Up with the Warblers, Herons, Harriers…

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I had set my alarm for an early start, or to put it another way, I left the curtains open, which never fails. A quick cuppa and then I was out, the early sun lighting the clouds in the eastern sky from below, but not yet visible above the horizon. (At this latitude, and this time of year, that does require a bit of a sacrifice of potential sleeping hours.)

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Everything was freighted with pearls of dew and down towards Hawes Water a cloud of mist hung over the trees. I climbed up into Eaves Wood, hoping that the extra height would give me a good view over the low cloud.

With the trees in the wood now fully clad with leaves, the views weren’t as clear as they were after my last early start, but the mist was glowing pink with the early light, so churlish really to complain.

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The mist from Eaves Wood – Ingleborough on the right.

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Cobweb, Sixteen Buoys field.

The mist was more dense than last time. A pale white disc appeared though the murk and then gradually brightened, suffusing the fog with colour as it simultaneously burned it off.

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In the wildflower meadow beyond the lake, the grass was strung with gossamer, which was in turn bedecked with dewdrops.

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I suppose this mass of spider’s webs must always be here, at least at this time of year, but usually goes unnoticed without the coat of sunlit drops to illuminate it.

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It looked likely that anyone who had opted to watch the sunrise from Arnside Knott would also have been treated to a temperature inversion. I don’t suppose that Brocken spectres are a common sight from the Knott.

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In the trees on Yealand Allotment, I had more cheering, but slightly frustrating encounters with families of Marsh Tits and Great Tits; I have lots of photographs showing birds partially obscured by leaves. I did eventually locate a tree-top Chiff-chaff, which was singing it’s name as ever. I also saw a couple of Fallow Deer again, although they too were too veiled by leaves for me to get a very clear photo.

This big, old Horse Chestnut by a gate into Leighton Moss is a favourite of mine.

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We drive past it every weekday morning and I was alarmed to notice, last week, that its large limbs have all been lopped off. I hope that isn’t a precursor to chopping the whole tree down.

This tiny Sedge Warbler, probably weighing about 10g…

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…was singing with great gusto and astonishing volume.

“…exuberant song, full of mimicry, seldom repeating itself, suddenly halting, then tearing off again, always sounding vaguely irritated.”

from The Complete Book of British Birds

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Yellow Iris.

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On this occasion, I had Lower Hide all to myself. Aside from the Greylag Geese and a lone Moorhen, there didn’t seem to be much to see. But with a couple of windows open I could hear warblers on every side. I kept getting brief, occasional views in amongst the reeds, but it didn’t seem likely that I would get a better view than that, until, just as I was thinking of moving on, a pair of birds landed in the reeds right in front of the hide…

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They were Reed Warblers. Like other warblers, migrants from warmer climes. Paler than their close cousin the Sedge Warbler and less yellow than a Chiff-Chaff.

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They shuffled between the reed tops, the nearby bush…

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…and down deeper among the reeds…

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They would fly off for a while, or disappear into the reeds, but eventually they would reappear. Maybe they were building a nest?

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As I reached the Causeway path and looked out into the fields towards Grisedale Farm, I was lucky enough to spot these deer.

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My immediate thought was that they must be Red Deer, because they seemed relatively large, but then I began to doubt myself; if they were Red Deer, why weren’t they in a large group, which is how I’ve usually encountered them locally? Maybe they were Roe Deer and I was mistaken about their size? After the fact, I’ve realised that I should have had the courage of my convictions. Roe Deer bucks have mature antlers at present, whereas Red Deer stags have new antlers, covered in velvet.

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Dog Rose

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Another warbler

Where the causeway crosses a small bridge I always pause to take a look around.

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And to peer into the water…

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Common Backswimmer (I think)

I was astonished by these tiny red mites…

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…so small that I wondered at first if they were inanimate particles undergoing some sort of Brownian motion. But they have little legs, so clearly not.

