TEN-DAY APRIL 2001 LUTMAN-BURLINGAME LONDON TRIP
BIRDERS' NOTE: The first time we see a bird on this English trip, the name will be in upper case (e.g. CARRION CROW). Subsequent times will be in title case, with the first letter of each word in caps (e.g. Carrion Crow). If the first time we see the bird, AND it's a life bird, never seen or heard by us before, I will put an asterisk (*) in front of the upper case name (e.g. *ENGLISH ROBIN).
WEBSITE READERS' NOTE: If you are reading this on our website (www.24birds.net, then click on Trip Reports, then click on England 2001), a word in the text that is a link to a photo will be underlined and in (usually) blue. So if you are after speed, just read right through the link word. If on the other hand, you are interested in the photos, click on the word or phrase, and the photo will come up. When you finish looking at the photo, click the "Back" button on your browser to return to the trip report text.
Friday, March 30, 2001. To London. Day 1 of 12.
I had never been interested in going to Great Britain, but it was clear to me that Sharon really wanted to go, for non-birding, historical reasons. After I bought a "Where to Find Birds in Britain" book, I began to get excited too. So the UK got on the official list, and worked its way to the top. As you will read below, we are off to Britain.
Sharon and I leave home about 11:30am Friday March 30, 2001, in her Volvo, headed for San Francisco International Airport (SFO), about sixty miles away. We are to meet our friend Nancy Burlingame at British Airways check-in. She was scheduled to fly up from Southern California early this morning.
We park in long term parking, get on a parking lot shuttle which takes us to the airport, arriving at the International Terminal about 1:15pm for a 3:45pm departure on British Airways (BA).
I have a backpack with about 25 pounds, a carryon suitcase with rollers of about 35 pounds and a max-allowable dimensioned suitcase of about 50 pounds. Sharon has a roller carry-on of about 20 pounds and a medium-sized, non-roller suitcase of about 30 pounds.
We see Nancy immediately when we walked into the international terminal building, and we celebrate our final connection to begin the trip. Sensibly, Nancy has one carry-on and one check-in for her luggage.
We HAD planned for about ten days with Nancy, to be followed by about five weeks of country touring/birding all around England, Wales and Scotland. But the terrible hooved animal foot-and-mouth disease epidemic over most of the UK finally caused us to cancel that latter portion of the trip. We three had talked it over, and decided to proceed with the London portion.
BA's policy is one carry-on and two checked suitcases, per person. So after the check-in, I have a carry-on plus the backpack and Sharon has her carryon. Good fortune smiles down as I manage to get on the plane with our three carry-ons. This is my ok-you-can-relax-now-you-made-it, final checkpoint.
I worry about these things, and love it when this last item is "checked off."
Our bird is a Boeing 747 and we were in row 45 of about 60 rows or so, on the right side. Sharon and I have a window and an aisle seat, with a blank seat in between us. Nancy has an aisle seat directly across from our aisle seat. Our travel agent (Nancy's) puts her clients into this seating on the theory that the middle seat has a reasonable chance of remaining empty if the flight is not full. Then everybody has lots of room, even if the plane is "almost" full. The middle seats go last.
Due to a misunderstanding with the check-in lady (we happily told her that we were "all together"), she reassigned Nancy's seat so that Nancy was between Sharon and me. After we get on the plane and everybody's aboard who's coming aboard, the center row (four seats) has only one person in it (sitting in Nancy's old seat), and on my urging, Nancy asks him if he would slide all the way across the row, take the opposite aisle seat, so that we can go back to our original plan, thrown off by a misinterpretation of our check-in person. He agrees and seems to have no problem with our request. On a ten-hour flight, a little thing like an empty seat beside you can feel like a first class ticket to ride.
I have recently purchased a new digital, full-featured Sony DSC-P1 (DSC is Digital Still Camera), and added the accessories of an extra battery and a 64-megabyte memory stick, to go with the 8-megabyte one that came with the camera. A carrying case tops off the accessories.
Entering the plane, I have my backpack on and I'm wearing the parka over it. Sharon says I look like Quasimoto and I have a hunch that she's right (Sorry).
We take off about 3:45pm, as scheduled, and we see a nice view of downtown San Francisco underneath one of the four Rolls Royce jet engines. A minute or so later, we are directly over the Cliff House, on the Pacific. Settling in for our scheduled 10-hour flight, we are served drinks immediately, then dinner about 5pm. Chicken or beef, except that the chicken is gone by the time they get to us. So we have beef that is very tough to cut.
