TEN-DAY APRIL 2001 LUTMAN-BURLINGAME LONDON TRIP
Thursday, April 5, 2001. Day 7 of 12. EARLY MORNING BIRDING, BRITISH MUSEUM, HARROD'S.
Happy Birthday to Cihan in Turkey and to granddaughter Samantha in Denver.
It is cool and breezy this morning, clear, with blue skies. We are in Hyde Park again, looking for birds. I feel apologetic to no one in particular and everyone in general that this might be my favorite thing in London.
The water droplets on the grass are like sparkling diamonds. We see a bird singing from the newly-leafing top of one of the big trees in Hyde Park. I swear when we came here the first afternoon, just a few days ago, there was no green yet in these tall trees. I believe the bird is a GREENFINCH. Another trip bird.
At 7:02 we get a male and female Tufted Duck pair. Love the Tufteds.
By the way, the lifer Tufted Duck we got on our first afternoon here was LIFE BIRD #1000. Only 8900 to go, give or take a hundred.
There are always Blackbirds around, everywhere we go. Sharon starts singing "Blackbird singing in the dead of night...", by the Beatles. I had always thought that this was about the blackbirds of America, back in the sixties, but it has to be about the English ones. Sharon says she doesn't think the English Blackbirds sing at night.
7:05 and we begin the Serpentine -- the long lake with the dogleg left in the middle.
We hear a bird calling "pddd, pddd." It has black and white wing bars, a rosy rusty pale chest color. It's a great little CHAFFINCH, singing his heart out.
Sharon gets an English Robin, and I see another Common Moorhen. Then another Mistle Thrush on the ground.
721 AM. We are by the"Petah Pahn" statue, or Peter Pan to you and me, a spot recommended by the peanut-and-cheese bird feeder fellow of a few days ago. Two Blue Tits fly down one at a time and land in Sharon's outstretched hand. After the encounter with the park birdfeeder fellow, she has brought peanuts and the birds have taken her up on her offer. The first flew in, landed, took his peanut, and flew back out. I was ready for the next one and get it on video.
Sharon sees a bird gray on the chest, with other front parts darker gray. I can't call it black, it's not as black as a Blackbird. We can't ID this bird, but we both have a notion what it is.
7:26 and four minutes till breakfast starts (not that I'm hungry or anything, you understand). Sharon sees an all gray bird with a black head, a male BLACKCAP. I later see him and his mate, who has a brown cap.
A few minutes later and we are next to a large tree, with a limb chopped off years ago. There is a hole in middle of the cut. A pair of tits are popping in and out, obviously feeding their young.
We get a Canada Goose honkover a few minutes later, and come to the area where there had been many tits earlier. Nancy decides to try for a feeding, and holds out her hand, offering peanuts. I line up my digital camera, and by some stroke of great luck, get a little Blue Tit at the exact instant of landing on the tips of her fingers.
This is so exciting that Sharon wants to try again, this time for a still photo. I try to explain the extremely low probability of getting this, but she doesn't care. She really only wants to feed them anyway. But by another minor miracle, I get a neat little shot of a Great Tit, just landing on Sharon's fingertips also, but only after she gets mobbed by pigeons first.
It's only 8:02 AM and Sharon and Nancy are flying high after the tiny birds took peanuts from their hands. We are walking down the Hyde Park path headed for home when we hear this extremely high-pitched peep. It flies over to another tree, and I can see that it is much slenderer than the chunky little tits, but I can't quite see it yet. Sharon spots it working its way up, and we identify it as a life bird, the camouflaged little *TREECREEPER. 'Avin' a nice day, too.
Later, it's 10:34 and we are in Russel Square. We got here by a very roundabout way, due to rail problems, but it was fun because we changed trains at Piccadilly Circus. Nancy had me take a shot of her in front of one of the signs. As we waited for the train covering the last leg of our morning journey, we spotted a little mouse scurrying around on the dirty, oily concrete floor beneath the train tracks. He was exactly the same color as the concrete.
We walk through Russel Square Park in the rain, looking for the British Museum, with all of its world history. Umbrellas required. I see a tall white building which we think might be it, but it turns out to be the University of London. It's incredible because it looks like the entire university is contained in this one high-rise building.
Then we spot it, and go in. We buy our tickets, take the lift up and locate our highest priority area. Egypt and the Rosetta Stone. On the way I see several examples of hieroglyphs, and then the earlier (I think) cuneiform. Sharon helps me think of this last word.
