More Garden Birds

We had a pair of goldfinches on the feeders again today. This time I managed to get an uninterrupted view of one of them.

The bullfinches were, as ever, in a pair too, but today it was the female I caught…

This coal tit was alone, and enjoying a vigorous bath in our ‘spring’.

That’s it for today. Just what it said on the tin.

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More Garden Birds

All Quiet On The Preston Front*

In a fruitless trip to the toilet at the end of the ward, the tube from my drip somehow gets entwined around it’s stand like some macabre maypole. The wheels on the stand must have been transplanted from a shopping trolley – they have a mind of their own. As I shuffle round in circles in an attempt to untangle it the night-shift nurse wryly comments: ‘I see that you’re getting on well with your dance partner’. Later, I cleverly circumvent that problem by accidentally ripping the cannula from the back of my hand. In the half-darkness of the ward and disorientating aftermath of surgery I’m initially horrified: has my inability to pee been supplanted by incontinence? It takes a moment to realise that the dampness on my legs is blood and saline solution.**

I’ve been under the knife again. Now I’m confined to barracks. It seems to me that this year my ‘bounds’ have spread a little wider – I’ve been exploring the Kent, getting out on the hills more often. Now my radius of activity has dwindled to almost nothing, a handful of stations around which I rotate as comfort and energy dictate – bed, TV couch, computer, bath. I have been able to catch up with my blog reading, and leave a few more comments than usual. But walks are out of the question.

At the weekend TBH filled up all of our bird feeders and watching the visitors to those has been an excellent diversion. Over the week something of a routine has been established. Early in the morning, when I tiptoe downstairs for painkillers, a wood pigeon has the feeder and a pheasant picks up the scraps…

Soon the wood pigeon is supplanted by…

…an acrobatic and voracious grey squirrel.

Here s/he has spotted an interloper in the shrubs below, which was quickly chased away.

Once the squirrel has had it’s fill it relinquish’s its post to the smaller garden birds. Unlike the wood pigeon and the squirrel, these tend to stay only very briefly. I have several photos of an empty swinging feeder when I have missed the nuthatch which has visited several times. Goldfinches seem to visit in pairs, but even so this is the best I have managed…

I’ve watched chaffinches…

..exchanging food, a male passing on seeds on to a female, presumably to be passed on in turn to fledglings in a nest somewhere close by?

I’ve been quite surprised to see robins together too, they’re normally so aggressively territorial. They don’t dwell on the feeders though…

So I have action shots…

This bird…

..sat still and let me take several pictures. A juvenile dunnock?

Bullfinches are always in pairs. But I’ve only captured the male, seen here by a small water feature which is much more a draw than our bird bath…

It may be some time before ‘normal service’ resumes. Until then I shall be needing my fix of Challenge and LEJOG bloggers, walkers and gawkers, backyard naturalists….

 

*I know this pun has been used before. But I like it. And we are quite near Preston.

** Sorry to Ken at Fatdogwalks for the plagiarism, the format was just what I seemed to need.

All Quiet On The Preston Front*

Evening Light, Mayflowers and a Perfect Moment

I closed the front door behind me without any clear idea of where I was going. I was spoilt for choice. For a while I’ve wanted to head for Trowbarrow quarry to examine some fossil remains which I have recently read about. But I didn’t want to take the car, and probably didn’t have enough light to get there and back on foot. Then again, I need to get back to Lambert’s Meadow to check on the progress of the Horse-tails or Mare’s-tails growing in the stream there. Or, with a newly acquired tele-convertor on my camera, perhaps I should make for the Cove to try to capture a better image of my friend The Inevitable Heron. In the end, my feet led me across the field towards Stankelt Lane – in the wrong direction for any of those options. Perhaps my feet knew more than they were letting on.

I noticed that the holly growing by the wall was flowering – not something I think I’ve ever particularly noticed before. TBH had already been out for a post putting the kids to bed stroll, so I had a late start, but it’s getting to that magical time of year when the sun doesn’t desert us for long each night, and I still had some fine evening sunshine at least for the beginning of my walk. I’d been impressed by the way that sort of golden evening light had been captured by Colin, on his own local patch, and hoped to achieve something similar…

Maybe next time then. Always good to have a challenge on the go. Or a few challenges.

