Bucket List Item No.2

I’m just sat in Heathrow Terminal 5 waiting for a flight to Johannesburg and trying not to get too excited too early – it’s an eleven hour flight after all and then I’m not stopping there! Tomorrow lunchtime I’m catching a shorter flight to Maun in Botswana – the gateway to the Okavango Delta.  

After seeing the wildlife of Africa so often on TV I thought it was about time I saw it for real and the Okavango seems like a good place to start.  The trip is a bird-focussed holiday organised by Naturetrek but I’m hoping for plenty of mammals too – I’d be a very happy boy if I saw African hunting dogs!

I realised a while back that I’d missed Africa and its wildlife off my bucket list, so I’m making amends with this being my second long distance trip outside of Europe (the first being the Falklands and hopefully more to come).

For the first time in a while, I’m travelling laptopless, so there won’t be any updates while I’m out there. However, hopefully there’ll be plenty to blog about on my return!

A stunning spring morning

I woke very early this morning, not much later than my usual weekday time. With clear skies and no wind, I took the opportunity to do the second of my two March breeding bird surveys for Cheshire Wildlife Trust. This time at their Blakenhall Moss reserve.

Heading out it was a cold and frosty start but with no wind, it was quite comfortable outside and the spring sun soon warmed me up, hitting my dark waterproofs with strengthening rays.  

The reserve is out in the Cheshire countryside near to Wybunbury but isn’t open to the public. I’m very lucky to be allowed to spend a little bit of time there.  However, it isn’t all fun…the site is getting more difficult to get around due to the bramble cover in places and the higher water levels, brought back up to help restore the Moss. I won’t let a bit a water or a few scratches put me off though and after an hour or so I had completed my walk around the site and recorded a good number of species. 

There were two new species recorded for the site, meadow pipit and shelduck, and it was also good to record pairs of marsh tit and lapwing. Despite the lovely springlike weather, there were still some winter migrant species about with a good sized flock of teal still about and a small group of field fare passing purposely overhead.  In total, in recorded 31 species and the two new ones brought the long term reserve list to 64.

For me, this was a perfect early spring morning – bright blue skies, warming sun, a slight frost on the ground, and spent wandering around the countryside listening to and watching wildlife.

A secret valley

After working from home today I took the opportunity on a bright (but slightly breezy) spring day to go for an early evening cycle. With the wind coming from the east, I went out in a less frequently headed direction and up into the small hills across the Staffordshire border. The area isn’t far from home but I’ve not really explored it much before and when I came to a junction I decided to make a new turn and go down a road I’ve not passed along before…it led me to a stunning little valley.

With the sun out and the grass turning a spring rich green, all under a bright blue sky, the valley seemed to be approaching its prime. All it needed was for the trees to be bursting into leaf. As I came to the end of the valley bottom road, I stumbled across a little piece of woodland with a rich carpet of wood anemones forming a green, white and yellow carpet beneath – lovely.

The signs of spring

On the way home from doing a bird survey this morning, I went for a walk around Wybunbury Moss. It’s a few weeks since I paid one of my regular visits and, at last, spring is really is starting to show.

Getting out of my car, the first sign was the sound of a chiffchaff letting out its distinctive call from high up in a nearby tree.  To me these diminutive little birds are a clear sign that the season has turned; some are long distance migrants while others stay and overwinter here, but when they start signing I feel spring really has arrived.

Heading up into the church yard, the daffodils are out in full bloom, their heads being buffeted in the increasing breeze.  Other birds are starting to make themselves heard, with greenfinches, goldfinches and gold crests all singing in the trees.

Walking around the outside of the Moss, other plants are showing their first growth of the year. Leaves are coming out on the hawthorn hedges and brambles bushes, dandelions are unfurling their first flowers, nettles are sprouting, the gorse is well out in bloom and the catkins are opening on the willows.

On the far side of the Moss, circling up in the strong winds, was a foursome of buzzards, calling and playing in the rushing air.  There was also a busy movement of jackdaws, crows and magpies all around the area as they prepare for breeding season.

However, the spring is yet to be in full swing; others are missing and yet to arrive.  The great movement inwards of our summer visitors has yet to really be felt but over the next few days and weeks, the woodlands, fields and hedges will welcome a great influx of avian life bring the spring to its rapturous heights.


Starting a busy spring

Spring and early summer is without doubt the busiest part of my year. I fill weekends with bird surveys, raptor nest protection shifts, some practical environmental tasks, cycling and walking, and my evenings have more cycling thrown in too. With the warmer weather arriving, I also take more holidays during these months, either volunteering or travelling to new places.

My busy spring really kicked off this weekend. On Saturday I attended a Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) training course run by the British Trust for Ornithology. I was meant to go to it last year but the worst bout of flu I ever had put paid to that plan. I’ve been doing the BTO version of the BBS since 2014 and have a lovely grid square out near the Cheshire Sandstone Ridge. Despite now having some experience of the survey, I thought it would be worth having some formal training, if only to check that I was doing everything correctly…and it appears that have been, which is a relief.


This morning, I was up early and out to Cheshire Wildlife Trust’s (CWT) Bagmere reserve to undertake the first of four BBS visits. The methodology for CWT’s BBS is different to the BTO’s and collects more detail including recording the behaviour of the bird species noted. When I arrived at the site I almost came straight home again as the wind had picked up and the rain was starting to fall. However, after waiting a little while the rain went away and after walking down to the reserve I could confirm that the site was somewhat sheltered from the breeze and it wouldn’t interfere with the survey by masking bird sounds.

The survey recorded a good number of species and the bird activity is really starting to pick up with the chiffchaffs being a great sign of the new season having arrived. There are still plenty of species to return to the site and there were also winter visitors still in the area with a flock of fieldfares passing overhead. There was also a new species for the site; I flushed a noisy oystercatcher as I walked across the first field into the reserve. However, there was disappointment as again I didn’t record willow tit; a species which has suffered from significant declines nationally and I have noted with decreasing frequency at Bagmere.

Next weekend I hope to make the first BBS visit to my other CWT site, Blakenhall Moss, but this is all dependent on the weather. I will also have another of the fortnightly Crewe & Nantwich Conservation Volunteers task on the Sunday, heading out to a site at Oakmere to do a habitat improvement task. The following weekend I’m off on holiday (more posts about this soon) and when I return, over the following weekends will be my first peregrine and osprey nest protection shifts.

I’m going to be busy, but I can’t wait!

Itchy feet

Despite the rain and cold, and cycling 45 miles yesterday followed by a run, this morning I couldn’t help myself and went for a walk around the nearby fields. I had decided to have a quiet morning inside but my itchy feet got the better of me and I just had to get some exercise. It wasn’t the loveliest of walks but as Billy Connolly says “there’s no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothing”.

An uplifting sign of spring

While out on my Saturday morning cycle I came across a lovely and uplifting sign that winter is passing and spring is starting to blossom.  Along a country lane through dairy pastureland and occasional arable fields, I was brought to a halt by a pair of aerial dancing lapwings, making their electronic-like calls – almost like they were playing avian space invaders.

The species is red listed and in serious decline but I’ve seen a few more around my part of Cheshire during the past few breeding seasons, so maybe things are on the up.


(picture taken during my trip to the Uists last April where they are much more abundant and easier to photograph).