UK 2002 SIX-WEEK LUTMAN MOTORHOME BIRDING TRIP
Wednesday, April 10, 2002. Week 2 Day 3. Into Wales.
FIRST TRIP REPORT
I want to get on AOL again this morning, but I can't find Clive anywhere. I saw him get up at 8:30 and open the gate for the morning. His Rover is here, but he's nowhere to be seen. We take off, but just as we pull out, he comes out of the back door of his mobile home and waves. I U-turn at the first roundabout and come back. Clive lets me get on AOL again, and I send out Trip Report #1. I give him one pound.
A little before 10 am and we're on the M5 (M is Motorway and is their bestest, fastest freeway) again. As we circumnavigate Bristol, I swear we see a couple of kids that look as sharp as a pistol, trying to hitch a ride. They are stomping something on the pavement, but we can't see what.
READIN' AND DRIVIN'
Sharon read to me yesterday that Lancelot and Guinevere and King Arthur are legends, didn't ever exist. Same for Robin Hood, possibly the Easter Bunny. 'Scuse me?
Somerset County was a marsh long ago, but they created ditches and drained the area. The ditches still carry water away, and are right next to the highway. That's the story of Somerset (unless that's a lie too).
We pass over the River Avon, and notice about a million cars (possibly only 5,000) lined up row after row, which I am guessing are waiting for ship loading and export.
We pass by an Asda Walmart Supercenter, the first time we've seen "Walmart" on any building. What we can see of the parking lot is packed. It is obviously a brand new store. We pass into Gloucestershire and Sharon reads about Warwick Castle, but it's 60 miles out of the way, and we reluctantly leave it for a future visit. We saw a travel show about it at home, and it is a must-visit castle.
We leave the M5 for the A40, passing a meadow with black cows, not counting the white stripe down their back and tails. Radical. Many farms have large cylindrical hay bales encapsulated in black plastic, and there are bits of black plastic blowing all over the countryside. My cousin Phil Hilty in Missouri is doing this also, using white plastic, but I think it is much thicker than this. I never saw any white plastic bits stuck on barbed wire in the countryside there.
We see what looks like a brush fire, and it's a farmer burning some stuff. In town, we saw a man burning leaves, earlier today.
As we enter Hildersley, we see what looks like a big bird in its death throes, but as we drive past, it is two Buzzards (Hawks, in U.S.), with talons locked, each flapping its wings mightily at the other. There is a parking place just past them. I pull over, get my camera and exit the motorhome, but they see me, disengage, and both fly off, a third one following them. I'm quite sure it was a fight over a girl.
We fill up with diesel in an Esso station in Hereford, where a lady tells us it is pronounced HAIR-uh-f'd. Around Versailles, Missouri, it's HER-ferd. We ask another fellow just to be sure, and he says it's pronounced Throat-warbler Mangrove.
We stop for lunch about ten miles down the road, in the car park of a little hardware and gardening supply place. After a nice lunch, we hit the road again. Sharon likes to read me tidbits and she reads me that rabbits are the third favorite pet for Britons, behind dogs and cats obviously. Only 15% of the pet rabbits are kept indoors.
We go through Kington, and at one junction it is not clear whether to go straight or turn right. I steal a quick glance at the GPS and see that the highway turns right. As we do a boy by the side of the street yells that we made a wrong turn, and should have gone straight. I already know he's pulling our leg, but would have had serious doubts without the GPS. Always believe your satellites.
WE MAGICALLY TURN INTO WALES
At 2:05 pm, we enter Wales, Powys County. A sign says men working, 300 llath, and below that 300 yds. It's our first Welsh, and it feels special.
We are stoked and about a half-hour later, we both look up to notice a Buzzard hovering against the wind, but wait! It has a deeply forked tail. It's a RED KITE, and a trip bird. We saw our first in Turkey. They have been re-introduced here after being extirpated here some time ago.
At 3:40 we are in the Eland Valley Visitor Center, where we hope to see Ring Ouzel. We learn that they are quite rare, right now anyway. One was seen six days ago, but it's a long drive, then a long walk, to some vague, little-known spot. Forget that. We scan the area around the visitor center, and get CARRION CROW. We have been seeing this bird, but never recorded it.
We leave and head for Aberystwyth, a major city on the Wales west coast. Things are less green here, trees are less in bloom. We have definitely outraced spring's arrival heading north at the rate we've been going. Sharon is taken by the Dent de Leion along the roadside.
