Sunday, May 30, 2010


Last night I took care of a bit of housekeeping.  I had noticed that a seam was pulling out in the crotch of my jeans, and then a little later I noticed that it had expanded to a couple of inches, so decided I had to do something about it.  The only other pair of trousers I have is my “good” ones, unless you count my sweatpants or my shorts.


Fortunately, I have a sewing kit with me, in my toilet kit.  Actually, I have two of them.  They are a legacy of my business travel in the old days.  In those days, fancy hotels would sometimes have a sewing kit in the room, and I had stashed away two of them.  I have used one of them before, to replace a button while on a trip, but this time my jeans needed attention.  So, I sewed them up good and solid, and I will hope they hold until I get home.  It wouldn’t do to be rambling around with a split seam in the crotch of my jeans.  It might get chilly, too.


Last night I also came up with a project for today.  I read about a reserve that is about 30 miles from here, on the north coast of Cumbria, called Campfield Marsh.  It sounded interesting, and last week a Wood Sandpiper had been reported to have been seen there.  That would be a lifer for me, and even though it seemed very unlikely it would still be there, it looked like an interesting cross country drive to get there, and there could be other birds there as well.  I didn’t really want to deal with the holiday crowds in the Lake District, nor did I want to walk 4 miles with my scope to look for sea birds at St. Bee’s Head.  Campfield Marsh would involve a one mile walk, round trip, and that seemed more my speed.


So, after another scrambled egg breakfast like yesterday, with the addition of baked beans this time (I am mystified as to how baked beans got to be part of a “full English” breakfast, but it is pretty universal), I headed out for Campfield Marsh.  It is about 30 or 35 miles from here, and Google Maps said it would take 45 minutes.  Well, it took an hour, but it was very pretty countryside, and I enjoyed the drive a lot.  I had made careful notes on each turn, and I had also used Google Maps “street view” feature to actually see photos of each turn, so I could see exactly how each one was signed and what it looked at.


If you aren’t familiar with “street view”, it is amazing, in my opinion.  Google drives a car around with a 360 degree camera on the top of it, and takes a 360 degree picture every 30 or 40 yards, along just about every street and road in the country.  They started with the US, and they had done Australia by my 2008 trip, and I used it there.  Now they have done the UK, too, so I can use it to look at just about any road in the country.  I use it when I am trying to find a grocery store or a McDonalds, because the Google map often has the locations slightly wrong.  I look at the street, look around by clicking my mouse, and I can then know exactly where the store or McDonalds is located.  On my last Australia trip, I used it to find out if certain roads were paved or not, and I have used it here, to see how narrow a road is, to see if I want to go that way.  It boggles my mind to imagine how many images they must have stored in their computers, to be able to show you a street level view of just about anywhere in the country.  I don’t know what other countries they have done, but the US, Australia, and the UK are covered.  Go to Google, click on Maps, enter your own address, and when the map comes up, click on the icon of the little man on the left and drag him to the street in front of your house.  You can rotate the view by clicking the arrows on the circle where the little man icon was, and you can move up and down the street by clicking on the arrows in the picture.  I find it amazing.  I just did it for my address, and I see that they took the images of my street on a sunny day when the trash and yard waste was picked up, which would make it a Monday.  Amazing.  Where did they ever get the idea to do that, and why did they bother?


The weather was good today.  It was mostly sunny, with clouds in the sky, in the distance, mostly.  The temperatures were in the 50’s F.  As I left the hotel, I detoured for about a mile to the mini market I had discovered, to get some cheese, for my lunch.  Then I navigated my way to the north coast of the county of Cumbria, on the edge of the Solway Firth, which is the border with Scotland.  The driving was easy, and I enjoyed it.


As I approached the reserve, I was slowed down, though, by a herd of cows in the road.  See Photos20.  There was a guy on a bicycle, and at first, I thought he was herding the cows, but it turned out that he only wanted to get by them.  Eventually, the cows moved off the road, and I moved my way through them gradually.  That’s life in the country, I guess.


When I parked at the reserve, there was another guy who had just arrived, and we struck up a conversation.  He lives on a farm nearby, and he had come to the reserve today to see if there were any Lapwings breeding there, as they had not had any at his farm for the last 2 or 3 years.  The trail to the hide was down a farm track, and there are several screens along the way, where you can watch any birds that might be in the fields or ponds along the track.  I saw the farmer again later, part way down the track, and neither of us had seen any Lapwings by then.  He speculated that maybe it was the increase in Buzzards that was responsible for the drop off in Lapwings breeding in the area.  Lapwings nest on the ground, out in the open, and the chicks have to survive for 35 to 40 days before they can fly.  First they have to hatch, of course, without predators getting them, and that takes about 28 days.  So, they are at big risk for 9 or 10 weeks.  The parents try to protect them, but it must be pretty tough.


Anyway, the farmer gave up and went back to the car park, and at the next screen, I saw a couple of Lapwings, and one of them was harassing several Jackdaws who were flying around.  Then I saw the second Lapwing on the ground, and I saw a couple of little downy chicks as well.  Mama was with the chicks while papa was chasing off the Jackdaws.  Jackdaws are members of the crow family, and are a little smaller than our American Crow or the British Carrion Crow.  I’m sure that they would enjoy a little Lapwing chick for a snack.  My book says that Lapwings lay four eggs, so the Lapwing couple had already lost half of their brood, I guess.


