11 days and counting…

Turtle Dove - picture c/o Barry Woodhouse http://tinyurl.com/pfozgvr
Turtle Dove – picture c/o Barry Woodhouse http://tinyurl.com/pfozgvr

With many thanks to those of you who have followed our preparation to date. I think we are ready! Where possible, we will update this blog as we walk or have a Dove Step fellow relay our progress from their internet enabled location!

Analog Dove Step advertising - cards in the visitor Centre at Lackford Lakes SWT http://www.suffolkwildlifetrust.org/reserves/lackford-lakes
Analog Dove Step advertising! Cards in the visitor Centre at Lackford Lakes SWT

As I type, Dove Step sponsor BlackBar Brewery are preparing to brew the Dove Step beer which you will be able to drink at various pubs in the east of England during our walk. We may also have a limited supply at some stops of our journey!

BlackBar Brewery  http://blackbar.co.uk
BlackBar Brewery

We have a working itinerary for each day which currently looks like this:

Day 1 we follow the course of the Little Ouse before joining the Great Ouse and following it all the way to the Denver Sluice. After crossing the river we will camp at Wiggenhall St Mary Magdalen. We camp in the beer garden of The Cock, on Church Road adjacent to the River Great Ouse.

Day 2 we continue along the course of the Great Ouse crossing at West Lynn to join the Peter Scott Way then stay at Gedney Drove End, where we camp in the beer garden of The Rising Sun.

Day 3 following the edge of the Wash we cross Fosdyke Bridge, then take the Macmillan Way to Frampton Marsh RSPB where we will stop overnight. We are also giving a talk here on Turtle Doves, Operation Turtle Dove, Dove Step and Tristan’s 1000 miles in memory of Martha project.

Day 4 once again on the Macmillan Way we will pass through Frieston village then Butterwick and finish up at Wainfleet all Saints.

We will camp here – let us know if you have garden or even floor space!

Day 5 we cut across to the coast and head north along the beach to stay at Mablethorpe.

We will camp here – let us know if you have garden or even floor space!

Day 6 from Mablethopre we cross Stone Bridge continuing to North Somercotes then follow the beach again to Tetney Lock and stay at Cleethorpes.

Here we stay with Mr Collett – a whole hearted thanks to Mr Collett and Collett junior of Frampton Marsh fame for your hospitality.

Day 7 we pass through Cleethorpes, then Grimsby and East Halton before camping at Skitterness.

Day 8 we cross the Humber Bridge then continue north on the Yorkshire Wolds Way to Beverley where we will stay.

Day 9 onwards ever north on the Minster Way to arrive and stay at Langtoft.

Here we stay with the Spencers – with many thanks for your hospitality!

Day 10 we once again travel the Yorkshire Wolds Way through Filey and then to our resting place Scarborough.

Day 11 onto the Cleveland Way which takes us all the way to Whitby.

Day 12 again on the Cleveland Way this time to Salttburn.

Day 13 we take the Coastal Path then the Teesdale Way to the Transporter Bridge which heralds our glorious arrival at Saltholme RSPB!

If any east coast birders are reading this from Scarborough, Whitby or Saltburn and would like us to sleep on their floor that would be great! Please get in touch via the comments section.

Otherwise, one last training walk planned for Sir Rob and myself this Saturday, Tris is continuing his 1000 miles for Martha campaign and Goodrick is running his weights vest up and down Whin Hill, in the Peak District! We are as ready as we can hope to be…

Goodrick on top of Win Hill
The view from Win Hill…
Goodrick (and weights vest) descending Win Hill

Just 11 days until we get walking!


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.

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:

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

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!

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
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!

59 days until Dove Step!

Turtle Dove – photograph Debby Saunders

As January comes to a close we are now just 59 days away from commencing Dove Step! In two months we will be putting on our boots, waving goodbye to our loved ones and starting out from Lakenheath RSPB reserve…

January has seen three of the team participating in the Foot It challenge, which added a good incentive to get out and do some serious milage. I know Sir Rob has pounded the roads and paths of North Norfolk and I managed to cover over 127 miles on foot over New Years day and the following four weekends.

Tris, is as ever running his heart out! Amassing miles towards his 1000 for Martha target. Indeed the next month or so will see a lot more running in our training regime. Tris, Goodrick and myself are all doing the Anglesey Half Marathon known as ‘The Island Race‘ on 2nd March. A month of running should give us a good fitness boost before reverting back to walking based training after the first weekend in March.

As we progress towards the big event Operation Turtle Dove is gaining momentum too, be sure to check out the Turtle Dove Talk blog spot for updates on; the Trichomoniasis disease and Turtle Doves, migratory threats to Turtle Doves including hunting and which farmland features are most attractive to Turtle Doves.

Incredibly there have also been reports of Turtle Dove shunning the migratory urge and over-wintering in the UK! Two have been reported to the BirdTrack online recording system and one was photographed in a Cambridgeshire garden on the 21st of this month! The picture below was sent into the RSPB…

Turtle Dove – Cambridgeshire garden on 21st January, 2014


What a wonderful bird to have in the garden at anytime of the year – but incredible in mid-winter!

