Birding with a breeze: on birdwatchers and bicycles

Like Halle (author of Spring in Washington), I have spent many days in Washington biking in search of nature. And like him, I have been witness to natural phenomena that have enlivened those days when I saw special features—a beaver, a turtle, a loon, a comet. As Halle knew, a bicycle is far better than a car for searching out nature. Unlike a car, the bike is quiet and slow-moving, and it allows the biker to stop anywhere to take a closer look at something of interest. Moreover, exploring nature by bike allows one to cover a great deal more ground and thus see a lot more of nature than traveling by foot.

Bruce M. Beehler, Natural Encounters: Biking, Hiking, and Birding through the Seasons.

Future historians may wonder why, despite its obvious benefits, the bicycle has not yet played a more prominent role in twenty-first century British birdwatching. As the accounts below show, the humble bicycle offers flexibility and a sense of freedom, independence, wellbeing, conviviality, and immersion in the natural world that cannot be matched by the car when travelling locally.

Crucially, the bicycle is also set to occupy a central role in the transition towards low-carbon lifestyles and economies. Climate scientists have made it clear: if we are serious about the climate emergency we need to drive less. According to Kevin Anderson, Deputy Director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, even if the car sector in the UK adheres to new standards, transitions to electric vehicles by 2035 and shifts to very low carbon electricity by 2030-35, a rapid reduction in vehicle-km of 40 to 60% is still needed to meet the Paris 2°- 1.5°C commitment.

These reductions in driving have to be facilitated by an improvement and expansion of public transport and accessible walking and cycling path networks. But such a fundamental transformation is also about changing our mindsets, goals and expectations, having the courage to imagine how things could be different, and taking advantage of every opportunity to move in the right direction.

A growing number of birdwatchers are already doing so and are finding it to be a joyful experience.

When the bicycle reigned supreme

Horace G. Alexander (1889 – 1989)

A chance encounter

In July 1909 the young Horace Alexander received an invitation to lunch with Norman Ticehurst, co-author thirty years later of the classic A Handbook of British Birds. Alexander was anxious about the meeting. Ticehurst was the first ornithologist he had come to know outside his family and, after exchanging letters for twenty one months, he held him in great respect. Despite the ‘panic at meeting such a distinguished stranger’, Alexander was nonetheless looking forward to the lunchhe had seen ‘some puzzling birds’ in Romney Marsh and hoped that Ticehurst could shed light on their identity.  The conversation seems to have begun with Alexander talking about the reason why he hadn’t been able to identify these birds:  

Exploring Romney Marsh by bicycle, looking for the good places for waterfowl, which I knew still existed, I had stumbled on a wonderful spot, close to an old church, where there were a lot of ducks on the marshes, and some waders which, with my small telescope, I could not identify. I had not dared to approach any nearer to them, for I saw a bicycle standing there and assumed that some other man might be watching the birds; so I must not disturb them.

After clarifying that the strange birds were Ruffs, Ticehurst told the shy and considerate Alexander that the bicycle was his brother’s and that “while you were wondering if you dared to approach nearer, he was watching a Stork.”

Mapping migrant birds

Few birdwatchers are aware that the pioneers of the common bird census in the UK were three teenage brothers who began to mark the location of migrant birds seen or heard during the breeding season. In his book Seventy Years of Birdwatching, Horace Alexander shows some of these maps and total counts of birds, and warns the reader to take differences in proportionate numbers with caution. For example, some maps show only small numbers of Willow Warbler when there are actually extensive woods in the area. The reason for this, he notes, is that “my mapping was simply of birds seen or heard from a bicycle, that is to say from the roads across the map. I did not penetrate into the woods at all.”

One hundred years later

Siân Mercer

Ever since childhood I’ve been passionate about the wonderful sights and sounds of the British countryside and its wildlife, with a specific focus on birds. Growing up I became increasingly frustrated with the lack of public transport in my area which consequently meant I couldn’t easily reach local sites without having to be completely reliant on the help of my parents. Birding by bike gave me the independence I was looking for while introducing me to new sites, new scenery and new birds.