Nearby the mayflower was opening on a hawthorn, although most weren’t quite there…

I’ve noticed a few swallows and martins on my evening rounds of late, but a pair of swifts flashing overhead were my first for the year. Anyone who had the good fortune of watching my antics trying to photograph them will have had a real hoot as I lent back, pointed my camera skywards and waved dizzily around trying to keep up with their dashing flight. Obviously, I didn’t get even a blurred photo for my troubles.

As I crossed Stankelt road, a woodpecker alighted high on the trunk of a horse chestnut…

By now a plan had formulated and I took the path through Pointer Wood and Clark’s Lot towards Hazelwood.

Pointer Wood was underlaid with ransoms as you can see. In Clark’s Lot the many hawthorns were bedecked with fully open blossom, perhaps more advanced because of the relatively sheltered position.

From Hollins lane I watched a buzzard wheeling and quartering.  I had lost the sun now, but he was bathed in a ruddy glow and frankly seemed to be enjoying it.

Fleagarth Wood is even more spectacularly colonised by ransoms then either Pointer Wood or Bottoms Wood.

I paused to listen to a birdsong – a single repeated note which I thought sounded something like a greenfinch, but perhaps more throaty and insistent. I didn’t spot the songster, but was rewarded with the haunting calls of an owl. I’m making very slow progress in my attempts to master identifying birdsong, but I have just ‘got’ chaffinch. I was walking up our drive last week, listening to a liquid song, not the equal of a robin or a blackbird, but reasonably musical. The song finished with a single rasping note that immediately reminded me of a greenfinch song. I bet that’s a chaffinch I thought and waited until I found the soloist in the branches of a lime. It was, and since then I’ve heard the same song many times, and have often been able to confirm that it is a chaffinch singing. Now that I know what to listen for, it seems extraordinary that I’ve never differentiated the song of this very common bird before.

The path from Fleagarth Wood down to the salt marshes is a good place to walk when the hawthorns are flowering. There are several here grown from shrubs into small trees. Even the hawthorn almost entirely smothered by ivy had blossom poking through. The woods near the top of Warton Crag were washed with the glow of an unseen sunset.

By quicksand pool…

I faffed about trying, Quixotically, to photograph the small groups of black-headed gulls flying past, or the oystercatchers, shelduck and, I think, teal, by the pool itself. Clearly with the extra zoom afforded by my new lens I shall need more light, or indeed some light, to get sharp images.

On the road near Jenny Brown’s point a blackbird with a beak full of worms hopped about seemingly unperturbed by my presence.

On the cliff-tops at Jack Scout, with the shelter of a slight rise behind me, I was out of the biting east wind for the first time. A large flock of gulls by the opening to the small cove at Cow’s Mouth were raising a cacophony, but when they moved they left a sudden stillness. I heard the plash of a shelduck landing in a channel, I thought that I could hear the mud of the bay – although that seems a little crazy now.

In that soft pale light, with pools drops of mercury on the bay and the wet mud catching the orange afterglow rimming the cloudless sky, I felt at peace, enormously contented.

Huge crane flies rose gently skywards like improbable alien spacecraft, apparently impervious to the gusty wind. On the northern horizon the distinctive outline of the Coniston fells, where I walked at the weekend, stood out clear as day. I wanted to catch every detail: the drifting daddy-longlegs, the wind stunted trees silhouetted on the headland beyond Cow’s Mouth, the grass seed heads on the cliff edge…

 

And this I realised, is what I miss about wild-camping. The absence of any deadlines or imperatives to move on. The ability to chose a resting spot at any time, on any whim. I wished that I had a good sleeping bag, a bivvy bag and a stove with me, and that I could hunker down and wait for the returning sun to gently wake me.

As I turned and climbed back into the wind, heading for the bat filled lane past Gibraltar Farm and home, I was serenaded from the depths of a dark thicket by what must have been the Paganini of the blackbird world. A virtuoso performance of tumbling riffs and trills, which unusually, no other blackbird chose to challenge.

An evening to treasure.

Evening Light, Mayflowers and a Perfect Moment

Dor Beetle?

After the sun had come out, and we descended Boulder Valley towards the Pudding Stone, I noticed a little drama down in the grass. He was in hot pursuit (presuming that’s ‘he’ on the left) and only seemed to have one thing in mind. The closest I kind find in my field guide is the dor beetle Geotrupes Stercorarius.

Females burrow under cow and horse dung and fill their tunnels with it as a larder for their offspring.

