Treats In Store

“I’m going into the village to get a paper.” “Hang on Granddad – I’ll come with you.” And that’s how the boys were booted, suited, helmeted and on their bikes quicker than you can say ‘a trip to the sweetshop’. Meanwhile their sister, who had other plans, had presented her requirements in writing.

Sunday’s walk featured something of a false start – I set off heading into the village intending to meet up with the in-laws and the boys, just in case they needed a house key and then perhaps to head in the direction of Woodwell. But when I did meet them the boys both decided to come with me. Fine. All well and good. Two hundred yards along the way however S realised that his bag of goodies had headed homeward with his grandparents and had an abrupt change of heart. We took him home. “Fancy a walk to the Pepper Pot?” I asked his brother. To be honest, I expected that the lure of sugar coated e-numbers would be too great, but I was wrong and so it was that B and I set off on a foray into Eaves Wood.

Before I get to Eaves Wood however, one digression. Many recent walks have been late afternoon and have been accompanied by Starlings and their burbling calls. I assumed that this was because they were gathering for the mass roost at Leighton Moss. But on Sunday morning the trees in the village were full of them again. In fact there was generally a great deal of birds and bird-song. B and I spotted a goldcrest in a tree above us. We didn’t get a very good photo, but we did catch this female blackbird…

B was quite taken with this oil slick rainbow he found in the road, and was keen for me to photograph it…

Once into the wood he took charge of our route finding. We lingered on occasion when suitable trees presented themselves…

He particularly liked this beech, which I suppose must once have been coppiced although not for quite some time. The branches were wet and must have been slippery, but B didn’t mind, and I liked the way the water had run on the bark and made patterns…

And no, we didn’t draw them on despite TBH’s suspicions to the contrary when she saw these photos.

And if I had to wait for B to climb trees, and to hump logs about to make stepping stones across muddy stretches of footpath, then he had to humour me whilst I pursued my latest obsession: photographing trees through raindrops…

 

Here’s the cropped version…

The view from the Pepper Pot was not what it can be…

…with the Bowland hills, beyond Warton Crag, wreathed in clouds.

This hazel still has a few of last year’s leaves alongside this year’s catkins which are filling out and turning yellow with the approach of spring…

Meanwhile the beech leaves which still cling on have turned a paler more delicate brown, reversing in their senescence the change from pale to darker green which will happen again soon in the first few days after the new leaves appear in not too many weeks now.

On and around the pair of fallen beeches which we often visit there was, as usual, plenty of fungal interest…

 

Around those beeches there are many other large fallen trees, I’m not sure whether there are more than there were or whether it’s just more obvious in a leafless winter woodland.

The combined effect of orange beech leaves and silvery dew-drops was quite decorative, but difficult to capture successfully…

These elephant-toed beech roots, mottled with lichens and moss have appeared here before…

..but then if I will keep on repeating the same old walks. Then again, if you go down to the woods today…

…you might be in for a surprise…

…if you look hard enough.

 

As we dropped down out of the woods, the sun briefly came out and made the drop bejewelled hedgerow twinkle…

I can see that this is going to slow my walks down even further!

———————————————————————————————————————-

In the afternoon we were out again, this time a family walk to the Wolfhouse Gallery via Woodwell.  The gallery was closed, but we had a pleasant walk despite a damp and grey afternoon.

Ivy berries.

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Treats In Store

Trees – fallen; in fog; in dew drops.

At times yesterday it seemed that the fog might lift, but it clung on through the day.  Out on an errand, I took a detour (which turned out to be a long one) through Eaves Wood.

In the damp, the trees that edged the field path into the wood were pearled with drops.

The light wasn’t great, and this is a little blurred – but, what’s that in the drop – a world in miniature?

 

There it is – a couple of inverted trees seen through the lens of the water droplet.

Hmmm – I think I feel another obsessive search coming on…..

