Sunday, February 24, 2013

Rutland Water[fowl]

Friday night we got together with some neighbors for a little dinner and a lot of wine.  I brought one bottle over as a gift to the host, but I just caught him out side and he told me our crew of 8 went through 14 bottles over the course of the night.  We had a great time and had a lesson in the local Nottingham dialect, like the greeting "Ayup me duck!".  That's the only one that I can remember now.

Saturday was off to a slow start, but after some coffee and eggs we managed to clean up and hit the road toward Rutland Water nature preserve.  My coworker (ahem, I mean "collegue" as I was corrected at dinner), told me about this place as it is famous for waterfowl viewing.  The reservoir is an artificial lake for drinking water, but the south end is protected as a bird sanctuary.  It's was a nice drive through the hills of Leicestershire into the small village of Egleton.  It was cold and overcast, but you can't let that keep you indoors, you know.

Our landlord left a pair of binoculars in our bungalow's garage.

My parents used to take me birding at the Indiana state parks as a youngster - I even had my own pair of binoculars.  Kerry also took an ornithology class at IU as a technical elective; it was between birds or fungus, she tells me.  Additionally, we have about 8 bird feeders back at home - they entertain the cats (viewing from indoors) while we're out of the house.   So, between the two of us, we are dangerously close to a nerd-level interest in birds.  Deal with it.

Classic Garmin directions
While the reserve is technically free to enter, the Anglian Water Birdwatching Centre maintains trails and hides around the various lagoons for birdwatching pleasure.  I believe the area is protected thanks to Sir David Attenbourough, England's famous naturalist who grew up in the Leicester area.  So for a small fee, we got to tromp through the muddy trails in the cold and check out the bird activity from the comfort of the hides.  At least they blocked the wind.

I'm watching the widgeons, mallards, and greylag geese.

Kerry's checking out mute swans, coots, and little grebes
Our camera is not nice enough to capture the birds themselves, and if you cared enough you can easily look at pictures of these animals on the internet.  That said I will point you in the right direction.  The centre maintains a monthly count of the birds which you can use to plan your visit here.   We did see at least 15 different species, even on a cold windy day like today.  

So I think we got our money's worth.  But, if I had to do it again, or advising anyone else, I would wait until spring.  Mainly because it would be warmer and probably more activitiy, but the big deal is the osprey migration from western Africa.  But since you're on a small island, you can bet that about 10 times as many people will be joining you on a Saturday.  Also parking was free, but when I went to pick up my permit to walk on the trails the wanted my registration number... so that's how they get rid of the riffraff who try to visit without paying.

Kerry investigating the scene of a spontaneous pigeon explosion (or fox attack?)

Not exactly picturesque, and it was cold and windy too.  You had to be pretty dedicated to spend more than a few hours out here.
Hmm, trail got a bit muddy in spots.  And I forgot to tell Kerry to wear her wellies!

So, I offered a piggyback ride over the mud, she married such a gentleman!

Dexter cows grazing and trampling near the water edge for conservation purposes; I guess the waterbirds don't like it if the grass gets too long.  And their poo is important to attract insects which in turn attract more birds.

Kerry said she had to go through 5 additional doors to get to the actual toilet.
After our walk through the cold, we decided to go find a late lunch.  Luckily for us, we were driving back through the UK's "Rural Capital of Food", Melton Mowbray!

Will they live up to this claim?

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, Melton Mowbray is also the home of the pork pie, my favorite British delicacy.  So, you know we had to make a pit stop at...

The "OG" pork pie shoppe, Mark it off the bucket list!

I picked up my pies and we started searching for a cozy restaurant to order a hot bowl of soup.  It was approaching 2:30, and we were coming up empty.  Just basic sandwich shops and dirty pubs.  All the inviting-looking places were closed in this post-lunch pre-dinner limbo. 

We did walk past some very nice outdoor vendors selling produce, meat, fish, and flowers.  And the cheese - Melton Mowbray is famous for stilton, like blue cheese but more mild.  So there's your rural food.  But I wasn't in the mood to shop for groceries.

No mare's milk! (maybe you've heard of the whole horsemeat debacle going on over here)
With my pies and a loaf of "special plum" bread in hand, we left hungry.  It just was not meant to be on this day.  I went home and made a hearty beef stew that did the trick.  But, that took about 2.5 hours to simmer, so we had to snack to take the hunger edge off, since we missed lunch.  This was the perfect opportunity to enjoy some fresh pork pie.

Since Kerry's not a fan, I ate one for myself, with my Branston pickle garnish of course.

Oh, did I mention this pie weighs in at 1 pound?  And at 1500 calories, contains over 100 grams of fat?  Yeah that will sneak up on you - my dinner appetite was more or less ruined, I only had a small portion of stew.  The plum bread was very tasty though - like a dense raisin bread with a citrus kick.  I warmed mine up and ate it with butter - before I checked the nutrition facts on the pie.

So yeah a bit of a pie binge this weekend.  But, before you all leave thinking I'm just fattening up, I did set a personal best for my 2-rep back squat today.  Maybe I'll write a book on my pork pie diet idea...

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