UK 2002 SIX-WEEK LUTMAN MOTORHOME BIRDING TRIP
Saturday, May 4, 2002. Week 5 Day 6. Barely Golden. Holkham Hall. Cley Marshes.
GOLDEN PHEASANT PRESENT
The alarm goes off about 4:30 am, and we sleepily get ready, then head out about 5:00.
We get to Wolferton Triangle, mecca for Golden Pheasants and the place we hope will etch itself into our bird memoirs. We are parked in a bare spot under some trees, and are out walking along the thick bushes, peering under them and listening.
Suddenly we hear this two-part sort of screech, and think we might have our bird. The call emphasizes the second note, whereas normal pheasants emphasize the first note of their two-note call. Then another call, farther up the road. There are definitely two of them, and we claim our GOLDEN PHEASANT* lifer by sound.
We walk up towards the first one, but he is too far in to have any hope of seeing him. We continue walking back and forth, along the shrubbery, hoping one will walk across the street. But all the street crossing signs are gone and none cross. As we're walking, we come upon this one opening where we can see inside the canopy. It's dark inside, with lots of pine needles on the ground. But you can see all around in there, and it's big so we can stand up and walk around.
We go in.
We have the call isolated to a dense set of shrubs inside a mesh fence, inside the outer foliage. And the bird will NOT move, though it keeps calling. I go back to the motorhome to get my minidisc. The Golden Pheasant is not on the disc, but I also have a microphone and another blank disc. We can record this fellow's screeches! I just hope he is still calling when I get back. I am out of breath from the excitement, but I go under and find Sharon.
We are both peering through what seem like holes in the inner covering when I record his voice. I then play it back, and Sharon sees something golden move past her little viewing port. "I saw him, I saw him," she whispers. I come over, but he has already moved and settled again.
Now he calls a couple of times, but by about 7:15 am, all the birds have stopped calling. We have the consolation prizes of Sharon seeing part of him, and of getting his call on minidisc. This is better than many people ever do, so though not thrilled, we grudgingly accept what the word "skulking bird" means. It means "good luck" if you want to try to see one.
We take off, heading for our next stop, another try at Lesser Spotted Woodpecker (Why can't we let this guy go?). We pass through a little village with a windmill, and Sharon spots two unusual birds in the water. They are two fuzzy baby coots, and they still have orange bills.
By 9 am, we are at the Holkham Hall location, parked and walking through the gates. We turn right and head towards the lake, as directed by our birder friends and the where-to-find bird book. We hear a Cuckoo calling, and I return his call with our recorded one. Our bird flies overhead, and we get our first look at a cUCKOO, and we did SO want to see one. Chuff City.
Fairly large bird, gray, and the tail seems pointed as it flies over. It lands in the top of a tall, tall tree and calls again. I call back. It flies back to its original tree, calls but I put away the recorder and don't play it back.
It is cold and windy, partly cloudy. When the sun comes out, it's pleasant, and when it goes away, it's coooooold. I play the LSW track, but get no response. We hear a woodpecker drumming once or twice, but can't locate it since it won't give us a repeat performance.
We resume our birding, and listen to the Cuckoo go on for another five or ten minutes. I believe it may be a male looking for a mate.
We begin to see the lake, which is long, narrow and slightly curved. It stretches out in front of this magnificent building, which is Holkham Hall itself.
Between the Hall and the lake is a large expanse of green, sloping down to the water. We look at this from a high area, near a tall monument on the property. [It's really wonderful that people are allowed onto these beautiful estates to walk the grounds, we have gotten to see some magnificent country manors this way].
We hear something like an old car engine trying to start, and Sharon goes over to investigate, nearer to the lake. We see birds fly out of a tree. Black wingtips, otherwise white on the front half of the wing, dark on the rear half. Nice spectacles finish off our Egyptian Geese. A pair on the ground face each other with both wings outstretched. Like a greeting before a dance, in the 1800s.
Sharon checks her book, and though unusual, it says that these geese perch in trees. At ten o'clock other birders show up, also looking for LSW, then another group shows up. But none of has any luck.
There is one spectacular thing though, and that's a herd of some 300-500 small, light tan deer.
We think maybe Fallow Deer, though I'm not sure what that means. I feel like we're in Africa or Alaska following a large herd migration.
