Friday, 16 March 2018

Nine Days to Go Before Setting off For Peru . . . . but . . . .

When one is feeling anxious yet excited over the coming adventure despite running a temperature and a face full of rubbish, how fabulous to see that a donation has come in for Birdlife International!

Thank you Mark Ballamy. What a thrill to see your kind donation. 4% of my target achieved. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Thank you also to the Basingstoke RSPB local group and the Northants Bird Club for their donations too. Wonderful.

This morning : 9:45 a.m.

Sitting on railway station platform, awaiting the train to London Victoria, having just been dropped off here by Kerry Reynolds, mother of the wonderful young man, Dominik Reynolds and thinking of Peru.

Nine days to go before a flight to Lima, carbon-offset of course. Nine days to get rid of my third bout of sinusitis and with my head aching and with a temperature I know that a visit to the doctor's is necessary next week. Not the most perfect preparation for the trials ahead.

Lima . . . Peru. I love the place and the country but what I particularly love are the people. Let's have a positive outlook and remember that the best thing about Biking Birding adventures is meeting so many amazing people.

Ahead of me the next Biking Birder adventure, Biking Birder IV – Peru 2018 or BB2018-Peru for short. Ahead of me 1,200 miles of cycling from Lima and up and over The Andes, reaching altitudes of over 15,000 feet, down to The Manu National Park, via Machu Picchu.

Ahead of me a four hundred mile packraft adventure along the Madre de Dios, Mother of God, and Manu rivers; both are tributaries of the mighty Amazon.

Ahead of me, nine days hence.

Reasons to be cheerful :

Part 1.

Life back on the road, back on the bike I love, my trusty and not too rusty Claude Butler Black Diamond. With brand new panniers for the back rack and nine new cuddly toy friends, we are going to look interesting as together we climb the mountain roads. That wonderful sense of freedom and challenge.

The route from Lima may take me north along the coast or directly inland to Junin. The choice will be made on assessment of both my health at the time and what birds are possible on route. Cactus Canestero? Possible and useful.

Part 2.

The start date is decided upon and fixed, April the first, All Fool's Day! The start place is decided upon and fixed, Los Pantanos de Villa nature reserve south of Lima. The birds there are fantastic and with around sixty species assured on that first day, a good start to the Green Birding list is assured.

Black Vultures will be atop tatty Palm Trees to start the list. Ducks, Great and Pied-billed Grebes, Neotropic Cormorants perched on the diagonal supporting ropes of the tall radio masts, Multi-coloured Rush Tyrants, herons and egrets of many species; Their names will soon be written down on the virgin paper of a brand new notebook. Walking round the tall reedbed-lined lagoons, climbing the bird viewing platforms and watching the hundreds of birds present will be as superb as ever. Doves, Purple Gallinules and seedeaters, the weather may be misty yet it will be warm and windless. Black and White Swallows will be skimming the lagoon surfaces or chasing flies over the marsh.

With my permit bought from the portacabin visitor's centre and having passed a security gate, it is to the sandy, scrubby areas adjacent to an access road for beach lovers and residents, past the large, white water tower, Vermilion Flycatchers, families of Groove-billed Anis, Long-tailed Mockingbirds, Peruvian Meadowlarks and American Kestrels will be seen and maybe Burrowing Owls and Peruvian Thicknees will be there too.

Across dry, dessicated grass and shrub areas, to arrive hopefully at some wet and shallow pools where on past visits there have been a variety of waders; peeps, those delightful small and quite difficult birds to identify. Lesser and Semi-palmated Sandpipers may have other sandpiper species scampering the margins with them. Bairds would be nice.

Both Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs have been here before and Wilson's Phalaropes. Black-necked Stilts will be as stately as ever walking on those preposterously long legs whilst dipping their sharp, black bills to probe for a small mollusc.

Puna Ibis, Common Moorhen and Killdeer; all should be added to the growing day list.

Over short grassed grazed by tethered horses to a long sandbank, a wall of protection for the day a tsunami may arrive, and views over tall reeds. Yellow-headed Blackbirds, Wren-like Rushbird and House Wrens will be there and by heading south the first coastal lagoons may be viewed.

