Update on the ‘big ride’…

Thought I’d better post an update on the preparations for our epic John O’Groats to Land’s End cycle ride.

Trying to fit everything in is proving a tad difficult, what with work, training, fund raising and logistics – but we’re getting there!

With only 36 days to go before I head north, we still have a lot to do to create momentum behind the charitable giving side of the ride. The  e-giving site at  www.justgiving.co/teams/justice  is beginning to attract some attention and, importantly, donations. We would  very  much appreciate anyone who visits this blog to 1) please donate and 2) spread the message to your family and friends. The money raised goes to four extremely deserving UK charities. If you haven’t already given something up for Lent, or even broken your resolution, you can easily make amends by donating – just a few quid will make a big difference!

I think I’ve pretty much got my bike ready now – wish I could say the same for my legs! A couple of Saturday’s ago I did 75k straight off – about the daily average distance we need to cover to arrive in Land’s End on Saturday 19th May, the day  the Olympic flame departs on it’s tour of Britain. I was sore and stiff for the next three days!

Our corporate sponsors Interserve have kindly donated the personalised kit, which Endura are currently manufacturing – I hope it looks as good as the design drawings do!  We’re going to have a couple of jersey’s over, so if anyone has any bright ideas as to how we can use them to bring in some more cash, please leave a comment on this blog.

Finally, closer to the event we will be tweeting @TrevorOnTour and blogging regularly to keep you up to date with events as they happen, so please ‘tune in’ daily from 26th April. Thanks for following the ‘big ride’ and through your donations, supporting the vital work of our chosen charities. Bryan & Trevor

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Egyptian extravaganza!

More from my ‘back catalogue’ – this time a self-organised trip to Sharm El Sheikh over the autumn half-term 2011, with ‘birding buddies’ Bob and Sue. We’d been to Sharm previously so knew the sites and the preferred hotel location, which for us is as far north  (and away from Sharm centre!) as you can get. We stayed at the Albatros Moderna on an all inclusive basis – good value and as much flexibility as you need  for this ‘resort-centred’ destination. There are three main birding sites around Sharm itself; the ‘new’ sewage works just off the by-pass – on the right, a few kilometres south of the junction with the Dahab road and the two national parks, Ras Mohammed – at the dividing point of the Gulf’s of Suez and Aqaba, and Nabq, at the extreme north of the resort – literally where the road runs out. All three sites can be done by taxi. The final ‘must do’ site is St. Catherine’s monastery, which is over 200k from Sharm, and requires a coach trip (some with the option of an over night stay) or car hire – the later not being as easy as you might think. Sharm is the only major holiday airport in my experience which has no car hire companies on site. A couple of companies work out of the resort itself and deliver cars to the airport,  if you are lucky that is – we’ve experienced difficulties on each occasion we’ve done it. If you do manage to hire a car, the driving is manic in the resort itself but very quiet elsewhere, you have to be prepared for numerous police and military check-points and there are often fuel shortages! But the flexibility of your own transport means that you can visit the main sites on a frequent basis and explore other potential locations, if the mood takes you, and the birding definitely makes up for the hassle!

Anyway a few selected shots of the sort of stuff you can easily catch up with on a week’s package holiday.

Laughing Dove, regular in the hotel gardens. As are these Indian Silverbills…

There were a few Bluethroats, of both races and numerous Chiffchaff. In the grounds of an adjacent hotel, closed for refurbishment we found …

Spur-winged Plover (or should I say Lapwing!)

This was one of the first birds we saw on arrival at the sewage works…Blue-cheeked Bee-eater!

Other good stuff included..

Crane amongst these White Stork…

Crowned Sandgrouse – one of a regular flock which came in to drink at about 09.00. We also saw Lichtenstein’s, but they are much more difficult. You have to be lucky enough to be standing in the right spot just after it gets dark!

…and this nice 1st year White-crowned Wheatear,  without it’s white crown – can be confusing!

To close, this brief ‘taster’ of the delights of the sewage works – a hunting Barbary Falcon at dusk.

Sunset over the sewage works – aahhh!

On a couple of trips down to the Ras Mohammed national park we caught up with a few local specialities..

This superb Mourning Wheatear – note the buff under-tail, which separates it from the western Maghreb Wheatear.

Blackstart

Sand Partridge

and Red-breasted Flycatcher. Found at the oasis on the road to the point, along with Great Grey Shrike, Eastern Bonelli’s Warbler, Redstart and other late migrants. However our visit was brought to an abrupt end by seven armed ‘tourist’ police who took exception to us being there and moved us on!

In the Botanic gardens, a pair of tiny Namaqua Doves

..and this Stonechat, possibly North Caspian, hemprichii

As the Nabq National Park was on the doorstep of our hotel, we visited frequently. Birds of interest in the ‘park’ included…

…this Sand Plover, which on balance, we concluded was Greater because of it’s overall size, bill structure and leg/joint colour – but I’d be very pleased to hear from anyone who thinks differently!

Western Reef Heron, dark morph,…. and this very welcome Western Palearctic tick…

..a rather poor picture of a juvenile Striated Heron – which are only found in the remnant mangroves along the South Sinai coast of the Red Sea.

A short walk from the hotel there is a new golf course, still under construction, but viewable in several places from the road. There was always plenty of interest, with feeding flocks of wagtails and pipits – three species, including Water, Richards and Red-throated, Stonechat, and waders.

This Ruff was obviously feeding on the ‘greens’ in the day and roosting up the coast at night.

The monastery at St. Catherine’s, at the base of Mount Sinai, is a great days birding and cultural excursion. The monastery gardens often hold interesting migrants, whilst the local residents are equally appealing – Tristram’s Starling

Scrub Warbler

Desert Lark… and the ‘purple’ prize….

