Friday, December 23, 2005

23/12/05 Time is running out, but my chance arrives.

Well with 8 days of the year left, fate appears to have offered me the real chance of reaching 250.
Thursday night on 22nd December I have now finished for 2005, and the pager has announced the arrival of a drake Smew at Tottenhill, plus the confirmed residence during the last week of a Rough-legged Buzzard (or a Rough- buggered Lizzard as Simon texted me with last night!) in the Massingham Heath area.

Everything looked good Thursday night for Friday, a relatively mild day was forecast with a 10 mph westerly wind. With Oscar now home in Ireland, I rang Pete Dalton to see if I could twist his arm to check for the presence of the Smew at first light, Pete, being the good bloke agreed to it – and we agreed he would phone me around 8am, with the news either way. I know it’s going to be a big ride as it is at least 31 miles to Tottenhill GP’s, this is my first target. I decided to travel light, knowing I was likely to knock up around 70 miles.

I was eagerly into the saddle by 7am, progresss was only halted by the regular need to remove layers as my body heat started to increase. The light westerly breeze was quite noticeable along the exposed stretches of the B1145, and I had just passed Litcham 18 miles en-route at 8am, when Pete rang. My mobile was in my top pocket, so there was no need to stop. The phone confirmed it was Pete and a breathless conversation confirmed that the news was good “It’s here”, said Pete. I told Pete I would be at least another hour, he decided to pop into King’s Lynn and see me there a bit later.

It was now head down, bum up time, the positive news putting renewed vigour into the legs. The miles steadily slipped by, the head on breeze ensuring that the legs were constantly working. I passed through Blackborough, then Wormegay and finally through the village of Tottenhill, it was now left at the junction then right – the tree lined pit was now in sight. There was clearly one birder, with a scope looking out over the pond, I jumped off the bike, the birder was not someone I recognised, but he knew why I was there. “The Smew’s out here”, he announced, within seconds I had the bins on to the cracking drake Smew – 249!!!!! The emotion was two fold elated and relieved. Pete turned up a few minutes later and I was able to enjoy scope views and the warmth of the interior of his car! I felt pretty good, although how I would have felt had the Smew of disappeared or not have been present, is hard to assess!

By 11am, I was heading back a through Wormegay and Blackborough, my destination now Gayton newsagent for food, in preparation for a full afternoon scouring Massingham heath for Rough-legged Buzzard. With a full stomach and confirmation via the pager that the Rough-leg had indeed been seen once during the morning, my enthusiasm level was full to the brim. This psychologically for now, far outweighed the physical efforts of 3hrs riding and 40 miles covered, with the wind now behind me my only thoughts were of the “Buzzard” and the Holy grail of 250 species.

The next few hours encompassed much of the emotions I had felt through the year. I stood for an hour from a favoured vantage point, no sign, in fact no “big” birds of prey. Impatient and frustrated I started to chill, and tire slightly, I circuited the area via the lanes for 40 minutes, adding another 7-8 miles to the trip, finishing back at my favoured vantage point, still nothing. The negative thoughts and the ride home entered my head, I sat down and considered a contingency plan
I made a call to Gary Elton at 230PM, to confirm the availability of a bed for the night at Fakenham. If I had to come back tomorrow so be it, but I was going to make life a little easier for myself, rather than doing another 50 miler tomorrow!

I sat down again and scanned, checked the time, scanned again, checked the time,and scanned again, at 3PM I decided that at 3.40Pm I should call it a day…………..then just to my left heading directly towards me, clearly a big bird of prey, at 500m with the bins on it, clearly a Buzzard, very pale head….come on turn, please turn, it banked, pale tail with broad dark terminal band!!!!!!!!!!!!! It was all over - ROUGH-LEGGED BUZZARD -250, 250, yes, yes, yes!!!
It landed in the conifer belt, just to my left so I headed round across on the footpath, and was treated to further great views, I watched as it headed North – presumably heading for it’s chosen roost.
Ecstatic I rode home forcing the legs through the pain barrier for most of the way, the day ended though with a lesson learnt.
On arriving home at 415PM with 71 miles cycled, I was probably some what exhausted, but the elation and adrenalin were still working. I knocked a quick sandwich up and a hot cup of tea, these I feverishly devoured and minutes later I jumped into a piping hot bath. I took around 40 minutes for my body, and particularly my stomach to react – this came in three assaults of diarrhoea and the shakes, it took about an hour to recover – I then suddenly felt quite tired!!
I did manage the evening out with friends and there were a few celebratory beers!

71 miles & 250