Queensland holiday photo Gallery

Here are a few holiday photos, taken on our recent ‘road trip’ and Burrum Heads holiday:

Family Reunion

Jane has an Uncle John and Aunty Lillian living in Australia – John is her Dad’s brother. She last saw them around the time of our wedding in 1977! Realising that they were just down the road from our holiday house – well by Australian standards that is, we decided to call in on them this morning. We found them in good health and enjoyed a leisurely catch-up. They even got to see their great, great nephews! There was the inevitable emotional parting…

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Nobby’s Noddy

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The Light House, Nobby’s Head, Newcastle

Saturday, and we move out of the Old Brush to a hotel in Charlestown – nearer to Dan, Morgan and the kids, and with a few more creature comforts. In the afternoon we enjoy a family outing to see the sights of Newcastle’s water-front, treat ourselves to ice cream and, by some complete fluke, collect our first Australian ‘tick’ of the trip! Casually looking out to sea, Jane spots a largish brown sea bird off shore. Dan confirms that it’s a Wedge-tailed Shearwater and then, scanning further out to sea, sees another interesting pelagic species – a probable Noddy, blogging over the rocks, just off of Nobby’s  Lighthouse. We quickly clean the kids up, collect optics from the car and head off up the Point. Sure enough, with the aid of a telescope, we are able to confirm the identification features of Common Noody – a rare summer visitor to Newcastle and a ‘planet earth tick’ for Jane and I. We continue to the end of the breakwater to enjoy the spectacle of an Australian Fur Seal, swimming about to the delight of the small assembled crowd.

The gorgeous ‘tribe’ of grand kids – Jonah, Samuel & Solomon, enjoying an ice cream!

Distant shots of Common Noddy, blogging off Nobby’s Head, Newcastle

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and Australian Fur Seal, courtesy of Jane.

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A lovely family afternoon and a completely unexpected ‘life tick’ into the bargain.

Triumph at Trafalgar

We’ve just returned from a short birding break to the Cadiz region of Spain, including the area around Cape Trafalgar – scene of a previous great victory, by a former Norfolk resident! We flew with Ryanair from Stansted to Jerez, got the hire car from the very reasonable and efficient Gold Cars and stayed for five nights at the excellent Las Magaritas hostel in Terifa. Our trip was timed primarily for raptor migration – actually the weather this year wasn’t particularly conducive to large raptor movement, but we did catch up with most of the local specialities as well as visiting a couple of new birding sites. We bumped into John Cantelo, local British birder and blogger, at La Janda who kindly provided up to date information on what was around – well worth visiting his website if you are planning a trip to the region. Highlights from a bird list of over 160 included, Rufous Bush Robin, Black Stork, Calandra Lark, Black-winged Kite, Olivaceous Warbler, Red-necked Nightjar, White-headed Duck, Collared Pratincole…oh and that Tern – read on for details! We were also lucky enough to be in Tarifa for Feria and the fascinating procession of the Vergen de la Luz.

First up, although the weather wasn’t conducive to large raptor movement, there was plenty of ‘visible migration’ going on – the main species involved being  Honey Buzzard, Booted Eagle and Black Kite with smaller numbers of Montagu’s Harrier, Short-toed Eagle, Sparrowhawk, Egyptian Vulture and Red Kite. This adult Short-toed Eagle came closer than most. For more raptor photos see my Terrific Tarifa post, April 2012.

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There was also a strong passage of White Stork – this being a small part of one of the migrating flocks

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There were plenty of interesting ‘small birds’ to keep up our interest, this male Black-eared Wheatear for instance

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or this Melodious Warbler, near Banalup

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and this Short-toed Lark on the beach at Los Lances

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Now, turning to the ‘Bird on a wire’ section – first, Zitting Cisticola

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A male Lesser Kestrel on the road to Sanctuario de la Luz – look closely and you can just see the definitive id feature of white ‘toe-nails’!

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Juvenile Woodchat Shrike

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and a ‘bonus bird’, in the cattle compound at Los Lances, Rufous Bush Robin

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The wetlands of La Janda, just inland from Tarifa, are always good value – this Black Stork dropped in whilst we were searching through the waders on one of the flooded rice fields

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This juvenile Collared Pratincole was also close by

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Not the Little Swift at Chipiona we were hoping for but a free-flying Peach-faced Lovebird (not yet on the Spanish list though I’m afraid!)

