Middleton Nature Reserve

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Migrant Hawker.

Being the continuing adventures of a taxi-driving Dad.

Last Saturday, B had a rugby match, playing hooker (he’s suitably bonkers) for his school team away at Morecambe High (where, many moons ago, I used to teach). Unlike some of his contemporaries, B doesn’t seem too concerned about whether his team win or lose, just so long as the result seems fair, and at the end of the game declared: “That was fun!”, despite his team having taken a bit of a hammering.

Afterwards, we dashed home, but, in my case, only for a quick turn around, as I took Little S to a nerf gun birthday party in – guess where – Morecambe. I realise that the rational thing to do would have been to take both boys to both events, but it seemed easier at the time to do it this way. With S dropped off, only a few minutes late for his war game, I had the best part of two hours to kill and decided to go hunting for one of the three Wildlife Trust reserves which I knew to be somewhere around Heysham. Idiotically, I hadn’t checked the exact locations in advance, so resorted to driving around, with more hope than confidence, until I spotted a likely looking car park and found that I had stumbled upon Middleton reserve.

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After a bite of lunch, and whilst walking around the reserve, I met a man who told me that he remembered when this was the site of a petrochemical plant. Now it has two large ponds and a mixture of meadows and scrub.

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Hoverfly, possibly Helophilus pendulus, on an Alder leaf.

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Fox and cubs.

This patch of waste ground maybe a tad unprepossessing at first glance, but look a little closer and there is a great deal to enjoy. I was very much put in mind of Richard Mabey’s marvellous book The Unofficial Countryside, which is about how nature, left to its own devices, can reclaim scraps of once industrialised land like this.

The sun was warm and there were no end of dragonflies about, although few of them would pose for a photo.

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Female Common Darter.

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Speckled Wood.

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Blackberries.

There were lots of flowers still in bloom and it was obvious that, had I had been here earlier, in the summer, there would have been even more to see.

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Wild Carrot, the ancestor of all domestic carrots.

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When the flowers turn into spiny seeds, the umbel curls in on itself.

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More hoverflies on what I assume are Michaelmas Daisies.

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A willowherb?

I could hear the contact calls of small birds from all sides and, with lots of teasels and other tall seed-heads about, I wondered whether they might be Goldfinches. Eventually, they flew across the path ahead of me, then settled above me, on teasels growing on a high bank. Here’s some of them…

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The photo didn’t come out brilliantly and only a small part of the charm are here, but the flocks of Goldfinches which gather at this time of year are delightful, so I wanted to include the photo anyway.

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Common Toadflax.

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Mute swans – could they still be nesting in mid-September?

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There were plenty of half-hidden reminders of the areas past – the remnants of tarmac covered surfaces, these huge tyres, odd bits of buildings here and there, but they mostly seem to be slowly disappearing.

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Abundant Haws.

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Crane Fly.

A blade of grass apparently dancing in a way completely contrary to the direction of the wind alerted me to this spider, which was busy constructing a web.

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Male Common Darter.

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As I came to the end of my walk and was running out of time before needing to head off to pick up Little S, I came to a really sheltered spot where, not only were there even more dragonflies, but, in addition, the Common Darters were sunning themselves in obvious spots, as seems to be their wont.

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Male Common Darter.

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Male Common Darter.

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Alder cones.

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Male Common Darter.

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Mating Common Darters. I’ve been confused in the past by the colour of females like this one, expecting the females to be yellow, but this pale blue colour is apparently typical of older females.

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Drone fly, or something similar, on Evening Primrose.

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Guelder Rose berries.

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Middleton Nature Reserve

Brew with a View Too.

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Hagg Wood.

The very next evening, after my Arnside Knott excursion, I was out a bit earlier and able to enjoy the sunshine a little more, although the breeze was cool.

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Wilding apples.

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Hedgerow lichen.

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Sloes.

