UK 2002 SIX-WEEK LUTMAN MOTORHOME BIRDING TRIP

 

Saturday, April 13, 2002. Week 2 Day 6. Wales to Lancashire, England. Birding Martin Mere.

Map

It's 9:30, and we're watching squirrels under Sharon's birdefeeder. She has seen a Blue Tit on the feeder where I put it up last night. The sun is out, and it's hard to imagine better weather. It's a little cool, but not cold. There hasn't been any blasting yet from the slate digs, so I guess they're off Saturdays. There are lots more black bunnies around, and we're reminded of Sharon reading that rabbits were the #3 favorite pet in Britain.

NO TIDE CHEER

We take off, admiring the cascades and waterfalls in our camp,

and I refill with diesel at the usual $5.00 per gallon, then we head over to the coast by Ogwen Farm. As we near the car park, Sharon spots five Little Egrets perched on limbs of a dead tree. We intentionally got around late this morning, based on what Rob, the camp check-in manager, told us about the tides today. They should be coming in, but not all the way in. We park and head over the little bump and...

WHOA! The tide's as high as it gets. Crud on a rock in Welsh! Nothing to do but hit the road and put on some miles. We'll head north for Martin Mere, where thousands of Pink-footed and Barnacle Geese winter. We understand that most are gone now, perhaps all. But when there are that many birds, a few injured or sick or tired-of-traveling ones stay behind. Those are the ones we're counting on.

ROADIES

As we approach Conwy again, going through the first tunnel, it's an absolutely gorgeous day, there are sailboats out on the blue water under blue skies. Wow.

Sharon thinks she sees Puffin Island, an island just off of Anglesey. Rats got onto the island and killed all the young Puffins and ate the eggs. So for a year or two, there weren't any. Recently, they've poisoned all the rats, and the Puffins are beginning to return.

We pass a mechanical conveyor belt which runs like a Rube Goldberg device from a quarry of red stone on our right, to a pier on our left and onto ships (none of which is present at the moment), with the belt running high over the road. We can see red clouds over the quarry and figure it's sandstone perhaps.

Next, on our left, we pass a nice expanse of green lawn between the road and the sea. It is a caravan park, and there are 100-150 caravans (trailer in U.S.) parked here. On a warm sunshiny day in the U.S., you look for a spot under a good shade tree. If the sun is out here, you try to get out IN it.

We pass a long backup on the other side of the highway divider. There are maybe 4 miles of double-lane cars. Drivers are out talking to each other, smoking, stretching their legs. I'm glad it's not us. Shudder.

A few minutes later, we can see what looks like a big white ferris wheel, in the distance, next to the water. Our road has slowly separated from the water's edge. A closer look reveals that it is shaped like the London Eye, but it appears much smaller. A little after noon and we pass from Conwy County to Denbighshire, which I've never heard of till now. And a few minutes later, we pass into Flintshire.

Sharon notices a turnoff to a small village called Caerwys. She looks up some words in our Welsh phrase book, and finds that 'caer' means fort and 'wy' means eggs. So Sharon's maiden name of Caraway might mean egg fort.

We are soon going to pass near Liverpool, but right now, as we look to the left, we see a bay, then a bit of land. From our maps, Sharon knows there is another bay behind that land. The water near us is the River Dee, spreading wide to become the nearer bay. The town on the peninsula is Berkenhead, and the far river and bay is the Mersey, as in "Ferry, Cross the Mersey," a song from the sixties.

And speaking of music, do you know how George, John, Paul and Ringo got the name of their group? Ringo called me to ask about band names in 1962, and I said I couldn't help him but I had to add, because I liked his drums so much, "If the melody don't get you, the beat'll." OK, OK. Sorry, Mum.

All over the country, at service centers on the motorways, Little Chef is the fast food chain. And as we drive by one, we see that the motel here is Travelodge. We drive further, and Sharon pointed out earlier that the Brits like fresh flowers. It seems like everybody has some in the windows of their houses, be it kitchen or living room window.

As we approach Liverpool, a sign says A55 to the left or M56 in parentheses to the right. We like the motorways, plus there is a sign on the left that says possible delays on A55. I think of that four-mile line on the other side of the freeway, so we take the M56. We come to another ARAF word painted on the pavement with SLOW right below it, to remind us that we're still in Wales. But we know it's not for long.