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From the Public Hide, I took no end of photos of this Heron…

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…which was feeling very chilled, in no hurry at all, and quite happy to pose. Perhaps predictably, it’s the very first photo I took which I prefer from the entire selection.

Although it was probably still what most people would consider to be indecently early to even be up on a Saturday morning, there were quite a few people about now. Birdwatchers are an ascetic bunch; up with the lark and all that. A chap and his daughter (I assumed) had spotted this warbler…

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…which was singing from the reeds. He asked me if I knew what it was. At first I demurred from offering an opinion. Then said that it was a warbler, probably a Reed or Sedge Warbler. I don’t know why I’m so reticent in these sort of circumstances; I’m usually not short of an opinion, or shy about sharing my views. It’s a Reed Warbler. (And even now I’m fighting the temptation to hedge my bets with a ‘probably’ or ‘I think’). Not only does it look like a Reed Warbler, but it sang like a Reed Warbler. Reed and Sedge Warbler’s have similar songs, and it comes as something of a surprise to me to realise that I could tell the difference, at least on that Saturday morning, having already heard both species singing when I could see them clearly as they sang.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a huge variety of wildlife as I have this spring, but then I know I’ve never before made such an effort to get outside to have the opportunity to have encounters. Reed Buntings are a good case in point: I’ve seen far more this year then I’ve previously seen in total.

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Male Red Bunting.

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Yellow Iris with Tree Bumblebee (?)

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Marsh Harrier.

There’s more water to peer in to at the pond-dipping area.

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Pond-Skaters

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View from the Skytower.

This bumblebee…

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…was stock-still, apparently frozen in position.

Whilst I was taking the photo, several of her sister Early Bumblebees arrived to forage…

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But she stayed completely motionless.

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My theory is that, on cold nights, like many we’ve had of late, bumble-bees get benighted, too cold to continue, so they have no option but to stay where they are, effectively asleep until at least the following day, when the sun warms them sufficiently to get them mobile again..

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Ragged Robin in Lambert’s Meadow

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Early Bumblebees again (I think).

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Female Broad-bodied Chaser

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Episyrphus alteatus (?).

All that and still back in time for a latish breakfast. It had been slowish progress however: roughly four hours for a route which I know I can complete in two and a half. Sometimes, taking your own sweet time really pays off.

Up with the Warblers, Herons, Harriers…

Serendipty Squared

Eaves Wood – Hawes Water – Gait Barrows – Coldwell Meadows – Coldwell Limeworks – Silverdale Moss – Hawes Water – Eaves Wood

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By rights, this post should have been an account of a walk from the Leck Fell Road taking in Coum Hill and Gragareth via Ease Gill. I had it all planned: I drove as far as Cowan Bridge, but the car was playing up, unexpectedly losing power without warning or any apparent reason; so, reluctantly, I drove home – with some difficulty – left the car outside the local garage, and walked home through the village. Later, I decided to cut my losses by heading out for a local wander.

The previous week, when I’d been in Eaves Wood looking for Cuddlytoy-Makeshift -Orienteering-Controls, I was distracted by a proper hullabaloo issuing from a Birch tree which was listing from the perpendicular. I recognised the commotion as the distinctive uproar of a Woodpecker nest, with what sounded like several chicks demanding food. I scanned the tree and soon found the hole in the trunk which housed the nest. I watched for a while, but whilst both parent birds approached, they became agitated and wouldn’t visit the nest under the glare of my attention, so I left them to it. Now I was back. I could only hear one young bird this time, but it was making-up for having to perform solo by protesting its extreme hunger with remarkable vigour.

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I assumed that the other chicks had fledged and that this one would be on the point of leaving too, but I was back there a few days later, with some old friends, and the single chick was still there, and still every bit as volubly voracious. We watched it poking its head through that porthole and clammering for sustenance. This morning, however, I was back again and all was finally quiet.

Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself.

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Amongst the Buttercups near Hawes Water there were many Rabbits, a couple of them black. Escaped pets or the descendants of escapees?

