UK 2002 SIX-WEEK LUTMAN MOTORHOME BIRDING TRIP

 

Sunday, April 28, 2002. Week 4 Day 7. Kilburn White Horse. Pied.

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A NICE MORNING FOR LAUNDRY

It's a little after 9 am. Today is supposed to be windy, with high gusts, and stormy. We have decided to skip Spurn Point because of the time it will take to get out there and back, plus we already have the one known bird we were going there for, plus two birders have said that not much is happening there right now.

But the laundry is open here in the complex. There are lots of washers and dryers and nobody is using them, so Sharon will use this opportunity to catch up. There are also four ironing boards, but Sharon laughs and says that's how you can tell we're in Britain; nobody in the U.S. irons, and these look strange here.

After a while, Sharon goes to check the wash to move it to the dryer, then comes back and says, "The good thing is, some of your socks and shorts have been turned green." The good news being of course, I have no idea what. [The good thing was that I had only mixed two or three white things in with the dark clothes that I was SURE wouldn't run].

We also visit the store and they are playing "She's Got Betty Davis Eyes." We buy a few things and take off. We have spent the night on Flamborough Head, which sticks into the North Sea.

ON THE ROAD

Sharon reads that Northumberland, Cleveland and Durham Counties make up the area known as Northumbria. I say to Sharon, "So that's what's caused my confusion, about whether it's Northumberland or Northumbria. In fact that probably explains all the confusion I've had this entire trip. From now on, I'll be lucid and clear." She looks at me askance and with extreme juberosity.

We reach York, and the bypass ring, and as we're driving around, Sharon reads more. York was the scene of more torture, beheadings and executions than any other city except London. So this explains to me a lot about how I used to think of New YORK City, after those rastards stole the radio out of my VW squareback.

We come to a long, occasionally crawling, mostly stopped traffic line. I can see that about every two minutes, six or seven cars advance. The door of a little red sedan opens, the driver pops out, does exactly two jumping jacks, then hops back in. When we finally get to the cause of the delay, it's a ten yard section of street that is marked off with barriers, but nobody is working on it. The workers got to the end of the work week and just left it. It's perfectly usable. Just makes you wanna smack something.

A little before noon, we come to a town called Carnaby and pass the Blue Bell Pub - also the name of a place we were supposed to stop at on the way to Spurn Point.

There is a field of Rape Seed with the sun shining on it so strongly that it hurts your eyes. We decide it's a new shade of yellow, called Hurt-Your-Eyes Yellow. So brillliant, it calls for an extra 'l'. We pass over the River Derwent, then enter the boundary of the city of York.

On the grassy sides of the road, in the last minute, we have seen about 7 or 8 horses staked and eating grass. This reminds Sharon of a similar setup in Trinidad, but with goats.

About 1 pm, we modify our plans to include a side trip northwards to see the (some say) famous Kilburn White Horse. We don't have enough information to know whether high school kids did it in 1985 or ancients did it three thousand years ago. But first, we encounter a giant Tesco, so we make a restock stop.

CARTWHEELS

The grocery carts in Britain have four independently moving wheels, as opposed to the ones in the U.S., where the back ones are locked in place. So here, you have to hold the handle strongly with both hands, so your cart doesn't drift into oncoming cart traffic. Sort of a pain, but it makes parallel parking a breeze.

Sharon stores our purchases and we drive out, noting the Toys R Us, Burger King, McDonalds and more.

We head north towards Thirsk, and pass a turnoff sign that says one mile to Overton, where cousin Joyce runs an ice cream and more shoppe. Till now, I thought her Overton was in Nevada.

THE WHITE HORSE

We enter North Yorkshire, Hamilton District, continue on and guess who is the first to spot the Kilburn White Horse! I'll leave it as an unknown with just one clue - the person who DIDN'T see it first was reading the newspaper.

More from the paper: They have a Regis Philbin-less "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" over here, but the prize is a million pounds, or about 1.5 million dollars. So how's that grab ya? Anyway, they reviewed the video tape of one person's top prize winning performance only to discover that someone in the audience coughed during the correct answer whenever the host read the four answers. Sharon had imagined that if the answer was 'd', for example, the audience cheater would cough four times. Really. But in a move of extreme generosity, they let the man keep the money. No they didn't!