Another benefit for me was the appreciation I developed for where I lived and the ability to reignite my love for patch birding, making each individual species feel special and valued. As birders, we all share a mutual love for animals and their unique and varied habitatsby choosing the low-carbon option we can all contribute to global change, no matter how big or small.

Nick Moran

My first serious birding-by-bike was at university in the 1990s, and largely consisted of trying to keep up with my (then much fitter) birding mate in less-than-flat Fife, in winter, on a cheap, heavy mountain bike and carrying a 60 litre rucksack! Quite how we routinely did 45 mile days I’ll never know.

Fast forward to the 2010s and I still haven’t cracked it: my recent cycling exploits evolved independently from birding as a way to get fit. I started with a mid-range hybrid then progressed to a reasonable road-bike but with no consideration for how to transport birding gear. I still use a rucksack for (pared-down) birding kit but that isn’t very comfortable for rides of longer than about an hour … and doesn’t look very ‘pro’ on the road bike (a key consideration for any MAMIL/MAWIL). Longer birding excursions, such as Thetford–Alton Water for a Gull-billed Tern invariably involved full cycling gear and absolute minimal birding gearin the case of the 110-mile tern twitch, just a 150g Opticron monocular stuffed in my jersey pocked.

Then came the ‘Eureka!’ momentI realised that a bike bottle cage was the perfect size and shape for a travel scope (specifically the Opticron MM4 50)! I can now don full lycra cycling gear and comfortably carry enough optical fire-power to do some damage at large waterbodies / other places where a scope is essential … without having to carry a rucksack or attach nasty panniers etc to my road bike. (I could of course invest in a more practical steed for birding, such as a gravel / touring bike with full load-bearing adornments … but that’s for another paycheck!)

Jennifer Allan

On the sea defence wall turnstones run frantically, eking out every nutrient in the algae, offshore torpedo-like gannets fly and on the cliff tops cackling fulmars sit. All this is in my local area, and all this has been seen thanks to my bike, a way for me to travel further, faster, and more independently as, at 14 years old, I can’t drive.

Roger Riddington

Sadly, I am unable to present any photographic proof of the days (in the mid/late 80s) when I would load up a touring bike with bins, scope, tripod and enough stuff for 10 days of youth hostelling, cover the 100 miles between home (in Lincolnshire) and Cley (in Norfolk) by mid afternoon, spend a few hours birding and then pedal off to the Sheringham YHA.

Instead, here are a couple of images (from Dec 2017) of me birding by bike in Siracusa, in Sicily. Bikes are undoubtedly the best way to get around this terrific birding town. Staying at the saltpans until dusk and then biking home through the rush-hour traffic is not always for the faint-heartedalthough probably less scary than the A17 between Boston and Kings Lynn …

Mike Clarke

Birding by bike is a great way of getting around. It’s much more immersive. You travel in a landscape not through it, picking up bird calls and song, and often getting closer than on foot. When I was a kid, our bikes took us all over the woodlands and marshlands of N Kent, and further afield on the train.

In the long, hot summer of 1976, a friend and I took our bikes on the night boat-train to Paris and spent 10 days birding in the Loire valley. My Raleigh bike with little wheels was a bit like my flared jeansin fashion (just) but hugely impractical. The bike certainly caused a stir among Parisian motorists around the Arc de Triomphe!

1976 was the most severe drought in the UK and NW Europe since 1772. By the time we left for the Loire, my notebook records how the eels had desperately retreated into the mud cracks in the dried-out fleets and lagoons of the Thames and Medway, where they then died and desiccated under the relentless sun. Now, 2020 wasn’t just the year of a pandemic, it was also the 6th year in a row of the highest average global temperatures since records began.

When I was 16, I never realised that travel was not cost-free for the very wildlife that inspires me. At 61, I now understand that climate change and nature loss are inextricably linked with human health. Covid-19 has led me to reappraise many things. What I do know is that my bins and bike will be a bigger part of my lifestyle than in recent yearsand a spotting scope too, if I pick up on the brilliant idea of modifying one of my water bottle carriers to hold it!  

Today, I’ve got a vintage, steel-frame Eddy Merckx road bike. I started biking again mainly for health reasons but over the last year of Covid-19 especially, I have come to really appreciate immersing myself in nature on my local circuit between two river valleys.

