Sunday, 31 May 2009


For all the reasons I've previously explained birding has been at an absolute minimum for the past few days, once again I have little to offer except snatched sightings; a Great Spotted Woodpecker over the A1068, House Martins at the nest whilst talking to my solicitor. A Common Buzzard soaring but low over the big field between Linton roundabout and Old Ellington Tip tonight. My well grown Willow has become songpost of choice with Willow Warbler and Song Thrush taking it in turns.
I've done my last shift today, tomorrow all that's left is to count the stock and complete the sale, I'm in touching distance of that Canon.
Other purchases that are on the horizon are a decent two man tent with which I hope to take my six year old on a bit of rough camping and possibly a moth trap if I've enough left over.
I'm heading to Jessops, probably Friday, to check out the camera and lens and test my powers of negotiation, wish me luck.

Thursday, 28 May 2009

On The Cusp

Of major change, business about to be sold in four days, so far I have a part time job for four hours on a Sunday afternoon to go to, scary.
From a birding perspective all this means I'm much closer to securing some decent photo kit with which I aim to enhance this blog with a myriad of magical images (in my dreams). After much research and reading and balancing of budgets I'm erring toward a Canon 40D body and 100-400 AF IS lens, with possibly a smaller wide angle lens for some of those big skies we get up here.
Not having had any experience with DSLR it's going to be a steep learning curve although I'm hoping to get the benefit of some of your experiences, I intend to try and 'tag along' with some of you if I can in the coming months to pick over your talent. With that in mind I spoke to superb local photographer Lee Frost this morning and he's agreed to give me a few hours of his time initially to talk about the camera and post processing etc. Check his website out cos he's a bit good.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Look Left

As I thought birding opportunities during this my (hopefully final) eleven day stint at work have been few and far between. So my best birds of the week list is a little light on content.

1. Two Red-legged Partridge made an abortive attempt to cross the road in front of me last night just south of Ulgham village, got halfway and did that Pheasant panic thing of running back whence they came.

2. Seven Sandwich Tern feeding on the incoming tide of the Aln Estuary whilst I stole ten minutes fresh air yesterday.

3. One loudly chirping, strangely reminiscent of childhood House Sparrow, that is half of the first ever nesting pair we have had since our house was built twelve years ago.

4. The ever increasing white splatters of guano on the pavement opposite from the Starlings nesting in the eaves of the building that holds Julie's (who found the Turtle Dove that gripped Stewart) shop. It could be bird art.

Saturday, 23 May 2009

More Cadwallender

Two in two days, after ticking Tom the other day I now have both Cadwallender species ticked after Muriel turned up a day later looking for Tipsy Cake.

If You're Looking For Angelina Read This.

I feel bad, I feel like a fraud but I've done nothing wrong. If your here trying to find Angelina Jolie it's all because I posted a link in this post, somehow now every time anybody searches on Babble or Google Images I must pop up as my traffic has increased four fold for the last three days. So for all you celeb hunters here is five 'bird' facts about Angelina.

1. Billy Bob Thornton her ex husband dislikes being woken by birds, see this interview.
2. Her daughter Shiloh Jolie Pitt has been compared to Tweety Bird here.
3. Maddox Jolie Pitt was once photographed in France watching a Feral Pigeon, see here.
4. The Sydney Morning Herald once compared AJ to a Bird of Paradise (sp) here.
5. And finally one enthusiastic AJ fan & birder named a backyard Northern Cardinal after her see here.

There now I feel much better a post that birders and Angelina fans can enjoy.