I was intending to brew-up and watch the sunset again, but I was also intent on collecting some sloes. I had gardening gloves with me, the thorns on Blackthorn are vicious, but, in the end, didn’t use the gloves, finding that a bit of circumspection was sufficient to protect my hands.

The hedgerow had been cut-back hard, earlier this year, and the hard, tart ‘bullies’ were disappointingly sparse.

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Haws.

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Hips.

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More wilding apples – I tried one of these, it was palatable, but nothing to write home about.

Fortunately, the Blackthorn bushes on Sharp’s Lot, National Trust land, had been left well alone and I fairly quickly filled my cup. They’re in the freezer now, I need to weigh them and decide whether I have enough for the Sloe Gin I intend to make (or maybe Sloe Vodka – I’m not find of Gin).

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TBH is a bit bemused, “But you don’t even like Sloe Gin!”

Which isn’t quite true, but she does have a point: I don’t really drink spirits these days. In truth, I’m a bit puzzled by my own enthusiasm; I think it’s maybe got more to do with the making than the drinking. Well, we’ll see.

My walk brought me to Jack Scout, but a little too late really: the sun hadn’t set, but it had dropped behind a band of cloud on the western horizon. Nevertheless, I fired up the stove again…

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…and watched the light fade behind the clouds whilst I drank my char.

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Brew with a View Too.

Gait Barrows Again

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Female Common Darter.

A very pleasant wander around Gait Barrows which happened almost a month ago now – how the summer has flown by! It was memorable for the large number of dragonflies I saw – although very few would pose for photos – and, rather sadly, for the dead Fox cub I came across.

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Male Migrant Hawker.

As I manoeuvred to find a good position from which take the photograph above, I almost trod on this large Frog…

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Bumblebee on Betony.

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Speckled Wood.

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The ‘mystery plant’ – flowers still not open, but showing more colour – I need to go back to check on their progress.

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Broad-leaved Helleborine.

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Hoverflies on Hemp Agrimony.

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Robin’s Pincushion Gall.

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Wall-rue (I think), a fern.

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Knapweed and St. John’s Wort.

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Grasshoppers have often been evident from their singing on local walks, but I haven’t always seen them, or my photos haven’t come out well when I have.

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Although this doesn’t have the distinctive shieldbug shape, I think that this is a fourth instar of the Common Green Shieldbug – an instar being one of the developmental stages of a nymph. This website is very helpful.

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Hoverfly.

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On a previous walk I’d been thinking that Hemp Agrimony, which is very common at Gait Barrows, was a disappointing plant in as much as it’s large flower-heads didn’t seem to be attracting much insect life, but that seems to have been a false impression, because on this occasion quite the opposite was true.

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Buff Footman (I think), a moth.

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Another Common Green Shieldbug nymph – perhaps the final instar.

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The verges of one particular overgrown hedgerow at Gait Barrows are always busy with Rabbits, which usually scatter as I approach, but two of them played chicken with me – not really seeming very concerned and only hopping on a little each time I got closer.

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Time was marching on and I was keen to head for home, but I diverted slightly up the track towards Trowbarrow because I knew that I would find more Broad-leaved Helleborines there. These were much taller and more vigorous than the single plant I had seen earlier.

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Curiously, there was a wasp feeding on the flowers, as there had been on the first one I saw. I noticed earlier this year that wasps seem to like Figwort, perhaps the same is true Helleborines.

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Figwort and Helleborine both have small, tubular flowers – it may be the case that wasps are well adapted to take advantage of this particular niche – different insects definitely favour different kinds of flowers.

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Gait Barrows Again

A Culture Is No Better Than Its Woods

Or: Another Rant with Photographs. 

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Okay, back to the same October weekend which provided the photos for the last post. I do remember the weekend a little better then I’ve been letting on. The weather was very fine, so, around the usual commitment of ferrying our children to various sporting activities, I also dragged them out for a couple of strolls.

