Saturday, 31 October 2009

The Pitfalls of Travel

The journey home today proved to be one of fits and starts, but in the end I made it. We were up at the prescribed hour, 04-00, and not surprisingly Ille had the breakfast and coffee ready in super quick time. The taxi also arrive on the dot of 5a.m. and by 05-30 we had said our good-byes and I was clear of security. The small turbo prop job taking us the 20minute hope to Helsinki was also prompt, but that was when we hit the first snag. The Pilot reported he had an indication of failure on his equipment, and had to head back to the stand but before arrival things got back to normal. An uneventful flight, transfer and loading into the Airbus 320 that was to bring us back to Heathrow and Herkko had done particularly well as I was in the front row of toe-rag class (row 6) and in an aisle seat, almost poll position you might say! Perfect you may think, but we were put on hold for 15 minutes, circling above Staines, then when we got to the 'stand' the damned 'air bridge' failed. So, we now had to disembark from the aft steps meaning those who might have got off first, myself included, now got off last. It was rapidly approaching 10.00 the time of my National Express and it seemed like 10,000 people at passport control, but in the end I made it with 5 minutes to spare. The driver was quick away, and after his safety announcement, let it be known that there had been a bad accident on the M3 and he would be taking an alternative route via Farnborough. This also didn't come to pass as the matrix had been cleared so we continued down the Motorway, only to find there had been another more recent crash which we got a grandstand view of and was not a pretty picture. However, we got to Poole on time, where I decided to hasten the last part of the journey by getting the train. ELEVEN QUID! Yes £11 Poole to Weymouth, makes you wonder why people aren't using the trains. Anyway, I was back on familiar soil, and after a lamb shoulder in JD's it was home. An early night for this lad, in the hope that predicted rain keeps at bay and I get some birding in tomorrow. So, till then, here are a few more photies from yesterday.

Ille with the roast nut girls

Looks like I've got to take 2 of them to dinner

Josephine's Chocolate Cafe

Look at that lump of 'Porter' chocolate cake!!

A drop more water with I think

Here are some of the outstanding photographs from Thursday when, in quite cold conditions, we walked along the sea wall overlooking the Gulf of Finland. Later we warmed up with soup in a Mexican restaurant.

Tallinn Old City

Male Goldeneye
Male Wigeon
Male Wigeon probably juvenile moulting

2 of the ferries that ply between Tallinn and Helsinki

Male Mallard

Friday, 30 October 2009

Good-bye Estonia (For Now)

It has been a fantastic 10 days, but tomorrow I'm up at 04-00 for a 5 'o' clock taxi ride to the airport. I've suggested a large coffee and no breakfast so I may just get away with the 'half dozen' with soldiers and get a bit of snap on the kite. 06-15 from Tallinn gets me to Helsinki at 06-50, the 08-00 should arrive Heathrow 09-10 and all being well I should get the 10-00 National Express and arrive Weymouth 14-50. This will be just in time for a lamb shoulder at JD Weatherspoon's before returning to the hacienda.  

We have spent our last, sunny, day wandering the streets and alleyways of the olde town and spent more than a little time in Josephine's, the sister cafe to Chocolate de Pierre. Under duel ownership the fare is similar, but we stuck to hot chocolate, which i have waxed lyrical about before, but could not resist the temptation of a shared 'Porter' cube of rich chocolate cake - yum, yum. Then I remembered Andy Lindsay's bizarre idea of complimenting such delicacies with a drop of decent whiskey, and pain me as it does, i have to agree with him. Two large Tullamore Dews did the trick, and if this isn't the way to spend a Friday afternoon, prey enlighten me! After, we had to rendezvous with Herkko who had both checked me in and printed my boarding cards. Whoever came up with this idea deserves a kiss, as I used to benefit tremendously in my rig days, but now travelling is so much more important, it's an absolute boon.

So, looks like an early night, OK dear I'm on my way! Talk again Manana!

From your 'egg-bound' correspondent in Eastern Europe - Head Ööd  

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Another 'First' and Maybe Another One to Come!