We get to a place where we can see the White Horse from pretty close up, so I start taking photos. It's pretty cool how they left a patch of trees alone to make the horse's eye.

We end up in a car park after a pretty steep, narrow climb up the road, then we read that it's about 150 years old, having been created here in about 1850 or so. A sign says to please not walk on the horse, as it's damaging the surface. I'm guessing thoughtless people are going to walk on it till it's just a Shetland pony or something.

Back to the paper.

An oil tanker was in danger of sinking, so they rescued all the people on board, but had to leave a dog. After all the people made it to safety, they went back and after extreme effort over several days, in which the dog wouldn't come out, they finally rescued the dog. Before they could rescue him, pilots would drop him leftover pieces of their McDonald's meals so he wouldn't starve. The paper said it cost thirty thousand pounds to finally get him. It didn't say anything about the OWNER of the dog. Reminding me of the punchline of the Peter Sellers exchange with a hotel clerk in one of the Pink Panther movies. Sellers, seeing a dog in the hotel of the lobby: "Does your dog bite?" No, says the clerk. Sellers reaches to pet him and the dog bites him. "I thought you said your dog doesn't bite." The clerk responds, "That's not my dog."

I refuel late in the afternoon, and as I'm doing so I start thinking about the differences between U.S. motorhomes and British ones. Here, there is only the water pump. If your water pump is down, you can't get water. In the U.S., there are two sources: the water pump, just like here, and connecting of a fresh water hose to an inlet tap, on most camps in the U.S. The outlet for both sources go to the faucets in the motorhome, so even without a water pump, you can still get water.

We continue on towards Harrowgate, where we pass a church with a bulletin board sign that says, "The best vitamin for making friends? B1." Then we pass a DIY store. These initials are on all stores like our Home Depot or Orchard Supply, and it stands for Do It Yourself. Reminding me, according to Mom, that some of my first words were, "Do It Self." I haven't changed all that much in 58 years. If my first word had been the verb, "Delegate," then I might have been in management. Shudder.

We are approaching Skipton, so it's time to get excited. We pass through Blubberhouses (yes, that's the name of a town), come around a corner, and see about 20 huge diameter- and ten smaller-diameter radar domes. The RAF (Royal Air Force) has a base about a mile and a half away, so this is the eyes of the base.

THE BEST CARAVAN PARK

We drive further, and find the turnoff to The Strid, which we learn is the name of the river flowing through a beautiful area of a beautiful region. The river runs through Bolton Abbey, a village and also the old abbey. These are the Yorkshire Dales and a national park.

We climb gradually, then find Strid Caravan Club Park. The park is right on the river and has many trails running through the woods and along the river. We set up and by 6:45 pm, we are on the path. It's Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers we are after, and to repeat a joke from last year, there's a reason they call them "lesser spotted."

We choose a path that heads down, down, down toward the river from our high location, but suddenly I am staring through the bins at an interesting bird. White or light on the bottom, and with a black cap. It's straight overhead, so I can't see the back. Then it adjusts its position and flares the tail, reminding me of the fantail action of the redstarts of America. I see black and white. Sharon is on the bird too. I say, "I think this might be our Pied Flycatcher," and the bird adjusts again. Sharon sees the white stripe along the side, and the fact that it's black all on top, not just the cap. "PIED FLYCATCHER*!" she says. "Way to go! I agree."

We continue on a little ways, to get a nice view of the river far below.

Chuffed, we head back to the motorhome, for dinner and dancing. Unsettled all day, five minutes after we're back in the motorhome, it's hailing.

Later at 8 pm, we know it's about noon in San Jose, so we try to call Shandra and Jeff and the granddaughters. But a sign shows up in the readout when we pick up the receiver on the payphone, "FOR EMERGENCY CALLS ONLY." And it won't let us make any calls at all. I'm developing a need for a Shandra-fix. We go back to the motorhome and "It's a day" (Get it? Let's call it a day?).

FACTOID OF THE DAY: "Minster" means cathedral. So Westminster and other words like that refer to a cathedral.

