UK 2002 SIX-WEEK LUTMAN MOTORHOME BIRDING TRIP

 

Thursday, April 25, 2002. Week 4 Day 4. Nottingham. Clumber Park.

Map

HALF SIX

It's "half-six" and I have to wake up the "old man" in the trailer by the front gate, so he can open the gate for us. I knock on the door of his trailer and take one step back. I see a curtain being pulled back as he looks out towards the road, but he can't see me from this angle. I walk back so that he can see me, and he does a little jump, in his pajamas, whilst (this bird is called "while" in the U.S.) sitting up in his bed. And don't I feel bad.

But he dresses quickly and comes out of his trailer with a good smile, "Top o' the mornin' to you," he says. He's not so old, and I detect a trace of German in the accent. I give him the key to the toilets, and he starts to go to the office to retrieve my deposit, but I tell him I left only one pound not two, and that he should keep it for his trouble. I also give him another 50 pence. He opens the gate and we're off for Nottingham, abbreviated "Nott'm" on the motorway signs when short of space.

GETTING ROBIN TO NOTTINGHAM

We enter and exit West Yorkshire, coming into Nottinghamshire - Robin Hood country. We pass into Derbyshire, reminding me of an old girlfriend with that last name from Michigan, whose father worked with psychologist Skinner, famous for the Skinner Box.

RDH MOTORHOMES AND FIAT

We get to RDH Motorhomes at about ten am, and meet Rick and Mike, I think. They get right to work on the two problems we brought them, and we talk with a couple who own the same kind of motorhome we are renting while Sharon proofreads the next trip report.

They tell of going on holiday to Goa, a city in India on the west coast somewhere. They recall bumping into lots of birding groups there, and say it's beautiful. And no problem with drinking water. Still, I'm juberous.

Then we have one of those wonderful conversation snippets that you absolutely can't believe. I ask, "Have you ever had a problem with the water pump not coming on?" And he says, "Yes, all the time. You just have to give it a boot." We laugh and I say, "Yes, but isn't it under a seat or something?" And he says, "Yes, you just pop off the bench seat cusion, and there is the pump, right on top of the fresh water tank. Just give it a boot." This can't possibly be. But we tuck this information away for possible future use. In less than an hour, our rig is ready to go.

They've replaced the control panel and auxiliary battery charger connection, and the fuse for the microwave. All tested and verified. They believe the battery charger connection going bad was somehow the cause of the microwave fuse blowing. Rick also replaces the bulb and lens on the upper left night light on the outside of the motorhome. I broke it on something too. We also buy the "pinnacle," a small crown that screws onto the top of the disc-like omni-directional TV antenna on top of the motorhome. I scraped it off going under some branch.

A fellow in a camp once told us that this pinnacle was only needed for radio, but RDH begs to differ. Rick reviews all the scratches and rubmarks I've put in the motorhome, and believes that in the interest of safety I "really must" have the near side mirrors (passenger side) replaced. They call Fiat, tell them we're coming, and we drive over there, following a friendly guy from RDH who is taking another motorhome over there just now for some work.

Paul, in parts, analyzes the situation, and orders us the two mirror components of the assembly, then schedules us for next Tuesday 2 pm to have them installed. I get his card so I can call first before coming in. We will have to decide what to do in the days between now and then.

NOBODY DIED

I come back to the motorhome, where Sharon is waiting, and she says, as gravely as I've ever heard her say anything, "I've got terrible news." So I immediately think, "Who died?" reviewing the possibilities, but I know that she can't have been in touch with anyone since I last saw her. Since I now know that no one died, she's basically off the hook for anything she says. "I've left my fanny pack over at RDH."

So we have to go back and get it. I go in to use the toilet, while she calls them to confirm, and sure enough, they have recovered it. It has our passports in it, plus more. [Doh!]

THREE CHEERS FOR THE RED, WHITE AND GPS

The other good news is that I had the GPS on all the way driving over here - a very complicated route - and we can use it to reverse our route. We take off, but I immediately fill up with 61 liters of diesel for about $70, then we "unwind" our way back.

I study the map to see where we want to go next while she goes in and retrieves her fanny pack. All present and accounted for. Nothing lost.

CLUMBER PARK

We decide to go to a place called Clumber Park, near Mansfield, to try for Hawfinch. We subsequently learn that they are easier to see in winter, when they flock and feed together, and starting about now, they are pretty difficult to find.

We make our way there, and our birder guide friend Dave Woodhouse said look "in the woods near the chapel." We find a big chapel in the park, settle in the car park, get our gear and start looking for birds.

