Clumber Park (Helen Moat)
Blog Words : Freewheeling | 13 July

How to cycle and twitch at the same time

Can you ride a bike and birdwatch at the same time? Helen Moat travels to the Midlands to find out

“We’re looking for a pair of honey buzzards,” the twitcher responded to my question.

I was intrigued. Honey buzzards? I’d never heard of honey buzzards. It seemed an anomaly. Surely buzzards were in the top ten of macho birds: strong, aggressive, fearless, picking off vulnerable creatures; likes meat – preferably raw. But a buzzard with a penchant for honey? A bit namby-pamby for a bird of prey, was it not? Perhaps it was to do with its colouring.

I voiced my curiosity: “So why’s it called a honey buzzard?”

“Well, they’re different from other buzzards. Honey buzzards prefer grubs and insects to small mammals or reptiles, so they follow wasps and bees to their nests, and then eat their larvae – even bits of the nest itself with the honey. Or they’ll hunt the ground for other insects. It makes it difficult for us to spot them, but it’s really something to see a honey buzzard as they’re quite rare. This is the only pair here in the Midlands.”

“Don’t they get stung though, attacking the nest?”

“Well, they have thick feathers on their head protecting them from the wasp or bee sting. They also release a chemical that calms the insects.  And they’ve really powerful feet to claw the earth or nest.” The twitcher showed me a picture in his bird book. Once again, nature’s brilliance amazed me.

“So have you caught a glimpse of one today?” I asked.

The twitcher laughed. “I’ve only been here half an hour. I don’t feel I’ve been here long enough to deserve it! Sometimes we’ll wait five to six hours to catch a glimpse of a rare bird – and sometimes we’ll see nothing at all. That’s how it is. I guess it’s a bit like fishing. You wait all day and maybe, just maybe you’ll get lucky.”

‘Well at least if a fisherman gets lucky,’ I thought to myself, ‘he’ll have something tasty for tea.’ But bird spotting? At best it’s a tick in a book. The bird watcher was the ultimate collector with nothing to show for it. But hey, different folks… I just couldn’t imagine sitting in the same spot all day waiting for a glimpse of a rare bird.

“You bird watchers must be the most patient people in the world,” I said out loud. “I definitely don’t have that kind of patience.” I waved my hopeful honey buzzard spotter goodbye and wished him luck.

I’m back on my bike again. This is what I love about being on two wheels – the people you meet on the road; the unexpected; the things you learn. It’s over two months now since I shattered my wrist. I waited and hoped I would be able to get off on my trip to Istanbul at the beginning of this month, as I’d planned, but the wrist was recovering painfully slowly and my mobility was very limited. Gutted, I postponed the trip until next spring and booked flights for a trip to Greece. And sure enough as soon as I did that, the movement started coming back in my hand, wrist and arm. It was annoying.

But still the idea of getting back on the bike petrified me. What if I fell off and broke my wrist again? Not that I’m prone to falling off my bike. Then a couple of weeks ago, I decided I would have to give it a go. I dusted my bike down in the shed and cycled to the next village. My hand didn’t drop off. I stayed on the bike. Encouraged, I tried a longer trip last week, just a bit under twenty miles. Brilliant: it didn’t hurt – well not much. My wrist sat at a funny angle on the handle bar but I coped. So now I’m ready, at last, to get back to regular training, planning some longer trips.

Recently, I’ve been enjoying Alastair Humphrey’s blog – and his passion for local adventures. It’s particularly relevant as I’m stuck in Derbyshire and the surrounding counties (researching a Peak District guide for Bradt). I love his idea of looking at a map for inspiration and guidance; then setting off on a micro-adventure: a day trip – or ideally
– an overnighter in nature.

I looked on google maps for inspiration and spotted a series of lakes in nearby Nottinghamshire and small roads that followed them into parkland. There were contours for a bit of freewheeling – but not too close together: it looked like perfect cycling territory. So my son and I packed a lunch, loaded the bikes into the car and took off. 

We left the car in a random village and raced down narrow hedge-lined lanes to a long fishing lake, where I happened on the bird watcher, and on into Clumber Park.

On the way, we passed, not one, or even two near-identical fishing and hunting lodges, but five, all with matching balustrades. We cycled round the park’s lake, skirting wide-horned cattle and looking across the water to the incongruous cathedral-like chapel with its soaring spire in the middle of parkland. The country house is gone, but there’s acres and acres of heathland, woodland and wide open spaces here.

We headed back to the car, invigorated and ready for the next adventure. I’m gearing myself up for an overnight trip with some wild camping. The idea of sleeping out in the wild scares me to death, as the thought of getting back on the bike did - but isn’t that what adventure is about? I’m ready for the next challenge.


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