Thursday, August 28, 2008

Walk to Grantchester with Richard

I met up with Richard Hall again today to bird for a few hours between classes. We walked to Grantchester, where we had lunch at The Orchard, a sort of tea and sandwich place, with cute little lounge chairs placed around an orchard. The walk there, we had a good little flock of long-tailed tits, chiffchaffs, blue tits, and a blackcap. A goldcrest was in a nearby treee, and a common treecreeper called.

We walked along open fields, hoping for some skylarks and other open farmland loving birds. No dice, but we did have a chaffinch that I managed to snap a photo of as we sat and ate our sandwiches.
The walk back was incredibly peaceful, the sun came out, warming our backs as we made our way toward Cambridge along the river. We stopped occasionally to look at dragonflies or listen to a call coming from the trees and bushes around the river. People were jumping in the water, laughing, and generally enjoying the sunshine. I really do enjoy birding here - the birds don't respond to pishing, which annoys me to no end - but besides that, I find the birds here quite charming.
Mute Swan

Banded Demoiselle

Mating Dragonflies
You can see how he's hooked in behind her eyes

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Wicken Fen

Today I went birding at Wicken Fen with a birder friend who works at Cambridge University. We drove out to the Fens and walked around for a few hours. It was windy and overcast, and the birding was fairly slow - we did manage to pick up some birds, kestrel, buzzard, green sanpiper, Eurasian teals were a lifer for me, and a female marsh harrier was exciting. The wildlife and scenery was a welcome change, sometimes you just need to get out away from even the most beautiful cityscapes...
Fungi on tree stump
Small tortoiseshell
Water lilies
Swan with cygnets
Mating small(?) whites

Skipper spp. on thistle

Meadow brown
Bug from the blackberry plant

Monday, August 25, 2008

Kings College Chapel Roof!

So today was amazing. We got a tour guide to take us up onto the roof of the Kings College Chapel (not usually allowed for the public). It was spine-tingling and hair raising - but so incredibly worth it. The view was phenomenal, but I didn't know we were going up there before hand, so I didn't bring my fancy camera *drat* - I do have some video uploaded at the end of the post though =)
The view from the roof!

The roof itself is vaulted, so we were scrambling up the sides to stand at the peak in the center, which still makes me a bit dizzy thinking back on it - but offered without a doubt the best views of the city available.
Looking down to King's lawn
Graffiti on the walls - amazing!
Not quite sure what was meant here - but quite an important year for America!
Video I took from the rooftop - sorry the quality sucks...

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Ely Cathedral

Today we took a short train ride to Ely, the smallest city in England (it's a city because it has a cathedral). The cathedral was one of the prettiest we've seen yet, and I got some very cool photos there.
Candles for prayer
I'm becoming a fan of stained glass

The view from the center of the cathedral (or as close as I could get)

This guy's tomb was a crack-up

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Stratford-upon-Avon and London

I visited the birthplace of William Shakespeare today. Stratford-upon-Avon is a quaint, if touristy, place with lots of cute shop fronts along it's high street. The River Avon runs along side the city, and is covered in boats.
Holy Trinity Church - where Shakespeare was baptized and buried.

We saw a modern interpretation production of a Midsummer Night's Dream, which is a great Shakespeare play, but not my favorite version. I tend to prefer traditional style plays rather than these stylized modern things - that being said, the theater was great and the lighting really made the show.
The Shakespeare Hotel - typical storefront in Stratford.

We did a walking tour which gave us a quick and dirty Shakespeare history, then had dinner at the Garrick Inn, which had a delicious vegetarian risotto! I enjoyed Stratford-upon-Avon, but I think all this gorgeous scenery we've encountered in England is starting to overstimulate me - I'm beginning to take it all for granted, "oh what's that? another gorgeous church circa 1200? ho hum..."
So I didn't manage to get a post in about our day trip to London, so I'll tag in on the end of this post.
The Tower Bridge in London (NOT the London Bridge)
Wesminister Abbey

The Globe Theater

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Weekend in Cambridge

Beer brewed specially for the British Birdfair by Langton Brewery

People punting on the River Cam along the Backs behind Kings College
Kings College

Pembroke from the library entrance looking in
Pembroke College
Pembroke looking into the courtyard where I live

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Beer Tasting in Cambridge

Besides birds, I have developed a taste for beer, which is lovely since Cambridge is full to the brim with pubs carrying all sorts of proper ales. We set up a little beer tasting evening at an out of the way pub called Live and Let Live. Let me tell you, this was probably my favorite pub in all of Cambridge. On first glance, it doesn't appear all that different from the other pubs I'd been into, but then a quick look at what was on tap changed that. In Cambridge, most pubs serve Greene King ales, which though good, are entirely too abundant.

The bar owner came over with a pitcher of our first of 6 beers, this was was a fruity, bitter lightly-colored beer called Nethergate Umber Ale. 3.9% alcohol. It had hints of the coriander it was made with, but was too bitter for most of the participant's taste.
The second beer was a more traditional style beer, Everard's Tiger, which at 4.2% alcohol was much lighter tasting, medium colored, and with a slight scent of strawberry. It was brewed using English hops, which are less bitter and citrus-y than American hops.

Our third beer was called York Decade, 4.2% another paler beer with a much more intense flavor than the mellow Tiger. This one was tangy, quite bitter or hop-y, and had a grapefruit-y smell and taste. It was quite dry and had a bite to it.

