Lots to report. I was up by about 6 on Saturday morning, I think, so I did computer stuff and was ready to head out for the seawatch at 7. It was raining when I got up, but it had stopped (more or less) by 7. I took along some cheese and a piece of pita bread, to carry me to our breakfast, which was scheduled for 9.
It was pretty cold and quite windy at the seawatch location, next to the nuclear power plants (one has been de-commissioned, I think, or is about to be) at the tip of Dungeness spit. The hide there was full, so we set up outside, in the on-again, off-again drizzle and constant wind. I had put on as many layers as I have with me, including a pair of sweatpants over my jeans. I wasn’t overly cold, but it was difficult conditions. The wind wasn’t coming from the best direction for the birding, and the wind is always key to a successful seawatch. The idea is that you stand on shore and scan out over the sea, looking for various seabirds who are flying along parallel to the shore. In this case, the birds are migrating north for the summer, to breed. We didn’t see much, and I soon realized that even if we did see anything, it wouldn’t be a good enough “look” for me to count it, since I don’t know the birds. The experienced birders can identify a species at a very long distance from things like the flight pattern and the general shape of the bird. For me, I would have to see a bird much closer before I would feel comfortable “ticking” it – counting it for my lists, that is. I might be overly conservative, but I require a fairly high standard to count a bird. Birders vary a lot – some are willing to count it if they just see it in the distance and their guide tells them the identity. That isn’t good enough for me, and I soon realized that I wasn’t ever going to be able to count very many birds from a seawatch. It was certainly interesting to be out there and meet some of the other birders – there were at least 8 or 10 birders out there, in the drizzle and cold and unfavorable winds, trying to see what was flying by. This is a key time of year, and it was the weekend, which is why there were so many. See Photos03 when it gets up (finally) to see them lined up with their scopes, scanning the horizon. While we were there, someone also spotted an uncommon bird that breeds in that area, a Black Redstart, sitting on a wall behind us. I got a very good look at a beautiful male Black Redstart, which was a lifer and a trip bird.
After 15 or 20 minutes, as it became obvious that nothing much was being seen, Paul and I (and Barney, his faithful little dog who had come along) moved on down the beach to another area called “The Patch”. As I understand it, it is where they discharge the warm water from the reactor, and it brings in the fish, and as a result, the gulls and terns, to catch the fish. There were dozens, if not hundreds, of gulls and terns flying around catching fish, as well as a few dozen resting on the beach. I was able to get good looks at Common Terns, and add them to my lists – trip and life.
After a while we moved inland a few dozen yards and looked for smaller birds. We picked up a couple more for me there – Wheatear and Meadow Pipit. We also got a look at a perched Kestrel and a couple of flying Gannets. All four of those were lifers for me.
Then it was back for breakfast. Bacon, eggs, and toast, cooked for me. What luxury. After that I was ready for a long day of birding.
We visited a woodland area, picking up Cuckoo on the way. We had heard cuckoos before, but this time we got a good look at a flying one. Even I could identify it. They sound just exactly like my grandfather’s cuckoo clock used to sound – koo-koo, koo-koo, koo-koo. It was amazing how identical the sound was; it brought back memories. In the woodland area, I learned another good lesson. It turns out, similar to Australian birding in forests, you have to know the calls of the birds to do any good at all. Paul knew them all, of course, and he constantly identified them for me, but they were all very difficult to see. I did get a good look at a Blackcap, and very surprisingly, a really excellent look at a Nightingale, both front and back, as it perched on a limb and called. Paul had just finished telling me that Nightingales were very hard to see and we almost certainly wouldn’t see one, when he saw this one on a branch. He said he probably won’t get another look that good at a Nightingale this year, so I was very lucky. By the time we left the woods, Paul had identified about 18 species, most of which would have been lifers for me, but I had only actually seen two of them. When British birders go woodland birding, they count the ones they hear as well as the ones they see, but I just don’t do that, as I don’t know the calls. I also think that a stricter standard should apply the first time you see a particular species. It was certainly interesting, though, to experience woodland birding with an expert. I saw the Blackcap and the Nightingale, too, and that made it worthwhile in itself. Too bad about the Willow Warblers, the Garden Warblers, the Chiffchaffs, the Coal Tits, and all the other ones I didn’t see, but only heard (and couldn’t recognize, of course).
On the way back to “the marsh” (the area where Paul lives is Romney Marsh), we stopped at a canal and picked up a couple more very good species for me. Yellowhammer and Lesser Whitethroat. Along the road after that, we saw Tree Sparrow as well – I saw them in Melbourne, where they had been introduced by English immigrants, but they went onto my British list and my trip list on Saturday.
We stopped for lunch, which Paul had brought along, and ran into a buddy of his, Chris. We had seen Chris at the seawatch earlier, too. While we ate our sandwiches, a couple of Long-tailed Tits flew by, so I added another lifer. I would love to see one of them perched, but I saw them well enough to count them.
