Buckinghamshire 10th May 2003

This was the day we selected to try and break the current Buckinghamshire county 24-hour bird race record, which has stood for 13 years. Our team consisted of Mark Wilson, Simon Nichols, Seth Chapman, and myself (Ashley Beolens). The rules were simple:

1) At least three (3) members of the team must record a species for it to count,
2) Heard birds count the same as seen birds, as long as the bird can be identified this way,
3) Only birds seen from within Buckinghamshire's borders can be counted.

After months of preparation work, mainly by Simon (cheers mate), the big day was finally upon us. Our starting point was in the west of the county, we arrived just prior to midnight and began what should have been a short walk in the pitch black aiming to be at the most distant point of our walk by midnight, this way we were hoping to pick as much up as possible on our return stroll, however the best plans can often over look one vital thing, in this case none of us had been here Greylag goosefor at least five years and we were soon lost, we decided it would be best to just start from where we were and avoid forgetting our route back to the car. The first bird fell at just after midnight, in the form of a calling Barn owl (00:05) a good start! In our exultation we startled a Wood pigeon (00:06) from its slumber in a near by tree, these were closely followed by calling Canada geese (00:12) and Lapwing (00:23) and finally a distant hooting Tawny owl (00:25), and all this while being followed by a herd of cows, now let me tell you pitch black nights and large cow herds do not make birding very easy, as well as having to avoid the deposits we also had to avoid being trodden on our selves. Our next aim was to call in at as many local woods as we could in the hope of hearing nightingale song. We did not have too long to wait as, at a little before one in the morning, we stopped by Whitecross Green Wood and heard the unmistakably loud and mesmerising song of the Nightingale (00:55) closely followed by the hooting of a nearby tawny owl and then an incredibly close Long-eared owl (01:10), this bird must have been literally in the bush in front of our car before moving off into the distance, also in the local village of Cuddington we heard the call of Red-legged partridge (01:50).

Our next destination was in the south of the county, the lakes at Shardeloes, where we were aiming to catch as many waterfowl calling in the dark as possible, we did not have long to wait, the first few ducks being, Gadwall (02:30), Mallard (02:30), Coot (02:30) and Moorhen (02:30). We were also able to make out the large, elegant, shape of a Mute swan (02:30) followed closely by the alarm call of Water rail (02:35), another tawny owl, Little grebe (02:37) and our main target - Ruddy duck (02:45), as well as a loud screech from a Little owl (02:46) and finally a singing Robin (02:59).

Wendover woods was our next stop for the dawn chorus and we thought it likely to prove the most abundantly populated habitat of the day. For those of you who have never heard a dawn chorus it is one of the most splendid events to witness; the cacophony of bird song is un-believable, and while very beautiful, it is also extremely difficult to separate the song and assign it to a specific species, this was our task for the next 2 hours. It all started quite slowly, with the first bird being Skylark (04:02), ascending into the heavens in full song, followed by roding Woodcock (04:15), and the steady reeling of the Grasshopper warbler (04:25), a harsh cough from a hidden Pheasant (04:25)2-3 calling Tawny owls, and then the real songbirds kicked in, a Blackbird (04:26) was first into voice followed by Blackcap (04:26), Wren (04:30) and then Song thrush (04:32), intermingled with these were the calls of Coal tit (04:43) the high pitched Goldcrest (04:44) and Blue tit (04:46), before a Garden warbler (04:50) burst into song, at the same time as Chiffchaff (04:50) and Great tit (04:50) joined the party. Through all this confusion we managed to pick out the subtle songs of Mistle thrush (04:54) Chaffinch (04:56) and Common whitethroat (04:59), which also provided us our first viewable bird of the day, followed by the most stunning views of Grasshopper warbler reeling about 5 metres away on the top of a small bush, which drew our attention for a few moments. Overhead we picked up the slow cawing of Carrion crow (05:05), and then the soft chipping of a party of 30+ Crossbill (05:11) we also managed to find 2 Firecrest (05:11) calling harshly above us in the tall pines. On the second pass of the crossbills they had been joined by 2 Siskin (05:18) and then a Great-spotted woodpecker (05:20) flew underneath them, alighting in a nearby tree. As we continued our journey back to the waiting car we added the small peep of Treecreeper (05:30), Dunnock (05:32) singing from a low branch over the path and two calling Bullfinch (05:35). Arriving back at the car in now almost full daylight we were rewarded with Kestrel (05:45) hovering above us, and Greenfinch (05:45) resting on the wires. With Jackdaw (05:50), House sparrow (05:50), Magpie (05:50) and Starling (05:50) sitting on the houses opposite and House martin (05:50) flying above them. A short drive to St Mary's Church, Wendover provided us with Grey wagtail (05:55) bobbing beside the small duck pond, Feral pigeon (05:58) Green woodpecker (06:05) and Collared dove (06:05) all flying over. Before we managed to find a fine Spotted flycatcher (06:07), our target species here, perched atop a tall tree in the middle of the church yard itself, finally adding a Pied wagtail (06:08) beside the parked car and a Rook (06:10) on the first round-about after resuming our travels.