BACK TO ENGLAND

12:48 am and we're into England, Cheshire County. Sharon smiles.

We come up to a roundabout and Sharon points out a Dutch-style windmill to our left. Later, we see and then pass refinery stacks to our left, about 2-3 miles away. Somewhere up ahead is the Liverpool Airport. Sharon's studying the map and says, "Aintree Racecourse [where they hold the Grand National Steeplechase] is in the middle of Liverpool," a fact I did not know.

We continue, make the M6 headed north, and enjoy the four lanes in each direction as we continue circumnavigating Liverpool. We pass into Lancashire, the Red Rose County, the sign says. We notice another fun fence where the boards are horizontal, each one overlaying the one below. But the edge that is showing is wavy because the board was cut not from the center of the log that used to be a tree, but from the edge. If you can follow this wavy description. Rippling.

MERELY MARTIN, MERELY SPECTACULAR.

Then at early afternoon, we come to our next birding destination, Martin Mere. I go in and show them our RSPB card, and the lady says, "This is a Wildfowl Trust site, not RSPB." Rats in Welsh.

We pay 11 pounds to get in and ask some questions of a fellow who, according to him, speaks a combination of Scot and English. Nice accent. "We're here for the geese," I say hopefully. "They're all gone now," says 'e, as my hopes dive. "Except for the odd injured one, which of course stays," he says, as my hopes rebound nicely.

There is a list of the birds that have been seen lately, and it's impossible to maintain objectivity now. Let's get them birds! We take off on the first trail to a hide, and Sharon picks us up another Long-tailed Tit.

We come to the Hale Ornithologist hide, on the way to the Millers Bridge hide. We set up the scope and get a couple of swans between a fence and a water pond. We carefully check the yellow on the bill, and both point deeply to the front, "WHOOPER SWANS*!" I whoop. Then we talk about them a little to compare observations, and we agree.

Next down the fence a little and to the right, there is a dark goose with pink-legs, and guess what this lifer is: a PINK-FOOTED GOOSE*. Sharon picks us up 3-4 ducks and they are wonderful little TEAL. Another wader is a Redshank, with bright red-orange legs.

We continue scanning, and the hide is full of expert birders who are sitting and birding like Dad and his buddies used to sit at Tops Cafe in Versailles, drink coffee, and talk about fishing, hunting and trading guns. They help us with IDs we're slow at. At 3 o'clock, we see 20-25 BLACK-TAILED GODWITS* rise up from their feeding point in the water, fly away from us, flare their tails and come back down on grass. The squadron of black tails with wide white bands takes my breath away.

Then about 40 Pink-footed Geese do the same, moving about 30 feet from their starting point to their landing point. Gorgeous geese. Then we pick up several RUFF*, with the males beginning to change to their totally unbelievable breeding plumage, the final stage of which is shown below.

The head, neck and chest colors are a rich black on the best male, so I guess this one is about halfway there now (Based on the photo above, I don't think he's anywhere near halfway now).

We finish up and prepare to move to Millers Bridge, when a man says to me, "Don't forget your byuke," and I stop in my tracks. "Byuke, byuke?" I think, and I can't come up with it. Then I realize I forgot one bird ID book on the elbow-resting ledge.

On down to Millers Bridge. There is a winter bird that should be out of here now, but we know from talking with birders that there are about six still here, using the shelf feeders around the area. We get WIGEON and Ringed Plover, then get fresh information that the late-migrating birds are still on site, clear across the reserve, at the next to last hide.

We hurry along, checking each flat feeder to be sure our birds aren't coming this way as we're going their way. We come to the "corner" hide, Sharon goes in, but I check an outdoors flat feeder for about five seconds. Not here. I go inside, and Sharon is talking with some novice birders, one of whom doesn't know the bird by name, but Sharon can tell by her description that it's our bird!

We settle down and watch the flat feeder viewed from a comfortable bench seat. A bird flies in and lands on the feeder, but it's a Chaffinch. "Maybe she saw this bird," I think, hoping I'm wrong. Then... "BRAMBLING*!" I whisper, as this beautiful little orange and brown, black and white bird lands on the flat feeder and lets us watch for half a minute or so.