Which reminds me of the protest group in New Delhi, outside a Wendy's hamburger stand yelling, "Where's the belief?"
Each passenger has a TV monitor in the seatback immediately to the front, with individual controls for sound, brightness and (get this) channel in the armrest. Holy moly, they have about seven channels of movies playing simultaneously. Sharon watches Billy Elliott, then Unbreakable, then Almost Famous. I watch Almost Famous (excellent if you lived through or enjoy 60s Rock and Roll), and Nancy watches part of Charlie's Angels (then tells us she wants her money back for that movie).
We sleep after that, and are awakened when we are about two hours out of London. The sun is already up, and a new day has dawned (Saturday, May 31, Day 2). I can see blue sky, water and nice puffy white clouds.
We are scheduled to be on the ground at about 11:00 AM. Breakfast comes along just at the right time, and after the crew clears off our tray tables, we find that we are stacked up and have to fly around a "racetrack" a little north and east of Heathrow.
Saturday, May 31, 2001. London Arrival. Day 2 of 12.
After a delay of about twenty minutes, we break out of our looping pattern and land, where I get to do some tailspotting. British Airways has painted the tails of different kinds of airplanes with different patterns, so you can tell by the tail which type it is. It is from BA that I have borrowed the word for this activity.
A sort of a tell tail tale.
Our first bird, seen from the plane while we taxi, is a CARRION CROW, a subspecies of what I will call the European crow. The other subspecies is the Hooded Crow, which we saw in Turkey last fall.
We get off, go through immigration (a breeze), pick up our baggage (also a breeze), follow the signs to the Heathrow Express (a high-speed train) for a 15-minute ride to the Paddington Station. About $17 as I recall. On the trip in, we see several MAGPIES, called Black-billed Magpies in America. Our B&B Hotel (Kingsway Hotel) at 27 Norfolk Place is about a 5-10 minute walk from the Train Station. But first Sharon has to buy a few Paddington (Teddy) Bears. Nancy chuckles at how Sharon and I look beside our luggage pile.
We ask directions to Norfolk Square from a helpful information centre lady. It's nearby, and as we see our elegant little square for the first time, we are very pleased. There are perhaps twenty hotels like ours, side by side (butted all the way up against each other such that there is no air gap between) on our side of the street, and an equal number across the park, facing us.
We go directly to the hotel and check in with Sam, at the front desk. He is Iranian as is an older man behind the desk, who tells us to call him "Home". Sharon asks their nationality, and Home says, "Guess," with a sly look on his face. We try Syria, Lebanon, and then I guess Iran. "Yes," he says, "or Persia." Our rooms are 70 English pounds (about $1.42 US dollars per pound, or $98) for our double room and 50 pounds ($70) for Nancy's single, per night, breakfast included in the dining room in the basement.
Our room is small, seems a little shabby and worn to me, but is adequate, especially at the prices were got. We have a TV (no remote), hair dryer, coffeemaker, iron and ironing board, bath with tub, shower, toilet and sink, an armoire (stand-alone closet), queen bed, desk and chair. The 220V electricity and wall plugs are no problem for my new voltage converter kit.
When I walk around our bed to stand by the window above the radiator, I step on some sort of a board or plate, under the carpet, that lifts the edge of my suitcase and the edge of the nightstand on Sharon's side of the bed. The plate is slightly warped or is covering a wire or something. A couple of days later, we learn the French word for this phenomenon: Bascule. Stay tuned for that.
Because of all the electronic gear I carry, I take a power strip. I plug THAT into the converter, then can hook up my video camera, laptop computer, digital camera and whatever, all at the same time, for recharging.
We are hungry so go into nearby Sawyer's Arms pub for some pub grub. I have a jacket potato (baked potato) with white (I forget exactly what kind) cheese, Sharon has a roast beef and Yorkshire pudding (TOUGH roast beef, she says), and Nancy has a glass of hard cider, with fish and chips. I mean, how can you come to England and not have fish and chips? I used to eat a lunch now and then at H. Salt's Fish and Chips shops in San Jose.
Then we decide to stroll around close-by Hyde Park. We enter at Notting Hill Gate, on the north side, passing a couple of London's famous red phone booths, make our way to the beginning (four pools for those of you who've been there) of a dogleg lake called the Serpentine, then to the Round Pond, then to Kensington Palace.
Queen Victoria was born and grew up in Kensington Palace, and before Princess Diana died, she lived here. This was originally a "country house," built in 1603. The famous architect Sir Christopher Wren converted it into a palace for King William III and Queen Mary II in about 1689.