Great crested grebe A return to Shardeloes, in daylight, was our next port of call, where we added Stock dove (06:21) even before leaving the car, followed by a fine male Pochard (06:22) and Great-crested grebe (06:22) on the lake itself. A flyover Goldfinch (06:23) was next with Tufted duck (06:26) the next water bird. Long-tailed tit (06:32) and Reed bunting (06:32) were the latest two passerines to fall, followed by a Sparrowhawk (06:33) being mobbed by a mistle thrush over head and then a Common Buzzard (06:34) perched on a distant tree, before we heard the distinct call of Nuthatch (06:36) in a small coppice beside the lake, a shout that a small party of Swift (06:46) were screeching over the water surface sent us running back, although in hindsight we neednít have bothered as we encountered swift at most locations through the day.

At Stoke common we managed to Catch up with Willow warbler (07:06), Meadow pipit (07:07) and best of all a fine male Stonechat (07:07), as well as seeing a fly-over Lesser black-backed gull (07:19). A short journey to the far south of the county Grey heronand Langley Country Park for Ring-necked parakeet (07:42) was followed by a trip to Wooburn common, picking up Swallow (08:00) on route, for Mandarin duck (08:05), before finally arriving at Little Marlow Pits, where we spent a few minutes (thanks in part to Jim Rose and his scope) adding: Grey heron (08:25), a singing Reed warbler (08:25), Little ringed plover (08:25), Greylag goose (08:25), Wigeon (08:25), All on the spit, with Cormorant (08:25) drying its wings on a dead tree, an escaped or possibly feral Bar-headed goose (not countable on the list), five Shelduck (08:27), Common tern (08:28) and Ringed plover (08:30) as well as our only Black-headed gull (08:31) of the day. After a non productive walk around one side of the lake we were rewarded with two (2) Red kites (08:53) flying low over the car park giving us stunning views of this once rare, but lately abundant raptor. Finally adding a Turtle dove (09:05) in flight as we left. A short stop at nearby Hedgerly tip produced a single Herring gull (09:50) and a flighty Jay (10:00).

After failing to catch up with marsh tit in any of the wooded areas we had visited so far, we were beginning to feel we would miss this species altogether, until a phone call alerted us to a bird that had been seen regularly at a garden bird feeder. So a quick trip to Mike Collard's rear garden (thank you Mike) provided us with excellent views of Marsh tit (10:35) on his feeders. Stopping briefly at Wilstone reservoir we ran the short distance to enable us to stand in the one corner of the lake that is inside Buckinghamshire's county boundary, this provided us with our fifth raptor of the day in the form of 5 Hobbies (11:15) hawking over the far reed beds. A similar predicament at the Tring reservoir meant, we had to stand on the canal towpath, in order to view a distant Arctic tern (11:35), again this is the only place we could be sure was inside the county boundary. The next destination (this one defiantly inside Bucks) was College Lake, a reserve run by our chosen charity BBOWT. Here we added a small party of Linnet (11:50), a flock of Sand martin (11:50), 4-5 Redshank (11:50) and a short flight view of a calling Kingfisher (11:51) as it flashed up and over the hide in which we were ensconced. Nearby Pitstone Nature reserve provided us with superb views of Yellowhammer (12:25) and a displaying Tree pipit (12:25), but failed to give enough of us views of corn bunting (the most frustrating bird of the day). A trip to an undisclosed location provided us with superb flight views of the locally rare Raven (12:50) another new bird race species, and a brief views of Lesser whitethroat (12:50) in song, before it ducked back down into the bushes and continued its song.