Going down the hill, we see an ex-badger beside the road. About 4:30 we pull into a BP station to buy a few 10 amp fuses, since we've blown the only two we started out with. We meet and talk with a friendly fellow named Ifor, pronounced ee-vor (I heard) or ee-bor (Sharon heard). We buy four fuses at 25 pence each, for a total of one pound. Then Sharon sees the souvenirs and it's Ifor Bar the Door. We load up, blow two more fuses, I buy another four, and we take off. I think I understand the fuse problem, but won't bore you with it.
NOT ALL CAMPING SITES ARE WONDERFUL
About 5:30 we check into extra-plain Aberystwyth Holiday Village Camper and Caravan Park. The fellow says it's unusual weather, usually much wetter. We set up to sunny skies but cool, then take a walk down on the river. Nothing going on but a couple of swans and some Mallards. We were hoping to do laundry, but it closes at 6:00 so we didn't have time. After dinner, Sharon is tuning in the telly and gets a station and a program that is in Welsh. Great fun listening.
FACTOID OF THE DAY: 'dd' is pronounced 'th' in Welsh. Two 'L's together at the beginning of a word are pronounced 'CL'. Welsh is not pronounced Welch.
SLEEPING IN: Aberystwyth Holiday Village, Aberystwyth, Ceredigion County, west coast of Wales
LIFE BIRDS (Never seen or heard by us before): none
Today's Total: 0
Trip Total: still 15
TRIP BIRDS (First time for trip, but already on our life list): Red Kite, Carrion
Today's Total: 2
Trip Total: 60
Thursday, April 11. Week 2 Day 4. Ynys-hir, Great Birds
There is a control panel over the motorhome exit door, and when you push the bottom button, it gives the outdoor temperate. Right now, at 7:35 am, it reads -0. This is Celsius, so 0 means 32 Fahrenheit. It's pretty chilly. We tool around town for ten or twenty minutes before we finally find the 487 northbound.
YNYS-HIR (say "innis-hear"), AN RSPB BIRDING SITE
By 9:00 we are at Ynys-hir, an RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) site. We take off on one of the trails and Sharon gets us a JAY, then we hear a GREAT SPOTTED WOODPECKER, which shows itself by flying. There are Great Tits, Blue Tits, Canada Geese, and some strange looking goose on an open expanse down in the estuary. We later hear that they have hybrids here and make it out to be a cross between Barnacle and Greenland race White-fronted Goose.
We continue through the woods, heading for a hide, and we get a nice pair of TREECREEPERS. Then a pair of NUTHATCHES. Finally we come to Marion Mawr Hide and have a nice, slow look down at a huge marsh. There are tons of Canada Geese, then we find a pair of GOOSANDERS, called Common Mergansers in the U.S. A couple of Pied Wagtails are popping around down by the water. We spot a GOLDENEYE on one pond, then with the scope I spot four BARNACLE GEESE*.
This is one of the top birds on our list to see. They are a great black and white patterned goose.
As we start to leave, Sharon gets on a bird that she says has an orange breast, a grey back and a red rump. I find it and it's a beautiful REDSTART. About noon, we are in the woodland hide. We can see one of the metal-fronted nest boxes which will be used by Pied Flycatchers. When they get here, that is. We hoped to see them here, but we dip on this bird. We also hope to see Siskin and Redpoll, but there are none of them either, and these winter birds may have migrated out of here already. We do get COAL TITS here though.
We get back out to the highway, and pass into a town with a big junk yard on our left. A sign says "Bulk Haulage" on it, sounds better than "junk yard".
We continue on and begin climbing, climbing. Higher and higher, several thousand feet, where we stop at the top, in what feels like the pass. We get out to check for Rock Pipits that may like these high peaks and Sharon immediately gets on some sort of raptor, high above us. It goes behind a high peak, then circles back and lands on top of it, with the sky behind. It's right on top.
We get the scope on it and figure out that it's a PEREGRINE. Just as I am getting the scope on it, we hear an incredible WHOOSH and I see a military jet fly right through the scope circle, right behind the Peregrine. Then another jet flies right over us, and a third behind us. We figure they may be training for Afghanistan, since this rocky mountain terrain may be a bit like it.
We hear some other birds about, and spot a couple of WHEATEARS, called Northern Wheatear in the U.S. Then a smaller propeller military plane comes zooming over, followed in perhaps ten seconds by one of the big jets, then a second, then the third. We continue birding, excited by the planes flying over. [They are so low, you can see the pilots and they come through the pass tilted on their side like in a Star Wars movie].
Then the little prop plane comes over again. I get my camera ready for the jet, but none comes. We see several more Wheatears, then take off. As we come down from the pass, we see a fire going to the left, and figure that the jets may have caused it with bombs, but then it looks like a farmer's controlled fire.
