UK 2019 Day 2: Around Bristol

Posted June 16, 2019

May 10, 2019

Our first full day in England started with slightly better weather – only a few sprinkles and some Sun amid the clouds. It made for a good walking day around the center of Bristol.

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Ruth and Darren’s (upstairs) and Ruth’s parents’ (downstairs) home in the Knowle section of Bristol.

Darren dropped Ruth, my wife, and I off not too far from Cabot Tower, which sits at the top of Brandon Hill Park [map]. Completed in 1898 to commemorate John Cabot’s expedition to North America in 1497, the tower has over 100 narrow steps. For long-time Florida residents like us, the steep walk to the tower up Brandon Hill and then the steps was quite a trial by fire to the type of walking we’d be doing for much of our visit.

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Cabot Tower is the centerpiece of a lovely formal garden atop Brandon Hill.

The view from the top level of the tower afforded lovely views of Bristol, including some places we’d visit either later that day or later in our visit.

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Bristol Cathedral
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Wills Memorial Tower, University of Bristol
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Christ Church, Clifton

The garden provides some good habitat for area wildlife, so it was not surprise to see and hear Eurasian Blackbirds and European Robins singing, and see a number of Common Wood-Pigeons and Carrion Crows flying around the tower.

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European Robins were found just about everywhere we went, urban or rural. City birds, like this one, are more approachable than their shier, country cousins.
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One of several Carrion Crows in the park. These are most similar to our American and Fish Crows.
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Another view of Cabot Tower and the beautiful gardens.

We made our way down into the city below, including the storefronts along Park Street and surrounding areas. The University of Bristol is near this area, and there were many students walking, biking, and even skateboarding. The make up of that part of Bristol paints a dynamic scene, with old and new elements blended together.

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Impressive Wills Memorial Tower is part of the University of Bristol.

Bristol is the home to street artist Bansky, and his art is found in several places in the city. One work was being shown by a guide to a group of Spanish language tourists who were overjoyed to be seeing and taking photographs of it. You can see it’s been “commented” upon a few times, too.

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Original Banksy, vandalized! Tribute or sacrilege; you decide!

Eventually we walked up to Bristol Cathedral, one of many Gothic church buildings we saw on this trip. Also like many large Gothic buildings, it was built over many years, with the bulk of the church constructed in the 14th and 15th centuries. Here’s a selection of photos from this lovely church.

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Bristol Cathedral across College Green.
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Bristol Cathedral interior.
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Most of the original stained glass was destroyed either during the Reformation or much later from bombing during the second world war.
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Ribbed vaults inside Bristol Cathedral.
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The interior was comfortably lit, with windows taking up a large percentage of the wall area.

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This composite of the inside of Bristol Cathedral shows the immense – and deliberate – scale of Medieval architecture and the Church’s expectation of making you feel the majesty of God (and the Church).
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The exterior of Bristol Cathedral with simple buttresses.

There is so much to see in the cathedral, the above is just a small sample. Feel free to explore more about it, perhaps starting with these sites:

Opposite from the cathedral, on the other side of College Green is the Bristol City Council building which had these spectacular golden 18th century unicorns adorning each roof end.

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Walking east, we passed a statue of Queen Victoria on our way to the northern end of the waterfront of Bristol Harbor on our way toward Queen Square.

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“We are not amused!” A statue depicting  Queen Victoria in her later years.

Just about anywhere you look in the center of Bristol, there is spectacular architecture. Walking toward Queen Square I caught a glimpse of this ornate tower, which it turns out belongs to St. Stephen’s, the Church of England parish for Bristol

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The ornate tower of St. Stephen’s Church is from the 15th Century. In an oft repeated history of churches in England, it was built on the site of an 11th Century church.

The streets around Bristol (and many English cities) are narrow, but this close spacing seems endearing to many American eyes. Almost quaint.

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A typical Bristol street scene. That orange building (third in from the right) is the pub where our host friends met each other on their first date!

