TEN-DAY APRIL 2001 LUTMAN-BURLINGAME LONDON TRIP. THE LAST REPORT.

As Ed McMahon used to say to Johnny Carson's character, Karnak the Magnificent, "I hold in my hand [hesitation] the last envelope," and the crowd would roar its approval. This last report will cover two days.

Monday, April 9, 2001. Day 11 of 12. GOODBYE NANCY, BIRDING VIRGINIA WATER, COMING HOME, FAVORITE THINGS, BIRDLIST.

5:00 AM. Nancy calls to tell us she's off, and that we should go back to sleep. Sharon won't have it and says come on over and knock on the door. A minute later, we are exchanging goodbye hugs, and then our group becomes a pair, as Nancy heads down to explore Greece.

I get up and update another trip report. Sharon sleeps in some more while I write.

9:00 AM or so and we go to breakfast in the hotel. Sharon wanted to wait for the Detroit 175 to finish theirs and clear out before we ever go down. Full English breakfast for 13 pounds or Continental for 3 pounds. I choose Continental as the best value and the best weight watchers choice and have fruit, toast, cereal and juice. Sharon goes for the English.

I am a little puzzled by the toast situation. There are several loaves of bread next to a toaster, so you can fix your own. but under the heat lamp, with all the other prepared food, like bacon, eggs, and so on, are pieces of what look like rye bread toast. Each is cut diagonally, and they are arranged neatly, under the heat lamps. I pick up one of these, and I know immediately that I chose the wrong "toast" method. This one is hard, crusty and where I picked it up, all my fingertips and thumb are wet with clear grease or butter or something.

I nevertheless put butter on it and eat it, and it tastes kind of funny. Not very good. In the meantime, Sharon gets one of her flashes of realization, and says, "This is fried bread! Like in Angela's Ashes." That's a great book and a fair movie. THAT's why my toast was so weird. So add fried bread to my list of things to avoid in the future. I think this bread is made in a similar way that you would make french toast, only instead of dipping it in egg batter, you dip it in grease.

Dad would have loved it. "Give me your fatback," he used to say after I had finished my steak, skipping the clearly fat parts. Guess that's why he had that five-way heart bypass, huh?

Back in our room, I try to connect to the internet, but the phone jack in the wall is of a different type. It won't work. I go down to the lobby to ask if I can connect there, and am told that I can't.

They can send and receive faxes, but won't let me use that line. I don't even ask, sometimes it's more fun to just be pi--- off.

So this is added to our list of things wrong with the Europa Hotel. Here's the list, so far:

No email capability for people with U.S. hardware.
No dinner available here last night. Bumped by 175 people headed for Detroit, who themselves were bumped by a cancelled flight.
The hot water never gets hot, only warm, and that lasts only five minutes.
No elevator.
Sharon is told after unsuccessful attempts in our room, that she has to go down to the front desk to make a long distance call to the U.S.
No explanation of how to turn on the electricity in the room (insert the plastic key card into a slot in the room).

Hey, Good News! It's all out of my system. I don't hate 'em any more.

After breakfast, we decide to go to Virginia Water, the best birding location in the London Area, according to my "Where to Find Birds in Britain" book. But on the way to our car in the parking lot, we hear a bird singing loud and clearly, from the top of a bare, tall tree. He sounds like a Mockingbird to some extent, but there is no such thing here.

We check him out with binocs, and peruse our bird ID books. After a bit, we come up with *TREE PIPIT, a lifer. What a songster.

We decide to walk around the parking lot and check out the trees on its edge, but get nothing new for our effort. So we hit the motorway going straight past Gatwick, intersecting the belt road, or Orbital, here. Gatwick and the Europa Hotel are both outside this beltway.

Then we take the orbital, clockwise to the turnoff to Windsor Castle again, because this is where Virginia Water is.

I made up a lot of details in that last paragraph, as what I call "logical, or probable guesses." Sharon can tell when I'm doing that, and says to me, "You don't know that. You're just guessing."

We head down into the mostly leafless woods around the lake. We read that a walk around the lake is about 4 miles, but we're not doing that.

We get a bird whistle we've never heard before, but can't locate it before it flies out. Then a pair of NUTHATCHES, a trip bird for us. Next a calling Green Woodpecker, which we see fly and land about 50 yards in front of us.

As we make it to the lake itself, we see a few Mallards and two Mute Swans, plus a Great Crested Grebe. Later we would see his mate, and they would do their mating display to each other. Great stuff.

We hear a Robin singing, and then see a little Wren up on some brush, who promptly drops down into it. A nice Kestrel lands on a broken off branch of a big tree, having just pounced on something on the ground. Some insect.