Hmmmm…..no cows or horses hereabouts and so no cow or horse dung.

Living mainly on lowland pastures.

These were at around 350 metres, hardly mountaineers but not lowlanders either.

G. Stercorosus and G. Spiniger are very similar.

Perhaps there’s an answer then. But on those two mysterious species my book has nothing further to say!

A little internet research reveals that the former is ‘The Forest Dung Beetle’, and as Ron has pointed out, trees are in short supply in this area, and the latter is a ‘Dumbledor’. Google image results suggest that they do indeed look very similar. Definitely dung beetles then.

Dor Beetle?

Zero Percent Probability of Precipitation

or Three Bearded Bagging Bloaters (and Oikie) Abroad Again

Although, CJ is now a clean-shaven member of our trio – like the drummer in ZZ-Top called Beard but ironically beardless – which renders that subtitle somewhat obsolete, but…

Three Bagging Bloaters, two Hirsute, one an Smooth Man (and Oikie), Abroad Again

…is too tortuous to contemplate.

Anyway…I’m getting ahead of myself. When X-Ray arrived to pick me up on Sunday morning it was bucketing down – not a good start for a day in the hills, but as we drove up to Coniston (with some eccentric detours due to my navigation) it stopped. We drove through areas which looked dry and other places which had obviously had heavy showers. As we drove along the lake from Torver the fells were cloaked in low cloud. I directed X-Ray up the Walna Scar road and I think when he saw the gradient he thought that I was mistaken. Fortunately, his Punto purred up in first gear and we were soon at the car park. “Meet me at the top of the Walna Scar road at nine o’clock” must be a common arrangement amongst hill-walkers – we were the third car (although there were a couple of camper vans who must have been there all night) but a steady trickle followed us in and by the time CJ arrived 5 minutes later there must have been at least a dozen.

Nobody else was headed our way however and we had the Walna Scar road to ourselves. CJ had been on to the local weatherline and was full of optimism: “The cloud is going to lift. Zero percent chance of precipitation today.” He wasn’t even swayed by the news that it had already rained not so far away. The walna scar road is the old pack horse route between Coniston and the Duddon valley. It was a warm sticky climb. A single skylark shared CJ’s exuberant optimism and sang gleefully. Wheatears and pied-wagtails whizzed about the hillside. As the path steepened towards the hause and fat drops of rain began to splat on the stones of the path, CJ assured X-Ray and I that they were figments of our imagination. He was right at least about the cloud lifting and when we reached the top of Brown Pike and sat in the shelter for tea and chocolate, the cloud swirled around us giving glimpses of the ridge ahead and the Old Man which was almost free of cloud.

Looking to Buck Pike and the Old Man of Coniston

Looking back to Brown Pike (and a glimpse of Blind Tarn)

Buck Pike turned out to be a fairly insignificant nobble on the ridge, but like Brown Pike it’s a Birkett – of course you didn’t believe for one moment that I could wait until next year before bagging a few more? I don’t do deferred gratification. The boys are only interested in Wainwrights and so were forced to defer, until we reached the rather splendid top of Dow Crag. In a hail shower. Probably imaginary. Although it didn’t feel like it.

From Goat Hause we plodded steadily onto the main ridge…

X-Ray approaching the top of the climb.

Despite the deterioration in the weather, the cloud had continued to lift. Harter Fell was looking rather magnificent, in a Walnut  Whip sort of a way, and even the Scafells were almost clear. “What’s that nipple on the side of Scafell?”. “Slightside.” Their eyes lit up. “That’s a Wainwright.” they informed me – instantly doubling my tally of Wainwrights for last year.

Oikie had been leading the way, now and then checking back on us or waiting patiently for us to catch up. Now CJ found another gear and stormed ahead with Oikie to the summit. When X-Ray and I arrived at the top, CJ cheerfully, some might even say smugly, informed us that we had missed the view.

X-Ray, Oikie and CJ in the mist on the Old Man of Coniston. Note CJ’s ‘Velociraptor’ rucksack on the extreme right.

The summit was busy, but not as busy as it might have been. We probably fell somewhere between the professional hiker types, covered head-to-toe in the latest technical fabrics and the jeans and trainered bloke who arrived at the top and asked his companion “Which one is this then?”. I like to think that we were leant an air of authenticity by Oikie’s border collie good manners, perhaps somewhat undermined by CJ’s ‘Veliciraptor’ rucksack, borrowed from his son. We paused for some snap and the cloud lifted giving great views of the Duddon and Levens estuaries and the rolling countryside between us and Morecambe Bay.

