UK 2002 SIX-WEEK LUTMAN MOTORHOME BIRDING TRIP

 

Sunday, April 7, 2002. Week 1 Day 7. Birding Prawle Point. Whacked.

Map

It's 8:02 am, clear, cool and windy again. We love the clear part. The wind blew Sharon's bird feeder off the tree last night or else the birds are big and fat here.

We take off for Prawle Point, a spot the manager told us was perhaps a half-hour away. We pass through Kingsbridge and cross over the king's bridge. There is a long harbor here and the tide is out. Every boat is just sitting on the mud, and that's obviously the plan. If you own a boat, plan for it to be in the mud twice a day.

PRAWLE (say "Prawl") POINT and BIRDER DAVE

9:13 am and we are in the Prawle Point car park. The road was incredibly narrow getting down here. It was perhaps 3/4 of a lane, with passing points. Impenetrable hedges and stone fences form the borders of the road. If you have a truck and an oncoming small car, then one can pull over while the other passes, if you're at a "passing" point. Sharon says it's a good thing we left early, so there weren't very many oncoming cars.

In the parking lot, another birder pulls in with a small dark sedan. I start talking with him and we learn that he is Dave Woodhouse,

an electrician and part-time bird guide for Great Glen Wildlife, run by David Kent, who specializes in Scotland. It is our good fortune to meet Dave at this time and this place, because we are after the Cirl Bunting, but have no idea exactly which direction to go and only the barest hint of what habitat to look for.

He says he was here earlier this morning, drove back to the village where he's staying for breakfast and is now back. He heard the Cirl Bunting, but hasn't seen one yet and we can tag along. As we are walking east, with the cliffs perhaps 50 feet away, Dave talks easily with us and occasionally stops to listen, then points. The wind is a strong whistler.

"YELLOWHAMMER," he says, and though we have this bird on our life list, it's a trip bird for us and a good one.

Then, "Over there." He locates our bird, then gets us onto a great little CIRL BUNTING*, who is singing away in the sun. Dave gets his scope on the bird, and Sharon and I both get crippling views, to repeat another British word I heard a visiting birder use, back in California.

Dave has driven a long way to get here for the weekend, and is here mostly to see a soccer match in the area, but had to try for the Cirl Bunting, which he says he hasn't seen for four or five years. We head back to the parking lot and talk birds and locations like crazy. He volunteers to hear our bird list and try to give us a location for each. He gives us fantastic specific location information for a dozen birds or more, marking them on our map, and then shows us his "pager." This is actually Britain-wide. Any time a birder sees a rare bird, that person calls a number and gives information as to the bird and exactly where to find it. As a subscriber, you can page through the messages and scroll through in text format any that might interest you. "You haven't got these in America," Dave says, with pride and not in any bragging sense. The difference, of course, is that the U.S. is 10 or 20 times bigger than the UK.

We have seen television programs on British "twitchers," people who hear of a bird and travel hundreds of miles to see it. As Dave was reviewing birds he'd seen, he listed one North American bird that had been blown off course, winding up in the UK. Dave said he saw the report on his pager. "I twitched that one," he says, grinning. Our real life encounter with a twitcher! Fantastic.[Of course, Bob is leaving out the story of when I went down to Southern California to visit my 98 year old great-aunt, saw a rare visiting "blue mockingbird" from Mexico, called Bob as I was looking at the bird and then he drove down that day so that we could see it together. Some"twitcher" huh?]

Dave leaves us his personal contact information so we can call him if we have more questions. We part company after a photo and after he teaches us a new word. "When we see something that is fantastic, we say that we are 'chuffed'." So you two should be chuffed now." We make a note of our new word, then enjoy our breakfast.

We work our way back out of the narrow lane, meeting several vehicles on the way. Whew, this is nerve-wracking. We see again the sign in the front yard announcing that a Master Thatcher lives or has his office here. Hey! Thatcher! Like Margaret Thatcher. I never thought of her last name in this context before. We pass through Charleston and see a very odd chimney that is leaning toward the back of the house. Not leaning away from the house, but towards the back, like each layer has slid slightly off the one below. I just can't imagine...

