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...
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