Sharon is on him immediately. Fantastic! I take a picture, but the bird looks like a little spot on the feeder. Have to blow this one up and see what I can get later. Then a female Brambling joins the male, and over the next five minutes, they alternate coming, collecting seeds, and returning to the brush nearby to crack their dinner. Aw, man, you oughta be here. "Grand Slam at Martin Mere!" scream the headlines of my newspaper daydream. I almost want to smoke a cigarette.

We high five, and go back to the center. We join the Wildfowl Trust organization on the way out, and they deduct our 11 pound entry fee from the cost. We will go to two or three more Wildfowl Trust sites before we leave Britain, so will break about even.

We go back to the motorhome, then take off and find Parkside Farms Caravan Park for the evening. We're camped, hooked up and in place by a few minutes after six. There is still a good hour-and-a-half of light left.

DINNER BREAK

Sharon fixes dinner, and to my high-school buddy and friend Randy Cox's horror, it's fried ham, a beef pastie, cherry tomatoes (which are delicious) and nice, red radishes (for me). He wants us to eat something more exotic than our normal fare.

CARAVAN PARK OWNER KEITH

I go up to the house and they say sure I can use the phone for email. I explain that it'll cost them about 40 pence in phone charges, if I use it for ten minutes, and I'll give them 3 pounds. I get on, do my business, and get off. I talk with Keith, the owner, about his trip after university to Canada, where he and a buddy had a summer job in 1972. Then they took a bus to Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Miami, and New York, where they caught a jet back to London. He's a great guy, and not just because he gave me back two pounds, saying, "Here. This is to maintain good relations with America." I go back, we read our downloaded email, then turn in.

FACTOID OF THE DAY: The one-half and the three-quarter mile fractions, for example, on the highway mileage signs (till the next town, next exit, etc.) are slightly smaller numbers than the integer mile numbers. The three is a little above the "line", the four is a little below the line, but they leave out the slash, and put the three very close to the four, so there's really no mistaking that it is a fraction. I calculate that when you take this into consideration for all the roadsigns on all the highways all over Britain, they have saved one MILL-ION pounds in paint, by not including the slashes.

SLEEP IN: Parkside Farms Caravan Park, near Lancaster, Lancashire County, northwest England

LIFE BIRDS (Never seen or heard by us before): Whooper Swan, Pink-footed Goose, Black-tailed Godwit, Ruff, Brambling
Today's Total: 5
Trip Total: 26

TRIP BIRDS (First time for trip, but already on our life list): 5 lifers + Teal, Little-ringed Plover, Wigeon, Ringed Plover (Oops, I already counted this one earlier, but the statistics will erroneously count it till the end of the trip. Actually this and the earlier omission of Song Thrush counterbalance each other, so the count should be correct, from the double error).
Today's Total: 8
Trip Total: 86

 

Sunday, April 14, 2002. Week 2 Day 7. Northward. Birding Leighton Moss.

Map

RAINY MORNING

8:30 am and we're set up for travel. The day is overcast, there are tiny pieces of blue sky, but it feels more like the day will be gray with some rain. Seven minutes later and it is sprinkling on us.

TURKEY FROM ENGLAND

And another ten minutes later and we cross into Cumbria, the Lake District. I pull into a service island on the motorway, hoping to call daughter Tara in Turkey. She asked us to call her sometime and I said in an email that I would in the next few days. I try to get a phone card, but they don't have any here. I call an information number and learn that to call Turkey costs one pound per minute, or about $90 per hour.

We have about five or six pounds, so I call and connect with Cihan and Tara just before they head out the door to have brunch with a couple of friends visiting there from England. This couple are actually American, running a B&B somewhere in England. You have to talk fast at $1.50 a minute and in no time, I yell to Tara, "Tara, two seconds left, I love you, bye!" and the phone goes dead after I hear her yell, "I love you t..."

WE LOVE ABBA

Sharon finishes in the rest room (British: toilet), and we accidentally wander into the gift shop. Warning flags go up, but it's too late. Sharon buys a double CD of ABBA for about $30, and we make it out.

