Saturday Evening, May 8, 2010
I have a lot to catch up on, and I will take it up where I left off last time.
On Thursday morning I packed up and loaded the car, leaving my ďCosy Suffolk CottageĒ, where I was very comfortable, except for bumping my head on the low beams and low doorways all the time.† I never saw anyone there, except a guy working in the garden when I was leaving.† I had prepaid and they had sent very explicit instructions about everything, so I never had a need to see anyone, but it was kind of strange.
I drove on up the coast a little ways to the village of Walberswick, to visit the nature reserve there.† The village itself wasnít very welcoming, with a 3 pound charge for parking (about $4.50) and signs about various things being only for the use of the residents.† There were no signs to the big wildlife reserve that I ever saw, but I asked the attendant at the parking lot, and found my way back to the reserve itself.† At least there was free parking there.
But, it is a pretty undeveloped reserve, with no visitor center or rest rooms or anything.† I only saw one small parking lot.† There are trails, and I walked one a little way, but there werenít really any birds and the environment didnít look all that promising, so I went back to my car.† I had a map of the reserve in one of my books, so I went on down the road, toward the next parking area, but the road kept getting worse, and I finally gave up and backtracked to the village and got out of there.† Walberswick was very disappointing.† One of my two ďWhere to Find BirdsĒ books featured it more prominently than Minsmere, and I donít know what they were thinking.
So, I went back to Minsmere, for the third time.† I really like that reserve, and this time I was looking specifically for a little bird called a Bearded Tit.† I asked at the reception desk in the visitor center about where to look for them and got good directions from a young lady who had seen them that morning.† I went to the designated location, which was totally exposed to the cold north wind, and I looked.† I spent about 45 minutes out there in the cold wind, and never did see a Bearded Tit well enough to count it.† I had one brief look at a flying bird, and I think it actually was a Bearded Tit, but it wasnít a good enough look to meet my standards, so I am still looking for them.
I ate my sandwich there and looked around some more, and finally left and made my way west, toward Bury St Edmunds, my next destination.† I had some extra time, so I stopped at a Little Chef (imagine a scaled down Dennyís, with a simpler menu) that advertised free wi-fi, and I had a cup of coffee and did some internet stuff.†
As always, the driving seemed interminable.† I really am developing an aversion to driving over here.† The roads are ridiculously narrow; cars park right out in the road and you have to dodge around them, while avoiding the oncoming traffic; and the road signs are often inadequate and often confusing to me.† It is hard to find a place to pull over to read a map or to turn around when I miss a turn.† There are also way too many little villages and towns along the way, and they slow me down and add confusion, not to mention cars parked in the roadway that I have to dodge around.† Iím doing fine with driving on the left, but I am not used to this car enough to feel confident of where the left hand side is, and when I meet a car or truck on a narrow road, I often cringe as I pass them.† It is going to be amazing if I donít scrape the left side eventually.† Maybe I will adapt eventually, but so far, I donít like driving over here at all.† At home or in Australia, I enjoy driving, but I hate it over here, so far.
I got to my destination with only a couple of missed turns and consequent U-turns, at 5:00, as planned.† My host, Tom was looking out the window for me, and when I slowly drove by, looking for house numbers, which were hard to see, he came out and waved me into his driveway, as I came back for a second pass at it.
Tom and his wife, Heather are extremely nice people, and I enjoyed my time with them very much.† I had a comfy double bed and a bathroom for my own use.† I also was able to use their broadband internet connection, just by unplugging the cable from his computer and plugging it into mine, so I could at least keep up with email while I was there, although I didnít have a lot of time.
We had a great dinner that night, as well as one the next night.† Tom had asked me about what I eat, and both meals were very Zone friendly, which was nice.† Lots of vegetables, which is something I donít get enough of when I travel.†
We had an early dinner, so Tom and I could go out looking for two species that come out as it gets dark.† Nightjar and Woodcock.† We went out into a clearing in the forest as it was getting dark, and waited to hear or see one of them.† While waiting, I did get my first (distant) view of a Great Spotted Woodpecker (tick!), and eventually a Woodcock flew almost overhead, and I got an excellent view of it.† We had two other views of Woodcock, and then headed for home.† No sound or sign of a Nightjar.† It is a week or two early for Nightjar, and I hadnít expected to see one.† They spend the winter somewhere south of here, and return in mid to late May usually.† There is no way I would have seen a Woodcock without the help of a local birder, and I got an excellent look at one.
