Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Adventures in the United Kingdom - the Recap Part 1 - Arrival Afternoon

Following an overnight flight that had departed Denver at around 9 in the evening, I arrived in London just after noon the following day, (Wednesday). I had two days to my own devices and had decided to stay in Windsor, a ten minute or so drive from the airport - and loaded with both natural and historical sights to see. I dropped my bags at my room, and grabbed camera and bins for an afternoon walk. The weather started in typically English fashion, with overcast skies and cool fall temps - there were hints of drizzle but no real rain. [The shot above was taken at the end of my walk as the clouds lifted and the sun sank below them.]

My plan was to explore the "Long Walk", a footpath that extends from the gates of Windsor Castle south to Snow Hill and the 'Copper Horse' statue of George the Third. It is the long parallel row of trees in the map below, and the view from the castle is shown above.

I headed out, generally looking east, beyond the fence into Home Park, which is private land of the Crown Estate and featured tilled fields. Within there were Eurasian Jackdaws, Carrion Crows, and several hundred Black-headed Gulls. In addition I spotted this colorful bird dropping to forage on the ground from the trees that bordered a parking area. Unfortunately, this was to be my best look at a Eurasian Jay for the trip, but one I was glad to have gotten.

The overcast skies were prohibitive from my catching distant flight shots of the gulls, but did help to show some feather detail on the otherwise drab Carrion Crows.

Eager to see more, I pressed on and crossed the road bisecting the Long Walk, and found a nice group of Red-Legged Partridge scurrying in a field. It was at about this point that the feel of the area began to change over. I had left the majority of the tourists, the casual games of football (soccer), and those parents or nannies with their children behind. The sound of traffic began to fade, and I began to unwind from the flight and travel.

I was now in the Windsor Great Park. This is an 8 square mile area, that has largely been set aside since the 13th century as parkland. Up until the 18th century an area that large was held by the monarch to ensure a vast supply of game animals for sport and table. Perception of the parkland since that time has shifted to recreation, with attitudes of the times reflected in various features. It was right about here that I had my first flyover visit from a Red Kite. There were a pair in the area, and moments later I was able to confirm the species with a local whose golf ball I returned after it had strayed over a fence and into the Long Walk. The Kites are a large readily identifiable bird, so even non-birders knew of them and were happy to know they were being seen.

They were really cool to watch in flight, their swallow shaped tail is used rudder-like, while their wings remain motionless as they soar. Add to that their contrasting red body, black and white wings, and pale eyes, and you have an eye catching bird to shoot a few hundred frames of. The Red Kites I had read about as I prepared for this section of the trip. The following bird was a fun surprise....

Ring-necked Parakeets. [Rose-ringed Parakeets - when I switch my eBird preferences to English US]. I have seen these guys in the guidebooks, and of course there are many kept in captivity as pets everywhere, but it was very unexpected to hear, and then see them out in the wild, in England. It turns out that escaped/released birds have done well in England, and the ones I saw are a part of a growing population. Their loud calls were unknown, like most I heard in the UK, but so distinctive that I quickly came to know them by ear and could then try to locate them in flight. When flying in clear weather their tails almost give them a magpie appearance, but on cloudy days that green really stood out as they flew.

At one point along the walk visitors must pass through the deer fence, there large signs warned humans to give the Red Deer space during the 'rut'. Being familiar with Elk and Moose, I didn't need to be warned twice about what competing male deer could do to a human that was perceived as a threat. I did encounter a large heard of Red Deer, (see below for a male), including multiple harems and some efforts of males to keep their females within their respective groups. At the time the lighting was horrid, and my distance didn't lead to any great shots to share of the groups. Instead, I headed to the first significant woodlot I had encountered. There I unsuccessfully tried to get a Wren to perch in sight in a dark ditch. While that effort wasn't too fruitful, I did get a passing shot of a Treecreeper, [Eurasian Treecreeper]. It was a great add, as they are difficult to pin down and a species I didn't really expect to happen upon while traveling.

Another species ended up being far more difficult to pick out than I would have imagined. The Goldfinches [European Goldfinch], were devils to locate in the tops of large trees. I could hear them and see them as they flew (large dots), but they would disappear when they landed, and I would scan blindly through my bins trying to locate them. Finally I had a few in the viewfinder of my camera and shot away. Amazingly enough, even in the past week while working on the photos I would look at this set and not see the birds. Then I would find one, know the general area where it was perched in the shot, zoom in to see where I would crop - and it would be gone again! For brightly colored birds they are amazingly well camouflaged in fall foliage.

Likely another factor was that by that time it was getting darker, and colder, and I was ready for a pint. I had emerged from the wooded area that looks like an upside down "f" to the left of the walk on the map above. I was short of the hill, but decided to turn back rather than risk getting closed in a park after dark on my first night in a foreign country. Before I left though I had a great look at a Red Deer, 'roaring'. It does not have the ring of Elk bugling, but plays a similar role and is equally impressive to experience.

I hustled back towards the castle and town, and on the way the sun poked through offering better light for the view of the castle I included in my post that evening, and the look back along the Long Walk at the top of this one.

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