UK 2002 SIX-WEEK LUTMAN MOTORHOME BIRDING TRIP

Tuesday, May 7, 2002. Week 6 Day 2. Two out of Three Ain't Bad.

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We sleep in till about 9:30. It's a foggy, drippy morning, but we're going out to try for "Speckled" Woodpecker, having gotten the great Golden Pheasant upgrade last evening.

Several of Sharon's socks are hung all over the motorhome headrests. She says, "It's like a Christmas tree and all the decorations are socks." And that's how it looks. Cute.

STILL ANOTHER SHOT AT LESSER SPOTTED WOODPECKER

We are outside about 10 am, based on Dave and Allison's comments about the LSW. They come to at least three different people's feeders. We go down by the caravan owned by a man who likes to photograph the birds on his feeders. He's gone right now, so I bring our chairs over, and we just relax, sit and wait. On the way over, Sharon picked up a Goldcrest where we camped the first time we were here. At our "sitting" spot, we get Willow Tit, Dunnock and Coal Tit. A male Great Spotted Woodpecker provides sparkling views on the peanut feeder.

About 11:30 am we have to give it up. We pack up, go off our pitch, drive up to reception and I do another email check. Then we're off. A call to Dave Urwin has revealed that a fairly rare migrating bird showed up yesterday at Breckenham Marsh, in the Broads. We realize that this is pretty near where the Common Cranes reside and we decide to take another shot at them, as well as take a shot (so to speak) at the little migrant.

THE TRAVELIN' WILBURYS

We're headed for Thetford yet again. We pass Shadwell Stud farm, of which the pheasant farm is a part. Later we are following a truck in the slow, left lane of the dual carriageway. They are putting cones down on the grass, just off the road. A man holds a cone out over the grass, drops it as the truck slowly moves along. The cone rocks back and forth, but none falls over. It's as if the fellow played with Weebles (they wobble but they won't fall down) as a kid. He's good.

We pass an asphalt circuit where big motorcycles are racing with the riders in full leathers. This is between Thetford and Norwich. Why are they racing on a Tuesday?

THE TWITCHING STINT

I know I said this before, but "twitching" a bird means that you hear about it arriving in Britain, you jump in your car and drive the several hours to get there (often clear across Britain), and see the bird. By about 1 pm we are at Breckenham Marsh.

We park, walk through the gates and over the RR tracks, sharing some peanuts I have left over. We get a nice Sedge Warbler singing out in the open. A Mute Swan sits lovingly (it seems to me, as she sort of slowly waves her head and neck front, then back) on her nest, and I get a nice shot of her.

We can see the old pump (windmill) and bird hide that I figure overlooks our migrator, if it is still here. The estimated 1.5 mile track describes an upper case 'L', but with a little jog in the corner. As we make it almost to the end of the first leg, Sharon asks, "Is that a boat there?" I look and we can see what's clearly the top of a small cruiser, over the top of a dyke. "No," I say, "that has to be a boat on a trailer." But it's a boat cruising down a wide canal whose water is not visible from this large flat expanse. Incredible. We see perhaps a half-dozen boats pass during our trip out.

And out in the flat meadows, there are small mini-canals crossing it. A woman is walking around in the meadows with an L-shaped instrument about 2 feet on a side. She seems to throw it randomly, watches it land on the short grass, then bends over and counts something. Our best guess is that she's counting plants of some kind.

A jogger catches up with and passes us. We check all the pools and mini-canals along the way to the hide. Lots of normal birds, nothing unusual. There are lots of Lapwings around, and we get to hear their neat "zzwingggggg" calls as they fly around. At the corner of the L, a large yellow house sits, [a pub] and Sharon wants to have lunch there after we (hopefully) get our bird.

"It's on the other side of the canal," I say. But she wants it to be on THIS side. She says, "I'll make a deal with you. If we can get to it, we'll have lunch there." I don't understand how this is a deal, but I agree, because if we get our bird, we'll be in a fine mood for a relaxing lunch. We finally get to the hide, enter and to our chagrin, find ourselves alone. We'll have to get this bird on our own.

We open two blind windows, set up the scope and begin scanning. I'm first, but don't get anything unusual. Couple of Redshanks and other waders, but not our bird. But ladies and gentlemen, stand back, because Sharon is taking over the scope. "I've got him," she says. "Look and tell me if this is our bird." I look and can only see a tiny, tiny bird, dark above and light below. It's just standing at the edge of a muddy finger sticking into the pool. Not moving.

