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Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Quest for a mermaid

Thursday 24 Nov, the eve of the final escapade of My Ryanair Year, found me dossing in the back of my VW Polo estate car at Stansted Airport under a clear frosty starry sky with Mars overhead and Orion rising steeply in the East. It was with a little diffidence that I got straight off the plane the next morning at Malmö Sturup heading for the information kiosk to ask: "Where do I catch the bus to Copenhagen?". I thought I could read into those blue eyes: "Have you had enough of Sweden already, Sir?" but I got a sweet "The Flybus 737 is waiting just outside".
Actually Sweden was productive for me as I spotted a Rough-legged Buzzard (only the 2nd or 3rd in my life) from the Flybus window, an excellent kick-start to my bird list. Across the bridge into Denmark and duly arrived at Hotel Absalon by lunch time. The room was more of hostel standard really, the TV tuned to only one channel (American Football whenever I looked) but the staff were friendly and helpful. The afternoon was overcast, gloomy and depressing so I had a look at some of the shopping centre and sampled a medister pølser from a Steff street-vendor, as recommended by son Alun (I actually preferred the sausage wrapped round with bacon, but don't tell him).

Saturday dawned with breaks in the clouds and so I rented a bike from the hotel and set off to look at the chain of rectangular basins that skirt the north of the city centre. Plenty of Mute Swans, and other waterfowl.
Then off down to the harbour to look for the focus of my trip, namely the Little Mermaid . I was thrilled, it was one of those realities which actually exceed expectations. Shame about the tourists! I biked back along the waterfront, taking in the Royal Palace (pity, His Majesty was not able to receive me) and through Nyhavn with the tallships and disused lightships moored there, and the harbour sides lined with the Jul-market stalls and thronged with shoppers.

The evening was spent at Copenhagen's other "must see" attraction, namley Tivoli Gardens, now resplendant for the Christmas season, with some 115,000 lights, illuminated boating lake and numerous stalls selling seasonal food and drink.
The drinks included festive glogg, a polystryene cup with boiling mulled wine for 22 Crowns, but for an additional 10 Crowns (or multiples thereof) you got a shot (or multiples thereof) of rum in it. Three cups during the evening seemed enough to keep the wintry chill out of my bones. I think the highlight was the pavilion containing the village of Nissekøbing ("Goblinsville") complete with over 100 mechanical pixies.

The weather continued to improve and Sunday was calm, cold and cloudless. On the bike again out to the frosty parkland areas at Frederiksberg around the zoo to pick off a number of woodland birds (Jay, woodpecker, Nuthatch, tits, finches etc.) and then later across the bridge to Christianshavn to see that side of the harbour, and to admire the opera house. The reed-fringed lagoons around the east side of Christianshavn provided the best birding of the trip, with many waterfowl and passerines in the surrounding vegetation. A visit to the "south bank" would not be complete without calling in to observe the partially self-governing Christiania. Despite what you may read about criminals and drug addicts, the place was extremely relaxed and not the least bit intimidating, with carefree little children walking about. I had a Carlsberg at the pub there.

Sunday evening I did a bit more window shopping, listened to the band and saw the Christmas tree lit up in Town Hall Square, finished off with a couple of bottles of Carlsberg Master Brew back in my room. On Monday morning the Flybus was at the right place at the right time (only a Brit would find this surprising!) so into Sweden which looked prisitine in sunshine and a light covering of snow. Back in the office by 2.30pm. Booo!

Bird list

Rough-legged Buzzard; Rook; Jackdaw; Hooded Crow; Black-headed Gull; Mallard; Eider; Lesser Black-backed Gull; Herring Gull; Cormorant; Coot; Magpie; Blackbird; Woodpigeon; Fieldfare; Common Gull; Great Tit; Blue Tit; Chaffinch; Robin; House Sparrow; Great-crested Grebe; Grey Heron; Mute Swan; Wigeon; Pochard; Tree Sparrow; Moorhen; Nuthatch; Jay; Great-spotted Woodpecker; Collared Dove; Greylag Goose; Siskin; Redwing; Little Grebe; Canada Goose; Greenfinch; Redpoll; Wren; Red-breasted Merganser. (41 species).