There is a great stone bridge, with three arches underneath, crossing part of the lake, and we walk over it. On the other side, we must decide whether to go left or right. To the left is a swath of green grass, sloping gently but steadily down to the lake. On the right, more woods by the water.

It's 1:08 PM and Sharon picks the left side, because she has just spotted a bird walking down the grassy slope towards the water. She puts her binocs on it, and yells to me. I pick up the male Mandarin duck also, just as he disappears into the brush by water's edge. This exemplifies what we've read about these birds. Shy and secretive, usually going into brush when alarmed rather than flying. Or flying below the treetops to move farther away.

Still on the left side, we get a Moorhen in the water, then a beautiful pair of Long-tailed Tits, gathering nest material and continually calling to each other as they work. I imagine they are saying stuff like, "Wow, here's a bit of Mandarin feather," and "Hey, I've got this big load of twigs and you've got nothing."

A long way off, we hear a woodpecker tapping, and to my never-ceasing amazement, Sharon finds it through about ten layers of trees. I get on it too, but we can't tell what it is. Except that I can see the head clearly enough to know that it's either a Greater Spotted (which we have) or a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker (which we don't have). But he escapes our vision before we can tell. We needed our scope.

We hear another songster like the Tree Pipit early this morning, and we figure that's what this is too.

Sharon is bothered by a dove high up in a hole in a tall, tall tree. There are zillions of Woodpigeons around, and this is somewhat similar, but not exactly. We have seen some variation in the pattern of the neck rings in Woodpigeons, but this bird is still different enough to make us wonder.

We continue on, and then Sharon spots a bird with irridescent patches on the sides of its neck, similar to the tree hole dove. She checks through her bird ID book, and comes up with the bird that nests in tree holes. It's a *STOCK DOVE. Way to go Sharon. It's sleeker and more elegant, with more differences I can't recall right now. But there's no question about what it is now. The tree hole bird was a Stock Dove too.

Incidentally, Nancy had read in one of the newspapers on the underground that this has been the wettest winter EVER in England. The ground is pretty soaked everywhere we've been, so I can believe it.

We're now hungry for lunch, and done birding, so we head back towards the hotel. Neither one of us wants to eat there, so we begin watching for a good-looking pub. We find the Wheat Sheaf, a hotel with a conference room, and a pub. Part of the reason I like this is that if they have a conference room, they are liable to have a phone connection I can use to send off the trip report I've got loaded up and ready to fire.

My inquiry is met with, "We have only one place where you can connect to the internet. That's in the conference room, and it is being used all day today." Dangit.

So we find a table by the welcome fireplace, sit down, and check over the menus. Sharon has duck (I wonder what species) breast on lemon pancakes with red currant sauce. She says it's delicious, but I'm in such anticipation about my jacket potato with chili con carne, that I couldn't possibly derail my first taste.

It's fantastic. I had never thought of having chili with baked potato before, but this is really good. Later, I have a taste of Sharon's left overs (She ate about two-thirds of hers), and it's great too. We congratulate ourselves on the good pub find, and head back to the hotel.

By now, we've gotten lost at this complicated motorway interchange enough times that we can go right to our hotel from about anywhere locally now. I leave Sharon off, and go back to the Holiday Inn Express we discovered last night. I know that THEY will have an internet connection. They do, all right, but only in the rooms. "If you had a room...", the girl at the desk keeps saying.

I try one more hotel, but it's the same as the Wheat Sheaf. Conference room in use and that's the only internet connection port in the entire hotel. I give up and head back to the hotel, then get stuck in the afternoon rush hour commute on the motorway, leaving London. I go the last mile to my exit in about thirty minutes.

Back to the hotel, the Tree Pipit is still singing from the same perch as this morning. Back to the room, and I use the time to type up another trip report. Sharon packs, watches TV and rests while I am on the computer. In no time, we're hungry again, and it's time for dinner.

Down in the dining room, we have salad and dessert as we're not all that hungry. Then back to the room for final packing and preparation for leaving tomorrow.

Bird Summary:
Life Birds: Today, 2. Tree Pipit, Stock Dove. For the Trip, 14.
Trip Birds: Today, 3. The lifers plus Nuthatch. For the Trip: 36.

Tuesday, April 10, 2001. Day 12 of 12. THAT'S A WRAP

6:00 and the alarm wakes us. We get up, do final packing, then decide not to have breakfast here, but rather eat at the airport. I drive the car up in front of reception and have to get one photo of our Ford Focus, with automatic transmission, but no cruise control (an American feature, I'm told).

We head out about 8:00 AM, and at first it's clear sailing. Then as we near the orbital exit for Heathrow, it slows a bit, but not nearly as bad as last night. We are into the airport, then we make our way to the rent-a-car return place, then the Hertz lot.

