Tiny Winging Darting Floating

Townsfield – The Cove – The Lots – The Shore – Cow’s Mouth – Jack Scout – Jenny Brown’s Point – Heald Brow – The Cliff Path

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A local, post-work stroll in glorious sunshine, remarkable for its bird-spotting opportunities right from the off. The hedgerow along Townsfield was seemingly full of birds.

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Great Tit.

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Blue Tit.

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House Sparrows.

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I wasn’t the only one taking an interest…

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Nor was it only the hedgerow which was busy: overhead a couple of Corvids were harassing a Buzzard…

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Usually, I have to crop my bird photos. This Chaffinch was sitting in such a prominent spot, just above the path by The Cove, that it hasn’t been necessary on this occasion.

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Chaffinch song is one of the few which I can reliably recognise, which means that when I hear it I always feel profoundly pleased with myself, Chaffinches and life in general.

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Just beyond this Chaffinch’s perch, stands a much larger Ash tree. I once saw a Tawny Owl sat in its branches and now habitually glance over just in case. It’s nearly six years since I saw the owl and I don’t think I’ve seen anything in the same spot since, so my optimism is perhaps misplaced. Except…There was something in the same tree again. The owl was back! But…wait, it wasn’t right for an owl somehow. I fumbled for my camera, but too late, the raptor opened it’s wings and glided effortlessly away. I managed to take one photo, but only of a space between the trees which the bird had just vacated. So, what was it? I’m pretty confident that it wasn’t a Buzzard, and also that I spotted dark wing-tips as it flew, so I suspect that it was one of the local Marsh Harriers – although that would put it some way off their usual patch.

On the Lots, a dozen or so Starlings were picking-over the sward…

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I wanted to go back to Jack Scout again, and fancied a different route, so went down Shore Road to The Beach (as it’s known locally – there’s no sign of any sand) and from there around the shore to Cow’s Mouth (another cove) and Jack Scout.

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It was a clear evening and the camera’s zoom reveals the profile of the Coniston Fells…

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One advantage of knowing a few birdsongs is that from time to time I realise that I’m hearing something different and start looking for the culprit. I’m not always successful, but occasionally that tactic can pay dividends…

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Blackcaps aren’t necessarily migrants. Three of them, two females and a male, overwintered in and around our garden many years ago, when we lived on The Row. But despite that fact, I only generally see them at this time of year, when the males are busying singing to establish and protect a territory. And even in Spring I don’t see them often, so when I do spy one I’m always thrilled. Getting a photo too was a real bonus.

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From Jack Scout I headed around Jenny Brown’s Point towards the chimney. I’m not very confident with wading birds, but I guess that these are Redshank…

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I can’t decide whether this rather rough wall…

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…is an archaeological remnant of the buildings which once accompanied the chimney here, and which has been revealed by the action of the tides on the foreshore; or whether it has been more recently constructed for some reason.

I was very taken by the red hue in the tips of the branches of these trees…

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There’s a David Hockney painting ‘Bigger Trees Nearer Warter’ which I’m sure has almost exactly the same hue.

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My route had taken onto the south side of higher ground and therefore into the shade, a mistake which needed rectifying. Fortunately, there’s a path which climbs steeply up to Heald Brow which would take me back into the sunshine. As I climbed the birds singing from all of the nearby trees gave me plenty of excuses to pause and scan the trees for the musician’s. Two Chiff-chaffs were competing, one at the bottom of the slope, the other at the top. In a line of trees several Robins were duelling hard. But loudest of all, ringing out over all of them, was a solitary Song Thrush…

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Not the best photo of a Song Thrush I know, but what surprised me about this photo was the wildlife I didn’t expect to capture in it: the shoals of insects which were flying all around the Thrush. It’s this bonanza which drives so much of the birdsong, brings the migrants, fuels the nesting season. I wasn’t thinking that at the time, I must confess; I was more concerned about climbing the hill with my jaws firmly closed so as to not find myself with a mouthful of unwanted protein.

