UK 2002 SIX-WEEK LUTMAN MOTORHOME BIRDING TRIP

 

Monday, April 1, 2002. Week 1 Day 1. San Francisco to London. No Foolin'.

Map (shows Great Britain, our complete driving track, sleep locations and dates)

Birders: No birding today.

THE PICKUP

The limo driver (First Choice Limousine, recommended to us and we also recommend them) arrives at 7:23 am, compared with our request for an 8 am pickup. Love it when they're early, but we force ourselves to slow down in order not to forget some key item in a rush.

We say goodbye to daughter Shandra, son Jeff and kidlets Mikayla, Samantha and Sydney who are staying at our house to keep our kitten Coti company, and we're off.

Roger claims to be retired, having sold his restaurant and property in Monterey for 35 million (24 million pounds for those who want to jump to England already). He is driving the limo because his wife passed away about ten years ago, and the limo company owner, a friend of Roger's, asked if he would work for him.

Roger's tale reminds me of the annual Missouri Liars' Contest. A recent winner: "It was so cold in Kansas City last winter that someone saw a politician on a street corner with his hands in his own pockets." Not that I'm accusing Roger of spinning tales. I am just SAYING...

But Roger is very interesting (he had also been in the Air Force before that -- a crew chief for a big plane that flew a general around, and had been around the world eleven times) so we chat most of the way to the airport. Now as you know, nothing is stranger than the truth, so maybe his stories are all true. I decided to believe them.

CHECK-IN

He delivers us safely at 9am for our 1235 am flight, and we get a cart for our:

a) three check-in bags (one for me, one for Sharon and one for the souvenirs we will surely bring back, like death and taxes),
b) two carry-ons, plus
c) my backpack (you get one "personal item"), and this all clears ok at check-in.

This doesn't count the fanny packs we are both wearing. One appealing thing about our United Airlines flight is that each carry-on can be up to 50 pounds, a real benefit for me.

SECURITY SCREENING

The line is fairly long, but moves nicely, and we soon are rid of our three check-in bags. We next head for security checks. My carry-on is loaded with electronic gear, which is segregated into individual clear baggies, each one labeled for this very occasion. Sharon is ahead of me and clears straight through. I divide my jacket, watch, backpack, fanny-pack, vest, coins etc. into three of the plastic boxes provided, and following orders on posted signs, get out my laptop and put it into a fourth box. I feed all these into the xray machine moving belt.

I pass through the metal detector, setting it off with my metal zippers. Then I am given a thorough wand search, then a patdown, then a shoes-off check. Next a friendly African-American lady calls me over, where we proceed to take out every single electronic gadget I have. She swipes each one for bomb ingredients (include opening each one, and swiping the batteries too), and after about 20 minutes, I am cleared. I thank her for doing her job a couple of times, which she seems to appreciate. During this time, Sharon is sitting down on a bench waiting, and twice a guard comes up to her and asks her to move on down to the gate. She explains what she's doing, and they leave her alone.

COMPUTERS? WE DON'T NEED NO STINKING COMPUTERS. ER...

Sharon and I head off for the gate and after about 50 yards, I realize that my computer is not in my backpack. "They didn't give me back my laptop," I yell to Sharon as I race back up, thinking of the bad start this would be if I lose it. Sharon had heard them asking other people if a laptop was theirs, but she assumed it was somebody else's.

Anyway, the fellow asks "What kind was it?" and I say Macintosh. He pulls it out, and writes down my driver's license number, passport number, where I came from, my political party, Mom's maiden name, the winner of the Super Bowl, and has me turn it on and off. Then he gives me the ok to go.

The problem is: as I leave, I can't get it to shut down. I take another five minutes fiddling with it, and can only turn it off by pulling out the two batteries powering the laptop. I go find Sharon, and we finally head down to the gate. I call Jim Abell of Accurate Mac Services, and after describing the symptoms, he suggests the probable problem, which turns out to be right on. So I get it to shut off properly.

ON THE PLANE

At 105 pm, we are sitting in seats 35 F and G, in our Boeing 777 (called seven-triple-seven by one employee and later Boeing-triple-seven by another.) Sharon's dad Ed Caraway showed me a thirty minute tape of the story of the 777 a few weeks ago. Pretty cool. The pilot can push a button after he is on the runway, and the plane will do an automatic takeoff. It will even fly to the destination and land itself. Unbelievable. And I think my GPS is high tech.

