30 days!

Just 30 days until the walk commences! 30 days until we Dove Step away from Lakenheath Fen RSPB and set a bearing north!

As much as I am intimidated by the challenge I think we have all prepared extremely well for the distances involved and I couldn’t be happier with the assembled team. We are gradually refining the route for each day and getting precise distances as well as camp sites or accommodation. At 27.9miles Day 1 of Dove Step will be the furthest distance I have ever walked!

The remaining days we have tallied up all hover around the same marathon distance.

As mentioned we have all been busy training; Sir Rob covered 40 miles over two days this weekend walking the north Norfolk coast, a sure demonstration that he’ll be able to cope with the Dove Step mileage.

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Sir Rob – rightly pleased to be the correct side of 40 miles worth of training walk!

Meanwhile Tris was busy pounding the hills with his first of many planned marathons this year; the Grizedale 26. You can read all about his incredible feat of endurance over on Tris’s website.

Tris post marathon and with a badge of honour!
Tris post marathon and with his badge of honour!

Goodrick and myself have been doing some more modest training runs ahead of this weekends Anglesey Half Marathon, The Island Race. It will be great to sport our green RSPB vests and enjoy the best of Anglesey on foot!

In parallel with our urge to move northward for Dove Step, Turtle Doves wintering in sub Saharan Africa will be orientating north around the same time we do. I happened across this French website and the Turtle Dove Research currently ongoing by Office National de la Chasse et de la Faune Sauvage (Oncfs):

During the 2013 breeding season, 3 adult Turtle Doves were captured in the south west of France (Poitou-Charentes region), within the Chizé forest, and fitted with these transmitters. These 3 birds are closely surveyed since then: satellite tags alternate 10 hours transmitting periods and 48 hours in “sleeping” mode during which batteries are charged thanks to the solar cells. (Copyright Oncfs, February 2014).

Of the birds satellite tagged, Bird 1 ‘Marcel’ produced the most informative data and was tracked all the way from the south of France to the wintering area south east of Mali in the Niger River Valley:

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Marcel Turtle Dove migration route 6th – 16th September 2013 Copyright ONCFS
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Marcel Turtle Dove migration route 15th September – 2nd October 2013 Copyright ONCFS
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Marcel Turtle Dove migration route 29th September – 8th December 2013 Copyright ONCFS
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Marcel Turtle Dove migration route 7th December 2013 – 14th February 2014 Copyright ONCFS

It will be interesting to see if ‘Marcel’ offers insight into the return migration route for Turtle Doves this spring and the Dove Step team eagerly awaits updates from the excellent Oncfs project. It is notable that last years migration skirted west Africa, through Morocco and Western Sahara before heading inland to Mali. Interestingly, this west coast route would be the most feasible for us humans wishing to get to the same end point. Although this is more for reasons of political and social unrest in addition to the hostility of the desert.

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Red dots shown possible two-way border crossings, though not all in the desert are accessible. Many other border crossings are used by locals, but are closed to non-Africans or tourists without good connections.
Purple lines show the two main trans-Sahara routes at the moment; the orange route is the classic Hoggar route that hasn’t been done since about 2010. Red lines show borders which cannot be crossed legitimately (some may be mined and you may be arrested or run into bandits/smugglers/rebels/terrorists). Unmarked border lines can, up to a point be crossed as long as you check into the nearest immigration point. Some pass through extremely remote or outlaw areas where you still may get arrested or robbed. As you can see, it’s principally northern Mali and Niger – not a place where any tourists go at the moment. No entry signs relate to regions, not entire countries, and only the main current no-go areas are identified.
Wherever possible use official border crossings, marked with the red dot or expect the consequences outlined above. Copyright Sahara Overland http://saharaoverland.wordpress.com/home/

As ever many, many thanks for reading and following our progress. A whole hearted thanks to our sponsors and supporters, be sure to check out the recently updated ‘Supporters‘ page and if you are able do consider a visit to the JustGiving page.  

30 days and counting!

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40 miles of Sun, Sea and Sand

My aim was to walk the entire North Norfolk Coast for this training walk, Hunstanton to Cromer. This was to be a 2 day odyssey, I had a night of luxury booked in nouveau-posh Wells next-the-sea. Armed with maps, bananas and oat bars, and my new Meindl boots, I dumped the car at Hunstanton and cracked out the first few miles with ne’er a glance backwards. Except this:

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I pushed on, feeling like a god in my new boots. In factg, I thought I could walk on water. My illusions were seriously shattered as I strolled along Brancaster beach:

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This tidal creek was way too deep to cross, even for a real tough guy like me! I waited. I waited some more. I marked the dropping water level with razor clam shells. Some scoters flew close in shore, and I could see some velvets in amongst the commons, which was nice.