So, I took a bunch of pictures of the Lapwing family, although they were pretty far away.  Eventually, the Lapwings drove off the Jackdaws, and the chicks survived another hour.  I walked on down to the hide then, but there wasn’t much to see.   Three more Lapwings, spread out enough that they probably represented another three families.  I saw one chick near one of them.  It was very pleasant, though, and it was time to eat, so I sat in the hide and had some cheese and oat cakes, while I watched out the window for any action.  There was a large raptor, harassed by a crow, and I think it was a Buzzard, although I don’t really know these British birds.  A little later, I thought I saw a smaller raptor, and I got my binoculars on it.  It was all medium brown colored on top, and I think it might have been a Short-eared Owl, which would be a lifer for me, but I didn’t get a good enough look to tick it.  They hunt in the day time, though, and based on the size and color, and the way it swooped over the land, I think it probably was one.


After my cheese and oat cake feast, I walked back to the car, stopping again to watch the Lapwing family and take more pictures.  There were a few other birds, too – Grey Heron, Oystercatcher, Canada Goose, Northern Shoveler (a duck), Moorhen, Great Tit, and Mallards.  On the whole, though, I thought there were remarkably few birds around, which is consistent with my whole experience of birding in Britain.  You make do with what’s on offer, but it seems to me that there is precious little on offer, when birding here, in general.  It was a lovely location, though, and I certainly enjoyed being out and about, seeing what there was to see.


Before I left, I stopped along the road to view the Saltmarsh Pool, from the roadside.  There were three Godwits there, a Redshank, some Shelduck, some Oystercatchers, and a Mallard or two.  Again, nothing exciting, and not very much at all.  The tide was coming in all the time, and it seemed to come in pretty fast.  I was looking out across the Solway Firth, which is the border between England and Scotland at that point.  There were a couple of deer out on the sand, and I eventually got a distant picture of them, really just profiles, but it was interesting to see deer on the beach.  They were running in the water, in the incoming tide, for a while.


I then drove on around a loop, rather than return the way I had come, and I made my way back across country, retracing my steps via a number of small roads.  On the way “home”, I got a craving for nuts of some kind – peanuts, almonds, cashews, anything.  I stopped at my local mini market, but they had none.  I couldn’t believe that a mini market could have a dozen flavors of crisps (potato chips), but no nuts.  I guess that tastes vary, and maybe the Brits don’t eat nuts as much as Americans do.  So, I had to go without, or drive five miles to a town, and I wasn’t that interested in having nuts tonight.  I’ll try to remember to get some tomorrow.   I suspect I will have a grazing dinner tomorrow, which will involve stopping at a supermarket, so I will try to remember to get some nuts.  I need more beer, too.


I deliberately did not go into town to get more food for a grazing dinner tonight.  I wanted to eat in the bar here at the hotel, for the cultural experience as much as for the food.  I processed my pictures, watched some news on TV, and went on down to the bar to see what I could find.  They advertise “bar meals”, but maybe I don’t know what that means.  I asked about bar meals, and I was shown the restaurant menu.  The prices seemed high, and it wasn’t the type of food I was expecting for “bar meals”.  The bartender did tell me about the “special” tonight, though.  Roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, with roast potatoes and vegetables, for 8.95 pounds.  That was much lower than any of the restaurant menu items, and it sounded great to me, so I ordered it, along with a pint of bitter.  I sat in the bar and sipped my beer, expecting to be served there, but after a time, a woman came and asked me if I wanted to go to my table now.  So, she seated me in the restaurant part of the place and brought me a quite large, very nice meal, as advertised.  It was all very good (I know what you are all thinking – this is the guy who likes to eat at McDonalds.  What does he know about what is good or not.  I know.).  The portions were plenty big enough, and there were four veggies – cauliflower, green beans, peas, and mashed squash.  There was lots of very tasty gravy to slather all over the meat, the roasted potatoes, and the Yorkshire pudding, too.  I cleaned it up and was fully satisfied.  With the beer, it came to about 17 bucks American, which was very reasonable, I thought, based on restaurant prices over here.  I still don’t understand the “bar meals” terminology, though.  Can any of my British readers educate me?


So, now I need to make my plans for tomorrow.  I have reservations at a Travelodge that is less that a two hour drive from here (well, 1:40 according to Google Maps, which seems to underestimate all driving times, as far as I can see).  I could drive right through the heart of the Lake
District, and that is what I am tempted to do, but I could also loop around to the south, and visit two or three birding sites along the way, taking longer, of course.  I will look at my Where to Find Birds books and read about the sites, then make a decision tonight. I’ll map out my route and take careful notes, so I don’t go wandering around too much tomorrow.  I don’t expect to see anything new in the way of birds, whatever I do; I just have to decide what I want to see on the way – more of the same old birds or lakes.  Maybe there is a way to combine them both.  After tonight, my next two nights are at Travelodges, and then I will have my last 8 nights with kitchens, which I am looking forward to.  A kitchen and internet access.  That is my idea of a great place to stay.  The only thing better is to be a houseguest and have someone prepare dinner for me, and I have been fortunate enough to have had that a couple of times on this trip, too.


So, the trip is winding down.  Not much more birding to do now.  I am looking forward to my last five days in London.  It could turn into more than five days if the British Airways cabin crew strikes continue.  The second five-day strike starts tomorrow, and the third one is scheduled to end on June 9.  My flight home is June 10.  We will see.  I am not going to know for sure until I am on the plane, I expect, although they ought to know the night before if that flight is going to go the next afternoon.  Their website has been saying to check after June 1, to see what options they might offer me.  I try not to think about it; what will be, will be.


I will post Photos20 along with this.  Mostly it is pictures of the Lapwing family, but there are some pictures of the reserve I visited today, too.   I like Lapwings, and it was fun to see the little family of them and take some pictures, even if they were pretty distant.  It was another excellent, low-key day, and I enjoyed it.


What a life!