Canoeing on the Dordogne.

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One given of our trip to France was that it would include some canoeing on the two rivers we would be staying close to. This is something Andy has done on his previous trips and promised to be a real highlight of the holiday. In the event, the whole trip was great and it’s quite difficult to choose a favourite part, but the canoeing certainly didn’t disappoint.

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Actually, this spot, featured in the first three photos, is a strong contender for favourite for me. This was the same day that Andy and I had walked, in clearing mist, to the bakery together, and, whilst we were there, we found a canoe hire place and booked four three-man boats. Later, we were all back in Castelnaud for a bus ride to our start point, near a village called Vitrac if I remember correctly. This shingle bank was the first of many places along the river where we stopped for a cooling swim and the warm honey-coloured rocks, the incredibly clear water and the numerous fish we saw made it very memorable. We watched a couple of fish which were really quite large. I think they were Barbel, although any opinion I give about fish must be taken with a huge pinch of salt. One of them was persistently shadowed by a much smaller, stripy fish – a perch perhaps? Although, why a perch would trail alongside a much bigger fish I don’t know.

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The river was quite fast flowing here and we found it best to swim downstream and then walk back up before heading back down again.

This…

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…is another one of our stops. The river was even more powerful here, but the main current was on the far bank, under towering limestone cliffs. On our side the water was heavily silted and very warm.

The Dordogne was generally very warm. When we stopped at Castlenaud Andy and I had a memorable demonstration of just how warm whilst the others went off into the village for ice-creams.

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We swam upstream to the mouth of the Céou. The water flowing into the Dordogne from the Céou felt positively icy and the Dordogne like bath-water by comparison. It was a strange experience, since you could swim through alternate pockets of warm and cold water.

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The mouth of the Céou is just about dead-centre of the panorama below.

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From Castelnaud we paddled on, to eventually stop between Beynac and Les Milandes. I think there was some talk of the whole route being 16km. Regardless of how far it was, I know that I was very weary that night on the campsite. Missing from my photographs and description is some of the spectacular scenery we canoed past: Beynac was stunning and Roque Gageac even more so, but I didn’t have my camera with me, relying on my phone which, most of the time, stayed safely inside the watertight plastic barrel which had been provided. Andy has a waterproof camera and has more and better photographs, so I’m looking forward to his post of this trip on his own blog.

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Canoeing on the Dordogne.

At Swim Two Becks

Skelwith Bridge – Elter Water – Elterwater – Little Langdale – Slater Bridge – Stang End – Skelwith Bridge.

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Continuing the theme of my last post – novelty versus familiarity – this is a route I’ve walked countless times over the years, but this iteration was unlike any previous version. It was late afternoon, after work, but still very hot. Skelwith Force was a bit of a misnomer for the normally thunderous waterfall, now relatively tame. I was heading for this large pool in the River Brathay.

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Purple Loosestrife.

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Purple Loosestrife – Emily – is this what’s in your garden?

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Before I got to this point in the river, I was examining another clump of Purple Loosestrife when this Shield Bug landed on my hand and then on the path. I think it’s a Bronze Shieldbug, but I’m not entirely confident.

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Harebell.

Anyway, the reason I’d strayed slightly from the path and stuck to the riverbank, was that I was looking for a place for a swim. This looked perfect…

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And it was! The water was deep and quite warm, but cool enough to be refreshing. It was almost immediately deep, straight from the bank, but I found a place where I thought I could ease myself in, except that the riverbed was so slippery that I lost my footing, both feet sliding out from under me, and fell in anyway. It was a beautiful spot for a swim, with stunning views and a host of damselflies and dragonflies keeping me company.

A short walk upstream, past what looked like another ideal place for swimming, brought me to Elter Water…

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The lake, not the village. I’d had an idea that I might swim here too, but, as you can see, the water was very shallow close in and further out I thought I could see a great deal of weed, which I found a bit off-putting; I decided to bide my time.

If I wasn’t swimming, there were plenty of fish that were…

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I still had my wet-shoes on and paddled into the water to take some photos. The fish weren’t very frightened of me…

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I changed back into shoes more suited for walking, but retained my rapidly drying trunks; I had plans for more swimming.

In fact, before I’d left for this part of the Lakes, I’d been poring over the map, looking at blue bits which promised the possibility of a swim. As is often the case, I’d got carried away and had identified numerous potential spots and was toying with the idea of linking them together in an extended walking and swimming journey reminiscent of the central character’s trip in the film and John Cheever short-story ‘The Swimmer’, with your’s truly in the muscular Burt Lancaster role, obviously.

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Small Tortoiseshell butterflies. I saw, and photographed, loads of them.

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Silver-Y Moth. I saw lots of these too, but they were very elusive to photograph.

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Lots of Harebells too!

The short climb from the village of Elterwater over to Little Langdale was hot and sticky work, but brought the reward of views of Little Langdale Tarn and the Coniston Fells…

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This…

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…is the River Brathay again, flowing out of Little Langdale Tarn.

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Slater Bridge.

I thought that this pool…

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…just downstream of Slater Bridge, might have swimming potential, but couldn’t be sure that it was deep enough, so wanted to check the pool I’d seen before, back toward Little Langdale Tarn.