NOT SO (BREAK) FAST
It's about 11:30, and Sharon has a hankering for a big English breakfast. We've driven all over creation, but can't find a restaurant or a pub that'll serve us breakfast. Disgusted, Sharon finally fixes us lunch. [I think I've finally figured out that you stay at a Bed and Breakfast if you want breakfast, or at a hotel, but the cafes and restaurants just aren't open for breakfast. Hardly any people are up when we are anyway.]
After lunch, I go into the Victorian Pub (if we had been willing to wait another thirty minutes, they would gladly put us on the list for lunch. But no breakfast) to use the toilet. As I'm in there, I hear an rrrrr-rrrrrr-rrrrrr sound. I have to check this out, and it's something I've never seen before. Like the automatic hand air dryers, which turn on automatically when you put your hands under, this is an automatic paper towel unroller. You hold your hand close to this button, and rrrrrrrrrrr, out comes a paper towel.
We try a rare bird alert phone number, and listen four times, trying to understand the birds and "English" instructions to getting them. We got some, but didn't get others. Dotterel was the big bird I have been after, but can't seem to get. We head for Cley Marshes, pronounced "cly," to rhyme with "fly." We arrive there, park and buy our passes to walk the area and use the hides.
As we come back out, who should drive up but our Golden Pheasant searching partners Allen, Neil, Paul and Stephanie. I ask if they are NWT members and they say no, and that they have to buy tickets too. I tell them we'll go out and stake out the Little Stint for them (listed as being in the area yesterday), and they get a kick out of that. We head on out.
On the way we get a nice Sedge Warbler view. We enter the first hide (neatly thatched), which Prince Charles dedicated on its opening,
but no one is there, and we need help here, so we go to the second hide, which has many people in it. I ask if anyone has seen the Little Stint, but no one has.
We go back to Hide 1 and overhearing two birders talking, we get on a Cuckoo sitting on the ground. We get another cUCKOO upgrade. Sharon asks do I think this upgrade is better than the one we got earlier. I say I think "our" Cuckoo at Holkham Hall was more fun, but we got better looks at this one.
Allen, Neil and Stephanie come in, and after talking, Allen goes back out to check the third hide, which we haven't visited yet. He comes back to report a trip bird for us, but no lifers. We go over and get four nice SANDWICH TERNS, in a perfect line facing the wind. They have black bills, with yellow tips, and look a little chunky. Nice birds.
We say goodbye to our friends, but first Allen asks if we'd like to see some "snikes." I ask him to repeat and he does. "It sounds like you're saying 'snakes'", I say. "I am," he says. "Adders?" I ask. Yes, that's it. "You can look down on them from a safe position." "Not interested," I say, and he can't believe it.
I grew up not too many miles from Max's Reptile Gardens in the Ozarks, and we had our own Water Moccasins etc., all over the countryside. Not interested.
EVERYONE KNOWS IT'S WIN-DY
Sharon and I take off, and in the tiny village of Kelling, Sharon spots a street named THE STREET. We check a caravan park, but they are full. They have a sister park though near Cromer, and they call to see if they have any electricity openings. They do, and we take off.
We see a sign beside a stretch of road that says CATS EYES REMOVED. These are the things Sharon calls BOTS DOTS. They are the bumps in the middle of streets and roads that have reflectors in them, but when your tire runs over them, go b'dump, b'dump, b'dump, and rattles your teeth a little. Well, your brain anyway.
Sharon has read that people sort of rose up and rebelled against them, so they are being removed from lots of roads. Yesterday we saw a crew actually taking them out.
American cities often have sister cities from other countries. And the same thing goes on here. Usually we don't recognize the twin city or know the country it may be in. But Cromer names two twin cities, one is in Germany and another France. We go into Cromer and it becomes obvious that our camp for tonight is right on the beach, and it's REALLY windy.
While we're trying to figure out if we really want to stay there, we see a sign for another park called Manor Farm. We follow the signs and meet old-timer Sidney. He says, yes, they've got electrical pitches. He is in a talking mood. He says the country is being ruined. He likes America. "We fought a world war together," he says. He says the politicans never have to use their own money to do anything because they're always using ours. I tell him my dad used to say, at gatherings, that he'd discuss anything except religion or politics. Sidney likes that. He points us to the touring park and up we go.
Guess what! It's so windy you can hardly stand up, but there's a great view of the sea from here.
It's a Bank Holiday Weekend (3-day weekend in the U.S.), and I was worried that maybe we couldn't get electric tonight, but we are electrified.
