2003 Berkshire Bird Race

Bruce Archer

Team: John Lerpiniere, Chris Robinson and Bruce Archer

A two-pint strategy meeting was held 10 days before the event and with the benefit of a bit of reccy, an ambitious Race schedule was drawn up. John was appointed driver, Chris kept the bird log and Bruce was on maps. Each bird was worth �1.65 in sponsorship so the pressure was on.

Bruce and John met at Hosehill then headed off for Chris having already heard Nightingale and Redshank. The Race started at 02:45 from Upper Basildon bang on schedule - something we never achieved again.

The first target was Owls as we drove around the Bradfield area and visited some likely sights. Tawny Owl was soon heard and subsequently seen followed by Pheasant calling, no luck with Barn Owl or Little Owl. With two team members licensed to enter Barn Owl boxes, we considered that this probably excluded throwing stone at them from a public highway. As we drove across country toward Thatcham with the car windows open to catch the hint of distant birds, it soon became apparent that while John?s turbo-charged four-wheel drive Subaru Impreza could corner like a greased limpet and purr along the motorway at illegal speeds (allegedly), it drowned out all but the loudest bird song.

The team arrived at Thatcham at 03:35 with a mammal count twice the bird count. This soon changed as Reed Warbler, Sedge Warbler, Moorhen, Mallard and Cetti?s Warbler were added but not the hoped for Water Rail. As the sky began to lighten, we felt the need to push on to Snelsmore Common to collect Woodcock and Nightjar, plus Song Thrush and Robin in quick succession. As we left we passed Richard Crawford?s team arriving. We hailed them with a traditional Birders greeting of ?Nothing much about?.

Returning to Thatcham, we tried unsuccessfully to find the Grasshopper Warbler that had been reported along the Kennet & Avon Cannel. The dawn chorus was well under way and we soon collected Wood Pigeon, Blackbird, Chaffinch, Dunnock, Wren, Crow, Blackcap, Garden Warbler, Goldcrest, Treecreeper, Chiffchaff, Heron, Great Tit, Cuckoo, including a bubbling call of a female Cuckoo, Long-tailed Tit, Tufted Duck, Canada Goose, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Magpie, Great Crested Grebe, Bullfinch, Blue Tit, Cormorant flying over, Mute Swan, Greenfinch and Lesser Whitethroat. Along the towpath we found a Roe buck that had its hind leg caught in the top of some chestnut fencing. It took two of us to release it because the leg was wedged firmly. The leg did not appear to be broken but the animal was exhausted and in shock so we left it to recover.

Next stop was Lower Farm where we headed for the Hide armed with scopes and coffee flasks. We collected Swallow, Common Tern, Skylark, Lapwing and Goldfinch before arriving to find Fraser Cottington?s team installed. After Chris?s Snipe-dip caused by over-secrecy during a similar encounter with Ian Paine?s team last year, our strategy was to co-operate with other teams, provided they were sponsored, to help maximise the money raised. However they weren?t, so we didn?t. Anyway they left pretty soon afterwards so we were able to take over the decent seats. We rapidly added Gadwall, Coot, Little Grebe, Little Ringed Plover, Ringed Plover, Pied Wagtail, Sand Martin, Reed Bunting and Redshank. Two Shelduck flew over as we headed back to the car. So far nothing exceptional, where were all the scarcer migrants and late ducks?

Having spent longer than planned at Thatcham we arrived at Greenham Common at 06:15, about an hour behind schedule. The drive through Newbury had netted Starling, Collared Dove and Swift. Greenham added Willow Warbler, Linnet, Stonechat, Meadow Pipit, Jackdaw, Green Woodpecker, Tree Pipit, Stock Dove, Dartford Warbler and Woodlark. But, we then had a return walk of about 1�km to get back to the car.