THE MEAT STORE
We come into Barmouth, find a place to park on the street and go shopping for replacement groceries. There is a meat store, a vegetable and fruit store and a bakery, all very close together. The superstore has obviously not come to this little town yet.
The meat store has about a hundred tiny chains hanging down where the door should be and we pass through it. We buy some free range eggs,
lamb chops [He says, "spring lamb"] and some hamburger, then start to go outside.
We hear a jet fly over and one of the two butchers says, "Shoot them down." "American," says the other butcher. "Really?" I say. "The planes. Some of them are American planes." They seem to be annoyed at the noise from the planes in their shop.
Sharon points out the bull painted on the chains as we exit, and although I can't see it, I take a flash picture of it. I can see the bull in the photo.
We pick up fresh fruit and veggies, but don't like anything in the bakery, [no, we like it and it looks delicious but I don't need any more pastry or I'll roll back to the USA] so we head back to the motorhome and Sharon packs the stuff away.
HARLECH CASTLE, A SHORT VISIT
We head north, towards Harlech, where we will visit famous Harlech Castle. At 4 pm, I park on the street, out of the way and we walk down to the castle. It is overcast and gray, and the photos will be pretty bland. But it's a cool castle, actually castle ruins that are not very ruined.
I stand in a doorway arch to the inner courtyard as Sharon practices her dark and light technique.
From one view, I'm reminded of the Alamo, for some reason. "Remember the Harlech!"
There is a very narrow, steep walkway from the upper walk down to the ground, and Sharon slowly makes her way down there.
SNOWDONIA. DIDN'T GROUCHO MARX DO A MOVIE HERE?
We take off again, and as we near Snowdonia National Park, Sharon connects the name Lord Snowden with Snowdonia. Coincidence? Probably not.
We come to a causeway, but there's a "slow" sign and instructions to stop ahead and pay the toll. "For what?" I think. But we get up there, and a lady says, "Five pence please." About 8 cents. Unbelievable. We ask how you pronounce "Creecreeth," hoping that's close enhough for her to recognize it, and she says, with lots of rolling 'R's and spit, "Crrrick-ee-ethhhh? Crrrick-ee-ethhhh?" "Yeth, Thankth" I yell and thpit. No, I don't.
There is one person collecting tolls in each direction, so it's two jobs for the economy. We find our camp and it's called Llanystumdwy Camping and Caravanning Club Site. Llanystumdwy is pronounced "clan-uh-stum-wee" or something like that. They have a great laundry and I do the dirty clothes [Yea, Bob] while Sharon fixes dinner and does dishes. The clothes come out nice and warm and fluffy, and I update the day on my Mac, then it's off to sleep.
FACTOID OF THE DAY: When you watch American sports, like the Masters Golf Tournament on BBC, there aren't any commercials. None! "Zip, Zubbie and Zilch!" as Sharon's younger son Pete used to say.
SLEEPING IN: Llanystumdwy Camping and Caravanning Club Site, Gwynedd County, northwestern Wales
LIFE BIRDS (Never seen or heard by us before): Barnacle Goose
Today's Total: 1
Trip Total: 16
TRIP BIRDS (First time for trip, but already on our life list): 1 lifer +
Jay, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Treecreeper, Nuthatches, Goosander (Common Merganser
in U.S.), Redstart, Peregrine (Peregrine Falcon), Wheatear (Northern Wheatear),
Today's Total: 10
Friday, April 12, 2002. Week 2 Day 5. PUFFIN AND CHOUFFIN
We are headed for Caerfernon and Anglesey today. We take a short cut out of Criccieth on the 487, and within an hour we come across a Tesco in Caerfernon, so we stop and go in. I use an ATM card and get 300 pounds for day-to-day use. We load up and Sharon packs our groceries away.
A cute girl named Avril checks us out and one of the items we bought was a Welsh phrase book. To see the menu in a restaurant, I might say, "Gawn ni'r fwydlen, os gwelwch yn dda?" and they might say, "Hu-wut?" Sharon finishes putting away our purchases, and we take off, stopping in the Travis Perkins Building Materials parking lot so I can take a photo of the famous Caerfernon Castle across a body of water with several boats anchored there.
Then we're off on this gray, overcast and spritzing day. As we go around a corner, we see a sign that says "Shoppers" pointing ahead. We quickly see a Safeway store, including a petrol area where you can buy Safeway petrol or diesel.