"We've got to get closer," I say, and we close up the windows we've opened, exit the hide, pass through this tiny gate, and walk along the levee, towards the pool and bird.

We plan to stop and check that our bird is still there ever so often, but the second time we check, it's missing. Sharon scans around, but is disheartened that the bird is gone.

I get on the scope, and in a turnabout, I (yes, it's true) find the bird, feeding in a different location, but in the same pool. We get even closer, then begin studying. Small bird, reported to be here yesterday, medium-dark above, white below, relatively tiny bird, short-legged, and perhaps the biggest characteristic: not feeding feverishly like the Little Stint would. It's a lifer TEMMINCK'S STINT*. We've twitched it!

We're not great wader birders, and this seems like a sort of blue collar bird to us. But the expert British birders just love all these waders, and especially the rarer ones. And when you think of its migration skills, and the fact that it doesn't breed in Britain but goes further north to Scandanavia (I think), it's a pretty good bird, [especially for us who have such trouble identifying these little waders who all seem to look alike from a distance].

We begin heading back, and I wish the yellow house (which is the stopping point for any boat which wishes to have lunch or a drink) were on our side. I see a swan's head and neck gliding along - in the meadow! Obviously in a little channel hidden by the undulations of the meadow.

After a long walk, and stopping to admire a butterfly or two,

we make it back to the motorhome, having passed the Rook rookery. We also get a cute little baby bird which Sharon thinks is a Lapwing. [He's independent, moving about the marsh feeding].

I check the Ripley's Believe it or Shut Up and learn that a baby Rook is called a Rookie.

Sharon fixes lunch and for the first time, we open windows and doors, and use the insect screens on each opening. Very nice and welcome breeze blowing through.

MORE BROADS

At 4 pm, we are finished and leave the old train station. We continue on, making our way to Horsey Pump parking lot. We buy a one-pound parking ticket and stick it on the dashboard. I have to take a photo of the canal leading up to the "pump."

We walk across the street and out along the fields, but can't find the cranes anywhere. We decide (Sharon insists) to try to be where we believe their evening roost to be and watch them fly in. It's 5:30 and we need to hustle along.

By about 6 pm, we have driven over to the visitor centre area and find that not only is the visitor centre closed, its car park is closed and the entry gate to it locked. We scratch our heads, trying to decide whether to bother the resident of a nearby house, and ask if we can park by their house - actually on their property. It's a one-lane road getting here with close hedges on both sides. We finally decide NOT to bug them, turn around in the space behind their house and drive back outward.

But when we get to the first intersection, of dirt and paved roads, Sharon reasons from our little map that the road to the right (signed with emphatic NO PARKING AT STUBB MILL messages) will take us to the cranes' roost. And we both note that it is not gated or blocked. No sign says don't drive out there. They only say don't park out there. Sharon can't quite believe how easily I decide to simply drive out there, check for a few minutes, turn around and drive back. But not park. No.

We make our way out there over the bumpy dirt road, and all kinds of signs say no parking. I leave a door open (by the principle of minimum astonishment, you can't park and leave a door open at the same time), and Sharon begins scanning with her bins through the front windshield. Then calmly...

DOWN GOES FRAZIER (CRANE)!

"I've got one," she says. I don't say anything because about three of four times, she'll follow that statement with one or two seconds, then, "No. It's a Greenfinch," or something like that. So I don't get too excited. I just wait for that second half. But it doesn't come!

"I've got one. I'm sure. Look, quick!" [I'm the eternal optomist and will often think I've got the target bird only to discover it only resembles the target bird. Bob is much more pragmatic and skeptical and therefore more accurate] "Where?" I ask, and she gets me onto it.

Not only do I get on it, I spot another one, and they move close to each other. After being certain that these are our lifer COMMON CRANES*,

I get the scope and set it up outside the motorhome. I get a much poorer look because in the motorhome, we were higher in elevation than standing here in the road. Sharon wants to look through the scope, but she's still worried that we came here in spite of the no-parking stuff and fears that we'll get in trouble. I move the tripod far left (as it seems the two cranes are moving to our right towards some tall grass), up on a ridge, and check them out. One has disappeared, but the other has now stopped, and is in pretty good view. We can see the red on top of the head, the black and white on the neck, the gray on top of the back, the long bill, and though I don't notice it, Sharon also sees the bustle. No question about this bird. We each take another minute or so on the scope. Great bird, especially because we've come back quite a ways for just this very moment. Excellento.