In the woods…

…a half dozen doves in the uppermost branches departed in a clatter of wings, showering me with drops. The line of this shattered, polyp-encrusted fallen birch trunk…

…led me to a four storey spider web in its stump…

The tree had led me to the path to the ring o’beeches and so I decided to head that way. Beyond the ring, a well trodden path in an unexpected place tempted me even further off course for my errand. The path took me to another fallen tree – or at least partly fallen. A huge beech coppice stool still supported four tall trunks, but on one side two had collapsed, leaving a hole like a toothless gap in a gum.

 

I carried on into the woods, despite the fact that the ‘new’ path I had found had fairly clearly petered out. Pretty soon I was,  if not lost then, at least a little unsure of my exact whereabouts. After some ducking and weaving as the trees closed in around me, I came to a clearing with a few larches dotted about. That clearing led to another – in fact to several, like a small archipelago of islands in an ocean of trees – and eventually back to a path, from where it was an easy, but quite dark, walk back to the village and the real business of the walk.

Trees – fallen; in fog; in dew drops.

Walking Versus Gawking

  Sunday

Quite a cacophony of birdsong when I set off through the village this afternoon and it soon became apparent why. Although I’m sure that they weren’t solely responsible – the Sparrows in the hedgerow were fairly vocal for example, – every tree, every TV aerial, every chimney-pot, was home to it’s own collection of Starlings and they were in full voice. It’s quite an odd sound. When I lived in Manchester the noise in the city centre late on a winter afternoon was phenomenal – I hated it. But I’ve come to quite like the racket that Starlings make.

A leave still clinging on in the hedgerow.

There were lots of walkers about. Quite a few runners too. Perhaps some of them at least had resolved to take more exercise in the New Year.

Recently the Guardian included a booklet about walking for health. It included some tips about how to walk. I think that there were four principles. The first involved striking the ground with your heel and then rolling through the foot, spreading the forefoot and pushing off with the toes. The second was about bending the elbow to 90 degrees and swinging your arms. The third involved lifting your ears away from your shoulders. And the final one was about imagining walking with a glass of water balanced on each hip.

Well – I’ve given it a go. Like you do. I’m all for paying attention to my own movements as well as to what’s going on around me. I must admit that I quite enjoyed the heel and toe business, and it definitely increased my pace (for a while at least). Swinging my arms like a guardsman made me very self-conscious however and I couldn’t really get started with the glasses of water thing, I couldn’t picture what it was I was supposed to be doing. And as for the ears and shoulders advice, which I suppose is intended to improve posture – concentrating on the position of my head whilst I walked just made me realise how much I scan, both left and right and up and down whilst I’m walking. And trying to concentrate on holding my head up was detrimental to my gawping, staring and otherwise having a good old nose about.   

I enjoy gawking too much to get very fit by walking. Too much stopping to look around and take things in. Too many photographs of ‘leaves and stuff’ to take.

It did occur to me that perhaps I should go out every night for half an hour in the dark and stomp the same circuit every time. Less distractions.

But then when would I write the blog?

Anyway, thinking about the how, the do’s and don’ts of walking reminded me of an essay by Showell Styles anthologised in Roger Smith’s ‘The Winding Trail’. It’s called ‘The Art of Walking – A consideration of bipedal progression’ and is taken from a 1956 book – ‘The Campers’ and Trampers’ Weekend Book’. (One to seek out I think).

Styles is fairly dismissive of a heel-strike gait, which he describes as part of the ‘townsman’s method of walking’. He adds: ‘Exaggerated pushing with the toes is not a good thing; forward progress is achieved by an even distribution of effort, not by thrust and jerk.’ He advocates a flat-footed footfall and in his opinion a good walker would leave a single line of prints on a beach, with the toes pointing straight forward or even a little inward.

