I’m so very grateful to have a job that allows me to travel the world. When I travel, I try to take a few extra days to explore the natural area locally before returning home. Experiencing the native flora and fauna always proves rewarding. The UK is one of those places I so enjoy. On the last trip, I ventured south to Devon. This time, I’ve chosen to go north of London for a few days - but more on that later.
How do I choose where I go to explore? The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) is a big part of my planning process. Those who live in the UK are quite fortunate to have such a lovely organization. The RSPB has parks all over the UK for exploring birds and other wildlife. To me, their tag line, “Give Nature a Home”, couldn’t get any better. Check out their website and explore for yourself. Many of the parks have visitor centers with helpful volunteers who answer questions and share more about the local wildlife. Some even have little cafe’s for tea, coffee, sometimes even full meals. On one particularly dreadful cold and drab day, I stopped at RSPB Bempton Cliffs in North Yorkshire to see those adorable Atlantic Puffins, beautiful Razorbills and many other birds along the north coast. I was quite happy to discover their lovely visitor center and café. I was able to have my (at the time) 79-year-old mother enjoy the warmth there as I fought the cold winds down the trail out to the ocean where I could spot my colorful little friends. She, on the other hand, was able to spot those same little colorful friends on the live feed on the big screen in the visitor center. We were both delighted that she could spend her time learning from the educational displays and enjoying tea in the warmth of the visitor center.
On this trip, I chose 3 RSPB sites in close proximity to one another. My key goal for this trip: see the gorgeous Common Kingfisher. Since this was winter, the chances were obviously diminished for seeing the Kingfishers, but I wasn’t daunted. I hired a car and planted myself in a convenient lodge between them. Several locals had told me there was a fair chance of spotting the Kingfishers at RSPB Rye Meads, just north of London. The winter had been mild and birds around the English countryside had shown signs of some early spring behaviors.
Lucky for me, and the animals, many RSPB sites provide birding blinds. Blinds of course allow you to witness the many glorious birds without ever disturbing them. Once I arrived at Rye Meads, I walked the trail to the bird blind closest to the location most likely to see them – and see them I did! Not only one, but two, were busily flying in and out of the sandbank nest cavity – likely trying to determine if it was suitable for their nesting. I was in heaven! I spent the morning enthralled by the Kingfishers, then exploring some of the many other spots. I also caught a glimpse of a handsome fox meandering through the park just beyond the Kingfisher activity. I was also able to see - and experience the unforgettable sound of - a Mute Swan at takeoff. I couldn't help but think, to other birds, this must be to them like the difference between a 787 and a turboprop to us!) Also along the way I discovered the Tufted Duck, Gadwalls, Greylag geese and more.
I stopped so many times just to take in the beauty of the green everywhere – it was a sight for sore eyes. I stopped to listen to the stream and recorded a video of the water rushing over rising foliage underneath. I spotted an unsuspecting male pheasant and got a quick glimpse at a few other birds including a little Treecreeper. But otherwise, neither people nor birds shared my quiet morning meander along the 2 mile trail. It was just perfect to focus on the beauty and other lovely sounds of nature that I may miss while focused on the singing birds. It reminded me to take time to admire the trees, the gorgeous colors of the season, and the simple but soothing sounds of a babbling brook.
Three RSPB parks, three different personalities and experiences, it’s all here – and many thanks to the RSPB for bringing it to us. I’m now a card-carrying member of the RSPB, and now armed with my Member’s guide, I look forward to the many new parks I will one day explore. And, whether you’re a foreigner like me or from the UK, I do hope that you get the chance to experience the UK’s beauty, wildlife and these lovely parks for yourself.
Please remember to support your local wildlife carer/rehabilitator and reach out to them for any wildlife in need of care. Blessings …
Ok – so you’ve read about some Valentine gifts for your nature lover (blog 1) and you’re ready to marry it up with some Valentine personal time (blog 2). But you’re feeling adventurous and want to plan something BIGGER around this holiday. No problem. I’ve created this list – the final of my Valentine’s blog series - from my own “adventures” as a nature-aholic. All of them except #6 are ones that I’ve personally experienced (and #6 is on my to-do list) so I am happy to share from my own personal experience. There are plenty of other ideas that others will have experienced so this list certainly is not exhaustive for you “‘Go-Big’ers” out there. May it inspire you for whatever you plan!
Big Idea #1: Go on a donkey walk. Yep – I really mean a donkey walk. While they’re not prevalent globally, I can tell you they are around the UK and I thoroughly enjoyed my experience at Stokewater Meadows. Chris, the owner, is a delightful man who loves his donkeys, and his donkeys are playful, cheeky and fun. Not to mention you get to enjoy that quintessential charming English countryside along the way. There are plenty of options so go googling to find a donkey walk.
