A Breath of Fresh Air

How I'm getting back out into the countryside whilst living with MS

Archive for the tag “birdwatching”

Hibernation

I’ve decided to place my blog into hibernation. I started it as I wanted to share the difference in outlook that our tandem had brought to my life, now that MS is part of it. I hope that I’ve been able to get across how it’s helped me, not only to get outside again, but to actively try to be out in as many different ways as possible. And not just to be outside but to be immersed in the countryside once more, to get muddy and rained on and to smell the grass in sheep-nibbled fields again.

enjoying a summer evening

enjoying a summer evening

I don’t want to become repetitive so I thought I’d take a break. I shall only be taking a break from writing the blog though – definitely not from having adventures! We shall continue to cycle, bumping along uneven paths, to track down more bird-watching haunts and to splash about in the canoe. I might even try something new again if something catches my eye. I know it would be worth my while.

by Hebden Water

by Hebden Water

In the meantime, I’ve loved hearing from other people who have tried out new ways of adventuring, be it by adapted cycle, tramper or horse riding.

a little damp on the Camel Trail!

a little damp on the Camel Trail!

We have a weekend away coming up with EMpowered people which I’m looking forward to. It will be good to mix with others who have similar tales to tell again, and to swap our experiences. There are many more Lakeland tarns to glide across and the wheelchair is getting used to being pushed along unlikely paths.

muddy Pennine paths

muddy Pennine paths

Then there’s the Paralympics coming up soon, and when I start to feel a little bit inadequate in the face of their superhuman efforts, I can remind myself of just what I am achieving. Just as the Olympics inspire people to try something out, the Paralympics remind me that I have adapted my life to get out there and do something – there will be no hibernating for me!

tandem happy amongst the sheep

tandem happy amongst the sheep

Camel Riding

start of Camel Tail, Padstow

start of Camel Tail, Padstow

… along the Camel Trail in Cornwall! We have just taken the tandem on its longest journey away from home yet. We were staying in Padstow, which is at the start of the cycle route along the Camel estuary.

low tide in the Camel estuary

low tide in the Camel estuary

We went on a ride from the beginning of the trail along to Wadebridge, following an ever-changing view as the tide gradually ebbed, revealing many levels of wet sand, and rivulets heading out to sea. We sat and watched oystercatchers foraging about in the shallow water, and even saw a little egret – we were very proud of that sighting!

little egret

little egret

The trail was popular, not only with cyclists of all ages, but walkers too, many of whom had their dogs scampering along beside them. And all along the route there were many primroses – more than I’ve ever seen before! I’m used to seeing the odd cluster half hiding under a larger bush, not banks of them splashing the grass bright yellow.

banks of primroses

banks of primroses

close-up!

close-up!

We supped a refreshing cuppa bought from ‘treats on trikes’, a portable bike kiosk by the side of the path. The weather was somewhat cooler than we had hoped that morning and the warming tea was most welcome!

It was five miles to Wadebridge and a good place for me to have a longer reviving stop. Unfortunately, the weather had deteriorated when we got back outside for the return journey.

'treats on trikes'

‘treats on trikes’

At this point, the electric wheel came into its own – Pete pushed the magic button and we whizzed back in double-quick time! The rain splashed sharply on my cheeks as we went along but it’s always a good way of knowing you are definitely outside!

The extra adjustment of the crank shaft was also noticeable, both in reducing the rotation of my legs so that I was using significantly less effort, and in the increase in comments that ‘hey, you’re not pedalling at the back!’. I used to think they were just jokes but now I’m beginning to think it’s a genuine cry when they see that my legs are moving so much less than Pete’s!

bridge at start of trail

bridge at start of trail

I should add that we had some lovely sunny days whilst we were in Cornwall too, and the views were glorious!

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high tide, in sunshine

Birdwatching Aplenty!

We had a tip-off for a suitable birdwatching site! It was an RSPB reserve at Fairburn Ings. A check of the website told us that there was a mobility scooter for hire, which could be booked in advance – so that’s what I did!

coots ducking and diving

coots ducking and diving

It was a lovely spot with different areas suitable for different bird species. The paths were flat and either gravelly or made from duck boards.

We headed for a small pool where children were busy pond dipping. Just beyond them, we could see coots flitting about. Adults were feeding their young and we even saw one collecting nest material to place on a splendid nest, seemingly suspended on the water.

coot nest

coot nest

Along another path a feeder screen partitioned the trees from us. There were holes in the screen at heights suitable for everyone. Well, we just had to stop and peer through these holes ourselves! Feeders hung from several branches and there was a steady flutter of wings as blue tits, great tits and sparrows feasted. We were also very chuffed to catch a glimpse of a woodpecker for a couple of minutes.

peering throught the screen ...

peering throught the screen …

 ... at feasting birds

… at feasting birds

We then headed out towards a larger body of water where I was delighted to see avocets wading gracefully in the shallows, with their impossibly slim legs and their long curved beaks. I’ve only ever seen them in books before. Wonderful!

avocet foraging

avocet foraging

and another!

and another!

