UK 2002 SIX-WEEK LUTMAN MOTORHOME BIRDING TRIP

 

Thursday, April 4, 2002. Week 1 Day 4. Birding Church Norton. The New Forest.

Map

I can't believe it's already Thursday. We woke up a little after six. It is lightening up now, and there is a nice moon shining in a clear sky. Sharon gets us an orange juice to split during our drive to Pagham Harbor, or more specifically to Church Norton, and we'll have our breakfast after that.

THE DANG WATER PUMP

Last night the water pump stopped working. I called RDH, the seller of the motorhome at 7 pm, expecting a recording, but got a technically competent person. He had me try several things, but none worked. He said to call Elite Motorhomes tomorrow morning, then to take it to a caravan repair center tomorrow and see what they could come up with. I thanked him, and hung up wondering what could cause this. Then in the middle of the night, when I got up, it was ok again. What's going on?

BIRDING THE CAMP

As we get ready to pull off of the pitch, Sharon sees a bird that looks like a Coot, but it has two wing stripes and red on the forehead and beak. This makes it a MOORHEN.

Pitch, in motorhome parlance, means the specific area where you park for the night. It may be grass or gravel or pavement. I suspect it may be tied to an old meaning of the phrase "pitch your tent."

We decide to bird some more before we leave, and we come upon a swan on her nest, with her neck laid down on her body. As we approach, she lifts her head up, and I become juberous (Dad's favorite word for dubious), because I know that swans can be mean and attack you. Another expression of Dad's was "Well I'll swan," or "I'll swan to goodness." I would equally use the expression, "Well I'll be."

We find a lake full of Mute Swans, a Greenfinch doing his rattle, and a nice GREAT TIT, with his wide stripe down his throat, chest and belly. [We also see a pair of GREAT CRESTED GREBES doing their mating dance in the water, which consists of posing and nodding their heads at one another with their head plumes extended. Quite pretty.]

We finally take off in the motorhome, but have to stop to look at a nice pair of PIED WAGTAILS. They pop their tails up and down and are great black-and-white colored, as you might guess. Then I pull over and get out. I see a very unusual goose, and get Sharon on it too. "I think it's an Egyptian Goose," I say with not too much confidence. We look it up in one book, but it has no picture. I check another book and there it is. EGYPTIAN GOOSE*.

As we are looking, a pair of GREYLAG GEESE* fly directly overhead, having taken off from just behond the Egyptian. We are not sure about whether to count either bird, but a later conversation with a birder guide convinces us that we should.

CHURCH NORTON, NEAR PAGHAM HARBOR

0823 and we are at Church Norton. Sharon spots a KESTREL on the ground, having trapped something in its claws. A Robin sings from high in a tree. Great musical song.

We follow the path down to the mudflats and get OYSTERCATCHERS, lots of them. We turn right, headed for the English Channel, but first there is a meadow full of birds on our right. Our attention is diverted to a pair of birds in a tree, which we at first think are Redpolls, but later we decide that they are LINNETS* -- another lifer for us!

But back to the meadow. We can see Shelducks, more Oystercatchers, a Lapwing and a shorebird with a long smoothly curved beak. It's a CURLEW*, and is a lifer for us. We continue and a pair of wrens sing their bit, in the hedges bordering the field.

We finally make it up to the dike holding out the English Channel, and walk to our left, up to a fenced off section which basically says birds are nesting here, do not go into the area. We are stopped, so we check out all the birds we see. The sign named one bird breeding here, and we need it. Sharon is first, "I've got a RINGED PLOVER*." After a little more direction, I get on it too. Nice little bird. Then we see two more.

A man comes out where we are with a clipboard, and we learn that he is here to record all the nests in the area on a map of the fenced breeding site. Then in a week he'll do it again and see what's changed. He points out BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER and REDSHANK, and we have already seen BLACK-HEADED GULL, which he points out too.

As we are talking, another man walks past us with a tripod and binoculars, and looks like he's going to walk right into the fenced breeding area. "Where do you think YOU'RE going?" the counter asks the man, as he moves to block him. The fellow claims he was going to stop here, but he was walking awfully fast for a man about to stop. Anyway, they talk a little and we head back to the motorhome.