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Leicester City v. Watford

Both sons Alun and Carwyn converged on Leicester for the ‘Foxes’ league match with Watford at the Walkers Stadium. The two brothers had earlier battled for supremacy on the roads: Alun had taken the express route up the M40 but Carwyn’s nimbler Vauxhall Corsa, on the more unconventional Fosse Way – a Roman Road, pipped his elder brother at the post.

Without standing on ceremony, the 3 Doctor Fowlers sidled in to the Western Pub for a pint each of the local favourite, Everards Tiger. Soon it was time to head up the canal to the Walkers Stadium. A poignant moment for Carwyn as the teams ran out to the tune of the ‘Post Horn Gallop’: this was his first Leicester City home game since 1984. Meanwhile, Alun – a lifelong Fox - was looking to extend his lengthy unbeaten run of City matches.

Watford, wearing unfamiliar red ‘away’ kits, silenced the Leicester City fans with a goal inside 10

Alun, Jim and Carwyn outside the Walkers Stadium
minutes. However, a long spell of City pressure was eventually rewarded with a Joey Gudjonssen goal from barely 6 yards, triggering a blast of the famous ‘Post Horn Gallop’, this was heard once again when Gudjonnson scored a penalty kick awarded for a handball on the stroke of half-time, resulting in a blast of the famous 'Flibert Street Roar'.

After half time City's spirits were raised when a Watford player was sent for an early bath, but they failed to capitalise on the one-man advantage and, indeed, with but six minutes remaining Leicester snatched effective defeat from the jaws of victory by conceding an equalising goal to the depleted opposition. This resulted in the even more famous Filbert Street groan, heard as far away as Bradgate Park and Rutland Water. Notwithstanding the initial disappointment of conceding the draw, a four-goal game was an attractive outcome which helps to boost the statistics towards that elusive average of three goals per game.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Ringing Blog - Eskmeals

Saturday 19th I was collected before dawn by friends Ken Hindmarch, Jack Sheldon and John Pearson for a ringing session at the Ministry of Defence land at Eskmeals, adjacent to the Esk estuary, just south of Ravenglass. The area comprises mature sand dunes extensively colonised by Sea Buckthorn (now laden with their golden-yellow berries), supplemented by planted pine trees.
Arriving to a frosty first light, hundreds of thrushes, Blackbirds, Song Thrushes, Redwings and Fieldfares,

John, Ken and Jack (seated)
were vacating their their roost sites to commence feeding on the buckthorn berries. With nets soon unfurled we were quickly among the birds and amassed an excellent catch of 130 of 15 species (18 Bullfinches; 16 Robins; 14 Blackbirds; 12 Redwings; 11 each of Chaffinch, Blackcap and Song Thrush; 8 Dunnocks; 3 Goldcrests, GreatTits, Coal Tits and Fieldfares; 2 Greenfinches; and one each of Mistle Thrush, Reed Bunting, Blue Tit and Great Spotted Woodpecker).

It was particularly remarkable that we caught each of the five over-wintering British thrush species - Blackbird, Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush, Redwing and Fieldfare, the Mistle Thrush being especially unusual to catch. Notable too were the 11 Blackcaps, a species which is normally considered a summer visitor but which is becoming increasingly common as an over-wintering warbler species. The picture is of a Mistle Thrush.
Sunday morning (20 Nov) was spent supervising ringing trainee Jenny Holden, working in her garden at Ulverston. Jenny is the UK Conservation Officer at the World Owl Trust, Muncaster, and is already qualified to ring owls.