Still – he’s after economy of movement not weight-loss exercise. I’m not sure that he’s entirely correct either. Probably the most apparently effortless walker I know (one of the may people I’ve trailed behind on the way up hills over the years) is my friend The Adopted Yorkshireman. In snow it’s impossible to follow in his footsteps because he has a huge stride (which Styles would approve of), but also because he plants his feet with his toes pointing outwards at a quite ridiculous angle (which Styles would definitely not approve of.)

Any top-tips on bipedal progression anyone?

Walking Versus Gawking

Bird Report

Took the kids to Leighton Moss with me. I was hoping that they would get a chance to feed a tame Robin from the hand., but it wasn’t to be. With the thaw mostly complete (although the meres were still frozen over) and more people about the robins weren’t so numerous or so confident. We did get very close to Robin which sat in a path-side tree and serenaded us, and also took our birdfeed off the floor, but wouldn’t take it from the hand.

However, we did see a Heron, a Woodpecker on a feeder and a charm of Goldfinches feeding on an Alder.

Hmmm…the blog is in danger of becoming a birding log. Not to worry – I’m sure that normal service of leaves etc will resume soon.

Bird Report

A Siege, a Wedge and a Water Dance

My recuperation is complete and I’m back to work on Monday. Obviously, it’s good to be getting better, but Thursday afternoon’s excellent excursion was tinged with the bittersweet knowledge that it would be the last such weekday walk seasoned with the slightly illicit feeling of a break from the normal routine.

The previous day’s snow was thawing, and a very grey day was starting to brighten, with pale eggshell blue overhead, but cloud, mist and fog in most directions. It was very atmospheric.

 

I’d decided to make up for not making it to the Bela last Friday by taking a short walk along it from the road bridge by Dallam Deer Park to where it joins the Kent. Leaving the road I was met once again by mixed flocks of thrushes. There’s a small weir jus below the bridge and every time I come this way I walk past it too quickly and startle the birds below it, which usually then take-off and get their own back by startling me in return. Today it was a diving duck – a female Goosander I think but I couldn’t be certain.

The weir. 

Slightly further down river a pair of what I first took to be Swans…

…but which turned out to be…..feral geese?

Ahead of me the river turned sharply, with a short steep bank on the far, outside bank and a shallow area of mud on my side of the river. Even from a distance I could see a Heron standing on the far bank of the curve. On the flat ground behind the Heron there were several small groups of Canada Geese. On the river in front of the Heron some gulls and with the gulls, smaller than them, something which kept diving under the water. It was very small and quite a way away, but the shape suggested a Little Grebe (or Dabchick).

From this point the walking became secondary to the gawking as I tried hard to get photos of the birds.

Here’s the Heron and the Dabchick…

(I’ve cropped this as far as it will stand, but a closer look confirms that it is a Dabchick).

Couldn’t help thinking that the Heron looked very formal, like a doorman at a swanky hotel, and might be asking the Dabchick whether it needed a taxi.

I didn’t get a really good picture of the Dabchick, it was too small, too far away and kept disappearing under the water. But while I watched a female Goldeneye joined the party and a Redshank splashed about in the shallows on the far side of the river.

The Goldeneye and the Dabchick

I was wondering this week, when I was at Leighton Moss, how proper photographers ever get satisfactory pictures of birds in flight. My efforts to date have been pretty comical, distant dots that could be a Buzzard or a gnat, blurred shots of empty sky or the disappearing tail-feathers of some ducks. I was thinking…better equipment – perhaps, more patience – definitely. I have another idea now – point the camera at the birds before they take off…

The same trick worked for the Geese…

I’d departed from the well-used path, but clearly there had still been plenty of traffic this way…

I left the riverside …

Which rejoins a the disused railway which I walked on last week. Where the Bela and the Kent meet…

There was quite a flotilla of ducks and gulls.

A short road walk brought my back to the bridge near where I had parked, and a final encounter, with another female Goldeneye.

Which is not shown to great effect here, but I quite like the ripples.

And the post title? Collective nouns for Herons (of which there seem to be several), Goldeneyes and Grebes respectively.

