Monday, January 30, 2017

Redoux: Visit to RSPB Leighton Moss Bird Reserve

I made a repeat trip to this excellent bird reserve located in Silverdale in the district of Cumbria. The reason: haven't gone for birding in a long, long time and wanted to do it as I was missing it sorely.

The repeat visit came on a weekend that the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) had announced as the Annual Garden Bird Counting weekend. The aim of this was to watch birds that visited one's garden for an hour and to record all the birds that visited the garden during that hour. I realised early on that this would not work for me as I live in hospital quarters, and there isn't much of a garden there. 

Hence, I decided to go back to his lovely reserve at Silverdale. Silverdale is located north of Lancaster. It is a small town, and is advertised as the best location for a quiet holiday by the authortities themselves. Just five minutes walk from the station is the Leighton Moss Nature Reserve. It is owned and maintained by the RSPB. There is no entrance fee. As you enter, you are into their visitor centre which also has a display of the best ornithological books on sale, a mix of other kinds of merchandise including tee-shirts, cups, etc. and a row of sales counters. Just behind is a staircase that takes one up to their cafe. To the right of the sales counters, one goes past the sales items to a door that opens out on the back of the building and directly on the reserve area. 

Here, one can stroll to their main show area with a canopy from under which you can see and photograph garden birds that stroll the grounds (such as pheasants and dunnocks) or that alight on the feeders to eat the delicious bird food left there by the reserve volunteers (such as tits, robins, chaffinces, redpolls, finches, blackbirds, and even doves and the wood pigeon). Once you are done taking these photos, you have the option to walk to any one of the five different bird hides spread out over the grounds. 

In the event, I visited all five. While the first one is located a very short distance away, there are hides that are upto 2 km away. I had great fun observing birds that wade or swim in the various water-bodies, as well as those that fly here and there. I saw various kinds of these water-birds today. But, most of all, I saw my first bittern today from the Lower Hide (the one that is farthest from the visitor centre).

Not surprisingly, there were a fair number of casual and more dedicated visitors. Many, like me, were birder-photographers, and some had cameras far more advanced than mine and lenses that looked oh-so-mighty. Some even had telescopic viewers. I did chat a bit with some of them, and learned that they were into serious birding only since the last several years (like me, too).

After my birding, I visited the cafe for lunch. They routinely give a 10% discount to guests who visit the centre by public transport or on bikes. I used that to get a dicount. I had a vegetarian quiche, (as the  kitchen had run out of chicken-based items) that tasted quite delicious. 

Here are some pictures that I took:

Male pheasant

Male Chaffinch

Male Mallard duck

Female pheasant


Female Blackbird

Great Tit

Brown squirrel eating up the bird grain

Egret with fish in its bill


Teals again

Marsh harrier, record shot

Blue Tit


Female Blackbird

Grazing cow on the reserve


Pintail (centre)

The entrance to the lower hide

Cormorant drying its wings

My attire on this day 

Watch tower built from Heritage Lottery Fund

The Quiche I had for lunch
I returned home again via train. The journey was as unexciting as the journey I had undertaken TO the reserve in the morning. The only note of interest might be the fact that since the past two weekends, and for the next 6-8 weekends, train services from Blackpool North to Preston do not run and are replaced by BUS services. This is because the railways are carrying out repairs and renovation work between these two stations. While the buses are luxury buses, it does take nearly an hour to travel by a bus as conpared to a train journey which takes only 28-30 minutes. 

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Big change coming up

I have already described the road my journey in the U.K. has taken from the professional point of view. Click HERE to go to that post. I have also discussed with you, dear readers, what is currently on. Things are going to be a bit different from the first of February. What is happening is that while I will continue to work at the Blackpool Victoria Hospital, I will now be working as a full-rota SHO. This means that I will now be carrying a first-on-call bleep and will be working shift duties including weekends and nights. 