[Sharon writes this paragraph and all paragraphs that are in square brackets: I meet a friend, Jill, who is one of the flight attendants. We don't see her much, but she brings me a first class flight bag part way through the flight. Small world].

It's 6pm Monday night in San Jose, and we've gone east, well into Canada, just having crossed Hudson Bay.

I watched Ocean's Eleven and Sharon watched Gosford Park. There are four movies to watch if you care to. Each of us has a little TV screen embedded in the back of the seat in front of us.

 

Tuesday, April 2, 2002. Week 1 Day 2. End of Flight, London to Banbury, near Oxford (NW of London)

Map

Birders: Birding starts today.

I have just changed my watch. Instead of saying 613 pm Monday evening, it says 313 am, Tuesday morning. England has just changed to Daylight time, but the U.S. won't change till next weekend. So for now it's 9 hours difference; after next weekend, it'll be 8 hours difference.

It's now 5 hours and 17 minutes to our destination, with an ETA of 830 am, London time. One of the things you can do with the selector of your TV screen is to choose "Map." I do this and learn that we're over Legrande, Canada, northwest of Quebec. We are doing 570 mph, but can somehow detect a tailwind of 14 mph. "How do dey do dat?" as Johnny Carson used to say. Sharon wets her finger, holds it up in the air and grins.

We get perhaps 2-3 hours sleep each during the night. At 828 am, Sharon holds her hand out in the reading light beam and says these are perfect lights when you have diamond rings. I hold my hand out in the lights and see that I should clean my fingernails.

We over-circle London, waiting our turn, and pass over Windsor. Sharon and our friend Nancy Burlingame visited Windsor Castle last spring, but this year, the Queen Mum will be buried there in a few days, having lived to be 101.

ON THE GROUND

943 am and we have landed, picked up our luggage and changed 200 dollars for 128 pounds or so. One pound equals just about $1.55, so when we see a price in pounds, we just increase it by half to get the price in dollars [Bob does anyway, I just hold out my hand with money in it and they take what they want].

I am very relaxed because there should be a fellow holding up a sign with our name on it who will whisk us away from the airport.

TAXI TO THE MOTORHOME PICKUP LOCATION

A big burly fellow flashes a sign with our name as we exit into the main lobby. His name tag says Kenneth, and he says something in Londonese which is either "I'm Nick and I'll go down to pay the parking fee, then we can go," or "I'll nip down to pay the parking fee..." Anyway, he disappears a few seconds, comes back, says some gadget is broken and he'll have to pay outside, so off we go to his van.

It'll cost 65 pounds from the airport to Elite Motorhomes outside of Banbury to the northwest (half of 65 is about 33 so add 33 to 65, and you get 98 dollars. Plus I tip him 5 pounds, even though the Elite Motorhomes fellow told me to tip him a couple of quid. A quid is to a pound what a buck is to a dollar, you see).

As we get to the car, we introduce ourselves to him, and learn that he did say that he was Nick. Seems that's his nickname, if you get my drift. We head out and learn that Nick has a nice family, and his daughter and grandchild both ride jumping horses. He tells Sharon a lot more about this activity, but I watch for birds, since I can hardly understand his accent.

TRAVELING BIRDS

Our first British bird this trip was a (drum roll) common PIGEON. We're on the M40 motorway and Sharon and I notice an Asda store. Walmart spent some of their cash to buy into the British grocery store market by buying part of the third largest chain of such stores there. Tesco is number one, Sainsbury number two, and Asda number three. But Asda's attention to the customer and low prices best matched Walmart's, and that's who they bought. I think I heard that Asda is about to overtake Sainsbury's. The Asda building looks like we're at a university.

Driving on, we see lots of sheep in the meadows beside the motorway, and a large number of lambs. There are ROOKS in about half the sheep meadows.

The huge WOODPIGEONS remind us of the Band-tail Pigeons of California. Sharon sees several PHEASANTS in the fields and then I notice some too. MALLARDS are in all the ponds and pools. We also notice several MAGPIES, and these are the same species as the Black-billed Magpies of the U.S. (More on this later, having to do with a recent split that makes them different species, but we don't count this as a new life species, since we saw them last year).