On the way in here, we noticed a caravan park in the village of Sea Palling, so we make our way back out of the "No Parking" area near Stubb Mill, back into Sea Palling and to this caravan park. It is late enough that Reception is closed, but a sign says go to the bar (which is also closed) and ring the doorbell there. I do this, and the friendly manager comes out, checks us in, and leaves us to find our spot. Nice, flat green lawn, close to the toilet and shower building. It's the Golden Beach Holiday Centre in Sea Palling.

Sharon showers, then comes back to fix dinner as I try to bring the reports up to date. It's a beautiful evening, but it cools off pretty quickly after the sun goes down. Our motorhome propane heater, which has been our warm-and-fuzzy throughout the trip comes through again, and provides a cozy living space for us.

FACTOID OF THE DAY: The Broads refers to an area of mostly shallow lagoons and flat terrain, connected by streams and canals [There are large (Dutch-like) windmills that pump the water out of the fields all over; some of which have been converted to homes]. The British love to boat, walk or bike this area. These are much different than what we called "the broads" when I was in college.

SLEEP IN: Golden Beach Holiday Centre, Sea Palling, NE of Norwich, Norfolk County, England.

LIFE BIRDS (Never seen or heard by us before): Temminck's Stint, Common Crane
Today's Total: 2
Trip Total: 61

TRIP BIRDS (First time for trip, but already on our life list): 2 lifers
Today's Total: 2
Trip Total: 153

 

Wednesday, May 8, 2002. Week 6 Day 3. Bury St. Edmunds. Hannah.

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Birders: No birding, new birds or upgrades today.

LEISURE TIME

We have given ourselves a leisurely morning and at 1 pm, we are still in the Golden Beach. I've just been to the Elsun Point (to empty the toilet container), filled the water tank up with fresh, and called the Golden Oriole hotline (Recorded message. No help). We must drive through Thetford on the way out, so I'll try the number again later and see if the orioles have come in yet.

We pass through a village called "Repps With Bastwick," and the only word I understand is "With" though I don't know why it's in there.

Which reminds me, we want to find out what a "close" is. I don't believe the fellow who told us that he believes it means a narrow street, and that the buildings across the street from each other are "close" together.

I pull over, onto a layby about 12 miles short of Thetford to make some phone calls. I call Graeme at Weeting Heath and he says no, the Golden Orioles are still not in. A report of the orioles calling was never confirmed, and it's clear they're not here yet. But he says we might want to go anyway because a Black Tern was there yesterday, "a crackin' bird," says he.

STUPID MOBILE

Then we call older daughter Tara's new friend Hannah, who with her husband Kent and four-year-old son Holland, run a B&B in the town of Bury St. Edmunds, 20 miles or so south of Thetford. In talking with her, our stupid mobile phone shuts itself off twice during our conversations, but Sharon gets directions, which changed slightly when Sharon told Hannah about our big motorhome.

Hannah asks if we've had lunch yet. We haven't and she invites us for lunch. So no Golden Orioles on this trip, and we head out of our little layby.

HANNAH'S B&B

We make it to Hannah's with no trouble, and she finds us parking on the street near her B&B. She makes us up a temporary parking permit, as this is only for residents and her B&B visitors.

Kent is working in Turkey at the moment (where he met Tara's husband Cihan), and their son Holland spends one day a week with his godparents, and today's the day.

Their B&B is on a corner, but it's not a right angle corner. It's about 120 degrees, if you're geometrically inclined. And the B&B has two doors, one on each of the streets of that intersection. In between, exactly on the corner, is a little wedge of an apartment that they are trying to acquire from the owner. There is a little enclosed courtyard in back, where the sun shines in warmly today. I can look through the window at our lunch table.

A handsome green door invites you into each entrance.

Hannah and Kent are both American, but she's been here long enough that she has an ever-so-subtle English accent very pleasant. Their place is:

Orchard Crescent B&B
16 Short Brackland
Bury St. Edmunds
Tel: 01284 749221
And is advertised as a "peaceful retreat in the Town Centre." Which it is.

We enjoy a couple of hours of lunch and getting to know one another, talking about her and her family, and about Tara and Cihan and our grandkids. She invites us to stay with her for a night or two, and it's tempting (I've got to get out of here quick because I'm starting to feel real comfortable in this chair), but we've got one more dream to chase and promise that if we run out of energy, we'll call and come back. Oh yes. Hannah tells us that a "close" would be called a cul-de-sac in America. And France, I suspect.