After 2 hours I thought I would have a crack at crossing. I took my kit off and waded in. Feck!!! It was so damn cold!! It wasn’t deep, but I nearly didn’t get across because of the cold. I lay gasping and yelling with pain on the sand on the far side, to the amusement of the well heeled dog walkers thereabouts.

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My road clear, I marched through Brancaster on to the wild and remote (and to me undiscovered) Deepdale marshes, where there were 4 red kites quartering the flooded water meadows. Never seen so many together in Norfolk. Awesome. The weather was perfect though a bit windy, thankfully at my back. The birches looked terrific in the low sunlight in Holkham Meals. The feet started to suffer later on in the day, and by the time I reached Wells I had handsome blisters on both little toes.

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A great evening of oats, beer and fish and chips revived me no end, and a hearty cooked breakfast the next morning set me on the road for day 2. I popped the blisters, and stretched the legs, and off I went. Stiffkey and Warham Greens are always brilliant, and today was no exception – I flew through them, and after 2 hours I was in Blakeney. There was still plenty of evidence of the storm surge around, with carpets of plant debris covering the Coastal path in places. At Stiffkey Fen, a kindly birder took pity on me and let me look through his scope at the black-throated and great northern divers feeding at the mouth of Blakeney Harbour. Soooperb!

I passed through Cley without too much fanfare (where were the crowds lining the streets?) and moved swiftly on to Salthouse, and then Kelling Quags where there were massive piles of storm detritus.

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My legs felt good, but as I walked I was conscious of the time, as I knew I would need to catch a bus back to Hunstanton. So, though (and I stress) I could have gone on and on and on, I stopped at Sheringham, with 40 miles completed in the 2 days, 3762 calories burned, 77,500 steps walked and 2 severely blistered little toes. But don’t feel sorry for me. My pain is completely self-inflicted. I am not getting shot, eaten and having my habitat degraded. I am not a turtle dove.

What have I learned this time? 1. Tide tables can be useful. 2. There will be pain. 3. I can do this. 4. When you are going for a wee in the wild, make sure you have really finished otherwise it can really ruin your day. 5. Keep eating and drinking. Fanta never tasted better. 6. Harden the f*ck up. 7. I can do this. Oh yes.

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Six weeks…

As we are now within six weeks of the start date I thought I’d give a quick round up on all things Dove Step and also Turtle Doves…

As muted in this post last month, we could we be witnessing the pioneering of a new survival strategy for ‘our’ Turtle Doves? The excellent BirdTrack site lists four birds recorded as wintering this year, across four counties; Cambridgeshire, Lancashire, Milton Keynes and Northamptonshire. The below two images are reproduced with kind permission of the British Trust for Ornithology, retrieved 17th February, 2014.

Location of all records to date in 2014 within 10km squares Red: 25+ records Orange: 1 to 25 records Yellow: Sites visited, no records for this species
Location of all records to date in 2014 within 10km squares
Red: 25+ records
Orange: 1 to 25 records
Yellow: Sites visited, no records for this species
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Weekly reporting rate for Turtle Dove
(the proportion of complete lists submitted that include this species)

The Milton Keynes bird was also shared via the RSPB birders Twitter feed and can be viewed below:

Another over wintering Turtle Dove - this one in Milton Keynes copyright Ms Julie Lane
Another over wintering Turtle Dove – this one in Milton Keynes copyright Ms Julie Lane c/o @RSPBbirders Twitter feed.

Obviously, four records doesn’t constitute a population trend! But when considered against the sheer volume of available habitat for wintering Turtle Dove it could be considered an indication of a larger number of unnoticed wintering birds? Of course it has been a mild albeit very wet winter, sick birds that were unable to migrate when the urge required may have stayed on. Or birds may even have escaped from captivity! All food for thought and fingers crossed these over wintering individuals make it through the next couple of months to be re-joined by the migratory brothers and sisters.

Also, are any youngsters (or oldsters for that matter) reading this and considering their future? How about applying for a Turtle Dove Fieldwork internship? What a wonderful opportunity!

Moving onto our Dove Step preparation Tris is continuing to rack up serious miles ahead of his first, of 14! marathons this year this coming weekend. The following weekend three quarters of the team will be over on the Isle of Anglesey for the Island Race – half marathon. Any other competitors or spectators will be able to spot us via our green RSPB vests, as modelled by Tris here:

Tris - looking fly in his new RSPB vest!
Tris – looking fly in his new RSPB vest!

With thanks for reading and as ever many thanks to those who have supported Operation Turtle Dove via the JustGiving page which stands at 136% of our fundraising target! I must up our fundraising target but I am both amazed and delighted at the progress to date!

Dove Step Beer!

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No really, you read that correct; Dove Step Beer!

