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*

My Favourite Christmas Present

Friday’s walk was a stunner, and may have to be split over several posts – we’ll see how it goes. Regular readers (hah!) may have noticed that I managed to get out for far more longer walks last year than I did the year before, although that activity dwindled in the second half of the year. There have been many reasons for that, but to try to ensure that I get out regularly, TBH has penciled in dates on our 2010 calendar, one a month, set aside for me (or sometimes both of us) to get out for  a longer leg-stretcher. The first of these was meant to be on Saturday, but with the weather perfect on Friday morning, I decided to strike whilst the iron was hot and set off then. With the roads still dodgy, and having not started as early as I might have, it seemed sensible to walk locally. And since I am off work recuperating something moderate, with plenty of gawking as well as walking seemed appropriate. I’m conscious of the fact that I haven’t continued my exploration of the Kent recently, and with one nearby stretch not walked since I declared my intent to walk it all from sea to source, I decided to head that way.

I didn’t take long for a first distraction to appear – setting the tone for the rest of the walk. A solitary Fieldfare on a shrub in a garden on Elmslack Lane. I got some photos, but only after the bird had unhelpfully moved from a nearby perch to one at the far end of the garden. Elmslack Lane becomes Castle Bank, a cul-de-sac which climbs steeply with houses on the left and Eaves Wood on the right. In a fairly open part of the wood I stopped to watch quite a number of Fieldfares hopping about in the grass, flying from tree to tree and generally entertaining me, whilst consistently evading my camera. After a while however four of them settled in a tree across the road in a garden. This time it was the garden of a good friend so I decided that it would be OK to intrude a little to get a little closer for photographs.

 

Two of the birds were perched together, initially both facing away from me. Note also how puffed up and spherical they are. I waited and….

…one of the birds both turned and, for want of a better term, ‘deflated’…

Here,their shapes are so different that they could be different species!

Castle Bank took me into Eaves Wood and through a stile to Holgates Caravan Park. The park has lots of woodland. There are information boards up about thinning and clearing of the trees. I could hear chainsaws and the air was full of the rather sharp smell of green wood burning. I could see neat piles of birch logs, but not where the felling was taking place.

I took a photo of Arnside Tower with a dog walker passing, mainly for Evelyn, the Castle Lady. Who wanted to see people with it.

 

The sprinkling of dots in the sky to the right of the tower are the Jackdaws which always seem to be about.

In the fields the farmers have been busy muck-spreading…

I passed Arnside Tower Farm and climbed into the woods on Arnside Knot on Saul’s Drive…

The woods here were absolutely thronging with birds in a way which I haven’t quite seen before. In the patches of exposed leaf litter, some of which you can see here, birds were busy fussing about, searching for titbits, occasionally squabbling. I tried to get photos. Against the leaves the birds – Fieldfares, Redwings, Balckbirds, I even saw a Wren looking dwarfed by the others – were incredibly well disguised, but the longer I looked the more I became aware of just how many there were.

None of the pictures were particularly good – the best being this Blackbird…

 

…and this Redwing glimpsed through branches, apparently with snow on its beak…

… – but I enjoyed taking them enormously. Eventually another walker arrived from the opposite direction and the spell was broken – the birds made themselves scarce. The walker was carrying binoculars and guessed what I was about – ‘They’re fabulous aren’t they? The woods are full of them.’ Which turned out to be spot on.

Climbing up towards the Knot I saw a couple of Bullfinches and a solitary Long-Tailed Tit (there must surely have been others, but I only saw the one). I was over-hauled by a couple of other walkers, one of whom turned out to be an old colleague. Then on open ground close to the top, I encountered more Redwings…

Doesn’t leap out does it?

Here’s a cropped version of another photo…

From the top I could see large pieces of ice floating in the Kent near New Barns. I also had some pretty fabulous views. At this moment, my camera informed me that its batteries were low. I’d only changed them two days before so I can only assume that the batteries were effected by the extremely cold weather we were having. I did manage to take a few views…

Looking South to the Bay.

East to the Howgills.

North to Dow Crag, Coniston Old Man, Swirl How and Wetherlam.

Whilst I was taking these photos something flew close over my shoulder and landed at my feet. Another tame robin, Somebody had put food out on the wall around the topograph, but this bird seemed to expect something of me. Sadly I had nothing to give it. None the less it followed me down the hill, repeatedly swooping close to my shoulder and landing on bushes or trees nearby. On one occasion it landed on a tree almost directly in front of my face. This photo was taken on the widest angle of my zoom…

I considered heading down to New Barns, but decided to go more directly into the village to enable me to get new batteries. I saw more bullfinches on the way down into the village. From the promenade…

I watched a curlew poking about on the margins of the river…

…and then found a cafe for a pasty, some tiffin and a pot of tea for lunch.

And now TBH wants the computer, so there ends part I. To find out what happened after lunch….same bat time, same bat channel….

My Favourite Christmas Present

A Quick Stomp

Thursday brought an insight into TBH’s regular routine – drop S off at playgroup, ‘a quick stomp’ to Leighton Moss, a cup of tea and then ‘a quick stomp’ back again to pick him up.

I obviously hadn’t listened properly and after the glories of the day before was expecting TBH to want to hit the hides in search of Water Rails. As it was my binoculars stayed in my rucksack. We did pass this chap…

…in a bush by the road, but even though he sat for a while I couldn’t get the right angle to catch his face. Obviously some sort of thrush. Could be a Fieldfare, perhaps…..