GETTING WHACKED

A little after noon, the day changes. I am steering us down another very narrow lane, with hedges on either side when an oncoming car looks like he's going to hit my right front bumper. Although I can't imagine that I have even two inches on my left, my reflexes make me jerk the steering wheel to the left to avoid the crash. WHACK!!! I look at the left rear view mirror, which is normally divided into an upper and lower half, each electrically controllable by controls on the panel to the right of the steering wheel. The upper mirror is shattered and is dangling by two electrical wires, bouncing around in the wind. The lower one is also multiply-cracked, but is still in its normal position. The mirror material must be plastic and not glass.

I pull over when I can and disconnect the dangling upper mirror, then take it into the motorhome, storing it away for I don't know what future purpose. Back into the motorhome and off we go. The collision with the hedge has knocked the mirror holder back, sort of like you bring in the mirrors when you go into a car wash. Sharon opens her window and clicks it back to its normal position. I can see behind on the left through the remaining portion of the bottom left mirror, but I'm afraid I'll lose that mirror too. But for now, it stays on and is ok.

We get back on the road and I'm very nervous about the continued narrow road with tough tall hedges on either side. About ten minutes later... WHACK! The rear view mirror has hit another hedge and swiveled it against the door, but did not break any more of the lower mirror. I pull over and take two big breaths. I can do this. We take off again, and at last the road widens. As my old college buddy Wally Williams used to say, "Nice Day."

THE 500-POUND BIRD

Sharon says, "That was a 500 pound bird," meaning that we have insurance coverage except for a 500 pound deductible ($750 approx.). Dohp!! I'm hoping it's only 1 or 200 pounds.

We are traveling just south of Dartmoor National Park, and one of our books goes on to say this: [... a name which evokes an Agatha Christie murder mystery, with its heather and gorse - a treeless area pockmarked with boggy pits, ideal for disposing of a corpse. Severe and inhospitable. Mysterious and fascinating. Legend says the "black hounds of hell" roam across the moors collecting the souls of the damned.]

We pass Plymouth. Sharon reads to me that most of the buildings were destroyed by German bombs during World War II. Sir Francis Drake set sail from here. And of course, the Mayflower sailed from here. It was actually launched from Southampton, but Plymouth was its last port before heading for the New World.

1:15 pm and we are crossing into Cornwall County, going over the Taby River and Bridge. We go through East Taphouse, Middle Taphouse and then stop in West Taphouse at a layby for lunch and a nap. "At least you got us here in...", Sharon says, not quite sure how to finish the sentence she started. "TWO pieces," I say, as we both laugh, breaking up, like the dang mirror.

3:47 pm and after our nap, we're back on the road again. It is clear, cool and still windy. We find a Tesco superstore (supermarket) and turn in at 4:09 to find that the "24 Hours" sign does not refer to Sunday afternoon, when they close at 4 pm. We drive the rest of the way to Marazion, the village across from St. Michael's Mount, and after calling for directions and following same, we check into Wheal Rodney Caravan Park

If we drove a little further west, we would arrive at Penzance, but since I have this fear of pirates, we steer clear. The lady who checks us in has a name that is pronounced Shawn, but is spelled Sian. It's Welsh (not "Welch"), she says, and if we go to Wales, there will be a Sian in almost every store we visit.

As we talk, we see three BUZZARDS circling above. We would say Hawks in the U.S., and they seem about as big as Red-tailed Hawks. After our dinner of ham and corn, and doing the dishes, we go for a little walk. We hear Collared Doves and see Herring Gulls, Chaffinches, Robins, Rooks and Blackbirds. It's getting cold, so we go back into the motorhome, settling in for the evening.

TODAY'S FACTOID: The southwest of England, holiday center for the whole country, is also called The Boot, obviously because of the shape.