Why just me? Were TBH and I not on speaking terms? It wasn’t that: she was staggering under an impossible burden of marking. Hardly surprising: she always is. I mention this today, because it’s hard to bite your tongue when Sir Michael Wilshaw has hit the headlines once again:

Sir Michael Wilshaw, the chief inspector, will raise concerns over poor leadership, “indifferent” teaching and a culture in which “misbehaviour goes unchallenged”.

from the Torygraph website.

Headteachers are now so terrified of Ofsted that a culture exists in many schools in which anybody working less than a 168 hour week is seen to be slacking. Ho-hum. I heard our esteemed Chief Inspector interviewed on The Today programme this morning and he claimed that he wants to attract ‘better’ candidates into teaching. Clearly, one sure-fire way to do that is to continually denigrate the profession in the national media. Ho-hum again.

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Anyway. Back to more pleasant memories. It was a beautiful afternoon: warm, sunny, with plenty of autumn colour, and a plethora of nuts, berries and fungi to keep a curious eye occupied.

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Our route was one we don’t chose very frequently – off Moss Lane and into the open fields of Gait Barrows.

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I think I wanted to revisit this tall wilding-apple, which we’d called upon only the weekend before with our visiting friends.

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If anything, there were even more windfall apples this time.

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Although, they were generally looking a bit scabby now and had a very tart and bitter taste.

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From there we headed up onto the limestone pavement, which in autumn sunshine is a superb place to be.

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Guelder Rose

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I’m sure that photographs of this cairn have appeared on this blog before, along with lots of other wittering about Gait Barrows and what a wonderful place it is. I’m not sure that I’ve ever posted a link to this Natural England webpage though, where you can download a 21 page pdf which has maps and details about the reserve.

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I shan’t apologise for repeating myself however: it is a wonderful place. What’s more its ours – publically owned. Very precious that, at a time when politicians of every stripe seem to be neo-cons and are either dogmatically opposed to public ownership or, at best, too embarrassed to offer open support to the idea that some things might be done best collectively, by cooperation, rather than by the operation of a marketplace.

You’ll be aware that this government’s attempt to sell off our publicly owned forests in 2011 was scuppered by the strength of public feeling. But did you know that, as I understand it, the non-descript sounding ‘Infrastructure Bill’, currently getting its second reading in the Commons, contains clauses which will make it very easy for future governments to sell public land and assets unopposed.

The bill would permit land to be transferred directly from arms-length bodies to the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA). This would reduce bureaucracy, manage land more effectively, and get more homes built. 

from www.gov.uk

Does that sound like a chilling threat to you? It does to me.

You can find what George Monbiot had to say, writing in the Guardian, about the bill, during its first reading, here.

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Meanwhile, back at Gait Barrows, the light was low-angled and lovely, and I was taking photos like a man possessed.

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Now here, now there, some loosened element,
A fruit in vigor or a dying leaf,
Utters its private idiom for descent,
And late man, listening through his latter grief,
Hears, close or far, the oldest of his joys,
Exactly as it was, the water noise.

from Bucolics, II: Woods by W.H. Auden

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This post’s title too is harvested from Woods. It would make a great exam question wouldn’t it?

“A culture is no better than its woods.” Discuss.

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I’m not sure that bodes too well for English culture, since we’ve very successfully decimated our woods and have so very little natural woodland left. Perhaps that’s what Auden was driving at.

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Auden was one of the four poets I studied for my O-Level English exam, along with Betjeman, Owen and R.S.Thomas. I don’t remember reading this particular poem however – I was alerted to its existence thanks to Solitary Walker and his new poetry discussion blog, The Hidden Waterfall.

You can find the entire poem here.

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This couplet is also rather wonderful:

The trees encountered on a country stroll
Reveal a lot about a country’s soul.

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I have to confess that we didn’t realise that we were in the business of investigating the health of the nation’s soul. We just thought we were enjoying some fresh air, some sunshine, some good company and some fine views.

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A Culture Is No Better Than Its Woods

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!

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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.

Treats In Store

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*

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