More MP's Birding Shenanigans

The mainstream media seem to be missing the important details in many of the expenses claim stories that are being published. They continue to be ignorant to the lure birding has and how it has driven many of our MP's to ever more complicated scams to improve their British Lists. Latest to be outed was Tory MP Sir Peter Viggers who spent 1645 of our pounds on a "Stockholm Duck House".
According to the Telegraph "The floating structure, which is almost 5ft high and is designed to provide protection for the birds, is based on an 18th-century building in Sweden. The receipt, from a firm specialising in bird pavilions, said: “Price includes three anchor blocks, duck house and island.”
All well and good, but what the Telegraph didn't tell you was the motivation. We can exclusively reveal that Viggers was gripped by one one of his birding pals who managed to see the Newbiggin Hooded Merganser a few years back. Furious at this and unable to wait for the next HM to arrive he decided to create his own HM sanctuary and build a self sustaining free flying population that would allow him to get that tick. I'm sure that most of you who perhaps thought him a touch extravagant can now sympathise with his plight? Which of us haven't felt the pain of a missed bird, a yawning chasm of a gap on our list every time we look at it? Every birder up and down the land must now see it was only his desire to cast an eye over another beautiful and rare vagrant that led to this minor error of judgement. Should he be forced to retire? Perhaps compensation that he will have plenty of time to look for teh next Hooded Merganser will offer some consolation.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

One For The Future?

I've had a couple of little signs over the past week that my six year old (middle) son is gradually tuning in to birds. A couple of gentle nudges seem to have borne fruit. I've learned with the older one that you can't be too obvious or too pushy as it as has the opposite to the desired effect.
We climbed in the car for the school run the other morning, a Greenfinch calling from a neighbour's TV aerial with it's distinctive nasal drawl gave me the opportunity just to draw attention to it's call as we loaded the car, he stopped to listen. Fast forward to a day later and windows down we slowed at a roundabout approaching Ashington, that same nasal drawl drifted through the window, "Greenfinch!" my six year old exclaimed with a hint of excitement, "Result" I thought.
Midweek he was on a school walk/trip to some local allotments, the route took the kids through Carlisle Park in Morpeth. "Watch out for the black and white Blackbird" I said matter of factly "it hangs around the kids park, with a big white tail feather."
That night as I came home from work he rose from his chair to greet me at the door, which in itself was unusual, his news? He hadn't seen the (leucistic) Blackbird during the school trip but an after school visit to the park with grandparents had delivered it "feeding on the ground really close." Result Number Two.

Work Stint

Day 1 of eleven consecutive days at work now so birding and blogging may be a little limited. A new year tick on the Homo Sapiens List though as Tom Cadwallender appeared briefly around midday. TAC is about to be patched up for a dodgy knee and fly out to Panama but has agreed to be July's Who are Ya over at Bird North East.
Spent the afternoon researching a Natural Sciences Degree on the OU, as I'm thinking about taking the plunge.

Monday, 18 May 2009

Back To Reality

After Saturday's smorgasbord of migrants today was back to earth with a thump. A list of jobs as long as my arm none of them including birds. I've set the kids the task of identifying the large gull in the Balamory credits whilst I sneak this post in. Just finished a new feature which will hopefully prove popular over at Bird North East called Further Reading, which will highlight some of the more interesting bird stuff I come across.
A short walk through Carlisle Park waiting for the bank to open, single Grey Wagtail and the Goosander pair on the river. A Robin with nesting material, second brood? The highlight a partially leucistic male Blackbird near the childrens park, one pure white tail feather, a couple of white tipped tertials and some white around the face that created a supercilium over the left eye. Very smart, must try and grab a picture at some point, very similar to that bird up at Crail, well, almost.

Saturday, 16 May 2009

All About The Iccky But With Many Ticky.

After a disappointing visit to Newbiggin last night that resulted in wet feet and a couple of Garden Warbler along the Ash Lagoon Banks I must have been mad to get up at five this morning and head out to do it all again, after all it wasn't going to improve much was it?

The early morning mist gave me some hope that there could be more migrants; hope often the only thing that keeps the birder going again and again to try and find creatures at best that tolerate your presence with indifference and at worst move as far as possible away from you immediately they become aware of you.

