Strange Bore

Friday night. Another afternoon commute walk. From the station I followed the main road as far as Hollins Lane and then took the path down through Fleagarth Wood to the salt-marsh. The weather was quite odd again: it was overcast, but looking east across Leighton Moss the sky was clear and blue. The limestone hull of Farleton Fell was shining white in bright sunshine, thrown into relief by the starkly contrasting black clouds behind.

I hope it has come through in my posts, but September seems to have been something of a bumper month – I’ve managed to get out for many walks and each seems to have brought something fascinating or surprising to see or experience. In fact, I’ve been thinking back over the year so far and realising that much the same can be said for the whole year. Am I on an astonishing run of good fortune, or am I in some way more attuned to and observant of what’s going on around me? It would be nice to think that persistence pays off and that sustained attention promotes a connection which brings greater rewards over time.

On Friday, however there seemed at first to be nothing particularly diverting to see and I was preparing myself for a walk which would be – not mundane exactly – pleasurable, but perhaps run-of-the-mill. But then the skies started to clear overhead and the simple alchemy of sky reflected in water, which I have been very conscious of during my recent visits to Leighton Moss, worked its magic…

Warton Crag seen across Quicksand Pool.

…and everything was once again on the up and up.

There’s usually a heron in or around Quicksand Pool. Today was no exception. What was unusual was that when the heron was spooked by my presence and laboriously heaved its way into the air, it didn’t do so silently but loosed a series of harsh protesting calls. It came to rest out on the bay:

Grey Heron with Morecambe dragged closer than it really is by the wonders of telephoto.

Self-portrait with Warton Crag.

Morecambe Bay. Clougha Pike on the horizon right of centre.

Just past Jenny Brown’s cottages the road is screened by a row of trees, giving a good unseen vantage point out over the bay. A small flotilla of diving ducks (well six) were swimming down the channel towards me.

They dived continually, but the water is very shallow here and each dive was short-lived. Since they often went straight back into the water after surfacing, they looked a little like they were swimming butterfly. At any one time, two or three of the birds might be underwater. Occasionally they all were, but they still came relentlessly upstream and could be seen as a strange bore…

 

An egret joined the party. My colleague M, who is a proper birder, tells me that the comical movements of the egret are because the bird stirs up the bottom with its feet, hoping to disturb flatfish and other bottom feeders which it can then grab in its beak. This opportunistic egret followed along the channel clearly using the disturbance of the diving ducks to serve the same purpose.

I think that these are goosanders rather than the smaller but very similar mergansers, but as ever I stand ready to be corrected. I assumed that they were all female, since the males are whiter and have green heads, but at this time of year goosanders are moulting, are flightless for a month, and the males more closely resemble the females.

Eventually the goosanders stopped and settled to preening themselves.

I had been very much enjoying the show but was suddenly disturbed by a hullaballoo off to my left. At this point the screen of trees became a disadvantage and I struggled at first to see the source of the commotion, but then saw two birds , apparently locked together, plummeting toward the mud of the bay. The smaller, white and squawking volubly, was a gull of some sort. At first I thought that perhaps the larger, darker bird was a bird of prey – which had perhaps taken the gull in flight, but then it occurred to me that the other voice in the dispute sounded like the same raucous cries that I had heard from the heron earlier. Herons will eat young gulls, but also gulls will harry herons, I assume in an attempt to make them drop food. I lost sight of both birds. When I moved again, I could see a heron roughly below where the two had been falling. It looked unruffled and calm and not at all like a recent participant in a air-borne brawl. It was in almost exactly the same spot as the heron which I had watched earlier, so perhaps it wasn’t the culprit and perhaps I am simply mistaken in my assumptions. When I turned back to them, the goosanders were swimming rapidly downstream away from the fracas, and perhaps away from me now that I had blown my cover. The egret was less perturbed…

…and in fact  a second egret was now also near to the first by the stream.

I walked a little further along the road, my attention still held by the birds in the sunshine on the bay…

It was only when I reached by the small old quarry near to Jenny Brown’s Point that I realised that once again I was on the dividing line between two very different weathers – to the south sunshine and clear skies, the the north:

…the sky was ominously black.

Rainbow weather! But as it transpires, the rainbow never happened, not in a conventional sense anyway, although I did notice that this sign, which is white when seen end-on…

  …produces a rainbow from an oblique angle…

…and what’s more, that by moving to my left to a less oblique angle I could get more of the red end of the spectrum and equally by moving to the right get more of the violet end.

Another pair of egrets kept me amused for a while…

…they seemed to be racing each other back and forth in the stream. Occasionally, one of the birds would propel itself to the front with a quick flurry of wings…

…only to be thwarted in its ambitions by a similar tactic from the other bird.

I rounded Jenny Brown’s point and entered Jack Scout to find that I wasn’t the only one gazing out at the dramatic sky…

The strange garb is a costume – this is a performer in an outdoor dance piece which was being performed at Jack Scout all last week.

Jack Scout views.

Apparently there was a stunning sunset later, which I missed, having reengaged with quotidian necessities.

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Strange Bore

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