Pete’s day was made when we saw a great crested grebe sauntering along the water, surveying the world around him with his magnificent ruff of feathers around his head.

imperious great crested grebe

imperious great crested grebe

We spent several happy hours meandering about – there was a cafe too with space to sit outside (always a bonus!). Having the scooter was great too as it meant that I was independent and Pete could look after just himself, and we were able to be outside in a rural setting, amongst footpaths and trees … and lots of birds!

Hiding!

We decided that, if we were to consider ourselves proper birdwatchers, and not just people who were pleased to see birds when they hopped into the garden, then we needed to have a day Birdwatching. That, we decided, meant watching from a bird hide.

looks hopeful!

looks hopeful!

We discovered that there was a National Trust site with a bird hide at Malham Tarn in the Yorkshire Dales. Perfect!

The hide was nestling right by the side of the tarn. It was very exciting – our first visit inside a bird hide. (We are easily excited!) We were about to become Birdwatchers!

We set about making ourselves comfortable, getting out our flask of tea, binoculars and bird book … and waited.

getting settled in

getting settled in

Hmmm … I am beginning to realise that an intrinsic part of birdwatching is the waiting.

After a while, we spotted some ravens in the distance, flying towards a rookery at the far side of the tarn. Some other birds flew across the sky. They might have been grebes … let’s say they were!

Malham Tarn

Malham Tarn

Well, our sandwiches tasted good. And it was great to be sitting inside on sturdy benches, with only our faces open to the air, feeling like ‘proper’ birdwatchers, even if we couldn’t see any birds!

Eventually, we saw a couple of tufted ducks – we definitely saw the tufts!

tufted duck - honest!

tufted duck – honest!

Sadly, we didn’t see much other birdlife but it was very restful sitting by the tarn for a while in a sheltered spot.

We decided to head down to Malham where Pete pushed me along the start of the path to Malham Cove. We’d hoped to be able to get further but, although the surface of the path was ok, it was too steep for much pushing. Still, we got far enough along to have good views of the fields and the cove itself.

Malham Cove

Malham Cove

Finally, we sat by the river, which was flowing fast after several days of rain, and watched some ducks resting at the water’s edge – no binoculars required!

clear view of ducks in Malham!

clear view of ducks in Malham!

Not Puffin Hunting

We could see the Farne Islands from where we were staying in Northumberland. Islands and boats are a winning combination in my book so there was no way we wouldn’t be paying them a visit. Actually, the secret reason for the trip north was to get on to the islands – and to look for puffins.

So we hopped aboard one of the many boats offering such a trip from Seahouses harbour. Puffins were advertised as arriving from the end of March, which was a whole week previously, so obviously there would be no problem …

Seahouses harbour

Seahouses harbour

As the boat approached the islands, it was amazing to see how the number and variety of birds increased – and also the noise! There were birds everywhere – flying overhead, flying past the boat or sitting on tiny ledges of rock. There were eider ducks, shags and kittiwakes, and, around one of the outlying islands, fulmars. But no puffins.

However, there were seals! So many seals! They were basking lazily on the rocks, totally unfazed by the boat coming close and the many pairs of eyes staring at them. They just stared back, not very interested. They came in many shades, from rust coloured to black, from grey to speckled. And they were all so very chilled.

seals

seals

After a tour of the islands, we landed on Inner Farne for an hour’s explore. We tried not to think about puffins. I’d already heard a distinct lack to the word ‘puffin’ and there had been no sign of any flying about so far. Sightings were going to be unlikely.

more seals!

more seals!

This experience of Inner Farne was very different from our previous visit when we had been pecked within seconds of arrival by fierce little arctic terns guarding their nests which they’d carefully placed right by the side of the footpaths. At least this time we had arrived before them and could look around without cowering!

It was clear that this was puffin city as the whole island was pocked with burrows – puffin homes. It was just that they hadn’t moved back in yet. Although this was disappointing, I did console myself with remembering that we had been before and seen them at their height. This time we could enjoy the other birds.

nesting shags

nesting shags

The stars of the show were the shags which were nesting on rocky ledges all around the island. We could get very close to them and were able to clearly see the tufted crests on their heads.

rocky living!

rocky living!

After a wander round the whole (very small!) island we sat by the shore enjoying the sunshine and waiting for our boat to take us back home. The odd shag flew by with its beak full of nest material.

All in all, it was a very good day not puffin hunting!

waiting for our boat

waiting for our boat

As to accessibility – I had to climb down a number of steps to the boat but that would vary with the tide. The boatmen were very helpful in providing stable arms to get me aboard. On the island, if you can walk a little way uphill at the start (or have sturdy pushers!) it is wheelchair accessible as there is just one circular footpath around the island which is covered by duckboards. It wasn’t even very bumpy! There are also trips which don’t include landing on an island.

Happy adventuring!