As I'm unloading, Sharon says, "Listen to that bird," and starts checking the grass around the actual runway, at the edge of the Hertz return lot. I am getting the bags ready to move to the return building, and we both go inside.

I had intended to fill up with gas before we got to the airport, but couldn't find a station nearby. So I have committed the unpardonable. They will charge me 1.64 pounds per liter. I think that's about $8 a gallon or something like that. The total charge is about $150 more than I thought it would be, and the girl explains that I turned down the option to pay for a full tank of gas at the outset, then I didn't have to worry about refilling upon my return. As it is, I have to pay for all the miles of the entire rental, even though I had filled the tank twice during the trip. Huh?

"You mean to tell me that if I rent a car, drive for two thousand miles, return the tank 90% full, that because it's not full, you are going to charge me for each of those two thousand miles?" "Yes," she says. I am flabbergasted.

Well, I'll make a long story short (about 20 minutes of my detailed questions to be sure I understood), I finally figured out that she didn't understand how things worked, or rather that's how SHE thought they worked. But it didn't. I simply paid 1.64 pounds per liter to fill the tank back up.

Then I remembered that I had a "one day free" voucher I had received from Hertz before our trip. I pulled it out. "Can I still use this?" She carefully read the details, and allowed it. This knocked about $35 more off the bill, and I was happy. No, that's not right, I understood.

When I go over to where Sharon's waiting, with our carry-on luggage, she says, "I can't believe you hung in there for so long. You just would not go away, till you understood. And neither one of you got mad." "We were both mad on the inside, but were both polite enough not to let it get in the way." "Come on, I want to show you this bird now," Sharon says.

There is a bird in Britain that is famous during nesting season, where the male flies about 40 or 50 feet up in the air, over a grassy field, presumably where the nest and his mate are, and sings and sings, hovering up there. This is what Sharon has found. We check it out and it's a great little SKYLARK. Sharon thinks it's a life bird, but we actually saw one in Hawaii a couple of Thanksgivings ago, where it had been introduced years before.

Ah, but this one is in its natural habitat, and we are tickled to watch and listen for a while. We finally let him go, and board the bus for Departures. "Did you leave your keys in the car?" the driver asks. "We saw this bird over above the airfield --," we say, but he interrupts us rather rudely, and repeats, "Did you leave your keys in the car?"

I can deal with people like this, so I say, "Yes," and he's happy. Happy that he didn't have to listen to one more stupid tourist who wants to tell him stories about what a great thing they did, rather than telling him what he has to hear before he can take off.

The fellow has a bruised left eye, and huge scabs on woulds above his eye and below. I figure he got into a fight with somebody he insulted. But he does his job and delivers us safely to Departures. "Have a good flight," he says. Maybe he wasn't rude at all. Maybe he was just British or something. I decide not to ask him for the reason for the bashed up face, so I collect our bags, put them in "traveling" mode, and enter the building.

"Travel mode," by the way is this. I wear a backpack, we both wear fanny packs, and that leaves four pieces of luggage. Two carry-ons and two check-ins. Both carry-ons have wheels, and I strap the little one (Sharon's) to the bigger one (mine). Then I withdraw the handle of mine, and pull the tandem suitcases along on their rollers. The cool thing is, that when I'm moving, the rear one's wheels are actually off the ground, and it is just riding sort of piggyback. This situation puts the center of gravity of the tandem right over the wheels, so the set moves along with almost no effort on my part.

Actually, Sharon pulls this one. This leaves the two check-ins.

There is one huge one (mine), with wheels, and the medium one (Sharon's) with none. I strap the medium one to the big one, and it just hangs down. But when I pull out the handle to the big one, and rotate the pair to traveling mode, again the center of gravity is right over the wheels. So I'm pulling probably 90 pounds, with almost no effort.

We get in the check-in line, check the two big ones and decide to have some dinner in an airport pub, if we can find one. We do (Wetherspoon's), and I try nachos with chili con carne. When I find something I like, I try to run it right into the ground. That's the test to see if it's really good or not, for me.

We nosh our way through our pub grub, and head on to our gate.

We take off, and immediately watch our first movie. Then I update a trip report. We have a meal in there somewhere, and watch another movie. I get up to go to the bathroom, and because we're flying west (with the sun), daylight sort of freezes in position. We are over Baffin Island, in Canada, and the view of the snow and ice below is captivating. I take about twenty photos, but when I get home, there are only one or two I like.

I turn around and look toward the front of the plane, and I'm struck by the vision of all these seats here in coach, with a little TV screen in the seatback in front of each. I walk forward, turn around and get a picture of Sharon, watching a movie.

My last photo from the plane is of the Canadian Rockies, and a nearby lake.