OUR MOTORHOME

We arrive at Elite Motorhomes at 11 am, and meet the fellow I've talked with on the phone and swapped emails with for about two years. Mark is balding, about 35 and very friendly. We do all the paperwork, renting the 6-berth motorhome for a little over a $100 a day. We understand that it uses diesel fuel, which is about 75.9 pence per liter. A pence is one hundredth of a pound. That works out to about $5.00 per gallon. The good news is that it should get about 25-30 miles per gallon.

The motorhome looks like a truck in front, with two individual seats. You get up and walk back between the seats to get to the living area. There is a full bed above the seats, but we use it to store two pieces of luggage which have my clothes in one and my electronics in the other. We also keep our scope up there. Directly behind the seat on the left (passenger side) is a closet above the central heating unit. Across from it, on the right behind the driver, is the dining table with bench seats. This makes into a bed for a couple a wee ones if desired. Across from the dinette unit, behind the closet is an exit door, with a screen so you can open the door, but keep bugs out. Further back from this door is the kitchen area, with a four-burner stove, grill, oven, fridge and freezer, sink, microwave, and cupboard storage space. Across from the kitchen unit, and behind the dinette is the bathroom. Then in the very back of the unit is a large wrap-around couch and a table, but this all converts into a double bed at night. Sharon makes this into a bed, which we will leave in that configuration for the entire six weeks.

The bad news (good, if you want to talk about fuel costs) is that it's a manual transmission, but there's no way around this fact. Mark gives us a tour of the vehicle, including how everything works [which as you will hear, we promptly forget] and a written version of everything he shows us.

The last item we get from Mark is the use of a cell phone for the six weeks, for 20 pounds ($30). We also buy a $15 dollar "top-up" card, which I use to call a number, give them the serial number, and Bob's-Your-Uncle, we've got $15 dollars loaded into our cell phone.

We load up our luggage and take off for a Tesco's market we saw on the way here to stock up with supplies.

FILL 'ER UP

We make our way back to Banbury, and after filling our shopping cart and making our way to the checkout, I put the 94 pounds on my Master Card. Love that little plastic thang on these trips so I don't have to handle so much cash exchange.

THE BEST-LAID PLANS...

I had us picking up our motorhome, and spending the first night on the south coast, but I didn't realize that we would be an hour and a half northwest of London at 4 o'clock in the afternoon. We immediately start adjusting our plans, and Sharon notices that the village of Burford is not too far away. Her mom Gretchen's maiden name was Burford, and Sharon just has to visit this burg.

We decide to find a nearby caravan park, then visit Burford tomorrow, and head for the south coast after that. That'll put us one day behind our original schedule, but by seeing Burford now, we'll get the day back when we pass near this area in a couple of weeks on the way north, when we WON'T make this stop then (the original plan). As they say in Sharon's yoga class, you gotta be flexible.

FIRST NIGHT IN ENGLAND

We find Barnstone's Caravan Park, near Great Bourton, about 4 miles from the Banbury Tesco. I back into the level site, hook up electricity, and we see that the TV reception is good. As we are moving about, we see a MISTLE THRUSH whose beak is stuffed with worms. A little later, Sharon follows the bird to a nest, where another adult is sharing the feeding responsibilities. One of the birds nestles (Nestles? Look at the first four letters of that word.) down to keep the babies warm in the cool windy evening.

In the laundry room, I find a business card for a foam store in Chipping Norton, and I hope that they have that egg crate foam that's so comfortable when you put it between a hard mattress and the bottom sheet. By about 5:30 pm, we have unpacked, put away our things and I'm eating a ham sandwich.

We decide to take a bird walk, so out the door we go. There's plenty of light, as they just went to daylight savings time. We hear the pddddd rattle of the GREENFINCH, then hear and see a HOUSE SPARROW. In Missouri, we called them English Sparrows, but guess what. They imported them here from central Africa a long time ago. So they are originally an African bird.

We pick up our first English ROBIN on the ground, which quickly flies from the camp play yard to a trash dumpster. A female CHAFFINCH bounces around on the perimeter of the camp. We start walking toward the village and get a COLLARED DOVE on the chimney of the house by the camp. Then we see a pair of BLACKBIRDS.

"BLACKBIRDS SINGING IN THE DEAD OF NIGHT..." sang the Beatles. This fact will help us to identify a night singer later. "Four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie..." is referring to English Blackbirds, not American ones. American Red-winged and other Blackbirds are apparently not very tasty, according to old information I've read. An English Blackbird is all black, but for a yellow beak. It bounces around on the ground, digging up worms exactly like the American Robin, and is about the same size.