A Quick Stomp

Yes, We Have No Bitterns

Lest, after my previous post, I’m accused of painting TBH as the villain of the piece, I should make it clear right away that Wednesday’s very successful trip was entirely her idea. She’d seen a poster advertising a guided Bittern walk at Leighton Moss and suggested that I should go. Having set off a little later than I really should have (no surprise there for anyone who knows me well) I had to hurry as I walked to the visitor centre, but I still arrived a little late. The idea is that Bitterns, which are notoriously shy birds, can be most easily seen when the water in the reed beds, where they usually feed, is frozen and they are forced to come out to open water to feed. Unfortunately, the frost had been a little too efficient and frozen the meres too leaving very little open water.

From Lillian’s hide we watched Buzzards circling high above Warton Crag and a pair of Swans in the only remaining small area of open water. An unidentified brown bird of about the right size briefly caught the corner of my eye and then disappeared back into the reeds, tantalising us with the possibility of a Bittern sighting, but when it finally reappeared turned out to be just a female Pheasant – a trick they often play apparently. We strolled along the road which borders the reserve, in the direction of the causeway, and were encouraged to listen for the song of a Bullfinch. I shall be listening out for it from now on – one to add to my small but slowly growing tally of familiar birdsongs – it’s very simple, quite like a Greenfinch I thought, but less rasping.

On the causeway our party was swelled by the addition of a very confident Robin which seemed to follow us for a while, landing on railings and posts very close by and then hopping about round our feet.

There was some discussion about whether he actually craved our company, but it seemed to me at least that it was the birdfeed on the path which held more interest…

A couple that followed us along the path reported having persuaded the Robin to land on their hand to take food. A show of complete confidence, or utter desperation?

From the public hide it was possible to see a larger area of open water with many ducks congregated on the ice along the edge of that water…

..and many more ducks, another pair of swans and a huge number of coot in the open water beyond. We watched another buzzard, but this one flew low over the reeds, which is rather more characteristic of the Marsh Harriers which will be here in the summer, before dropping into the reeds and eventually reappearing to roost in a distant tree.

An icy wind was driving into our faces through the windows of the hide. We left to walk a little further along the causeway to where it crosses an open channel over a modest bridge. We were warned to watch out for Water Rail. I missed the first couple, too busy watching a huge flock of the diminutive Teal rising from the water to wheel over our heads – pure magic. I did eventually see some Water Rail though, skittering rather comically on the ice along the edge of the reedbeds. Something else small and fast ran across in front of us  – a Stoat.

We made our way back along the causeway…

The seed heads on the reeds glinting in the sunshine…

By Myer’s farm we saw Marsh Tits, more Bullfinches, and a Treecreeper improbably feeding on the Gable-end of the farmhouse itself. In amongst the trees we were warned to watch out for Siskins feeding on the Alders and sure enough that’s exactly what we saw. From Lillian’s hide again we saw a Heron standing right out in the middle of the ice for no reason we could fathom. A Snipe made several fly-pasts, and just as we were set to leave, a Water Rail obliged us with our best view yet.

So – no Bitterns, but lots to see otherwise, including this handy juxtaposition of red and white which rightfully belongs in a previous post

…although I suppose that it’s another combination which I shall be seeking out from now on.

After lunch in the cafe, my next encounter was with this Ram…

Who is wearing a fetching dye-dispenser so that the Ewes who have been ‘serviced’ (to borrow a euphemism from Blue Peter presenter Simon Groom – does anyone else remember that episode?) are clearly identified. And what do the Ewes think about that?

This next photo is perhaps another opportunity for a caption competition…

TBH suggests…’Form an orderly queue girls!’

My walk home took me past the Railway Station…

Where I got quite excited about an apparently enormous bird roosting in a tree top on the far platform. What could it be?

Just a Mistle Thrush it seems, with feathers puffed out for warmth making it seem much larger than it really is.

All birds puff out their feathers in freezing weather, to insulate themselves with a layer of air and so keep warm. The poet Robert Graves observed that ‘puffed up feather and fearless approach’ indicated hunger in birds, but that in man these signs revealed ‘belly filled full’.

Derwent May from A Year In Nature Notes

Crossing the golf-course…

I was struck, as I had been on Tuesday, by how well used paths in the area are…

Climbing down through the trees towards Lambert’s meadow, having lots of fun trying (and failing) to capture the way that the sun was glistening on the snow on the trees, I heard a drumming in the trees above, not the insistent territorial drumming which will begin soon, but more purposeful insect seeking I suspect. Scanning the treetops, I was rewarded with a flash of red and a first sighting for the year of a Greater Spotted Woodpecker.

Closer to home I was serenaded by this fellow..

…the first of the many Robins I had seen which deigned to offer a tune – most were clearly much to intent on filling their bellies.

Time for one last view of the Howgills..

…before returning home.

To find everybody else on the way out to go sledging on the Lots. Passing the butchers on the way we saw Walter throw meat scraps to a host of expectant black-headed gulls. Obviously a regular occurrence. Sledging continued long after the sun had sunk below the western horizon leaving only an orange glow to remind us of it’s passing.

Yes, We Have No Bitterns