Sharon has me cut some vegetable because it's so tough, and I try to slice my knuckle off, unsuccessfully I'm happy to say. Later we drift off in the wind.
CAUTION: TODAY'S FACTOID IS 'R'-RATED. SKIP THIS SECTION IF YOUR SENSIBILITIES ARE EASILY OFFENDED. I'M TELLIN' YA.
FACTOID OF THE DAY: Driving around this wonderful, bird-rich county of Norfolk makes me think of a number by the high school cheerleaders in Norfolk, Virginia. It also teaches you how to pronounce "Norfolk" over here.
We're the girls from Norf'k High.
We will beat you by and by.
We don't smoke. We don't drink.
Norf'k, Norf'k, Norf'k.
SLEEP IN: Manor Farm Caravan and Camping Park, East Runton, near Cromer, north coast of Norfolk County, England
LIFE BIRDS (Never seen or heard by us before): Golden Pheasant
(heard, Sharon saw gold feathers deep in bushes)
Today's Total: 1
Trip Total: 58
UPGRADES: Cuckoo (saw flying overhead), Egyptian Goose (pair with
two chicks), Cuckoo again (scope view)
Today's Total: 3
Trip Total: 5
TRIP BIRDS (First time for trip, but already on our life list):
1 lifer + Sandwich Tern
Today's Total: 2
Trip Total: 146
Sunday, May 5, 2002. Week 5 Day 7. The Broads. Craning Our Necks. Minsmere.
The alarm rings at six am, but it's incredibly windy. I estimate that the wind is blowing about 5 mph less than the speed of sound, and that's only because I can still hear it. I turn off the alarm and go back to sleep.
We get up at 7 as the motorhome is rocking back and forth. We gear up for travel and head out. Breakfast will come after a little birding. I start driving towards the exit and Sharon says, "No, THAT way," pointing a totally screwy direction. "It's THIS way," I say. "OK," says she.
I drive to a dead end corner and have to say, "This isn't the way." She says, now get ready for this, "NOW, we'll do it the way he saidto go," and she gets us right out. Dang, I hate that.
THE BROADS AND THE CRANES
We are finally out of the Cromer area about 8 am, and are heading for an area called The Broads. We make our way around Great Yarmouth, which would be called Inveryar in Scotland, I think.
We pass through Ingworth and come to Blickling Lake car park. It's totally overcast, the sun is trying to come through, it's sprinkling, breezy and cold. We begin to approach the edge of the lake when Sharon says, "Look!" And it's an almost totally white BARN OWL, flying over the edge of the lake, very near to us. Fantastic look. We check our books and learn that "Eastern" birds are creamy brown, but the ones around here are nearly white. At first, for a split second, we both thought it was a Snowy Owl. Not nearly big enough, of course.
We come to the edge of the lake then, and get a pair of Egyptian Geese, with two babies, cute little pharaohs already with some adult markings but all fuzzy just the same.
But what we DON'T get, as you could probably guess, is Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. [We do see another spectacular English country estate.
It's hard to imaging the time of the century when wealthy people bought up all this land and built these estates, putting in lakes, forests, herds of deer, etc.].
We have breakfast, then head off for Common Crane territory. There is a small breeding population of these birds in northeastern Norfolk, near the coast. Now I've chosen this as my try for the CC, but there is an alternate one I COULD go for. And that is, every spring about 10,000 Sandhill Cranes migrate from Canada down to Texas, and along with them comes exactly 1 Common Crane. They always stop in Nebraska for a few days, so I could have gone there.
By the law of fractured economics, I get to deduct the cost of us going to Nebraska from this trip. It's the DIFFERENTIAL cost, you see, that's considered the ACTUAL cost. But we must see these cranes for any of this to make sense. And even then...
We go back out on the 140, headed north for Roughton, then over to Thorpe Valley. I break a record (old record, 11) by counting 13 cars passing by as I politely pull into a layby to let the faster cars overtake me. By about 11:30 we make the turnoff to Hickling (not to be confused with Blickling, now) Broad Visitor Centre. We go in and the girl inside isn't too helpful, upon hearing our question for the best way to see the cranes. "The warden heard them flying over yesterday," but other than that, she says, it's hit or miss as you wait at a layby, or park and wander on the trails by the road.
All this in the area between Horsey Pump (a windmill near a village called Horsey) and West Somerton. This is a stretch of about a mile or two. We head back out to the highway and Sharon picks us up a nice Black-crowned Night Heron, called NIGHT HERON in Britain. Then we get a Mute Swan on a nest about eight feet from the traffic on the highway.