A Siege, a Wedge and a Water Dance

Yes, We Have No Bitterns…Again.

So, I’m sorry that it’s Yes, we have no Bitterns…again.”

Which is what John, the leader of our merry band, said when we finished our Bittern-less tour of Leighton Moss. That’s an amazing coincidence, I thought, that’s exactly what I called my post last week when I came and didn’t see any Bitterns then either.

I can be terribly dense sometimes. Minutes later he told me that somebody had told him about the blog, but that he had trouble getting it to load on his computer. So that explains that then.

I was back at Leighton Moss on another Wednesday Bittern walk and once again we didn’t see any Bitterns, which you might have gathered if you were paying attention. This time I went without my camera, because the light wasn’t so good, and…..well, a change is a good as a rest. (So after a surfeit of photos in the last post – none today)

There was lots to see, although at times I didn’t see – I didn’t see the female Goldeneye in the ice-free run on the Mere, nor the Tufted Duck. I couldn’t distinguish the Long-Tailed Tits bobbing about in the trees beside the causeway from which ever other Tits were there with them. But I did see the Nuthatch on the feeding station, and a Greater Spotted Woodpecker on the feeder by the Visitor Centre. I could pick out the Shovelers from the less easily discernible ducks. I enjoyed the tame Robins again, and the bold Marsh Tit which sat in the hedge right by us, and the Song Thrush which watched us from a a wall top.  I spotted the Heron which landed on the ice, surely too far from the open water to fish, and then after a while flew on over the open stretch of water.

And regardless of exactly what I saw, Leighton Moss is a great place to be. It was great to sit in the Lillian’s hide and watch snow falling on the frozen mere. And it was really illuminating to tour the reserve with someone who cold tell us all about the population of Otters, Marsh Harriers, Bitterns etc. I learned how to distinguish between Lesser and Great Black-Backed Gulls – there were two of the latter on the ice by the open water. I now know how to distinguish Common Gulls from Black-Headed Gulls – which in winter is not as easy at sounds, since Black-Headed Gulls are not Black-Headed in their winter plumage. In general, I feel like I picked up ideas about how to use the clues available which might mean that one day I can pick out the solitary female Goldeneye in the melee of Mallards, Shovelers and Teal.

Here’s hoping anyway…

Yes, We Have No Bitterns…Again.

A Bevy of Birds*

 

Or: My Favourite Christmas Present Concluded (for now)

Crossing the Kent Viaduct

I didn’t get far after finishing my lunch before I was distracted again by Fieldfares and Redwings. Arnside, with its promenade, has pretensions to seaside resort status  – in fact I have some rather fine old black and white postcards which prove its history as a resort. At one end of the promenade is a small strip of formal garden with lots of evergreen bushes, many festooned with berries and, on this day also festooned with birds. Most of them moved when I passed, but not all…

I liked the way this Fieldfare was caught peering at me through the branches. One Redwing was unusually content to sit whilst I took a few photos:

I was on the far side of the flood defence wall from the bushes and so was partially hidden from the many birds on the ground beneath the bushes picking up berries and some food which somebody had obviously put out for them. Or at least they were trying to get the food and berries, but one very aggressive Fieldfare was seeing off all-comers.

It was very shady behind the wall, so the photos are not what they might have been, but the antics of this bird entertained me for quite some time so – here s/he is showing tail feathers to warn of a blackbird…

…these are my berries, I’m not eating them now but…

Striking another aggressive pose – it’s a shame that this didn’t come out more clearly (but there’s so much character here even though it’s blurred)…

Taking an opportunity to tuck in…

… and resting for a moment…

The small trees along the railway embankment were also heavily laden with a mixture of Fieldfares, Redwings and Starlings…

 

The next stage of the walk took me along the embankment of an old railway line, following the landward side of the salt marsh bordering the river Kent. It was bitterly cold and here the slightest of breezes made me feel that cold quite acutely for the first time.