It is sprinkling and our first rainbird of the day is the House Sparrow in the car park. We hit the road again and enjoy the scene of a lady in long pants and jacket, with a riding helmet and whip, holding a long rope attached to the head of a pony. The pony is trotting around in a circle and the lady is doing some kind of training, apparently.

We are heading for our next birding site but we get a little lost. While recovering, Sharon notices a place where they bowl on the lawn. It's a bowling green, and suddenly she says, "Hey, isn't there a town in the states somewhere called Bowling Green?" And there is. Bowling Green, Kentucky for one. I remember wondering about that name as a kid, the first time I heard it, but gradually accepted it without learning its origin. And now we know its origin.

In all this wonder, Sharon notices a hedgehog beside the road, as it disappears into the grass, but I miss it. I caught a nice dead one beside the road the other day. He was lying on his back with his little feet sticking up in the air.

LEIGHTON MOSS RSPB RESERVE

About 10:30 we finally come to Leighton Moss. It's cold and a little rainy. We park in the car park across from the visitors center and walk across. I am excited about the bird possibilities here, and wonder if yesterday's luck will continue. We ask about a half-dozen birds or so, show them our RSPB members card, get clearance stickers which we put on our binocular rain guards, then make our way to the first of the many hides they have here.

HIDE AND SEEK

When you walk in the door, you immediately see a half circle of viewing area about 7 feet tall, composed of five huge pieces of glass. To the left and to the right are about ten long windows each, with each about 12 inches tall, which rotate up and out of the way. There is a ledge below the window, so you can rest your elbows while holding your binocs [Sharon: or "bins" we have heard] to look at the lake, the reeds and the birds - mostly ducks and geese.

We set up the scope and start looking.

I am so excited. I immediately get on a sleeping POCHARD* and Sharon has one too, but it disappears before she can get me on it, so I get her on the dozing duck. There are Greylags, Black-headed Gulls, Coots, Mute Swans, Tufted Ducks, but Sharon is scanning for Bitterns. A couple of experts confirms a pair of GADWALL just as Sharon is asking me what they are. We are at what is called the Lillian hide. I get a pair of SHOVELERS to our right, several sleeping Teal, quite a few Shelducks, more Black-headed Gulls.

We move across the reserve based on some information about some pretty rare ducks to what's called the Public hide.

We get a raptor in a tree, and it's a nice MARSH HARRIER, brown with a creamy head. Then we get a HEN HARRIER, called Northern Harrier in America.

At 12:20 Sharon is on the scope scouring the area for our current bingo bird. She sees a very interesting pair of ducks, checks her book [I think they are garganey, but I'm afraid to say "Garganey" and be wrong in front of so many good birders], then asks me to look through the scope and say what I think they are [Bob's always more accurate on the ID's]. I immediately notice the white comma on the side of the head. "GARGANEY*" I say, as the male and female pair come from just beyond some short reeds into the open.

The conversation and electricity inside the hide pick up noticeably, and you can hear the word Garganey being repeated. Then the ducks lift off the water, fly left, then right, then left again, and set back down beyond a set of reeds, out of sight. We talk to several couples the rest of the day who heard about the Garganey but missed them. The Lutman luck strikes again, as Sharon likes to say.

Then she notices a familiar bird with a soft blue beak. "Is that a RUDDY DUCK?" she asks. And the couple next to us says yes, and that some escaped from collections and have established themselves in the wild. Now they're all over the country.

We continue walking down the long causeway to the end of the reserve, and turn left to what's called the Lower hide. Suddenly we hear, "Whooom, whoooom, whooooom," spaced about three seconds apart. We had been told to listen for a sound like blowing into a pop bottle. It's a BITTERN*, and is the other big name bird we were after here. We go on to the hide, but don't see anything else. However, on the walk back, we hear the familiar sounds like those of a pig squealing. A sure sign of a Water Rail. We also hear the Bittern a couple of more times. Coots and Moorhens walk across the long, straight causeway as we make our way back to the visitor center.

WOODWELL

We have one more place to try, where our birding friend David (back at Prawle Point) told us to go for Hawfinch, a tough bird to find. And that place is Woodwell. We get a map and drive over to the carpark there, only a mile or two away.