We find a white chalk road and turn off onto it, parking just out of the way. We wait about an hour, and watch lots of swans feeding out in the field. The deal is that the cranes often associate with the swans at lunches like this. Sharon gets a nice Grey Heron that excites us for a moment, till we realize how big it is. It is incredibly windy and as I step back into the motorhome from scanning the fields, the wind slams the door shut on my right thumbnail. Jackybackafwax Hoggypegaloomer. That smarts.
Just before the hour is up, we get a nice pair of YELLOW WAGTAILS on a dirt pile, one collecting grass for a nest apparently. We dub the missing birds Lesser Spotted Cranes for obvious reasons, and take off.
I don't recall just now where or when, but somehow we learn that a late migrating Ring Ouzel has been at Minsmere for three days. We head down there, hoping it stays around for one more day. Alas, when we check in to get our stickers, no one has seen the bird today. We get directions for where he HAD been though, and go there to check it out.
Extremely windy and cold, but no Ouzel to be seen. Darn the low luck. We go to the Bittern Hide then, where others report seeing them fly, but during our hour or so of watching, none do.
We finally decide to go back to the motorhome and find a place to sleep. Sharon calls a couple of parks, and we wind up downwind from a huge power generation site. One building looks like a giant golf ball, while the other looks like a huge box, and is a nice shade of blue. Other concrete buildings are around these two, plus huge power line towers of course.
This power plant is visible from Minsmere, from the other side, and we noticed it when we were scanning reeds at the Bittern Hide. We are in a giant field, having done the reception chores in a bar here. Everyone invites us to come back for an ale after we get set up.
FACTOID OF THE DAY: A detour is called a diversion in Britain.
SLEEP IN: Cliff House Caravan Park, Leiston, near Sizemore Power Stations A and B, east coast, Suffolk County, England
LIFE BIRDS (Never seen or heard by us before): none
Today's Total: 0
Trip Total: still 58
TRIP BIRDS (First time for trip, but already on our life list):
Barn Owl, Night Heron (Black-crowned Night-heron in U.S.), Yellow Wagtail
Today's Total: 3
Trip Total: 149
Monday, May 6, 2002. Week 6 Day 1. Minsm(o)re. Reeding. Ringing. An Upgrade Better Than a Lifer!!!
MORNING PLANS: DOUBLE BACK
We have decided to try for a double longshot. Go back to Minsmere, hoping that the Ring Ouzel somehow escaped detection in our previous visit (by us and others), but will show himself today. The other is to try for a visual upgrade of our heard-only encounter with the Bittern earlier in our six-week trip.
People described seeing several flights yesterday, over the reeds, and we will try to be patient, wait in the 2-story Bittern Hide, and hope for a Flying Bittern.
It's 9:16 am and having slept in and enjoyed a leisurely breakfast, we roll out of the camp in the foggy but windless, warmer weather, which feels good after the cold gusts of yesterday. We pass Leiston Abbey ruins and I stop for some foggy morning shots. We're off again.
We try to figure out the bird we've seen the most. Candidates are Chaffinch, Black-headed Gull, Rook, Jackdaw, Blackbird, Robin, Woodpigeon, and if you take all the tits together yes, but if you divide them by species, no. Then we discuss which was the most beautiful, and Sharon's vote is the wonderful Bullfinch.
We pass through a village called Theberton, which is twinned with a town in Australia called Thebarton. I am backtracking on the GPS, following backwards the "bread crumb" trail laid down by the device yesterday, and "Bob's Your Uncle" we wind up in the Minsmere carpark again.
Sharon is off to the toilets while I go in, get our passes for the morning (free because we're members of RSPB), and check the board for any mention of Ring Ouzel. Now the Ring Ouzel has the exact shape and hop-along-the-ground characteristics of the American Robin. Except it's all black but for a white bib from the neck to the breast. Like Ripley at the end of the movie "Aliens," I am singing under my breath, "You are my lucky star," over and over. I see that the man I talked to on the phone and talked with yesterday in the store is on the volunteer booth today, for giving out passes.
I open the door and walk in. He recognizes me. He starts to speak, but as he does, my eyes glance over to the "What's Around Now" board, and I see "2 Bitterns Flying" as the first line and "Ring Ouzel, North Wall" as the second line. Is that for this morning? Could it be?