A-RING-GO

On the way, we stop several times long enough for the fast walking birder to catch up with us. "What have you seen?" I ask him. He lists all the birds which we've seen, but then he says, "A-ring-go." I ask him to repeat it and I get exactly the same word. I puzzle, and he says it again, and I finally get it. Herring Gull.

The last bird we get is a nice little DUNNOCK on the ground, in the path back up to the car park. By 10:30 we have had breakfast and talked with a fellow who had been out to the dike, but turned right instead of left. He says turn right at that point, go past two reed beds and into some woods. He saw a Firecrest and a Hoopoe, and heard a Cetti's Warbler near one of the reed beds. This is too good to pass up. We have to go out again, so we load up our gear and take off.

CHURCH NORTON REVISITED

There's something sort of depressing to me about walking a mile or so that you just walked a couple of hours before, in search of a bird. But we make it out there and bump into two birders we saw in the parking lot. They give us more fine-tuned directions than the breakfast birder. We follow them around a little, and they have great ears. "BLACKCAP," one whispers, as we are treated to a beautiful song. We find the bird and watch and listen for a while. One of the guys thought he heard a Goldcrest or Firecrest, but hasn't heard the song since we first walked into the woods. "GREEN WOODPECKER," one of the fellows points out as it flies over us.

As we wait, Sharon gets bored and thinks, "I might as well have a look around while we're waiting for these guys to hear the bird." She scans around, and after a bit calls me over. "Bob, I've got some kind of warbler here." She directs me to the bird and I get on him. He's got a needle for a beak. Sharon can see black and white stripes on the head.

The two fellows see us and come over. "There's your FIRECREST*, Dead on!" says the first man.

"Crackin' good bird," says the other. We watch him work a little, and it's a nice treat.

We separate from the pair of birders, go back to the car park, and aren't quite sure if we hear a Cetti's Warbler on the way or not so we don't count it. We go back a different way, in what I was told is the same distance, through some fields, past a couple of farm houses, but I think this must be 50% longer. It wipes us out making the long walk back to the car park. However, we do get a CHIFFCHAFF on the way.

We pull out of the parking lot and it's a little before 1 pm. After we get to the main road, Sharon spots 6-8 baby Mallards following their mom.

DIESEL FITTER

Our fuel tank is 1/4 full, so I stop to fill up. I get 47.29 liters of diesel at 75.9 pence per liter. All of this works out to about 26 miles per gallon, and 3/4 of a tank for $54. About $5.00 a gallon. Another way of looking at it, for me, is that this costs about 20 cents American per mile, while pulling our fifth wheel with our pickup, getting 10 mpg, costs us about 15 cents per mile in California.

I calculate that to travel in this rig here vs. traveling with our pickup and trailer in America costs about 41% more, on a per-mile fuel basis. If you think there's too much math here, Sharon would agree and has a book at home that's titled "To Engineer is Human." [I'm also reading "A Beautiful Mind" on this trip which is filled with much mathematics.]

As I go into the office to fork over the Master Card, the lady says to me with a big smile, "Hello, me lovely, is that you on number 8?" I say, "Is that 35.90?" Then the other lady says, "That's a lovely accent." I say, "Hers?" She laughs and they both say, "No, yours." Gosh.

Then I decide that's what they say just before they charge you 54 dollars for 3/4 of a tank. Well, I have to admit, it doesn't hurt QUITE as much.

We head out and west, crossing into Hampshire County. [Brochure: This is Jane Austen country. In the 19th century, she wrote of Hampshire's middle-class inhabitants all doggedly convinced that this was the greatest place on earth.]

We continue on and into Dorset county. This is ... [Brochure: Thomas Hardy country, who immortalized the town of Dorchester in The Mayor of Casterbridge. Mainly a land of farms and pastures, Dorset butter is served at many an afternoon tea.]

THE NEW FOREST

We drive on and make it to the New Forest about 2 pm. We are so pooped when we get here that we abandon our birding plans but keep the one where I want to see England's tallest tree. Guess what it is. If you said Redwood, you'd be right.