SLEEP IN: Strid Woods Caravan Park, Bolton Abbey, west of Harrowgate, North Yorkshire County, northeast England

LIFE BIRDS (Never seen or heard by us before): Pied Flycatcher
Today's Total: 1
Trip Total: 48

TRIP BIRDS (First time for trip, but already on our life list): lifer
Today's Total: 1
Trip Total: 127

 

Monday, April 29, 2002. Week 5 Day 1. Rainbirds.

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Our alarm goes off about twenty after six. We take care of morning requirements, but postpone breakfast, then take off on the Strid trail, hoping for the elusive Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. Today?

BIRDING THE STRID

A short distance down the first part of the trail, we hear an unusual call, unfamiliar to us. We know this is a new bird. Sharon is already on it, then I get on it too. Very yellow face, with a dark line through the eye. Sharon finds the bird in her Bird ID book, then I get out the mini-CD and the song is confirmed. We just got a WOOD WARBLER* - a little warbler we've been waiting for, waiting for it to migrate in. This bird has a kind of trill, then a really fast trill. Nice little lifer for the morning.

We decide to walk up and cross the Strid today.

We find a short cut to the river, and come upon a neat man-and-dog fence crossing. There are wooden steps crossing the fence, but arranged so that animals can't cross. Then there is a liftable gate, to let your dog through. Remarkable.

We cross over and hang a left, towards the aqueduct.

As we get closer, we pick up a pair of Dippers, who fly down to the base of one of the pillars supporting the aqueduct in the river, enter their nest one at a time, then emerge for more feeding.

We enjoy the construction of the aqueduct itself for a while,

then we cross over the aqueduct as it starts to rain.

I have the scope (bad news) but also the umbrella (good news). Sharon has her parka and cap (good news), but not her yellow hooded slicker (bad news). We continue ("carry on" in British English) in the increasingly windy rain.

On the far side, we pass a hillside covered with at least 200 holes.

And there are at least 50 bunnies sitting, hopping, popping into and out of the holes, feeding, and everything you can think of that rabbits do. Reminding me of the time Noah's wife said to Noah on the ark, "Don't let the elephants see what the rabbits are doing." Apologies if I've already told you that one.

This is our first rabbit warren, and it's pretty impressive. You just can't imagine all the activity. But wait! Here comes Pet-er Cot-ton-tail, hop-pin' down the bun-ny trail... Once in Versailles, Missouri, where I grew up (if I can use that term about me), our high school superintendent said he drove out to the high school and around to the back late one night. He said there were "hundreds" of rabbits just sitting back there. Man, was it a convention?

The situation here is that there are two bridges, an upper one (the aqueduct) and a lower one. We were planning to continue down to the lower one from here, then back up to our camp. This would be a distance of 4-5 miles, we believe, but although we've probably walked two miles already, we decide it will be shorter to turn around. About FACE.

Steady, cold, blustery, gustery rain and wind. Sharon is getting soaked, and my legs are, but the umbrella is keeping my uppers dry. I've collapsed the scope's tripod, and by locking it in place, I can hook the handle over a shoulder and carry it easily and protected that way.

Well, we finally get back home, after what seems like an hour of drenching. Sharon's coat, hat and outer pants are wet and my pants are wet from the knee down, but these pants dry in no time. There is a laundry here, so we pop Sharon's things into the dryer for a couple of rounds while we eat. Then we take off, out of Strid Wood.

We have loved this camp, probably the best so far. We pass Bolton Abbey, and there is a wonderful sun-filled view, but the road is narrow and traffic is heavy, so I can't take a picture here.

BACK THROUGH THE DALES

We continue on. The "dales" here are fantastic. Rolling meadows, broken up by small lines of forest, wood and rock walls. There are streams and water all over. "Rolling green" is my best description for it. So what are dales, exactly? There was the song, "Over hill, over dale, we will hit the army trail...". So how can a dale be a valley? You don't go over a valley, do you? Nevertheless, we think a dale is a valley.

We slow down to cross a little bridge, and Sharon gets a Dipper from the motorhome, from the bridge, without even stopping.

We head for Skipton. We pass a sign at the bottom of the hill before us. It says "Keep to near side unless overtaking." In American, this would be "Stay in slow lane unless passing," or something similar. Instead of the "slow lane" they call it the "crawler" lane here. Also, though I think I've said this once, the "near side" means nearest to the curb, not nearest to the driver.