THE DOCTOR IS IN
"The Ring Ouzel is being seen at the North Wall. Do you know where that is?" he asks. I don't know, and he points the area out on the map he gave me yesterday. We are to walk right past the large field which the bird spent three days in a row in, but vacated yesterday. Then continue down the path to the sea, and ask birders out there where the wall is or where the bird is.
We can't believe our luck, but feel like we should hustle on out. We hustle. I am leading Sharon by ten yards, something that has often got us in trouble in the past (one and only one person seeing a bird), but I can't stop it. When I come to yesterday's "Ouzel" field, I decide I should wait for Sharon but scan the field to make sure the bird hasn't returned here.
As I begin scanning Sharon catches up, and I tell her what I'm doing. She starts doing the same. I have put the scope and tripod down and am doing an imitation of a submarine commander just after surfacing, where he grabs the periscope and does a fast 360 scan to make sure no ships are on top of him. Starting at the left, I scan to the right. When I reach about halfway, I see a black bird standing with his back to me. Crow? I spend five seconds on it, but it won't turn around, so I mentally mark the spot and continue on. I complete the sweep, then return to the black-backed X-bird.
It has turned 90 degrees, and I can see it in profile. I see incredible white on the upper chest, and I get the scope, zero in on the spot, then zoom in slightly, and lock the position. "RING OUZEL* in the scope," I say to Sharon,
not quite believing my own words. She gets on it and we're like two little kids in a candy store, where all the candy costs a penny and we have a dollar.
The bird hops to move rather than walking. But it's only hopping one hop at a time. Does it have an injured leg? Then it does the American-Robin-like triple-banger hop-hop-hop. Sharon gets off to give me scope time, and I enjoy the experience we have had getting this bird. Just fantastic.
We finally get our fill, having told other birders what we are looking at as they walk by. Some interested, others not. "Ring Ouzel? What's that?" an interested father of four asks curiously as they walk by. "Ring Ouzel? Spot on!" another says, checking out the bird, and meaning "Exactly Right."
OH THE NIGHTINGALE...
We head for the Bittern Hide, which we figure will be packed on this Bank Holiday Monday (3rd day of a 3-day weekend), but we don't care. Ring Ouzel! Wow.
We come upon a group of about five birders all looking into a very dense, low tree, and a sharp beautiful song is coming from this tree. "What have you got?" I ask. "NIGHTINGALE," but it won't come out. We spend about five minutes waiting also, but then add it to our trip list as a heard-only bird, then move on. We got fantastic Nightingale looks in Turkey.
Then as we pass by the visitors center, Sharon says, "Wait, I want to watch the Bank Swallows (Sand Martins in the UK) go in and out of their holes." There is much activity now, and we scan with our bins. I can see two little heads just at the entrance of one of the holes. Other birds are out of the holes and clinging to the dirt, sometimes four at one hole. We think these are just-fledged youngsters, and the air is mixed with fledglings and adults, feeding them. This is quite a site.
A BITTERN TASTE
We arrive at the Bittern Hide after a ten minute walk or so, climb up the outside stairs, admiring the sturdy construction work of this hide, which might be on the equivalent of the third floor (...American. Brits would call it fourth floor because, although they never use this terminology, they would call the ground floor the zero-th floor, and the next floor up the first floor).
We enter the hide and though there are a dozen birders, all sitting on benches and looking out, there are four slots still open. We grab two. I collapse the tripod and set my scope out of the way in the back before sitting. Then we both start scanning with binoculars.
We see reeds, then small pools of water, surrounded by reeds, then huge fields of reeds, looking a little like a Kansas wheatfield, then open ground rising to a sea wall. Directly in front of us, and almost to the sea wall is a building ruin of some kind. To the right are the Sizemore Power Stations, huge and riveting in their presence. Odd in this setting. Sharon says, "Look, wild horses."
As usual I can't find them, so she gets me on them. We would call them buckskins. Tan horses with dark manes and tails. Five identical horses walk in a perfect line from under a tree. A little later, two are nipping at each other. I say, "They can't be wild. Would wild horses walk in a line like that?"
The man next to me, some kind of a fan of Sharon or something, says, "Those horses are wild (Sharon punches me in the arm at this point, as he continues). They are of Polish descent and called Tarphands. They eat a (certain kind of plant) that are unwanted here, and that's why they were brought in and released."