Before I sign off a quick thank you – the JustGiving total has already hit the 49% of our fundraising target! With many thanks for supporting Dove Step, Operation Turtle Dove and of course the RSPB.

Just 59 days to go…

A very merry Christmas!

With everyone focussed on mulled wine and mince pies I though I’d share a festive and extremely special post…

Turtle Dove

Thee quarters of the Dove Step team were up in the Arctic back in March and had the good pleasure of meeting Ms Jane Tavener, who was then at the beginning of her Learn.Draw.BIRD journey. I am honoured that the latest post over on the Learn.Draw.BIRD site is dedicated to Turtle Doves, Operation Turtle Dove and indeed Dove Step. Be sure to give it a look and with many thanks Jane.

Happy Christmas!

Twelve days of Christmas…

Firstly a very merry Christmas!

As you can see from Tris and Rob’s recent posts despite the indulgences of the festive period training continues and we are still keeping a close eye on all things Turtle Dove and Dove Step.

To contrast the new Atlas Data, which the BTO kindly let us reproduce on here last month Rob dusted off his copy of the 1968 – 72 Atlas which paints an all together different picture:

1968 - 72 Bird Atlas
The last 2 paragraphs of the BTO 68-72 Atlas entry for Turtle Dove.

Imagine a summer with 500 pairs of Turtle Dove if favourable 10km squares and with 125 000 pairs in the Country! Wow! 

Such is the plight of Turtle Dove nowadays that even the tabloids have had to take note! With the Mirror running an article earlier this month, including the comparative figures for the above:

… But the number of breeding pairs in the UK is thought to have dropped below 14,000, with a fall in numbers of 95% since 1970 and 84% since 1995. 
This article goes on to draw comparisons between the extinction of Passenger Pigeon in the States and the potential for Turtle Doves to follow the same path in the UK. More on that in upcoming posts…

As ever it s not all doom and gloom! We continue to prepare for our walk, last week half of the team attended a Royal Geographical Society lecture in Norwich with guest speaker and long distance walker Brian Mooney entitled ‘On foot to Rome and back.. ‘ It was a short but exciting presentation and we were also afforded time after the talk with Mr Mooney to glean tips for our own efforts. A true gent.

Brian Mooney
Left to right Sir Rob, Brian Mooney and me (Jonny)

In other good news, be sure to add your name to the RSPB campaign asking David Cameron to get a better deal for Wildlife Friendly Farming and why not purchase a Turtle Dove themed t-shirt for a loved one? This is designed by Dove Step supporter and artist Gyr Crakes who is also making a donation from sales to the Dove Step JustGiving page. A true gent and an honour to have him on board!

Bird Atlas 2007 – 11 and Turtle Doves!

As mentioned in the Friday round up! The big news at present is the release of the latest Bird Atlas 2007 – 11 I know several members of the Dove Step team participated in the survey effort which was undertaken by 40 000 volunteers! There is a helpful review of the Atlas over on Mark Avery’s site.

Obviously, the first thing we did was thumb through to find the Turtle Dove pages. The BTO have kindly allowed me to replicate the Turtle Dove plate and a couple of comparatives past distribution maps (click to view larger):

These maps are reproduced with the permission of the British Trust for Ornithology from: Sharrock, J.T.R. 1976 The Atlas of Breeding Birds in Britain and Ireland. T&AD Poyser, Berkhamsted; and Balmer, D.E. et al. 2013. Bird Atlas 2007-11: the breeding and wintering birds in Britain and Ireland. BTO Books, Thetford.
These maps are reproduced with the permission of the British Trust for Ornithology from: Sharrock, J.T.R. 1976 The Atlas of Breeding Birds in Britain and Ireland. T&AD Poyser, Berkhamsted; and Balmer, D.E. et al. 2013. Bird Atlas 2007-11: the breeding and wintering birds in Britain and Ireland. BTO Books, Thetford.

Looking at the 1968 – 72 breeding distribution closely followed by the 2008 – 11 is a deeply saddening experience. A huge geographic contraction couple with a free-fall of confirmed breeding dots.

These maps are reproduced with the permission of the British Trust for Ornithology from: Sharrock, J.T.R. 1976 The Atlas of Breeding Birds in Britain and Ireland. T&AD Poyser, Berkhamsted; and Balmer, D.E. et al. 2013. Bird Atlas 2007-11: the breeding and wintering birds in Britain and Ireland. BTO Books, Thetford.

This comparison is helpfully translated into the above ‘All Atlases’ figure. The thirteen upward ‘gain’ arrows are overwhelmed by the mass of grey ‘loss’ arrows bordering the west of the range and eating eastwards into the core breeding distribution.

So, what do we take from this dramatic decline?

Firstly, supporting Operation Turtle Dove is a great use of our time and effort! The research and advice Operation Turtle Dove are able to undertake is the ‘front line’ in trying to alter the dramatic decline shown in the above maps. Of course this is only achievable with the necessary funding.

To this end we are doing what we can to spread awareness and fundraise. Using what we have available to us – which is basically our bodies and time off! Dove Step was the natural conclusion we came to. Through Dove Step and covering the whole of the core breeding distribution or Turtle Dove ‘heartland’ we hope others will be moved to help Operation Turtle Dove and perhaps even donate via the JustGiving page?