol.
3) Give up smoking, I'm half way there with vaping.
4) part exchange my Golf Gti with it's hybrid cousin the Gte (e is for electric) the claimed 168mpg seems tempting to me.
Time will tell which resolutions I adhere to but cycling will be one definate 'stayer'....who would've thought that?


  1. These images are as good as can be.
    Good luck with the resolutions.

    1. Thank you Adrian hope the new year has got off to a good start.

  2. Superb set of images from your cycling year Douglas and well done for winning (almost there!)your wager, despite a few setbacks along the way.
    Good luck with the new resolutions...some tough ones there!
    Can't see how you'll avoid all those idiots though?
    Lycra?..don't be a wuss, go on give it a go, you might like it?
    Vaping..hmmm?'ll have to be careful as you ride alongside that railway track, you might get mistaken for one of those old puffing billies?
    168mpg from a VW??...I think you'd better pay over your £110 winnings and get that defeat device re-collaborated!

    All the best Douglas, here's to a great year...[;o)

    1. No way am I going to wear any lycra the police will get called and I'll get arrested lol. Apparently the Gte has a range of a claimed 168mpg however magazine road testers have only achieved 120/130 mpg which still isn't too bad. Have a good new year too

  3. A great set of images mate, the Cuckoo is brill, Oh lots of reminders of Spring there Doug, and it won't be long before it is with us again. My new year resolution is not to make any new year resolutions!!!!!

    1. Isn't that a resolution though lol. Have a good year Paul, personally can't wait for spring

  4. Apart from your nasty accident and the passing of John, Doug, that was a pretty amazing year, and I suspect that you'd not have done so well using the car!

    There's not many of your super images that I'm not totally envious of too! Wonderful stuff!

    Good luck with the New Year resolutions. I hope that VW is around long enough for you to fulfill No.4!

    1. It's a good point Richard, a lot of the birds I'd never had walked too with the exception of Quarry Walk and Summer Leys. It's going to be an interesting year for Volkswagen hopefully their new year resolution is to remember their original brand values.

  5. Great stuff Dougie, really good read and super pics, see you soon hopefully-
    Mr Z

    1. Thanks Martin, hopefully we'll bump into very soon. Hope you're having a good start to 2016