As we continue driving along, after a bit we can look to the left, across some water, and see the island of Angelsey. We cross a bridge onto the island, as I am thinking, "OK, take the A5 to Holyhead." Then I come upon a Y in the road with A5 pointing left, and A55 to Holyhead pointing to the right. There is a cross-hatched area leading up to the dividing post for Americans who can't figure out what to do and I pull in.
After a bit, we figure that the A55 was built since our book was published, and we take the A55, a correct move as it turns out. It's a dual carriageway, high speed highway directly to Holyhead. It's only 21 miles to the city, and we can see ponies in the field on our way. "Welsh ponies," says Sharon. We see two RAVENS in a tree and a third perched on a rock wall. As we continue, Sharon works on her Welsh, where we learn that 'llyn' means lake.
In Holyhead, there are signs directing us to our target today: the South Stack Cliffs at the western end of Holyhead Island, at the corner of Anglesey.
SOUTH STACK. FANTASTIC BIRDS.
We make our way there, and it's a cool, partly cloudy, windy day. Sharon takes a picture of me in front of the South Stack sign.
We follow the path down to the RSPB building, looking like a rectangular castle tower, painted white, with a big blue RSPB logo painted on it.
As we get closer, we can see people inside, using RSPB's scopes. But we peel off to the right first, where we saw four birders with scopes looking over the cliff. They're gone now, but we set up where they were. As I'm setting up the scope, Sharon is already scanning the water far below, the massive cliffsides and the general area.
"I've got PUFFINS*," she says,
and I can't find them, so she quickly gets on them, with the scope. As she's zeroing in the scope, I get them with my binoculars. Two little birds with big orange bills. Fantastic.
I spot another floating on the water after I get on the scope. Five minutes later and the Puffins are gone. [The Lutman luck strikes again] But the bird covering the rocks below and across from us is the GUILLEMOT, called the Common Murre in the U.S. They are in the thousands, but there are also about 2-5% or so RAZORBILLS*,
another lifer for us. Wow, two of our target birds in the first minute here. I've loved the bill on the Razorbill for several years, and now I'm looking at them. Way cool.
We keep scanning, and there are gulls all over, but it's the Guillemots, Razorbills and Puffins that have our attention. We then go over and into the RSPB building. There is a rookie holding down the fort, and she is helpful, but not very knowledgeable. As I'm talking with her, Sharon is scanning out the window. Suddenly, "CHOUGHS, CHOUGHS*,
two of them!" Sharon yells. I check her to see where she's looking and am on the flying birds with binoculars in less than two seconds. I'm looking for red-orange bill and feet, but in the air I can't see either. Then one pulls up and lands on a patch of green grass, right on the edge of the cliff, out a window on our left. I see a clear orange bill. El Fantastico! Three life birds in ten minutes.
The rookie girl proves that she knows more than I think by saying that the Choughs need the plain green grass, because they dig their long orange bills down through the grass, into the dirt below, for insects, and the longer, tougher plant growth doesn't allow them to do that.
Sharon points out a GREAT BLACK-BACKED GULL on a rock in the water below. The sun comes out and one of us starts singing. "The sun'll come out today, today, you can bet your bottom pound..." It's a little misty over the water and Sharon asks for a photo of the mist.
We break for lunch in the RSPB parking lot. Sharon finishes it off with a couple of plain Chocolate Digestives, a McVities treat. I have three marshmallow puffs, and Sharon points out that I have left some around my mouth. "PASHMALLOW!" as we used to call a neighborhood kid in Versailles who always had marshmallow around his mouth.
GETTING OFF OF ANGLESEY
We start our drive out, and we see what looks like a Magpie, but with no tail. Very odd. A little further we see three beautiful black horses in a field, the nearest one with his head back over his shoulder, looking at us. They have white manes and huge, white feet, like Clydesdales. We later learn that these are called Shire horses.
We make a left turn around a field, and I notice a bird paralleling us, medium-sized, perhaps like a Mistle Thrush. It banks and I see horizontal stripes on the tail. Sharon says, "Hawk!" and she's seeing it too. Sharon then yells, "SPARROWHAWK*!" and based on the other marks, I agree.
We come back through Holyhead and see a huge ferry with IRISH FERRIES painted on the high middle, with a four-leaf clover logo. Another large, white ship says STENA LINE. There is a kind of fog in front of the white ship, like they are steam cleaning it. Sharon sees another magpie with no tail. Somebody's collectng Magpie tails.
As we make our way further through Holyhead, we go through a suburb and come upon a truck parked in the street. It is full of big bags, like Santa bags, maybe 60-80 pounds each. That's weight, not cost. But they are a dirty white, and each has two handles on it. Two men pick up one bag each, and each puts his bag over his shoulder. Sharon figures it's coal being delivered, like trash pickup in San Jose, only it's fuel delivery for a week.