Looking back along the embankment to Arnside Knot.

At this point the road crosses the embankment. It’s possible to cross the road and follow the disused railway line into a cutting, but I preferred to drop down onto the mud at the side of the estuary, thinking that it might be frozen and firm for a change. It was.

Rather dimly, I wondered why the snow here was only in isolated patches and not the deep covering I’d seen everywhere else. Then it dawned on me that the river here is tidal (this being an estuary) and that the sea would have been up over this area recently. So this must be ice…

Little forests of ice crystals. Clinging to every grassy hummock, or in any slight channels where water might have gathered…

 

In other places the mud was covered in a layer of thick glassy ice, elsewhere a layer of ice stood above the mud, crunching and cracking with every step.

In the river ‘icebergs’ floated in great clumps. As if to demonstrate what had happened, as I reached the river bank a large piece of the ice which had accumulated along the edge of the river broke off and fell into the water.

The ‘icebergs’.

Looking down river towards the sea.

A little further along the river, four Goldeneye, one male and three females, were practising their synchronised swimming in a gap in the ice…

I’d set myself the deadline of two in the afternoon as a final time before I should turn for home. In the back of my mind I also had the idea that I would like to get to where the Bela, one of the Kent’s tributaries, flows onto the estuary. But it had become clear that it wouldn’t be possible to stick to my deadline and reach the Bela. So, although it wasn’t quite two, I decided to head back through Storth.

The trees and shrubs in the gardens here were once again full of Starlings…

and Fieldfares…

From Storth my route involved following a minor lane, but with trees either side and Bullfinches (that song again) I could almost have been in the woods.

A Kestrel sat high in a tree top, quite content to let me get closer and closer…until I turned on my camera that is. The lane brought me to Hazelslack farm, which has an old Pele tower…

…much smaller than Arnside Tower.

One of the barns at the farm sounded like it was full of Starlings, and many were congregated on the guttering…

You can see the local peacocks on the tower walls in the background too, albeit out of focus.

From here I could pick up a path again. A Buzzard flew over, then I watched a small group of Goldfinches flitting from tree to tree by the path. As I approached Silverdale moss a Snipe burst from cover with a surprisingly loud flurry of wings.

Ice in Leighton Beck.

Another Buzzard appeared over the tree-tops loudly kew-kewing as it floated by.

Looking across Silverdale Moss to Arnside Tower.

The Cloven Ash is more cloven than it was last time I visited.

I was interested to see whether Haweswater’s great depth had protected it from the cold, but no, it too was frozen over.

Reed seed head.

Reeds catching the winter sun.

Where a bridge crosses the small stream which flows from Little Haweswater into Haweswater I stopped to examine the snow on the banks of the stream, optimistically hoping that I might see evidence of Otter activity. I’ve seen spraints here before, which is close as I’ve come to encountering the local Otters. Nothing, I’m afraid, but whilst I looked a Kingfisher loosed a surprisingly strident call and shot out, from under the bridge I think, and away along the stream. It was the briefest streak of bright colour, but magical none the less.

The last leg of my journey took me into Eaves Wood again. I was intent on catching the sun dropping down through the trees…

There were more Redwings and Fieldfares, but don’t worry – it was now too dark to take any more pictures. I don’t think that I’ve mentioned the rather enjoyable soft chuckling sounds of the Fieldfares – another tune to add to my small but growing list of birdcalls which I can recognise. One definite success since I decided to try to learn some bird songs and calls is the Greater Spotted Woodpecker, and a pip-pip now had me turning back to see one high in the trees behind me.

* The collective noun for Fieldfares is apparently flock. For Redwings crowd. For Goldfinches I know that the word is charm. For Starlings a murmuration. And for Goldeneye it might be a wink. (But apart from charm this is all lazy internet research so take it with a pinch of salt.) What’s the collective noun for bird photos?

A Bevy of Birds*