We stumbled across Brim Fell, once more in the cloud, but emerged as we approached the climb back up to Swirl How.

Looking back along the ridge to Brim Fell and Dow Crag.

A patch of sunlight crosses the col between Swirl How and Grey Friar, the Scafell range just below the cloud in the background.

A clear path contoured round in the direction of Grey Friar and we debated and dismissed the idea of adding that to our list of ticks for the day. As we approached the summit of Swirl How, two ravens alighted on the summit cairn and ronked at us. CJ told us that they were birds of ill omen. Perhaps he was right. It began to hail again.

We plodded round the rim of the corrie to Great Carrs. If anything the hail was now falling more fiercely. A group of proper walkers, with all the gear, even ski poles, were arriving from the north ridge. We could tell that they were old hands, they were on nickname terms with the hills, and were debating whether to head for ‘Connie Old Man’ or not. A grizzled veteran peered out from under his hood, assessed my cotton shorts and ASDA trainers. “You’re brave.” he told me. “Zero chance of precipitation today” I reassured him. He pointed out the view beneath the clouds to the west. It was clearly sunny on the west Cumbrian coast and beyond on the Isle of Man. On the trudge back to Swirl How, the hail stopped briefly, and we stopped to examine the wreckage of a WW2 Halifax bomber and the memorial for its crew.

By the time we were descending Prison Band the hail had turned to drizzle. So that was alright. To tell the truth, I was enjoying myself enormously. We decided, in the circumstances, to save Wetherlam for another day and began the long walk back to the car.

Levers Water, Coniston Water, Morecambe Bay. Raven Tor and Coniston Old Man on the right.

As we dropped towards Levers Water, patches of blue sky began to appear, although it was still raining. Then the sun came out, although it was still raining. But finally the rain stopped for good and the last part of our walk was the best part of the day weatherwise.

Little and Great How Crags across Levers Water.

Levers Water is a reservoir. We crossed the outflow stream and climbed up past a huge vertical gash in the hillside where a vein had been worked. From here old miners’ tracks took us back to the car park.

Sunshine at last!

This was a walk where a better knowledge of geology would have been a distinct advantage. The colours and textures of the rocks had changed throughout the walk. CJ had proposed that one particularly fetching smooth slab, striped in blue and cream would make an excellent kitchen worktop. In the rain, I didn’t stop to photograph many rocks, but this wave textured rock caught my eye…

All in all, a grand day out. And seven more Birketts, five of which are also Wainwrights, to add to this year’s tallies.

Zero Percent Probability of Precipitation

Lanefoot Farm Again II – Barrow

Or – More Talking Than Walking

Or – Fatuous and Arbitrary Annual Birketts’ Target Smashed Already Shock!

Saturday night was an eventful one in our tent with poor S chundering repeatedly on his mum and with rainwater inexplicably pouring in and soaking clothes (mostly mine) and various parts of the tent. It rained again the next night, but no more leaking so something of a puzzle there. With S still under the weather, TBH decided to take him home and As soon as she announced that intention B had strapped himself into his booster seat and couldn’t de persuaded to stay and camp.

A and I joined most of the rest of the group for a sociable walk up Barrow. We started late and hadn’t got far before we stopped again to climb this tree, which the children remembered from last year’s visit…

With the promise of an ice-cream reward from the Adopted Yorkshireman, the kids led the way up the long ridge of Barrow. Here they are, quite near to the top where the adults had finally caught them up.

 

The day before we had seen a dire weather forecast predicting low temperatures and frequent showers falling as snow over high ground. In the event we had quite a sunny day, with just one ferocious but short-lived hail shower before we left the campsite. Other than that the sometimes dark clouds just kept scudding through without depositing their load. There was a cold wind though and for the last part of the climb extra layers were needed. From the top we ducked down out of the wind a little for a short stop…

…where the bilberries were flowering…

My friends CJ and X-Ray, I later learned, were gleefully bagging seven Wainwright’s over in the Skiddaw massif…

They can’t be picked out in the photo. During the day, they probably discussed the relative fortunes of Everton and Newcastle United and possibly the relative merits of the Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins eras of Genesis. They can’t have talked as much as A though, who, it turns out, can still talk the hind leg off a donkey, even whilst climbing her very first Wainwright.