Jenny Holden extracting a Chaffinch from a mist net

Ringing birds that are attracted to feeders in gardens is not necessarily part of a particular project but useful information about survival and longevity may nevertheless be obtained from such data. Moreover it provides useful training experience for Jenny to extend her ringing qualifiacations. We ringed some 20 birds, Blue, Great and Coal Tits, Chaffinches and Greenfinches, Robins, Dunnocks and Blackbirds.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Marsh Tit Research

Saturday morning (12 Nov) was bright and I took a walk round the 388ha Roudsea Woods and Mosses National Nature Reserve where I have enlisted as a Voluntary Warden with English Nature. This is now my principal research site where I am engaged in an ongoing study of the survival of Marsh Tits Parus palustris.

Marsh Tit is on the "red data" list of those birds which have undergone a serious decline in recent years, and it appears that Roudsea Wood may be now the best stronghold in the country for this species.
I have uniquely colour-ringed some 180 birds which allows individual field recognition without the need for recapture.
Both English Nature and RSPB have become involved by using this marked population for more extensive studies on habitat utilisation. My preliminary observations suggest a high between-year survival rate of 60-70%. The picture shows a colour-ringed Marsh Tit.

Sunday (13th) dawned to the first ground frost of winter, followed by a cloudless windless morning. At Walney Bird Observatory caught Blackbirds, Song Thrushes and Greenfinches. A skein of 50 Pink-footed Geese flew over high in perfect V-formation. The Hooded Crow was still around, and a Merlin was chasing pipits over the salt marsh.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Walking to work birds

I have a mile to walk to work. There are several routes available - a dash through the streets, or a more leisurely route along the towpath of the Grand Union Canal or the cycle path by the River Soar, which runs roughly parallel to the canal. The river has some neglected bushy bits sprung up on spaces of industrial dereliction, and some stands of willow. I guess this represents about as natural a habitat as you can get close to a city centre.

Since I started this walk on 7th September 2005 I have kept a record of bird species identified. I have my little rules about this. For example, I'm allowed to vary my route at will, even if it is a bit out of my way, but I mustn't retrace my steps. Birds must be seen, not just heard. I must be walking to (or from) work - I can't count the Kestrel I saw when going shopping at lunch time. And, yes, I've included feral pigeons and the piebald Greylags on the canal - hey, this is for fun, not ornithological research!

Here is the list so far, cast in order of apearance. I'll update it as and when I see something new.

1.Feral Pigeon; 2.Moorhen; 3.Goldfinch; 4.Mute Swan; 5.Canada Goose; 6.Starling; 7.Woodpigeon; 8.Dunnock; 9.Meadow Pipit; 10.Blue Tit; 11.Blackbird; 12.Skylark; 13.Magpie; 14.Chaffinch; 15.Carrion Crow; 16.Grey Wagtail; 17.Mallard; 18.Pied Wagtail; 19.Mistle Thrush; 20.Great Tit; 21.Long-tailed Tit; 22.Black-headed Gull; 23.Robin; 24.Collared Dove; 25.Cormorant; 26.Grey Lag Goose; 27.Lesser Black-backed Gull; 28.Song Thrush; 29.House Sparrow; 30.Greenfinch; 31.Wren; 32.Bullfinch 33.Little Grebe; 34.Fieldfare; 35. Kestrel; 36.Goldcrest; 37.Chiffchaff; 38.Redwing; 39.Willow Warbler; 40. Whitethroat; 41.Blackcap; 42. Swift; 43. Grey Heron.
List updated 06 June 2006

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Wet weekend in Cumbria

Pouring with rain when I arrived at Walney Bird Observatory at 10.30 on Sat. 5th November. We caught a Blackbird, Song Thrush and a Dunnock. Birds present included a Sparrowhawk and Greenshank. Loads of Wigeon over the marshes. Got water in car electrics and had to be towed by a friend until the engine started again. But what is it they say about "All's well that ends well" (or is it "Every cloud has a silver lining", or even "It's an ill wind that blows no-one any good")? Whilst stuck and waiting for my tow I notched up a Cumbria "tick" - Hooded Crow, my 186th species since 26 October 2001.
Sunday morning was better, I dodged the showers for a walk out on Askam Pier. The rising spring tide had everything moving off the sands. Thousands of waders - Oystercatcher, Curlew, Redshank, Dunlin, Sanderling, Grey Plover and Ringed Plover. 100+ Pintail flying down the estuary, 3 Pinkfeet flew over. On the return had brief but clear view of a Black Redstart, only my second for Cumbria. Also very close views of a flock of Twite bathing in rain puddles on the track.

