Owl about that – we won the bike bird raceBy Adrian Lawson
May 15, 2009
I had a real adventure this week – let me tell you about it.
I have long known people in the Berkshire Ornithological Club, and every year they organise a bird race – which involves teams of three travelling around Berkshire bird watching.
The team that finds the most different species of birds wins.
Simple and great fun. Except it involves a huge amount of driving.
Seriously, 200 or more miles.
I cannot support driving that far to go and see some birds, it is against my principles.
But a few weeks ago I was invited to join a team of three who were going bird racing on bikes, right up my street. So last weekend I cycled over to Snelsmore Common and well before dawn met Mike and Phil on their bikes and off we set.
What a great adventure. At about 3.45am I heard for the first time woodlarks singing before dawn, and woodcocks calling too. By 4am Mike had pointed out the subtle hoot of a little owl, and had pointed my ears in the direction of singing tree pipits by 5am.
I spotted a barn owl in the distance but it disappeared before they saw it, so it didn’t count, but tawny owls were easily heard, and they did.
We counted swifts, swallows, gulls, sparrows and tits in short order, and by 10am we had found more than 50 birds. But we had to find many more. Greenham Common provided lapwings and plovers, wheatears and Dartford warblers.
The woods at Bowdown provided woodpeckers, nuthatches, goldcrests and a path to the gravel pits. There we found ducks and grebes, cormorants, terns, more gulls and reed buntings.
We travelled the canal towpath, and found some more birds, and stopped for lunch with the other bicycling team. We probed each other for info, what birds had we got that they hadn’t. This was cycling bird watching espionage with a bit of chess thrown in, and it was an absolutely brilliant thing to be doing.
By late afternoon we were up in the mid 80s. We had found more than 80 species, and we knew we could get a few more. We found some fluky things, a mandarin duck skulking under the trees along the canal, a widgeon, which should long since have gone. We reckoned we were neck and neck with the other cyclists.
We arrived at the finish to find we had beaten them by two birds, and we won a bottle of beer each.