Time for one more bird on this walk, in a tall Ash on the edge of Pointer Wood. Not the sharpest photo, but more evidence of my occasional success with birdsong, which is how I located this Nuthatch…

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Tiny Winging Darting Floating

Myer’s Allotment Again

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The sun was shining again, my Mum and Dad were visiting, I couldn’t resist dragging everyone out for a quick turn around Myer’s Allotment to see my new favourite local view. (Almost everyone, A had hurt her knee the day before and is temporarily out of action).

Once again I saw a Chiff-chaff singing from a low branch, just overhead in fact, as if to make a mockery of my idea that they confine themselves to the treetops and are hard to see.

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This eggshell was quite large, and suspiciously like one of the ones from the nest by the pond-dipping boardwalk at Leighton Moss. Is it possible that it was stolen and then brought this far by the thief to be consumed?

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Here is the aforementioned view…

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And a pano version (click on any of the pictures to go to flickr where larger versions are available)

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Everything is moving on, seemingly day by day, at the moment. Here the Cowslips were flowering…

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It was a short little tour…

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…but a very good one…

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…enjoyed by one and all…

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Myer’s Allotment Again

Winging in the Blossoming

Clark’s Lot – Woodwell – Jack Scout.

If you go down to Woodwell today be sure of a big surprise. The pond has silted up quite considerably, and at one end the water is very shallow, and in that shallow water there must be thousands of tiny fish…

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Every attempted photo of a fish was later revealed to be a group shot. It was teeming. My best guess is that these are Three-Spined Sticklebacks, like the ones I used to catch in the brook with a bucket when I was a boy.

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Great tit (and emerging ash flowers).

The wind was in the North, and pretty icy, but the sun was shining and if you could find a sheltered spot it actually felt warm for a change.

– it’s april(yes, april;my darling)it’s spring!
yes the pretty birds frolic as spry as can fly
yes the little fish gambol as glad as can be

The agility of Blue Tits never ceases to amaze; this one…

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…was acrobatically hanging upside down whilst worrying the edge of a decaying piece of bark. Apparently they eat mostly caterpillars. I don’t know whether there were any beneath that flake of bark. I hope so.

Chiff-chaffs are generally much easier to hear than to see, as they often sing their distinctive song from the very tops of tall trees. But Jack Scout doesn’t have many tall trees, specialising instead in thickets of prickly things like gorse, brambles, holly, hawthorn and blackthorn. So this chap was chanting his name from a prominent, but relatively low, branch…

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…before dropping down into the brambles…

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…to play hide-and-seek in the way that two-year-old children do: ‘I can’t see you therefore I’m hidden’.

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This Bullfinch looks like it’s escaped from the set of the Angry Birds movie.

A brief glimpse of two butterflies circling, spiralling, dancing together, took me over towards the boundary wall, away from the cliff, the bay and the cold wind. Of course, when I reached the spot where the butterflies had been, they were long gone. I did eventually see one again…

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But here beneath the wall it was like I’d walked in from a winter’s day to a centrally-heated room. The contrast in temperature was quite astonishing. And, almost immediately, there were other things to look at.

I’ve been puzzled this spring by the behaviour of Bumblebees. There are lots of them about and they are all very busy, but none of them seem ever to be feeding. What are they up to?

This one…

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…buzzed over, landed on some moss, and then apparently did nothing.

I was photographing the Primroses, when I became peripherally aware of something strange flying across the clump.

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It was a tawny orange and looked something like a bee, but clearly wasn’t a bee. What’s more, it had thin, black, scalloped-edge wings which were perpetually in rapid motion, flickering back and forth and giving the impression of some bizarre bee/bat hybrid hovering over the primroses.

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Some moths imitate bees in appearance. So do many hoverflies. Even some bees impersonate other bee species. But this didn’t look even remotely like a hoverfly. Nor particularly like a moth. A second appeared…

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The curious, black, improbably thin, bat-like wings were revealed to be actually just the top edge of larger wings. And the hovering was an illusion created by the constant trembling palpitation of those wings.

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These are Bee-Flies.