I settled down early that night, as we were due to head out birding at 7:30 the next morning.
There were four of us going birding for the day (Tom, John, ďYoungĒ Tom [no relation to Tom], and myself), and we were actually away at 7:33, which was impressively prompt for four people to meet and get started on their day.† It wasnít supposed to rain, but it was cold and windy, as it has been since I have been here (except for when it has been cold, windy, and rainy).
Our first stop was to look for a quite uncommon bird, called a Stone Curlew.† We stopped along the road at a location that my companions knew of, and piled out of the car to look for Stone Curlews.† It took less than a minute to see the first one, and we ended up seeing 4 or 5 of them, I think, a very impressive number for such an uncommon bird.† These guys obviously know their territory and know where to look for the birds.† We also saw another lifer for me, the Eurasian Curlew, and I also had a good scope view of a Wheatear, a species I had seen, but not a very common one.† It was great to see the Stone Curlews, and the Eurasian Curlew was an excellent bonus.
From there we went to a well known nature reserve called Lakenheath Fen.† There are several species there that are hard to see anywhere, notably Golden Oriole and Common Crane.† Trying to see them involves a longish walk, though.† It was about a three mile loop, and it was pretty damn cold in the biting north wind.† There were other birds around, but not nearly as many as I would have expected on a well known reserve.† The cold wind was not helping at all with the birding, as the birds tend to lie low on a windy day.† We heard the Golden Orioles very well, probably two of them, but we didnít get a glimpse of one.† That is very normal; it is unusual to actually see one.† British birders almost all ďcountĒ birds that they hear only and donít see, if they know the call well.† Tom prevailed on me to count Golden Oriole on my list, but I have added in brackets (heard only).† There are other birds I have heard only so far, and I havenít counted them, but the Golden Oriole is extremely difficult to actually see, and the call is very distinctive, so it will be included in my totals.† Besides, I needed some kind of reward for walking three miles in the cold wind.† We didnít see any Cranes either; there are only four on the reserve at this time, supposedly, and it is a huge reserve.† You hope to see them flying in the distance, but we never spotted any.† We didnít see Garganey (an uncommon duck) or Bearded Tit, either, both of which were possibilities.
We visited several other sites, looking for specific species I have not seen; we saw others, but not any of my target ones.† We eventually stopped at a pub for lunch, and I was overly hungry by then.† Breakfast at 7:15 (very Zone friendly) and lunch at 1:15 was just too long for me.† I should have had a snack about 11:30 or 11:45, but I hadnít realized how long it was going to be until lunch.† I had a very nice sausage baguette with some potato chips (crisps) and a nice salad.† I felt much better after that.
We hit several more sites after lunch, and I did pick up three more species for my trip list, two of which were lifers Ė Buzzard and Goldcrest.† We finally called it quits about 5:30, which was ten hours of birding.† I figured we walked maybe 4 miles in the morning and at least 2 miles in the afternoon.† It was a long day for this old rambler, but one I couldnít have done a year ago, before losing some weight.† I wasnít exhausted, but I was certainly ready to call it a day by the time we quit.† I didnít bring clothes that are adequate for this cold and wind we have had, so being cold all day wore me down, too.
After all that, my totals are up to 118 species on the trip (my British list, that is), of which about 85 are lifers.† Everyone tells me that that is a good total, considering I have only been here for ten days.† There are a lot more birds in Australia or California, but these are different birds for the most part, and I am very much enjoying Britain, other than the damn driving (I guess I wouldnít mind if it warmed up a bit, either).
Today it was raining, and I drove over here to Norfolk, the neighboring county.† I got here about noon, and I wasnít supposed to move into my next accommodations until after 3:30, so I went on down to the visitor center at one of the major reserves in the county, Cley Marshes.† As I expected, they had a cafť there, and I had a piece of quiche, some salad, and a Bakewell square.† It was raining steadily, not real hard, but constantly.† It was interesting to see the real die-hard birders heading out onto the reserve, dressed in their waterproof outfits and lugging their scopes.† Not for me, my friend.† I like birding, but not enough to do it in the rain, not to mention the North wind and 45 degree F temperatures.† True, there are several hides on the reserve, so they only had to walk through the rain and wind, then set up in one of the hides, which have roofs, but it still seemed pretty die-hard to me.† This was Saturday, though, and most of them probably have jobs (I remember those days, so I sympathize) and they canít just go birding any old time, like us retired old farts.† I deliberately planned more time than I really need on this trip, figuring that I would be rained out on a number of days.