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Blue-tailed Damselflies.

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This…

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…has me stumped. It may be a teneral damselfly, that is, a recently emerged adult which doesn’t yet have its adult colouration.

In Eaves Wood I’d seen many Squirrels. It occurred to me that, although they are always about, there are times of the year, this being one of them, when Squirrels are more active and therefore more evident. I was also thinking about a Squirrels drey and the fact that, whilst in theory I know that Squirrels live in a nest made of sticks, I”d never actually seen one before.

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Ironic then, that when I watched this Squirrel, it climbed up a Scots Pine to…

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…a drey!

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Bird’s-eye Primrose.

I was intrigued by a loud tearing sound in the reeds at the edge of the lake and went to investigate the cause. I was very surprised to find that the culprit was this little Blue Tit…

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Yellow Rattle.

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Because I find Orchids very difficult to identify, but also absolutely fascinating, I’ve long wanted a field guide dedicated solely to them. Usually, if I wait long enough, the Oxfam bookshop in Lancaster will fulfil my needs and this winter that’s exactly what happened. So I am now the proud owner of ‘A Guide to the Wild Orchids of Great Britain and Ireland’ by David Lang and have become an expert.

‘Yeah right’, as A would say. This looks to me very, very like Northern Marsh Orchid, especially the majaliformis sub-species. Except, this was growing in a relatively well-drained meadow, not a marsh, and the sub-species is only found within 100 metres of the coast, and this meadow is a little further than that from the Bay.

As is often the case, I didn’t have an exact route in mind; I’d thought of going to take another gander at the Lady’s-slipper Orchids, but chose instead to take another path through Gait Barrows – one that I knew would take me past several patches of…

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…Lily-of-the-Valley.

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It was getting late, but rather than doubling-back towards home, I took the track out of the nature reserve onto the road, without really knowing where I would go next. When I reached the road, I noticed a small notice attached to a gate almost opposite. It said something like “Welcome to Coldwell Meadows AONB Nature Reserve”. I decided to investigate.

Good choice! In the meadow, no doubt tempted by the lush, un-grazed grass, were a small herd of Fallow Deer…

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These are not a native species, and whilst I have seen feral deer in this area before, the last time I did so was quite a few years ago. I assume that these are more escapees, perhaps from the Deer park at Dallam?

I also saw a Marsh Harrier, and managed to get a photo, but not a very good one.

At the far side of the field from the road a small, and very tempting, gate gave on to woods. I thought I could guess where it would take me, and I was right: a short downhill stroll brought me to the ruined chimney of Coldwell Limeworks and from there it’s only a few strides to the footpath which runs along the edge of Silverdale Moss.

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I was gazing into the distant views of the setting sun and the meres of the Moss, when a crashing sound in the hedgerow focused my attention closer to hand. I couldn’t see anything in the hedge, but there in the long grass, just over the drystone wall….

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…a Roe Deer Buck. He watched me closely for a while, then barked in the eerie way they do, and bounded around the corner – the long vegetation seemingly necessitating a gait more like that of a bouncing gazelle than what I would normally associate with our own Deer.

After he’d rounded a corner and disappeared, another bark surprised me, and then a Doe, or at least, I think it was a Doe, jumped out of the grass, where she had been completely hidden, and also leapt away.

I waited a moment: there were still rustlings in the hedge. Sure enough, a third Deer appeared, quite a bit smaller than the other two…

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…but this one didn’t run away. Retreating rather in small stages, anxiously keeping an eye on me all the while and not really seeming to know quite what to do.

A bit of a puzzle this little group. I don’t think Roe Deer live in family groups and Roe Deer Kids are usually born between mid-May and mid-June, so the third Deer probably wasn’t new-born. But, on the other had, Bucks are territorial in the summer, with the rut running from mid-July to the end of August.

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The former Cloven Ash.