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Finally, that  tern or terns I was telling you about. Having visited the beach at Tarifa more times than I care to remember, including at least six times on this trip, looking for Lesser Crested Tern, a speculative visit to the beach at La Reyerta, around lunchtime on 11th, finally turned up trumps…. well sort of!! Two ‘orange billed’ terns, an adult and a first winter bird (yellow legs) where ‘loafing’, along with a few hundred mixed terns and gulls, at the mouth the Guadalquivir. Good candidates for Lesser’s perhaps…. but as Elegant Tern, which are pretty similar, have bred recently in Spain, they can’t be ruled out. For additional photos, see ‘La Reyerta orange billed tern gallery’ on this blog.

Authoritative sources in Spain now say that these birds are the male and youngster of a pair which bred in Albufera de Valencia, this year and which have been roaming the Cadiz area for a number of weeks. The male was first ringed in Marismas del Odiel, Huelva (SW Spain) on 8 October 2002 as a Lesser Crested Tern, but when it was re-trapped in 2006, it’s  identity was questioned, DNA was taken and the identity awaits confirmation – though is leaning towards Elegant. The mother was an Elegant Tern and therefore the youngster is considered by most to be genetically pure enough to ‘tick’ as Elegant…which indeed I intend to do! This ‘orange billed’ tern id quest has been a bit of a mind-bender…I hope it’s a while before I see another one!

The birds in question…..

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Fantastic birds – a real and unexpected triumph!

Post Script:  The Tarifa Feria or fair, combined with the procession of the Vergen de la Luz was a real added bonus.

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Betjeman postscript

Recently, on a trip to the capital to see the fascinating  Vermeer and Music exhibition at the National, we took the opportunity to seek out the Betjeman’s house in Chelsea, where the family moved to from No. 31, West Hill (covered in our ‘Metro-land and beyond – on the Betjeman Trail ‘ back in March), whilst John was away at the Dragon School. In Summond by Bells,  John gives the address as ‘Church Street’ but we could only find Old Church Street, which runs between Fulham Road and the Thames. Assuming this to be the same street, there is a small house at number 53, potentially fitting his description of ‘poky, dark and cramped’ and which is within a short walk, via Lawrence Street and Upper Cheyne Row, from Cheyne Gardens and the house of his school boy chum, Ronnie Wright. The house is empty and rather unloved at present and we were surprised not to find a ‘blue plaque’, marking the spot. If anyone reading this blog knows better the location of the Chelsea house, please do leave a comment at the end.

“53, Church Street. Yes, the slummy end”

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“I’d slam behind me our green garden door….

And hare to Cheyne Gardens… by Lawrence Street

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…and Upper Cheyne Row’ ( the same sign that John must have often past )…

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…Safe to the tall red house of Ronnie Wright”

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But don’t think that this trip was all art and literature, not a bit of it – we had to have lunch in St James’s Park to make sure Jane could add Ring-necked Parakeet to her Year List!

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Tour de Force

Yesterday, in the small hours of the morning, we got back from a mini break to France, having watched three stages of this year’s centenary Tour de France. We stayed at the excellent camp site of Le Bois Coudrais, near Combourg and saw Stage ten, with it’s sprint finish at St. Malo, the individual time-trial from Avranches to Mont St. Michel and the ‘signing in’, prior to the stage from Fougeres to Tours. As always the atmosphere was electrifying but with the added edge of British interest in Chris Froome, riding in yellow, and seeking to become only the second Brit to win the Tour and Mark Cavendish adding to his already impressive list of existing stage wins to assure him of his place in British cycling history as the most prolific stage winner of all time. There were also plenty of ‘up close and personal’ encounters with many of cycling’s international elite.

The ‘caravan’, announcing the arrival of the riders

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A break away of five riders on Stage 10, sixty kilometres before the finish

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The chasing peleton, just two minutes behind the leading group

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The Top Men at the front of the peleton, including Chris Froome in the ‘Maillot Jaune’, Peter Sagan in the Green Jersey, Mark Cavendish, Cadel Evans, Andy Schleck and Andre Greipel

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Smile for the camera

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Chris Froome and Richie Porte on a pre-race reconnoitre of the 33km time trial course

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Third place on the podium, Thomas De Gendt

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Overall winner, by eleven seconds, Germany’s Tony Martin

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and in second place and overall race leader, Chris Froome

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The ‘signing in’ at Fougeres – King of the Mountains, Pierre Rolland

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Master Kittel, with three stage wins already to his name , and that incredible hair!

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Former Tour winner and current possible threat to Froome, Alberto Contador

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The ‘Manx Missile’, Mark Cavendish

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Maillot Jaune, and hopefully 2013 Tour de France winner, Chris Froome

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More photos to follow in my Tour de France 2013 Gallery.

Betjeman trail – part two

A couple of weeks ago we completed part two of our ‘self made’ John Betjeman tour, taking in locations of his schooling, summer holidays, university, marital homes and his final years. We stayed at the Race Horse Inn, North Hill and the Parklands hotel, Osbourne St. George, both excellent  establishments – the latter being well situated for anyone doing the Ridgeway long distance footpath.