What a great friend Tara has. Sorry we couldn't meet Kent and Holland, but they may be at Tara's wedding reception in Turkey in late August, and we should meet them then. We say goodbye to her and her Russian neighbor's Burmese cat Rafferty, and take off.

I've taken a few photos and Sharon promises that we'll send the one I've taken of Sharon and Hannah through the window, from the courtyard, to her.

ST. IVES

We take off and a half-hour or so later, we pass the turnoff to St. Ives. I go into daydreamland, in which I'm going to St. Ives. I meet a man with seven wives...

We finally reach the turnoff to Woburn and Little Brickhill, THE place to try for Lady Amherst's Pheasant. I go into a bar to inquire about them, but they're not familiar with this bird or its location. I make a call to Dave Urwin, but he's visiting a neighbor and we don't connect again.

We select a caravan park near Northampton, and Sharon finds a meeting near the general hospital of Northampton. We take off, and I stop for refueling and pick up a detailed map of the Little Brickhill area. I can see the tracks going through the forests, so I think we can get into the right habitat and area, to maybe get another fantastic pheasant.

We go to our site, check in, but turn right around and follow a friendly reception guard who just got off work and volunteered to drive to the hospital with us following. Sharon snacks her dinner on the way. We make it there but it takes us about a half-hour to find the meeting place once we're there.

Sharon goes off to her meeting while I have dinner and catch up on trip reports, then read some more of my new Dale Brown novel. At 9:30, she's back and we follow my backlighted GPS track back to the caravan park. It's dark when we set up on our pitch, but there are lights on every electrical connection point, and I've got a good flashlight. We turn in, setting the alarm for a little before 4:30 am. Then it's off to dreamland.

FACTOID OF THE DAY: Britain has only one time zone, and it's THE time zone to have. Greenwich Mean Time, the prime meridian running right through Greenwich, where time begins.

SLEEP IN: Billing Aquadrome Holiday Park (an enormous kind of inexpensive Disneyland), Northampton, Northamptonshire County (but everybody calls it Northants), central England

LIFE BIRDS (Never seen or heard by us before): none
Today's Total: 0
Trip Total: still 61

TRIP BIRDS (First time for trip, but already on our life list): none
Today's Total: 0
Trip Total: still 153

 

Thursday, May 9, 2002. Week 6 Day 4. Is Lady Amherst home? Warwick Castle.

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It's 4:44, the alarm having gone off at 4:20. The heater's on as we dress for the day. We head out and I figure it's about 40 minutes to the pheasant grounds.

FLASH

A Budgins (grocery store chain) truck is right on my butt as we approach a little village, and he's making me nervous. I speed up a little, turn a corner, go down a dip, then suddenly there's an electric flash like lightening. I immediately know it's something big to do with the motorhome, but I don't know what. "Uh oh," says Sharon. I can't figure out what Sharon knows. "You just got your picture taken by one of those automatic cameras for going too fast," she says. Dangit. I usually have trouble in the other direction, for holding up traffic, going too slow. They'll send the ticket to Elite Motorhomes, but I don't know how much it's going to be. I'll gladly add this to the cost of seeing one Lady Amherst's Pheasant (birders say Lady Am's) though.

LUCK BE A LADY TODAY

By 6 am, we've parked in a small layby near the entrance to a public walking path, put on our birding gear, and are out on the trail. We get a great gARDEN wARBLER upgrade, singing from near the top of a short, bushy tree. What a singer, and I recognize their song now. Until now, we've only heard them. It's two shades of brown or gray, with no distinguishing physical features.

We continue down, into the forest. I play the Golden Pheasant track, as we've read that the calls are similar. But there are no takers at first. Sharon sees a woodpecker working away, and it's a Greater Spotted. Wouldn't it be funny if we got the Lesser Spotted here, now? We hear a Muntjac call, then as we are walking up a slope, we hear a Cuckoo strike about 50 o'clock.

At 7 am, we run into the golf course we knew was here, and groomsmen are tending it. One says to us, "Are you looking for a pheasant? I've just seen him walking down the fairway up there," pointing up the hill. "All dark, not like the others," he says. THAT got my attention. Not like the others. WHAT COULD THAT MEAN? IS IT POSSIBLE?