We get out and bird a little, meeting a couple from Edinburgh (pronounced "ED-n-burra" or from some people "ED-n-bruh") down for a weekend of birding and relaxing. I don't get his name, but I hear him call her Lynn. We swap birding locations and stories a bit, and they help us get MARSH TIT*, high in a tree, and though it takes a while, we finally refind the bird that they saw a few minutes earlier. Namely a gorgeous BULLFINCH*,

in trees in someone's back yard, then on their roof. What a beautiful black and rose, grey and white bird, with a big finch beak. Fantastic.

When we first met, they were naming the birds they had seen and one word they said sounded like "bluefinch" almost, and I had to ask again what they said. What they said was "byulefinch," in this great Scot accent. They laugh when I tell them what it sounds like to me.

But after a bit they take off, having to make the two and one-half or three hour drive back home. We also load up and head out, making it to Parkfoot Caravan and Camping Club, next to Lake Oswald. There are several Pied Wagtails around. There is only one other vehicle besides us and we wave at each other.

Sharon hangs up our birdfeeder and starts dinner.

While I'm waiting for dinner, I go over to the open field behind our motorhome, and get a couple of playful lambs.

I back up and take in the entire field where the lambs are playing.

Then it's time for dinner. Baked potato and baked chicken. Randy. Another great day for us.

 

FACTOID OF THE DAY: I don't care much for the word 'factoid.'

SLEEP IN: Parkfoot Caravan and Camping Club, near Penrith, Cumbria County, the North Lake District, northwest England

LIFE BIRDS (Never seen or heard by us before): Pochard, Garganey, Bittern (heard only), Marsh Tit, Bullfinch
Today's Total: 5
Trip Total: 31

TRIP BIRDS (First time for trip, but already on our life list): 5 lifers + Gadwall, Shoveler, Marsh Harrier, Hen Harrier, Ruddy Duck, Water Rail (heard only)
Today's Total: 11
Trip Total: 97

 

Monday, April 15, 2002. Week 3 Day 1. "If i'ss no' Sco'ish, i'ss CR-R-RAP." - I think this is a quote from the huge fat Scotsman in the James Bond takeoff movie Austin Powers, starring Saturday Night Live's Michael Myers.

Map

Birders: No birding today

MORNING IN CAMP

We ran out of propane sometime last evening (we know this because we can't light the burners on the stove or the heater), so I go outside, get into the right compartment, and move the connector over to the new bottle. Bob's Your Uncle, we have heat again.

As we're having breakfast, Sharon sees a Great Tit come to the feeder, grab a seed and take off. A female Chaffinch lands on the feeder, but the Tit zooms over lands near her, and flares its tail feathers and the Chaffinch flies off. The Tit takes another seed and flies off. The Chaffinch returns one last time and this time the Tit actually flies into her, knocking her off the perch. She doesn't come back, he takes his seed, leaves, and doesn't come back either.

As I'm preparing the rig for travel, Sharon watches a man in the field between us and the lake. He is in a jeep, but he has a sheep dog who jumps out, races across the fields, and runs around the farthest sheep, turning them in the direction he wants. The man picks up a sheep which appears to Sharon to be sick, and places it in the back of the truck. The dog jumps back in and they take off. It seems the dog was just getting exercise.

A man comes around, and waves to get my attention. He is checking for paid tickets, and I haven't hung mine on the mirror, but just put it down on the dash. I show it to him, and he wishes us the top o' the morning. By 9:30 I have double-checked our takeoff preparation ritual. Bird feeder in the storage compartment (me), AC power cord unplugged and in the storage compartment (me), fridge switched from AC power to motorhome voltage (Sharon), GPS plugged into the lighter and turned on (me), and all the cabinets locked (Sharon).

TRAVELIN'

As we take off, Sharon notices a short farm silo. She has seen one a few days ago, but this is the first one I've noticed. We pass a herd of light brown cows with white stripes down their back.

It's a gorgeous sunny day, partly cloudy but lots of sun. We are coming to the far end of Oswald Lake. There are rolling rugged mountains, but green grows over all of them.