We moved around to various other places and picked up more good species, like Corn Bunting, Hobby, Stonechat, Grey Partridge, and Stock Dove. The afternoon before, we had spent ten or fifteen minutes at one of the hides, looking to get a view of a Purple Heron. That is a rare bird in Britain, and “twitchers” had come from all over Britain to see it. Twitchers are bird watchers who travel long distances to see rare birds when they show up. They have very elaborate systems over here to spread the word when a rarity shows up, and the twitchers then descend on the place, looking for it. There can be hundreds that show up, or even thousands, sometimes. This Purple Heron must not have been all that rare, as there were only dozens, as far as I could see, but they had been coming for several days already at that point, and I don’t know how many had come earlier. Anyway, we hadn’t seen the herons (there are two of them there) the day before, and it had been a longish walk (for this fat old man) to get to the hide to look for it. I had seen a number of great birds on the way to the hide and back to the car, so it was well worth it on Friday, but I wasn’t keen to do the walk again on Saturday, to try again. Well, Paul really came through for me. He is very well known there, so he went into the headquarters and got permission to drive me out to the hide. I suppose I ought to feel guilty about that, but I only feel very grateful and satisfied. We joined the 8 or 10 people in the hide who were watching for one or the other of the Purple Herons to pop up in the distance for a few seconds, and waited. In the meantime, there were other birds around, and I actually picked up another trip bird, the Sand Martin, a species of swallow, while we waited for the herons. Also three Mediterranean Gulls flew through, and they were lifers for me.
I didn’t really have any hope for seeing and being able to count the Purple Heron, but it was fun to be participating in the watch for it. Then there came the call – “It’s up!” And by God, I got my binoculars on it, and watched it for 15 or 20 seconds, as it flew back and forth, giving us great distant views, several hundred yards away. I looked in my field guides, and I definitely saw it well enough to “tick” it, so I now have a rarity (here in Britain) on my trip list. It was fun to be part of the excitement, as others also saw the species for the first time. After that, Paul inveigled me into doing a little walking, and we ended up adding another species to my trip list – Dunlin. I see Dunlin in California, and this wasn’t much of a look, but it was good enough to add to my list.
By that time it was getting on for 5 o’clock, and we had planned dinner for 5:30, so we could go out after dinner looking for owls. We got back in time for me to have a wee dram and do a little computer stuff, and then we had a really delicious typical British Sunday dinner – roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, with nice veggies. I ate too much, of course, and it was all delicious. Again we were a party of five, as Kate, Paul and Pat’s daughter, and her friend Sam were there still. Kate had made a great sherry trifle, my favorite British dessert. A very, very enjoyable and delicious meal. After dinner, I got some pictures of the family, and had some taken of Paul and me. I haven’t looked at them yet, but if they come out, they will be in Photos03. Photos02 is done, and covers Friday. Photos03 will cover Saturday, when I get to it.
(This is getting very long, isn’t it? Saturday was an incredible birding day – I like to say about a day like that, that it was “one for the gods”.) Anyway, after dinner, Paul and I headed out to look for owls. They only have two species in that area, Little Owl and Barn Owl. We have Barn Owls in America, but not Little Owls, as far as I know. We went to the area where Paul knows that both species live, and he immediately spotted a Little Owl sitting on a barn. I had a great, though fairly brief, look. We were early for the Barn Owl, so we went on down the road to see if we could see anything else. It was coming up on 8 PM by this time. The sun was down or almost down, and the light was fading. As it turned out, Paul’s owl location isn’t far from where the Purple Herons have been hanging out this week, and damned if we didn’t get another good look at a Purple Heron, as it flew up and then down again, giving us another 10 or 15 second look at it. Amazing! I not only saw the Purple Heron, KI saw it twice.
We were waiting around for the Barn Owl to come out, and Paul heard the Little Owl call, and when he looked in that direction, there was the Barn Owl. It was one of the best birding experiences I have ever had. The Barn Owl flew back and forth, not very high, obviously hunting, about a fifty yards away. The light was still fine, and I had absolutely incredible views of it, as it swept back and forth, for maybe 2 or 3 minutes. It was absolutely stunning, and I will always remember it. Such a beautiful bird, and swooping around so elegantly, right out in front of us. Stunning.
So, that was the end of our fabulous Saturday of birding. We went back “home” and I got settled down by about 10 PM, after doing some email and internet stuff.
I slept pretty swell, but again only for about 6 to 7 hours, as I was awake in the middle of the night for over an hour. I am getting used to the time change, but I am not fully there yet. I woke at about 5 again this morning, and finally gave up on sleep and was out of bed by about 6:20. We had had some tentative plans for this morning, but we knew that the weather was threatening. It was raining when I got up, and it just kept raining, for most of the day. So, we gave up on any birding plans (well, I gave up – Paul is such a good sport that he would probably have taken me out if I had asked for it, but it made no sense to me, in the rain. Paul cooked me another bacon and egg breakfast, and I did computer stuff for a couple of hours, and I finally got out of there about 11:30.