SLEEPING IN: Wheal Rodney Caravan Park, near Penzance, Cornwall County, Southwest England

LIFE BIRDS (Never seen or heard by us before): Cirl Bunting
Today's Total: 1
Trip Total: 13

TRIP BIRDS (First time for trip, but already on our life list): 1 lifer + Yellowhammer, Buzzard
Today's Total: 3
Trip Total: 55

 

Monday, April 8, 2002. Week 2 Day 1. St. Michael's Mount. Grumpy Pete's

Map

It's 7:30 am and another beautiful, clear, blue-sky day. I don't think the wind is up. I can hear doves cooing, gulls gulling, rooks cawing and cats meowing. I dump the removable toilet container at the "Selsun Point," a term meaning "Selsun Disposal Point." The sign on the door to the dump point says "Sluice." The unusual thing is that this dumping station is inside, not outside. And "Selsun" may stand for Selsun Blue, which may be the dissolving blue chemical you put into your toilet container before sliding it back into place in your motorhome. Last night, Sian's husband Steve, who used to work on St. Michael's Mount, told us that the tide would be out and the causeway open starting about 8:30 am and closing about noon today.

This is a famous place that is an island when the tide is in and a peninsula when it's out. In the picture below, you can just begin to see the causeway connecting to the main town.

It's pretty cool. We park in a little car park by the sandy beach leading to the causeway, get our gear, and take off walking to go to the mount.

 

MOUNT ST. MICHAEL

There is a lived-in castle there, I remember reading, as we walk across on the stone-laid causeway. I turn around and look back to the minland.

I take more photos on the way over, then we wander around a little. I like this face mounted on a garden wall.

It's so early that the castle won't be opening for another hour and a half or so, and we don't want to stay that long. I use the self-timer to get a picture of the castle above and behind us, with the lower village buildings immediately behnd us.

If you stay too long, you have to take a boat back. There is a cool sign on the island, just as you are about to leave which basically says "Do not wade back to the mainland if there is a strong cross-current." Chuckles to think about somebody doing that.

As we're walking back, Sharon notices that one of two Oystercatchers has a white stripe on its neck. She looks this bird up and finds that that is the common accessory for winter Oystercatchers.

MARAZION MARSH

We make it back to our car, where the parking attendant has finally shown himself and we pay the 2 pound fee. We exit and drive straight over to Marazion Marsh. We pay the 1 pound parking fee there, and head out to the marsh.

But first we meet an American couple living in Britain. The wife comes up to me and asks, "Do you know where you can see puffins around here?" There is an RSPB car in the lot, and she thought I had come from that car. I explain what's going on and we both get a good laugh. But I tell her what I know about puffins and she does the same for me. It doesn't take long.

On the walk through the marsh to the hide ("bird blind" in the U.S.), we see a little Wren, and a beautiful Blackcap, singing away. Nothing happening at the hide, but on the way out, we hear a bird do the "cocka" part of "cocka-doodle-doo." This turns out to be a male pheasant. I don't think I have ever heard one call before. Cool.

We load up and drive to a place for one last photo of St. Michael's Mount and there is a very timely lady all in black, riding a horse on the beach. What a great shot.

Chuffed, I get back in the motorhome and we take off, noticing the pizza shack in the little center I parked in. During the next hours, we pass over great rolling countryside, and enter a dual carriageway (divided highway, with double lanes on each side). Hedgerows divide all the pastures into sections, with occasional wind generators around. With all the wind we've had, we can understand them being here.

TABLING THE ROUND TABLE

We are headed for a castle called Tintagel, which is a ruins, not an entire castle, and we decide to skip it. Legend has it that this was King Arthur's castle, and the town of Camelford, which we pass through, was Camelot. The same legend says Arthur's last battle was at Slaughter Bridge, about a mile north of Camelford.

GRUMPY PETE'S

We have two 6-kg containers of propane and one is empty, so I stop at several places looking for the right container. I go about 0-for-5 at service stations and Sharon suggests that we try a caravan park near the highway. She looks one up, we leave the main road, find the park and I pull past reception, and into a little gravel parking area.

I'm afraid that our rear end is sticking into the camp roadway, so I pull one tire about 8 inches onto the grass, turn the engine off and get out. An old man on crutches yells, "You've parked on the grass!!" about as loud as it looks like he can manage. A young man comes over and guides me while I back off the grass, and it turns out I'm not blocking the main camp road at all. I tell him the story of the past few days where all the camps have us park on the grass, something that I don't think is ever done in the U.S., but I've adapted and now it's second nature.

Anyway, while the young man checks for propane tanks in the back, a cute young mom and her cuter little daughter are sitting on a bench, waiting for the young man to finish with me. A cat comes out and they say its name is Tika and it only has one tooth. I notice a sign painted on a wall that says, "Grumpy Pete's," and I ask if a second, yellow cat nearby is Grumpy Pete. "No," the lady says, "Grumpy Pete is the man who yelled at you."