Masses of Black Skimmers and gulls, a few Slate-coloured Coot, gulls of many species and duck, such as White-cheeked Pintail and Cinnamon Ducks will be there with Spotted Sandpipers and Whimbrel walking along the shoreline. There may be Willets too.

To the sea and the surge of the waves hitting the steep sandy shore. Little Blue Herons, Snowy Egrets and American Oystercatchers will be obtaining food items as Peruvian Pelicans, Peruvian Boobies and Inca Terns pass, heading north. Flocks of terns will be resting on the beach. Further out masses of Guanay Cormorants will be fishing.

Back to the visitor's centre late afternoon to watch as hundreds of Cattle Egrets arrive to roost for the night.

Time to peruse the day list of possibly sixty different birds and reflect on another visit to a surprisingly favourite Peruvian nature reserve. Maybe it is my love of a nature reserve with a proximity to a major urban sprawl and therefore the opportunity for thousands to enjoy nature first hand. Whatever it may be, I find hat I can ignore the rubbish, the vehicle noise and the views inland of massed Favellas and instead enjoy the differing natural habitats and the thousands of birds present. There are also a few insects there too; the occasional dragonfly and butterfly is to be found.

Reflections about the first day and the first bird place to be visited transport me through my train journey north; a train journey to my daughter, Rebecca. A final weekend with my little girl . . . . .

Six months of the toughest Biking Birder challenge will be ahead of me; oceanic Pacific, shoreline, desert, mountain and finally the deepest, most remote of rainforests to be explored and marvelled at.

And all of this is for two reasons. As usual I am trying to raise money for charities; namely Birdlife International and Chaskawasi-Manu. The former a huge international charity of immense depth and influence in the bird conservation world, the latter a parochial, locally-based charity in the Manu National Park.

My target for Birdlife International is £5,000. A start has been made but how lovely it would be for you to make a donation via the Birdlife International – Just Giving page link.

Thank you so much everyone. Your messages of support are wonderful.

Love to you all, Gary xx

Sunday, 25 February 2018

GAMBIA! The Flight There . . . Thursday 22nd February

A flight to a new country, The Gambia and a week to experience a different Africa to that visited before. Holidays in Tunisia and Egypt in the past had shown me African Saharan desert life but this was going to be . . . . not sure. What exactly would this tiny west African nation which straddles a mighty river actually be like? To be honest I hadn't thought much about it all, just allowing the excitement of the new wash over me after our flight of six hours from Gatwick.

The flight, a east-facing window seat and three small sleep sessions interspersed with my favourite activity when flying, sussing out where we are at any given moment.

Three hours sleep the previous night, picked up by two excited Birding Clams, Jason and Tony, the short distance to Gatwick from my cousin's house in Ash Vale was speedily done as conversation was brisk at the early hour, yet it all came down to the same thought. What was it going to be like in The Gambia?
Most particularly, as we are all avid birders, what birds will we see. The reputation for The Gambia is one of birding Paradise.

Gatwick proved to be an easy airport to access. Car Park for Terminal 2 quickly found, car parking space luckily found easily too. Bus to Terminal with four Muslim girls from Worcester and a couple on their way to the Rugby, Scotland versus England with a small, smiling girl of one year old. Mum was from Texas and on any sign of humour opened her mouth endearingly to give a huge wide-mouthed laugh. Meeting people and chatting, I love it and it whiles away the wait for the bus.

Breakfast for a Vegan; porridge with rice milk, maple syrup and banana and a two hour wait for boarding.

Terrahawks moment to get into the air and off and up and into the early morning sunshine found over the top of the clouds. Terrahawks, well I would love to hear that theme music as we take off, especially the theme tune of this wonderful Gerry Anderson childrens' puppet programme played by the London Symphony Orchestra.

Cloud cover with a gap and hazy view down to Southampton, the New Forest and the Isle of Wight. Flying over the wonderful Reynold's pair, Kerry and Dominik, mother and son.