After my lunch, I used my mobile phone for the first time on the trip and called the place I am staying.† I have a cottage here, for four nights, and it is located adjacent to a farm house, on what I assume is a working farm, out in the sticks, on the edge of a tiny village.† They call it a village (Sharrington), but it is really only a few houses and a church, with no shops or pub or anything commercial, as far as I have seen so far.† It is only four miles into a town, but it seems very isolated to me.† The lanes I need to drive to get here from the sort-of-main road are so narrow that I donít know what I will do if/when I meet an oncoming car.† There certainly is not enough room to pass each other, unless someone backs up to a slightly wider spot and pulls off onto the grass.
Anyway, I got the people on the phone, and was told I could come early and move in, which was really nice.† I got all my crap moved in and got online (broadband internet access, of course, or I wouldnít have booked the place).† I got some pictures processed (Photos06 to go up soon), and now I am writing this fantastic prose for your enjoyment.
The cottage is great.†† I took some pictures, inside and out, and they will be in Photos07, which should go up in a couple of days, I hope.† I will be very comfortable here, and the ceilings and doorways are plenty high, so I wonít be bumping my head all the time, like in Suffolk.† I feel really fortunate to have found two cottages in East Anglia that are so good, would accept a booking for less than a week, and have internet access.† I hadnít expected to be able to meet all those needs, so I am very appreciative.† Both locations are excellent, too, very close to major birding sites.† They each cost me about US $75 a night (50 pounds), and I consider that very reasonable for places that meet my needs so well.† I have been impressed with both of them, as far as how nice they are, and how many amenities they have.† My only problem here is that there is a step up into the bathroom, and I am very afraid that I will stumble on it going in, or take a real tumble coming out, especially when I get up in the night to pee, which I do at least twice each night.† I will probably leave a light on, to help prevent that, but Iím concerned about it.
A few days ago, I put a posting up on a British birding website, in a forum dedicated to Norfolk county birding, asking if anyone wanted to take an American birder out, and I got two offers.† I accepted them both, and tomorrow morning a couple who live only a few miles away are going to pick me up at 8 and we will make the rounds of some of the great birding sites in this area.† I donít expect to add much to my list, as I have most of the common birds, but it ought to be a lot of fun, and I am looking forward to it.† There is another couple who live nearby who are supposed to take me out on Tuesday, and I plan to make my way around on my own on Monday.† It is really fun to meet local birders, and there are so many birders in Britain that it appears pretty easy to do so.
One of the things that fascinates me about birding over here is how connected the birders are to the birding grapevine.† There are numerous internet sites, and I am sure that they use Twitter as well.† I know they use their mobile phones, both for voice and for texting.† When the birder from Ipswich, Gi, was taking me around earlier in the week, he was sending and getting text messages from his buddy who was also birding in the area that day.† They were informing each other of interesting birds they had just seen in various places.†
Another popular thing they do is subscribe to paging services.† When an uncommon or rare bird is seen, people instantly call it in, and within minutes (literally), a page goes out, and birders in the area descend on the site where the rarity was sighted.† Within minutes, people start showing up, and there are so many birders here that dozens can show up, I understand, especially on a weekend.† Hundreds canj show up within days, if it is a real rarity and it is sticking around.† I find it all very interesting.† Some birders look down their noses on that kind of activity, and some participate in it.† Both of the couples who are taking me out here mentioned that they subscribe to paging services, so if something interesting enough shows up, we could be off to see it.† Sounds like a lot of fun to me; I would really enjoy participating in that, whether we saw the bird or not.
So, that is my story for now, and I see it is a long one.† Is anyone actually reading all this stuff?† Send me an email, I need the feedback.† firstname.lastname@example.org.†† Iím seeing the birds and Iím keeping busy.† Oh yes, I stopped on my way here today and stocked up on food at a Waitrose grocery store, in a town I had to pass through anyway, called Swaffham.† It is the biggest Waitrose I have seen so far.† I had looked it up online and had planned on stopping there.† I love that store, and now I am pretty well set up for my four nights here, grocery-wise.† No restaurants for the Rambler in Norfolk.
What a life!