Margin Walker

A couple of months ago Solitary Walker wrote a really thought provoking post about Borderlines. I hope that he won’t mind if I quote some parts of it here:

Borders, borderlines, borderlands. Frontiers, limits, edges. Crossing-points. This whole subject fascinates me. I’ve always loved those transitory places, those evolving places, the wind-beaten and sea-crashed places, those places on the furthest edge and at the outermost limit.

My favourite times of day are dawn, the border between night and day, and dusk, the border between day and night. Strange things can happen at these transient, fast-moving times. You feel alive.

The border between water and land at the sea’s edge. Between land and sky, or sea and sky, at the horizon. These are potent places.

Around the same time I read a definition of the word ecotone, I think it was in Mark Cocker’s ‘Crow Country’. That has gone back to the library, but here’s another definition:

A habitat created by the juxtaposition of distinctly different habitats; an edge habitat, or a zone of transition between habitat types. For example, the intertidal zone is an ecotone occurring at the intersection between the subtidal zone and dry land.

The two readings resonated and have fermented ever since. At one point whilst I was in Eaves Wood yesterday I realised that I felt rather flat. I was enjoying my walk, but it wasn’t the same as being out early in the morning or late in the evening; with the first or the last of the light; at the bounds of the day. Then the weather changed to bright sunshine accompanied by threatening black clouds and I perked up. I was on the edge of a weather system, in the interstices between rain and sun, summer and winter. And it felt great.

So it was good this morning to be out with Sam at the frosty opening of the day.

We followed the field boundary up to Stankelt Road, crossed Sharp’s Lot to Hollins Lane and then turned into Fleagarth Wood.

A coat was carefully hung from a branch.

I was disappointed not to see the owner of that garment stretched out in a sleeping bag with the rest of his wardrobe arrayed around him, hung from other convenient branches. But I did have another very brief meeting with a Roe Deer, although it had crashed away through the wood before my camera was even in my hand.

One of the things that makes this area so special is its patchwork of diverse habitats: woodland, intertidal mud flats, wetland reedbeds, open meadows, scrub, limestone hills and pavements, estuary. You can imagine drawing an ecotone map, a complex web of limits and perimeters, some clearly demarcated others subtle, transitional, difficult to pin-down. The path that descends to the edge of Fleagarth Wood is a fine example. Initially it follows the dividing line between woodland growing on limestone pavement and saltmarsh. As you head west along the path the woodland becomes open fields, with a fringe of trees, then the salt marsh becomes the mud of Morecambe Bay. Add the fact that a stream also follows this perimeter and you have a rich potential for a great variety of wildlife.

I was alerted to the presence of a Goldfinch in the branches above my head by its unfamiliar song.

A kestrel swept away from its high perch to quarter the saltmarsh, where a Curlew probed the ground with its elegantly curved beak and two pairs of Shelduck rested. I seemed to upset the second pair and they flew off over the trees to my right. I’m used to seeing Shelduck in pairs – to my mind that’s how they come. But they must roost in greater numbers, because moments later a flock of about fifty came back over the rim of the trees. Having dispersed into smaller groups they circled the area giving me a few dizzy moments trying to capture them in flight. I took many shots of empty sky, and several blurred groups. This pair was my most succesful, or least worst, attempt:

I don’t know whether my antics amused the Starlings but judging by their excited squeaks and clicks they did.

This chimney… all that remains of a copper smelting mill built around 1790.

Just beyond the Chimney outside Brown’s Cottages were a pair of birds which looked like Crows, except for prominent pale wing bars (which can just about be made out here). I know that Carrion Crows and Hooded Crows have interbred leading to a great variety of colourations. Could this be just one such example? (But then why two birds the same?)

As I tried to capture the ‘Crows’, a Heron swept in and began to fish the stream.

Sorting out an ecotone map for Jack Scout would be complicated.

The western perimeter is sharply delineated by a small cliff dropping to the mud and sand of the Bay, but internally the open areas, mature trees and thickets of brambles, gorse, thorny bushes and small trees intermingle and overlap. You can see Jays, Tits or a Robin… the scrub or the trees, or maybe gulls, waders or more Shelduck on the mud of the Bay:

I saw more Jays in the woods on the cliff-top above Woodwell and had my best view this year of a Woodpecker, but didn’t manage to get a good photo.


After breakfast we all piled into the car for the short drive to New Barns near Arnside. Sam fell asleep en route, so Angela took Amy and Ben for a walk through the woods to White Creek. I watched them splash in every puddle along the road…

..cursed the fact that I that I haven’t stashed a poetry anthology in the car for quiet half hours like this, and then set about entertaining myself while I waited for Sam to wake up.

There were birds singing in Grubbins wood, Mallards on the saltmarsh, a Curlew by the river, views to enjoy:

Unknown flowers on the saltmarsh:

And more boundaries to contemplate, between marsh and mud, land and water, shingle and sand, earth and sky…

The fields here are fringed with reeds. You feel that nature is poised, waiting for this drained land to revert to wetland.

When Sam woke up I popped him in the backpack and took him along the estuary to meet the others. When she saw us coming, Amy ran to meet us:

Ben meanwhile was busy investigating shells and ‘sea-slugs’ and plodging in puddles:

I love this spot where the estuary and the bay meet. The feeling of space and freedom is immense.

The kids were really enjoying their walk.

They found sand that wobbled, squelched and gave way when they stood on it or in it, and they christened it jelly sand.

We watched a Cormorant fishing in the channel:

And eventually arrived back at New barns:

Just in time to watch the Bore come past as the tide came racing in:

At weekends when the tide times are favourable you can often see Kayakers surfing the bore. Today it was only ducks speeding upriver towards the viaduct at Arnside:

There’s a cafe and shop at New Barns where we had lunch and some old telegraph poles were pressed into service as an impromptu playground:

Whilst we ate lunch, the saltmarsh had been inundated. We moved the car just before the road also disappeared.

After this mornings icy start, the day had become the warmest I can remember this year. In the circumstances it seemed appropriate to take the kids for a short walk around Grubbins Wood (seen in the picture above.)

The wood is full of ants’ nests…

.. and very busy ants.

The astonishing thing was that when Ben walked on the nests, or Angela stirred the ants with a stick (sensitive types both of them) we could hear an angry hissing from the ants.

Both children were now Pirates, in which role a stick is invaluable:

We saw four Roe Deer in a meadow on the outskirts of the wood, and I finally managed to get some photos, of which this was the sharpest:

I haven’t posted any fungi photos for ages, so here’s a Razor-strop fungus:

And the kids sitting on the same log:

All good things must come to an end:

But in the meadow beyond this stile we saw a Brimstone, the first butterfly I’ve seen this year. The fact that it was in April when I have been out walking so much surely reflects the fact that this March was unusually cold.

Margin Walker

6 thoughts on “Margin Walker

  1. Liked your post. You’re having fun with your new camera! I would say that crow is almost certainly the result of interbreeding with the hoodie.

    Travelling to some more margins myself at the end of the week. More later..!

  2. beatingthebounds says:

    Thanks Tom, I’ll try.
    I am having fun with my new camera. Possibly the best present I’ve had since….well since my parents bought me an SLR over 20 years ago (a Nikon FG20 if that means anything to anyone). Before that I had an old AGFA compact 35mm which was a cast off from my grandad, and was also a prized possession. Hmmmm…..maybe there’s a post in this.

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