Raphael Long

Birding by bicycle for me is the most fun way to see a diverse range of species across differing habitats local to where one lives. On the bike you have the chance to stumble across anything, and have the ability to listen out for birdsong and quickly stop if you see something move. This adds a great sense of adventure to an outing rather than driving directly to the end destination. Having the ability to cycle between farmland, woodland, and wetlands (in both the south east and north Wales, and now Cambridgeshire) has enabled me to see some incredible species such as nightingale, turtle dove, red-footed falcon, ring ouzel, cuckoo, redstart, pied flycatcher, jack snipe, garganey … the bike list goes on!

Matt Phelps

Some of my earliest birding memories were bicycle related. I can remember stopping my bike by a nearby lake some twenty years ago to take a closer look at the small brown bird which had just popped up in the bush in front of me, which turned out to be my first ever Whitethroat.

As a patch enthusiast I’ve always stayed mostly local and done much of my birding on foot. Last year I decided to broaden my horizons a little by getting back on two wheels. Sadly, my old bike was neglected beyond repair so I started heading out to the patch on my wife’s bike a couple of times a week. I found I could cover the distances in half the time which meant twice as much time enjoying the birds. In the summer I treated myself to a new mountain bike and haven’t looked back since!

Nick Acheson

 It’s many years since I kept lists of birds. Since I started birding exclusively by bike and on foot, however, each species I see seems somehow new again. Mentally, I suppose, I have a list of birds I’ve seen while actively limiting my emissions. Low-carbon birding, for me, is about loving birds without the guilt of knowing I’m harming them by driving. But it’s better than that. I cycled everywhere as a child, and loved both the exercise and the birds I heard along my way. Cycling around Norfolk for birds (and flowers, and insects, and other wildlife) today feels like a portal back to the happiest times of my childhood.

Luke Marriner

I started to cycle while bird watching during the first lockdown when we were not allowed to travel very far. This allowed me to still be able to visit my local patch as regularly as I wanted as I did not have to rely on my parents for a lift. My most memorable moment whilst birding on my bike was when a Red-footed Falcon turned up about 20 minutes away (by car) so I left in the morning and it took me about an hour and a half to arrive, but it was so worth it. Birding by bike is not only good for the environment and a great form of exercise, but also a good way for younger people to access nature, especially for those who may not have access to public transport or a parental taxi service!

Charlie Murphy

Birding by bike is often my primary way to get around and certainly one of the quickest, greenest and my favourite (especially in the summer) ways to see birds. I often spend hours peddling around Salisbury Plain looking at everything from plants to butterflies to birds, and as a young birder who can’t drive quite yet, it’s always nice to have my own freedom and move around at leisure at my own pace, in a environmentally friendly way. In the coming months and years, even once I can drive and have greater independence, I do hope to do longer, multiple-day journeys and further distances to better birding hotspots soon.

Peter Moore

The lockdowns of 2020 saw me put on a few pounds so I resolved to combine birding and cycling in 2021, and to see how many species I could clock up under my own steam. I’ve travelled over 700 miles on my bike so far in 2021not all birding, I should add, but as I have got fitter, more distant locations have come within easier reach, including coastal locations like St Aldhelms Head which holds my nearest population of Corn Bunting. Here the bike is pictured by the Coastguard building. I met up with my friends Phil Saunders and Steve Smith here on 4th Aprila good decision as Phil found a Red-rumped Swallowa top drawer ‘bike tick’! The same day saw me pass the important milestone of 150 species seen or heard walking or cycling from home this year.

Simon Gillings

I never thought this would happen but, over the last few months, cycling has become my sole means of going birding. Whether it’s to check a nearby Fen or to go further afield, I am realising that I actually quite like cycling. I’ve previously thought of it as just a means to get from A to B, but I’m increasingly enjoying the exercise and wellbeing benefits, as well as the birds I am seeing on route. It’s been interesting to see how the species along one route have changed from winter thrushes to singing Chiffchaffs, then to singing Willow Warblers; I expect the next trip will see the transition to Common and Lesser Whitethroats. A Nuthatch in a village churchyarda proper rarity in these partswould have been completely missed had I been in the car. Gradually building up the miles has given me the confidence to stray a bit further afield, heading up to the Ouse Washes (where the above photo was taken) on consecutive weekends seeking Spoonbills, Garganey and Ruffall birds I have seen many times before, but enjoyed afresh from the saddle.