As I notice sheep and lambs for the umpteenth time in Great Britain, I watch a lamb wiggling its long tail. I think sheep ranchers in the U.S. must clip the lambs' tails at birth because I don't remember seeing any long ones there. Anyway, this gives more meaning to the phrase, "... wagging their tails behind them."

We turn north and cut over to the A66, climb over a hill, over a pass, and now on the right, high up the mountain is a wall running along like a miniature Great Wall of China. We guess that it's to keep the sheep from going over the hill. We see another couple of military jets fly over and soon after that, we make the turnoff to Castlerigg.

CASTLERIGG STONE CIRCLE

This is a site like Stonehenge, only the stones are smaller, and it is not nearly as famous. But on the other hand, it's totally accessible. I can walk around and touch and sit on each stone. Well, I'd have to climb the tall ones.

This stone work has created between 2500 and 1300 BC, around the Neolithic and Bronze Ages. There are a couple of young women with a dog here, and they are walking in opposite directions, around the stone circle, with incense of some kind. I think they're playing musical ancient stones.

After more photos from a different sun angle,

we make our way back to the local highway, as another couple of jets fly over. I can see about half the sheep in one of the fields nearby running at full sheep speed away from the jets.

Shortly thereafter, we pass Greystoke. This reminds Sharon of the movie Tarzan of Greystoke of a couple of decades ago. We go through a small settlement and there is a stoplight and pedestrian crossing marked on the pavement, but it's a cow crossing [When the farmer is moving his cows, he trips the light to stop traffic while they cross]. We hit the M6 Motorway south of Penrith and head north, stopping for diesel almost immediately.

OH CALEDONIA

We cross into Scotland and after a bit, the motorway passes close to Locherbie, where the jet crashed from the bomb aboard a few years ago. I pay silent tribute to the passengers and crew.

We make it to Glasgow and through bad communication, I take us on the ring road to bypass the highway passing straight through Glasgow. If I had paid more attention, and not been so locked into the normal U.S. situation, where it's faster to take the ring roads, I would have listened to Sharon and we would have gone straight through Glasgow in a wink and a nudge. Instead, I blow probably an extra hour on slow streets with constant roundabouts. We finally get to open highway about 3:30.

After a bit more driving, Sharon starts singing "... on the Bonnie, Bonnie banks of Loch Lomond," and I am looking at the reason why. There it is on the right, through the woods. Loch Lomond.

We continue on, and pass a kilt and bagpipe maker center.

THE TREES

All over the wild hills and mountains of Scotland, the trees are gone. I'm guessing that they were cut for lumber or fuel years or decades or centuries ago, and as I drive along, it feels like the mountains got a bad haircut or something. There ARE stands of trees on the hills, but only in well-defined patches, and they are there because the lumber companies are growing them for harvest when they reach the right age. I'd estimate that 95% or more of the forests are gone (After touring the country, I'd say the number was somewhat lower, but the effect is still very noticeable). I never pictured the Scottish countryside to be like this. On the far side of Loch Lomond (we are driving a road that goes along one side of the long, narrow loch), I can see evergreen trees of different colors. In a large stand of healthy green trees, in patchy fashion, are yellowish trees. And in fewer, but also patchy stands, are maroon-colored trees, the color appearing to come from dead leaves (These turn out to be Beech). Sharon says some of these may be larch trees, which appear to die in the winter, but always return in the spring.

RAMBLIN'

Just after we pass Bonnie Bank Guest House, we see a neat little waterfall, splashing over a huge boulder ahead of us, the sun sparkling off it. But as we move on and get the rest of the story, it turns out to be someone's blue hose on the rock causing the splash. We pass a little hotel on a corner in Crianlarich, and as we pass, I notice that the first floor of the hotel is surrounded with what seems like garden windows, and they are filled with flowers.

There are just tons of yellow daffodils everywhere. We turn west, away from Loch Lomond, and I find that we are on the second road from hell, the first being down by Prawle Point, where pieces of my left side mirror are still reflecting on how they got there, on the ground.