Friday, November 04, 2005

The football years...

With two young sons it was perhaps inevitable that I would be dragged into a footballing scenario. Curiously enough, it was Carwyn, the younger son who, at the age of 6, took the initiative with a fancy to Peterborough United (the "Posh") and Glasgow Celtic, a strange choice for a child who lived in Leicester. The elder son, Alun, was more "sensible" and adopted Leicester City a little later.

It all started in April 1982 with a visit to Peterborough’s London Road ground to see them beat Scunthorpe 2-1. The memorable feature was seeing Ian Botham playing for Scunthorpe. There then followed more games watching the Posh until 14 May '83 with our first visit to Leicester's Filbert Street. This game was memorable as being the only Nil-Nil draw we saw in 69 games. It was also noteworthy because a local rival's fate (Derby County) rested on the outcome of the game. Derby missed out and were relegated, one of those situations that are remembered bitterly for centuries to come.

Our first visit to Parkhead to see Celtic was on 15 October '83, memorable for the long sleepless overnight train journey to Glasgow Central, arriving at 5.00am in the dark, with rain coming off the Clyde horizontally with ice in it. After some nine hours hanging around department stores in Argyll Street trying to dry out and restore some circulation in our veins, we made our way to Parkhead to learn that the game (versus Hearts) was about to be called off because of a soggy pitch. Maybe it was the BBC’s outside-broadcast cameras that saved the day, for the game went ahead with Celtic securing only a draw (1-1).

We saw Celtic play nine times, including the infamous game versus Rappid Vienna replayed at Old Trafford on 12 December ‘84, and Lou Macari's testimonial. Also seen were two Scottish Cup Finals at Hampden Park, both against Dundee Utd, and both won 2-1.

After moving to Borth in December 1984, our allegiance switched to Aberystwyth Town, to whom we were loyal supporters at home and away, in the era when Tommy Morgan was king. We saw England play twice at the old Wembley Stadium, one lost to USSR and the other won 5-0 v. Finland in a World Cup qualifier.

Being a statistics lecturer, it was of interest to me to keep statistical records of the games we saw. I have records of 69 games as follows: Peterborough Utd: 13; Celtic 9; Leicester City 9; England 2; Shetland (v. Orkney) 1; Swansea Town 1; Aberystwyth Town 34. The average number of goals per game was 3.83; we struggled to get it up to 4, and if we had been able to get to a game in which Aberystwyth Town beat the local University side 15-3 we might have made it!

The image shows a frequency distribution of goals we saw scored (vertical columns): so, 1 game had 0 goals; 4 games had 1 goal; 19 games had 2 goals, and so on.
Superimposed are the joined dots which represents the mathematical distribution that would be predicted if goals are truly random events (i.e. a Poisson Distribution.
Although there is some discrepancy between the number of goals we saw and those predicted if random, this is just random scatter and the two distributions are not, in fact, statistically significantly different.

Hence, goals in football matches are mathematically random events. So what is the take-home message from this astounding revelation? Well, John Motson can't afford to relax just because a goal has been scored. Another goal is as likely as not to be scored immediately (as witnessed by Leicester City scoring 4 goals in 8 minutes to come back from 2-0 down to beat Brentford in the Milk Cup on 26 Sept. 1984). On the other hand, neither can he relax because 85 minutes have passed in a hitherto goal-less game - in the words of the immortal Brian Clough "It only takes a second to score a goal". It also explains "giant-killings", as when Peterborough Utd. beat Liverpool 1-0 in a cup game.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Travel Blog: 2005 - My Ryanair Year

I have lately resumed appeasing my travel bug, with 20 trips abroad since the turn of the millennium (France 6; Germany 4; Belgium 2; Spain 2; Kenya/Tanzania, Australia, Florida, Norway, Ireland and Finland once each.).