Any day I discover something 'new' is in my book a great day. Preferably a bird, but mammal, food, wine, music, everything is in the frame! A slow wake up to a possibly cold day, but by the look of it little prospect of rain. Reduced to just 4 eggs was a bonus to start with, and after we headed for the Tallinn harbour and sea wall. Before even catching a glimpse of the sea Greenfinch entered the log as an Estonian tick, as did Raven immediately we hit the foreshore. We were now out of the lee, and despite the wind speed being less than 20 knots, it was from the north east making for a cold day via wind chill. The beach was strewn with Hooded Crow, Black-headed Gull and L argentatus, but up ahead looked promising with good numbers of Duck not too far out to sea. These proved to be a few Mallard, a single Gadwall, dozens of Wigeon and hundreds of Goldeneye mostly males. However, that was as good as it got, and in some quarters the temperature was taking its toll so we decanted to a nearby Mexican restaurant where we met up with Herkko and had a bowl of soup. 

After this short repast the 3 of us headed back to Ille's apartment where I had been promised a surprise. On arrival they both set about laying the table, and I have to admit to thinking "oh no not more food", It was, but only a small amount as they gave me a small taste of one of their Christmas treats, Lamprey! Caught in the river which forms the border between Russia, these elongated fish with that strange mouth sucker, is considered a delicacy and commands a price up there with caviar. Marinaded and immersed in a jar of aspic, Ille informed me that she keeps one jar strictly for herself on Christmas Day, which hereabouts is December 24th, and eats them in traditional style, with a tot or 2 of Ukraine vodka. This was the way we ate them this afternoon and I have to say, most enjoyable in addition to being a 'first'. During this treat I was also told about Vodka Socks. Yes, I was equally intrigued! Well, it seems if you get anything from diphtheria to an ingrowing toe nail, you immediately eliminate the local GP and stick ya woolies in a jar of Vodka. When they are completely soaked you slip them on and when you wake up in the morning, Hey Presto you attain the same status as Lazarus!

Well, that's it for today, unfortunately no photographs as I'm using Ille's laptop and have no idea how to downloat todays 'takings'  -  Manana.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

BFB Revisited

It's easy to tell when you have to leave, just look out of the window and the rain has stopped, the sky is blue and there's a 'pager' message to say a Great Bustard has just landed down the road. Anyway, it is time to go and as I said yesterday we have had a most comfortable stay in what I would suggest will suit particularly all the 'birders' I know. I have learned that this is not classified a hotel, but more a retreat for quite, gentle people. Originally built as a 'quiet sanctuary' for a religious group the hospitality was extended to those pursuing such interests as yoga etc and now open to all comers. Strictly a none profit making concern, the reigns are still held by the 'fathers' but run under management. A few more photos follow to further emphasise the accommodation. Those wishing to make contact, it is Altmoisa, Kulalistemaja (

A last minute update:- Ille has just paid the bill, and the total cost for the 2 of us, breakfast, dinner, endless coffee and bike hire E201 for 3 days. Add to this a complimentary bottle of wine, and I think we have done very well.

One of 2 large suites, spacious while well appointed

The same room, different angle

8 other rooms comprise twin bed facilities

While there are 2 other rtooms with double beds

All walls were hand painted by the students at the Tartu Art College

Hoist by your own Petard
I have another 'follower' joined the readership. Previously described through these pages as Big Fat Billy, I had no idea he would join the ranks so had no fear of doing so. Last time similar utterance were made in Belize, there were threats of someone ending up in the lake. Jim the Medic must have passed on the 'link', so I now have to point out that I didn't know at the time how to spell Skinny, Good Looking, Effervescent Billy. These days he is more widely known as Billy Crumble, so dubbed after an outburst of song in Waldo's Night Club, El Salvador, when to the tune of Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer he warbled "Rhubarb and Custard Crumble". It was funny at the time. If your 'logging on' old mate, all the very best to you and it would be fantastic to hook-up at some time - talk to the real Fat Kid!

So, here's a few memory jerkers for you son! Remember when your old dad used to take you on holiday with that little bucket and spade??