How will this change my journey? If I am able to perform as a capable SHO, it might motivate some of my consultants to begin to think whether I would be, at some stage, be ready to become a registrar. Secondly, it will augment my paycheck, and make it a little less necessary for me to work in other hospitals, doing locums. I am a bit nervous from the first outcome point of view, and a little happier from the second outcome point of view.

What it also means is that I will be working 48 hours a week instead of the 40 that I do now, and as some of these will be night duties or what is called "unsocial hours", I will be paid additional money for these. 

It seems that this will be an opportunity for me to shape up and show the seniors that I am ready to take on additional responsibilities. What I need from you all is encouragement, which I am sure you will all offer me, and a prayer - if you believe it its power. 

Thank you. 

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Pigeons, pigeons everywhere

On this, the 4th Sunday of January 2017, Blackpool held the 40th Annual Homing Pigeon show at the Winter Gardens, and I was fortunate to be one of the interested spectators.

So, what is this show about? Well, there is a community of people who rear pigeons with the object of entering them into one of the following two pigeon sports: Show pigeons or Racing pigeons. The activities are organised under the aegis of the Royal Racing Pigeon society. Pigeons are raced from April to September, but they are groomed for the Pigeon shows that culminate in the Annual show that is held in January each year. This year, it was the turn of Blackpool to hold the show.

Winter Gardens was absolutely buzzing with people when I reached there around 11:00 a.m. The main awards ceremony was almost getting finished in the huge ballroom, but the ongoing trade exhibition was completely interesting. I had purchased a ticket for the show, and at the end of it, I felt that the ­­£6 ticket had been well worth it. 

First, the trade exhibition: there were literally hundreds of stalls selling pigeons, pigeon feed, pigeon homes, racks, and what have you. There were specialised pigeon pharmacies, and also a vaccination stall to sell paramyxovirus vaccine for pigeons. 

One of the big companies that are in the business

A stall selling pigeons

Trade exhibition with customers

Detailed pedigree of a pigeon

More details of the dad and mum

Still more details of grandparents of the pigeon
Now, a bit about the actual show. The show pigeons are put into different classes, with Class 1 being the most expensive ones, and then it goes down right to Class 38. These pigeons were all displayed in 38 long rows inside the huge ballroom. There was a stage at the far end where prizes were declared for the best pigeons from among those entered for the competition. 

Here are some pictures of the activities in the ballroom.

The ballroom from the first-floor balcony

Another view

The stage, now empty

Another view of the stage

A show pigeon from a top class

A prize winner

Another view of the prize-winning pigeon
Finally, I would like to name a duo that are partners in this hobby for a long time. They are Alex Wallace and Tanny Ferguson. Alex has been doing this show since the show since its inception, viz since 40 years. Here is a picture of this amazing duo.

After the exhibition, I went to the adjoining bar where, over a light drink, I had fun listening to a pair of singer-musicians belting out some music. It was a well-spent morning indeed. 

Friday, January 20, 2017

Locum work at Bassetlaw District General Hospital

For the Christmas holidays, I chose to work this year. I secured a rather good hourly rate and so went to work at the BDGH located in British midlands area of Doncaster. I would do 2 long days - on the 24th and the 25th of December, and a night duty on the 26th night. I reached only around 11 a.m. on the 24th, as Bassetlaw, located in Worksop town, is over three and a half hours by train from my place in Blackpool. I caught the first train from Blackpool to Manchester Victoria at 06.38 a.m. From there to Man Piccadilly, and from Picadilly to Sheffield took nearly one and a half hours. The final leg was a train to Lincoln, which took me to Worksop. There, a short walk later, I was at the bus stand where I caught a 22 no bus to the hospital, a mere mile away. Arriving at the main reception, I was asked to contact the security for my accommodation keys and directions. I found my way to Cochran lodge for accommodation. There are three security gates with number pads to reach the floor where rooms are located. You then open your room with a traditional key.