This year, 2005, has been especially busy and I will commence my travel Blog here. Most (but not all) trips are linked to birding opportunities.

The year got off the ground (literally) with Ryanair as soon as January 6th -10 to Nimes, to retread some of the ground trod whilst back-packing around the Camargue as a student. Stayed at Hotel Imperator in Nimes from which I could visit the main birding spots around the Camargue, including Les Alpilles, La Crau and Les Baux a medieval mountain fortress. Here, I was able to exorcise a ghost by locating my honeymoon hotel at Les Baux (perched in spectacular cliff scenery). Unfortunately the bar was closed for the winter so a nostalgic glass of Calvados was not possible. The plateau at the top yielded an unexpected species, Alpine Accentor, which evidently winters here from the Alps. Species list for the trip was 74, Lifers including Alpine Accentor, Little Bustard and Great White Egret.

Ryanair again for a two night trip to Berlin (Feb. 15-17), stayed in the A&O Hostel, Kopenicker Strasse. I was in Berlin in April 2002 for a conference and was so disappointed that the Brandenburg Gate was in wraps for restoration, I resolved to return. This time the Gate was splendid in floodlights and snow. Also visited other "must see" sites: the Wall, Checkpoint Charlie, the Reichstag, Tiergarten, Zoo, Pergammon Museum and others.

April's trip was to Paris (14-18th) by Eurostar to meet up with Australian buddy Simon Cotter, and others, to see my favourite ballerina, Sylvie Guillem, dancing at the Theatre Champs Elysées. We were privileged to be invited to a champagne reception in the interval and to Sylvie's dressing room after the performance where we spent half an hour chatting with her. Sunday was fine so Simon, his daughter Rosalie, and I caught a train to the Fontainbleau Forest for a few hours birding in spring sunshine. No woodpeckers seen, but some spring migrants like Bonelli's Warbler, Black Redstart etc. were nice to see.

May (12-18th) saw the first of two visits to Andalucia (Ryanair to Jerez, rented Hertz), in particular to the Coto Doñana. Camped the first two nights at Puerto de Santa Maria, and for the remainder at a sand dune site on the coast at Matalascañas, west of the Guadalquivir river. Inadvertently I had chosen weekend of the annual Romerio when the area around El Rocio is inundated with some two million pilgrims. Most of the national park centres were closed but I was able to amass a list of 127 species, with several lifers including goodies such as Red-necked Nightjar, Purple Gallinule, Crested Coot, Pratincole, Marble and White-headed Ducks. My movements were restricted by the Romerio and so I resolved to return in the near future.

The return visit to Andalucia was June 20-23 with friend Ken Stewart. This time we stayed in a cabin at La Aldea camp site at El Rocio. We enlisted help from the excellent Doñana Bird Tours and with expert local knowledge increased the Lifers by Pin-tailed Sandgrouse, a couple of Lark species, Spanish Sparrow, Squacco Heron and Little Bittern. A visit to Niebla Castle turned up breeding Pallid Swift and a colony of Lesser Kestrels.

July's trip was by BMI-Baby to Cork, Eire, to stay with friend Dave Watson and family in Clonakilty. Local visits included boat trips to Clear Island and around the Fastnet Rock,
and to Glengarriff for a couple of pints of Murphy's in the hotel bar. Bird list was 88 which included my first European Laughing Gull, a visitor from across the Atlantic.

Although not overseas, August's outing (6-13) was a week with bird-ringing friend Ken Hindmarch on Bardsey Island Bird Observatory, in the Irish Sea off the Lleyn Peninsula, N. Wales. We participated in the ringing of Manx Shearwaters and Storm Petrels.