So "near side mirror," for example, means the left one. "If we had one," Sharon hastens to add, with this little mischievous grin on her face. Dohp!!

There are incredibly strong, gusty side winds as we continue on in late morning. We enter Lancaster County, then the town of Colne, which means the M65 motorway is coming up. We pass over the Leeds and Liverpool Canal, and this network of canals is pretty cool. There are locks in them, and if you're not in a hurry and you've got yourself one of the neat little long, thin canal boats, you can actually travel all 'round the country.

We continue as Sharon reads about the Extreme Ironing World Championships that are coming up. This implies that there are local, regional and county contests already finished. The purpose is to demonstrate unique and special ironing strokes "whilst you take the wrinkles out of your clothes." [They have ironing on tops of mountains, ironing while on water, and others.]

Now Matt and Kimberly, this is an Extreme IronING, not Extreme IronMAN competition.

AH, THE MOTORWAY

A little after noon we are standing exactly over the M6 motorway, having just finished a lunch at KFC. I'm looking at a Burger King as we walk out. [We are on a pedestrian bridge that goes over the big motorway so that you can access the over-the-roadway restaurants from either side whether you are traveling north or south. Reminds me of Stuckey's back East].

We go past the Red Hen, and walk down the stairs to the first level on OUR side of the motorway, where we parked our motorhome. And we drive on.

I like the abbreviation they have for Manchester, which is M'cr, on the motorway signs. Sharon says they've left out an apostrophe, but by her rule, it'd be M'c'r, and that would violate the principle-of-minimum-astonishment rule of only one apostrophe per word, please.

We pass into Staffordshire, still headed south on the M6.

About 1 pm, we locate Belvide Reservoir, but can't figure out how to get to it. All the signs from the highway imply that it's private, but even if it weren't, we can't find an entrance. We are after an extreme rarity we know was here a couple of weeks ago, and we hope it still is - the Spotted Crake. I call RSPB and get a phone number and name, but that person doesn't answer the phone. We decide to find a - wait a minute, there goes a pair of Red-legged Partridges - caravan camp for the night and try early, early in the morning. But we need to connect with this lady.

We find a caravan park, next to a "chase," so-named because when royalty used this in centuries past, they would chase deer here. We go for a walk in the woods, but the chase seems to me to consist mostly of harvested lumber land, with a few pockets of woods.

I finally connect with the reservoir lady, and she manages to get us the exact directions, plus the lock combination to get into the hide from where the crake was seen. Usually, you have to purchase a ticket from the Midland Bird Club, but since we are visiting from America, we can go as her guests, she says. Well don't we feel spatial. Er, special.

The problem with our caravan park is that they lock the gates at 11 and don't open them till 8:30 and we need to leave about five or so. They told us we could park outside the gates in the overflow area if we wanted, and Sharon is the first to see this as our solution. So we have dinner and get set for the morning, then drive out the gate, and enter the overflow parking gate.

Trouble is, a car has parked himself into the closest spot of the fairly tight overflow lot, and I have to maneuver around him. Which I do. Knocking a running light and lens off the back right rear of the motorhome in the process. I say the punchline to the "Dirty Word Game" joke. Sorry, Mom. Dangit. I need to be MORE CAREFUL. There isn't any damage to the motorhome though, so that's good news. We get into position and settle in for the night and an early alarm call.

FACTOID OF THE DAY: If you take a box of Kellogg's Corn Flakes, and pour some into a bowl, they will automatically form a miniature ski jump. Then when you pour the milk in, some of the milk automatically makes a run neatly off the jump and onto the table. Works over here too.

SLEEP IN: Wandon Rugely Camping & Caravanning Club, Rugeley, near Cannock, Staffordshire County, central England

LIFE BIRDS (Never seen or heard by us before): Wood Warbler
Today's Total: 1
Trip Total: 49

TRIP BIRDS (First time for trip, but already on our life list): 1 lifer
Today's Total: 1
Trip Total: 128

 

Tuesday, April 30, 2002. Week 5 Day 2. Spotless Crake. The Harriers.