The furry brown body and the long proboscis, together with the dark brown front edges of the wings make this fly very easy to recognise…Although appearing to hover while feeding, it usually clings to the flowers with its spindly legs. The larvae live as parasitoids in the nests of mining bees.

from Collins Complete British Insects by Michael Chinery

A parasitoid, I learn, differs from a parasite in that it will eventually kill or paralyse its host and then eat it. A slightly gruesome creature then, but fascinating just the same. What’s more, the presence of these flies surely indicates that their hosts can’t be too far away, and after being captivated by a Tawny Mining Bee last year, I’d love to find them closer to home. Actually, I have seen one closer to home, feeding on Blackthorn blossom…

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last spring.

My attempts to get to grips with birdsong have not been a massive success, but sometimes knowing that you don’t know can even pay dividends. (I’m in danger of slipping into Rumsfeldisms here if I’m not careful.) I could hear a bird singing from a very tall ash. I was fairly confident that it wasn’t a Robin, or any kind of Tit or Finch, and obviously not a Thrush or a Blackbird, nor a Nuthatch, which I seem to have recently become reasonably confident about picking out. Quite a musical song, I thought…

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…and there it was, way up in the blue, a Dunnock! I had no idea that they could sing like that.

(The RSPB page on Dunnocks has a handy sound file.)

So, alright, it’s a Dunnock. We get them in the garden, mostly on the ground under the hedges. You could maybe accuse it of being a bit drab. But I was thrilled to spy it way up there in the very tallest tree, proclaiming it’s territory.

(all the merry little birds are
flying in the floating in the
very spirits singing in
are winging in the blossoming)

All of the unattributed quotes are from e.e.cummings. Inevitably. Illimitably.

Winging in the Blossoming

Entertaining Mister B

After my turn around Myer’s Allotment and Leighton Moss I came home in time for a quick bite of lunch (homemade burger and coleslaw which the Dangerous Brothers and I had knocked-up for tea the previous evening, very nice too) and then collected the chefs from school (TBH and A were away visiting friends).

The sun was shining and B was anxious to drag me to the park to throw a ball around. Before we could do that, however, he needed to pack for his first Scout camp. This was a protracted and painfully slow process. I gave him the packing list, he went off to pack. When I subsequently went through the list with him it transpired that he had omitted more items than he had packed. He went away and tried again, with similar results. Eventually, I stood over him and watched him put all of the things he needed into my voluminous, and venerable, Karrimor Jaguar 6 (which dwarfed him when packed).

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B, living up to his billing as a Dangerous Brother, was still recovering from a sprained ankle and whilst he was keen not to miss out, was not fit to join the rest of the Scouts on a scheduled long walk. So an early start for me – I picked him up from Sykeside Campsite by Brother’s Water at 9am. Well, I was there to pick him up, but he was still eating his breakfast. It had been wet in the night, and also very, very cold, but now the weather was apparently set fair and the views were rather splendid.

The rest of the Scouts would be returning to camp at around five in the afternoon. So; how does one entertain a boy who can’t walk too far on a sunny day in April in the North-Eastern Lakes?

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First-off: a short walk along a delectable bit of path along the western shore of Brother’s Water.

This…

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…is typical of the kind of the remnants of the winter flooding which A and I noticed on our walk through the Lakes the week before. It’s hard to see it here, but a tiny dribble of water was flowing down this small bed, but as you can see, a layer of topsoil has been scoured away for a few yards either side of the rivulet. Where it met the right-of-way, a large mound of boulders was humped across the path.

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It was a slow meander, with lots of pauses to try to take photos of small birds. B was a patient companion, actually a willing accomplice: we watched a pair of nuthatches seemingly taking it in turns to fly back and forth between the trunk of a tall tree and the base of small sapling nearby. As I tried to keep up with their antics through the lens of my camera, B kept up a running commentary in an attempt to help me find them as they moved.

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We had arranged to meet the rest of the family at Aira Force at 11. We were a little early, and we knew that the others would almost certainly be late (they were), so decided to wait for them outside the little cafe there, at a table from which we could watch the road and wave at the others to join us when they arrived.

B and I had been listening to Chaffinches and Robins as we walked beside Brother’s Water. We’d seen a few of the songsters but always at quite a distance. Now, as we sat outside, tamer cousins came looking for crumbs on the wall by our table…

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Or even onto the table itself…

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Marvellous.

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Naturally, we were then duty bound to have a wander up to view Aira Force itself.