The fellow brings out the proper tank and I swap my empty for his full for about 11 pounds or so, and we're off. I stop for diesel again, and this time, we got only 23 miles per gallon vs. 25 for the first tank. Still not bad. We drive back into Devon County again, only this time, we're going up the west coast.

We finally make it to our camp for the evening, a nice high one, in the country. Very well-kept, called Caffyn's Camping Caravan Park, or something like that. We set up next to a huge, old bus, driven by a young German father, his wife, and four blonde-headed kids. What an adventure for them. We learn that they drove the bus over from Germany, through the Chunnel.

We go for a walk down a tiny road enclosed on both sides by rock walls. It sort of feels like you're on a luge track, but without the ice. We walk past a gate, which opens into a sheep pasture and the sheep all get to baa-ing at the same time. Pretty cool. I baa back of course. If granddaughter Samantha were here, she'd sing, "Blaa Blaa Black Sheep, have you any woo. "

No new birds and we head back to camp for the night.

During dinner, I run outside several times to get a shot of the sunset over the moors.

FACTOID OF THE DAY: Not speaking of Great Britain, but rather birds of the world, some parasitic birds (the cowbird and the cuckoo are parasitic birds) lay their eggs in other birds' nests, often deep sixing the original eggs for good measure. The surprise is that the chicks of some birds grow up singing the song of their new parents, but other species' chicks grow up singing the song of their own species. The former would be like adopting a baby, and the first words it speaks being, say, "Guten Morgen," and then speaking only German as it grows up. Pretty wild to think about.

SLEEPING IN: Caffyn's Camping and Caravan Park, Lynton, near Exmoor National Park, Somerset County, Southwest England

LIFE BIRDS (Never seen or heard by us before): none
Trip Total: still 13

TRIP BIRDS (First time for trip, but already on our life list): none
Trip Total: still 55


Tuesday, April 9, 2002. Week 2 Day 2. Not Dipping on the Dippers.

Map

It's 9 am and we watch a man use a special tool and cut a roll of sod from the ground, then roll it up. Then he digs a trench in the newly uncovered dirt to either install or repair an electrical cable. It's still a little foggy, but the sun is trying to break through. At about 10 am, we are ready to pull out. We are after Dippers today, and we have two places to try.

THE BUS PASS

But on the way, we are going down a narrow road on an incredibly steep slope when we slowly come up behind a big bus, going even slower. We realize why when we see another big bus coming up. Holy moly, how is this going to work. They maneuver a little. First our bus goes downhill a little while the other one backs down. They they both stop and both start coming back towards me. A man gets out of the uphill bus, runs back and says to me, "Back up."

Well there's another car behind me and I can't tell what he's doing. Besides, I'm in a stick shift heavy vehicle, and I'm not very confident of my ability to do this, plus I don't think this guy has any idea how far he wants me to back up. I suddenly notice that there is space to remove me from the problem by just passing our bus, then threading back to the left side of the road and going around the downhill bus. Everybody wins.

I start going forward, get even with the uphill bus, and the driver starts yelling at me, "Where are you going? Where do you think you're going?" I yell back that I can get through and that'll make it easier for them, but the driver doesn't see it that way. He yells some more, but I can see that arguing is just going to prolong getting out of the predicament so I ease on down.

The last words I hear from him are, "... typical American." That's ok, I'd be upset too if I was driving a big bus and had to pass an equally big bus on this narrow road on this steep hill. Of course, he has no idea what atypical Americans we are, but what the heck, we're out of their way and they're out of ours.

THE BIG DIPPER

We stop at the first Dipper-check location, which is about a half-mile above a point called Watersmeet. We start at a bridge crossing one of the rivers which flows down to meet at, well you know where they meet. We walk downstream on a trail beside the river, and can see if any of our birds fly the length of the creek or any are on the stream itself. But as we open the gate to the trail, we get a nice SONG THRUSH (Note: I forgot to count Song Thrush as a trip bird here, and all the statistics till the end of the reports are short by this one trip bird) singing his mimic, Mockingbird-like song high in a tree.