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With the light now very low, this might I suppose, have been enough excitement for one night, but back in Eaves Wood for the final leg of the walk, two different raptors slalomed impressively through the trees. One was a Buzzard…

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…the other, wasn’t a Buzzard, but apart from that I don’t really have any clue what it was.  Very fast and very agile between the tightly-spaced tree-trunks, it will have to remain a mystery.

Ease-gill and Gragareth are both very fine, and will wait for another walk. This last minute replacement worked out pretty well!

‘You can’t always get what you want,
But if you try sometimes, well you just might find,
You get what you need.’

Serendipty Squared

Bowland Bronzed

Castlebarrow – The Cove – The Lots – Spring Bank

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A very short walk this one, memorable for two reasons, firstly the perfect timing which saw me arrive by the Pepperpot just as the low sun burnished the Bowland Fells with a glorious bronze light.

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It was very fleeting, lasting long enough for me to take a couple of snaps, then it was gone. The photographs don’t begin to do it justice – the colour was amazing, I can’t think that I’ve ever seen anything quite like it.

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The second notable feature of the evening was the sunset, witnessed through April showers of snow and hail.

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I wouldn’t generally consider hail as ‘A Good Thing’ but this was surprisingly gentle and serene and quite out of the ordinary, so that I found myself enjoying it, despite my misgivings.

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Yet another sunset over Morecambe Bay, but somehow they are always a bit different.

Bowland Bronzed

Little and Often – Tuning In

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A cool, bright and sunny day, mostly spent at a Rugby tournament at Preston Grasshoppers.

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I was out early for a short walk, but not early enough to catch the clear skies with which the day began. Whilst I was drinking my kick-starting cup of tea, thin high cloud had appeared, spread and, particularly to the east, began to coalesce into a covering layer.

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A Drone Fly?

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This photo, taken from Castlebarrow, clearly shows the ‘sandier’ beach we’ve enjoyed of late along the Silverdale shoreline.

One consequence of my insistence on a daily wander (or two) seems to be that I am tuning in to my surroundings and beginning to pick-up on things I might otherwise have missed. As I came down off Castlebarrow I picked out the tchoo-tchoo of a Marsh Tit and have several poor photos to prove it. Likewise the thin contact calls of Goldcrests – I watched three of them hopping about in the dense foliage of a Yew, failing miserably to get a clear photo of any of them.

Of course, I have many wildlife encounters which fail to produce a photograph. I didn’t manage, for example, to catch the Blackbird which I watched chasing a Magpie above The Lots, apparently pecking at the larger bird’s tail-feathers. Also, I’ve seen Roe Deer in the woods several times of late, but either they have been away too quickly for me, or it’s been too dark to bother trying to photograph them, or I haven’t had my camera with me. (Increasingly, I leave it behind if it’s late and the sky is very gloomy).

I was without a camera recently when, in Eaves Wood, I spotted a Tawny Owl perched on a nearby branch. In fact, at first I didn’t see it, but just noticed that something was awry, out of the ordinary, and that I ought to look again, more closely. The owl’s plumage was extremely effective camouflage against the tangle of branches in the gloomy wood and it took a moment for the shapes to resolve themselves in my brain into an owl, which, due to the steepness of the slope was perched at my eye-level and not five yards away. We stared at each other for a long moment, and then, without ever having made a sound, the owl turned first its head, then its shoulders and then dropped silently from the tree and winged effortlessly away. Magic.

Little and Often – Tuning In

A Saturday Triptych – Fit the First.

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Last Saturday and an early start revealed the forecast clear skies and frost, which had brought a low lying mist, particularly, it seemed down towards Hawes Water. I thought I’d missed the sunrise, but in fact was out just in time to catch it. And when the sun duly gilded the southern flank of Eaves Wood I was induced to bend my steps that way.

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Eaves Wood.

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The Coronation Path.

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Honesty.

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Not a great photo, I know, but I was thrilled to see another Tree-Creeper so soon after my last encounter.

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The Ring O’Beeches.

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A Ruddock.