We recovered some time on the trip to Combe and added House Sparrow, only to delete it as we realised we were in Hampshire at the time. At Combe Gibbet we saw our first Kestrel of about 6 seen that day. The main ?debate? of the day concerned a bird in flight on the horizon. Chris thought it was a Carrion Crow. John and Bruce thought it was bigger than a Crow. We could only conclude that it was either a Crow or a Raven in the limited time the bird was visible. Heading for Combe church we heard a Red-legged Partridge and on arrival added Marsh Tit, Willow Tit and Nuthatch. A search of the area around the church with coffee, sandwich and a list update did not reveal the hoped for Spotted Flycatcher. As we headed back through the valley we added Common Buzzard, Mistle Thrush, Whitethroat and Rook.

House Sparrow and Yellowhammer was ticked just before we arrived at Bury Down at about 11:00. Corn Bunting were singing along the Ridgeway and John spotted two heads in the corn at 150 meters through his bins. These turned into the orange faces of Grey Partridge with the benefit of a scope. This made up for last year when they materialised as a rabbit. A Feral Pigeon flew over as the sky was getting very dark and it started raining. We were getting concerned that we had not seen Red Kite and set off east across country with eyes to the skies. The target of Curlew was missed, but House Martin and a beautiful profile of Hobby way above them was a bonus along with the expected Stone Curlew. Bruce had packed three cans of beer that it was decided we would use to toast the sighting of a Red Kite. Unfortunately the beer remained unopened.

From the Downs we headed to Wishmoor, arriving at 13:45 from the Surrey end. We crossed the border to the accompaniment of Crossbill overhead and Coal Tit singing in the trees ahead. Unfortunately it was another hour before we were confident of identifying a Redstart singing and not confident of the snatches of possible Siskin and Firecrest song we heard. We still needed Jay and Sparrowhawk at this point, although John had seen fleeting glimpses of Jay along the roads.

Next stop was Moor Green where Bruce had guaranteed Mandarin Duck and possible Kingfisher and Grey Wagtail. Parking at the Horseshoe Lake end we headed to Grove Lake and, to Bruce?s relief, two drake Mandarin were present and four Egyptian Geese flew in. Heading back to the car a Jay was spotted. Someone suggested we try the other side of Mill Lane, which was fortunate, because this revealed a Grey Wagtail by Mill Bridge.

At this point with 2 hours to go, we had to take a hatchet to the schedule and headed back west omitting Jubilee River and Lavells. We arrived at Woolhampton with Black-headed Gull under our belt and pulled in by the Owl tree where the noise of John?s car worked to our advantage as the Little Owl took flight. As we parked in the Rowbarge car park Richard Crawford?s team arrived - we did not mention that we had flushed the Owl. Heading west along the track we saw nothing new on the lake and searched in vain for Turtle Dove and Kingfisher by the river Kennet.

Arriving back to Hosehill via Bottom Lane gave us Greylag Goose and Nightingale. Next stop was Burnthouse Lane (or Pingewood South as John insisted). Shortly after we arrived some gulls took flight revealing Lesser Black-backed Gull and calling Herring Gull among them. Marek?s team arrived shortly after us as we scanned the south east pit. We later learned that a 2nd summer Greater Black-backed Gull flew in just before we left for Smallmead pit where we bagged a pair of Ruddy Duck.

Searles Lane pits would not disclose a Red-crested Pochard before we had to dash for the finish at the Fox and Hounds by 19:00. So missing several sites and not even time to get the Hosehill Little Gull that could almost be seen from the pub.

The species total was 96 species and we tied for 7th place. A most enjoyable day, but the weather was against us, denying us the ton and some definite lessons for next year. Total mileage, about 170, total sponsorship raised �203.

Birds seen/heard this year but not last year:

Egyptian Goose, Hobby, Grey Partridge, Stone Curlew, Herring Gull, Little Owl, Nightjar, Marsh Tit, Willow Tit

Birds seen/heard last year but not this year:

Teal, Pochard, Red Kite, Ring-necked Parakeet, Dunlin, Barn Owl, Yellow Wagtail, Wheatear, Siskin, Redpoll, Whinchat, Pied Flycatcher, Little Gull.