Big Idea #2: Go out for a Badger watch. I know – you really think I’m making these up now. Actually, this is another one from my trip to the Devon countryside in the UK. If you go in the fall or winter like I did, just make sure you pack the right number of layers. And yes, you DO see these cute black and white guys romping across the meadow in front of the hide. Just read this great article in The Guardian for some insights.
Big Idea #3: Visit a donkey sanctuary – it’s sure to be one of the most entertaining things your beloved can do. You’ll see the many pictures featured on my products to prove just how entertaining. My favorite is The Donkey Sanctuary in Sidmouth, UK for the beautiful trails, beauty, friendliness of the staff, museum and oh so many donkeys!
Big Idea #4: Plan a trip to Costa Rica. (https://www.visitcostarica.com/en) If your Valentine is a nature lover, this is bound to be on their bucket list. From the preserves where one can spot that famous and adorable sloth, to the famous colorful birds (remember the Toucan from the Fruit Loops box?), not to mention the broadest variety of Hummingbirds you’ll probably see anywhere, to the amazing beauty of the countryside, and seeing some of the largest turtles in the world lay eggs under the moonlight, to the tiny hatchlings heading to sea, it’s hard to top Costa Rica for natural diversity.
Big Idea #5: Go visit one of the U.S. National Parks. No matter which park you choose, there is something that nature lovers will love. Grizzlies, elk, moose, bison and mule deer at Yosemite and Grand Tetons, gorgeous red topography in the Utah parks, Mountain goats and edge-of-the-earth beauty in Glacier National Park. As many as I've visited, I still have more on my list to experience!
Big Idea #6: Alaska. Yes it’s a category unto itself. Whether it’s heading to the national park, taking a cruise focused on whales, glaciers, or other themes, or joining the bears to catch their salmon (just kidding – please just watch them from a distance), get researching because there is a LOT to plan! Because it can be overwhelming, you can follow this link to Nature and Wildlife experiences on Trip Advisor for some ideas.
Big Idea #7: Swim (respectfully only) with Spinner dolphins and Giant Manta Rays on the Big Island of Hawaii. Yes, just off Kona, you can have these lovely experiences. Please do your research and always be respectful of these gentle creatures. This company is one that I use because my experience is that they are highly respectful of all of the animals. There are other operators as well so do your research. You should be comfortable snorkeling – don’t learn while you’re doing this experience - you will spend too much time gulping sea water to enjoy yourself and miss the beautiful experience altogether. I've seen it happy so many times. Not to mention your stomach will *not* be happy processing that salt water. Trust me.
Big Idea #8: Swim with an Australia sea lion (ASL). Notice I didn’t say California sea lion (CSL). There’s no swimming with CSL’s in the U.S. and they are a bit unpredictable (not that any wild animal isn’t). I’ve had them leap over my kayak while originally quite some distance away.
There are 1 or 2 places elsewhere that allow it, but I prefer to exercise caution. I worked in marine mammal rehab with CSL’s and I know what they’re capable of. Enjoy watching these beautiful pinnipeds from the shore. If you fancy it, there are operators in Australia who will take you out safely to swim with the ASLs. But as with any wild animal, again always exercise caution. I swam with them in fairly shallow water and found that the one fellow passenger on my boat most comfortable swimming underwater was the most popular one with the ASLs. All of the them were following him - I think they thought they’d found a new playmate. I LOVED watching the underwater fun!
Big Idea #9: Swim with a whale shark. Yes, they *are* the largest shark. However, they’re docile and in fact usually are quite afraid of us. (Picture us humans frightened of a tiny bee and you can appreciate their perspective). They in fact don’t even have teeth to eat fish – they have tiny teeth and instead eat plankton. I found operators in Exmouth, Western Australia who treat them with the greatest respect. Please be sure to find an operator who is highly respectful of these gorgeous big fish.
Big Idea #10: GO BIG. Yep – I do mean big. Whale big. Plan a trip to meet the Baja Gray whales, kayak with the Humpbacks in Maui, or swim with the whales! There are very few places in the world you can do these activities, and only certain times of the year, so plan early and well. Our friend Jeff Pantukhoff of the Whaleman Foundation leads trips to meet the Gray whales in Baja and there are several good tour operators to kayak with Humpbacks in Maui. Here’s a link to our friends at Conscious Breath Adventures where we swim with the Humpbacks (over the U.S. winter), and Eye to Eye Marine Encounters for John Rumney and his lovely family to swim with the Dwarf Minke Whales (over the U.S. summer) out on the Australia Great Barrier Reef. I’ve saved these trips for last because they are truly the most treasured experiences of my life. And I hope to keep returning for many years to come!
While I’ll leave the “experience” gifts to you, you’ll certainly see their inspiration in some of my products and photographs in my Collections and storefronts.
Whatever you do, wherever you go, here’s wishing you and your special someone a wonderful Valentine’s Day….