September (1 - 6) was celebrated with an autumn visit with Ryanair to Tampere, Finland. I camped near Nokia and toured within a day's drive (Hertz) of the area, visiting a couple of national parks. The forests were colourful in lovely weather with autumn berries and fungi, and whilst the bird list was not spectacular (57 species) I had superb views of Black-throated Diver and the one Lifer was Hazel Grouse.

November (25-28) was the final escapade of 2005 to Copenghagen via Malmo Sturup with Ryanair for just 6 pence return! (+ tax of course). Stayed in Hotel Absalon. For full details read Quest for a mermaid

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Birding Blog Weekend 27-30 October

Brought mate Ken Stewart to Cumbria for a three-day weekend. Arrived at the Angler's Arms beer garden at Haverthwaite (where, by Ancient Custom and Practice, the weekend's list starts) at dusk on Thursday in time to bag a few passerines going to roost, and also Tawny Owl. Saturday morning saw us up at first light (well, almost, what do you expect after a bottle of wine and some Spanish brandies?) heading up the coast to Ravenglass. We followed the River Irt up towards Seascale adding the usual waders and waterfowl until finding a stubble field with Grey Partridge, Twite, Linnet, Redwing and Tree Sparrow. A group of 5 Whooper Swans winged their way towards the estuary. Lunch was some sarnies and a pie from Mabel's bakery in Askam. On the way passed 3 Greylags and a Barnacle Goose in a field. The Barnacle was probably of dubious provenance, but as it didn't actually walk towards us and beg for a sarnie we decided to tick it. Back down the coast as far as Haverigg to the RSPB Hodbarrow reserve. Always good in summer, this was now a bit bleak but turned up ducks like Gadwall and Pochard, with Eider, grebes and Red-throated Diver on the sea.Saturday had us awake by 6.30am to meet ringing mate Ken Hindmarch for a ringing session in Roudsea Wood. Here we added most of the expected woodland species, including Nuthatch, Siskin, Redpoll and Goldcrest. After a fry-up of Cumberland susage and smoked bacon from Richard Woodall's shop at Waberthwaite, we set of for Walney Island for the afternoon. A quick check in the Bird Observatory's log book revealed what we had recently missed, including Barred Warbler and Corncrake. We recorded a few more obvious species here (e.g. Stonechat, Pintail, Moorhen and Turnstone) but the absence of the expected Greenshank, Merlin and Pink-footed Goose threatened to restrict the list. We called in at Cavendish Dock on the way home and bagged Golden Plover, Black-tailed Godwit, Dunlin and Little Grebe and got caught in a downpour.

Saturday night the clocks went back and we were ready at 8.30 to catch the 9.00am high tide at Askam pier. Very little to note, except a Rock Pipit at the end of the pier - a good bird away from the St Bees area. The skies opened and we scuttled back home for toast and coffee. By midday the clouds cleared and with a fine afternoon in prospect, set off for to Roanhead for a long walk around the Sandscale Haws nature reserve through the dunes and round Lousey Point. Jay and Sanderling were added, with good views of a party of Fieldfares.

Total for the weekend was 87 species , very pleasing, three more than the corresponding weekend last year.

Travel 2000 – 2004: the World at my Feet

August 2001 (3-19) saw the fulfilment of a life's ambition with a two-week trip to Kenya and Tanzania with Exodus Overland Tours. Here is the full itinerary. In the truck we visited a number of National Parks including the flamingo salt lakes of the Great Rift Valley, the Serengeti, Lake Victoria, the Ngorongoro Crater and also the Olduvai Gorge, scene of the famous Leaky family’s excavations of hominid fossils that have contributed so much to our knowledge of human evolution. The journey ended up on Zanzibar Island. I amassed a species list of 140, including my obligatory (and rather modest) targets of Ostrich, Jacana, Oxpecker and Secretary Bird.