Ruth told us that Queen Square is the only square square in a major city in Europe. I don’t know if that’s strictly true, but you can look on the map and see how square this square compares to other squares.

I thought it was ironic that the statue at the center of Queen Square is actually of King William III, mounted on his horse. The history of Queen Square is quite telling, in that it was all but abandoned after the 1831 Bristol Riots as the more affluent Bristolians moved to Clifton. The square was nearly obliterated, with rail and road traffic crossing right through its heart. It was eventually restored in the 1990s and is now a beautiful and well used park.

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A wide gravel path among the trees at Queen Square.

We wound down the afternoon walking past the Old Vic Theatre and some other historic buildings near the River Avon.

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The Neoclassical facade of the Bristol Old Vic Theatre.

It was a fun and exhausting day, and my knees and feet tried to complain, but there was so much to see and I was too busy having an amazing time.

After dinner is was off to bed and dreams for day 3.

UK 2019 Day 1: Stonehenge, White Horse

Posted June 15, 2019

May 9, 2019

My wife and I, after a couple of years of saving and a lot of planning, made a trip to Bristol, England to stay with friends for a couple of weeks. They took vacation (“holiday”) too, and we spent a lovely, if hard paced time, around southwestern England and Wales.

Staying at their flat and having them drive us around (2000 miles!) saved us money, allowing us to make this trip of a lifetime. Thank you Ruth and Darren, we can’t say enough about your generosity and kindness.

After flying to Gatwick, and feeling only a little bit jet-lagged, we stopped at Stonehenge [map] on our way to Bristol. It was almost surreal after reading and seeing so much about this ancient site, to actually be there. Buses take groups of visitors to the site from the nearby visitor center every few minutes. Even though one can no longer walk among the stones, the footpath allows for close views, and one can walk around the ditch that encloses the site on all sides.

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Face to face with an icon of history. Stonehenge at last!

The weather was cold, windy, and rainy – a proper English welcome – but the awe and delight at being there did not dampen our spirits. It’s hard to put into words, but the site is impressive yet somehow appropriately scaled. One can tell it took a monumental effort to move these stones in place, but somehow it seems easy to imagine humans building and using the site.

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The stones at Stonehenge are weathered and lichen covered. There is evidence of some vandalism, going back hundreds of years. That the site remains so intact after over 4000 years is a testament to the toughness of the stone and the skill with which is was created. 

Although it is severely weathered and aged, one can still marvel at the skill evident in crafting these giant stones and the engineering that went into the design. The lintel stones don’t just lie on top of the uprights, but are fitted using a mortise and tenon design.

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The top of an upright sarsen stone showing a tenon that would have fitted into a mortise hole in a lintel stone.

This trip was primarily for seeing the England our friends live in. While I had some bird outings planned, almost every bird I would see even incidentally would be a life bird for me. Three of the five resident corvid species were evident at Stonehenge: Rooks, Eurasian Jackdaws, and Carrion Crows.

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Rooks have distinctive bills and facial skin, but are otherwise similar to most corvid (crow) species – conspicuous, gregarious, and intelligent.

I was also pleasantly surprised as a boldly patterned black and white bird landing right among the feet of a group of Japanese tourists. The White Wagtail is fairly common in Britain (I saw them in many places on this trip), but was a delight to see. This particular bird is probably used to handouts or getting food that people drop while marveling at Stonehenge.

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Each subspecies of White Wagtail have distinct patterns. The UK subspecies is called White-faced. Locally, the bird is often called the Pied Wagtail (as in piebald or bi-colored).

As we rounded the henge and faced into the wind and rain, it did become a bit uncomfortable, so we made our way to where the bus would take us back to the visitor center. There are additional historical exhibits there and (of course) a gift shop. But it was all very respectful of this ancient site. We saw a few barrows in the surrounding fields and nearby fields of bright yellow rapeseed.