We get on our path and begin checking the river. Suddenly we see movement, and it's a pair of pretty yellow and grey and black and white GREY WAGTAILS, popping their long tails up and down. Sharon sees a dark bird flying down the stream and calling, but I never get on it. Dang! That might have been a Dipper. We walk perhaps a quarter mile or so, then turn around and come back.

We get a nice pair of tits that are a little different from all the ones we have seen so far. They are going in and out of a nest hole at the base of a small oak tree. The length of the black bib under their chins tells us that they are WILLOW TITS*, and they represent a lifer for us.

We are back up to the bridge, where we get a pair of Pied Wagtails, a pair of Blue Tits chasing away a Blackcap. Sharon sees a little bird fly into a tiny space between two stones that make up the wall enclosing the river above the bridge, and we wait, but it does not come back out.

By noon, we are back on the road, heading for the second Dipper location. We are in Exmoor National Park, famous for its moors. Occasionally, about every two years or so, I spontaneously yell out, "Brennan on the Moor," rolling the r's strongly, from some movie I saw as a kid.

And just for fun, here's another one. I can only remember one time that our entire family went to the movies. It was Showboat, and must have been around 1950 or earlier. It was New Year's Eve, and a man was at a party, pretty much gone. He kept yelling, "Hap-" then would keep his lips together, staggering around, for maybe five seconds, then would finish with, ""-py New Year." My brother and I did this back and forth to each other, first for about ten minutes. Then I did it back to him for a whole day. Then he did it back to me for about a week. Then we decided to go for the maximum possible. The next New Year's Eve, right after midnight, we both yelled "Hap!" Then at the end of the year, just before midnight, we both yelled, "-py New Year." Now if you're just standing around watching us, you hear this, "Pee New Year Hap!"

Weren't we cool? But back to our trip.

We reach Malmsmead after traveling through unbelievably narrow single-lane roads enclosed on both sides by tough hedgerows. We talk with the proprieter of a gift shop who is painting part of her front window. We apologize for bothering her, but she says she's glad when anything takes her away from work. We tell her we're looking for Dippers, and ask how we get to the trails along the river here so that we might work to find one. She says that there ARE Dippers all up and down the creek, and just to walk up the trail, which she tells us how to get to. "Or," she continues," you can just sit down here by the bridge and wait for one to fly by."

We're excited and take off up the river. Sharon suddenly picks up a bird flying up the river, yells, and I get on it too, while she loses it. I watch it land on a rock in the water and get Sharon back on it. "DIPPER*," I yell. It is dark brown on the head,

appears black on the back, and has a white neck and chest. What a bird. It dips up and down at its "knees." We walk up to see it closer, and it flies off, but later returns with nest material in its mouth. It goes down to the water's edge, dips the material into the water, then flies into a mossy hole, where it is building a nest.

Then Sharon sees another Dipper doing the same thing. It's obviously a mated pair, building their house for a family. We are royally chuffed, and finally go back to the little village, checking out all the momma sheep with their newborn lambs.

SHARON'S CREAM TEA BREAK

We decide to have a late lunch at a place called The Buttery. Sharon has Cream Tea and I have a baked potato topped with chili, and a chocolate milkshake. Holiday food. Mostly we relax in the warm sun on the cool day, knowing that we just saw one of our top ten desired British birds. Wunderbar.

This is Lorna Doone Valley, and Sharon tries to buy the book, "Lorna Doone" in the Lorna Doone Bookstore, but they don't

have any. Amazing. When we finish, we ask for directions back to the main road and head out. To get out, we have to cross a ford on the river, and Sharon gets some pictures out the front of that. It reminds me of when Dad used to drive across The Slab, a ford crossing the Gravois Creek, near Gravois Mills, Missouri. Every time he did this, I was certain the car would be swept off of the concrete drive that was only a few inches below the surface of the flowing creek. Moss grew on the concrete (in Missouri) and it was hard to stand up when you walked across in bare feet.

We get out of the little valley,

and going through another village, we see a rider, this time a girl with another horse in tow. I love these scenes, having been interested in thoroughbreds at one time in a previous life.

FAIRWAYS TOURING CARAVAN PARK. CLIVE AND CATHY. OUR FIRST EMAIL CHECK OF THE TRIP.

