2003 Berkshire Bird Race

Jon Holt

The team consisted of Derek Barker, Eric Wootton and me, Jon Holt. Derek had been planning the route and checking the sites for a few weeks beforehand and had a strict itinerary drawn up. We knew the drill and had done a few bird races before.

As usual we started on the Berkshire Downs at midnight. It was cold and there was a clear sky. A couple of other teams had the same idea and we all stood waiting, waiting and waiting . . . nothing. At 12:30 we decided to head over to Streatley but still nothing! This was a bit of a shock, as we had never missed out on Stone Curlew at night. We had to move on.

We drove to Thatcham and finally got our first bird, Mallard. It was gone 1:00am. Again there was silence. We walked quickly down to the canal: Tawny Owl, Sedge Warbler, Nightingale . . . Where were the Cetti?s? No Grasshopper Warbler. We finally heard a Cetti?s from the railway crossing; the train at 1:30 must have woken it up. It was getting warmer and birds were singing at last.

We headed quickly to Bracknell Forest. Derek had Nightjar earlier in the week so we knew they were in. When we got there it was still clear and cold and very quiet. Derek picked up a couple of seconds of distant churring, but we didn?t. We had to leave.

Wraysbury had two Grasshopper warblers singing the day before. This must be a certainty. Again nothing was discernable amongst the cacophony of Sedge Warblers. The only salvation was a Little Owl calling. This was getting ridiculous; we had missed all of the key species and were seriously behind schedule. It was getting lighter and we needed to be in Windsor before dawn.

On route, as if on queue, a Barn Owl flew over the car. Sitting in the back of the car, I missed it!

We got to Windsor, too late for Woodcock. Treecreeper and a few woodland birds kept the tally rolling up, but we were now quite depressed. To cap it all Eric missed the Jay flying over the car. Our luck must change soon . . .

It did, we enjoyed a morning cup of coffee parked in a lay-by watching a Barn Owl flapping around in the field next to us.

We headed back to Bracknell Forest: Crossbill, Woodlark, Tree Pipit, Redstart, Spotted flycatcher, Garden Warbler, Dartford Warbler and Stonechat. This was better. Further along we picked out Siskin. Over the road we had Firecrest and at last a Nuthatch. We had now finished with woodland and had a reasonable list with a few tricky species.

Off to Dorney wetlands for our first gulls and waders: Black-headed, Herring, Lesser Black-backed. A shout went up - ?It?s a big one? - it was a Great Black-backed; a bonus record for the day. No Ringed Plover though - where had they gone? No migrants either.

We drove to Maidenhead. It?s always best not to desert your ?homelands? and the sites paid off. We got a few more tricky birds: Kingfisher, Grey Wagtail and eventually Jay and Ring-necked Parakeet. At our farmland site we recorded Yellow Wagtail, Corn Bunting, Red Kite and Yellowhammer.

We then crawled around the marvellously luscious hawthorn hedges and fields on the way to Dinton Pastures. We picked up Bullfinch, Turtle Dove and plenty of Lesser Whitethroats.

DP was a bit of a dead loss so we finally said goodbye to the East of the county and headed West on the motorway. We were up to 90 species without touching the Downs and the Theale area.

Up on the Lambourn Downs we got Meadow Pipit, Curlew and Grey Partridge. It was here that we decided to radically change the route. We cancelled the time consuming trek over to Combe and headed down to the Kennet having decided to go back up to Streatley afterwards.

We picked up Pochard, Marsh Tit and Willow Tit and salvaged Ringed Plover at LFGP along with Teal and Ruddy Duck. We had broken the 100 total and were confident that we would add more.

After much scanning we finally picked out a Stone Curlew and still had a few more hours. The weather was brightening and we knew that the pits at Theale held a few more species for us.

We stopped off for the Little Gull knowing that it was prone to disappear at times. It was there (106)

At Field Farm we got out of the car to be greeted by a Hobby and persistent scanning of the shore turned up a Common Sandpiper.

At Pingewood We didn?t see the Teal and Pochard but we didn?t need them. We did see more gulls, Egyptian Goose, Greylag but we already had them. It was time to call it a day. As we headed back to the pub there was still a chance of a Sparrowhawk but alas no sign. We ended up with 109 species for the 19hour period.

So what did we feel that we missed: Nightjar, Grasshopper Warbler, Woodcock and Sparrowhawk.