Map

We leave our camp at 4:55 am, and at 6:32 am, we're in place in the Belvide Reservoir hide. But we heard a GARDEN WARBLER* singing its heart out in a big bush in the carpark. Wouldn't come out for anything though.

It's raining steadily, and we're extremely grateful for the presence of the hide, and for the combination to the lock. We're on the south, reedy side of the Belvide Reservoir, and are hoping that the Spotted Crake is still here. We look around the hide and see photographs of the crake standing on a 2x2 foot piece of wood, which we also see in the reeds to the right of the hide. There is bird food on it, and we are hoping the crake is hungry. And still here.

While we wait, we get Canada Goose, Coot, Black-headed Gulls, Herring Gull, Shelduck, Tufted Duck - the usual species we see in this habitat. Then Sharon picks up a DUNLIN to the left. We are seeing lots of Reed Buntings (beautiful black markings on white head, with rusty brown being the general color. We also see the plainer REED WARBLERS. Both of these types of birds are in the reeds below.

We finally decide to take a break and walk back to the motorhome (about an eighth-mile), and have breakfast. In the hide, there is a detailed log of the birds that have been seen here every day for the last year or two, together with the first day each migrant species arrived - this last bit for the last five years. In the notes I see that Garden Warbler and Grasshopper Warbler are both in, confirming the Garden Warbler we heard.

On the way back, I play the CD track of the insect-bird, and we get a response two different times from a GRASSHOPPER WARBLER*. But as is the habit of this species, he too refuses to let anyone get a view. Sounds incredibly like a monotone insect buzzing.

After breakfast, we go back to the hide, where Sharon spots a term. We make it a COMMON TERN. Another bird has "arrived" in the last couple of days, and we get about ten SWIFTS*, over to the right of the reservoir, from this hide, called the "First" Hide. Exciting to see these all-dark swifts, with their smooth scythe-shaped wing leading edges.

A fellow comes into the hide, and he's a regular. And it's here that we learn that the Spotted Crake left the neighborhood a couple of weeks ago. So that's it for us. We're outa there. No Spotted Crake for us.

We pass into West Midlands, down the M6 in Birmingham, then take the M42 up and stop for refueling. We continue on through Leistershire, and in Rutland, I have the singular pleasure of seeing two Harrier Jumpjets fly in, slowing gradually to a complete stop. Still 300 feet or so above the ground. Full load of missiles and arms, I would guess by appearance. Then slowly settling like a helicopter. Amazing.

It feels a little like the old Buck Rogers serials I used to watch with buddy and neighbor Paul White after school at his house. Along with Crusader Rabbit. Lifer Harrier. RAF Cottesmore is four miles from here.

We make it to Stamford (a name which this Stanford man has trouble saying), and by about 7 pm, we are in camp. A sort of holiday camp where nobody has arrived yet this year. A night security guard checks us in and says that we should pay tomorrow after 9 am when the regular reception people are in.

We find our pitch and set up. Sharon puts out her feeders and two goldfinches come, but one gathers bits of fluff from the ground as its mate watches. They fly off together without touching any seed.

We have lamb stew and tasty cherry tomatoes for dinner. Sharon watches this "Edwardian Country House" TV show. Sort of like Survivor, except there's no prize money at all. Each volunteer fills some position as if it's the eighteen hundreds. There are the gentry and the serving class. The TV cameras alternate between the happenings of these two groups of people. And there are lots of 2002-type complaining from some in the servant class, and "boy ain't this neat" type comments from the gentry. Gentry means landowners, or privileged, right? Anyway, it's sort of fascinating, as they throw a big party for about sixty people. Then it's Lights Out Larry for us.

FACTOID OF THE DAY: The sports section of the local newspaper says that last week Stamford beat CaliforMia Berkley in Cricket 250 to nil.

SLEEP IN: Tallington Lakes Camping & Caravanning Park, Tallington, near Spalding, Cambridgeshire County, eastern England (usually "East Anglia" here)

LIFE BIRDS (Never seen or heard by us before): Garden Warbler (heard only), Grasshopper Warbler (heard only), Swift
Today's Total: 3
Trip Total: 52

TRIP BIRDS (First time for trip, but already on our life list): 3 lifers + Reed Warbler, Dunlin, Common Tern
Today's Total: 6
Trip Total: 134

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