Gardenwatching

I decided to take part in the Big Garden Birdwatch, organised by the RSPB (https://www.rspb.org.uk/). This involved watching the birds in our garden for an hour over the weekend and recording which ones I saw during that time. I thought I could manage that!

We have a perfect spot in our back bedroom to sit and watch. Also, Pete had bought me a special birdwatching hat for my birthday, which he assured me would enable me to see more birds!

essential birdwatching equipment

essential birdwatching equipment

So I got myself prepared with the essential equipment of binoculars, birdwatching hat and mug of tea, and sat and waited. And waited.

I saw a neighbour’s cat prowling along a wall. I watched leaves quivering in the hedge (it’s surprising how like birds they look!). I watched next door’s hens pecking contentedly.

This was going to be a long hour.

Suddenly, there was a flurry high above and two magpies sat in our tree for a couple of minutes. Quickly noted!

I drank some tea and nibbled some snacks.

waiting ...

waiting …

A robin hopped across the garden from the hedge to the compost bin and back again. Noted!

Then the robin went mad!  It hopped back and forth, hid in the bush for a bit, then flew off into a neighbour’s garden. Then it was back. At one point there were even two at once in the garden. It felt like there were many more. Now I had a new problem – this robin was too fidgety for me to take a photo!

Then a blue tit, or maybe more, flitted by – it might have just been one busy one. As I watched, it actually pecked at the fat ball of food we’d put out.

yesss!

yesss!

Along the hedge, almost too fast to see and looking very like fluttering leaves (but they weren’t!), a couple of thrushes chased each other, weaving in and out of the branches. I put aside the binoculars – I couldn’t dart about fast enough with them and kept losing the birds. It was simpler just to watch the dancing display in front of me.

At the end of the hour, when I had given up hope of seeing her, a little wren made an appearance. I’d only seen her for the first time a couple of days previously so it was wonderful that she made the survey, just in the nick of time!

I was very pleased with my efforts, or rather that of our feathered visitors, and to be able to take part in this 36-year-old survey.

Gannets Galore!

Bempton Cliffs

Bempton Cliffs

Pete and I always enjoy a spot of bird watching and, whilst on holiday in Scarborough, we had a day out down the coast at Bempton Cliffs, an RSPB reserve. We hoped to see some gannets, having been impressed by the beauty and size of the odd ones we’d spotted on past Scottish holidays.

The reserve was tucked away down an ever-narrowing country lane, surrounded by wide green fields. Once at the site, from the car park we followed a pleasant path which headed towards the sea. The first part of the path was amply wide enough for a wheelchair and, although made of a gravelly surface, it was fine for being pushed.

immature gannets

immature gannets

Suddenly we found ourselves at the land’s edge, confronted by the most amazingly dramatic cliffs! (There was a wooden fence which protected you, without getting in the way of the views.) There was a cacophony of noise and we started to focus on the masses of birds wheeling about, circling over the sea then turning back to the cliffs where hundreds of them were perched precariously on rocky ledges: we had found the gannets!

gannet landing!

gannet landing!

There were more than we could possibly have hoped to see and we just stood (or sat!) for some time, simply enjoying the amazing spectacle. It was incredible to see that so many gannets came to this one spot to nest, that these sheer cliffs were exactly what they wanted.

gannets with young

gannets with young

An RSPB man was at the viewing area and had his high-powered binoculars trained on the cliffs. We were able to look through and saw kittiwakes nesting on a very small ledge. As we grew more used to the swirl of birds we could distinguish the black wing tips of kittiwakes amongst the many gannets.

We decided to go further along the cliff path as there was another viewing platform not far away. The path became a little more ‘interesting’ for the wheelchair. The gravelled part of the path was more of a groove with higher grassy sides. It required either the wheelchair user or its pusher to have strong muscles. Fortunately Pete was able to cope!

narrow path

narrow path …

It was a lovely path so I’m glad we were able to manage. It followed right along the cliff edge, with hedgerows to one side and blue sky above, which grew to a summery haze as it headed out to sea.

with beautiful views

with beautiful views

The view was worth the effort too. We could see back along the cliffs which curved in and out along the coastline, and were able to look down on to a large ledge where gannets were nesting. They flew back and forth, and we were able to see younger ones, with black plumage, as well as adult gannets, sitting by their nests.

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Over the front edge of the cliff we seemed to be right above the gannets and were able to look straight down on them, tracking individual birds as they wove their way around on the air currents.

looking south

looking south

We knew that it was too late in the season for puffins (they are gone by the end of July) but we did hear that odd ones were still about. We looked more closely and, way down below us, we suddenly noticed that some of these birds genuinely were smaller, not just further away, and were doing a suspiciously puffin-like furious flapping! That was a lovely added bonus.

We found a bench where we could munch our sandwiches, and were in no hurry to move. The day was surprisingly restful. There weren’t many people about, the sun shone over a stunning coastline, and it was very relaxing to sit and simply let your eye follow the flight of the birds.

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