We finally hit the M5 in Taunton and make good headway, leaving this highway in Bridgwater, to get our campsite for the night. We make our way to the totally unimpressive Fairways Touring Caravan Park.

A fellow named Clive checks us in and says, "When do you want to leave in the morning?" I had already seen a sign saying that the gates are locked at 11 pm, and reopen at 8:30 am. So I say, "7:30." "Nope," he says, "you can't leave till 8:30." I laugh and say, then why did you ask?" I was thinking of the little store that had only chocolate, vanilla and strawberry ice cream. "What flavor would you like?" the proprieter asks. "What have you got?" says the customer. "We have anything you care to ask for," says the ice cream man. "Raspberry," says the customer. "Sorry, haven't got that one," says the proprieter, who was hoping that the request would be for one that he DID have, and he would look like a genius for having the right ice cream.

"Well, " says the camp manager, "some people like to leave later." I guess he was hoping I would say 9 o'clock. Then he could sleep in till 8:58. We ask about TV reception, and he says it's excellent. We show him how ours isn't working and he says we have to reprogram it everywhere we go. That was news to us, though it turned on a little light in Sharon's mind, who remembered that Elite Motorhome's Mark told us something about that.

Anyway, Clive claims it's easy and says he'll do it for us. Then he proceeds to make absolutely no dent in the problem in about 15 minutes, when I beg off to go set up our camp. "It SHOULD work," he says as we drive off. "Hm, thanks for that nugget," I think.

After we get set up, I walk up and ask if I can use his telephone line to check and send email. He goes into a long spiel which says to me, "I'm watching TV and don't want to bother with it." I throw up my hands and walk back to the motorhome, after he says that there would be some charges to him, but there isn't any way for him to know what they are. I know this isn't true, so I just keep walking.

After a bit, he comes to the motorhome and asks what number we want to call. He says he has figured out that he can call BT (British Telephone, who he hates), and get the charges, then let me know what they're going to be. He does this and comes back with the cost of 4 pence per minute, or about 2.40 pounds per hour, which is $3.60 per hour, a trivial sum. We go back up to his reception office, and after much false-starting, we find how to do it correctly.

I pick up my first email since we left the U.S. Clive's wife Cathy, a short, round, competent lady comes in at one point and I introduce myself. She asks where we were today, and after our Dipper story, she asks if we have read Lorna Doone. I tell her that Sharon tried to buy it at the Lorna Doone store, but they didn't have it. She said she'd give it to us and went off to look for it, but only after about a dozen questions about the internet and email.

As she is leaving, she recommends another author "long dead," she likes -- Georgette Heyer. She will give us a book by her and says if after a scan, Sharon doesn't like it, we can just leave it here. Her daughter Gemma brings us "These Old Shades," by Heyer, but they couldn't find Lorna Doone.

We all say goodnight, and I take the laptop back to the motorhome, where we read all the email and prepare responses, hoping we can send them and Report No. 1 off tomorrow morning. Sharon scans the Georgette Heyer book , and says, "Oh yes, I'll like this." Sharon has decided to take a shower and when she comes back, she reports that there is a button you push which turns the shower on for about 5 seconds, then you push it again, etc. Well this would drive her nuts, so she goes into the laundry room, turns on the hot water, and just washes her hair over the sink. No buttons to keep pushing. We have a nice dinner, go into our usual, comfortable evening mode (me on the computer, Sharon on the telly and reading her book, "A Beautiful Mind"), and after a bit I turn in too.

FACTOID OF THE DAY: Driving down the road, you might see this sign:

A470
Bristol 25
(Manchester 45)

This means you are now on the A470 and it will take you to Bristol in 25 miles. The Manchester line is in parentheses and this means you have to change to a different highway before you can get to Manchester, but Manchester is 45 miles from this point, if you DO make the correct highway change.

SLEEP IN: Fairways Touring Caravan Park, Bridgwater, near Bristol, Somerset County, Southwest England

LIFE BIRDS (Never seen or heard by us before): Willow Tit, Dipper
Today's Total: 2
Trip Total: 15

TRIP BIRDS (First time for trip, but already on our life list): 2 lifers + Grey Wagtail
Today's Total: 3
Trip Total: 58

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