I STILL DON'T BELIEVE IT

And now for Paul Harvey's "The Rest of the Story." When I wrote down this location, after talking with Dave W, I forgot to write down the bird we were to look for. So we have come here with several objectives: 1) try to find Clumber Park, 2) try to find a chapel in the park, 3) try to figure out what special bird is here that may be what we're to look for.

But before we go, Sharon opens a faucet. The existing pressure makes the water run nicely, but the water pump doesn't kick on, and it soon dribbles to a stop. We look at each other. In the "old" scenario, this meant that the auxiliary battery wasn't charged, but we know that can't be now. What about the guy we talked to at RDH - the owner of one of these and what he said? Surely not. No way.

I lift off the bench and knock on the top of the waterpump. Nothing. Then I gave a little thump to the top of an electrical block that the pump's cables go into, only an inch or two away from the pump. "Pddddddddddddd," goes the water pump, as it fires up. "SHUT UP," to quote daughter Shandra. Wish Mark had told us about this at the beginning, but maybe he was afraid it'd scare us off or something. The more you know, the better off you are.

CLUMBER BIRDING

We bird a little, and I'm enjoying the mystery plot we're in. We don't know what bird we're looking for! Sharon picks up a Nuthatch and about 1 pm, we both hear a CUCKOO*. Man, it sounds just like a cuckoo clock. Fantastic. But we are not surprised by any means that the bird stays unseen. We high-five, then head for an information building.

A girl is actually outside the entrance, sitting in the open air, wearing a uniform telling us she works there. We quiz her about the birds, and she takes us inside, showing us a list of birds that are present in each month of the year. Then she shows us a nature-life-in-the-area brochure, and there is Lesser Spotted Woodpecker and Hawfinch. Then we remember: Hawfinch! That's what we're looking for.

Heck, the answer may have turned out to be Willow Warbler or something we already have, but we luck out. Before I left San Jose, I got an email from a former British lady who said, "I hope to see a Hawfinch someday," leading me to believe that they might be a little difficult to see.

We go back out and work the woods near the chapel for Hawfinch.But we don't see or hear any. Sharon likes the gargoyle on an overhang of the chapel.

This used to be a huge estate. There are enormous lawns and greens, a river passing through, the chapel, a nice walking path by the water,

and much more. It's beautiful. By late afternoon, we get a Jay, a few Long-tailed Tits, Chaffinches and a Blackcap chucking.

We finally put away our birder gear and get to the next step. Finding a place to camp tonight. To our great amazement, Sharon finds a Camping and Caravanning Club right here in the park!! How cool is that?

CLUMBER CAMPING

We make our way over, and it's entirely in a brick wall enclosure called the Old Walled Garden. [They used to grow all the greens and vegetables for the great estate here]. All the electric spaces are taken, but hey, we're tired, and we want to try right in this park tomorrow morning for Hawfinch again. If we were here on a weekend, a ranger leads birdwalks, and it's possible he knows something we don't. But that is meaningless to us, since we're not going to be here then.

I like the conservatory, visible from our site through locked wrought iron gates, where Professor Plum did it with the...

We have dinner and crash from the long day, pooped.

FACTOID OF THE DAY: It rains a lot in Great Britain, but it doesn't rain every day.

SLEEP IN: Clumber Park Camping and Caravanning Park, near Worksop, Nottinghamshire, central England

LIFE BIRDS (Never seen or heard by us before): Cuckoo (heard only)
Today's Total: 1
Trip Total: 45

TRIP BIRDS (First time for trip, but already on our life list): lifer
Today's Total: 1
Trip Total: 121

 

Friday, April 26, 2002. Week 4 Day 5. Scrawny Tawny. Bearded Tits.

Map

HOT CHA CHA. WORKING THE CLUMBER WOODS AGAIN.

Sharon fixes us hot chocolate (Cadbury's! Yum!) on this overcast and rainy morning. By about nine we have cleared the gate and are out of the Walled Garden [Don't even start your engine before 7AM, the warden told us last night. "If I see you up waiting at the gate at 7AM, we'll have trouble"].

We go to the chapel carpark, put our gear on, and start a path through the woods. "Chp, Chp, Chp," we hear. It's a Woodpecker! It has red on the belly, and a white triangle on the shoulders, so it's a Greater Spotted, not the Lesser Spotted we are after. Dang.

We work our way to the end of Icehouse Woods, then are coming back through when Sharon stops, looks at me, and mouths, "Did you hear that?" Actually, I've got my sweatshirt hood on, and my parka hood on over that, and she may have yelled it. I yank both hoods off and listen.

