Saturday, 22 January 2011

Nomad - Iron Maiden (A Matter Of Life & Death)

Yesterday's news really, as that is when I received this the latest edition of

Quaderni di Birdwatching, Italy's premier Bird Magazine. They had sent me a copy in thanks for using one of the

Red-necked Stint photographs from August last year, and it's true to say that despite it being a quality publication I could only make sense of 2 words - Paul Baker.

There was really only one objective this morning, Auks, so under full cloud cover, a gentle northerly breeze and probably the lowest temperature of the week it was an early bus to the Bill for me. I did linger for a while at the Favoured Fruit Tree, described in the post of yesterday, where there were more birds than ever including new additions Robin and Dunnock - should I start a FFT List?

All of note ambling towards the Bill were c10

Rock Pipit.

In recent days the news from the Portland Bird Observatory has been of 'tens of thousands' of Auks, Razorbill & Guillemot, streaming past hour upon hour, this for me was not to be missed. I found it impossible to capture this spectacle on camera so have resorted to publishing a couple from the PBO web-site ( well worth a look any day. I feel sure The Warden Martin Cade will not mind me using his images?

Auks as far as the eye can see.

Plus good numbers passing a little closer to land.

My own paltry efforts included a Razorbill flying this way,

and a Guillemot flying that, but what a sight to see! Before reaching the Obs a

Stonechat was found behind the Pulpit Inn which is a new species for the year and brings the total to 167.

At the PBO, among others, was long time friend Duncan Walbridge who had a tale to tell me. Readers may remember my quest to find a Dipper at Tollerford bridge yesterday, well Duncan had done the same the day before. Now, as you can see by the crutches, he isn't 100% on his legs these days but decided to venture a little further afield in his quest. A well trodden path at Toller Fratrum gets a little waterlogged at this time of year, which Duncan soon found out almost to his demise. Alone and out of mobile telephone range, he found himself hip deep in mud but with the leverage of a nearby Oak he was able to pull himself free. All was going well until the final trust when the sudden jolt sent him headlong into the fast flowing river. Personally I think he's up to more than trying (almost successfully) to drown himself, no with the Olympic Games coming to our town in about 19 months time I think he's either trying to qualify for the paraplegic swimming team, or he's been watching too many of those nubile, female mud wrestling movies. I'll want to know which next time we meet Matey?

At home, this Redwing was in a nearby tree which concluded my 'birding' for the day.

It was the intention to continue with another of my desert experiences, spurred on by Thursday nights Human Planet documentary, but sorting a few photos felt I couldn't start on the Gobi adventure without touching on the lead up.

After what I describe in my memoirs as the ultimate 'Aerial White Knuckle Ride' the 3 Fat Bastardos' finally reached Ulaan Bataar, Outer Mongolia.

Our intent was to follow the green line first from the capital to Lake Kovsgol via a flight to Bulgas but with no seats available that was not to be. Plan 'B' was to hire an old Russian Jeep and driver and do it all overland. Coincidentally our driver/guide was named Gambold as was the camel herder on the BBC, but guess that name is as common as John is here? A 1,000 mile round trip (not including getting lost) across the Mountain Steppe, with only the wheel tracks of those who had gone before to help on the way!

Leaving the city for what was likely to be 3 weeks we carried with us what we could, and what we thought we might need but none of the luxuries BBC documentary makers enjoy on their 'so called' adventures.

Within a couple of hundred miles we were already encountering nomad herders

and their 'mobile homes'.

It was also soon apparent that we wouldn't be short on religious shrines, here a deer offering an opportunity to thank the 'Gods' for natural wonders. The 'blue scarfs' adorning the effigy are Attiks (one has since hung from the central light in my lounge) and the most expensive of offerings, most leave bottle tops, beer cans, engine parts, joss, in fact anything to show their belief.

As the first day came to an end the usual jostling for position as to who sleeps on the back seat - I found, as usual with these 2 Herbert's, there was little use in claiming 'senior man present'.

Stopping at Moron for our first hot meal in 3 days, we wished we hadn't - say no more. Luckily just across the street was what might have been a shop where we got bread, dried fish and beer - yum, yum.

Arriving at Lake Kovsgol (to give some dimension, the lake alone is 100 square miles bigger than Dorset) we were met by this lady, who's name escapes me now, and agreed on a provisional 5 day stay in a shared Gur with all meals for the princely sum of US$18.

We were not expecting a lot of the tented accommodation, but

within it was immaculate, while Jim the Medic and I tucked into the Vodka tea.

Perhaps this is an opportune moment to mention how Mongolia, especially out here in the wilds, survives (floats) on Vodka. Billy Crumble enjoying a Vodka coffee and Vodka biscuits.

Fishing was the best I ever remember, with the local fish Lennock plentiful.

At the local school, cum bunk house, cum meeting place etc we enjoyed presenting pencils, crayons and notebooks to the kids.

We took much time out to meet with the Nomads who were extremely welcoming and generous they loved Billy's cigarettes which was more than we could say for the Mare's Milk Beer which was compulsory.

The way of life seems harsh, but its smiles all round when you encounter these people.

Normally, we would take notice of the guide and Gambold had been fairly forceful with his advice not to use the only 'beer bar' for 1,000 miles, but it looked too good to be true. The Nomads had beaten us there leaving horses at the 'hitch' rail.

I hear ringing in my ears so I answer the phone and a voice comes over clear, "is Vic there"? Department S. It was in fact Billy's missus on the 'blower' asking if he'd got the fish 'n' chips!

While the lad himself tries to cut down on the washing up - nice one son!

and they'll never get rid of us once Jim starts to Tango.

Some of the locals invite me back for a nightcap, they said it was only 95 miles!

and when someone breaks down, it's all hands in.

Having 'checked out' of what was to be our final hotel, it was time to get back to Ulaan Bataar,

just in time to see the horse meat arrive - another yum, yum!

Tomorrow, I'll endeavour to get onto the Gobi Desert leg, but hope you've enjoyed this little prelude?

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