Mark Banister

I now rarely drive to any site within 24km, which is roughly my comfortable range with scope and tripod in the panniers. Although it certainly takes me far longer to get to my destinations, in many cases my ‘best’ birds of the day are on the journey itself, perhaps migrating wheatears, ring-ouzels or a black redstart on the Humber bank, a nesting hobby or peregrine on the Wold, or simply getting a feel for how many willow warblers, whitethroats and yellow wagtail there are this year in the wider countryside.

My birding is dominated by ‘projects’ to gain a better understanding of local birds, their lives and populations rather than listing. I have found that birding by bike has opened up new possibilities that would, perhaps, be near-impossible by car or on foot such as mapping the remaining corn bunting population on the local Wold by cycling the minor roads and bridleways, giving around 70 singing males between Barton and Caistor. The next question is why is this population now restricted to the Wold tops >55m above sea level? Projects often have the habit of never really ending …

Steven Ward

Birding in the Yorkshire Dales lends itself particularly well to exploration by bike, especially mountain bike. Though there aren’t really any reserves at which to securely park up and go off birdwatching, many bridleways and singletracks cross-cross the fells, and although ultimate species diversity is sacrificed up here, some classic upland species can be sought-out. These comprise a selection which many other birders may be hard-pressed to get onto their non-motorised lists: Red & Black Grouse, Goosander, Golden Plover, Dunlin, Short-eared Owl, Ring Ouzel, Redstart, Pied Flycatcher, Wood Warbler and Dipper to name a few. It would be foolhardy to ignore the road bike however, as Fleet Moss, the highest road in Yorkshire, lies nearby, allowing a small flock of long-staying Snow Bunting to be enjoyed earlier this year!

Jack Stevens

Fortunately, my home county is incredibly flat. The Cambridgeshire fenlands lend themselves to cycling, as well as being particularly good for bird life. These positives made it inevitable that I’d transition into more low-carbon birding as lockdowns and restrictions became the norm.

We’re lucky to have a guided busway nearby. It’s a former railway track converted to accommodate buses. This stretches horizontally across the country for miles, with a wide cycle path running parallel to it. The route goes directly through RSPB reserve Fen Drayton Lakes, and it’s a great route for getting to other reserves, like nearby RSPB Ouse Fen.

Cycling south along the busway allows Cambridgeshire residents to access two train stations for any further birdwatching travels. Or, if you keep pedalling, you reach south of Cambridge in no time, giving you access to a host of other smaller nature reserves.

Valentin Poncet & Louise Cheynel

Two years ago, after my girlfriend Louise found a job in Liverpool, we decided to move to the countryside near the city. We didn’t have a car but we thought we could try to discover our new environment by riding our bikes. Luckily, we are currently living in an area rich in birding spots and we actually do our daily birding by walking in our local patch.  Having our bikes allow us to visit “far away” places. One of our favorites is a 40 km ride to the sea to spot waders and seabirds.

Back in the Alps, I’m trying to stick with the biking and birding although the climbs are much longer. Biking and birding are good ways to be more physically active and to have a lower impact on the climate.

James Diamond

Most of my birding since being a student has been done by bike and nowadays pretty much all of my birding is done by bike. I find it very difficult to understand why most people who can don’t use a bike for birding. 

I have found some great birds by chance from my bikebig birds like whiskered tern and white stork, and small birds flushed from road verges like redstart and a nightjar sat on a gate.

I am hugely fortunate to live 10 minutes bike ride from the Exe Estuary cycle route.  This is a 26 mile, flat, largely traffic-free route that links towns, villages and Exeter to reserves and great sites like Dawlish Warren, Bowling Green Marsh and Exminster Marshes.  And yet a good bird on the Exe Estuary does not generate a pile of birders bikes in the way it would in the Netherlands.  There are maybe 4 or 5 regular biking birders on the Exe.  The numbers of people using the cycle route has mushroomed over the past year and I really enjoy seeing families and older people making the most of this wonderful resource. But most birders choose to arrive and move around by car.

