Average Birding

A race to Staines Reservoirs

The numerically inclined among the readership are presumably on the edges of their seats, at this point. So am I!

Pronoun guidance: AB1 does bicycle gymnastics. This post covers the events of July 25th, 2020. And no, the thumbnail photo is not Black-necked Grebe. Sorry.

A dart along the A4

I am tormented throughout the week by continued reports of a pair of Black-necked Grebe at Staines Reservoirs. Staines, in a previous abode, was under an hour away; borderline accessible. Nowadays, from home, despite its short crow-flying distance, it's more like two hours either way. Worse, this weekend is spoken for - we're heading to the North-East to see the Dixons (and a pair of other couples).

A great deal of time is spent examining the possible routes from work to Staines. Bike is best, but mostly consists of riding along the cycle paths alongside the A4, which get interrupted every couple of hundred metres by side roads. It's also not short; Google Maps makes it at least an hour's solid ride. With the current hours of daylight this would leave probably forty-five minutes of time to actually find the bird. This will also be tricky, as cycling that far with the mulepack on is a non-starter, as it inevitably ends up bashing the attached telescope against my bike helmet.

So, we're going to have forty-five minutes to find a small, frequently underwater bird, on one of two giant reservoirs, an hour's cycle away, on potentially dangerous roads. That has dip written all over it. I resist making the attempt until the Wednesday night, by which time I realise being one away is starting to mess with me, and action must be taken (we don't need the keys we'll break in).

The ride there is more eventful than I'd hoped - a very poor decision on a roundabout leads to some emergency braking that almost sends me over my handlebars. Shit shit shit. Thankfully, a part of my hindbrain that has been watching Peter Sagan very closely has worked out how to go from somersaulting through someone's rear windscreen to a borderline graceful dismount. The bike goes vertical, but I gently pirouette off, postman style, landing on both feet, and arresting the bike before it reverts to being a mess in the back of someone else's car. I feel the acrobatics deserve rounding off with a bow, but then the more sensible parts of my brain drag me off the road and on to the nearest pavement, uttering constant loud apologies all the way. Oops.

Everything seems ok (catching the bike cost me a small bit of skin off my arm, but I am otherwise unharmed), so I continue. The rest of the route proves to be considerably less eventful - I'm left wondering if I should write to whoever designed the cycle path's interaction with that roundabout, but I eventually conclude my own idiocy is entirely to blame.

Staines Reservoirs

I reach the East end of Staines Reservoirs just before 7pm - on schedule. The site is two large reservoirs, divided East-West by a causeway that you can walk along. Heathrow airport lurks a short distance from the North of the reserve, so there are bonus aviation ticks every forty seconds or so.

The Westward walk across the causeway is basically pointless, the sun is in front of me, and I am looking at silhouettes. That doesn't stop me staring at every single Grebe and Coot I can see for signs of interest, but I don't try too hard. If I'm going to find this thing, I suspect I'm going to find it on the way back.

I reach the causeway section where the fencing becomes too annoying to look through and turn back. Internally, I am making peace with myself that it would be OK to come here and not find this bird - it's still a pleasant evening, and I have the place to myself; what a thing it is to be a birder, and have a location all to yourself in the middle (ok, ok, the outskirts) of a major city.

I manage to convince myself that the North reservoir is free of Black-necked Grebe (there just aren't that many birds in the central part of the reservoir, where I'd expect the bird to be, and those that are there are clearly not what I'm looking for). The South side is much busier in the centre with a mixture of Black-headed Gulls and Great Crested Grebes. Hmm. No joy from here - let's try a bit further along.

This stop/stare/go policy gets me half-way back to where I started. More staring at the inhabitants to the South. A grebe surfaces that looks, well, different - its profile is smaller and lower than that of anything else around it. It also looks fluffier. That could well be BNG. I walk a bit further along the causeway to close the lateral distance between us - at the moment, this is right on the edge of what my binoculars can do.

A slightly closer look picks out some finer details - I can see the two-tonedness of the body, and even a hint of the 'ears'. Twenty odd metres to one side, the other half of the pair is just diving. Great success! An extended celebratory jig is performed (another benefit of having the place to myself) and I then calm down to have another look. Yes, still Black-necked Grebe. More celebrating. 200! Excellent.

Now: how do I get home? Cycling is marginally slower than public transport, so it's a short ride to Ashford (Surrey) to pick up a train to Waterloo, then a short ride from there to Blackfriars for a train to West Hampstead, and then another short ride home (arriving just before 10pm - I'm glad I'm not going to need to do this again).

So, two hundred, by, for the record, the 25th July. That is considerably earlier than I was expecting. Quite a lot of the year still remains - a careful balance will have to be struck between going after every possible tick between now and then and grounds for divorce. I guess we'll see how that goes - the coming weekend at least should be bird free, and full of friends.