Dec 4, 2009

Back (again)

After several attempts to get this blog back on track I think I am finally getting there this time. I would like to thank all those that are looking in on a regular basis, I ken fine there’s not been a lot going on but hopefully I will be adding new content as I go along. After my wee sojourn in the hospital my return to Orkney was over whelmed by the need to go to London where sad family stuff held me for a month or so. All the places that I would have been delighted to get to like Barnes and the Kent marshes held no interest for me over the weeks. I did manage to get out a couple of mornings (more to save my sanity than to be birding for birdings sake) Right next to the flats I was in is the city farm of Mudchute that is flanked by Millwall park There are allotments a cafĂ© and stables, large animal enclosures and a bridal path that sort of circles the farm.
The first walk about had very tame crows hanging around the feet as I was looking in to bushes at fleeting movements, Quite a contrast to the Hoodies here. The usual suspects were about with Blue tits, Great tits and Green finches aplenty. Wrens and Robins clicked away and a flock of long tailed tits flitted about ahead of me as I slowly moved along the over hung bridal way. Surprisingly there were no house sparrows to be seen at all. I did however get a lifer at Mudchute. As I was moving through the tall tree line that edges the park my attention was taken by some raucous birds screeching away. I new before I had seen them what they were…sort off. A look in to the top branches soon produced Parakeets. There were a dozen of more green parakeets with a pale breasts and orange beaks. They were highly mobile and didn’t hang about for long. I was to see more over the coming days and once they flew past the fifth floor window of the flat…all a bit surreal really.
There have been a few explanations about how these birds got established. My favourite is they are all descendants of a pair released by pop god (to my misses) Marc Bolan. Whatever the truth they are well and truly established in the English capital. One fella that was visiting had walked through a roost on the east side of Greenwich park that had a couple of thousand birds in it. A very noisy experience and one that’s not so rare. Roosts of ten thousand or more are well established in some areas. I was well pleased at the find anyway.
With me not feeling fit enough to ride down to London and time being important I jumped the plane and bish bash bosh I was down in the blink of an eye. The return was to be by train and an enjoyable experience it was to be. I had seen fieldfares and whooper swans before the midlands and the miles swiftly fell under the wheels. As we progressed north the recent heavy rains and flooding were more and more evident. At one point several small deer bounded away from the track side across a stubble field displaying striking white arses as they went. Newcastle and beyond the train is on the east coast proper. Here I see my first Curlew swiftly followed by several Lapwings. Running into Edinburgh in the late afternoon is cracking, the suns getting low throwing a golden light over the landscape. There is also the felling of warmth and security that the familiarity of the landscape brings when you know that you have reached home. Those warm feelings were to prove some what elusive 13 hours later as I climbed out of a taxi and on to an all to familiar freezing Waverly station for the 6.30 to Stirling and Thurso. The only bum note of the trip was about to unfold tho. As I boarded the train I saw a notice that there were no reserved seats on the train. I wandered down to my allocated seat and some bloke was in it. Fair enough the one behind was empty so I would take it. I swung my sandwich bag up to the rack and the flask went with a right bash, thinking I didn’t like the sound of that I hefted the big carryall I had with me. Next thing I know the bloke in front is saying my bag I dripping on him. Grabbing it down the flask of coffee is draining in to the bag, I rescue the sandwiches and bin the rest in the litter bin. I apologise tho the fella in my seat and he starts on at me “ its still dripping doon on me an that eh “ Tired, cold and unamused at the prospect of paying two quid a cup for coffee all day I look him in the eyes with my meanest disposition and say..SO…bugger me he raises his hands….oooer…and puts up his hood. I take my seat in a casual manner all the while thinking phew I thought I was about to get thrown off the train for fighting there, not to mention getting the crap beat out of me by some muppet half my age. Who needs coffee in the morning if you can get a healthy dose of adrenalin.
Stirling was just a wee way up the line and we all changed there in the cold first light of day. Edinburgh had been cold but now the air was altogether sharper. Moving inexorably north the early light revealed waterlogged fields, rivers in spate and flood plains awash. In places I saw flocks of thrushes moving across the fields, a couple of good geese flocks that were to far away to know what they were. We were a bit past Perth when close in and low a Red Kite flew across a field beside the track. This was a real thrill. It was large and it was very close for those fleeting moments. I had only seen them from the distance and then not kent what they were until I got to the computer that night. This was defiantly my best bird of the journey. The highlands were coming into there own now. The hills were well snow capped and simply glowing in the morning sun. After a month in the east end it was as if my vision had turned from monochrome to colour. The stunning warm tones of brown through to red and shades of winter green against the blue of the sky stood out in such a way that I cant describe. Its not just digested by the brain but it warms the heart and blood with its beauty. (chokes back tear). About this time the first Buzzard appears looking well at home moving across the rugged landscape. I knocked out a few photos as we went along which I will post after this for a look. Soon enough Inverness came and went and the last stage was underway. The train windows were well smeared but I wasn’t going to let this stop me taking photos. This is the slowest rail journey in the UK in places it is endlessly up hill and slow. It is also the most indirect route possible for getting to a town that is due north. The reason for this is the rail way was originally built largely through private subscription. The only people with the finances and interest to be building a railway across the desolation of northern Scotland were of course the big land owners of the big estates who took the opportunity of bringing in the guns and exporting their wool hence the train meanders around the country with the aplomb of a rabbit that’s been eating rum soaked raisins. I managed to keep the eyes open all the way to Invergorden where I managed a couple of snaps of the rigs that are layed up there. Arising tide was pushing in the waders, all to far to really identify bu8t they had the reassuring appearance of Redshanks. Two more Buzzards were ticked and a Raven brightened things. I was falling more and more in to my book and dozing. I awoke to the pleasing sight of Dornoch station disappearing on departure. The town is Scotland equivalent of Kalamazoo, Michigan USA. I returned to the realms of morphious with the thought that I could let the miles pass peacefully. Outside though the country was well changed the mountains had receded and the vast expanse of Caithness and Sutherlands flow country spread before us. I must admit I awoke from my dozing a couple of times although all I did was take a couple of photos and settle down again. Soon enough I was awoken at Thurso station where the rails end. God how I wish for faster trains!! A brief taxi ride along to Scrabster and the ferry terminal saw me standing with a view of home…well I would have had a view if it had not been for the rain blowing about the car park…super. There was little else to do but wait. I amused my self for a while counting gulls, that was until I decided their calls were just mocking me for having nothing better to do. Darkness fell and the Pentalina arrived to spirit us away in to the pitching rolling world of dark night. The last birds I was to see on the journey were the gulls following the boat as I pressed face to the windows and gazed in to the all encompassing dark. Bright shapes that seem to glow white in the night came and went like spirits or ghosts as they were illuminated by the ships lights. All this melancholia was to be left behind with the lights of Stromness.
Looking down the pier I could see Joe Doyle waiting to give me a lift home. In no time we were tied up along side. A quick queue and we were all ashore on the solid ground of home. With a quick whit like? No bad, I was off. I had started at 11 the previous day and it was now 21.00….trains…I kinda remember why I don’t choose to use them any more, I do enjoy them but the last half takes ages. Never mind it was good to get home.

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