A pair of JACKDAWS sits on top of a house, one on the chimney and the other on a TV antenna. We walk down a small hill, and come to a little church next to the Bell Inn, where they sell Hook Norton ale, established in 1849. Don't know whether that's the ale or the inn. About half the houses are built from yellow stone, which Sharon says is the common building component of Cotswald houses.

We turn around, and head back. I hear the "clop clop clop" of a horse, turn and watch an exercise rider trot past us, right in the village street!

By 8:00 pm, it is finally getting dark. We are pooped and climb into our bed, which soon is warm and toasty. We are bushed and drop off to sleep easily. I wake up during the night and then slide back into sleep, to a gentle rain falling on the roof.

FACTOID OF THE DAY: In the UK, caravan means trailer, usually pulled by a car. This is a very common method of vacationing here.

SLEEPING IN: Barnstone's Caravan Park, near Banbury, Oxfordshire, England.

LIFE BIRDS (Never seen or heard by us before): none

TRIP BIRDS (First time for trip, but already on our life list): Rock Dove (Common Pigeon), Rook, Woodpigeon, Pheasant, Mallard, Magpie, Mistle Thrush (two adults feeding young), Greenfinch, House Sparrow, (English) Robin, Chaffinch, Collared Dove, Blackbird, Jackdaw.

Today's Total: 14
Trip Total: 14

 

Wednesday, April 3, 2002. Week 1 Day 3. To the South Coast

Map

BREAKING THE FAST

I'm having corn flakes for breakfast as Sharon stares at her newly opened cottage cheese container. Yesterday she read the top of the containers till she found a plain one, but she sees bits of cucumber and chives. There on the side of the carton is the ugly truth in labeling. Into the trash it goes. She has some cereal too, and we both top it with blueberries from South Africa.

The weather is much like yesterday, with the sun trying to peek through. Although we slept with no heat, I turned on the heater this morning. It's cozy as we eat. Later, Greenfinches and a Woodpigeon fly away as we make our way out.

ON THE ROAD

We take the A361 to Chipping Norton, and stop in town, looking for a post office for stamps and a store which might sell us the egg crate foam pad. We ask if there's a Tesco in Chipping Norton, but the postmistress says no. Then I show her the business card (I took from the laundry room at last night's camp) for the foam shop and she gives us directions to get there. Sharon buys some 40p (post cards to the U.S.) stamps and we are out of the post office.

We stop by our camper for a couple of a seconds, and a lady comes up to us, saying, "Are you still 'avin' trouble?" I guess that she must have been in the post office, and we didn't notice her. She repeats the postmistress's directions, then whips out a post card of a long stone building with six doors in the front, sort of like a row of townhouses or condominiums under one roof, or in one building. "You should come an' see my 'ouse," she says, "Me friends and I own four of them," meaning doors, not buildings.

We chat a little more and start to get into the motorhome, which is parked on a slight left-to-right tilt. "Did you know you're leakin'?" says another lady, pointing to the side of the motorhome. I look and it's the fresh water fill point. The tank is so full that because we're tilted to the side, some's running out. I explain this, and she nods and walks on. "Thank you," I yell to her, not quite ready yet to toss in a "Love," at the end.

We find the foam place, in an industrial park, at the bottom of a hill, next to some woods. The sign says 8 am to 4 pm, it's 952 am, but nobody's home. "Where the heck are they?" I ask Sharon, foamin' at the mouth. We hear a sharp call from the woods, perhaps a Nightingale, but not sure. Sharon earlier saw some kind of woodpecker, and then we both see two beautiful LONG-TAILED TITS. Wonderful pink tint to this black and mostly white bird.

BURFORD

It's 11 am and we're sitting in the Golden Pheasant Hotel and Restaurant in Burford.

We've borrowed the phone book for Oxfordshire, but there are no Burfords listed in Burford. An S. Burford lives in Banbury and works as a piano tuner. I'm so caught up in trying to find a Burford, I forget to look for any Lutmans or Hiltys (Hilty was Mom's maiden name). Sharon has some tea and writes some postcards, while I go back to the motorhome for my Palm III to retrieve address and zip code information.

We then walk up the hill, which we later learn is Lime Hill (named for the lime trees, though they don't produce limes), to take a couple of pictures back down into the village.