I headed to Castle Island first, primarily to have a quick look for Black Terns. Two Blackcap and a Lesser Whitethroat sang in the narrow woodland aside Nursery Park as I headed down. 80+ Common Gull, almost all second calendar year birds were in very shallow water at the west end and six adult Lesser Black-backed Gull were spread about. A single Common Sandpiper moved further along the North shore disturbed by me. Apart from 21 Tufted Duck many of which will breed the only other noteworthy birds were a pair of Wigeon this is late for Wigeon here and I must check back and see if it is a record late date.

Two broods of Canada Goose totalling 13 young and a brood of seven Gadwall were in evidence.

On to Newbiggin where once again I stuck to the Ash Lagoon banks in an attempt to stay dry. Fat chance. A singing Sedge Warbler in the south ditch and two Garden Warbler were again the best I could muster before heading home and on to work.

I was home less than forty minutes when the text arrived "Firecrest on the Mound!" Too late to head back I headed off to work, I called my tormentor who answered in an uncharacteristic low whisper " Got to go... (silence) ...we think we've got an Iccy singing."

I was overjoyed for the rest of the journey.

A quiet morning due to the mist by the time my staff arrived I'd made the decision and granted myself an extra half day "to deal with some difficult ICT stuff" i think I said. No lies there then.
Homeward bound a Homo Sapien year tick in the form of a Black & White Striped Iain Robson at a Widdrington bus stop was just the start of a rollercoaster afternoon.

Back at Newbiggin and alone on the Mound an area that locals appear intent on twinning with Bangladesh. If there were a Eurovision for fly-tipping the Mound would be a three times winner. Normal fieldcraft rules need amending, not enough to take care not to step on twigs it's the broken glass you need to become accustomed to treading over silently.

After fifteen minutes and a brief snatch of Icterine Warbler I got short views of a bright warbler with a nice supercilium but more of that in a moment. Out from the woods came my first tick of the day Cramlington pensioner Steve Holliday a first sighting for several years. Steve's mere presence soon had the Iccy singing it's head off even if it remained difficult to get decent views. A female Pied Flycatcher livened up proceedings briefly, providing my second year tick. Then out from the woods behind us birders began to appear from the gloom, green clad modern day equivalents of Robin Hood and his band of outlaws. A lifer in the shape of Brian Bullough from Northumbrian Birding looking every inch a gunslinger with his lens at his side. A year tick in the noticeably more rotund Friar Tuck like Stef Mcelwee,in the company of Robin himself (JGS).
More singing Icterine was followed by the very welcome appearance of a Wood Warbler that provided me with both year and Newbiggin ticks in one fell swoop. It posed and postured in the canopy as the big lens zoomed.
The crack was good, the birds were better, the fly tipping gets worse but at least the chicken shit seems to have been consigned to memory.

Friday, 15 May 2009

Newbiggin Ticks

Well the 'Amazing Fall Conditions' as some online birders were calling it has been a bit of a mixed bag so far. Numbers of migrants appear low up here so it certainly doesn't acquire 'Fall' status in my book. There are glimmers of quality about, Icterine warbler and another Red-throated pipit on the Farnes.
Further South however the vista was not quite so rosy tonight. The rain ending at teatime spurred me to a wet underfoot wander around Newbiggin Mound and along the Ash Lagoon bank. Heading down into Newbiggin a small dark shape caught me eye and I turned the car around and parked. Sure enough down past the old Hunter's Lodge I had my 'big tick' of the day JG Steele, Jimmy to the locals. We exchanged numbers and information, Garden Warblers, a hint of something peculiar by the dog kennels that might have just been a Whitethroat or might not and a pale Willow Warbler in a ditch on the Golf Course.
I wandered down, less enthusiastic as JGS tends not to miss much. One hour twenty minutes later I returned wet, two Garden Warbler, one female Blackcap and a brood of Stonechat all I had to show for the big Spring Fall. Ah well, there's always tomorrow.

Thor & The Kjornebiter.