My next destination was Suffolk, in what is called East Anglia. North and east of London. It was supposed to be about a three hour drive, according to Google Maps. Well, maybe it is to a normal UK driver on a normal day. I made a detour at one point to look for a Subway sandwich place, but there was nowhere to park and the rain was bucketing down, so I gave it a miss. That cost me about ten minutes. Then I missed a turn where I was supposed to transition from one motorway to another, and that cost me another ten minutes, to go back. And then, once I got on the proper motorway, the M25, there was a huge “tailback”, as they call it, with stop and go traffic all the way to a key tunnel that goes under the Thames River. It took me an hour to go about 6 or 7 miles. What a drag.
I had plenty of time, in one sense, but I needed to stop at a grocery store, to lay in supplies. The place I was heading for is a “self-catering” cottage, with a full kitchen, so I needed to have some food. I am there now, and I have it booked for the next four nights, so I can really settle in here. I needed food though, and this is the Sunday of a three day holiday weekend (tomorrow is the holiday). I had identified a store chain that I had been in before that I really liked, Waitrose, and Paul had looked it up on the internet for me this morning. Surprisingly, there is a Waitrose store in a small town only about 10 or 15 minutes from my cottage, so I was aiming for that. But, this is Britain, not the USA. In the old days here, all the grocery stores would have been closed all weekend, but this is the modern, new Britain. Stores are now open Sundays, until 4 PM. Big progress. Actually, Paul told me that their website said that Waitrose was open until 4:30 on Sundays, although Pat, his wife said she thought it was only 4. At any rate, time was ticking away, and I was watching the clock. I found the Waitrose in Saxmundham, and pulled in about 3:55. As I approached the door, I noticed a man chaining up the carts, and I saw that they did indeed close at 4, not 4:30. I grabbed a cart and started trying to find some food. They soon made an announcement that the store was closing, and I managed to grab enough food to last me for a couple of days, and I got out of there at about 4:10. What a relief, to have some food. It makes a funny story now, and I was laughing to myself and enjoying it at the time, too, but it would not have been good if I hadn’t gotten any food there. I am way out in the sticks here, and there is not anything at all within miles.
I had a hell of a time finding my cottage. It is part of a little cluster of about 5 or 6 cottages, out in the middle of farming country, with tiny little one or one-and-a-half lane roads leading here. I drove by it three times before I finally saw it. The cottage itself is really interesting. It will be a very comfortable place to stay. It is obviously very old, but has a modern bathroom and kitchen, which I appreciate. I have all the conveniences, including a washer and dryer, but the ceilings are low, with beams that I have to duck to get under. The winding stairway to the upstairs bedroom and bathroom is very steep and narrow. The doorway to the bedroom can’t be over 5 feet high. I am either going to be constantly moving around stooped over or I am going to hit my head a lot. Or both. But, it has plenty of space and it does have all the “mod-cons”, as they say over here (modern conveniences). It is going to be a great place to stay. Wi-fi internet access, of course, or I wouldn’t be here. The cost is about US$75 a night, which seems very reasonable to me. No sign of my hosts. There was a very detailed list of instructions about how to get in, and lots of notes about how things work. It is all prepaid for, so no need to see anyone, I guess. Check out their website, if you are interested. I am in Mistletoe Cottage. http://www.cosysuffolkcottages.co.uk/index.php
So, that brings us up to date. I have been supping my nightly wee dram, and now I need to prepare my Waitrose dinner, which is going to be lamb Shepherd’s Pie. Way too much fat, and way too many calories for me, but I’m on vacation. Eventually, I’ll get on my scale, and things will have to change, I think. Meanwhile, I am enjoying eating like I used to, in the old days. Sooner or later, I’ll have to get back to eating the way my body requires, if I don’t want to gain back all that weight, and I don’t.
As for numbers, I am up to 86 species on the trip. I saw about 81 species with Paul, in less than a day and a half. He saw and heard 103. Of my 86 species, approximately 57 are lifers. As I said before, I will need to do some research when I get home about which species are the same here, in the US, and in Australia. The common English names don’t always tell me what I need to know, and I need to look up the Latin scientific names.
My dinner is cooking, and I will see if I can get this up on the website, along with Photos02. That won’t catch me up with my pictures, but it will get me closer. Today it rained all day, until late afternoon, but the weather is supposed to be dry for the next week or so. I am supposed to meet a local birder on Tuesday at 7:30 am, but tomorrow is free, as it turns out. It had looked for a while like I was going to be hooking up with a local birder tomorrow, in addition to the guy on Tuesday, but that fell through, and it is just as well, I think. I might hang out here a lot, just catching up with my photos and getting settled in. I will probably venture out a little, but I don’t have any big plans. I feel like “cocooning” after the hectic, rushed nature of the last few days. I need to finish adapting to the time change, too. What a life!