We will be living east of London, in an urban area of Essex, in April, May and June. Where can we do some spring migration bird-watching?
A good starting point would be the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, a charity that protects wild birds and their environment. Among its publications is a leaflet, "Nature Reserves: Information for Visitors," that lists the reserves throughout Britain for which they are responsible.
It can also supply information about other publications devoted to bird-watching. Many of the books on the society's list can be bought by mail from its headquarters, The Lodge, Sandy, Bedfordshire SG19 2DL, England; telephone (44 1767) 680551.
A reference work recommended by the society is "The Bird-Watcher's Yearbook and Diary," which covers reserves and observatories; county, national and international directories to bird-oriented organizations; plus tide tables and codes of conduct expected of bird watchers.
It can be ordered direct from the publishers, Buckingham Press, P.O. Box 439, Maids Moreton, Buckingham MK18 1SB, England; (44 1280) 813931. It costs 13.50 pounds (about $20) including postage, paid by sterling draft.
The book lists the following bird-watching sites in Essex, with details of the geographical nature and the birds that inhabit each area:
* Abberton Reservoir; inquiries to Annette Adams, Essex Wildlife Trust, Layer-de-la-Haye, Colchester CO2 0EU, Essex; (44 1206) 738172.
* Bradwell Bird Observatory, at Bradwell-on-Sea; inquiries to Graham Smith, 48 the Meads, Ingate-stone, Essex CM4 0AE; (44 1277) 354034.
* Colne Point, near Clacton; inquiries to Essex Wildlife Trust.
* Fingringhoe Wick; inquiries to Laurie Forsyth, Fingringhoe Wick Nature Reserve, South Green Road, Fingringhoe, Colchester CO5 7DN, Essex; (44 1206) 729678.
* Leigh, near Leigh-on-Sea; inquiries to Essex Wildlife Trust.
* Old Hall Marshes; inquiries to Chris Tyas, 1 Old Hall Lane, Tolles-hunt D'Arcy, Maldon, Essex CM9 8TP; (no phone).
* Stour Estuary; inquiries to Russell Leavett, 24 Orchard Close, Great Oakley, Harwich, Essex CO12 5AX; (44 1255) 886043.
Chris Harbard, an official of the Royal Society, says visitors to Essex should consider traveling into Suffolk, a neighboring county, which has many excellent bird-watching sites. In particular he recommends Minsmere, near Saxmundham; inquiries to Geoff Welch, Minsmere Reserve, Westleton, Saxmundham, Suffolk IP17 3BY; (44 1728) 648281.
My daughter and I have been going to the Toronto fireworks competition for two years. Can you give me the dates for this year's event and information on any similar events in Canada?
The Benson & Hedges International Fireworks competition in Toronto will attract hundreds of thousands of people to the waterside at the Ontario Place park, with boats filling the harbor for the offshore event. Fireworks companies representing five countries will compete for a gold trophy. Canada will compete June 15, Spain on June 22, Italy on June 26, France on June 29 and China on July 3, with the finals on July 6.
Tickets, available at Ticket-Master -- (416) 870-8000 -- are $9 for general admission, calculated at 1.31 Canadian dollars to a U.S. dollar. Reserved seats are $14, which includes admission to most Ontario Place attractions. The contest begins at 10:30 p.m.
Two similar competitions will be held in Montreal and Vancouver, also run by Benson & Hedges.
Montreal's contest runs from June 15 to the finals July 18. Teams will represent Japan (June 15), China (June 20), Italy (June 23), England (June 27), Germany (June 30), Spain (July 4), Australia (July 7), the United States (July 11) and Canada (July 14). Reserved seats will cost from $21 to 23; general admission $7. For tickets call (800) 361-4595.
Vancouver's event takes place in English Bay at 10:15 p.m. July 27 (Portugal), July 31 (Spain) and Aug. 3 (Canada), with the finals on Aug. 7. Admission is free.
Next summer my family will visit Montelepre, the village of our ancestors in Sicily. Could you help me with any information?
The small town of Montelepre is 15 miles west of Palermo, the capital of Sicily, but because it is nestled in a steep mountain area it was very hard to get to until relatively recent years.
Although it housed a settlement in the fourth century B.C., its history really begins in the Middle Ages when the nuns at the Monastery of Santa Caterina al Cassaro in Palermo began to expand their convent to include a mill, a warehouse and a tavern at Montelepre. In the 15th century a castle was built by Giovanni Ventimiglia, the archbishop of Monreale, and the castle, also known as the Torre Ventimiglia, is still standing. The first houses date from circa 1630.
Montelepre grew considerably in the 17th century, and some of the buildings that line the narrow and winding streets typical of the town date from then. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries the town grew again, with the construction of a hospital, a school for girls and a college for priests.
Today Montelepre has more than 6,200 inhabitants. Its only hotel is the 10-room Rose Garden, 120 Via Circonvallazione, (39 91) 8784360. A double with bath costs $40, calculated at 1,502 lire to the dollar. Montelepre also has four restaurants.
There are a couple of ways of getting to Montelepre from Palermo. Take the Palermo-to-Mazzara highway to the Montelepre exit, or take the Provinciale No. 1 Palermo-to-Partinico route. From Partinico follow the directions for Montelepre, or take one of the winding secondary roads that pass through Carini and then on to Montelepre.