Sunday, 17 January 2016

WEEKEND TRAVELS

Well Saturday was forecasted to be bright but cold, unfortunately on one count the weather forecasters were correct.
It was sunny and freezing. Perfect conditions for a big cycle up to Maidwell in the hope of some Owl's and Stonechats.
The all important stats, yep knackered.

Knackered and a tad annoyed, I got bugger all images! Sure the Stonechat was there, I did not see any Owl's but I left early (got cold) plenty of Fieldfare etc in fact plenty of birds.
I had a weird camera fault. Fully charged battery but when I got to Maidwell grabbed the camera out of the bag it was really cold took two frames of the Stonechat and the battery indicator said "flat", turned it off and took the battery out and put it back in, two frames dead....crap.
I put it down to the cold a long way to cycle for no images, still I burnt some calories :-|
Woke up on Sunday to a blanket of snow, I couldn't bare another failure like the day before so stuck to togging some garden birds.
Battery didn't fail once, go figure!

 Plenty of Goldfinch in the garden regular counts of 30+ two distinct flocks too. One flock distinguished by rings on their legs as per the one below can't get close enough to make the ring details apart from "81"




Wednesday, 13 January 2016

DODGY VIDEO TIME, SORRY.

This is getting worse then my odds 'n' sods segment. However I thought I would share.
My cycle to and fro to work takes me along a canal path that runs past the back of Storton Gravel Pit Nature Reserve. A fantastic urban reserve. This first video is taken from the tow path and gives an impression of the size Starling murmaration which is getting bigger day by day.
This one is taken from the ring road that runs past the reserve (sorry about the car noise) I would've gone onto the reserve but had my bike so opted not to as I'm not sure they're allowed on. The biggest part of the flock had roosted by the time I cycled round
This a shorter one of them dropping into to roost. Great way to wind down after work.
As always taken using my mobile phone, wonder if I could blag the use of a real video camera?

Sunday, 10 January 2016

FIRST CYCLE UP THE BRAMPTON VALLEY

It's been a slow start to 2016 for me. Usual excuses mostly work. Despite that I've squeezed some birding in of sorts, my daily round trip commute to work (14.6 in total) comprising mostly of purpose built segregated cycle paths, very small road sections and passing by some interesting habitats Stortons Gravel Pit nature reserve, the canal and the patchwork of habitat that is Swan Valley/Pineham industrial estates.
Been getting 50+ Golden Plover on one part that's due for development, 400+ Starling, Kestrel, Sparrowhawk, Peregrine, Little Owl and loads of Pied Wagtail.
But I wanted to take my new bike out for a proper 'test' and get out with the camera. Despite the cloud (then sun briefly) and really sodden conditions I was looking forward to it, all 16 miles of it!
The stats and map of my route with a plan to to add Firecrest hopefully at Brixworth sewage works to my cycling list, ah the glamour lol.


The path way was as usual littered with huge puddles and the cyclists coming back looked like yetis covered head to toe in mud, oh dear!
I opted to stop at the second bridge at Merry Tom crossing. A convenient bench with views over the sodden fields which had pools of water which in turn had sizeable flocks of Redwing, Starlings, Fieldfare, Pied Wagtail and the odd Grey Wagtail,Mute Swans, a heron, Lapwings and circa 60+ Golden Plover all feeding and bathing. The river was flowing quickly and quite high (obviously muddy too) under the railway bridge but had a Kingfisher dart through. The hedge (or what's left of it) had all the common species and as a reminder of my quest four Goldcrest. I opted to sit here for an hour as there was plenty to see and not many people the huge muddy puddles at the station deterring the sane.
The best encounter was this Redkite also searching for food as it drifted down the field towards me. I still had grey skies in front of me but the sun was breaking through the clouds behind me giving just enough light to make it worth snapping.

Distant at first it drifted towards the farm and I thought  that was it, I focused my attention to the Pied Wagtails as they were closer and happened to glance up and notice it was now gliding parallel with the railway line towards me.


It came very close and flew over my head into the other field. Think it's a young bird, it was smaller and lightly marked on it's underside. Which might explain why it came so close, best bird of the day?





Sadly yes as the I failed to locate the Firecrest at the Brixworth sewage works but did get more Redwing and Fieldfare, more Goldcrest! (seem to be a lot along the pathway/Valley) a female Sparrowhawk and Grey Wagtails. In my mind/opinion it could be so easy to have missed the bird as there's plenty of bushes for it to hide in and some of it on private land. I searched for a good hour.
I then cycled up towards the Saxon church and a what was once a killer of a hill but my bike did me good and despatched it brilliantly and onto Pitsford reservoir where the Red Necked Grebe was in the bay near the overflow. I parked myself in the carpark for one last breather before heading home and directed a pair of birders to the Grebe. Good first cycle up the valley and much needed.
So the bike, it's a Carrera Kraken and a real beast.


I opted for a more serious bike as the 'cheaper' bike couldn't cope with my demands. Front wheel bearing collapsed, the old fashioned brake pads are rubbish in wet and muddy conditions.
It's 27 geared which even though only 3 more then my previous bike makes a huge difference. A case of not how many gears but the gearing/ratios. Downhills no longer sees just coasting due to over pedalling, flat and level ground has given me an increase of 4mph on average and uphill sections a hell of lot easier especially since I'm carrying a dslr, 500mm lens, binoculars, bike pump and tools ie a lot of weight.
The suspension on the front (don't like rear suspension) is fully adjustable which is vital for me. For my commute to work I'm normally travelling light and on mostly easy terrain so can firm the suspension up. Or as like yesterday make it a bit softer, the camera bag is really heavy (check the first image out).

The big difference for me is the disc brakes and the 27.5 inch tyres
The big tyres contributing to the increased speed. I was considering 29 inch but they come with a compromise as they're a bit clumsy turning in tight corners at slow speed, which considering the number of 'gates' on my route meant 27.5 inch was a better compromise for my needs. The Continental tyres are amazing as is the 50psi needed to inflate them..dead smooth running and plenty of grip. Though the problem came getting "Slime Tubes" for the size. These are essential for me as my cycling takes me over a whole host of inner tube shredding litter from thorns, branches, nails and glass. As soon as you pick up a puncture the slime in the inner tube forms a rubber like solution in the puncture sealing in it in seconds and just involves pumping the tyre up and no exchanging of an inner tube.
As for the disc brakes, invaluable. No more haphazard brake fade in the wet and no more mud getting clogged up between wheel and old fashioned brake pads.

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.
QUARRY WALK
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.
COMMON WHITETHROAT (JUVENILE) 

LESSER WHITETHROAT (JUVENILE) 

GARDEN WARBLER 
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
MOULTON QUARRY
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.
GREY WAGTAIL 

YELLOW WAGTAIL



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?