Monday, May 16, 2005

GPOG Bird Race 2005

For the past few years we have been taking part in the Greater Peterborough Ornithological Group annual bird race and this year's plans were set for a teen team to join the other three teams of clinically insane GPOG members taking part. Unfortunately thought, due to a number of events the two other teens lined up to join us couldn’t take part, so we were left with half a team missing and some big shoes to fill. Step forward Gareth Jones and Ray Bowell- our Dads- to join 'To String a Mockingbird'!

GPOG rules state that at least three members of the team of four must identify the same bird for it to count in the 24 hour period of 6pm Saturday (14th May) and 6pm Sunday (15th May). The winning team is the one to see the most within the confines of the Peterborough Bird Club recording area within the time specified. Each team can choose their own starting point but must finish at the Williams house for the post-race banter and BBQ to celebrate the various fortunes.

One of the keys to scoring a reasonable total in the bird race is of course careful planning and hours of recce-ing, right? Wrong! We did virtually no recce-ing and still managed to notch up a good total. And as for planning, it was essential on the first night but for the Sunday it was abandoned almost as soon as we set off!

Our campaign started off at the very end of Central Drove, Nene Washes where we quickly kicked off with the usual washland species with the few bonus’s on offer this year. Garganey was one of these expected, but needed bonus birds; we flushed one and found another on our walk up to the end of the drove before the 6pm starting time, but weren’t hopeful of connecting with them on the way back. We needed not to worry as after a lengthy search of one particular pool we found a male asleep trying not to be noticed and another flew over the cowshed pools.

Other bonus species included Pochard, Marsh Harrier, Avocets and Little-ringed Plovers. A quick Grey Wagtail and Common Sandpiper, and we were on our way down south for the hoped for Grey Partridge, which duly obliged along with its French cousin.

Crepuscular species are crucial to a bird race so our last stop of the night was Woodwalton Fen, where all four teams ended up. We were the first team to arrive and on the drive down Will commented on how last years Little Owl that we got on a barn here was a “One hit wonder”; seconds later he shouted “Little Owl!” as one bounced up the telegraph pole next the track leading up to the reserve!

As we stood scanning the fen from the bank outside the reserve and listening for any other species on offer two other teams approached on the track- the Owl still on full view we were rather worried the ickle beast would be seen by all, but just as they got near the end of the track it disappeared. Lucky?! Eh?!

In the reserve itself, we somehow managed to get rather lost, but thankfully back on track we added Nightingale, roding Woodcock, Garden Warbler, Long-eared and Tawny Owls- but missed a ring tailed Harrier, which flew through the reserve whist we were lost. Unfortunately it was never really positively identified by the team who saw it, so didn’t get added to their count.

The only Owl we failed to connect with was Barn Owl- we could have gone to a nest site, which would have been slightly off route for home, but we gambled and hoped for a chance encounter on the way home (we see them all the time usually!). But there’s always……

The next morning…
A 5.50 start at Baston/Langtoft GP secured us a Greenshank- we were one of two teams to get this species, and in the end it was passage waders that did the business for us. We also scored a Dunlin which no other team got; a huge surprise to us considering we managed to get one at BLGP, one at the Nene Washes and then presumably the BLGP bird at Grummit’s Scrape later!

With no Barn Owls flying about around Baston Fen we headed towards Deeping Lakes NR in the hope of one there, or a Hobby. Both failed and we only really added common species here.

With only the two pairs of young ears hearing the Gropper last night at WWF, it was a change of pace at Bainton GP, with Lesser Whitethroat en-route at Maxey. We eventually secured a reeling Gropper along with Bullfinch and Hobby.

Since the Ruddy Duck cull began they have been increasingly more difficult to find in the PBC area, but there is one site which are nearly guaranteed. I say nearly- cos basically we failed! We did manage a Goldcrest and a Spotted Flycatcher at the entrance, but no matter how long we waited the Ruddy Duck didn’t show!

Southey Woods got us our 100th species by 9.30am with Marsh Tit, Coal Tit and Treecreeper being the highlights. Apparently there was a Spotted Flycatcher here as well- but we didn’t need it!

With a Sparrowhawk chasing a pair of Hobby at Castor Hanglands, the list was increasing but there was not a squawk of a Jay to be heard- a top site for them in the PBC area, and if that wasn’t going to produce one where would? Not to worry as one happened to fly in front of our car on the way to Southwick Nature Reserve! Top stuff!

Red Kite and Buzzard scored the 105 and things looked set to continue on a high but a slow patch set in and everyone was feeling the pressure as Kingfisher and Nuthatch failed to perform. We knew that missing four breeding species would be disastrous for our chances of winning, so missing Nuthatch and Kingfisher was not an option!

A stroke of luck though saw a Kingfisher quickly followed by a calling Lesser spotted Woodpecker! Amazing- especially since the latter is incredibly difficult to pin at this time of the year!

With a couple of washland species still needed we headed on a high to Eldernell where the Tree Sparrows were duly ticked off and a male Ruff (in no real sign of moult)- another species no other team got!

We finished the day dashing around like headless chickens looking for Ruddy Duck and Barn Owl- which we failed on both in the end, but the highlight of the race was to come from another team’s find: Fulmar! It looked a rather sorry sight by the time we got to it at Langtoft West GP. Martin’s team did well to find the poor sod, as it is on arguably the worst pit in the Deepings area, which generally gets naff all on it!

The race finished at Trev and Jane Williams’ house with the traditional post race BBQ, our team finished on a respectable 112 (one off the all time GPOG record!) and to our amazement we were crowned the new GPOG champs with the ‘501’ team (Martin Coates, Dan Williams, Bob and Sue Titman) scoring 109, ‘Just a Hobby’ (Trev and Jane Williams, Neil and Eunice Parker) scored 107 and finally the ‘Wandering Wrinklies’ (Roger Teasdale, Mac Bell, Brian Lawrence, Malc Holley) scored 97. All in all a respectable finish for all!

Thanks to Trev and Jane for putting up an excellent BBQ and everyone for taking part- great race!

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