SOME MORE BIRDS
Entering Hyde Park, Sharon picks up a huge purplish-gray dove with white front-to-back wing stripes and a thick white neck stripe, discontinued in the front. These turn out to be *WOODPIGEONS and are quite common. We also see large squads of Carrion Crows and regular pigeons. At Round Lake, there are many birds on and around the water. MUTE SWANS, COOTS, MALLARDS, STARLINGS and then Sharon notices another unusual duck. In the overcast, it is hard to tell color, but we make it out to be dark purple on top, with bright white sides and a wonderful tuft trailing behind from the top of his head. This telltale sign tells us we have another lifer Ð a *TUFTED DUCK. There are several pairs, and they dive for food as we watch.
I get a great shot of a large group of Swans, hoping to be fed by a little kid armed with bread bits. It is their lucky day.
We continue on, noting Kensington Palace on our brochures, and we make our way over to it. We see a BLACKBIRD, a common bird here, totally black except for orange bill and eyering. Great songster.
Then we see its mate, dark brown with streaking on the breast. They look and act like American Robins. We find a great sunken garden, with flowers around a rectangular pool, and two fountains. An older gentlemen tells us that we are at the back end of the palace, and the gilded gates we are looking for are around to the front. "I've never heard 'em called THAT, madam," he first says to Sharon, who told him, "We're looking for the gilded gates."
On the way round (that's English for "on the way around"), Sharon notices The Orangery, a place to have tea, at the proper time. We have eaten, so we pass by, noting its location for a possible future visit. On the far side, we find our gilded gates, admire them a bit, then take off for home. We decide to go to the St. James Park Tube Station and take the Underground to Paddington Station.
It's 4:14 PM and we get a BLUE TIT, a wonderfully colored little bird. A half-hour later, we get a pair of *SHOVELERS, looking quite similar to the Northern Shovelers of winter California. Huge long bills, like they are top-heavy and will fall over forward if they forget the balancing act they must surely do with the big honker.
It's about 5:30 PM, and we are souvenir shopping in a little booth in St. James Station. There are socks for sale that have a semi-naked lady on each. She is three-dimensional and topless. Nancy declares them to be boob socks, as opposed to the tube socks for sale in the U.S. (which I have always hated, because they have no heel, and seem to always be attempting to straighten out my ankle).
We head for our hotel, pick up our magnetic room keys and go to our rooms. But not before getting my laptop out and watching the slide show of the day's digital photos.
We go to bed about 10:30 PM, with Sharon going right off to sleep and me staying up till about midnight or a little later, working on this report and playing around with the new digital photos.
Life Birds: Today, 3. Woodpigeon,Tufted Duck and Shoveler. Trip, 3.
Trip Birds: 7. The three lifers plus Carrion Crow, Magpie, Blackbird and Blue Tit.
Sunday, April 1, 2001. First Full London Day. Day 3 of 12.
HYDE PARK BIRDING
Sunday only, breakfast isn't until 8:00, as opposed to the 7:30 AM opening during normal weekdays. So we use that fact to leave a wakeup call for 6:00 AM. We meet Nancy at 6:30, having grabbed our binoculars and birding gear, and head again for Hyde Park.
At the edge of Hyde Park (Notting Hill Gate entrance), there is a little thatched roof cottage, and we get the bird that is at the top of Sharon's desired birds list - an English *ROBIN. The Robin has a wonderfully clear singing voice, and to me, they are unique -- unlike any of the one thousand-plus birds that Sharon and I have seen.
Reluctantly, we move on and turn right, headed for the Serpentine water again. It's only 6:53 AM when a pair of GREAT TITS show up. There are lots of these chickadee-like birds around and right away, we get another -- a COAL TIT, with the white on the back of his head running up to the top of the head.
While we are watching the Coal Tit, we hear a rapid tap-tap-tap, and chase the sound. We are hoping for a new woodpecker. The red under the belly plus other markings tells us that it's a GREATER SPOTTED WOODPECKER. Then, while looking at THAT bird, Sharon spots another bird, building a nest. It has that thrush look about it, and it finally reveals itself by its "pddddd" rattly call, making it a *MISTLE THRUSH, and not a Song Thrush.
It's 7:22 AM and we get a pair of dark brown warbler-type birds, but we can't identify them before they are gone. I see a yellow rump patch on one, and Sharon says she saw yellow outer tail feathers.
About ten minutes later, we get a pair of WRENS, called Winter Wrens in the U.S. We decide to walk down by the water and get several COMMON MOORHENS and a fantastic pair of GREAT CRESTED GREBES, both in breeding colors, with the male doing his fascinating mating display, facial tufts pointing outward.