There is a pair of them standing high and mighty. They were brought over about 1860 or so by an English naturalist by the name of David Douglas. In fact, our Douglas Fir is named after him. He brought back lots of plants from America to England. A remarkable footnote is that at age 33, he met his end in Hawaii when he fell into a bull pit and was gored to death. And that's no...

On the Tall Trees Trail, we meet a ranger cleaning up the individual tree markers or signs. We talk a little with him, and by his accent, I can tell he's from Australia. We talk about birds and holidays a little before we move on. [Brochure: The New Forest, 145 square miles of heath and woodland, was preserved by William the Conqueror as a private hunting ground after the Battle of Hastings in 1079. Once commoners could have their eyes put out for startling a deer.]

Being commoners and not sure of the status of this law, we luckily don't see any deer. There are also a couple of thousand wild horses and ponies running around here, and Sharon saw people feeding two of them at a picnic area..

We have a couple of ice cream cones, then hop into the motorhome and are off again. We're hoping to get to Dorcester tonight.

THE SHIFTY GEAR SHIFT

The manual gear shift rises out of the lower part of the dash board, and you operate it with your left hand, of course, here in the UK. It has five gears forward, and one in reverse. To reach reverse, you put your fingers around a flange below the gearshift knob, pull it upwards against an internal spring while grasping the knob itself. You are sort of squeezing. Then you move the shift far left as possible, then forward and you are in reverse. [This is a new design this year we were told by Mark who rented us the rig.]

So here we are driving around a roundabout when the knob gives up its hold, the spring pops the knob off and goes flying backwards in the cab. "What was that?" I say. Sharon retrieves the knob and I press it onto the gear shift lever. All of this while going around the roundabout, picking the right exit, making it, and shifting seconds after Sharon gets me the knob and I get it back on.

I pull over at the first opportunity, looking for whatever made the other noise, and I find the spring on the floor. I am not quite sure if the spring is needed, but decide it's associated with going into reverse, so we keep going. A little later, we have pulled off to study the map, and I try to go into reverse. This time, the entire leather piece covering the greasy lower part of the gear shift comes up and off, in addition to the knob. Sharon (honest) says, "Don't do THAT."

She thought I pulled it off out of anger or frustration, but that would be wrong. Momma never said there'd be days like this.

I set that aside too, put the knob back on, and we take off again, this time with me pushing down on the knob most of the time for fear that it'll pop off again

639 pm and Sharon just executed Reason Number 7 for having a cell phone in England. She called our potential camping site for tonight and got exact directions as we were driving, so we made it there with minimum fuss and I think only one wrong turn on the way.

As we get in, the water pump doesn't work again. I sit down on the dinette seat and sink about 4 inches. I look underneath the cushion and see that the supporting slats aren't long enough to span the gap and one end can easily drop down from road vibration or what have you. Sharon tries the TV, but it isn't getting any reception, and we don't know what's up with that right now.

Sharon says to me, she says, "I can't do this for six weeks." I say I don't think I can do it for two days.

FACTOID OF THE DAY: Except for the birding, we're not having a very good day.

SLEEPING IN: Warmwell Holiday Park, Moreton, near Dorchester, Dorset County, southern England.

LIFE BIRDS (Never seen or heard by us before): Egyptian Goose (an official breeding bird here now), Greylag Goose, Curlew, Ringed Plover, Linnet and Firecrest
Today's Total: 6
Trip Total: 7

TRIP BIRDS (First time for trip, but already on our life list): 6 lifers plus Moorhen, Great Tit, Pied Wagtail, Kestrel, Oystercatcher, Shelduck, Cormorant, Lapwing, Skylark, Black-bellied Plover (Grey Plover by name over here), Redshank, Black-headed Gull, Dunnock, Blackcap, Green Woodpecker, Chiffchaff
Today's Total: 20
Trip Total: 42

 

Friday, April 5, 2002. Week 1 Day 5. Birding Radipole and Portland Bill.

Map

WATER ANYONE?

It's Friday morning, 826 am and the water pump works fine. You heard me.