Sinai Rosefinch – seen around the car park and the camel feeding areas at the rear of the monastery.

Meanwhile back in the stony desert areas close to the airport there is plenty of local interest.

Hoopoe Lark

Brown-necked Raven

…and flocks of thirsty Sandgrouse, coming to drink at any available watering hole. These are Spotted Sandgrouse.

Sharm El Sheikh is definitely not as birding ‘hard core’ as Eilat, but it is accessible, reasonably priced and there is plenty to do within easy reach of the main resort. A car improves your prospects significantly but is by no means essential and if you are looking for a winter break or beach holiday with some birding interest thrown in then Sharm is a serious contender. We’ll certainly be back!

Last year in Lesvos

Just catching up on some of my ‘back catalogue’. Here are a few pictures from last years spring trip to the lovely Greek island of Lesvos. We booked a standard week’s package holiday , staying in the northern resort of Petra. Most birders try to stay in or around Skala Kalloni, to be close to the salt pans (and other birders!) but Petra, which is in the north and only forty minutes from Kalloni,  is a very acceptable alternative. The weather in April is usually warm but there can be a cool north wind and the nights are very cold. In our experience few hotels make proper provision for their early season birding guests. We went with our ‘birding buddies’ Bob and Sue – this being their first trip ensured that there was plenty of action for all. We were lucky enough to coincide our trip with a huge fall of  ‘black and white’ flycatchers – providing me with a chance to get a Western Palearctic ‘tick’ in the shape of Semi-collard – in fact we connected with three! As I’d broken my 400mm telephoto on a previous trip to Costa Rica, these images are taken on my ‘back up’ 70-200mm, and it shows. Anyway enjoy…..

The hotel, on the northern outskirts of Petra –

…close to the Ruppell’s site and some good early morning walks. We had Collard Flycatcher in the gardens!

Black-eared Wheatear, on the hill-side behind the hotel.

Subalpine Warbler of the eastern albistriata race.

A superb singing Ruppell’s Warbler, at the last accessible breeding site along the cliffs between Petra and Molivos

There was a very large roost of hirundine on the cliffs at the back of the hotel, including a few Red-rumped Swallow

View of Inland Lake, in the lower Potamia valley. The birding was excellent here with good numbers of Little Crake, Spotted Crake and Water Rail, Penduline Tit and Little Bittern.

Male and female Little Crake

Squacco Heron.

Upper Napi valley – always good for raptor passage, although on this occasion we were a little early for the main movement.

Sombre Tit – a Levos speciality.

Meanwhile East River and the salt-pans had plenty of action, with Red-throated and Tawny Pipit, Glossy Ibis, Collard Pratincole, Red-footed Falcon, Pallid Harrier and much more.

….including this beauty…a Black Stork, which spent a couple of days on the river recuperating, before flying north,

..and this Little Bittern, only a few yards up stream.

There was plenty of wader interest, including Marsh Sandpiper and Temminck’s Stint.

The area around Sigri, in the far west, is always interesting and 2011 was no  exception, with plenty of wagtails, including three Citrine, Golden Oriole, Cretzschmar’s and Ortolan Bunting, Wryneck and Spur-winged Lapwing.

‘Blue and Black headed races and a stunning male Citrine.

This Purple Heron was just stood in a field, being admired by the passing birders.

There were a handful of these gorgeous male Golden Oriole in fig trees on the track to the ford.

Spur-winged Lapwing…sort of speaks for itself really!

On the drive back from Sigri, via Eresos, we saw Chukar…

and this other recently returning Lesvos speciality – Cinereous Bunting.

And to finish with, a shot of poppies,  just some of the stunning botanical interest on this lovely island.

For further information on birding in Lesvos go to local Peterborough birder Steve Dudley’s excellent website.

Felbrigg ‘first’

An early morning walk around Felbrigg Hall produced a few nice birds, including seven Woodcock, three Mandarin Duck – two superb males hauled up on the Alder tree stumps, and a ‘first’ for me at Felbrigg , an adult Whooper swan on the lake! A couple of snaps of the beauty:

Incidentally, for those who know this lovely place, the National Trust have just about finished doing a major piece of environmental engineering – re-routing the course of the stream, which flows into the lake, to reinstate a former wetland and water meadow. Looks very promising and a significant improvement – well done the NT!

Post Script. In an idle moment my mind turned briefly to the idea of cycling to all of the historic churches in Norfolk – it turns out that there are about 800 of them. Think I’d better get fit doing the End2End first, before I think of tackling that!

Launch of End2End fund-raising website..!

We have reached a bit of a landmark with our End2End ride – the launch of our official fund-raising web-site! Go to:

justgiving.com/teams/justice

for details. Thanks to Debs Eden for setting it up.

With only 55 days to go to the ‘off’, I would really appreciate it if you could 1) support our efforts by sponsoring one or more of the chosen charities ( just a penny a mile would make a significant contribution to the totals ), and 2) spread the word by any means possible.

For the birdwatchers amongst you I shall be organising a small ‘side event’ to guess the number of species seen during the trip! There’ll be regular updates on interesting sightings as well as a ‘running total’ list, published on this blog.

Thanks in advance for your help and financial support for the four charities involved.

Owl Fest – Deeping High Bank

Deeping High Bank is always good for winter owls and this year has been no exception. Although numbers have been down, there’s still been plenty of interest. Barn Owls have been most evident, with up to six different birds, including these two on the set-aside field near Four Mile Bar:

… this particularly dark breasted bird, most observers agree, was a good candidate for a continental visitor of the race ‘guttata’

Further along the bank, towards Deeping Lakes, up to three Short-eared Owls have been seen.

These two birds were observed food-passing:

…and this one which came too close for comfort (or at least to focus!)

Enjoy…!