2nd – 7th January 2014 – a bird race that wasn’t and other weather affected events.   Leave a comment

In early January several of us usually do a bird race. The idea is to form several teams of up to four birders and then on an agreed date try to see or hear as many species as you can within Dorset. You can start as early as you like but you have to be at the finishing point by 1830. Bird racing is like Marmite, you either love it or hate it. It’s detractors say its not real birding, rushing from A to B seeing each species for a mere second or so; but we only do it one date in the year and its a lighthearted competition between friends that ends with a social gathering to welcome in the New Year. Bird racing involves several skills, not only the ability to pick out birds quickly by eye and ear, but detailed planning to optimise  the route and accurate time keeping to overcome the inevitable temptation of  ‘lets give it another minute or two’ when the target fails to materialise.

The trouble this year is that the weather forecast for the allotted date, the 4th of January, was diabolical and most teams cancelled. Team leader Nick Urch and I opted to try on the 2nd, the only dry day of the week. One of our group had already defected to another team and another was at work so we hastily replaced them with Paul Harvey, my friend from Shetland here visiting his parents and Marcus Lawson who holds the UK winter bird race record of 137 from Kent in 2009. In spite of including these ornithological heavyweights, we didn’t do that well as we had planned to spend the whole of the 2nd and 3rd of January in doing a recce of the route. Starting at 0430 in Poole Harbour we picked up a number of waders in the spotlight beam that would be difficult later due to the tide times, we then went on to get Barn and Tawny Owl but dipped on Little Owl and Woodcock. We arrived at Lodmoor at dawn and were surprised to see the Glossy Ibis that has been hanging around a playing field near Radipole in flight, it must roost on Lodmoor. Visits to Radipole, Portland Harbour and Portland Bill followed but we were already running late so we quickly headed to the Monkey’s Jump area, then Thornecombe Woods and Tincleton Cress Beds before heading to Poole Harbour about midday where we spent the rest of the day.

Although we kept the pressure up and worked hard we only saw/heard 114 species, well short of the Dorset record of 129. We had a lot of bad luck failing to locate common species like Pheasant, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Long-tailed Tit, Fieldfare and Jay but we were hampered by high water levels that caused some species to relocate and the mild conditions that meant some winter birds just hadn’t arrived.


The only photo taken on the Bird Race. The birders were enjoying the range of divers, ducks and auks in Portland Harbour, whilst the kite surfers were enjoying the continuing gale.

As none of the other teams that usually partake have taken part so far, it can hardly be called a race, a better description would be a ‘big day’ but it was enjoyable all the same. As Shetland in winter has very few species, Paul commented that it was the most birds he had ever seen in the UK in a day, but maths teacher Nick  said that if it was a school report he would have commented ‘tried hard but was let down by a lack of preparation’.

The rest of the week has been hampered by continual heavy rain and high winds which resulted in extensive flooding. North America may be suffering from record low temperatures but here it is a very balmy 12c but very wet as depression after depressing sweeps across the Atlantic. After several attempts I did get to see a Smew that has taken up residence in a flooded field at Lytchett Bay, a bizarre occurrence as it is a diving duck that usually requires deep water, a Yellow-browed Warbler at Studland and a few waterfowl and woodland birds at Blashford Lakes in Hampshire, but access to other areas and other birds has been prevented by closed roads. Even the Baker’s Arms pub which we visited with Paul at Saturday is partially closed due to flooding.


Leaden skies, wind and rain dominated all week. These fields at Lytchett Bay are usually grazed by cattle, Water Buffalo would be more suitable now.


You normally come across Smew on a deep gravel pit or a reservoir, but this one is catching fish on a grassy field!


A female or immature Smew, the so-called ‘redhead’. Photo from grc.forum.blogspot.com


‘Red sky in the morning, ringers warning’. Surprisingly there was a short weather window on the morning of the 5th and Paul Morton and I tried to ring a few birds in his garden. Due to the mild conditions and the abundance of natural food ,few birds are coming into gardens and our catch of three Goldfinches and a Blackbird confirmed this.

I know I bring this up year after year but the 6th would have been my first wife Janet’s 67th birthday. It’s nearly ten years since she passed away and so much has happened in that time.

Janet Lewis - Hawaii 2003

Lest we forget.

On the 7th I finally had my ingrowing toe nails removed, so that’s me out of circulation until it heals. Lets hope there isn’t anything really rare that needs boots or wellies to get to in the next week or so!

P1070311-sore toe

‘Sticks out like a sore toe’

Posted January 7, 2014 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

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