Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Our Feathered Friends

Birds have never figured much on my radar screen. Occasionally over the years, I've gone on walks with my pal ST, who is an avid birdwatcher, but it never took hold with me. I thought there were four types of birds: black, brown, white and pink. For whatever reason, I'm suddenly more aware of the varieties and differences, and on this trip I've been seeing birds all around me that I've never noticed before.

In Hyde Park, I saw strange birds hopping on the ground. They were the size of a large pigeon, white on front, black on their heads, and blue on the back. Spooner says they are magpies, which I'd heard of but I had never seen (I thought magpie was another name for crow). Also in Hyde Park, as I sat at the tea house munching a snack, little speckled brown birds kept pestering my by getting right up on the table next to me. I now know that these are European starlings.

The most exciting bird sighting came on my day trip Tuesday with my mates Helen and Judy to Henley-on-Thames. Weeks ago, when I read in the guidebook that we might see red kites flying over the fields along this walk, I pictured children flying kites like on Parliament Hill, all of them red per some local custom. That was incorrect. Red kites are birds, some kind of raptor I think, that once were nearly wiped out in this area but have been reintroduced in the Chiltern Hills and are coming back nicely.

The grey and overcast day started at Ladbroke Grove station, where I met Judy and Helen, who had gotten a car from her car club for the day. We headed northwest out of London on the A40, past the Hoover Building, which I recognized from my bus trip down from Oxford for a day in London in 1998. Henley-on-Thames is about an hour out of London, going through rolling hills, fields and woods to get there. We found it quite easily, parked the car, used the loo, and started on our walk, first going across the Thames and then heading north into a strong, chilly headwind as we walked along the Thames Path. This stretch is not particularly interesting -- some big, posh houses and some boats, but not much else. To get out of the wind and in hopes of seeing something more interesting, we turned right onto a footpath just before Temple Island. And not two minutes later, we saw the first red kite, swooping around the trees over a farm. After the wee village of Remenham, with an interesting old stone and flint church (St Nicholas Remenham) and churchyard containing some creepy statuary fit for the Dr. Who episode "Blink," we turned north along a narrow road. This put us a bit higher than the farms and fields below us, and we were able to see the back sides of some red kites -- kind of pink and white, much lighter than they look when you see their bellies as they fly over your head. It was exciting to watch them, first below us, then above. At some point on this road, we saw a stile over a fence, and even though we didn't have to cross it, my mates encouraged me to climb over it so I could say that I had done, seeing as it was my first encounter with an English stile. We plodded onward until we reached another small village (Aston) and stopped at the Flower Pot pub for a nice lunch.

Fortified by our lunch, we headed back to the Thames Path, passing by a couple of farmyards with chickens, ducks and a very large sow. Not quite Cold Comfort Farm, but similar. Turning left at the Thames Path, the wind was now at our backs, pushing us along, first to Hambleden Lock and then back to Henley. We saw more feathered friends along the way -- coots, ducks, swans, Canada geese and cormorants. Helen saw a kingfisher, but I missed it. The rain that had been threatening all day held off until we were a half mile from the end of our walk (it was torrential by the time we drove back into London).

Much thanks to Helen and Judy for my day in the English countryside, for showing me my first footpath, stile and red kite, and for listening to my endless prattle of "Wow! Look at that!"

Distance: 21,110 steps (8.66 miles)
Expenses: £5.15 for an egg & mayo sandwich and half pint of bitter
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  1. scribegirl11:18 PM

    So, they aren't red, really?
    What was lunch?
    Sounds like the perfect walk.

  2. Been enjoying the blog! First of all, I hope you are contributing both money and help for dinners with Spooner and not making him do ALL the shopping and cooking. Second of all, birdwatching is addictive. Watch out or you'll be wanting to get a life list going and have to come down here to see the migrations.....

  3. Scribegirl -- The birds are very dark red on their underside, which you see when they fly above you. Lunch info in the expenses section at the bottom of the blog.

    Rosenbeans -- (1) yes and (2) no.

  4. They look like Western Mass. turkey vultures.