Thor for those of you familiar with your Norse Gods was the God of Thunder. Growing up in the Seventies he was one of my favourite comic book superheroes, I guess partly because he had long blond hair and was European I could identify with him more than say some New Yorker who got bitten by a radioactive spider. Anyway it fuelled an early interest in the Norse Gods and all things Asgardian. Occasionally this resurfaces, such as last year when I insisted on taking my six year old to see the 3D Beowulf movie which unbeknown to me featured the naked Angelina Jolie, the old legend was erm a joy to behold.
So what has all this to do with birds I can hear you scream, patience dear readers and all will be revealed.
First I need to take you back to April it was either 2000 or 2001 if memory serves. Perched on the end of Church Point, Newbiggin midway through another lonely vigil dreaming of seabirds yet undiscovered whilst watching the odd Kittiwake pass the point. Out of the fret two other birders appear, one a tall Viking blond appeared familiar, the other with a soft peaked cap spoke with an Eastern European accent and wasn't dressed for a North East Spring.
My memory fails me as to his exact nationality, whilst preparing this post I was convinced he was Hungarian but now for some reason I suddenly thought 'No he wasn't he was from Kazakhstan.' Let's put it this way he had come a damn sight further than those occasional itinerants we get from East Yorkshire or Derbyshire up this way.
Turns out he was there for a lifer, Northern Gannet, which he duly got although not overhead as can be seen on the best Newbiggin seawatching days. A little jig and our Hungarian/Kazak bird guide (as this was what his occupation was) had added Gannet to his life list and went home very happy.
What of the tall Viking blond? I hear all the ladies cry, tell us more. Well my flash of recognition was right as it turned out he was none other than ex Newbiggin resident, son of legendary North Northumberland birder Graham Bell, Julian.
There, oh I nearly forgot, Julian is now firmly embedded in the Norwegian landscape and he has as well his Natural Born Birder site a blog, the name of which I can't write without converting my language on the keyboard to Old Norse. He sees good birds, keeps the blog uncomplicated & uncluttered but best of all he gives you what I presume to be the Norse names for each of the species he sees. So species like Spotted Flycatcher are transformed into 'grafluesnapper' and Black-Throated Diver the simple yet utterly perfect 'storlom' and the fabulous name in the post title which I'll let you work out for yourself. So evocative, these harsh, Northern names, they flipped me back instantly, I could almost imagine Thor battling it out with the Kjornebiter some demonic Nordic Troll like creature from a time before time.

Thursday, 14 May 2009


If you have been a birder for a while you will have come across Lee Evans. I won't regurgitate what others think or say about him suffice to say he is one of birdings eccentrics and divides opinion. I have met him, or at least been in the same general area as him twice, including one memorable episode on a boat in the South West Approaches in the Atlantic on which a potential Albatross caused a near mutiny but we'll leave that story for another day.
I like a verse occasionally, dig back in the archive and you'll find my "Ode to Lost Friends" as an example, so this had me amused and humming this afternoon and I thought it good enough to share.

There But For The Grace of God

We've all done it, pulled a sickie to go birding or bent the route of a business trip to take in a rarity. I'll own up I used to fly out to Hong Kong two days earlier than I had to on the pretense of overcoming jet lag. Jet lag my arse, the minute my luggage was in the hotel, the bins would be out and I'd be on the Star Ferry looking forward to a weekend of Black Kites and free birding.
How many of you (from the North East) haven't pulled off at Saltholme or Fairburn whilst on a business journey? Christ I drove home from Cheshire via Wales once trying to tick Chough.
I suppose that's why I haven't been the least bit surprised by the MP's so called 'expenses scandal' that the media are pushing at us in the latest ratings/paper sales war. People do things that suits them, they bend the rules, shave a little off here and there etc. Now I am not condoning it, it's wrong but I'm not casting any stones that's all I'm saying.
News that one of the big players in the furore Elliot Morley is a birder came as no surprise. I wonder how many on his life list were paid for by public money. Whilst I abhor witch hunts it would be amusing if someone found a picture of him twitching Black Lark or Glaucous-winged Gull when he was meant to be in the House. I think I'd understand the motivation behind the non existent mortgage claims a little better too, wouldn't you?