She yells, "Take those to Newcastle!" As we continue heading for Conwy, Sharon practices some cusswords in Welsh that are given in the phrasebook, in the categories of mild, slightly less mild, and still less mild. So far, she has entertained me with Hell's bells, I am blowed (both mild), and Great Jesus (slightly less mild). She says some others, but I don't even know what they mean in English...
We cross into Conwy County, and make our way to Conwy Castle. This, like Harlech, is a ruins, but is not very ruined. It is, however, too ruined to live in. We drive through an incredibly narrow entry to get to the car park. We wander around the castle, taking pictures of each other and enjoying the stonework. I get a nice smile out of Sharon on the ramparts, with a tower and the flag of Wales flying overhead.
Here are some of the best Conwy Castle photos:
OGWEN FARM BIRDS
We finish up, go back to the motorhome and take off. We drive back into Gwynedd County and go to the nature reserve next to Ogwen Farm, parking where we can see Penryn Castle in the distance. That castle is lived in.
We see a meadow full of Meadow Pipits and a tree Robin. Sharon picks up a sleeping black and white striped animal that is either a cat, a badger or a skunk, but surely not a cat. Skunk is our best guess. I go over and kick him. Just kidding.
We walk around to the coast and after scoping the waders at a huge long distance, we pick up about 3 KNOTS*, called Red Knots in the U.S. and they have their summer colors. Beautiful. There are also quite a number of Curlews, Shelducks and Black-backed Gulls.
We get kind of turned around, but finally make it to the village of Bethesda. On the outer reaches of our mistake, though, we stop to watch a young fellow with a tightly-crooked staff, chase after a little lamb, trip him up by a back leg with his crook, then trip him again as the lamb tries to make off again, then catch the little rascal. He spray paints whatever code is appropriate, and lets the lamb go running off.
Sharon has called an AA telephone number for northwest Wales, and has directions to a meeting tonight at 8 pm. We find the place, then go to our camp and check in. At the top of the camp, just after the entry, Sharon notices a sign that says, "Caution! Blasting." Hu-wut?
The manager says, in answer to what Sharon has noticed, that the huge piles of gray stones around the area are slate. He says this is the biggest slate quarry in Europe, and dynamite blasting is from 9:30 am till 6 pm or so. But since tomorrow is Saturday, they may be off.
The site is sort of a descending cascade of camping sites, paralleling a river's drop of about one foot in five. Actually, the top half of the sites are permanently-placed mobile homes that are rented out for weeks and weekends during the summer. The touring sites, where people like us park, are at the lower half of the park.
There are black bunnies all over the place, looking very distinctive. Blackjack Rabbits. Black Jackrabbits.
We set up, I do some computer work, Sharon fixes us a quick dinner and after cleanup, we go back into Bethesda, and one mile up the hill to the small school where the meeting will be. I go up a little higher and park in an open space up a road taking off to the left, and very steep. I put the motorhome in low gear, pull the emergency break, and put two big rocks under the front tires.
I work on the computer while Sharon goes to the meeting from 8 to 9:30. A little before 9:30, I leave the motorhome to meet Sharon. A couple of kids say, "You can't park there." I ask them why not. "The bus turns around there," they say. I ask when and they say about 8 in the morning. "I'm picking up my wife from school, and we'll be leaving in ten minutes." That'll be alright then, they say.
We walk down the hill to where I've been hearing a booming music beat for the last hour. "Disco lights," the boys say, and they go in the door as I go further down to meet Sharon. After a bit, she comes out, excited about a Big Book, all in Welsh. "I got everybody to sign it for me," she says. Her goal is to go to meetings in England (check), Wales (check), and Scotland (still to come). We go back to our site and set up for the night. I like the sound of the river dropping just behind our motorhome. We turn in and it's lights out.
FACTOID OF THE DAY: "Chough" is pronounced to rhyme with rough. And to rhyme with chuff. Which we are the past tense of right now.
SLEEPING IN: Ogwen Bank Caravan Park and Country Club, just outside Bethesda, Gwynedd County, northwest Wales
LIFE BIRDS (Never seen or heard by us before): Puffin (Atlantic Puffin, in
U.S.), Razorbill, Chough, Sparrowhawk, Knot (Red Knot in U.S.)
Today's Total: 5
Trip Total: 21
TRIP BIRDS (First time for trip, but already on our life list): ): 5 lifers
+ Raven, Guillemots (Common Murres in U.S.), Great Black-backed Gull
Today's Total: 8
Trip Total: 78
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