Meanwhile, Nancy gets us a pair of nice LONG-TAILED TITS in the willows by the water. From there, we can see a CORMORANT and an unusual duck perched on a pole in the water. After it plunks back into the water, we can ID it as a female Tufted Duck.
Several Mute Swans fly over, and Sharon reminds me that the soft "whoosh, whoosh" sounds are made by the wings beating and not the birds' voice boxes.
It's time to head back to the hotel for breakfast and we turn around. But on the way, we bump into an interesting fellow who is trying to feed the tits. Peanut and cheese bits. He said they have just successfully nested, and the juveniles will be flying in a few days. He says, "There are a lot of us," who feed the birds. Sharon tells him about our now-postponed trip to bird the UK countryside, and he says, very English, "How dreadful for you." With the "for" pronounced the British way, without the "r."
On the way back to the room, we take a slightly different walking route and come upon one of those sights that winds up on Jay Leno's Tonight Show, where a street sign announces one thing and the photo shows something quite different. It is the coolest sight.
Breakfast is included in the room price and we have an egg, bacon (which looks like thin ham), a sausage, toast and orange juice. Sam had pointed us to the "Original Bus" company's London tour. He sells us tickets and we walk down to the end of the street, only maybe 30 yards away.
Two "barkers" from the "Big Bus" company tell us that as far as they know we will have to make our way down to the Marble Arch to pick up OUR bus. As we take off, he calls after us that we "must keep in mind that we have chosen the inferior bus company," and if we had HIS company's tickets, we would pick up that bus right here. Then one of HIS buses shows up.
I estimate that the walk to the Marble Arch isn't too long. I am wrong. In addition, the streets are very busy at the Marble Arch intersection, and all street crossings must be made via the underground tunnels made for safety reasons.
The problem is that we keep coming up in the wrong location, then have to go under again. Like in the Beatle movie "Help," where the swimmer comes out of the water at a beach and asks the Beatles, who are standing there, "White Cliffs of Dover?" And without a word, they all four point back to exactly where he has come from.
We finally get to the proper location, and our bus is ready for boarding in a minute or two. We hop on, head to the upper deck, and I sit across the aisle from Sharon and Nancy, which is open on top.
It is cool and breezy, solidly overcast, and the hood of my parka feels warm and toasty. We soon arrive at the center of London's famous attractions. Westminster Abbey's twin towers, the new London Eye, then St. Paul's Cathedral. A little further on, we come to the Tower Bridge area.
Back home, during a visit to Nancy's in Thousand Oaks, California, each of the three of us picked out the high priority items we wanted to see. Two of Nancy's were Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery. The bus soon arrives at the stop associated with these two locations, and we exit the bus.
Which reminds me. The British equivalent to "exit" in the U.S. is "way out." In the subway, in art galleries, in museums, everywhere, the arrows directing you back outside say "WAY OUT." And later I see a sign on the street point into a building that says, "WAY IN," instead of "Entrance."
While we are planning our next moves, we notice a group of perhaps 50-60 older people down in Trafalgar Square (Think of a hill, and then imagine a square carved out of the hill, which is then leveled. Just uphill of the level square looks down into the square). They are carrying picket signs, which Sharon reads to us with her birding binoculars: "SMILE AND THE WHOLE WORLD LAUGHS AT YOU." "I USED TO SMILE, BUT LOOK WHAT IT GOT ME." "I'M DIVORCED, POOR AND SICK. LOOK AT ME. WHAT DO I HAVE TO SMILE ABOUT?" "WHAT ARE YOU SMILING AT?" And so on.
Unbelievable. A"No Smiling" protest. I crank up the video camera and start it rolling. Sharon walks over to them, and a sober-looking lady says to her, "We were on a bus tour, and they gave us these signs to carry for an April Fool's trick. They told us to try not to smile. We're all from Surrey."
They had a nice little No Smiling parade trick going. Very good. They got me.
We drop down into Trafalgar Square itself, and I admire a fountain and some pigeon-drop-decorated friezes. A volunteer takes a picture with my camera of us three by one of the four lions guarding Admiral Lord Nelson's statue obelisk.
We head over to the National Gallery, tour the wonderful paintings in there. Leonardo da Vinci, van Eyck, Botticelli and Raphael are in the Sainsbury Wing. The West wing has El Greco, Michelangelo and Titian, among others I have never heard of, being an engineer.
