An account of the 2007 Bird Race by Bruce Archer

18 June 2007 | Bruce Archer

In early March, Robert Godden, Tim Ball and I decided we would do the Bird Race again. Not much happened until 10 days before the event, when I tweaked last year’s schedule and emailed it to the other members. After a couple of iterations we had something we thought was an improvement on last year’s plan. Everyone was fairly busy and the reconnoitring consisted of a lunchtime visit to Wishmoor by Robert and a trip to check the best access route to Engelmere Pond by me. Tim spends all his spare time ringing at this time of the year, but it does give him valuable information about west Berks locations.

This year we used a 3 car plan, so after a couple of hours sleep on Friday evening, I drove to Robert’s house in Sandhurst and left with him to meet up with Tim at the Fox & Hounds in Theale. Robert had just come from Band practice and Tim had been ringing Blue Tits and Great Tits until dusk. We headed off to the Downs in Robert’s car and arrived just before midnight. When we got out of the car to face a strong cold gusty wind, we knew it was going to be tough. 20 minutes into the Race and no sound of Stone Curlew, we moved to a more sheltered area and heard the call of a Red-legged Partridge to get us started.

Nothing more until we arrived at Thatcham where we did a circuit of the area to collect Sedge Warbler, Coot and Woodpigeon. Stopping off at Chamberhouse Marsh gave us Cetti’s Warbler and the sought after Grasshopper Warbler as well as a distant Tawny Owl. Engelmere Pond was our next stop where we heard loads of Reed Warblers and another Tawny Owl, but no Water Rail,.

From here we made for Hut Hill and Caesar’s Camp collecting Robin on the way and arrived a bit before 04:00, on schedule. Here we collected Nightjar, Tree Pipit, Cuckoo, Garden Warbler and Treecreeper as well has several other common species. No Woodcock – although Robert saw something through the trees that could have been one. Because we still needed Barn Owl, we headed directly for Moor Green knowing that one could be seen there before 06:00. We collected 47 additional species at Moor Green, including Dunlin, Ringed and Little Ringed Plover, Mandarin Duck, Greylag and Egyptian Goose, Sparrowhawk, Kestrel and Common Sandpiper, and as we got to the car a Lesser Whitethroat burst into song a few feet away; Robert managed to see it for an annual Patch Tick. We spent too long collecting Kingfisher but recovered the time with a shorter than planned stop at the Ridges for Nuthatch, a bird that had eluded us in the two previous years. No Bullfinch yet.

Next stop was Wishmoor after stopping at Robert’s house for a “bio-break” and changed to my car. Wishmoor gave us Woodlark, Dartford Warbler and Redstart and a few other species as expected but no Crossbill or Siskin, and taking a significant amount of time. Perhaps we need to re-think the schedule in this area next year. Jubilee River was the next stop which gave us the remaining Hirundins, Shelduck, Herring Gull, Linnet and an unexpected Wheatear; Little Owl eluded us. Then back to the M4 via Maidenhead for some noisy Ring-necked Parakeets.

Tim had seen Little Egret at Rose Kiln floods during the week and luckily one was still there. Then to Burnthouse Lane for Little Owl, a distant Buzzard and after searching the gull flock, Lesser Black-backed Gull and a 2nd summer Yellow-legged Gull, readily identified by the mantel colour, primary projection, white head and face pattern. Leaving Hosehill at 12:50 in Tim’s car we were 25 minutes behind schedule and compounded this with an unscheduled stop at Englefield to draw a blank on Yellow Wagtail. The Lambourn area provided Curlew, Yellowhammer, Meadow Pipit and Corn Bunting – plus a second Wheatear.

Now about 90 minutes behind schedule and after a short stop at a site which held signing Wood Warbler earlier in the week to prove that they had moved on – we made for a Willow Tit site. Here we were privileged to see an adult entering a nest hole very close to a path, with a large green caterpillar – perhaps the best birding moment of the day. A quick stop at Lower Farm collected a late Pochard, but not the expected Ruddy Duck, which have probably all been shot.

On 98, we made an excursion to Newbury Football ground for Spotted Flycatcher with no luck, but we did find a pair of Grey Wagtail feeding 2 young on the river. We forfeited a long trek across Greenham Common for a possible injured Golden Plover that had been seen the previous weekend and made for Woolhampton. This was a lucky stop because we filled a couple of gaps with Bullfinch and Red Kite; then just as we got back to the car Tim spotted a Common Gull flying through.

A second stop at Englefield provided Yellow Wagtail. No Spotted Flycatcher or Marsh Tit on Bottom Lane. We still needed Nightingale and after some time one burst into song close to us at 18:50. Just enough time to stroll to the finish with 104.

We were reasonably happy with the count, given the cold windy start to the day. We managed a steady increase in the count throughout the afternoon, which can be a difficult time. Three “write in” species (Little Egret, Yellow-legged Gull and Common Gull) was better than we had ever done before.

Our satisfaction increased when we found we had won.

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