Things are definitely getting better for biking birdersnew traffic-free routes are appearing and I have found the invention of ‘Scopacs’ a revelation to keep trailing tripod straps out of wheels. But the information for biking birders remains poor and feels a bit of an afterthought. Exminster Marshes RSPB reserve does have lapwing cycle racks but the online visitor information doesn’t let you know you can hire electric bikes and join the route in Exeter, that there is a free bike maintenance station at the nearby Turf Locks pub (and more parkingthis time curlew-shaped) or how to join up a cycle-based visit to other nearby sites.  We can do so much more, including thinking more carefully and purposefully about the space and priority we give to car drivers versus walkers, wheelchair users and cyclists on and around reserves and other sites. 

I have used all sorts of bikes for birdingmountain bikes, road bikes and hybrids. Right now I use a 15-year old Giant hybrid but have just added a second-hand Dutch Workcycle FR8 to my options. I have had bikes stolen (at six thirty in the morning!) and lots of punctures.  But bikes are just the best way to travel and enjoy the natural world. It’s as simple as that.

Jacob Spinks

Biking while birding is something I enjoy greatly, although not so much in violent wind and rainy weather! I love being on a bike and I am a great believer that you are able to see far more birds while cycling than while in a caryou are able to hear and see every little bit of movement coming out of the nearby hedges.

I know I am incredibly biased, thoughI spend most of my time at Spurn where I have found a few nice little oddities while on the rusted, sand destroyed bike. However, during lockdown 2 and 3, my hand was forced to spend the months between November and April birding inland Northamptonshire as I did as a younger teenager and I still enjoyed it as much as ever. Seeing things like showy Yellowhammers, Grey Partridges and even some light vismig made it all worthwhile.

Toby Middlemist

On a free Saturday, I decided to cycle down to a Big Woodland on the shores of the Cleddau Estuary. Before I even reached the Wood, a Cuckoo was calling, and I witnessed an incredible fight between 2 Goshawks and some Crows. When I reached the wood, the bubbling of Whimbrels and some Curlews, as well as numerous common woodland Species. An excellent morning out!

Paul Grennard

I have been vegan for many years and have been concerned about my carbon footprint, hence birding by bicycle. During lockdown I set myself a goal of achieving a tick list of 100 species by bike or on foot, but sadly I only achieved 98 species. Highlights were Ring-billed Gull, Glaucous Gull, Iceland Gull, Yellow-legged Gull, Hen Harrier, Merlin, Goshawk and Long-tailed Duck. I am passionate about birding by bicycle and cutting down my carbon footprint.

Isaac West

The onset of the first lockdown prompted me to start birding by bike and since then I’ve kept up the habit whenever I can. One of the benefits of cycling is the ability to bird constantly. I usually bird Otmoor (about 8km away), but driving meant that I never birded any of the fields or copses in between my home and Otmoor. Although I haven’t been doing it long, this method has already turned up some decent birds this winter like Merlin, Crossbill, Raven, Woodcock, Peregrine and Red-legged Partridge.

Perhaps most importantly though, cycling has cut my driving significantly, and hence also cut my carbon emissions. As birders, it’s crucial to be environmentally aware, and birding your patch greenly is an excellent way to go about it. Whilst not everyone may be within walking distance of a decent patch, cycling extends your range significantly and provides many more options.

Louis Parkerson

Spring is my favourite seasonchurchyards and verges are teeming with insects, wildflowers are ubiquitous and, best of all, many birds arrive back from Africa to breed on my patch for another year. Warblers sing from every copse as I cycle along the country lanes and a trip to the local broads usually reveals reedbed-dwelling warblers, Great Crested Grebes, calling Common Terns and, if I’m lucky, a small group of Pochard.

Gary Liggett

I have been using low carbon forms of transport for over 60 years. The hedge in the background of this photograph is where I joined my father to watch ten wrens ‘bouncing’ in excitement at having recently hatched.

These days, I use a Ridgeback Tempest to observe a variety of birds, including curlews, buzzards, goldcrests, and herons in the Cumbrian Pennines.