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Hawes Water mist.

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The rabbits were much more tame than usual. In fact, I felt like all the wildlife I saw was remarkably sanguine about my proximity.

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This is one of the many gap-stiles I’ve been firmly wedged in over the years. It’s particularly awkward because the ground is higher on the far side, but it’s getting easier!

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Hawes Water.

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A Warbler. A silent warbler, so I don’t know which flavour. There were lots of small birds about. In this spot a male Bullfinch was tantalising me with flashes of its scarlet belly from the far side of the hedge.

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Cowslips.

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Another gap-stile, the fat man’s agony. To be honest, this one still requires fair bit of wriggling. I suspect that I will never find it easy to manoeuvre through.

I found myself – I hadn’t planned it – following a new favourite route of my, from Hawes Water, through Yealand Allotment and ’round the back’ of Leighton Moss. I’ve never quite followed exactly this route before this year, but this was now the third time recently.

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This one was singing – a Chiff-chaff.

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Willow catkins.

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Very different Willow Catkins – there are several kinds of willow and it’s a bit of a blind spot for me – I shall have to work on it.

I’d arrived at the Lower Hide. I dithered momentarily – to go in or to continue toward home? Just a brief stop I decided. But then, there was already a birder in the hide, and as is so often the case, a chatty, knowledgeable and generous birder at that.

He told me about recent sightings – a Whitethroat on Walney Island, a Bittern at Martin Mere, and, just that morning, an Osprey perched on a log by the River Bela near Milnthorpe.

“The Cattle Egrets are over there at the back of the mere by the reeds, if you’re interested.”

A nice way to put it, implying as it did, that I was already up to speed about the presence of Cattle Egrets. I wasn’t, although I had been wondering about the cars I’d seen parked along Storrs Lane over the last week – now I knew why they’d been there, twitchers in all probability.

Needless to say, I was interested. I’d never seen Cattle Egrets before, and whilst they were only bright white specks in the distance, with the aid of the powerful zoom on the camera, I would soon have a good view of them and some photos to boot.

What a good time then, for the camera battery to go flat. I’m not sure I’ve ever let this happen before, or not since I bought this new camera with a rechargeable battery, well, not till now at least. I suppose I have been taking a lot of photos recently.

Then, just to rub salt into the wound, a male Marsh Harrier decided to perform a number of leisurely fly-pasts. And then something very strange started to happen. First it was a male Pheasant. It was stood by the path. When I approached, instead of running comically away, or noisily taking to the air squawking and flapping, it sat calmly preening itself, completely ignoring me, even when I was a yard away. Then a Great Tit dropped to a tree trunk beside the path and continued to feed until I was in touching distance. Not one, but three successive male Wrens – normally fast-moving birds, hard to photograph –  landed on prominent perches near to me and began to sing lustily. I felt almost invisible. When I saw a rather portly man with a very large camera jogging along the Causeway ahead of me, I knew, with a sinking feeling, that there would inevitably be a Bearded Tit on one of the grit trays. There was. And me with no working camera. It was a conspiracy – the birds were laughing at me!

Still, it had been a good walk, the sun was still shining, it was still very early. Time to head home for a cup of tea, a bit of a chat with the folks, a bit of pottering, put the ham on to boil, recharge the battery, and then out again…

A Saturday Triptych – Fit the First.

Walking and Gawking

Eaves Wood – The Row – Bottom’s Lane – The Green – Stankelt Lane – The Lots – The Cove – Elmslack Lane

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Cherry Blossom.

The forecast was poor, but the rain was meant to stop eventually, late in the afternoon. It didn’t, but then just when it seemed set in for the entire day it suddenly both stopped raining and brightened up, leaving dramatic dark skies to the east, but sunshine overhead.

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Honesty.

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I headed up the Coronation Path (bought in 1953 by the village to give access to Eaves Wood) knowing that I would gain height with a view of those glowering clouds.

