Wednesday 12 October 2016

Norfolk Bird Race on Tour (NBROT) - First update.

This is the first guest blog from Andrew Whitelee  following his supreme act of heroism, cycling from Aberdeen to Cley in Norfolk, in order to raise money for Wader Quest and the Bird Observatories Council "JustGiving". Here is what Andrew wrote:

I’d planned on writing a progress update each day but I hadn’t anticipated two things: 1) how mentally, as well as physically, tired I’d be each night and 2) how tricky it is to write in a tent! However, here’s the story so far. Apologies in advance that it’s not as bird/wader-packed as you might like; currently my mind is on surviving not birding.

Red-flanked Bluetail - Andrew Whitelee
North Ronaldsay was good, almost birdless at times, but a great place to be. It helped me see first-hand how hard staff and volunteers at bird observatories work. There were though some nice birds around. There was a long staying Grey Phalarope and several passage migrants including Bluethroat, Yellow-browed Warbler and Little Bunting. The undoubted star of the week though turned up just two hours before the flight back to Kirkwall, a Red-flanked Bluetail! It showed well and was a lifer for me. Thanks to Alison, Kevin and all the staff and volunteers at the bird obs for their great hospitality and for lending me a bike so I could cycle a mile on the island (I left my bike in Kirkwall as it wouldn’t fit on the flight).

Day One – Aberdeen to Montrose (43 miles)
Stonehaven - Andrew Whitelee
So the big day has arrived. To say that I’m under prepared would be something of an understatement as the only cycle training I’ve managed is the 45 miles to the ferry before it departed for Orkney last week and a mile or two on North Ron and in Kirkwall.
The weather is warm (12 degrees according to a sign I passed in a business park) and I’m on my way. I plan to take it easy and covering the 40 odd miles to Montrose at a leisurely pace but it’s all uphill out of Aberdeen and soon I’m sweaty, panting and then lost as the National Cycle Network Route 1 signs disappear. A couple of additional miles later and I’m back on track. The route takes me along the Aberdeenshire coast past Stonehaven and I keep reminding myself there’s no schedule, no deadlines and, as fellow Notts lad and cyclist Chris Mills said to me on North Ron, I should not give in to the temptation to do too much. I stop by the roadside, make myself a coffee on the camp stove and enjoy the views in the autumn sunshine (which surely won’t last). By 4pm I’ve reached my target destination and set up camp. Day one is in the bag.

Day Two – Montrose to Tentsmuir NNR (42 miles)
Andrew and bike at Montrose Basin - Alison 
I woke to find frost on my tent. I ache, it’s not as bad as I was expecting but my backside is sore! Before I could get going I had to do some running repairs on the front pannier rack which had somehow got bent on the ferry crossing and had been rubbing on the wheel on and off during day one. This was fixed with some brute force and cable ties and I headed to my first stop – Scottish Wildlife Trust’s Montrose Basin. Alison and her team gave a warm welcome and helped me find a couple of new wader species for the trip in the form of Black-tailed Godwit and Common Greenshank, bringing the trip wader count to 19. The rest of the day was painful but uneventful (apart from crossing the Tay Bridge in Dundee which was fun). I set up camp in Tentsmuir NNR and sat and watched Eurasian Oystercatcher and Eurasian Curlew as I cooked a pasta supper. It must be stressful being a wader, the oycs were alarm calling on and off all night, mostly for apparently no reason but once because of  two Tawny Owls which seemed intent on squabbling with each other somewhere above my tent.

Day Three – Tentsmuir NNR to Glenrothes (35 miles)
A disturbed sleep meant an early start today and I was packed and on the forest trail by 8am. Today’s route took me past St Andrews where the Dunhill cup had been staged at the weekend so there was a lot of traffic, and a couple of near misses, before I got back onto open roads.

I hadn’t expected Fife to be quite so hilly (not sure why) and progress was slow. I’ve deliberately set myself fewer miles today and tomorrow I order to pace myself; as long as I’m in Edinburgh tomorrow night all is fine. So here I am in my tent again, sat in my sleeping bag as I type. Tomorrow I’m staying at a friend’s house, 24 hours to a hot bath and a soft bed….

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