Then it's back to birding. We follow the hushed words of others and get a nice Marsh Harrier patrolling over the reeds. Then the woman two seats over from me starts talking in a slightly raised voice, "...just over the reeds, to the left. Now flying away...". And she keeps talking. I check the direction of her binoculars and I too get on this (relative to what I was expecting) huge brown bird, flying a little like a Great Blue Heron in America, or a Grey Heron here.
"Where, where?" cries Sharon in a panic. She doesn't have it yet. "See the stick with the white sign and letter 'C'?" I ask. Back and forth, she quickly gets on the bird too. A visual, flying bITTERN upgrade. "It's much bigger than I was expecting," she says, and I couldn't agree more, even though we read yesterday about the bird's size. It finally settles and disappears down into the reeds.
Excitement buzzes in the hide. "Nice pickup," I say, and the lady says thank you. I ask her husband or friend how many they've seen this morning, and he says, "One...," but interrupts himself with "Bittern flying this way, a little left of center." Sharon picks it up right away. It's a short flight though, and I never pick it up. "Make that two," says the Bittern-spotter beside me, and we both laugh.
More people have come, and all the spots are taken. Four people are standing behind us, waiting for openings, and we decide to vacate our spot.
As we are walking back, Sharon notices this interesting black slug.
We get back to the motorhome, by way of the Minsmere "What's-Here" Board,
after stopping in the souvenir shop for some things.
I call Dave Woodhouse, our birder friend we met down at Prawle Point early in our UK trip. I ask about his two-week Texas trip and he says it was fantastic. I can hear a wife and children in the background. I ask about the Common Cranes but he doesn't have much information, except that we should learn where they roost, then go there before dusk, when they will fly in. We trade information a little more, and then say goodbye.
Sharon and I discuss what to do next in our trip. There are several options. The one we choose is to go and try to get a better sighting of the Golden Pheasant. Well ANY sighting for me. Then we're off. It feels good to know the area we're headed for.
We'll camp at Dower House again, get off another email report. Do laundry. And try for the Golden Pheasant and Lesser Spotted Woodpecker and maybe the Golden Oriole if anyone has reported them in. We stop at a Safeway, fill up with groceries, then use the receipt at the filling station to get 5 pence per liter off the 75.9 pence per liter price. If you buy enough groceries, they issue this ticket. Then you have seven days to use it at a Safeway filling station, all of which are adjacent to Safeway superstores.
At 3:30 we are going through the town of Diss. A contraption is coming towards us followed by about six cars. The contraption is spewing what looks like exhaust straight out the top! It gets closer and we can see that it's not motor exhaust, but steam. It's a steam lumber tractor, saying so right on the door, but looks more like an old truck. We guess it's associated with some sort of old vehicle show on this bank holiday weekend here in Diss.
By 4:30 we are parked in place at Dower House, having greeted Dave and Allison again. Dave put us in place on pitch 323, with a line of trees behind us for Sharon's bird feeders. The laundry is working for us while I work on the computer and Sharon watches this great show about the history of England. An ancient manuscript they are reviewing talks of "John the Carter," a man named John, whose occupation is building or selling carts. This is one step in human name history I have always suspected, but never heard before. First there was John. Then John became a carter. Then there were so many Johns that people had to distinguish them somehow. In a similar manner, people used to be distinguished by where they were from. Like Jesus of Nazareth. Anyway, John the Carter, David the Archer and so on. Then it's a simple matter to realize that lots of men in the country have "the" as their middle name, and just eliminate it. John Carter, David Archer. Bob Lutman. Hey, what's a Lutman? Or what's a Lut?
And speaking of names, colors are interesting last names. Brown, Green, Black, White are good ones. But never a Yellow or a Purple.
The problem with tomorrow is that there will be only one early morning, and we have about three places we want to be. The Golden Pheasant triangle. Going for Least Spotted Woodpeckers. Over in Lakenheath, trying for Golden Orioles. Sharon earlier had an idea, based on what Martin, the gamekeeper at the pheasant farm, told us. He claimed that there was a Golden Pheasant he sees every few days past his property, near a dangerous right hand turn, thick with trees on both sides. Then there was a field just beyond that on the left. He sometimes saw it at the back edge of that field, which is adjacent to thick woods.
Sharon fixes us two ham "gammons", which in one of those great coincidences, Sharon has read about (the word "gammon") in Lorna Doone just earlier today or yesterday. Fresh green beans from Spain and cherry tomatoes. And my favorite mints for dessert for me - "After Eight" mints.