To begin with, the Dragon School in north Oxford, where John was a boarder.

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He then moved on to Marlborough College, where he enjoyed less happy times

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The chapel at Marlborough which was ‘centre of school life’ and provided JB with some respite from the bullying regime

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From Marlborough we travel to Trebetherick on the north Cornish coast, the place of childhood holidays and his later years. Treen Cottage, in the same vicinity as his childhood holiday cottage, overlooks the golf course and St Enodocs church – John’s final resting place

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Views of Pentire Point from Greenaway – the strip of coast connecting Trebetherick with Polzeath and location of many of JB’s happy holiday exploits

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Greenaway from Pentire, looking towards Rock and Padstow, with Stepper Point off to the right

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The modern pedestrian ferry which runs between Rock and Padstow

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In nearby Wadebridge, in the former railway station buildings, is the John Betjeman Centre, with a room dedicated to his life and filled with artefacts and memorabilia from his house in Trebetherick. It’s a ‘must see’ on a tour of this nature though the actual place has more of a feel of a day care centre than a focal point for Betjeman fans!

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A collection of artefacts from Treen, his cottage in Trebetherick, at the time of his death in 1984

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John spent much of his later school holidays on his bike, armed with a one inch map, exploring the churches of this part of North Cornwall… ‘One of them that year so worked on me that, if my life was changed, I owe it to St Ervan and his priest’

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Extract from ‘Summoned by Bells’, in the ‘hidden’ church of St Ervan

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The former Rectory of St Ervan

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From Marlborough John went to Magdalen College, Oxford, to read English

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JB failed his degree and took up various appointments as journalist/correspondent and during the war, working for The Ministry of Information, as an attache in Dublin. He married Penelope, daughter of Field Marshall Lord Chetwode, in 1933. They lived at Garrard’s Farm in Uffington, Berkshire

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Tom Brown’s School museum has an interesting display about the Betjemans lives during their time at Uffington, as well as an extensive archive of private correspondence and papers. Candida, his daughter, still lives in the village.

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At the end of the war the owner of Garrard’s farmhouse required it back and the Betjemans moved to the nearby  Old Rectory, Farnborough – bought by John’s father-in-law.

As an interesting footnote, Country Life ran a competition in 2008 to find the finest English parsonage – Farnborough won, and our current house was selected as regional runner-up!

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After his time in London, living in Cloth Fair and Chelsea, with Lady Elizabeth Cavendish- his ‘beloved second wife’, JB returned to Cornwall and saw out his days at Treen.

He died on 19th May, 1984, and was buried in the church of St Enodoc.

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John Betjeman, 1906 – 1984. A life filled with women, poetry, architecture, trains, and doubt……

Metro-land and beyond – on the Betjeman trail

On Saturday we did the first stage of our John Betjeman trail – tracing the life of the much loved 20th century poet from London, through Oxford and Marlborough to Cornwall, using his autobiographical ‘Summoned by Bells’ as our guide.

As has been the way of things recently, it was raining when we set off for London and it continued showery for most of the day. We started our sojourn, as you would expect, at the ‘feet of the master’ himself – visiting the modest but lively bronze statue of him on the upper level of St Pancras station.

Next stop was to see his London residence, where he lived and worked as a writer, journalist and poet – a small apartment in Cloth Fair, above what is now a rather trendy Vegetarian restaurant. Then on to his fathers ‘Works’ a collection of workshops straddling Pentonville Road and White Lion Street, just around the corner from the Angel.

After an early lunch and a chance to dry off at the popular Pizza East, Kentish Town “where London began‘ in Betjeman’s youth, we did the sites in Highgate. First stop was 52, Parliament Hill Mansions, where he spent his early years. Then on up Highgate West Hill, past St Anne’s church where he was baptised ( and where, coincidentally, we where summoned by bells!) and on to No. 31, overlooking the Holly Lodge estate, built on the site of the former Burdett-Coutts estate and where John spent his early youth, before being sent to the Dragon school in Oxford. Final stop was Highgate cemetery where we made fruitless enquiries as to the location of the family grave. (If anyone has a location/plot number I’d be very grateful if you could post it on this blog!)

