Sunday, August 01, 2010

Esmerelda and the cunning plan...

Finally!!! After a week's 'break' during which the family cat-age has been added to (care of the Wirral RSPCA), the garage has been almost purged of its mouse explored wall of boxes, the lawns have been cut, the hedges trimmed and sundry shopping chores completed I get to hit the patch. I had hoped to be out and about a lot more since taking my annual leave from work, but the river has had to wait. That IS the trouble with holidays. They tend to get filled with 'things that need doing'. Things, that as far as I'M concerned, could easily wait a month or four until the autumn passage period has gone. July to September is NOT when I want to be weeding, or painting, or pfaffing around with getting the loft done - dammit!

Now as it happens I have been thinking about how I might optimise my patch time over the hols given the inevitable 'constraints' (see above) and came up with an idea. As regular visitors to this page will know, much of my time at the moment is spent hunting for waders at the far western point of the patch - at a little spot called Halfway House (aka 'the river'). The slight snag IS... it's a good 20 minute yomp from where I dump the car... and, of course therefore... a good 20 minute yomp back. That's 40 minutes of potential patch time 'wasted'. Now add to that the 15 minutes drive TO the patch and the 15 minutes drive back home and of the couple of hours I might be able to grab here and there, more than half is taken up in travel time! So here it is - my cunning plan!

Yes. It's a bike. I figured I could stick the bike in the car and then when I've parked up at the patch cycle the 5 minutes to Halfway House on the bike instead of yomping for 20 minutes on foot. That'll give me another half hours worth of birding - happy days :-) Now all that sounds perfectly fine on paper doesn't it and so I duly went to Halford's and purchased a bike. It was at that point that a number of flaws in by cunning plan began to make themselves known...

No.1 - Bicycle helmet. I hate the bloody things. They look poncey and get in the way. Yes, yes - I know. NOT a very responsible attitude. NOT very adult one either given that they're a re proven to protect yer skull from impact BUT - I hate them. My wife, on the other hand, has a very different perspective. I tend, it's fair to say, to be on occassion a little accident prone. I shan't bore you with the details of all my visits to minor injuries, suffice to say her peace of mind required that I bought a bike hat. So now I have one. £50 bloody quid!

No.2 - Bike would not fit in car. Oh fucking brilliant! Another £70 later and I''m in the Halford's car park with a bike rack FOR the car.

No.3 - The bike rack takes 15 minutes to assemble. The rain will be here in 5 minutes and the instructions will take at least 30 minutes to decipher BEFORE I get to assembling, let alone attaching the rack. Well fuck that! I wedge the bike in the boot as far as it will go and stick the rack in on top of it. It'll just have to stick out until I get home. End up shredding a recyclable string bag that's in the boot to provide me with some string to tie the boot down. It works.

No. 4 - Putting up and taking down the bike rack. I practice this the next day. The instructions are actually not too bad when yer not flustered and I figure out what goes where pretty quickly. Attaching the bloody thing to the car though is quite another matter! It takes me 15 minutes to put it up and 2 to take down. Now at this point you may well be doing the calculations that I was, because at THIS rate it would be quicker to walk to the river!!!

No. 5 - Driving with the rack on the car and the bike on the rack. Well, it LOOKED secure enough... until I was just down the road when I could have sworn that the bloody thing moved when I went around the first bend. I pull over and re-tighten the straps. On another couple hundred yards and I'm getting paranoid. What if the whole contraption falls off and the car behind runs over it? Or worst still, SWERVES to avoid it and hits a small child... or a cat?? I stop again and check it. On to the Express Way and the bloody thing begins to hum! On top of that I can see the straps flapping. Damn thing is working loose, I just know it! Don't be an idiot! It'll be fine. It says on the box it'll hold 3 bikes, I've only got ONE loaded up... squeak... I mean what can happen... squeak... everything is pulled tight... squeak... Shit! The rubber padding is slipping down the rear window. Oh my god it's going to fall off! I pull over again as the bottom bit of the rack slips off the rear bumper and the whole thing drops. Well, I'm clearly doing something wrong as I have to re-attach and re-tighten the rack twice more before I hit the patch. 40 minutes later I finally park up and get the bike off. FORTY bloody minutes to do a 15 minute trip.

No.6 - I can't straighten my neck. OK, so I load my tripod and scope into my rucky and attach my fezzie chair, destination - the river! Tog up with my new cycling helmet and set off down the track. Now at this point my head is down as I'm working through the gears to build up speed. This is cool! Hit the straight along the ship canal, go to look up at a passing Cormorant and... CLONK! The back of my helmet hits the tripod sticking out of the top of my rucksack. I try again. CLONK! Same problem. I can't stratighten my neck because the helmet is in the way so now I'm tearing along like a bloody hunchback, whacking my bits on overhanging branches as I go because NOW I can't see properly either as the bloody helmet is slipping down over my eyes. Esmerelda!!!

Anyway. Finally get there and the birding can begin.

Halfway House 10:03

Things have shifted again since my time here a week ago. The flock of Curlew are down to 10 birds and the only other waders are again Lapwing - but I count just over 1100. Whilst the Lapwing numbers are up, the gull numbers are down... 127 Lesser Black-backed Gull, 190 Black-headed Gull, 3 Herring Gull and paradoxically a single Common Gull - the rarest gull here today, and most other patch days too unless a Glaucous, Iceland or Med Gull is about.

There are 4 Grey Herons feeding out on the mud and just 1 Little Egret today - there had been three last time. Wood Pigeon numbers are up - 21 today and there are 6 Mallards tucked in on the banks that weren't here last time I think and 2 Cormorants fishing. That's pretty much it. No sign of any wader passage today.

Pumphouse Pool 11:01

Looks like the numbers of moulting Mallard are up - 49 today, with 4 Gadwall among them but no Teal. There are about 9 Tufted Duck tucked away and a single male Pochard out on the water. Coot numbers also feel up... 36... unlike the Moorhens which seem scarce today (just 3) like the gulls (just 2 each of LBBG and BHG). There's one Little Grebe juvenile on its own... no idea where the rest are... and 2 Grey Herons are standing around. 4 Sand Martins over are the only hirundine presence.

Eastern Reedbed 11:15

Quiet. Mute Swan with 9 big cygnets. 25 Gadwall tucked right in to the reeds are presumably moulting along with the 2 Wigeon which are now in eclipse. They must have been hidden away last time as I don't recall seeing them for a while. I can see just 2 Coots and 1 Moorhen and can hear a Little Grebe, but that's about it.

Millbrook Pool 11:20

3 Mallard, 2 Moorhen, 2 Coots with a small chick, 1 Grey Heron... AND... Green Woodpecker! Patch tick 125 for the year! These are the rarest woodpecker on the patch - not even annual anymore. Think the last one I had was 2008? Anyway there's one yaffling now from the wooded area in the NW corner. Turns out it was reported yesterday too. Kestrel (male) over and Kingfisher flashing through. then more yaffling from the Green Woodpecker. This time it sounds like it's shifted towards Pumphouse Meadow. Shoot around on the bike and catch a glimpse as it flips behind some small pines. Don't relocate it though and all too soon... my patch time is done. Sort out what I did wrong with the cycle rack and have an event free trip home. No slippage. No flapping of straps. No paranoia. Just the hum of the wind through the bike frame... and the gentle pop as another cunning plan is born...

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