Gary Elton

Cycling in lockdown has proved both beneficial and enjoyable, as a way of adding an additional range to my local birding, with the added bonus of being able to largely leave the car at home and get fitter! This has also meant that I’ve birded within cyclable distances and explored areas I’ve not been to before. Using a local map to research the area and look at the layout of the land, and old bird reports to find historic, forgotten sites has proved invaluable.

From a birding perspective the highlight this spring was discovering more pairs of local Goshawks than I could have ever imagined, with the added bonus of being able to quietly sit watching over a wood by myself, tucked out the way watching these magnificent birds displaying and calling. I’ve also learnt that cycling doesn’t have to be hard work, as a pair of panniers or a backpack with a travel scope, bridge camera and binoculars plus a flask of coffee and a sandwich is all you need to set yourself up for a rewarding morning of carbon-free birding.

David Raffle

My bike is an invaluable part of my birding gear. It can be relied upon, despite the odd puncture, and it copes with the elements. The wind and rain is no problem for my bike, albeit less enjoyable for the cyclist. It has made many a trip around my local patch and occasionally further afield. It has taken me to all sorts of birds, including Eastern Yellow Wagtail, American Wigeon and Iceland Gull, to name but a few of the rarer species. But it isn’t just about the destination, it is as much about the journey as you cross tracks and trails and see birds that you would never have seen from the car. Birding by bike is an adventure, and you never know what you might find.

Craig Reed

I have been cycling now for around four years as a means of travelling for birding and survey work. As well as improving my general fitness, it has dramatically increased my ‘green’ travel range and the diversity of local sites that I can watch. Birding by bike has provided me with the ability to bird anywhere that I wish and I no longer say ‘that looks like an interesting bit of habitat’ as you drive towards a single end locationI simply stop and have a look. Many overlooked sites can all be checked giving a noticeably more accurate picture of birds in the local area. Having not wanted to use public transport recently given the current health crisis, it also was very useful for twitching a Laughing Gull 15 miles away! With the easing of lockdown restrictions, I look forward to taking the bike further afield in the future.

Ben Lewis

I’m lucky enough to live just a few miles from the mid Yare valley complex of RSPB reserves. When lockdown hit last year my birding stayed local and was mainly undertaken by bike. This year I have started a new green list and am currently up to 112 species by foot/bike. This will continue throughout the year and I’ve found myself cycling in to work more frequently so I can add to my list, not to mention the reduction of emissions!

Alfie Bloor

Getting around by bicycle is my preferred method of transport for local birding. It not only allows me to reduce my carbon footprint by making fewer car journeys (which is very important), but it also allows me to get more exercise in! When travelling by car, you often miss birds on the way, but what is great about cycling is that you are more aware of your surroundings as you can hear birds and can scan different habitats more easily as you make your way between two places. For example, to get to my local preferred birding spot, I have to cross fields and go through woodland on the bike, which allows me to search different habitats along the way. Don’t get me wrong, birding by bike is not always practical, but you can’t beat discovering your local patch on two wheels!

Colin Bushell

We recently moved to Easington; close to Spurn and a nice flat area, ideal for cycling. Birding around the village ‘hotspots’ is best on foot, but cycling offers a chance to check the wider local area for migrants, especially after an arrival late in the day (as is so often is the case here).

Further afield, Spurn Point is rather more of a challenge to a biking birder of advancing years like myself. So, I’ve joined the growing number of Spurn birders using e-bikes. It’s just right for the job, handling the sandy breach across to the peninsula nicely and making a very pleasant outing to a relatively poorly-watched part of the recording area.

I’m pleased to say biking has become my usual mode of transport around Spurn. Something that became apparent when a local birder saw me in my car, saying he “didn’t recognise me on four wheels”!

Editor’s note: According to research by CREDS, ‘Electrically-assisted bicycles (e-bikes), if used to replace car travel, have the capability to cut car carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in England by up to 50% (about 30 million tonnes per year). The greatest opportunities are in rural and sub-urban settings: city dwellers already have many low-carbon travel options, so the greatest impact would be on encouraging use outside urban areas.’