At this point the new species were starting to dry up and adding extras was proving hard, we decided to move on to North Bucks, and our first stop was at the Centre MK, opposite the Argos Super Store where a Northern wheatear (14:25) Greenland form, showed very well. At Walton Balancing Lakes we heard singing Sedge warblers (14:40) all around the lake, none however provided us with a good view. So it was off to Hyde lane where we had been informed there were a few species we still required. Upon arriving in the anglers' car park we were put onto a stunning Yellow wagtail (15:30) by Ted Reed (many thanks for the help), and then shown the location of Egyptian goose (15:36) a first for a local bird race team. As there was little else in the vicinity we moved on to Foxcote and were put onto a rather sick looking Common gull (16:00) that had been present in the area for several days, unfortunately there was no sign of the Common sandpiper we were also after, local dog walkers having disturbed it just prior to our arrival. So we headed back to MK checking Stony Stratford Nature Reserve on the way. This proved to be a good stop as we managed to add Oystercatcher (16:25) almost as soon as we left the car. As well as adding Barnacle goose (not countable on the list) and a small race Canada goose (not countable on the list). The Nature reserve at Great Linford provided us with excellent views of Little egret (17:27) in flight, as well as a few common species we had already obtained throughout the day (Kingfisher being the main one of note). Next it was on to Willen Lake and a hunt for the few remaining waterfowl and Warblers that still eluded us. First off was a superb male Red-crested Pochard (not countable on the list) followed by the loud blast of song, from a well-hidden Cetti's warbler (18:00) that alerted us to this pretty brown bird's location, near to the hospice. A walk around the lake failed to produce any more species until just as we were set to leave the hide, we spotted a male Cuckoo (18:30) fly from behind us onto the island. Time was beginning to run late and, as we left Willen, we decided to check as many areas as we could in the remaining light, in the hope that we would bump into one of the few remaining target species. As our total was now just 3 off of the record, we decided a trip back to Foxcote would be worth the risk in the hope that the Common sandpiper had returned. Whilst on route we stopped at our last remaining Corn bunting location and were rewarded with not only a Corn bunting (19:35) in full song but also a Greater black-backed gull (19:35) flying over. Arriving at Foxcote again we almost immediately spotted the Common sandpiper (19:45) that we were so desperate for. We had equalled the record and still had time to spare, knowing we only had a couple of target species left we decided upon trying for Lady Amherst's pheasant in the Bucks area of the Brickhills followed by a lot of searching for Grey partridge. After leaving the car at Shire Oak we headed into the Brickhill woods and began listening, our luck was most defiantly holding, as not too long into the walk we heard the unmistakable disjointed cough of a Lady Amherst Pheasant (20:30)!!! The record was ours 114 had been achieved but there was still a bit of daylight to go so we decided on trying to increase our record, and headed off towards Wingrave where we knew there were partridge. Arriving at dusk we spotted a partridge across a distant field unfortunately it was by now the wrong side of dusk for us to be able to get a good enough view, until all of a sudden from behind us a Grey Partridge (21:10) started to call! We had Added our last species and had achieved a Final total of 115 two above the old record (with three backup geese and ducks, which weren't included). For the first time in our bird racing career we decided to call it a day just under 3 hours before midnight. The record broken and the race over we made our way home. [The only bird whose location and time have been omitted from this report is Woodlark, due to the sensitive nature of the population].

Our deepest thanks go out to all who helped our cause in both sponsorship and in sightings; special thanks go to the following people without whom this record would not have been possible. Rob Andrews, Jim Rose, Mike Wallen, Mike Collard, Andy Harding, Ted Reed, Matt Slaymaker, Graham Anderson, Neill Smith, Alan Nelson, Nik Maynard, Graham Rowling, Richard Birch and Tim Watts

Another report of the days events, by Simon Nichols, is available from here please visit the site, it will give you even more of an understanding of the events of May 10th 2003. Thank you.

Money rasied in aid of Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire Wildlife trust (BBOWT).
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