We get on the phone and call a Fiat repair shop in Dorchester. He says come on in and they'll look at the gear shift. We make our way in and Malcolm, the service manager, who happens to be going to North Carolina in a few weeks on holiday, studies the pieces and puts them all back together properly. I say to him, I say, "Do you think it's broken and needs to be fixed, or do you think there's nothing broken, and it's just a design problem?" He says sort of tongue-in-cheek, "It wouldn't be the first time I heard 'design problem' and 'Fiat' in the same sentence."

He doesn't have this gearshift knob here, would have to order it, but we both figure it might be ok now.

Sharon has called for local AA information and knows there's a meeting in Dorchester tonight, so we drive around a little and locate the site, then head off for today's birding.

BIRDING RADIPOLE

We make our way to a reedy lake called Radipole, on the edge of the city of Weymouth. It is operated by the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds), of which we are paid-up members.

We meet a couple in the parking lot who've been into the reeds on the boardwalk once and the man just can't wait to tell us what he's seen. And we can't wait to hear him tell us. He's tremendously excitable and it's clear that I couldn't be around this guy for very long. But for now, he has good information for us.

We go out on the path and while waiting to see one bird he's mentioned, up pops a beautiful REED BUNTING*. He perches on the top of an eight-foot tree and sings away for about a minute. Great, great view. We can hear the other bird, but haven't seen it yet. There are groups of trees spread around the reeds, near the boardwalk, and warblers and other migrants might be in them. We hear the easy-to-hear-hard-to-see CETTI'S WARBLER*, and by being patient, we get a decent look at two or three. Great little brown bird with a powerhouse song. BEARDED TITS* are present here, and on the way walking in, we each heard their "ping" call, though to me they sounded like "pink." Definite Bearded Tit calls. But this time of year, they just hardly ever pop up to be seen.

As we leave, we see this Mute Swan in the lake, imitating a ballerina in Swan Lake.

 

PORTLAND BILL

We leave Radipole and make our way out onto Portland Bill (a projection of rocky land into the English Channel) and into the carpark.

While I'm climbing out of the motorhome, a little kid comes up holding a two-pound coin. " 'ave you go' two one-pound coins for this two-pound one?" I can only find one and tell him sorry, but I have only one. "That'll be all roit," he says, as he thrusts the two-pound coin towards me, but then his dad calls him back. They're after change for the car park ticket machine.

There is a large defense complex here, with birding trails all around it, right on the edge of a cliff. The sky is blue, the temperature cool, and there is a great wind going on. After a muffled announcement from a big speaker attached to the side of the lighthouse, said lighthouse begins tooting every thirty seconds or so. We talk with a couple of birders about which birds are around, then head off for the cliffs, through meadows.

We can see and hear the buzzy SKYLARKS, but there is another bird here that flies up into the air then settles down and sings. There are at least three MEADOW PIPITS*, and they are fun to watch. They are going tsee tsee tsee, not bzzz.

We see CORMORANTS and HERRING GULLS, and spend a little time looking out to the water. We get a couple of nice FULMARS gliding down close to the water. We make our way back to the car park to have lunch out of the wind, and Sharon spots a SWALLOW and quotes me some Shakespeare (perhaps), "One swallow doth not a summer make." I've never heard that before, and I counter with, "f = ma and you can't push on a rope," the guiding precepts of any good engineer.

We go over to the old, original lighthouse

and bird there a bit, getting a couple of Linnets and many Greenfinches. We give up birding for the day and head back to camp so I can work on birding plans and Sharon can take a rest.

We eat early, then take off about 7:15 for Dorchester and Sharon's meeting. There is a beautiful low sun, perhaps 5 degrees off the horizon, with an incredible pink-orange color. Perfectly round. Perfectly gorgeous.

We make it there straight away and park in the car park. I work on the computer while Sharon reads till a few minutes before 8, at which time she leaves the motorhome for the rear of the Social Services Center of Dorchester. I continue on the computer and after a bit am aware of a tick tick tick. I realize it's coming from the refrigerator and is the sound you hear when you click the refrigerator power source to propane. It's the starting clicker that lights the propane and is waiting for you to press a button to get the propane going. And I suddenly know that the first of our two propane tanks is empty.

GIVIN' ME GAS

I figure out how to switch to the second one, come back in, and the refrigerator starts up fine. I just love to learn new things. Anyway, in no time Sharon's back.