There are wonderful statues all around, and Nancy likes one in particular, with a cool headress. There aren't many photos of me, so I disguise myself as one of the Egyptian statues and Sharon snaps it. See if you can tell find Waldo.
And we finally come to the Rosetta Stone, surrounded by a tour and speaker. It's great fun to listen to her, with her British accent, and then to read about the history of the breakthrough of the code. I am satisfied with neither the photo with a flash nor the one with no flash. So here is another attempt, on another medium, called in the art world, a tee shirt.
Oh well. You just had to be there, or have to go there.
My lower back is killing me. I can birdwalk all day, but I have giant trouble with other stop-and-go stuff like museums and shopping. This means of course that I'm an adult male. I decide to go back to the hotel, take a nap, and try to get off one trip report.
I make it back uneventfully and complete the day's objectives. These include a great nap, and sending out the first email trip report at a local Internet Cafe. It's 3.99 pounds for 40 minutes. I pick up email, and put the next report on our website, but don't yet send it via email. I need Sharon to proofread it first. Then I come back home for some more rest.
Here's what was going on with the other Americans:
Nancy and Sharon stayed about another hour at the Museum, then left, headed for Harrod's. It was still pouring down rain, so Nancy said she wanted to take a taxi, and she'd pay. They caught a cab and asked how much it would be. "About 8 pounds," said the driver, "or a little more, depending on traffic." Sharon needed to know more, "How much more? It won't be double, will it?" "Oh no," said the taxi driver. Satisfied, they settled back.
The driver was very talkative, and he gave them a running commentary of all the stuff they passed on the way. He couldn't believe it when they told him they hadn't been to the theatre yet, and didn't intend to go. "You can't say you've been to London, till you go to the theatre," he told them.
After a long time, tremendously slowed down by traffic, they were let off at Harrod's, at a cost of 19 pounds.
They were hungry, so they got a snack immediately, then began shopping. I thought about this in my mind, and decided to choose a "shock" figure -- a number that, if Sharon went over it, I'd be shocked. But if she were under it, I could continue breathing. The number was $500. "After all, it's Harrod's," I said to myself, slightly weak in the knees that I picked such a big number.
Meantime, Nancy and Sharon racked up purchases left and right. They collected their VAT receipts, because our understanding is that you can turn them in at the airport, and get the 17.5% of the purchase price that they represent. "You must purchase over 50 pounds here to get the receipts," a lady told them.
They added up everything, were a little short. So they bought a few more items, and went back. They had 53 pounds worth or so, if they pooled their purchases, so they did. The lady calculated the amount of the refund, to be collected at the airport.
They learned that it's not 17.5%, but rather 14.8% that can be retrieved. Then they learned that there would be a 5 pound charge, so they were going to net about 2 pounds and change. Then they began to wonder why they were going to this trouble anyway. "What would Bob do?" they asked. Then they laughed because they guessed that I would just forget the whole thing, and enjoy the day, swallowing however much the VAT return would be. Which is exactly what I would have done, for that small amount.
The ladies brought home leftover food in Harrod's boxes, and we clean it up for dinner. Half a reuben (Sharon), half a smoked salmon on a bagel (Nancy), cheesecake (Nancy), a traditional bread pudding (Sharon) and a brownie (Sharon again). I also had some grapes, purchased at the local fruit stand.
We look at the day's digital photos on the computer, and Nancy takes off for her room.
It's clear that the digital camera by itself would have been useless. One $125 memory card can hold about 62 or 62 maximum resolution photos. I figure I've taken the equivalent of about 15 memory cards' worth of pictures. So the other thing that is required is a laptop with plenty of hard disk storage space, and some digital photo manipulation software -- Adobe Photoshop, in my case. I could reduce the resolution to 72 dots per inch (suitable only for the internet) for the digital photos, and get probably many hundred to a few thousand shots on one stick, but then I couldn't print the photos in any useful manner.
This combination (the camera and the laptop) is a dynamite success. In fact, it's so successful, that I have taken less than one roll of photos with my treasured Canon EOS-10S still camera, with its zoom lens. I would NEVER have predicted this outcome, but I like its efficiency and ease-of-use, not to mention that its a whole lot less weight. And since I carry it in a pocket of my photographer's vest, it's always handy.
See you in the funny papers.
Life Birds: Today, 1. Treecreeper. For the Trip, 6.
Trip Birds: Today, 5. The lifer, plus Greenfinch, Chaffinch, Blackcap, Canada Goose. For the Trip: 23.
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