Bikebirding in the South Lakes…

During the ‘unprecedented’ times of this past year not only did I rediscover a real passion for getting out on my bike and making the most of that lunch hour freedom whilst working from home, but also picking up the binoculars and scouring the trees, hedges, and waterways that I could ride out to for any glimpse of wildlife.

I’d found early on that I was settling into variants of the same loops from the doorstep, luckily living in Kendal I had a variety of rides to search out: heading along the River Kent, or looping up to the hills beyond Mealbank, and riding out to the gravel lanes of Crook. On all these rides, as the seasons progressed from the tail-end of winter into full blown spring, I noticed the wildlife was brimming – I kept finding myself wanting to stop and watch, but without real purpose (something I can’t seem to settle myself with!).

So, I set out on a bit of a mission to actually observe. I started taking my binoculars on every ride, whether it was out to a specific bird hide or not. I knew the quiet lanes would play host to a myriad of birds, and it became about hunting out new lanes and bridleways that I hadn’t traversed on my bike yet with the hopes that I’d come across a great birding spot!

These lanes played host to Buzzards perching atop hedgerows, Kestrels hovering above open fields, Wrens darting along stonewalls, and Chaffinches hollering to one another from the trees. It all became about riding out along the quiet lanes surrounding Kendal, and slowing right down to watch as nature progressed and moved on oblivious.

Not only did the act of riding and twitching become a great distraction, but I enjoyed (as most do) spending hours looking over maps of the local area – had I been up to Bonfire Hall lane yet, had I checked out Black Moss Tarn yet, what was the best route up to Scout Scar SSSI site? I’d plot out routes along twisting, grass up the middle, lanes which would lead to the promise of bird watching – a small woodland, a wetland, a small tarn or even the ebbing River Kent.

A particularly favourite ride was out along the River Mint from Kendal. From Kendal you can head along the high Paddy Lane to Meal Bank which gives great views into the Whinfell Range and on a clear day across the fells of the South Lakes. Riding out of Meal Bank you’re almost certain to spot a bird of prey, a Buzzard soaring above the woodland or a Kestrel hovering above its spotted prey – it’s a great ride down into Patton Bridge. Here I always take time to stand by the bridge and watch the birds along the River Mint, wagtails and dippers flitting along the bank. From here there’s a maze of bridleways – with the obligatory grass up the middle – which criss-cross over the farm fields and back down to the outskirts of Kendal.

I’m by no means an ornithological expert and I certainly haven’t become one through throwing my binoculars over my shoulders on rides, but I love that bird watching is such an easy addition to my bike rides. The other great thing is that it doesn’t have to become an ‘investment’. You can take a binocular, but you also don’t need to. You can visit nature reserves as part of your ride, but you also don’t need to. You can make observation notes to use as identifiers later, but you also don’t need to.

For now, I’m plotting out new routes, hopefully further afield, and scouring maps for the perfect bird watching spot.

Words and pictures – Abi-Rose Fisher

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