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There’s a bridge at the top, from which you can stare into the chasm…

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And another at the bottom…

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Which is a great vantage point to view the falls…

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Last time I was here there was a lot more water coming over the falls. I was quite surprised, when I checked, to discover that it was more than 5 years ago.

Less surprising to find that it is also almost 5 years since we previously visited Brougham Hall…

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…and Brougham Castle…

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…because I remember how much smaller the kids were at the time.

Both are well worth a visit. The castle is built on the remains of a Roman Fort. Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say: built with the remains of a Roman Fort. Inside the keep, one ceiling was clearly made using a Roman headstone…

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The River Eamont runs past the castle, and the town of Penrith is nearby.

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One of the surprising things about the castle is that, on both of our visits, there were hardly any other visitors.

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And we even found a bench that was out of the wind and so pleasantly warm to sit on as the children played hide and seek in the ruins.

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They may be much bigger than they were, but happily, they still enjoy simple pleasures.

There are lots more pictures here, from our last visit, including some of swash being buckled.

Not far from the castle, a bridge over the Eamont, currently closed, showed more evidence of the winter flooding…

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Entertaining Mister B

Simply in the Springing

Clark’s Lot – Burtonwell Wood – Lambert’s Meadow – Bank Well – Myer’s Allotment – Leighton Moss – Trowbarrow – Moss Lane – Eaves Wood

A gloomy start. At my new favourite place, Myer’s Allotment, I decided to follow the path way-marked with small blue-paint splashed posts. It took me around the reserve and then up and along a tree-lined edge. A gap in the trees revealed…

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…a rough-hewn bench with a great view over Leighton Moss…

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It needs some blue sky and sunshine to make the most of it. And maybe a stove to brew a cuppa.

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Down at Leighton Moss I was told that there were two Marsh Harrier nests by the causeway, and an Osprey passing through, and Red-poll and Siskins on the bird-feeders.

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I saw none of them. But there were Chaffinches, Greenfinches and a Coal Tit just sneaking into this photo.

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And by the pond-dipping area a nest neatly woven from reeds…

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It was much too close to the path however, and I wondered whether it had been abandoned. I passed it again a couple of days later and it was empty, not even any remains of shells.

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Willow catkins – a bit of a departure from my obsession with Hazel catkins.

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The new boardwalk which cuts the corner to the causeway path is open, and close to the end of it a Wren singing full-throttle from a prominent perch had attracted a small audience.

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By the time I reached Eaves Wood, the sky was brightening, and along the fringes of the path Bluebell flowers were opening…

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And Sycamore…

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…and Hawthorn leaves were unfurling in the sun.

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Oh, give us pleasure in the flowers today;
And give us not to think so far away
As the uncertain harvest; keep us here
All simply in the springing of the year.

from A Prayer in Spring by Robert Louis Stevenson

Later, through the kitchen window, another slightly-blurred, pastel Long-Tailed Tit…

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Simply in the Springing

Juice and Joy

Eaves Wood – Middlebarrow – Arnside Tower – Along the edge of the Caravan park – Far Arnside – Arnside Point – White Creek – New Barns – Arnside Knott – Hollins Farm – Holgates

What is all this juice and all this joy?   

Spring is here, and with it a flurry of local walks, followed by (hopefully) a flurry of posts about those local walks containing, it being spring, a smattering of quoted poetry, and lots of photos of birds and flowers and such like.

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In the immediate aftermath of our walk, A and I both wallowed in a couple of lazy days to recuperate. The day before I took these photos was my Birthday. The weather was pretty dire but we did get out. Well, TBH and I did: a very heavy downpour just before we set off put a dampener on A’s enthusiasm and she stayed at home. TBH and I walked around Hawes Water. We were lucky and didn’t get caught in another shower, although it stayed drab and damp and I didn’t take any photos. It was well worth getting out though – there were quite a number of swallows feeding over the lake, my first of the year. I often see my first swallow on my birthday, although I suspect that has at least as much to do with my insistence on going out for a walk on my birthday as it does with the date of the arrival of swallows. Usually I’ll see the odd one or two, but this time there was at least a gulp and possibly enough for a flight (the collective nouns for swallows).

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Marsh Tit.