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Farewell, Stonehenge.

We then drove through the countryside, in and out of rain showers, to Westbury – about mid way to Bristol – to see another large landmark. The Westbury White Horse [map].

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This large cliff-side carving dates from the 1600s. Several monuments of this type are known throughout Britain, at least one from late Bronze Age. We first went to the top of the cliff to see it from that vantage point. From above, I watched a Eurasian Hobby (a falcon) hunting below and a Skylark try to fly against the wind. The wind howling up the cliff face was biting and incessant, but the views were spectacular!

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The horse from the cliff top.
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The view from beside the horse looking down on the countryside.

The horse is easily visible from the valley floor for miles. At one lower vantage-point I did get my first Great Tits and European Robin, but the horse was the star of the show, for sure.

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I don’t know who was living in the valley at the time, but imagine coming through for the first time or after some time away, and seeing this!

From this vantage-point we got back on the road and on to Bristol, where we unpacked and settled in for the next two weeks. I’ll post more of our trip through the weekend and next week.

 

Does Not Compute!

January 21, 2017

With the Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival upon us, I’ve run into a bit if a snag. My PC has suffered a catastrophic drive failure. This will put a crimp in my blogging plans (and my budget), but I hope to at least get some basic posts out there until I come up with a new work flow or machine (my PC is 7 years old and was getting stretched a bit as it is).

At least all my photos were backed up!

Battening Down the Hatches

It’s been a tense weekend here at the Lonely Birder Blog. We’ve watched as the forecast track for Monster Hurricane Irma came perilously close to home. While the track is now forecast west of here, this storm is HUGE and impacts will be felt all over the state of Florida. It’s a waiting game now, for most of us in the U.S. mainland. Of course, Puerto Rico and many of the other islands in the Caribbean have sustained major damage and will need help for a long, long time. Here’s a link to Charity Navigator to help you sort out where you might want to give:
https://www.charitynavigator.org/index.cfm?bay=content.view&cpid=5243 

Any time there’s a large storm like Irma or Harvey, the question comes up, where do birds (and other animals) go? Forbes posted an informative article about that yesterday. You can read it here:
https://www.forbes.com/sites/grrlscientist/2017/09/08/where-do-birds-go-in-a-hurricane/
(There is an auto-play, but muted, video/ad that comes up in the upper left, but I promise the article is worth it.)

Once the storm passes and things get back on track, things should return to normal here on the blog. Stay safe and see you soon.

 

I’m on a boat! (was)

I went on a short trip to New England last week. I did a whale watch and visited a few of my old, favorite places on Cape Cod and other parts of southern New England. Enjoy this short video of one of the Humpback Whale encounters we had on the 7 Seas Whale Watch while I get some of my photos in order for posting soon.

The wind is a bit loud, so you might want to turn down your sound a bit, at least a first! See you soon!

Frozen Chicken

This was me on Sunday. It was, as my father might say, “bleaky cold” out Sunday morning, so I chickened out and stayed in bed. I’ll try to make a foray before the week gets too far along. It might be a brief stop at my other favorite birding area, Erna Nixon Park. It’s been a good place for American Redstarts, Black and White Warlbers and others in the past.

Your blog author this past weekend.

I notice that there is no truly decent map online for Turkey Creek Sanctuary. I did find a reasonable depiction of the trails and boardwalk on OpenStreetMap, though some of the ancillary structures (gazebo, radio tower, pump station, etc.) are not displayed. In this map, trails are dotted lines (The Sand Ridge Pine Trail is the northernmost) and the boardwalk is shown in the thick white lines with the black dashes along the center-lines. (The creek overlooks are also not shown.)  [UPDATE: I added some map updates to the trails, including a few of the overlooks, the canoe deck and the radio tower. It may take some time for all the updates to show up on the map.]

Click through the map above and it will take you to the full OSM map where you’re free to zoom, pan and play around to your heart’s content.