Jonny Rankin

Low carbon birding is something I have done increasingly over the last 7 – 10 years. From local walks out to literally hundreds of miles of endurance. It’s a way of life for me, as opposed to just a ‘thing’ I do. In the last week alone I have found a pair of Black-necked Grebe, Wheatear and a passage Little-ringed Plover. All under my own steam starting from the front door.

Dan Haywood

I’ve been birding and cycling since the age of six. Back then it was backyard Yellowhammers and a BMX in the English Midlands. Now more often than not it’s waders and warblers on this MTB—and fewer stunts—though I did pull a celebratory wheelie yesterday when I heard my first Whitethroat of the year.

I live in a part of town close to the Lune estuary in North Lancashire and that’s no accident. It’s great for birding and the fields, saltmarshes and mudflats are served well by a mixed-use path (a former railway line) and footpaths. Bicycle is the best way to explore here, most of the patch birders use bikes, and it’s all rather civilized. It’s easy to carry all you need—I stow a scope and mini tripod in my pannier, camera in my bar bag and bins round my neck. Best way to bird, bar none.

Carolyn Worfolk

I love birds and I love bikes but half the time I don’t recognise the make of either. It’s so easy to sneak up on a heron or skid to a halt for a harrier.

Tim Worfolk

Bicycle birding on the Exe Estuary in comfort (if not in style). After the bicycle, the bicycle pannier has to be the best invention in the history of the world. I’ve got two and I can get a scope and tripod in one, camera in the other (bins generally where they should be, round my neck) and still have room for lunch, thermos, coat and other assorted gubbins which seemed like a good idea at the time.

I don’t do speed, just fast enough not to fall off, which is great for taking in the scenery and stopping for anything interesting; on a bike you never have to look for somewhere to pull over and you never have to pay for parking. And of course, at my pace, I can cover miles and miles without really breaking a sweat.

Martin Elcoate

Ping! Local birders’ WhatsApp group message flashes up—5 ringed White Storks at Matford Marshes. Time for a break from the desk and a quick 8 minute dash from home on the bike. Cars queue at 3 sets of traffic lights while I slip by on the cycle path. As I cross the railway bridge I can see the Storks. And relax. What made it even better was the sight of six other birders on their bikes, all contributing to low-carbon birding.

Looking at the future

Trains and bicycles

The bicycle could also become a regular birding companion beyond the local area if cycling was better integrated within train travel. Unfortunately this is not a priority for politicians and train companies. And yet it is necessary to decarbonise long-distance travel—only 3% of car trips in the UK are over 50 miles but they account for 30% of all distances travelled.

The photos below show a cycling club trip on a Cyclists Special train from London to the Lake District in the 1950s (watch a 15 min film by British Transport Films about Cyclists Special trains). Specially designed carriages allowed a large number of bicycles to be transported conveniently and safely. Today there’s usually a limit of two to six bikes per train, and you may need to reserve a space in advance. Each train operating company has its own rules and restrictions regarding cycle carriage.

But cycling might not be for everyone. If you find that it isn’t for you and you prefer walking, don’t worry you are not alone!

Stewart

All over social media these days there are images of local patch working birders travelling around on various styles of pedal cycle. A quick and clean way to get to those furthest reaches of your patch?

For some, yes, but not everyone.

I tried it some years back with all good intentions. A bike was duly purchased and as I spend the majority of my time locally it would surely be the ideal way of getting around. Until I tried it.

Laden with bins, scope, tripod and camera I set off the two miles to my then patch. What a shock I got not having cycled for decades. I was wobbling along like Bambi taking his first steps, until at furthest point, the chain came off and wedged in the cog! By now, sweating and raging, a Fawlty Towers-esque scene commenced with me struggling with the chain, grunting all kinds of profanities under my breath and I snapped sooner than the chain. I gave the bike a few quiet words through gritted teeth. ‘You better get this sorted or you’re over that hedge mate’. I gave one last final ‘BOOT’ of the pedal and the chain came loose and sprung back onto the gears.

At least I could get back home.

That was the only time I ventured out on it. After that the bike lay as a climbing support for brambles beside our outbuildings for years. One spring a Grasshopper Warbler took up a short passage territory not ten feet from the now rusting frames. 

It’s two legs rather than two wheels for me from now on. I still use the car, but more infrequently than I did. At least its something …

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