BlackBar Brewery were our first sponsor and from the offset we were delighted to have their support. Whilst Dove Step is a physically demanding endeavour and driven by a very serious cause, we are gentlemen and beer is a part of our planned recovery. Accordingly securing the support of our favoured brewery was a huge moral boost!

We took the opportunity to make a team visit to BlackBar brewery last Saturday, to discuss BlackBar’s continuing involvement in Dove Step, meet head brewer and owner Joe Kennedy and enjoy some beer! Joe is a gent. A true gent of the calibre you don’t often get to meet…

Mr BlackBar Joe
Mr BlackBar Joe Kennedy

Joe kindly showed us around the brewery, took us through the brewing process and best of all let us taste the BlackBar range. I can confirm each ale was delicious! The cask ales were awesome and my favourite of the bottled ales was MTFU. I am day-dreaming of a bottle as I type this!

Check out the range of BlackBar ales and where you can drink them over on the BlackBar website.

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We tried all of these – they were all most excellent!
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You can take home your own casks – which some of the team did, of course!

In chatting about BlackBar and also Dove Step we came to the beautifully natural conclusion that we should brew a Dove Step beer! I am as excited about this prospect as I am apprehensive of covering 300 miles, on foot, in just 13 days!

We will obviously devolve responsibility for creating the beer to Joe – some things are sacred! But will be sure to publicise where you can drink some Dove Step Beer for your self and when it will be available! In drinking the Dove Step beer you will also be supporting our fundraising efforts, as a % of sales will be added to the JustGiving total.

Watch this space for news…

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Team Dove Step and BlackBar!

Just 43 days and counting till we leave Lakenheath RSPB and start Dove Step!

Wild Frontier Ecology joins Dove Step!

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Regular readers will have seen from Sir Rob’s post some seriously exciting news (and his battered toe nail!), the eagle eyed amongst you will also have noticed the addition of Wild Frontier as a Dove Step sponsor on the right hand side of the blog.

Wild Frontier have kindly come on board as our first corporate sponsor the result of which is a serious boost to our fundraising total on the JustGiving page. Between Wild Frontier and a number of private donors the last week has seen us surpass our previous fundraising target already! It is a happy requirement that we are discussing a reasonable upwards revision to our target. With many, many thanks to both Wild Frontier and also those individuals who have chosen to support Dove Step, Operation Turtle Dove and also the RSPB.

Wild Frontier are an independent ecological consultancy, based in Norfolk but working across the UK for a number of clients including statutory advisors, developers, conservation bodies, landowners and local governments.

Be sure to view the Wild Frontier website for their full capabilities including the surveys they undertake, development services and news via the Wild Frontier blog.

Although best known for his expeditions and world travel Sir Rob holds a directorship at Wild Frontier and has the following to say on behalf of Wild Frontier Ecology:

As ecologists, we get some opportunity to be involved in habitat enhancement, some of which benefits farmland birds such as the turtle dove. But the situation is now so urgent for this species in particular, that direct action for fundraising and awareness raising, such as that being taken by the Dovestep team, is necessary. I am delighted that Wild Frontier Ecology have the opportunity to be very much a part of this initiative, and hope that other corporate sponsors will come forward and make every mile walked a big step closer to securing the future of our farmland birds“.

A huge thank you to Wild Frontier Ecology and poignant words from Sir Rob there. Do get in touch if your company would like to become a corporate sponsor of Dove Step and members of the team will be happy to discuss what we can offer in return – aside from the satisfaction of supporting Operation Turtle Dove!

Just 46 days and 7 weeks  until we commence our march – as a team we are getting seriously excited!

Reality dawns

300 miles in 13 days. What a good idea that seemed at the time. And now? Well, to be quite frank, it seems scary and a long way off being a certainty that I (for one) will make it. Mind you, I have got the most fantastic new boots, c/o Cotswold Outdoor and Meindl boots. They are so light! And I have started taking care of my feet for the first time in oh, 44 years.

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We are currently trying to tighten up the schedule a bit, and have recruited the help of organisational wizard Sven Wair who is trying to sort out some accommodation at appropriate places. See Jonny’s previous post for our potential stopping points. Also, things are moving forward on the fundraising front! New sponsor Wild Frontier Ecology (high quality consultants for all your ecological needs), and further private sponsors have taken the total raised to £550, which surpasses our first projected target. That is brilliant! Hopefully we will get some more sponsors before the walk – maybe you? Perhaps I can persuade you by the photo below, giving an indication of the pain and suffering incurred by the team. See the pleading expression in his eyes!

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This is going to be harsh, and no mistake. But it’s already been very heartening to have so much interest and support. Thanks everyone! There will be more training walks, more events and fun and games coming soon!