JB on St Pancras station

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The ‘blue plaque’ on the wall of the apartment in Cloth Fair

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Betjeman’s London residence

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The ‘Works’ on Pentonville Road, where his father hoped John would follow in his footsteps

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Entrance to the block of flats on Lissenden Gardens where John Betjeman spent his early infancy

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Details of the tiles in the entrance way of 52, Parliament Hill Mansions

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No 31, the family home on West Hill, Highgate

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Part of the Holly Lodge estate, built on the site of the former Burdett-Coutts estate – home of Angela Burdett, the   ‘richest heiress in England’ and the subject of Dickens’ dedication in Martin Chuzzlewit, viewable by the young Betjeman, from his ‘eyrie’ in No 31, West Hill

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Entrance to the older Holly Village, off Swains Lane

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Difficult to believe that this rural idyl is only a few miles from the City

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So concluded the first leg of our John Betjeman trail. Off now to read again his autobiography and plan the next and longer trip to Oxford, Marlborough and beyond…

Thaing up the loose ends…

Thursday morning, Bangkok. We’re back at Neil and Eunice’s place after a fabulous week birding in central Thailand. I realised that there are a few photos, that didn’t make it into my earlier blogs, which probably ought to see the light of day before I conclude the Thailand stage of our Big World Birding Adventure and draw to a close our three month long birding extravaganza.

Having birded seven countries on three continents and seen well over a thousand species, many of them new to one or all of our party, it’s encouraging to note that we were as enthusiastic and committed yesterday, our last day’s birding, as we were on day one in Brazil. True, from time to time, we’ve let our concentration wander or we’ve finished birding occasionally before it got dark and ‘yes’ our vigilance around systematic recording has left something to be desired but fundamentally we remain as keen on day 82 as we were at the start – possibly more so – you can get hooked on the ‘itinerant birder’ life-style! But tonight we fly home and it’s back to the reality of the UK with a bump. As we prepare to leave Bangkok, with the temperature in the ‘high nineties’, we’re unpacking our winter clothing – last used in Ushuaia – jumping off point for Antarctica, in readiness for sub-zero temperatures back at home.

And now those pictures….

Brahminy Kite, the common raptor over the salt pans

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Introducing the ‘birds of the wetlands’ section – a rather colourful fishing boat

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Red-wattled Lapwing, regular on the marshes and rice fields inland from the salt pans

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White-breasted Waterhen

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The ‘default’ heron species of the entire area – problem is it could be either Chinese or Javan Pond Heron – you decide!

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The spectacular Painted Stork, with a Great Egret for size comparison

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Kingfisher species were reasonably common, with Collared being the most obliging

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and introducing the ‘land bird’ section – a cow, with a couple of birds for company – Eastern Cattle Egret, White-vented Myna and, on it’s back, Black Drongo

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Now when it comes to Sparrows, this one takes the biscuit – Plain-backed, in a mixed flock with House Sparrow

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Another Barbet, this one is Blue-throated

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The frequently heard but much less seen, Greater Coucal

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The delightful Crimson Sunbird

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and the even more delightful, Golden-bellied Leafbird

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Now for some monkey business….this one is Dusky Langur

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and here is a female White Handed Gibbon, with her rather clingy off-spring

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…and still under the ‘primates’ section – Neil and Eunice ( in the middle), our fabulous hosts and bird guides! Thank you so much for a truly wonderful birding experience!

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and the last word (or photo in this case) goes to a bird – White-throated Kingfisher, sitting on a water jar at dusk

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There’s something about birding in the sun that is very uplifting, infectious, addictive – I’ve no doubt it won’t be long before we’re off on our travels again, to ‘who knows where’ – but doubtless there’ll be a blog!  Until then you’ll have to content yourselves with more modest offerings from home! Thank you for ‘tuning in’ – it makes the world a smaller and friendlier place knowing that someone, somewhere is sharing it with you!

Happy Christmas and a peaceful New Year. T

The tourist thing – temples and the Royal Palace

Yesterday we did the tourist thing and spent the day visiting the Royal Palace, Wat Pho (the reclining Buddha) and Wat Arun in Bangkok. We travelled into the city on the very efficient Skytrain and had lunch at the excellent Royal Thai Naval Club 77 – just down the road from the entrance to the Royal Palace. It’s the King’s birthday tomorrow and the whole place was being given a sprucing up. The trip on the water taxi was particularly enjoyable – Bangkok certainly has an interesting river front.

A few pictures which fail, I’m afraid, to capture the sheer scale and splendour of these traditional cultural sites:

First, views of the inside of the Royal Palace grounds

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In the foreground, a model of Angkor Wat

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The ‘reclining Buddha’, Wat Pho. You can get an idea of the scale from the person seated at the head!

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…and finally, some pictures from Wat Arun, which is decorated with pieces of pottery

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This is our last blog before heading south for the ‘bank holiday’, some intensive Thai birding and our quest for the last ‘must see’ species of the trip, the near extinct Spoon-billed Sandpiper!

Bye for now.