The North Wing has Rembrandt, Rubens and Velazquez. And finally, the East Wing has Gainsborough, Goya, Renoir, Monet, Van Gogh and Cezanne, plus I think I remember some Manet paintings.
I have never been much of a museum person, but standing in front of one of the four major sunflower paintings by Van Gogh (his favorite, they say) was fairly mind-blowing. I feel privileged to be standing in front of his painting, just like he did only years ago. On the other hand, of course, we are on different artistic planets.
But equally cool is the break we take, when we have lunch and rest our bones. After our break, we go back outside, where I get an overview of a bus like ours, then I get a good shot of Nancy by the National Gallery sign. We decide to make our way over to the Horse Guard, where Sharon and I take turns standing beside a mounted guard, for separate photos. We pass the road which goes to Number 10 Downing Street on the way. Tony Blair lives in Number 11, however, because he's married with four children, and No. 11 is larger. The actual street which passes in front of these addresses is walled off with what appears to be wrought iron steel at both ends, so you can't actually go UP TO Number 10 Downing and touch the door. Which I thought.
Security precautions, absolutely necessary today.
Next, we head on to Big Ben and Parliament House. I am reminded of something that I had known but forgotten. Big Ben is the name of the 60-ton bell in the tower, not the name of the tower. In reality, however, everybody calls the tower itself "Big Ben."
Near Westminster Bridge, Sharon and Nancy pose, with Big Ben in the background. I like to look at things in new ways, as you can see here, where I'm looking at Big Ben through a black wrought iron fence. We also get our first great look at the British Airways' London Eye. the "largest ferris wheel in the world." We about face, and make our way back across the bridge to the north entrance of Westminster Abbey. We continue on around, and I notice a frieze over the west entrance.
Feeling beat, we hire a taxi, where the driver gives us some hints for seeing the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace.
After looking through the palace-enclosing fence and watching one of the guards appear to inspect a couple of the others (he adjusts the guard's black, bear fur helmet to the proper specification), we take off again. Nancy wants a picture of her under a statue with Buckingham Palace in the background. If you look carefully, you can see her at the lower right of the statue. No kidding, that's really her.
On the way to our first ride on the underground, we pass a great scene, with the St. James Park lake in the foreground, Buckingham Palace in the background, and a blossoming tree next to the water.
In St. James Station, we tell the man selling tickets what we want (a one-week ticket, called a Travel Pass, for London's Zones 1 and 2), and he asks for our passport-sized photos (we expected this so we're ready) to affix to the paperwork. The zones come about by distance-from-central-London. Zone 1 is the bulls-eye of the target-like zones. Central London. Zone 2 is the first ring around the bulls-eye. There are six numbered zones, but even outside these are Zones A, B, C and D. We receive our official underground/bus travel pack and head for the trains.
Several things about the underground. First, there are about a dozen different lines, going from and to well-dispersed areas all over Greater London.
Second, each line has a different color on the underground maps that one sees everywhere in every underground car and on almost every piece of printed tourist and "getting around London" material you see. This helps you to trace any particular line from its beginning to its end point. The lines have great names, like Bakerloo, Central, District, Northern, Piccadilly and Victoria.
Third, the general rule of thumb is that each subway stop is worth about three minutes. So if you are going 7 stops, with no line changes, that will take about 21 minutes.
Checking the underground (nickname "The Tube") map, we see that it's the Circle Line Westbound that we are after. We make our way there cleanly, enter the train cleanly after its arrival, and zoom out to Paddington Station.
We go back to our hotel for a little rest before dinner, then walk about two blocks to our restaurant of choice tonight -- Garfunkels. As we stand outside, finalizing our decision, we talk with a couple visiting from Texas. They have been here a while, and the lady says to us, of our restaurant, "It's a chain," then pauses to be sure that we understand that we shouldn't eat there, because surely we must understand that chains are to be avoided.
"Thank you," we say as we enter. The service is terrible (slow), and we have to get our waitress's attention every time she should be doing the next thing. We don't understand the snub, but express ourselves in the traditional way. A two pence tip. A thousand times worse than leaving no tip at all.
Back in the room, we review the day's photos, a traditional (if you do something twice, it's a tradition) exclamation point for the day. As somebody once said, "... but it's a GOOD kind of tired."
Life Birds: Today, 2. (English) Robin, Mistle Thrush. For the Trip, 5.
Trip Birds: Today, 9. The two lifers, plus Great Tit, Coal Tit, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Wren, Common Moorhen, Great Crested Grebe, Long-tailed Tit. For the Trip: 14.
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