Wee­don’s World

Mike is a sucker for 24-hour ‘bird races’ around his home city of Peter­bor­ough, and this year he and his team were once more chas­ing the day record...

Bird Watching (UK) - - Contents - Mike is an ob­ses­sive patch lis­ter and keen wildlife pho­tog­ra­pher in his home city of Peter­bor­ough, where he lives with his wife, Jo, and chil­dren, Jas­mine and Ed­die. You can see his pho­tos at weed­world.blogspot.com MIKE WEE­DON’S

Mike’s been on a 24-hour ‘bird race’ – but did he beat last year’s record tally?

I cam­bridgeshire. LOVE BIRD RACES, or ‘big days’, if you pre­fer, and have been do­ing them near home since 2000, around the Peter­bor­ough Bird Club (PBC) area, a cross-shaped re­gion a third the size of In May 2000, the win­ning team got fewer than 110 bird species. But in 2006, with ad­vance­ments in lo­cal knowl­edge, (and a good wader spring) the record shot up to 121! But this long­stand­ing fig­ure was recorded in the 24 hours from 6pm one evening to 6pm the next: ie cheat­ing! The ‘cal­en­dar day’ PBC record, you may re­call, came last year, when Will Bow­ell and I reached 120. So, this year’s brand new team of Will and I, plus lo­cal bird-find­ers and PBC bird race new­bies, An­drew Gar­dener and Hugh Wright had a cou­ple of ob­vi­ous tar­get to­tals to aim to beat. Our big day was Sun­day 30 April. The wind was swing­ing to­wards east­erly, giv­ing hope of mi­gra­tion. I had pre­pared an itin­er­ary and my spread­sheet said we had a chance of a record. On Satur­day, though, my pitch was queered dur­ing a recce trip, by find­ing a county record flock of five Black-winged Stilts at March Farm­ers (Nene Washes). So, I was too ex­cited to get the needed pre-race rest... Any­how, come 2am, on 30 April, the team was as­sem­bled and out in the field for night singers. The trou­ble was it was one of the qui­etest spring nights I have ever known: no Bit­terns boom­ing, no Wa­ter Rails, no Snipe; just wind and noth­ing else. A wet fen/ carr site in the south was also quiet, but we did hear a cou­ple of Wood­cocks and a Long-eared Owl. By the time we reached our ‘dawn’ wood­land site of

Just as I was about to en­ter a slump, it dawned on me that we hadn’t even got Grey Heron on the list! Surely, the record was still on!

Cas­tor Hang­lands NNR, we’d reached 50 birds. There, we’d had Nightin­gale, Marsh Tit and so on, when we bumped into county race team, the Cambs Diehards. They had just been to March Farm­ers and dipped on Satur­day’s stilts, but re­ported a host of new-in juicy waders. I felt punched in the stom­ach. The grip! But, just then came a phone call from a friend who said that at Maxey, a few miles away, waders were drop­ping in. We ditched the woods and went af­ter waders. Bar­wit, Grey Plover, Dun­lin, Green­shank and a cou­ple of Whim­brel were ticked; bird race gold. It was time to change the itin­er­ary and hit more wader hotspots. Get ‘em while they’re hot! The pits near Bas­ton pro­duced two Knots and two Turn­stones: out­landish big day fare! There was even a Bit­tern boom­ing. It was 10am, and we were on 94 species. Next, Deep­ing Lakes LWT de­liv­ered such bizarre good­ies as Scaup and Pin­tail, plus a pair of Egyp­tian Geese and a Cat­tle Egret: bird num­ber 100! It wasn’t even mid-day, but as any big day vet­eran will tell you, as you near your tar­get fig­ure, so time starts to fly very rapidly and new birds start to come very slowly. We had staked out Man­darins, and nest­ing Ravens, Tree Spar­rows and even Stonechats, and lucked into Com­mon Gull, Wheatear and Hobby. It was only early af­ter­noon as we ticked those Stonechats (110 species), yet it seemed we were reach­ing the end of our quest, ex­haust­ing all hope. Just as I was about to en­ter a slump, it dawned on me that we hadn’t even got Grey Heron on the list! Surely, the record was still on! We duly found a heron, plus a sum­mer­ing Whooper Swan, and were back in the game. It was time to re­visit places in the hope of new waders or terns. But, I hit ‘the wall’ at Maxey. With great, but ‘un-needed’, birds such as Green­shank, Whim­brel and Grey Wag­tail in front of me, I felt tired­ness, ex­haus­tion and gloom wash over me. We’d been on 118 species for an eter­nity... I was very glum. Sigh. How­ever, a quick chance en­counter with a Com­mon Sand­piper and a visit to the same King­fisher nest hole I first vis­ited on a race in 2000 and sud­denly, the team had matched our 2016 to­tal of 120 birds. Back on the Nene Washes, with a new spring in our binoc­u­lars, we saw Avo­cet, Great Black-backed Gull, Gar­ganey, a newly ar­rived Curlew, Short-eared Owl (our fifth owl) and, fi­nally, Pochard: 126 bird species. We had smashed the Peter­bor­ough area record! Five owls, 13 ducks, 18 waders, in­clud­ing two Knots, two Turn­stones, three Bar-tailed God­wits, Curlew, three Whim­brels, 10 Grey Plovers, half a dozen Green­shank, and 50-odd Dun­lin; plus Cat­tle Egret, and 10 Hob­bies, Raven, Crane and Stonechat, all make for quite a day out bird­ing around our in­land area! I don’t want to think of the Swift, Nuthatch, Grey Par­tridge, Ruff and Wa­ter Rail we missed. Those are some­thing for next year, per­haps, when the whole crazy busi­ness starts again… I love bird races!

OWLS GA­LORE Mike’s team recorded all five owls on their ‘big day’, in­clud­ing four Short-eared Owls

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