I Brake for Baby Birds

July 25, 2017

It’s that time of year when the hedges are full of recently fledged birds, all a bit, well, crap, in the endearing way baby birds are. Which is fine, until they launch themselves in front of your bike and, like learner drivers, prove to be a bit slower off the mark than you were quite expecting. Twice now I’ve had to jam on the brakes to prevent myself from rear-ending a low-flying beginner that hadn’t quite made it to safety.

Sadly, it also means too many sad little flattened feathery corpses on the road. so far I’ve seen an oystercatcher, a rook, several blackbirds, a goldfinch, a yellowhammer and any number of unidentifiable little brown jobs (I really should probably get back to filling in Splatter Project reports).

It was cheering, though, to pass a hedgeful of a flock of something – hard to tell what when you’re zooming past. One went, and then another, and then they were all pouring out of the hedge to get away, hunners of them, chirping as they flew, setting the whole field beside me in motion. It was a laugh-out-loud kind of sight, the way they just kept coming as I passed, as if the hedge itself were taking flight.

And not a one ended up under anyone’s wheels, which counts as a bonus at this time of year.


June 28, 2017

So it seems I’m not the only one with an ASBO buzzard, although I like to think mine is the original and best

While I don’t really miss ASBO buzzard, I do regret not taking the opportunity to try and film it in mid-attack, partly because I sense a certain scepticism when I tell people about it that a) it actually happens and b) it is genuinely scary. Plus the whole 15 minutes of fame thing, obviously.

These days, the main wildlife-related hazard I encounter on the road is an increasingly ripe badger carcase which has ended up right by a passing place on one of the narrower back roads. I always dread some well-meaning driver pausing at just that point on the road as they see me coming – leaving me unable to give it as wide a berth as I normally aim for. Squeezing past cars on a disintegrating road edge is one thing, squelching over disintegrating badgers is quite another. Sorry, were you eating?

Other road hazards are potentially a bit more fun

caution ramps ahead

Although the 14-year-old me is rather disappointed that the 48-year-old she’s trapped inside declined to even try to get some air.

So, I Voted

June 8, 2017

And I did it by bike, of course, although given that it was resolutely pissing down, the other half did offer to run me up to New Nearest Village before he left with the car. I spurned his offer because it is only 3 miles at most to the polling station and how wet, realistically could I get?*

But that wasn’t what made the ride up to the village and back one of the more unpleasant experiences I’ve had on the bike, although it didn’t help. As regular readers will know, I’m mainly all ‘yay bike’ and generally full of the joys of cycling, but the road up to the new nearest village is a B road which means it has a white line down the middle, regardless of the fact that each lane is basically just a car-width wide, so drivers put their foot down and go for it. It’s also twisty and manages to be uphill in both directions, because to get to the village you have to climb up and then descend, and then repeat to get home. Mostly this is manageable because there aren’t many cars to deal with. But today it was quite busy, and that just made it grim.

The problem is partly that people in cars apparently have to drive like nutters when it’s raining even though cars mostly have roofs and don’t generally let the rain in, and there’s water running across the road and standing on the road, and flying up into my face as cars pass. But mainly it’s just that the road is too fast and too narrow for any sort of comfort on the bike. The first few drivers to pass me were too close for comfort, but even having a car pass you with room to spare is quite frightening at 60 mph, especially when some of them start to pull back in before they’ve finished passing you.

The thing is – and this is not necessarily the drivers doing anything wrong – when I hear a car coming up behind me, I can’t tell whether they’re going to squeeze past or cross into the other lane to overtake. I can’t tell if they’re going to wait for a clear bit of road or just overtake on the blind bend or with an oncoming tractor. I can’t even tell if they’ve seen me or if they’re on their phone, or what. When I’ve had one or two close passes already, my adrenaline levels go through the roof as I hear another driver approaching behind me. I’m waiting to see if they’ll appear right at my elbow or pass me with care. All I can do is take enough space on the road that I can make room for myself if I do get a close pass and await my fate. After enough cars have squeezed past me regardless, what started as a simple trip on the bike begins to feel like an endless succession of death threats.