So into SFO we fly, land, and exit the plane. We go through Immigration, where are passports are stamped (San Francisco), and we move on to luggage pickup. Our two bags come through, then it's through Agriculture Control. We answer yes, we were near some farms. They collect our shoes and rubbers we used, and disinfect them (one part bleach to three parts water) for the potential foot-and-mouth disease virus. Called hoof-and-mouth in the U.S.

Then it's on to customs, where we report that we bought $600 worth of souvenirs. You can have up to $1400 I think before they start charging you import tax, so we breeze right through. Then to the shuttle bus stop, where I take my last picture of the trip. The front of the new San Francisco International Terminal. And then it's on to our car in long-term parking. We took a limo once from SFO to our house, and it cost $125, including the tip. So two round-trips would be $250. I figured we could beat that with long term parking for ten days or so. It was ten days, plus a fraction on the front, and a fraction on the back. But when they charge one MILLION dollars per hour (or whatever), you get to the maximum one-day's charge ($15) in no time at all.

So we paid 12 days times $15, or $180. Hey, it ain't so bad. We saved $70. But next time, I'll investigate "The Shuttle," a small bus that picks you up and drops you off. The bad news is that it picks others up too, so it's not a straight shot to the airport. The other option is to use an off-airport private parking facility, where I think the charge is about half.

Enough rambling. We had a great time, glad you were here.

THESE ARE A FEW OF OUR FAVORITE THINGS...

Sharon's top three coincide with my three. We differ only in the fourth position.

1. AMBERLEY CASTLE.
2. THE CROWN JEWELS, at TOWER OF LONDON
3. BIRDING IN HYDE PARK, FEEDING THE LITTLE TITS PEANUTS, BY HAND.
4. TRYING TO PICK POCKETS IN THE LONDON UNDERGROUND. HARDER THAN IT SOUNDS.

Sharon's fourth favorite, she says, was watching Nancy trip castle alarms via her curiosity. That's a GOOD thing.

And here's our Trip Bird List. Lifers are in UPPER CASE. "Photo available" is underlined. Somewhere back there, I added two extra life birds we didn't get. The table below shows only 12, not 14, my running count. I'll straighten this out later.

My favorites were Tufted Duck (beautiful, plus it was our Lifer #1000), Robin, Green Woodpecker, Great Crested Grebe (not a lifer, but wonderful mating displays) and Mandarin, in no particular order. Sharon's were Robin and Mandarin.

TripBirdNo.
Bird Name
Type
Date
LiferNo.
ReportNo.
6
Blackbird trip sat mar 31
1
21
Blackcap trip thu apr 5
5
7
Blue tit trip sat mar 31
1
22
Canada Goose trip thu apr 5
5
20
Chaffinch trip thu apr 5
5
11
Coal Tit trip sun apr 1
1
25
Collared Dove trip fri apr 6
6
14
Common Moorhen trip sun apr 1
1
4
Crow, Carrion trip sat mar 31
1
28
DUNNOCK lifer sat apr 7
7
7
10
Great Tit trip sun apr 1
1
15
Great Crested Grebe trip sun apr 1
1
12
Great Spotted Woodpecker trip sun apr 1
1
30
GREEN WOODPECKER lifer sat apr 7
9
7
19
Greenfinch trip thu apr 5
5
26
Jackdaw trip fri apr 6
6
18
Kestrel trip tue apr 3
3
16
Long-tailed Tit trip sun apr 1
1
5
Magpie trip sat mar 31
1
33
MANDARIN lifer sun apr 8
10
8
9
MISTLE THRUSH lifer sun apr 1
5
1
35
Nuthatch trip mon apr 9
9
24
Pied Wagtail trip fri apr 6
6
17
Raven trip tue apr 3
3
31
Ring-necked Pheasant trip sat apr 7
7
8
ROBIN lifer sun apr 1
4
1
32
Rook trip sat apr 7
7
3
SHOVELER lifer sat mar 31
3
1
37
Skylark trip mon apr 9
9
29
SONG THRUSH lifer sat apr 7
8
7
36
STOCK DOVE lifer mon apr 9
12
9
27
Swallow trip fri apr 6
6
34
TREE PIPIT lifer mon apr 9
11
9
23
TREECREEPER lifer thu apr 5
6
5
2
TUFTED DUCK (Lifer #1000) lifer sat mar 31
2
1
1
WOODPIGEON lifer sat mar 31
1
1
13
Wren trip sun apr 1
1

THAT'S THE END OF THE ENGLAND 2001 TRIP REPORTS. Hope you enjoyed 'em. Stay tuned for New Zealand, in the not-too-distant future (first report ETA within about a week, if internet connections are plentiful).

See 'ya, Mates (pronounced "Mites"),
The London Lutmans

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