No sooner had I returned from the TABCG Wales trip my attention turned to the TABCG Berkshire Bird race on 15th May. In 2000 the TABCG re-started the yearly event of bird racing in Berkshire , it involves 3 people per team which must identify(see or hear) as many different species from midnight till 7pm. The current Berkshire Bird Race record is 121 recorded by Andy Swash, Ian Collins, Neil Bucknell and Steve Abbott in 1990 and equalled by Fraser Cottington, Adam Bassett and Andy Johnson in 2006.
Since I started bird racing in 2004 I have never broken the 100 species barrier, a few close calls with 98's left our team reeling that we hadn't enough time to get to another site or that we'd missed this or that, 2 species that's all we needed! The teams that usually win are extremely devoted and spend many hours in the field checking numerous sites before the race and thus giving them a better chance at finding those elusive species and getting a good total, our team on the other hand turn up at midnight and do the best we can. Over the years lessons have been learnt, new sites discovered and this year I decided to plan our route with a bit more precision and the added luxury of a few back-up sites should we need them. The team remained the same as last year with Roy Rose, Cathy McEwan and I.
As some of the species and sites are sensitive I have omitted them from the race report.
I met the other team members at 11:30pm in Englefield and by midnight we found ourselves walking along a stony track somewhere in Berkshire. It was a cold clear night and as we continued on foot 2 teams passed us in vehicles on their way to their starting points. At 12:01am a Wood Pigeon suddenly flushed from a Ivy clad tree next to the track and we were off and running. It didn't take long to add our second species as in the stillness of the early hours we picked up on a call coming from the hedgerow a little further down the track. I recognised this call straight away, it was the begging calls of 3 young Tawny Owls which continued to call at length. This hadn't gone unnoticed and we were soon joined by another team as from out of the darkness appeared Roger Stansfield, Robert Godden & Ken Spring, a bit of early morning/bird race banter ensued and we departed on foot leaving the other team searching for the mysterious calls coming from the hedge, In good nature and the spirit of the bird race I did tell them that it was young Tawny owls but they wanted to see for themselves so we left them to it and continued on. Arriving at our next point a Lapwing called from nearby rolling the tickometer on to 3, it wasn't long after this that we passed another team as they left the area, last years winners Marek Walford, Derek Barker & Paul Bright-Thomas. For the next 30 minutes we walked slowly and quietly listening out for bird calls and being rewarded with a sort after species during this period, it was time to leave and we headed off back to the car saying our goodbyes to Roger Stansfield & co as we passed them. We hadn't gone far when we heard something on the track in front of us, suddenly 2 maybe 3 Badgers came running towards us and almost through our legs, then scurrying off in to the bushes. Pulses back to normal we headed onward. We arrived at the car just in time to hear another crepuscular species calling as it flew overhead, good timing as it meant that we didn't have to go looking for another later on. We departed at 1am with the tickometer now on 5.
The night time stint can be hard work and although you have until around 4am when you need to be somewhere for dawn chorus time passes quickly especially when searching for Owls, Nightjar and Woodcock. We always seem to have a hiccup with one of these species, we either can't locate one of the Owls or can't find Nightjar or Woodcock which is a real kick in the teeth when you're only a short way in to the bird race. If you miss some of these species during the twilight hours there is very little chance of getting them later in the day. We decided to try a few locations that had been fruitful on previous years drawing a blank at the first one, it was then off to a location that had once been good but not so over the last few years, we were passing and it made sense to stop off. We pulled up in the car hearing an Owl calling down the road behind us, Roy was sure it was a Barn Owl but I knew different, I had heard this strange echoing call often outside a cottage we lived in some years back, I had even filmed the culprit and added it to my youtube page. The calling continued and at first I had a little trouble convincing the team it was in fact a Little Owl, as we walked down the lane towards the call I did my best to impersonate a Barn Owl screech to show the others that's what a Barn Owl sounded like. It wasn't a great impersonation by any means but suddenly a Barn Owl called out from a farm building no further than 20ft away from us, I can tell you it sh*t the life out of me, re-covered from shock and now laughing I looked at Roy and said "that was a Barn Owl and the other a Little Owl, lets go" . This meant that by 1:31am we had ticked all the Owls and the tickometer now showed a huge 7. We then spent time checking a few sites for Nightjar and Woodcock getting nothing extra other than a Pheasant, the decision was made to cut our losses and head towards Hosehill Lake LNR where we added Black-headed Gull, Nightingale and Sedge Warbler before heading off towards East Berks.