I’m not going to lie to you, on days like today, riding a bike up that road isn’t a pleasant way of getting about. If there was an alternative road, I would take it. If there was a candidate promising to build a cycle path up to Nearest Village I’d have voted for them like a shot, whatever party they stood for. As it is, I just have to grit my teeth, do everything I can to ride safely myself, and hope.

It really, really doesn’t have to be this way. There will always be hills and there will always be rain, but there’s no reason why riding a bike should mean taking my life in my hands. One day we’ll rearrange our roads so that I can ride away from speeding traffic, and drivers don’t have to worry about hitting people on bikes.

Meanwhile, if you’re driving and you see a cyclist up ahead, please do this for me: don’t just whoosh past as if the cyclist wasn’t there. Come off the accelerator while you assess the situation – it’s extremely reassuring as a cyclist to hear that from an approaching car. Cross right into the other lane to pass (if you’re crossing the white line a bit anyway – which you mostly need to if you’re giving the cyclist enough room to be safe – you might as well go the whole hog and change lanes). If it doesn’t feel safe to change lanes then don’t pass until it is. Oh, and when you’ve overtaken, please do make sure you’ve actually passed the cyclist before you start moving onto the bit of road they’re currently cycling on, especially if you’re towing a trailer. It will literally only be a few seconds on your journey time. But it could mean the difference between me or somebody like me getting home safely and not.

* the answer is ‘thoroughly’ – once again the only piece of kit which didn’t fail me and let the rain in was my Harris tweed cap, although it would have been better had I not then dropped it in a muddy puddle along with my gloves …

Step Aside ASBO Buzzard

May 13, 2017

So, I’ve never really quite understood why the good people of Bigtown were so down on the local gull population. It’s near enough to the sea that you’re going to expect there to be gulls and personally I think they give a town a holiday-ish air. I can understand it if you’ve got one that’s built a nest on your house and is busy defending it against all comers, including you, or if you’ve just lost half your chips to an avian maurauder, but otherwise a bird is a bird, even if it’s a bit shouty. Of all the things that’s wrong with Bigtown, I wouldn’t even have put ‘seagulls’ in the top ten, but it invariably comes up in the list of complaints about the place, usually as part of the holy trinity of local issues (dog poo and potholes being the other two of course) – to the point where an Urban Gull Task Force* has apparently been set up to combat them.

And then I was standing innocently minding my own business on the High Street this morning when I felt what appeared to be half a bucket of something being emptied over my head. And realised that I had been literally dumped on from a great height. It turns out that a herring gull can unleash an extraordinary amount of crap in one go and this one had scored a direct hit on my hat, saddle, shoe, back, jacket hood, arm, and both the outside and inside of my Brompton basket.

Oh, and top tip to those in a similar situation: don’t try and get any sympathy from someone who’s spent a season in the Farne Islands.

* As a side note, ‘task forces’ are clearly one of those things, like ‘tsars’, that have suffered from serious devaluation over the years. The first time the UK deployed a task force, it retook the Falklands. The Transport Minister recently set up an Active Travel Task Force to tackle the growing backlash against cycling infrastructure which, disappointingly, has confined itself to calls for evidence and hasn’t got a single battleship. That’s hardly going to bring East Dunbartonshire Council to heel, now, is it?

Angry Person in Local Newspaper

April 28, 2017

It’s not often I get spontaneously contacted by the local paper for a sadface photo* but I was rung up on Monday in my role as (outgoing!!!) secretary of Nearest Village Community Council to see if I could go and be angry by the river where someone had flytipped some old computers into the water.

flytipped computers

Actually this wasn’t too hard because it’s a particularly lovely spot. The last time I was looking over the bridge parapet it was to admire an otter, so finding that someone had used it to dump a load of electrical goods was pretty gutting. There’s a fair bit of flytipping near by (it’s a quiet road and vans can pull right off the road and out of sight) – but normally they confine themselves to chucking it into the bushes, not the river. I even folded my arms at one point, I was that cross.