This is my favourite time of year for bird-watching. To be in the woods is to be surrounded by a cacophony of songs and calls, the thrum and whirr of wings and the drumming of woodpeckers. And with no leaves on the trees, it’s the best chance to see the small, common birds of woods and gardens.

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My sporadic attempts to get to grips with identifying bird songs have been largely unsuccessful, but not in vain – I have added one or two birds to my limited repertoire. One song which is very readily learned is that of the Chiffchaff, a warbler named for its song. Since the Chiffchaff is a summer migrant, hearing it anew each year is another welcome confirmation of the arrival of spring. As I dropped down from Middlebarrow towards Arnside Tower I could hear one in the trees above. My confidence is hardly unshakable though and I scanned the crown of the woods, hoping for a sighting to confirm my suspicions.

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And there it is! An LBJ with more than a hint of yellow to liven things up a little.

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Later, at Far Arnside, I realised that I can recognise the contact calls of Nuthatches too, and spent a frustrating few minutes trying to photograph one which, whilst it was surprisingly close, just overhead in fact, wouldn’t sit still long enough for the camera’s autofocus to catch up. Later still the same sort of thing happened with a Goldcrest which swung around on a hanging twig almost within reach, but which I completely failed to photograph.

The principal reason for my choice of route was to catch the wild Daffodils at Far Arnside, but I bent my steps along the scrappy woods by Holgates on the off chance that another early flower would be in evidence. I thought that I was probably too early, but no…

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Green Hellebore.

Nothing is so beautiful as Spring –         

   When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;         

   Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens, and thrush         

Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring         

The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing;

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TBH bought me ‘Claxton’ by Mark Cocker for my birthday and I’ve just finished reading it. It’s marvellous, I can’t recommend it enough. Essentially it’s a nature diary, but with entries from several years, mostly based in and around Cocker’s home village of Claxton in Norfolk. The book is full of telling details and apposite similes, but it’s also packed with interesting ideas. For example: we’re often ready to ascribe great age to certain trees, but it never occurs to us to think in that way about shrubs or flowers. These hellebore come up in the same area each year. When the perimeter of the caravan park was bulldozed recently, they survived (although probably not unscathed I suspect). I’m wondering, in retrospect, how long they’ve been flowering here.

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The Daffodils at Far Arnside were well worth a visit. Much more spectacular than I’ve managed to make them look in fact. And in amongst them…

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…more Green Hellebore.

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It seems likely that Hellebores can be found elsewhere in the area, but these are the two spots I know of, leaving aside the many gardens which have cultivated varieties.

Overhead, this Coal Tit was pecking furiously at the moss, pulling lumps off the branch and tossing them aside.

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Are there potentially good things to eat hiding beneath the moss?

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The tide was in, and, unusually, there were small waves breaking against the cliffs.

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Across the Kent Estuary to Meathop Fell.

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And with a zoom…snowy Lakeland hills beyond.

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Obligatory Robin.

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I have so many out-of-focus photos of Long-Tailed Tits that I’m beginning to think that it’s them and not me or the camera; perhaps they are naturally a bit blurred. If so, I sympathise with them – I often feel a bit blurred myself.

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At New Barns the tide was so high that the road was flooded.

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Arnside Knott from New Barns.

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Kent Estuary.

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Kent Estuary from Arnside Knott.

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A shower hits Carnforth.

The quotes are from ‘Spring’ by Gerard Manley Hopkins.

Juice and Joy

Garden Guests

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Long-suffering readers of this blog will know that it’s not unusual for roe deer to visit our garden. However, I don’t think we’ve ever had four together before. In the photos the deer are actually in next door’s garden. (I don’t suppose that they recognise the boundary). That put them right by one of our windows, or one of them was at least, with the others frustratingly obscured by a fringe of trees…

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Later they were all at the bottom of our garden when I needed to go down to the compost bins. To my surprise they didn’t immediately scarper when I left the house, but huddled in a corner watching me nervously. When I reached the compost bins they rushed to get away – back to next door’s garden via our patio, walking inches past our patio doors were S was leaping about with excitement, apparently unobserved by the deer.

A few mornings later we were visited by a solitary buck, but that time I didn’t get any pictures.

Garden Guests