We drive home in the dark and it's a great feeling, to know where you're going in the dark in a foreign country. We arrive back at our camp and set up on our pitch. And we hit the old hay, happily tired from the day, though it's that good kind of tired.

FACTOID OF THE DAY: Motorhome drivers here almost always wave to each other when they meet.

SLEEPING IN: Warmwell Holiday Park (second night), Moreton, near Dorchester, Dorset County, southern England.

LIFE BIRDS (Never seen or heard by us before): Cetti's Warbler, Bearded Tit (heard only), Reed Bunting, Meadow Pipit.
Today's Total: 4
Trip Total: 11

TRIP BIRDS (First time for trip, but already on our life list): 4 life birds plus Fulmar, Swallow.
Today's Total: 6
Trip Total: 48

 

Saturday, April 6, 2002. Week 1 Day 6. The Cerne Giant. Birding Dawlish Warren. The Ferry.

Map

It's 8:43 and we're on the road, just stopped at the railroad track near our camp. The train zips by on its way to Dorchester. Sharon says she wants to see a castle one of these days. Now we're going to see three or four in Scotland, but that doesn't help her immediate craving.

MAIDEN CASTLE

We stop in the Warmwell (name of a small village) Convenience Store. It's an Everydays, like a 7-11 in the U.S. We replenish some of our grocery supplies and are off again.

Sharon and I have both seen signs for the Maiden Castle. She reads about it as we drive, and it seems like it's mostly earthworks today. Here's the skinny: [Brochure: the finest prehistoric hill-fort in Britain. The massive oval earthworks can be seen for miles around. Three huge ditches were dug by Iron Age men to protect some 5,000 inhabitants. Archaeological excavations have revealed a history stretching back to the Stone Age, and among the finds have been the skeletons of 34 people.]

We decide to go, but are disappointed, since they call it a castle, but there's no building. We suspected as much. But since we were so close, we decided to go anyway.

THE CERNE ABBAS GIANT AND MORE

We head back out and onward, deciding to make another slight detour and see the Giant of Cerne Abbas. This figure, cut into the steep chalk hillside behind the village of Cerne Abbas, is a man with a club of some kind in his right hand, he being about 180 feet high. The fellow either has a gun in his pocket or ..., and is a fertility symbol dating from Roman times.

On the way, we pass the Smith's Arms, 20 by 10 feet, the smallest pub in England. Sharon read me about a king passing through the area who stopped in at the end of the day and asked for some wine. The owner said that he did not have a license to sell wine, and the king granted him one on the spot.

Also in this area is the concern that made the silk (from silkworms) for several royal wedding dresses over the years. We take some photos of guy on the hill and take off for our birding site of the day, Dawlish Warren.

DAWLISH WARREN

By about 1:30 pm, we're there, and confirm that it's right next to a golf course. A rabbit warren is a brambles with lots of paths and cross-paths going through it for rabbits to escape through. Or lots of connected holes, often on the side of a hill. And our warren, near the town of Dawlish, is footpaths criss-crossing through the woods and brush. Actually there is a town called Dawlish Warren too.

Walking through the woods, we get a bird that looks like a Chiffchaff, but its song is that of the WILLOW WARBLER*, and it's a lifer for us. We have decided that lots of British birding involves separating similar species by their songs and calls.

Our prime objective here is the tough-to-see Cirl Bunting, and we check the nature center to see what birds have been seen about. The lady says there haven't been any here since she can remember, but says she gets them in her garden and points to an aerial photograph of the area. "Right 'ere," says she, "that's where I live". We're not going to her garden [She hasn't heard any Cirl Buntings yet this year]. So it's off toward our second birding stop of the day.

A REAL-LIFE MOVIE CASTLE BECKONS

On the way to Dawlish Warren, we saw a sign for Powderham Castle, and it looked very interesting. I ask Sharon if she wants to go back, and she's definitely up for it. We go back and learn a couple of things about this wonderful looking castle.

The first is that they're having a wedding there today, and it's closed to visitors right now. The second is that the movie "Remains of the Day" was partially filmed here.