Bridge over the river

Anyway, whether it was the folded arms that did it or what, I don’t know, but it attracted the attention of the local angling association who manage the fishing on that stretch of the river, and today they went on a slightly unorthodox fishing expedition and very efficiently cleared out the river. Unfortunately, there’s no sign that the police are at all interested in catching the perpetrators, or we would have gladly dropped off the hard drives so they could see if any identifying details could be retrieved.

Fishing expedition

If only all my sadfaces were so immediately effective. I wonder if the anglers might also be interested in building cycle lanes?

*Despite rumours to the contrary, it is not a statutory requirement that I be in the paper every week although my role in the Bigtown cycle campaign means I do seem to have to do more than my fair share of Angry People in Local Newspapers poses.

Badgering On

April 15, 2017

On Monday, riding into Bigtown for an appointment, I was startled to see a badger crossing the road ahead. It was 1:30 in the afternoon, and badgers are properly nocturnal, and more to the point even if they are out in daylight they don’t generally then curl up on the verge and appear to go to sleep, before only grudgingly moving into a ditch when a curious blogger on a bike approaches.

So clearly this was not a well badger, a suspicion that was confirmed when I returned a few hours later to find it now apparently asleep on the tarmac (this is a quiet road). Despite me standing over it for a good ten minutes, and someone else approaching in a four by four, it didn’t move although it was still breathing. Sick or not, I wasn’t going to attempt to move it (even a sick badger can be quite formidable if it takes exception to your actions, however well intentioned) so finally I went home, got in touch with the SSPCA who promised to send someone round, and hoped for the best.

Sadly, the best wasn’t to be, and there was a rather sad badger corpse beside the road when I cycled past the next morning. I also contacted the Badger Trust because there had been no visible marks on the badger, so I was concerned that it might have been poisoned (badgers don’t carry TB in Scotland, but that doesn’t always make them popular with farmers). Anyway, I’ve just heard that the badger in question was probably hit by a car after all. Apparently they often sustain internal injuries without appearing to hurt. This one just took a while to die. So no crime as far as the badger trust was concerned – just another ordinary death on the roads.

Which is good news of a sort – it would be worrying to learn that someone around here was either illegally poisoning wildlife, or else was so careless with poison that badgers were getting poisoned by mistake. But then again, it’s a sign of how blase we are about roadkill that hitting a badger with your car (and they are pretty solid – I’m told they can make quite a dent) and leaving it die is okay. Sad too that my best ever look at a badger (and they are extraordinary creatures when you see them close up) was one that was dying.

Fortunately that’s not the only wildlife sightings we’ve been getting in recent days though. Our adult hares have now been joined by a leveret which has taken to ambling around the garden in an extraordinarily fluffy and endearing way which makes up for its habit of nibbling on the flowers. Hopefully it will stay where it is and not venture too far onto the roads …

Not Dead Only Sleeping

March 19, 2017

‘Have you given up blogging then?’ the other half inquired rather plaintively this morning (despite the fact that I’m not, and never will be, as funny as I was in 2005).

The fact is, there’s a sweet spot between not doing anything interesting to blog about, and not having enough time to blog about it, and I’m still overshooting it. I may, technically, have become less busy at the end of last week but that doesn’t seem to have translated into my having any more time. Maybe next week …

Part of the problem is that I’m still extricating myself from the clutches of the community council in the parish I no longer live in as even an appeal from the pulpit has not yet produced a willing volunteer to become secretary in my stead. That also means helping distribute the newsletter, which the Brompton and I duly did this afternoon.

newsletter delivery route

Oh okay, so maybe it wasn’t that much of a hardship on an early spring afternoon.


Chionodoxa luciliae

In other news, my birthday present to myself has arrived a few days early.