Next view between the clouds was southern Brittany and I had had a short sleep by now. Coastline marshes towards Vannes. Out over The Bay of Biscay and another nap.

Jason, sitting beside me, wakes me up. He has an inebriated man of my age but of an uncertain national origin sitting to his right, who insists on 'more red wine!'

The Picos Mountains to the east with snow-capped peaks, large flooded river valley lakes have golden sunrise reflections and the knowledge that Montfrague is being passed as the plane skirts the Spanish-Portuguese border.

Alongside Morocco and a view of Agadir, the rest of the country is cloud-covered across the desert until the Atlas Mountains show in the distance, snow in Africa.

South of Atlas Mountains and over Senegal, desert, immense sandy areas of absolutely no habitation, no roads and no sign of life. Seemingly endless, two hours of crossing the sands, features become their own oases to draw one's eyes, lines drawn in the sand by geologic forces and wind.

A small river under the plane but there is a huge river near the horizon, it must be Gambia!

The huge river draws nearer as the noise from the engines are cut and the descent begins.

Sunday, 18 February 2018

42 Days to Go to Biking Birder 2018 - Peru. Progress and People, Maidstone RSPB Talk and Donation

Life can be a procession of wonderful days and last Wednesday was definitely one of those.

The day started with messages from Jungle Jimmy McSparron, an adventurer and jungle expert, an ex-British soldier who know lives and works in Peru.
During part of my 300 mile packrafting time I will be joined by the extremely experienced and generally fabulous Jimmy. Indeed his support, advice and suggestion has been key in my feeling very confident in all aspects of the tour. It is wonderful to know that I have his support. Jimmy is one of the World's best Jungle survival experts.

Messages came also from Dr Rob Williams, another jungle expert, brilliant birder, one of the World's best tour guides and all round great guy.

To have Rob's support and Jimmy's is fantastic.

The next piece of great news at the start of the day was that the paperback version of my book, The Biking Birder 2016 - The Quest for 300, was finally all ready to be published on Amazon . . .

The day continued to be enjoyable and wonderful with fascinating people met on the trains taken between my parent's house in Worcestershire and Maidstone, Kent. 

A young lady told of her playing career as a Rugby Union player for Worcester. Enthusiastic for the sport and the club, her career ended when her shoulder had to be replaced.

A happy, chatty Muslim lady on her way to her security job in Bicester, talked about her children and her passion for her faith.

The final person to converse was a cricket journalist on the way to Lords!

Into Maidstone for the first time in my life, well, I had been to a suburb back in 1989 when a Golden-winged Warbler turned up for the first, and still the only time in Europe.

The Birding Clam lads and I went down a few days after the chaos of the first day, as depicted above and after seven very cold hours searching, Ian Crutchley, a major Clam, found the special one flitting in cotoneaster that surrounded a town house door.

After walking down the high street and after having talked with a homeless man and a busker, I found my hotel for the night, Hashtag Hotel. Into a comfy room with hours to spare so a shower and a film, a VDV bought from a charity shop for a local Hospice just moments before. 

A walk to the village hall and the talk to the RSPB local group assembly. One gentleman tells me that we have met before. As soon as he says where I reel off memory after memory.

Sunshine Catherine, the RSPB warden of Loch Gruinart RSPB reserve that year, a crazy lady who insisted vehemently that the moth trap was only for her and a fat lip after a young girl RSPB volunteer found a baby hedgehog. The lip? Well whilst placin the hedgehog int a box for safety, the girl from Nottingham, who's name I can't recall, said, "Gary there's an insect on you lip." I remember brushing the Cleg - Horsefly away and on finding some blood on my finger, replied "watch this! . . . "


More details on the blog page :- 

My fee is discussed and paid but with a twist, it is doubled so that I can make a donation towards Chaskwasi-Manu and Birdlife International. Fabulous to get some money for the two charities I am supporting this year. Thanks Maidstone.

A lovely audience, a lovely evening and a lift back to the hotel . . . perfect, I settle down for a comfy night's sleep.