There is a restaurant and shops near the entrance to the castle grounds, and we stop for a late lunch or early dinner. Sharon has a Creamed Tea. This is tea plus a couple of scones, plus clotted cream and jam. Clotted cream is what you get to when you whip cream, but way before it becomes butter, Sharon says. It has the texture of maybe thick whipped cream, but isn't sweet. Sharon also ordered something called Ploughman's, and I'm still not exactly sure what that means. Anyway, she gets ham and some other stuff, and shares her ham with me. I have a jacket potato with cheese with salad. When we're done, I get an ice cream cone while Sharon has a piece of orange cake.

We go back to the motorhome, and below the castle itself there is a huge meadow with trees all around and a stream meandering through. A train adds a nice touch as it zips past the castle. Sharon scans the fields and points me to a LITTLE EGRET. We also get GREY HERON and nearer to us we see wonderful GOLDFINCHES, with their red faces.

We still have a long way to drive so off we take. We will go through a city called Dartmouth, and as we near it, we suddenly see a sign that says "Dartmouth by Ferry." Huh?

THE CUTE LITTLE SURPRISE FERRY

Sharon checks a strange character on our map and finds that it represents the maximum allowable weight of vehicles that can cross on a ferry. We hurriedly check how much back-tracking we would have to do not to cross by ferry, and it's huge. I get a feeling and try to convince Sharon that it's going to be ok.

Questions that raise their ugly heads are: 1) When is the last ferry? It's 5:41 pm now. 2) How much does it cost? 3) Do we weigh too much? I'm not sure what our rig weighs. But I drive on, unperturbed. I still have a good feeling about this situation.

We wind our way down, down and down, through ever-narrowing streets through a village till we come to a stop in a line for the ferry. A tiny car ahead of us is empty, and its normal occupants are out stretching. "Is this the line for the ferry?" we ask. "Yes," they say and I can tell that they are German. "Can we get on? Are we too heavy?" we ask. "Yes, I think you can get on," they say. "Just get on."

I just can't imagine backing up out of this narrow street situation. "What do you think it will cost?" one of us asks our new Deutsch friends. "Not much. Maybe a pound or two," they say. Can that be? Before we can think much about this, the line of cars ahead of us moves forward and disappears around a tight right-hand corner in the village. The Germans all rush to their car and jump in.

As we move forward, we clear the corner and see this tiny flat barge with meager iron railings around it and a tug boat attached to the barge with a rope! That's going to be the power source to get us over. Now the other thing, which I sort of suspected, is that it's only about 200 yards across the water to the other side. Re-mark-a-bo!

As we get to the cheap-looking ramp leading onto the barge, the Germans get on as the fifth vehicle, and I can see that there's room for one more small vehicle, but I'm not sure whether we can get on. I set my eye on the captain on the tugboat, who steps onto the barge, and he is not at all upset to see us. A good sign.

He motions us to come on and squeeze in, and this I do. Amazing. Sharon is about to faint at the way the barge tilts to our side as we drive on.

He comes around and collects 3 pounds from us. Fantastic. He closes up the back and pulls us out and across the small bit of water to the other side. I get a photo of its matching barge, coming from the other side to this one.

We dock, down goes the front gate and we all drive off and out. It's these small, unexpected bits that make life so fun, don't you think? If you don't sink in the experience, thinks Sharon.

We drive through Dartmouth, and see that we're not going to get to our next birding site today, so we begin to zero in on a camp site for the night. We choose a nice one on a small farm called Mount Farm Touring Park. The wind is blowing pretty good, and we fire up the heater to warm up the motorhome. Sharon reads in bed while I work on the Mac a while, reviewing our next few stops and writing up what we've been doing.

FACTOID OF THE DAY: The Isles of Scilly (aka the Scilly Isles) are about 25 miles off the SW corner of England. The weather is much warmer than England proper, and it costs about $100 for a round trip on a helicopter. We want to go but decide not to. If we knew more about the birds there, we might.

SLEEPING IN: Mount Farm Touring Park, Devon County, Southwest England

LIFE BIRDS (Never seen or heard by us before): Willow Warbler
Today's Total: 1
Trip Total: 12

TRIP BIRDS (First time for trip, but already on our life list) 1 lifer + Little Egret, Grey Heron, Goldfinch
Today's Total: 4
Trip Total: 52

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