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The sun was low filtering through the trees and lighting the new Beech leaves…

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From Castlebarrow, looking over the village, I could see the hills of the Forest of Bowland were still shrouded in a layer of cloud.

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But that it was slightly brighter out over the bay…

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A Robin was serenading me from the top of a Yew tree level with the crag…

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Beech leaves in a rut, Andy Goldsworthy style?

Most of these photos were taken in the early part of the walk. After that the light was generally too poor. When I’d asked TBH to lend me her phone so that I could monitor my mileage, A had very kindly offered me hers instead, but insisted that I use a different App which she assured me was ‘better’ in some unspecified way.

This turned out to mean that the phone, rather disconcertingly, announced aloud, every kilometre, my average speed, split times, distance etc. It took me a bit by surprise the first time, to be spoken to in an American accent whilst I was ostensibly alone in the woods. It was no real surprise, on the other hand, to discover that my speed increases significantly when I stop taking photos.

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After my almost obligatory visit to The Lots and The Cove I walked past a friend’s house and discovered him having a quiet smoke on his front step. Twenty minutes later as we sat chewing the fat over a cup of tea in his kitchen, A’s phone piped up to deliver very disappointing news about my current speed and split time.

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Must try harder obviously!

Walking and Gawking

Homework – About Silverdale

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The George Whittaker Memorial Park.

Little S has Easter holiday homework – to produce a leaflet about the village. His interpretation of that brief was to design a kind of promotional pamphlet: ‘Why You Should Come to Silverdale’. He asked me to accompany him around the village to take some photos to include. Obviously, I was more than happy to do that – this is the kind of homework I like to help with. As a preliminary, I asked him to first draw up a list of places he wanted to visit and a sensible route taking them in.

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It was interesting to see the village from his perspective and the places he chose as important.

Incidentally, the ‘Climbing Tree’…

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…wasn’t on his list, but fell conveniently between the Park and the Pepper Pot…

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…both of which were.

S thought it important to include some places where potential visitors might stay, so we called at Holgates Caravan Park…

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I’d decided that I would be on my best behaviour: I had a photographic assignment to fulfil and wouldn’t be wasting time pursuing my own agenda. But then this singing Goldfinch, just by Cove Road, dented my resolve…

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Our next port of call was The Cove where Little S was far more interested in the smelly cave and the opportunities for climbing on the rocks…

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Than in the view…

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Or any birdwatching prospects…

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Shelduck.

Meanwhile, any good intentions I’d harboured had sunk without trace, foundering on the luscious purple of these Violets…

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…and the surprise of Early Purple Orchids on the Lots…

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When a relatively pale and largish bird flew up from the field into a Horse Chestnut, B asked whether it could be a Kestrel. I must admit that the same idea had crossed my mind, but it was soon apparent that we were wrong. It was a Mistle Thrush…

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We were edging towards the tree, trying to get closer in order to get better photographs. When two Jackdaws landed nearby, I assumed that the Thrush would flee, but not a bit of it…

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More accommodation!

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Gibraltar Farm campsite.

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I noticed these flowers in a copse off Hollins Lane, near to the Wolfhouse Gallery. On a larger photograph (click on the photo to view on flickr) this is unmistakably Cardamine Bulbifera  – there are small black bulbils on the stems, which is how the plant spreads. It prefers calcareous soils, and in this region is probably a garden escapee, although it is endemic to the British Isles. It seems to have several common names: Coralroot, Coralroot Bittercress, Coral-wort.

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“There is a Flower, the lesser Celandine,
That shrinks, like many more, from cold and rain;
And, the first moment that the sun may shine,
Bright as the sun himself, ’tis out again!”

William Wordsworth

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This was a Celandine sort of day, starting dull but brightening up in the afternoon.

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The path up to the Clifftop.

There were other places on Little S’s list, but with the various distractions we were susceptible to, we’d already managed to make a modest walk of less than five miles drag out to around three hours. We decided to make do with what we’d got and head home for some tea.

Homework – About Silverdale