On the way up, we passed an art gallery with some prints of Burford, and now we stop in and buy one. It is of The Tolsey, a building whose name meant town square or town market [Tolsey because it is where they collect the "tolls" for those selling on market day]. It is a museum now and has a nice flag flying over it, half mast as are all the flags in Britain right now.

Burford is a wonderful little village, and I wish Sharon's mom Gretchen and sister Jeane could be here with us. We walk on to a magnificent church [that was built, of course, in the 1100's. We go to look for Burfords buried in the cemetery. In the church we find a beautiful brass plaque in the memory of Lord Percy, first Earl of Burford so I claim him as my relative. Luckily, they don't have any records of the Burfords that were run out of town. After, we walk across the bridge that the "ford" refers to, must be the river "Bur" as that is how they name the towns here (Lynton at the river Lyn, Exeter at the river Exe)].

We have lunch, stop in for some more souvenirs (toldja), take some photos of a famous person wandering around in Burford, on the bridge,

load up and take off, crossing the Oxford Canal soon after that. We see one of the narrow canal boats tied up along the way.

BIRDING THE COMMONS

Sharon soon spots some CANADA GEESE in a field, and by about 330 pm, we are at our first official birding site: the Great Pond, near Frensham Commons. We're hoping for Dartford Warbler, but get only a trio of BLUE TITS working their way through some pine trees. Then Sharon squeaks in a WREN, called Winter Wren in America, and a red squirrel is thrown into the bargain. We get COOTS on the lake, a MUTE SWAN and some TUFTED DUCKS across the water. But no Dartfords.

We move on to Thursley Commons just a few miles away, another place for Dartford Warblers.

Gorse is a shrub or bush, with pretty yellow flowers and nasty stickers or thorns which pretty much don't want to let you walk through them. The "car park" will barely hold two vehicles beside the road, and I move the motorhome twice before I get it far enough off the road to where I can relax.

We move about 100 yards into the gorse and listen for the buzzy song of the Dartford. No such music. I play our mini CD of the target bird and sharp-eared Sharon says, "That's him! Listen!" I tune my ears, and after a couple of repeats I lock on too. He's quite a distance away, so we repeat the song. He is moving closer.

We move a little and I keep replaying it. He is definitely headed this way. I move out a little further into the stickers. Suddenly he must be just on the back side of a nearby bush. I duck, so to speak, down low and play it again. I can hear him even closer. I slowly raise up and catch the contrasting dark grey back and tail and dark wine colored underparts, then drop back down so I don't scare him. "Sharon," I whisper loudly, "I got him." She makes her way over, and we slowly raise up again, but he's moved.

We maneuver around like a chess match and Sharon gets only quick views, but together with his song, we can claim this DARTFORD WARBLER*, our first life bird of the trip. My "Birds of Europe" book says "In Britain confined to gorse heathlands in extreme S England."

We high five and head back to the road, hop into the motorhome, and continue south towards Pagham, near our next birding stop. We finally pull into the Sea View Leisure Center (or something like that) Caravan Park, and the three stooges check us in. But the laugh is on us because they charge us 18 pounds to stay there. That's about 27 dollars, and a definite ripoff, but we're too tired to argue, and I pay up.

They say, "Just park on the roadway," but we're not sure what that means, so they lead us to our site. It has recently rained, the ground is a little soft in spots, and they say that there won't be that many vehicles moving around and just to park on the road! I can't do that and still sleep, so I get out and test the grassy parking area. They get out of their car and agree that I can park here, so we do, right next to a big lake.

We set up, have dinner and it's off to bed for us two tired little babies. Oh I almost forgot. We saw a great little red fox today, but I don't recall where or when right now.

FACTOID OF THE DAY: In the UK, nobody says they're on vacation. Instead, they're on holiday. For example, they might say to Sharon and me, "Are you on holiday here in the UK?" Not 'a holiday', just holiday. Or "Are you enjoying your holiday?" And I might say in my newly-dubbed lovely Missouri accent (details in next report), "Uh-huh."

SLEEPING IN: Sea View Leisure Center, Pagham, near Chicester, West Sussex County, England

LIFE BIRDS (Never seen or heard by us before): Dartford Warbler
Today's Total: 1
Trip Total: 1

TRIP BIRDS (First time for trip, but already on our life list): Lifer plus Long-tailed Tit, Canada Goose, Blue Tit, Wren, Coot, Mute Swan, Tufted Duck
Today's Total: 8
Trip Total: 22

To Next Report (No. 2)
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