2003 was travel-free until Boxing Day when I flew Malaysian Airlines via Kualur Lumpur to Sydney, Australia, for a four week visit to friend Simon Cotter and family, as a treat to celebrate my recent 60th birthday. Generous hospitality, and so much to do and see, with their home in Bowen Mountain adjacent to natural forest in the Blue Mountains range. Memorable was the trip into the desert at the Kinchega National Park via Dubbo and Broken Hill. We stayed at a disused sheep ranch, converted to camping cabins, but the six of us had the place to ourselves. New Year's Eve was spent in the atmospheric old shearing shed lit by candles and with Simon's wife Bonny playing music on her flute and Simon entertaining us with runcible Australian songs as bats were flitting about the shed. Birds at Kinchega included Emu and the colourful Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo, not to mention kangaroos and reptiles such as the goanna.
Later in the trip Simon and I spent three days at the Barren Grounds Bird Observatory, inland from Kiama, near Jamberoo (where there is a pub that sells very good Port). Despite its name, this endangered habitat of dry heathland is far from barren and supports a high diversity of plant and animal species. Although we failed to find the elusive Ground Parrot, we did have an excellent view of the endangered Eastern Bristlebird. Noteworthy also was the research conducted by the resident warden with whom we were able to examine Pygmy Possums and other small gliding marsupials at close quarters. It was here, too, that I encountered my only wombat and echidna. Finally, a day's birding around Sydney with members of the local Cumberland Bird Observer's Club was highly productive. And a meal with Simon and Bonny in view the Harbour Bridge and Opera House was unforgettable. Sadly I had to depart on 10 Jan 2004, with a species list of 160, and a resolution to return.

Later in 2004 (April 15-21) saw a long awaited (since a brief visit in 1997) return to the Everglades National Park in Florida, this time with birding companion Carolyn H. Accommodation was at Day's Inn Motel in Homestead, the gateway to the best birding areas of the Everglades National Park. Motoring down to Flamingo and exploring the trails on two or three occasions we saw most of the "goodies" such as Swallow-tailed Kite, Anhinga, Wood Stork, Black Skimmer, Black and Turkey Vultures, loads of herons, various migrants and even, very luckily, a Bald Eagle. Not to mention both alligator (in large numbers) and the endangered crocodile, the latter at disconcertingly close quarters during a canoe ride. One of the main "targets" of the trip was the stenoecious Everglade Snail Kite and we had excellent views of these from an air boat ride near Forty Mile Bend along the Tamiami Trail.
Another highlight was a drive all the way out to Key West where the order of the day was a circular bus ride round the island followed by a boat trip in a glass-bottomed boat out to a coral reef. The speciality sought here was Magnificent Frigate Bird which duly obliged when several flew over the boat. The day finished with some wading birds on the shore followed by a charming meal of spicy chicken sitting outside the restaurant overlooking the mangroves, when another Frigate flew over.
One of our targets, Limpkin, kept us waiting and it wasn’t until a ‘farewell’ visit to the Anhinga Trail, late in the afternoon of our last day, that Carolyn spotted one.

See also:

Travel 2000 -2004: Europe beckons!
2005 - My Ryanair Year

Travel 2000 – 2004: Europe beckons!

The new Millennium’s travels got off to a start with the Seabird Group Conference at Wilhelmshavn, Germany, 17-19 March 2000. Travel was by boat from Harwich to Hamburg and then by train to Wilhelmshavn. Memorable was the long passage up the Elbe River where I saw hundreds of wintering Goosanders. In Wilhelmshavn my accommodation was a berth in a former lightship moored alongside the quay. Notable was a day trip to Helgoland, well known as a bird observatory on the migration route of many bird species. Noted also for its duty-free alcohol, imposing cliffs and the only place in Germany where seabirds breed.