The Skinny Nipper - Chichen Itza, Mexico

Relaxing (again) in Belize

Belize / Guatemala border, first sighting of Oscillated Turkey

Mi Laddo - Twin Pyramids, Tikal - Guatemala

Chichicastenango - Guatemala, where Pagan meets Christianity

Two-toed Sloth - Nicaragua

Vulcan Arenal - Costa Rica

A bit of a cruise - Honduras

Three-wattled Bellbird - Costa Rica

Billy @ Panama Canal

Probably the most incredible engineering fete in the World?

Three-toed Sloth - Pipeline Road, Panama

Bet you never forget this day in Panama City with Charlie Anderson (bass player with the Ska band Selector) and family?

Monday, 26 October 2009

Estonian Language Unit One

The exceptional news this morning is that our suspicions of yesterday were confirmed as we placed a 'tick' against Great Snipe on the World List. Yesterdays sighting was brief, but there was just something about this bird in flight which wasn't Common. Fortunately, the hotel manager had introduced us to Kari, a birder from Finland, who agreed he had seen one or two in the marsh opposite the hotel and on our escorted visit early this morning, clinched it! Then came the bad news. We returned for a hearty breakfast, and the rain started At the time of writing (11-30 Estonian) it's still pissipertating (sic) down and looks nothing like clearing, but our plans are set, should we get lucky, the bikes, maps and directions are ready so we're ready to go.

So far the Estonian List has increased by 8 species* and this trip list is as follows:- (in Tallinn) Feral Pigeon, Wood Pigeon, Jackdaw, Hooded Crow, House Sparrow, Herring Gull, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Blackbird (en-Route to Altmoisa) Mute Swan, Jay (Haapsalu) Chaffinch, Barnacle Goose*, Goosander*, Gadwall*, Cormorant, Grey Heron, Wigeon*, Mallard, Black-headed Gull, Goldeneye*, Tree Sparrow, Coot, Coal Tit, Waxwing* (Altmoisa) Fieldfare*, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Goldfinch, Magpie and Great Snipe*.

Hooded Crow - Tallinn
Herring Gull (Larus argentatus argentatus) - Tallinn

While there is absolutely NO intention of bringing smut or profanities to these pages, here is one that we believe to be unmissable, in the surety that our readers will take it in good heart. In my endless endeavor to learn the Estonian language, I consulted my learned friend Dr 'Bomber' Harris of the Broadwey School of Foreign and Ancient Languages with a tongue twister I just couldn't manage. Trying to explain to Ille that I had spent 12 months in the Persian Gulf, she simply didn't understand this time span and so I was very kindly sent this link. I must point out this is not a spoof, as I have since proved it out here on the ground!

The rain abated just after noon so, with a little reluctance on my part, we took to the bikes. Visibility was less than a mile, but we were riding on a well made, flat road, hoping to make the village of Puise 8Km away, and occasionally walking to the foreshore. Almost immediately 3 Common Gulls flew over, and we located a small party of Siskin in a stand of Alders. The adjacent fields were alive with Common Snipe in company with a few Lapwings, while further up the road, Siskin were replaced by Mealy Redpoll but in greater numbers. A small group of Greylag Geese joined a few Teal on the sea as single Linnet, audible only, and a Golden Plover was seen flew above us. Later, a huge party of Corvids put to the air and it was soon apparent why. The massive shape of a young White-tailed Eagle hoved into view, and passed us at about half a mile. That was when the rain restarted and with about a 5Km peddle back, we made for home. Sharp ears picked up a less than familiar call, which was soon seen to be an adult male Black Redstart, and as we neared the hotel a flock of Starlings flew in for a final feed. So, now to dinner and finish our bottle of wine, hoping for a dry day tomorrow.

Golden Plover - near Puise

And finally my own contributions to the Double Entendres

Cricket Commontator at an England v West Indies test match 'This is the start of the second over, and the batsman's (Michael) Holding the bowler's (David) Willie'.

In the early days of colour televised snooker, the commentator enlightened some by announcing, 'for those of you watching in 'black & white' the blue is tight behind the green'.

From Badminton 'For those of you just joining us, we can tell you that Captain Mark Phillips, recently married to the Princess Anne, had a refusal at the first jump'.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

A Great Time Being Had By All

Please Note, a few Photographs have been added to yesterdays Post - Enjoy!