Fourth in line was Pot Belly Brewery's Yellow Belly Beer, 5.2% and lighter, hop-y, and almost no smell. It was good, refreshing, and the type of beer I could probably drink more of in one sitting.

Nethergate Umber Magna

Our fifth beer was possibly my favorite, another Nethergate beer - called Umber Magna. A very dark beer, made of roasted malt instead of hops, which gave it a very caramelized almost Guinness-like flavor (less filling and sweeter than Guinness though) This beer also contained a hint of coriander, which I could smell but barely taste.
For our last beer, we had a Belgian ale, called Saison Dupont, coming in at a stronger 6.5%. It was sweet, slightly bitter, very hop-y, and almost had a sudsy texture to it. Strong smelling, tasting, and hitting. Also the bartender's favorite.
I loved the evening, and would go back for another round of beers, the bar man was knowledgeable, and let us pipe in with our untrained opinions. It is a great bar to get a break from the typical pub crawl, and if you truly enjoy Belgian beers, they have a huge selection of ridiculously strong Belgian choices.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Birding in Scotland

I met up with a birder from Scotland named Torcuil Grant, who graciously drove 2 hours to meet me and show me some birds around the Edinburgh area. We drove to the coast of the Firth of Fourth where I immediately got a lifer after lifer upon exiting the car, Eurasian oystercatcher, sandwich tern, bar-tailed godwit, common redshank, and more. When you go somewhere new, lifers are like shooting fish in a barrel, and Torcuil was almost laughing at how easy it was to find me something new and exciting.
Bass Rock

We wandered up the coast, stopping every once and a while and adding new birds, great cormorant, northern lapwing, common shelduck, common kestrel, on and on. One of the most phenominal sights of the trip was Bass Rock, which is home to a giant colony of nesting northern gannets. The rock appears white at first, and upon closer inspection you realize those are all bodies of seabirds coating the surface of the rock, and wheeling around above it. Incredible.
Black-legged kittiwake
We stopped for lunch in Dunbar, where we found a wall in the harbor with nesting black-legged kittiwakes, which you could litterally walk right up to without seeming to disturb the birds at all. Amazing to get, as he dubbed it, "porno views of kits," hahaha.
Hills covered in heather

Moving inland we got looks at common stonechat, northern wheatear, and cmmon buzzard. Linnets and gorgeously glowing yellowhammer were around, and meadow pipits crossed in front of our car as we drove through fields of heather and sheep (which delighted me to no end - I kept exclaiming "sheep"!). A family of common stonechats just as the rain picked up was positively exciting for me, and non-native red-legged partridge running across the road beside the car was amusing.

By the end of the day, we were both worn out, him from the driving, me from the constant over-stimulation of lifers galore. It was great to get out of Edinburgh and see the Scottish countryside and birds with a personal tourguide, thanks Torcuil!

Monday, August 11, 2008


Well we went to Scotland Thursday through Sunday which was quite an experience. Scotland was MUCH colder than Cambridge, and rainy much of the time. It was like the European version of New York, especially since the Fringe Festival was underway and the streets were literally packed wall to wall with people walking around, and performers trying to earn some coins from passersby as well as people handing out flyers to entice you to come to various performances.
Possibly my favorite photo of the trip so far

I decided to do a lot of my city shots in black and white, it just seemed to really make them stand out better, and with the rainy weather, that's often how the city appeared.
View from my breakfast table

Thursday we spent mainly on a bus to Scotland from England, which was probably about an 8 hour trip. We stopped for lunch in a town called Richmond, which was very scenic and cute. There was a castle we went to, where I snapped some cool shots.
Castle in Richmond, England
This river was in Richmond, and due to the peat, was brown...

Which I thought made it look like a river of Guiness

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Headed to Scotland

Quick update, no photos to post - the classes and such have kept me busy, and the jetlag and 24/7 pace caused me to hit a wall. The good news is, today we head to Scotland, so I should have all sorts of new photos and birds to post when I arrive there =)

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Birding Pembroke Gardens

I woke up early this morning, funny how beer does that to me, and decided to take a walk around the gardens of Pembroke College (the college in Cambridge University where I am studying). It is the first really bright sunny day since I've arrived, and man does it get chilly without the cloud cover! My first bird of the day was a European robin, which might possibly be my favorite bird at the moment. They look as if someone picked up a drab brown bird, and dipped the head and chest in rust-colored paint - so cute! I spooked up a wood pigeon, who was as uncooperative for the camera as the robin had been.

Moving toward the library, I encountered tit calls, which after being distracted by some male and female blackbirds on the lawn, I discovered were blue tits feeding and behaving like bushtits do back home. This time the camera was uncooperative, I had managed to push a button without realizing it, and none of my gorgeous, out in the open, feeling and preening blue tit shots came out....

Next a carrion crow called as it flew over, and trailing behind it was a new lifer for me - gray heron!! I was too busy staring to snap a photo of him either, I'm embarassed to be calling myself a photographer at this point ;-) The chill drove me inside to wait until the sun reached into the garden to warm me, guess I should go buy myself a Cambridge University sweatshirt like every other tourist in the town at the moment. I am loving being here more than I can even convey - new birds, gorgeous gardens, incredible architecture, buildings older than my country - and did I mention the accents?!?