2001 was the year I discovered the Eurolines bus service, departing from Victoria bus station to various points in Europe. Eurolines got me to Paris a couple of times to see the Paris Opera Ballet (Paquita and Manon) in the imposing Palais Garnier. My accommodation in Paris has always been at Mister Bed, Bagnolet (see footnote). Then two trips to Ghent in Belgium on sparrow business, the first by Eurolines and the second (April 22-28) I drove, took the car-ferry Dover-Ostende and camped just outside Ghent. Took in a ballet, Stravinsky's 'Rite of Spring' in Bruges.

March 2002 (24-26) saw me again on Eurolines for a trip to Paris to meet up with sons and partners to celebrate Carwyn's birthday, including a visit to the top of the Eiffel Tower (and Mister Bed). Then began the start of my love affair with Ryanair with a visit to Berlin (April 19-21) with my PhD student Kate for an international conference on sparrows (yes I said sparrows). We saw a good deal of the city, including a boat trip tour on the River Spree but I was disappointed that the Brandenburg Gate was under wraps for restoration so I resolved to return (see My Ryanair Year).

Quick on the heels of Berlin (20-23 May 2002) was Ryanair to Germany via Salzburg (my only time ever in Austria) to visit a student Fiona on "industrial placement" (though surveying Golden Eagles in the Berchtesgaden National Park in the Bavarian mountains is hardly "industrial" in my parlance). This included a walk from my accommodation in Ramsau up a mountain to glacier level in a quest for Alpine Accentor (but this species had to wait until January 2005 in France). Notable for the trip was acquiring a taste for schnapps, but I have yet to find a British source of my favourite sort.

In December (12-15 2002) Ryanair conveyed me to Oslo Torp in Norway, then onward by bus and an internal flight form Oslo to Kristiansund. This was a spontaneous treat to myself to meet up with a young ballet dancer I had been corresponding with for some years on the internet. She danced memorably in the Nutcracker on my birthday, and her family spoiled me with magnificent Yuletide hospitality. Notable was a flock of some 100 Waxwings outside my bedroom window one morning.

The year concluded with another Eurolines trip to Paris (28 Dec - 1 Jan 2003) to see Paquita again at the Palais Garnier.

Mister Bed Mister Bed at Bagnolet is an institution unto itself. I discovered it because it happens to be two minute’s walk from the Eurolines coach terminal and on my first visit, with no accommodation booked, I asked the first person I met “Est-ce qu’il y a un hotel près d’ici qui n’est pas trop cher?” I was directed to Mister Bed. It is a basic but cheap and cheerful hostel type accommodation, with good serve-yourself breakfast. Moreover, it is not difficult to conceal a bag under the table into which can be secreted croissants, bread, cheese, ham, jam, in fact plenty to keep you going without having to buy lunch! The other good thing is that it’s right next to the terminus of Métro Line 3 (Station: Gallieni), the very line which goes into the city centre and has a stop at Opéra, the very target of my visits to Paris. Strongly recommended.

See also:

2005 - My Ryanair Year
200-2004: The World at my Feet

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The Royal Maalie Court

Maalie is the Shetland name of the Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis, a seabird related to the albatrosses, that breeds on rocky cliffs around the rocky shores of northern Europe. During my 27 consecutive summers during which I took expeditions of students from De Montfort University to Shetland (where we conducted ecological monitoring near the North Sea Oil Terminal) the Maalie was one of our target species for study and ringing. These birds bite, scratch and tend to vomit their half-digested fishy meal all over the captor, and so represent something of a challenge. We were catching more of these birds than any other team at the time, and the title The Maalie King was bestowed upon me.

The Herra Public Hall on the Island of Yell, where the expedition made its headquarters, became known as The Royal Maalie Court. The Maalie Kingdom (the area in which we conducted our studies) was considered to be the island of Yell and, in particular, the waters of Yell Sound and it's uninhabited islands from Lunna Holm in the south to the Ramna Stacks in the north. The 300 or so students and guests who became involved with the work are referred to as Maalie Courtiers.