A drop of Grape Juice before the Gig

The violins take a bow

Then the Cellos
After a little Dvorak and Beethoven the 'conductor' takes his bow

Just to catch up on a few more photos, these are from the excellent musical evening at the Tallinn Concert Hall

There wasn't a hope in hell of getting a post on Saturday, it was a day filled to the brim and a great time we all had to boot. After a late and lazy start and an Ille cooked breakfast, described by her as what her father ate every morning of his life, we met Herkko and visited a local flea market where we picked up yet more hats - see them when I'm next in the 'field'. Both he and Helis, his lady, live close by so it was off to their place for and Italian main course, followed by chocolate pudding (like the old chocolate these Estonians) and a drop of Jameson's Irish Whiskey.

and the breakfast I hear you ask? 6 fried eggs, 10 rashers of bacon, marinaded mushrooms, enough fried spuds (Ille grown) to sink a Battle Wagon, 3 slices of toast, 2 glasses of her own Red Current cordial and 2 cups of coffee. No wonder her dear old dad was cut down in his prime at 97, how could anyone expect to live long eating like that??

Helis & Herkko at home

After we decided on a taxi home, but on the way side stepped for a nightcap at the recently opened Clazz Jazz Cafe. Superseding the recently defunct Guitar Safari it does have the same atmosphere without any of the Rock & Roll memorabilia. Despite the good intent it became apparent there was a 7 piece Cuban combo (Baila la Habana) playing at 22-30 so we decided to stay for just one number. Cinderella had departed long before we hit the night air, and without a single 'pumpkin', or a team of white mice in sight we had to walk home.

2 pints of Saku and a packet of crisps

Baila la Habana
DittoDittoSome people just like blowing their own trumpet

"and for the 2 ladies over in the corner, this ones just for you"

Despite the light drizzle it was a most pleasant walk back to Ille's place, and we decided on a few photies on the way.

A neat present for the biggest 'stirrer' in town

"Bagsy the soups ready"

As for today, most of it has been spent traveling to the coast on the Gulf of Riga. Tallinn to Haapsalu is 100 Km and took just under 2 hours on the coach. There we had a 2 hour 30 minute wait, so we set off on our first 'birding' sortie to the seashore. Most of what was seen could be put down to 'usual fair', but from the waters edge we saw a decent size skein of White-fronted Geese, and also in good numbers Gooseander, Goldeneye, Wigeon, Mute Swan, Gadwall, Cormorant, Coot, Tree Sparrow, Goldfinch and a single Great Spotted Woodpecker. The highlight came as we walked back through the town where the calling of a dozen Waxwing alerted us to their presence. There was time to visit the Railway Museum before the bus arrived, and while Ille is making giant steps with her English tuition, I couldn't help laughing at the Spoonerism as she described it as the 'Stail Ration, he he. Just 35 minutes onward to Altmoisa and a 5 minute stroll to the hotel. Major restoration work was underway, but not surprisingly as the season was over several weeks ago. Mine hosts checked us in, showed us our room and suggested a walk along the planked area on marsh adjacent and on to the bird viewing platform. We clocked a Snipe and a few Fieldfare on the way, but apart from a lone Mute Swan and another group of Geese flying in it was all but barren. Back at the hotel dinner consisted of salmon for main course and very tasty home made ice cream for pudding. We were given a complimentary bottle of white and then made for some rest. That is where I'm going now. GOOD NIGHT!

Waxwings @ Haapsalu
At the Loco Shed

Double Entendres Continued

Mike Hallett discussing missed snooker shots on 'Sky Sports': 'Stephen Hendry jumps on Steve Davis's misses every chance he gets.'

Michael Buerk on watching Philippa Forrester cuddle up to a male astronomer for warmth during BBC1's UK eclipse coverage remarked: 'They seem cold out there.They're rubbing each other and he's only come in his shorts.'

Ken Brown commentating on golfer Nick Faldo and his caddie Fanny Sunneson lining-up shots at the Scottish Open: 'Some weeks Nick likes to use Fanny; other weeks he prefers to do it by himself.'