Edit at 16:48, He has now been suspended, although the suggestion is that it's only until next week. He's been looking at the weather charts for the weekend hasn't he and decided the only way to get out after the megas that we're all expecting is to get himself a pass out.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Larking About the Wansbeck

With sinuses that feel like they've been clamped by a Puffin I thought I'd get some fresh air this morning so I took the twins for a run. First stop was Ashwood Business Park or rather the big field west of the A189 that might one day be a business park, than again it might not.

I know I keep banging on about this field but I'm convinced that someone is going to turn up a special Lark or Pipit here in the not too distant and if it's not me I at least want to be cited as one of the key inspirations behind their visit. The place was lifting with Skylark this morning with at least five or six singing birds.

Look closely and you can see the sea not far as the Lark flies. After letting the twins rampage around the short grass and failing to find anything more exciting we headed off for a walk out along the Wansbeck Estuary and under the A189. The path decent enough to manage the double buggy down. Not having visited this stretch for several years I was amazed that the scrub is now mature woodland. Lots of non breeding Mute Swan above the weir. A Common Whitethroat sang from brambles just after the bridge and a large flock of small waders were put up by the ubiquitous worm digger that every stretch of exposed mud seems to acquire these days.

I cracked out the scope and counted 150 Ringed Plover a tidy flock at this time of year. About ten summer plumage Dunlin amongst them all black belly patches. Noteworthy by their absence not a single Common Redshank on the estuary. Single Curlew and Whimbrel fed close together on the south side allowing good comparison, the Whimbrel a year tick for me.

On reaching the end of the path adjacent to the small sandy bay that probably gives the nearby caravan park it's name, I set up the scope again and started checking around the tideline. A pair of Northern Wheatear moved around some of the larger driftwood and several Sand Martin hawked overhead. As I was watching the Wheatear a head popped up from the Marram grass behind in the dunes. Sandy coloured it looked interesting if a little too far away even with scope whacked up to full. I kept on it as it walked about appearing for a split second then disappearing again behind clumps of grass and hollows in the sand. It kept stretching it's head up and looking above the grass, looking very tall, never quite giving more than brief views. Eventually after ten minutes and with two impatient kids doing their best to shout it into view, three workmen came across the sand and pushed up, not the hoped for Richard's Pipit but another bloody Skylark. Several more Common Whitethroat sang on the return walk, a male Sparrowhawk crossed the path ahead of us and a male Goosander could be seen at Castle Island along with a couple of adult Lesser Black Back Gulls.

I'll leave you with a non bird image from last week that has me puzzled as I'm a novice with Insects. This one was in Scotch Gill Woods and allowed close enough approach to get a reasonable shot, ID please

Alder Fly, the experts agree!

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Random Stuff on Birds I Havent Seen Today.

There was a Turtle Dove at Newbiggin late afternoon, found by SMc and JGS who were good enough to ring me at home. I need Turtle Dove for my Newbiggin list, one more to catch back on the dynamic duo.
I was at work, Ash took the message and passed it on four hours later. Now occasionally these days we get calls for lets say an Iceland Gull somewhere. Great that people are bothering to let me know for Bird North East but I don't need to have that passed on immediately without passing go and without collecting two hundred quid.
So how do you get a non birding partner to be selective and get the right messages to you at the right time?
The only solution I can come up with to avoid the blanket approach is to produce a list to stick to the fridge, if it's on the list then ring me. Any other suggestions gratefully received in the comments please.
Julian Bell is speculating about one of his Jackdaws over at his garden blog here. Can't make too much out from the one image posted but there must be something in it as it's not like he doesn't know a thing or two and he's surrounded by monedula.
Best photo of the day must go to young Andrew Kinghorn for his Temminck's Stint shot on birdforum, personally I'm not convinced it isn't a discarded can of Stella Artois but then what do I know?