I had already seen a flaw in my route with the lack of Nightjar and Woodcock, we should have been closer to our dawn chorus site if not on it listening for these 2 crepuscular species that had now slipped by which was a major blow. We continued eastwards picking up a singing Robin in the streetlights and then had a few difficulties finding a site which was new to us all, in fact we lost a lot of time while we drove round looking for a parking spot but eventually made it to Caesar's Camp in Bracknell. We were behind time as the sun was already starting to rise but a quick walk along the footpath brought us to our destination. A crescendo of bird song filled the cold still morning air, a few of the common species were soon heard followed by both male and female Cuckoo, Tree Pipit, Greater Spotted Woodpecker, Blackcap, Song Thrush and Chiffchaff. We left Caesar's Camp at 5am with 23 species under our belt and headed off towards Windsor Great Park. This was another area we had never tried before but within 15 minutes of being there we had added another 10 species including Ring-necked Parakeet which saved us another stop elsewhere, we left with Slough in our sights picking up another 7 species as we drove.
Slough Sewage Farm
Another new site greeted us in the form of Slough Sewage Farm, from a M4 motorway bridge you can view the majority of the pits that host a number of wildfowl. A Pied Wagtail took us to 41 and after a 25 minute scan of all the viewable pits and wildfowl we left heading towards the Dorney area with our total now standing at 51. A flyover Egyptian Goose kept the score ticking over followed by a Green Woodpecker, at Dorney we added another 10 to the list which included Great crested Grebe, Greylag Goose, Reed Buning, Goldfinch, Reed Warbler, Cormorant, Willow Warbler, Sparrowhawk, Greenfinch and Swallow.
Leaving Dorney at 7:30am our total now stood at 63, the weather was now much warmer with the sun beating down, in fact it was the complete opposite of the cold twilight hours that had greeted us some eight or so hours before. We arrived at our next destination, Wishmoor Bottom, with the hope of finding a few of the elusive heathland species. The first few hundred yards of this site are in the county of Surrey so until we reached the boundary we couldn't start counting, it was handy as nothing really showed until we made our way out on to the heath. We soon found Stonechat followed by a number of other species and before long we had covered the heath on foot and found ourselves at the woodland edge, we listened for Crossbill with no joy. Plenty of birds were flitting about but all species we had seen already until Roy picked up on a bird feeding on the floor at the edge of the wood, it continually dropped from the tree branches to the woodland floor giving us a difficult time trying to identify it as it was out of sight. Eventually it perched long enough for us to add Redstart to the days total along with Treecreeper, Coal Tit and Siskin. The long walk back to the car added nothing new although we did have some excellent views of Treecreeper, the tickometer now stood at 70 but time was ticking away.
It was now time to head eastward stopping off at Moor Green Lakes first, here we added 4 species to take the total to 74, Long-tailed Tit, Nuthatch, Common Tern and Redshank and then on to Lavell's Lakes in Hurst. Here we added another 5 species with Grey Wagtail, Kingfisher, Sand Martin, Dunnock and Little Egret taking the total to 79 before setting off towards Burnthouse Lane in Theale. The idea was for us to make our way westward stopping off at a few of the Theale area gravel pits before continuing on to sites such as Lower Farm GP's, Thatcham Discovery Centre and Greenham Common.
It was now approaching 2pm and the time where you are repeatedly seeing already recorded species, this point can be a bit of a low as you are now starting to feel the effects of being on the go for 14 hours. I feel that adding a few species here and there is vital, whatever you do you need to keep the score ticking over, it's certainly a morale booster. We had a good site 3 stops along the next part of our route, somewhere that should get us a few of the harder found species and by the time that we had arrived there we had added Red Kite, Little Ringed Plover and Kestrel along the way. We entered the woods at Roundoak Piece again, this time in daylight and bathed in full sun unlike the cold and silent twilight hours when we had stopped here and failed to find Nightjar or Woodcock. Our luck was much better this time around finding 7 species that we desperately needed, these included Bullfinch, Crossbill, Goldcrest, Mandarin Duck and Hobby, we were now on 89.