I don't hear anything, but then Sharon says, "I saw a large brown bird fly right through there about head high." We go looking for it, then I play our Tawny Owl CD track. A Tawny? Now Sharon gets two large birds flying, and sees the approximate location where one landed. I can recognize this situation. Sharon's got the bird in her sites and will pinpoint it momentarily. "I got it, I got it. A tAWNY oWL! COME HERE!" (This odd arrangement of initial lower case letters and following upper case letters will be used to designate an uPGRADE - a visual sighting of a bird previously only heard, or a much better view of a previous bird seen, but poorly).

I come over by Sharon and get on this great bird, looking our way. I can see the color, face and eyes, and it looks like it just got out of a rainstorm. But it's beautiful.

The bird is looking all over the forest to see who (get it?) has the audacity to enter his territory. Then Sharon says, "I got another one. It's a pair, defending their territory!" And I have to agree, although I only see the one owl. Fantastic upgrade.

We then walk the woods next to the chapel, but don't get anything new. As we're walking, we walk by a small Greek building with two benches inside. Like a small bus stop. This (as well as everything else here) was designed by a man named Steven Wright to face across the river and look upon the Roman columned building, looking like a small Lincoln Monument.

We make it back to the car park, and head out for our next stop, Thorne Moor Reserve, or something like that. Dave Woodhouse is sending us to try for a Hobby, a kestrel-like falcon, but blacker and faster. The Hobby is like a smaller Peregrine (Falcon).

But first, we have to exit Clumber Park. After a few minutes, we find ourselves on a two-lane paved road. There are nice grass stretches on either side of the road, then on the outside of that a long (as far as I can see forward AND backwards) line of oak trees, each with a weak black band painted around about five feet off the ground. Beyond these tree lines, on each side of the road, lies a walking path, and still another tree line beyond that. It's most impressive. It makes me think we are driving up a long road which will end at a huge estate manor or castle.[Actually, we are driving OUT the long entry to the great manor that used to be in Clumber Park].

We exit the main entrance, and I get a shot of the arched entry,

and then we take off.

ON TO THORNE. HOPING FOR HOBBY.

We pass into South Yorkshire, find Thorne and get directions to Thorne Colliery. Sharon believes that a colliery is a coal mine. Another source of last names? Collier, for a man who works in a coal mine?

Dave told us to look for Moor Ends, on Grange Road. Unbelievably, we stumble onto this and wind up having lunch in the motorhome during a driving rainstorm while we wait for a Hobby. After lunch we take a walk, and a blustery wind shoots rain drops almost horizontally at us. I didn't wear my jacket but did bring my umbrella. Sharon wore her parka but didn't take her slicker with hood.

As we reach the maximum planned distance from the motorhome, the rain and wind get even heavier. We turn back, with me pointing the umbrella into the wind and Sharon tucked in close behind me. In this way, we make our way back to the motorhome.

When we get there, one side of Sharon's parka is wet and the other completely dry. And now the sun is shining, the wind is gone. Somebody told us you can have all four seasons in one day here in England, and I believe it.

If there is an 'obby here, it is tucked away somewhere, out of the weather, as we now are. We decide to move on.

BLACKTOFT SANDS

We head for Goole, on the M62, then turn off to Blacktoft Sands, an RSPB reserve. We pass a power plant with 8 or 10 cooling towers. Impressive.

I understand they're gonna build one like this in South San Jose, near our house.

When we arrive, it's windy, overcast and cool, with the sun shining through once in a while. We are hoping for Bearded Tit upgrades, because we never saw any at Radipole in the first week of our holiday ("vacation," in the U.S.).

We stop into the reception hide, and meet Laura, a young RSPB employee who has volunteered to operate the reception function for a few weeks. She laughs and says it's so she can watch the Bearded Tits attend their young, just through the glass, and across the small lakes. "You're in luck", she says to our request to see the Tits. "I can see them," Sharon says, already looking through her binoculars. Laura says, "There goes another. I think that's where the nest is." Then musically, "I know where a nest is, I know where a nest is." She laughs and is clearly delighted. I get a poor look at one bird flying about twenty yards, but nothing more here.

"Let's go to the Singleton Hide," Sharon says, where more birds have been seen. Laura says that normally you would never see them flying, but they have to feed their young, and are forced up, even in the strong winds we are having. Sharon and I admire a nice rainbow past Bearded Tit territory,

after which we go to the other hides, and get great looks at more bEARDED tITS, a very good upgrade to the ones we heard at Radipole.

GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE ON THE 'UMBER

We finish up and wind our windy way back to the motorhome. We gear for travel, and take off for the Kingston-upon-Hull area, and Sharon studies the guide to see if we can find a good camp for tonight. We get a great look at a pair of Red-legged Partridges in the short green grass on the left.

We leave the A15 for the A1077, heading for the Humber Bridge viewing area - viewing area being a term for a region, not a tourist stop. It's a beautiful view, and the Humber Bridge design is the same as that of the Golden Gate in San Francisco. Not that distinctive orange, but beautiful nevertheless. Two towers, cables draped over them.

We meet the owners of Silver Birches Caravan and Camper Park, Colin and June Wainwright, and they are most accommodating, saying yes, I can use their phone to send and receive email. I talk with them quite a bit. They've been to America and are thinking of moving there when they retire in a few years.

The camp is small, but extremely well kept. Four white doves are descendents of the exotic Fantail Doves they had ten years ago. But cross-breeding with wild pigeons have resulted in simple but beautiful white doves. I watch one fly up on a four-foot-high post, and slowly spin around, like it's king of the hill. I check our incoming email and send Report No. 6, then come back for dinner. Thanks Sharon, you're the greatest.

Then I prepare the Report No. 7, Sharon proofs it, and I get it sent off. At 10:30 pm (They said earlier, "Any time before 11 is fine. Just knock on the door.")!

As I head back to the motorhome for the last time tonight, there is a full moon, it is terribly windy but clear. I get a nice shiver at the cold, and at the cozy warmth I'm about to enter that's our motorhome.

FACTOID OF THE DAY: Although I've driven on the left in four or five countries in my life, and that's quite easy for me to do, I STILL am surprised, over and over, when I look into cars ahead of me and find no driver where there should be one.

SLEEP IN: Silver Birches Tourist Park, Barton-upon-Humber, near Kingston-upon-Hull, North Lincolnshire County, northeast England

LIFE BIRDS (Never seen or heard by us before): none
Today's Total: 0
Trip Total: still 45

UPGRADES (Upgrade heard-only to seen, or seen to excellent-view): Tawny Owl (saw pair), Bearded Tit (saw several)
Today's Total: 2
Trip Total: 2

TRIP BIRDS (First time for trip, but already on our life list): Little Grebe
Today's Total: 1
Trip Total: 122

 

Saturday, April 27, 2002. Week 4 Day 6. Far Ings. Bempton Cliffs.

Map

Last night Colin told me that a man and son, camping in a tent, were familiar with Spurn Point, one of our destinations today. I see the son walking to the shower, and I go over and knock on the door of the tent - figuratively speaking.

He is Mike and he tells me about getting to Spurn, though he's not a birder. He gives me some brochures, and his son Aaron comes back and I meet him. The sun shines brightly on the dovecote, which sits atop a barrel, which sits atop a square brick base.

As we eat breakfast, Sharon watches a Song Thrush pull a giant worm out of the ground. Then a Blackbird came over and bullied the worm away from the thrush. A black (bird) moment.

FAR INGS

There is a reserve near here that June told us about, and gave us a brochure for. We go over there, and get a field full of black sheep, most with black lambs,

but one nice picture is of a black mother lying down and her two white lambs snuggling up near her.

One trail and hide are closed because of a nesting Marsh Harrier, but we walk the other and meet Graham, who has been at the hide a while.

We scan and get Ruddy Duck, Canada Geese, Pochard, Greylag Geese, Coots, Mallards, Shelducks and Mute Swans. We tell Graham that we have been listening for the White Throat as well as other warblers and Graham takes off as we are scanning. After a bit, we return to our car, but on the way, Graham has stopped and is waiting for us.

"Whitethroat, just in that bramble," he says. He pishes and chucks the bird out and across the path into a tree where we get excellent looks at our first WHITETHROAT*.

Then the bird flies into the air and demos his song flight, mentioned in the bird ID books, for us. Great bird.

We then walk back to the car park together, and Graham stops, points to the water through the hedge and says, "SEDGE WARBLER singing, just in there." We can hear it plainly and it's a trip bird.

Graham has been to California in 1997, "during the El Nino," he says with a laugh and tells us about all the rain we had for him. But he went to Arizona and Texas in another bird trip and had better weather luck. And great birding.

CROSSING THE HUMBER (RHYMES WITH 'LUMBER', JACK)

We part company, and take off, making our way back up to the entrance, then cross the Humber Bridge. As we cross, we can see our little camp from last night, and it feels like it's only about a nundred yards away. We stop at the "toll bar" on the far side, and pay the two pounds fifty.