Saturday, 9 May 2009

Shiver Me Timbers

Like Stewart I decided to catch up with the Lesser Whitethroat that's been singing just over the hedge for over a week. The cover along the North edge of our estate has thickened considerably and is impenetrable in places, perfect for LW but not for the observer.
After twenty minutes I thought I was out of luck as apart from some brief clicking and churring I'd had not a sniff. Just as I was about to jump back over into the garden a small bird flew over my head into the tall willows beside the house and began to sing it's heart out, end of frustration. Normally difficult this little star sat wing quivering and shivering as it sang for a good two minutes before dropping into the cover alongside my garden and finally zipping up into one of my garden trees albeit a branch hanging outside the garden, cheeky little blighter.
Great views were compensation for not being able to add it to either my 'garden' list or my 'seen from the house' list. I've a nine thirty kipper collection at Craster in the morning so a wander around somewhere up there is in order.

Friday, 8 May 2009


Birds can be like buses. Let me explain a few things about my weekly routine first.
I drive to work. I mostly use the same route, particularly the section of A1068 North from Widdrington to Amble. I drive this route a minimum of eight times per week, sometimes ten.
Occasionally I stop and look for birds. Sometimes I stop somewhere and look for a specific bird that I have heard may be around. Sometimes I actually see some birds, it doesn't happen often.
I stopped tonight at East Chevington and was lucky enough to watch a female Marsh Harrier hunting over the edge of the South Pool. I returned to the road home twelve minutes after leaving it, satisfied with my year tick and good views considering I was without a scope.
Two minutes later I noticed a large raptor East of the road. I stopped. I was flabbergasted, a second Marsh Harrier this time a male flying inland at Chibburn Farm, it crossed the road harassed by a Carrion Crow about 30m behind the car offering superb views in the early evening light. As I watched the 518 North went past, shortly after the 518 south came into view. Buses you wait ages for one and two come along together.

image courtesy & copyright Mark Kilner

Let's Talk About the Weather

That's because apart from the distant year tick Common Swift that was charging North toward Pegswood this morning I've not seen much in the way of birds this week. I took the kids to Scotch Gill again and tried digibinning a Dipper, the results were, artistic in the same way as an ice cream smudge on a black t-shirt is.
It's the West wind that's the ill wind when you live on the East Coast, I can't think of anything positive about Westerlies. No seabirds as there all somewhere ten miles out, any that do wander near are hidden amidst an ocean of wispy white topped surf. Passerines are all staying low to avoid being blown about, the wind even blots out birdsong when your nearing deafness like me.
But, there's always a but and it's important to end this short post on a sweet note of optimism, the winds of change (pun intended) are all set to whip up on Sunday and swing round to.......the East. The sea will be filled with seabirds as the winds strengthen Monday/Tuesday and begin to get a North Easterly edge to them. Arctic & Bonxie passage will be instantaneous, along with a significant increase in Manx Shearwater numbers. Not too early for a Balearic either.
We may even get some migrants, a Holy Island Bluethroat would be my bet and perhaps one or two more Wryneck. Early May can produce some really good rarities, I still think the grassland surrounding the new Ashwood Business Park at Ashington must be a big visible draw to any overflying Larks & Pipits, my plan is to let the twins spread out and run in a line south to north to flush any lurking Short-toed's or Richards before bundling them into the boot to hide the evidence.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

What's The Story?

A quick wander for an hour tonight produced a lonely Whooper Swan still at Woodhorn Flash South Pool. A single Common Sandpiper on the island here also. Actually the island is probably rarer than the Common Sand, temporary as the water levels recede and the first time I've ever seen one here.
A male Ruddy Duck displayed to fresh air at Bothal Pond or was the nearby Little Grebe a possible target given their apparent tendency to hybridise? (joke).
The only other honourable mention today goes to the Lesser Whitethroat singing loudly enough to be heard through the air vent in our bay window and not in the background on Balamory as I first thought. I even wondered if Brian had infiltrated the production team.