Meanwhile, since Barrow is also a Birkett – are there any Wainwright’s which are not Birkett’s does anybody know (does anybody care?), it seems unlikely – my total for the weekend reached six and my total for the year seventeen – which was my target for the year. Which leaves me with an ethical problem to ponder – should I refrain from bagging any new ones until January? Or perhaps set a new target – maybe double the old one, although 34, not being prime, is a much less satisfactory total.

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It being a bank holiday weekend, there was a third day to our Lakes trip, but it being a Bank Holiday Monday, it was a wash-out. TBH brought B and S back and together we toured the Pencil Museum in Keswick. There were lots of pencils.

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I kept another promise which I made to myself this evening and took a walk to Bottoms Wood. The street lights were already lit when I set off so I didn’t bother with the camera, but the abundant froth of garlic scented Ramson flowers didn’t disappoint.

Gorse flowers from the weekend – almost as strongly perfumed as the Ramsons, but coconut rather than garlic.

Lanefoot Farm Again II – Barrow

Lanefoot Farm Again I – or – More Sitting Around than Walking

We returned to Lanefoot Farm for another May Bank Holiday weekend with the group which A always refers to as ‘Our Camping Friends’. Which makes them sound like they may have been staging the plays of Noel Coward in the style of John Inman where as in fact, when we arrived many of them were trying to erect tents in something of a morass after a day of heavy rain. Fortunately, Saturday morning brought fair weather and TBH suggested that she would take charge of the ankle-biters and leave me free to join an adults only walk in the North-Western Fells. This walk progressed at a very steady rate, mostly…well… entirely, to suit my needs, and also incorporated many stops to soak up the views and the sunshine.

We stopped part way up Kinn, the beginning of the east ridge of Grisedale Pike which inexplicably is a Birkett, then again near it’s ‘top’. Where this ridge joined another at Sleet How we stopped again for an unofficial lunch…

…which had panoramic views of Skiddaw and Keswick and which despite being on the ridge in what should have been an exposed spot, turned out to be relatively sheltered and comfortable. Sheltered and comfortable enough in fact for us to sit there for around an hour.

From there a steady pull leads to the summit of Grisedale Pike itself our second Birkett and highest point of the day.

Time for another rest obviously.

Our onward route took us over Hobcarton Head, unnamed on my OS map, and another dubious Birkett. Somehow we resisted the temptation to stop and perch a while and traced the rim of Hobcarton Crag to Hopegill Head…

…which is the rather impressively pointy peak on the right. I’ve been this way many times before, but not for some time and I’d forgotten what a gem Hopegill Head is. I hadn’t consulted my Birkett’s book in advance, but suspected that the bump on the left, Sand Hill, would be included. It is. Which makes it a shame that I didn’t trek the 50 extra yards to include it. Still – it’s good to have an excuse to go back.

Grisedale Pike and Hobcarton Head from Hopegill Head

Looking West from Hopegill Head to Whiteside and Gascale Crags.

Something that I’m pretty sure I haven’t done before is drop off Hopegill Head to the North over Ladyside Pike. the first part of the descent turned out to be unusually rocky for a Lakeland Fell…

And with our late start and all of our dawdling we now seemed to have the previously busy hills to ourselves.

Ladyside Pike brought the Birkett’s tally for the day to five.

Hobcarton Head and Hopegill Head from Ladyside Pike.

Time to sit down…

…and debate the merits of various descent routes, eat a late, but official, lunch and enjoy the views across the Solway Firth to the hazy hills of Dumfriesshire.

Most of us chose to follow a firebreak into Swinside Plantation, thus missing, I now realise, another easy tick on Swinside. The firebreak was steep and unpleasant, although enlivened with birdsong and these small fingers on some dead branches…

…which were tipped with bright scarlet pads…

From the bottom of the firebreak it was a long walk back to the campsite through Whinlatter forest. Even in the darkest shady parts of the plantation the ground was carpeted with tiny Wood Sorrel…

I managed to tempt most of the group to try the sharp tangy leaves. They suggested a citrus flavour, or apple-like, both of which I can understand, but the closest flavour, for me at least, is grape.

Lanefoot Farm Again I – or – More Sitting Around than Walking