Sharon asks if she should take the mirror in, and I say yes, so she rotates it up against the side of the motorhome, so it won't get knocked the rest of the way off. We see a welcome to Argyle and Bute sign, and these three words are the name of the county we are in now, I think. There is a big peak to the left and I'd say it is 40% covered with snow.

Timeout for a short Scottish lesson. Ben means mount or mountain. The tallest mountain in Britain is in Scotland and it is Ben Nevis, at 1344 meters. That's about 4400 feet. Inver means the mouth, like of a river. So you figure out what Inverness means.

At about five pm, we take a driving break beside Loch Awe, and Sharon's mountain goats turn out to be plain sheep who are good climbers. A few miles back, the road beside the loch was built on concrete piers beside the mountain, instead of digging into the mountain, but I wouldn't have known if I hadn't spotted that just before we turned a corner and entered that stretch.

SCREEEEEECH...

Suddenly I hear a screech of tires and I am 100% certain that somebody is about to crash into us, but I can't see where it's going to come from. I brace for the crash, but then the sound gets louder and a "shhhhhhhhhhh" is slowly added, then a military jet passes overhead, missing us by I'd estimate ten inches. My adrenaline is pumping like crazy. About five minutes later, it happens again, and again, it's my instincts that fire up first rather than my memory. I brace for another crash for about two seconds, THEN I remember what it's going to be. The second jet passes over our head like the first, but breaking the proximity record. Whew.

About 5:30 Sharon has sighted eight or ten Highland Cattle. These are wonderfully shaggy beasts with long horns and make me feel good. They look at you through hair coming down over their eyes and are a great part of the countryside. Colors are solid and different cows are rusty brown, yellow or black, in this group.

We pass a sign that says Fiddlers' Rally this Saturday, and I wish we could stay, but we continue on. We arrive in Oban, continue on through, and make it up into the hills beyond

to Oban Divers Camping and Caravan Park. It is a nice, small, well-kept site and Susan checks us in. She says that yes, I can do email here, and she'll only charge me 50 pence, whereas I've been offering 2 pounds (100 pence per pound) at other places.

CAMP

This neat little camp, so far up in the hills and away from Oban, is one of our favorites so far.

We'll catch the ferry to Mull tomorrow, and relax here tonight.

There is a strange sign on the front of the reception building. It says "Same Sex Parties, Must Not Exceed 2, Multiple Parties Not Admitted. - Manager." I'm a little uneasy about this sign's meaning till I decide it means that they don't want to have a van full of rowdy male teenagers come up, camp and party all weekend. At first, I thought it was some sort of advertisement.

There are birds all around, but no new ones. Chaffinches, Dunnock, Robin, Tits and other common ones. We put out the birdfeeder, Sharon takes a shower and gets a laundry going, sitting in one of our chairs and reading a book while she waits.

There are some wonderful flowers (tulips, I think) growing here, and I line up a bunch with the hill behind.

We're not sure what we'll encounter tomorrow over on Mull. We don't know if we should expect to see the White-tailed Eagle (our only reason for going) right away, or if it will take several hours of hunting around.

I know, I know, you're thinking, "Or maybe you won't get it at all." But you see, in a math class I had once, I learned an interesting way to look at things in some very specific cases. To apply it here, I would say, "The only interesting cases are the ones where we DO see our bird. The case of not seeing it would take care of itself and requires no additional thought or consideraton." A form of positive thinking, I guess.

So back to the interesting possibilities, I figure we'll get it pretty quick, take the early afternoon ferry back and head up the series of highways running along the chain of lochs ending with Loch Ness and then the river Ness. But you know what a chuckle God has with what we call our plans.

FACTOID OF THE DAY: Scotland was long ago known as Caledonia. The name was changed at some point to Scotia (keep your eyes on those first four letters), then Scotland. And if you're sharp, you already stuck the Nova in front of Scotia: New Scotland. The people of Scotland will tell you "We're not Scotch. We're Scot."

SLEEP IN: Oban Divers Camping and Caravan Park, near Oban, Argyll and Bute County, western Scotland

LIFE BIRDS (Never seen or heard by us before): none
Today's Total: 0
Trip Total: still 31

TRIP BIRDS (First time for trip, but already on our life list): none
Today's Total: 0
Trip Total: still 97

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