Sharon also hard boils some eggs, and has me record the free-range stamp on them first, since the dye will disappear in the boiling water.
The laundry (1.65-pound token to wash and 20-pence token for 5 minutes of drying) is taking forever to dry, and Sharon finally just brings the clothes over, still damp. I take up the electric cable, store it, and we head off, hoping to continue our lucky streak of this morning.
We are debating, trading interpretations of what Martin told us, as we drive past the (regular) pheasant farm. We come to what I think is the right corner, and just past it, there's a small drive used by a tractor to access a field. With Sharon directing, I back the rig into this spot.
We get out and walk around the row of trees and bushes separating this field from the next one - the one Sharon believes to be the "Golden" field. We wait a while, but don't hear our bird. I play the call I recorded the other morning at the Golden Pheasant triangle, when we heard these birds. I play it with the speaker facing the field, then across the road into the woods on the other side. Then we wait about five minutes, and I do it again.
Suddenly a call, in about four parts. It sounded right, but we didn't hear a call this long before. Our bird? I play it again, but nothing. A couple of cars go by, and Sharon thinks she heard it call again while one of the cars was passing. What a great set of ears. Then I play it one more time, pointing at the woods behind the field of interest. We then wait about a minute. Suddenly...
"That's HIM. That's our bird. gOLDEN pHEASANT! Look quick! He may run back in." Sharon says
I have seen the bird walk out from the growth between the two fields, and for a short second I think it's a regular pheasant. But the male has stepped further into that warm, glowing late afternoon sun and this is an incredibly colorful sight. Brilliant yellow shines from the top of his head and the lower back. Brilliant red shines from his sides. A rich blue comes from further back on the sides - on the wing I think. The tail is more elaborately decorated than a regular pheasant.
The bird walks along the dirt beside the field, right at the corner. Then, instead of walking into the woods there, he turns right and continues along the far side of the field. Like a kid walking down a country lane, kicking a rock along. So casual, we can't believe this behavior vs. the skulking behavior we've gotten used to.
We've got once-in-an-imagination looks at this bird as it walks along. "Play your tape," Sharon says. I do, and the bird stops in his tracks, turns and Sharon says, "He's looking right AT you." After perhaps ten seconds, he resumes his walk, lowers his head and increases his speed - not a run, but a faster walk - then slows again, continuing his slow amble. The yellow on his head appears to be lighted from within. This is one of the most beautiful birds I've EVER seen. I couldn't tell from the paintings in our bird ID book the shape and nature of the yellow on top of the head. But it appears to be a sort of crest, almost alive in its shimmering gold. Wow.
I suddenly come back to reality and quietly rush back to the motorhome. I get the video camera and return, hoping he hasn't disappered. And then I get about 40 seconds of the Golden Pheasant ambling, then hurrying, then ambling along the far side of the field. Introduced from India long, long ago, it is well-established as a British breeding bird now. We are chuffed to the absolute max. Definitely one of the top two or three experiences of the trip, if not THE top.
We go back to the motorhome and get ready to head back to camp. I call birder contact Dave Urwin, hoping for help with what bird we should try for next but can hardly talk for our excitement. He gives us four or five great new leads (birds and locations), and this is the first time we've actually spoken on the phone. All previous contact has been by email. We ring off, then Sharon and I slowly drive back to camp, talking about our experience.
Dave and Allison are still outside, so I play back the video of our encounter. They are tickled for us. We go back to our pitch and set up, then Sharon loads the damp stuff into the dryer again, and this time things get dry.
This sighting has freed up tomorrow morning, and we decide to stay in camp and try for Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, so we can relax and NOT set the alarm for 4 am. I doze off for a perfect, cozy, GOLDEN night's sleep.
FACTOID OF THE DAY: The American Dipper used to be called Water Ouzel.
SLEEP IN: Dower House Tourist Park, near Thetford, Norfolk County, England
LIFE BIRDS (Never seen or heard by us before): Ring Ouzel
Today's Total: 1
Trip Total: 59
UPGRADES: Bittern (saw flying), Golden Pheasant (killer views
of male walking in warm afternoon sunlight in dirt beside short grass crop.
Today's Total: 2
Trip Total: 7
TRIP BIRDS (First time for trip, but already on our life list):
1 lifer + Nightingale
Today's Total: 2
Trip Total: 151
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