A bit later, we enter East Riding of Yorkshire County and continue on, stopping for lunch at a layby about 1:30 pm. I am about two-thirds through "The Man Who Ate the 747," a short little novel involving world records. Nice light reading for a blustery, windy day.

We head out again, and our target is Bempton Cliffs, a famous RSPB coastal, cliffside reserve. We spend some time wandering through Bridlington trying to get the right road. It begins to hail as Sharon says, "Pull over, there's a policeman," which there is, on the sidewalk. "Sorry to bother you in this weather," says Sharon, to which the friendly, handsome young policeman says, "That's OK, as long as it's not raining," which breaks the subtle joke barrier for me. Since it's been raining all day.

All over England, Wales and Scotland, on many old buildings, castles and houses, we've noticed that those white double-paned windows have been or are being installed to save heat loss during the winter. Britain as well as in America, and at our house, for example.

A MILLION BEMPTON CLIFF BIRDS

We make it to Bempton Cliffs finally, park in the parking lot, where Sharon reads a sign that we are to display our RSPB membership card in the windshield. Which we do. Or if we didn't have one, to buy a ticket to display. As we are walking into the store, we notice three people pointing behind us and looking through binoculars. I turn, put my bins up to look at what I think will be Buzzard, but which turns into a great pair of SHORT-EARED OWLS. These owls commonly patrol up and down marshes and fields, like harriers, and we get great looks.

Then I head for the toilet while Sharon heads into the store. Then it's back to birding. On the way out, the owls show up again, and Sharon tells about looking at one in the binoculars as he turns his head a little in flight, and looks right AT HER. She's chuffed, I can tell you.

We continue on to the 200-foot or so cliffs,

and there are perhaps one or two dozen people on the path along the cliffs or at stations built periodically along the paths. The cliffs themselves are white, and I think Dover's will look like this. And the birds! We first see several thousand KITTIWAKES, called Black-legged Kittiwakes in the U.S. In the air, on the sea and on the cliffs. All those white blurs are the birds. They look like a gull, with soft gray backs and upper wings, black wingtips, black legs, with yellow bills and no red spots on the bills.

Then we get closer to the cliffs, and notice lots of black and white birds. These turn into hundreds of Guillemots (Common Murres in U.S.), with a few Razorbills in the mix too. Sharon spots a Puffin or two here or there, but we learn that the Puffins are generally "not in yet."

Then we notice another bird, pale yellow head, much longer white wings with black wingtips. They are gliding lower, closer to the water, and they are our target bird of this place: GANNETS*. They look exactly like the Gannets we saw in New Zealand, but these are a different species.

As Saturday Night Live's Father Guido Sarducci said years ago about a distant planet exactly like Earth, where the people are exactly the same, cars the same, cities the same with exactly the same names, jobs the same, television the same. The only difference? They eat their corn on the cob held straight up and down instead of horizontally. And so these Gannets are a life bird for us.

The Kittiwakes are landing on the steep banks of the upper cliffs, and pulling up yellow tufts of grass on some trips, and collecting mud on other trips. They are building their nests on the tiniest of ledges on the cliffsides.[The gannets are also nesting here and we get a good look at one and can see the egg when she lifts up to rearrange her sitting].

We have one last look, and it looks like the rain is coming, but then the big cloud bypasses us, out over the water.

HOLIDAY CENTRAL

It's five o'clock on the button and we head away from the cliffs, looking for a camp for tonight. We end up at Thornwick and Sea Farm Holiday Centre, in the tourist section for motorhomes and caravans. It's like a big city here, but it's a good place to have dinner and fall asleep.

FACTOID OF THE DAY: I carry my scope and tripod fully extended, legs folded, over my shoulder. All Brits carry theirs collapsed and slung over their shoulders. Almost all with khaki-colored, soft-padded cases. The straps attach directly to the cases, in some cases. Anyway, the advantage I have is the ability to get the scope into action almost immediately. The disadvantage I have is that anytime I want to use the binoculars, I have to lift the scope and tripod off my shouldeer, open (not extend) the legs, set it down, then take up my bins. I'm beginning to think they have me on this one.

SLEEP IN: Thornwick and Sea Farm Holiday Centre, near Flamborough, East Riding in Yorkshire County, England

LIFE BIRDS (Never seen or heard by us before): Whitethroat, Gannet
Today's Total: 2
Trip Total: 47

TRIP BIRDS (First time for trip, but already on our life list): 2 lifers + Sedge Warbler (heard only), Short-eared Owl
Today's Total: 4
Trip Total: 126

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