Pull Up A Chair

Amongst birders throughout the land, seawatchers are probably amongst the hardiest of the tribe, often braving the very worst weather conditions which bring out the very best seabirds.
Here in the North East there is a host of good seawatching locations, Seaton Sluice, St Mary's Island, Whitburn and Hartlepool. They all have something in common that my chosen headland of Newbiggin doesn't, a decent hide.
Yes, surf gazers heading for any of the aforementioned locations might get a tad wet between car and the relative desert dryness of the hide but they aren't going to get a drenching during a twelve hour marathon; more importantly they will have something to sit on. Given the ambitious plans unveiled for the replacement of the Hartlepool hide one can only imagine that this will involve Barker & Stonehouse leather sofas and waiter served espresso on demand to keep them awake.
Meanwhile at Church Point, the lucky two who arrive first will at least have a roof over their heads, but that's where the luxury ends. It is this combined with the knowledge that once you reach a certain age, sea watching is hard on the haemorrhoids that led to my latest purchase.
Whilst browsing in the garden centre last week I found the ideal sea watching chair. The Gelert Kids Orbit Chair is small, waterproof, comes in it's own bag, folds up and is lightweight so not too difficult to add to the paraphenalia already lugged about.
I've tested it out for an hour and it performs brilliantly, steady I didn't tip once, offers a little back support, reduces cramp in the knees and hips, just the job and all for just under 12quid. You can pick them up online even cheaper, there's even a pink flowery one if you wish to make an ironic statement about big girls blouses.

Saturday, 2 May 2009

A Day At The Races?

In May, however far removed I am from birding and there have been times where I haven't picked up an optic for several months, my thoughts have inevitably turned to those who might be embarking on that most intense birding experience the Bird Race.

A veteran of three maybe four campaigns in the late Eighties/Early Nineties and still proud that the team of which I was a part equalled the County Record; Bird Races are etched upon the very fabric of my birding memory.

Back then we took it very seriously, weeks and weeks of preparation, planning meetings, poring over maps to determine shortest routes. As race day approached we would aim to have certain awkward species 'staked out'; a Barn Owl nest site perhaps or a Willow Tit nest, a Black grouse lek. Other species were left to chance, passage waders or seabirds.

The Bird Race would take over birding during those weeks, checking and re-checking sites, timing journeys between locations, nights spent reviewing past bulletins looking at where certain species had bred or been seen at that crucial time of year.

After the first one we were better organised, we would aim to be at a site ready to start at the stroke of midnight, we always finished by c9.00-10.00 the following night, energy by that time well depleted. We used every tactic to save time and steal a march on any competition, even securing permission from the National Trust to use my four wheel drive (long since gone) to get from the Long Nanny car park to the Long Nanny itself thereby knocking forty minutes off the journey and saving a great deal of energy.

Food would be consumed on the move, no time would be wasted, even those fabulous moments when we would chance upon something scarce or unusual would be cut short, the nagging truism that ' A Bluethroat counts the same as a Tree Sparrow' in the Bird Race always at the back of our minds (and often the tip of someones tongue).

I'm not sure I could stay awake for a full twenty four hours today, even back then it was probably the most tired I've ever been. On one occasion I sat at home afterward and started eating a cooked meal from a tray only to fall asleep in the food, head first; the only time in y entire life I have ever dropped off instantly.

There is a small part of me though that will forever remain competitive and want one more attempt to 'set the record'. Maybe next year. For now share your Bird Race memories in the comments and give me my annual fix.

Friday, 1 May 2009

Middle-Eared Owl?

By now regular readers will know I like a race or a hybrid but Asio Owls, now this one I wish I'd seen. Check it out here.