My first impression of the accommodation was very positive. The room was large, with an attached bathroom. There was a tea-maker, a mini-fridge, and not one, but two almirahs -albeit without any hangars! The study table and chair were utilitarian and the bed was quite comfortable. Additionally, the room had a full-length wall mirror, a wall bookcase, an easy chair and good illumination. Outside, there was access to a large common kitchen, a TV viewing area (lounge) and a pool table as well. Impressive.

I returned to the hospital and went to the Paediatric department to commence my first shift. The ward is quite spacious and attractive. I would learn later that the department itself is in a process of shutting down its admission services from February next year and will continue to function only as an out-patient assessment unit from then onwards. Currently, it is sanctioned to accept no more than 6 patients on the admission roster. It takes patients for assessment only from around 8 a.m. until 7 p.m. Outside these hours, it compulsorily refers all patients to Doncaster Royal Infirmary, its parent organisation. The DRI and the BDGH are part of the Doncaster and Bassetlaw NHS Foundation Trust.

There was minimal work as most work is now shifted to DRI. However, the staff was very friendly and cooperative with me. All in all, I had a good time. In fact, on Christmas day, they even served a free Christmas lunch; the Indian-origin registrar made a unique Tamilian gravy from pre-assembled ingredients and I had that with rice. It was very delicious.

During my night duty, I even had time to doze off in one of the empty rooms at the back. To summarise, therefore, no issues. I had a good time. 

Update and more

Dear Readers,

I have been amiss in not posting anything on this blog since the past nearly one and a half months. I will offer no excuses for this, but I do wish to say this: I have missed you all as much as you have missed my posts - perhaps it is a greater loss for me. 

So, after the passing of the one-year milestone, my life in the hospital and in Blackpool went into a routine. Nothing exciting was happening and I was plodding on from day to day. I did locum duties about 6 days in all, and they were mostly in Bolton and at Bassetlaw. Of course, they helped me save more money and earned me a bit more of practical experience.

Back home in India, my family began gearing for my expected visit to Mumbai in the first week of January. This time, the primary reason for my Mumbai visit would be to attend the 40th reunion of my GS Medical College batch of '77. We would be going to Kashid and our stay would be at Prakruti Resorts. This is a large resort spread over a big area of 100 acres. There are indoor and outdoor activities here, including carrom, tennis, a swimming pool, a discotheque, and more. The rooms were decent, and in line with their 4-star rating. Nearly 60 out of our batch of 160 attended the get-together. We - i.e, my family and I travelled together. Inas and Hannah were initially apprehensive about what they would occupy their time with as they would be the only offspring to travel to this holiday. In the event. they were quite happy with the entire package. There was much they could do as a pair, and also, they played with the rest of the class when we had beach handball as a game. The food at the resort was really good, and they varied the menu at every meal so that I had a taste of many different kinds of foods and hence, enjoyed myself.

The reunion itself was remarkable. It was a memorable experience because we had all had different life jouirneys  but were now on a common platform with no differences of sex, social backgrounds, religious beliefs, financial standing or any other yardstick,

In addition, I had a good time with my family. I ate out with my daughters on a few occasions and with the whole family (i.e. including wife Nishrin) on a few more. It was all quite enjoyable. The outing with both daughters was in a mall, where I had food with them in Bombay Blue in a mall known as Phoenix Market City near Vikhroli. This was a lovely lunch with mostly a mix of Italian and Mexican food. 

With Hannah, I had a meal or two in more casual outlets when we went shopping together. With the family, I went to World Streat Foods at Nariman Point  unique experience.  This is a recently opened restaurant that brings world street foods to you in the ambience of a comfortable, indoor place. We really enjoyed this one. We had food from Sri Lanka, East Africa, the Americas and also stuff from other parts of the world. 

As I have posted on social media, I was able to help out some people with their life-problems. One of them was a mom with a child with a borderline delay of milestones. Another was an ex-patient of mine searching for advice on the choice of post-graduation in his chosen field. 

Finally, this short visit, I rejuvenated myself to return to the UK for some more serious work.