We continued west stopping off at Padworth where we met the cycling team of Mike Taylor, Phil Bysh and Adrian Lawson, they looked a little red in the cheeks but in good sprits. Nothing to add here so we left for Woolhampton only adding 2 species in House Martin and Cetti's Warbler. Crookham Common was next, this area is at the far eastern end of Greenham Common and hosts a few small wader pools with some gorse bushes dotted around the returning heathland, the pools were quiet with nothing new to add. At 4.50pm we finally added Linnet to the list as one flew overhead calling and just as we were about to leave I found a Wheatear which now took us to 93.
Our next stop was Lower Farm where after parking up we made our way to the hide. It came as a bit of a surprise to see the water level very high and most of the scrub on the islands very overgrown making it very difficult to view certain areas of the lake, there was little about which we hadn't seen already until at 5:45pm a Pochard appeared at the far end of the lake taking us to 94 for the day. Thatcham Discovery Centre was our next port of call where we hoped to find Red Crested Pochard, unfortunately it was nowhere to be seen. Time had now got the better of us and any hopes of making it to Combe Wood and the Berkshire Downs soon evaporated, it was disappointing to say the least as making it to these sites could well have added another 6 species to the list. We decided that we would head back towards the finishing post and stop off at a couple of sites on the way, we still needed to find Yellow wagtail and Grey Partridge so headed towards Englefield.
Reaching Englefield we headed straight for a usually productive spot, in previous years we have found Grey Partridge here but despite searching the surrounding fields only Red-legged Partridge showed, there were no Yellow Wagtails either. A small consolation was finding a Mistle Thrush that now saw us on 95, the 100 mark was now well and truly gone and at 6:40pm we arrived at the finishing post with 20 minutes spare to check out the surrounding gravel pits.
We took a quick walk across to Hosehill LNR where Roy and Cathy found a Dunlin feeding on the island shoreline which was added to the list, with nothing else new for us on the lake we made our way to the finishing post with a few minutes to spare. The tickometer had finally stopped on 96.
Congratulations to the winners Marek Walford, Derek Barker & Paul Bright-Thomas who won with an extremely good 113 species on a day when there didn't seem to be many migrants passing through. As for us it's back to the drawing board, we seemed to have a good route planned this year but just ran out of time. On any other day a list of 96 species would be good going but not when your bird racing against some of Berkshires finest ;-)
2010 TABCG Berkshire Bird Race Results
1.Marek Walford, Derek Barker, Paul Bright-Thomas 113
2.Fraser Cottington, Adam Bassett, Andy Johnson 107
3.Hugh Netley, Steve Ricks, Martin Hallem 102
4.Andy Horscroft, Ken Moore, Nigel Cleere 101
5.Robert Godden, Roger Stansfield, Ken Spring 99
6.Ashley Stow, Roy Rose, Cathy McEwan 96
7.Chris Robinson, Renton Righelato, Jim Burnett 92*
8.Mike Taylor, Phil Bysh, Adrian Lawson 91*
9.Jan Main, Hilary Morton, Maryanne Thomas 72**
*Entire Race Completed On Bicycle
**Most Of Race Completed On Foot
The "Bird of the Day" was Teal, recorded by Mike Taylor's team
Our List For The Day
- Little Grebe
- Great Crested Grebe
- Grey Heron
- Little Egret
- Mute Swan
- Greylag Goose
- Canada Goose
- Egyptian Goose
- Mandarin Duck
- Tufted Duck
- Red Kite
- Common Buzzard
- Red-legged Partridge
- Little Ringed Plover
- Black-headed Gull
- Lesser Black-backed Gull
- Herring Gull
- Common Tern
- Feral Pigeon
- Stock Dove
- Wood Pigeon
- Collared Dove
- Ring-necked Parakeet
- Barn Owl
- Little Owl
- Tawny Owl
- Green Woodpecker
- Great Spotted Woodpecker
- Sand Martin
- House Martin
- Tree Pipit
- Meadow Pipit
- Grey Wagtail
- Pied Wagtail
- Song Thrush
- Mistle Thrush
- Cettis Warbler
- Sedge Warbler
- Reed Warbler
- Common Whitethroat
- Willow Warbler
- Long-tailed Tit
- Coal Tit
- Blue Tit
- Great Tit
- Carrion Crow
- House Sparrow
- Reed Bunting