We get up the steep hill on the cart track as fast as we can, and there, beside the fairway walk two male pheasants. One is normal, but the other is all black, or maybe very, very dark brown. A melanistic, regular pheasant. Not at all our bingo bird, but very cool nevertheless.

A few minutes later, as we retrace our steps back towards the motorhome, Sharon sees a Green Woodpecker fly in, and I confirm that. We walk on and Sharon locates our Cuckoo. It flies between four or five trees, one time starting its call while it is still in the air, just before perching.

By 8:20 am we're back in the motorhome. No Lady Am's today, unless one shows up on our way out of here. We're sleepy, so we have breakfast then take a nap for an hour or so. Going-to-work traffic passes by gently rocking the motorhome.

WARWICK (say "WAR-ick", not "WAR-wick") CASTLE

We head off and by 11:30, we are in Warwickshire, Shakespeare country, the sign says. And by a little after noon, we're in Warwick Castle carpark. We have seen a great travel video by Rick Steves on PBS, and we have wanted to visit here for a long time.

Unfortunately, the day is totally overcast, gray and a little cool. There is a non-condensing haze around too, that makes lighting and contrast not very attractive. But what are you gonna do? I take lots of pictures, the first one of two costumed musicians and a juggler.

Then on the way in, we pass a line of tents, housing various activities. One is a chain mail maker or repairman, who happens to have a number of pet raptors, each with one leg tied to a stump or log. My favorite is an Eagle-Owl.

We continue along, and come to a fine-looking fellow who is good-naturedly harassing everyone who walks by. He takes Sharon's stick and says, "This is MINE now," but hasn't planned on dealing with the tenacious Caraway-Burford cross. Sharon gets her stick back.

We pass under the portcullis, to the inner courtyard, where a horseman is just finishing up a demonstration for a big crowd.

We hike up the mount, but first I am placed in the medieval doghouse.

From the mount, we get a nice view of the horseman returning, with full headgear on this time.

Also a nice view of the boathouse, on the river Avon. By rotating to the left, one can see a corner of the castle.

We begin our walk back down from the mount, when two armored knights walk past, below, like Starwars Stormtroopers.

We walk down to the mill where you get a nice view of the remaining pieces of the former bridge across the Avon,

then further along, across the footbridge. We walk back up into the courtyard and have lunch in the restaurant/cafeteria. We visit the great room, dungeon and torture chamber, and finally and inevitably, we make a stop in the gift shop. Then we head for the carpark. But on the way, there is a great bow and arrow demonstration going on, so we enjoy this for a while, as the bowman works the crowd like the professional that he is.

An obvious student is attending Framingham College of the UK.

In the carpark, we decide to spend the next two nights in or near Banbury, where we will turn in the motorhome on Saturday, about noon. That gives us lots of time for laundry, cleanup and packing.

BIG BO PEEP

Sharon checks the caravan park where-to-find, and we select Bo Peep Farm Caravan Park, a few miles from Banbury. We set up, plug in electrical, get the bird feeders up, and Sharon starts the first load of laundry. And it's only about 5:30 pm.

I ask if I can check and send email, and though they've never done it, the owner Andrew agrees. I have offered two pounds to cover the phone cost and allow him to make a little. I finish off Report No. 12, and after Sharon proofreads it and I make a few changes, I go to Reception and connect with AOL. I am careful not to send out Report 11 and 12 with the same command, which as you may recall, would trigger my account being disabled. I send off No. 11, then check the incoming mail list, deleting obvious garbage without reading it or downloading it. Then when only desired incoming email is left, I send off Report 12. I download our incoming email, finish off everything, sign off, and disconnect.

I go back to the motorhome, where Sharon is cleaning up from the steak pie we had for dinner. Some of the incoming email was for her, and she reads it and responds, placing her responses in the AOL "out" box. We watch TV till we go to sleep, waking up once in the night to shut off the telly.

FRACTURED FACTOID OF THE DAY: The transplant center of Britain is Liverpool, and just think about that for a moment.

SLEEP IN: Bo Peep Farm Caravan Park, Adderbury, near Banbury, Oxfordshire (I think this is abbreviated as "Oxon," but I'm not sure of that), England

LIFE BIRDS (Never seen or heard by us before): none
Today's Total: 0
Trip Total: still 61

UPGRADES: Garden Warbler, singing in view, near the top of a small, bushy tree.
Today's Total: 1
Trip Total: 8

TRIP BIRDS (First time for trip, but already on our life list): none
Today's Total: 0
Trip Total: still 153

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