The ground beside the river, even after our long dry spell, was still quite spongy and full of typical wet, heathland vegetation, including lots of Heath Spotted-orchids.

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Good to have an opportunity to compare these with its close relative Common Spotted-orchid which I’ve photographed around home recently.

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This pool turned out to be ideal again. I dug my stove out of my bag, to make a cup of tea ready for when I’d had a swim. Whilst I was busy, a dragonfly landed on a nearby boulder. I grabbed my camera, but the photograph came out horribly blurred.  It does show a dragonfly which is exactly the same pale blue as a male Broad-bodied Chaser, but with a much narrower abdomen, making it either a male Black-tailed Skimmer or a male Keeled Skimmer, probably the latter, based on the distribution maps in my Field Guide, which makes it a first for me.

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White Water-lily – the largest flower indigenous to Britain, but it closes and slowly withdraws into the water each day after midday.

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Yellow Water-lily.

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Once again, the water was deep right to the bank, but somebody had piled up rocks under the water to make it easier to get in and out. The water here was colder than it had been further downstream, quite bracing even, somewhat to my surprise. I enjoyed this swim even more than the first. The low sun was catching the Bog Cotton on the bank…

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…and was also making reflected ripple patterns on the peaty exposed bank, which were stunning, but which I can’t show you because they were only visible from the water. In addition, the Bog Myrtle bushes growing along the bank were giving off a lovely earthy, musky fragrance.

It was eight o’clock by now, and I expected to have the river to myself, but a couple arrived for a swim and once they were changed and in the water, I got out to enjoy my cup of tea.

Returning to Slater Bridge…

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I watched two large dragonflies rapidly touring the area. They were so fast that my efforts to take photographs were doomed to failure. I thought that they were Golden-ringed Dragonflies, like the ones I saw mating near to Fox’s Pulpit last summer. At one point, one of them repeatedly landed momentarily on the surface of the water, or rather splashed onto the surface, making a ripple, and then instantly flew on again, only to almost immediately repeat the procedure. I have no idea what purpose this behaviour served. It was very odd.

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I still had a fair way to go to get back to the car, but also the last of the light to enjoy whilst I walked it.

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The post’s title is meant to be a punning reference to ‘At Swim Two Birds’, Flann O’Brien’s wonderfully nutty book, which some people claim is even better than his ‘The Third Policeman’. I probably should reread them both to see what I think now, after a break of a few years; if the house weren’t stuffed to the rafters with books I haven’t ever read, I would set about that task tomorrow. ‘At Swim Two Becks’ seemed appropriate when I thought I had swum in Great Langdale Beck and Greenburn Beck and before I had examined the map again and realised that in fact I’d swum in two different stretches of the River Brathay.

Of course, Heraclitus, whom I am fond of quoting, tells us that you can never step into the same river twice. You can, however, walk the same route twice, but it will never be the same each time. Previous blog-posts of much the same route, none of which involve swimming, Burt Lancaster, John Cheever or the novels of Flann O’Brien:

A walk with my Mum and Dad.

A walk with TBH.

A snowy walk with friends

A more recent walk with different friends.

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At Swim Two Becks

Perch in Lancaster Canal

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For reasons too tedious to go into, after work one afternoon I needed to leave my car on Aldcliffe Road and walk across town to Caton Road. It was frankly, a bit too hot for my liking, especially since I was still in my work clothes, but it did give the compensation of a walk along the canal. Now, I’ve walked along this stretch of water many, many times over the last twenty years, but I’ve never before had the impression that it was particularly densely populated with fish. On this occasion, however, it was blatantly teeming with them.

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This photo doesn’t really capture it, but shoals of them were just below the surface, spreading ripples across the canal. I could see they they were striped, with a greenish, orangey tinge, so I assume that they were Perch.

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Red Valerian again. Native to the mediterranean, it has been naturalised in the UK for centuries.

In the old wharves, opposite the Water Witch pub, there were, if anything, even more fish, but much smaller ones.

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Whether these were simply shoals of smaller Perch, or something else entirely, I couldn’t say.

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They could be though, since apparently Perch spawn in shallow water in spring. I can’t recall ever seeing anyone fishing this stretch of water, which is curious since…

Perch flesh makes exceptionally good eating. Adjectives that have been used to describe their flesh include white, firm, flaky, and most importantly, boneless and well-flavoured. On the continent perch are farmed and eaten in large numbers. Indeed, in Finland perch is the third most important fish by weight, after herring and sprats.

Perch also make good sport. On a summer’s evening the smaller perch can be seen queuing up to take the bait – perfect angling for beginners – while the larger, solitary individuals are sufficiently secretive and wary to make a specimen hunters life interesting. Although no where near the size of a decent pike or salmon, a large perch is a stunning animal. The Scottish rod record stands at 4lb 14oz (2.21 kg), but bigger perch undoubtedly swim in Scottish waters.

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I was tickled, in this passage, by the image of the Perch forming an orderly queue to take the bait. How very British.

Perch in Lancaster Canal

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…

Turnstones on Roa Island

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Male Eider.

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Turnstone (non-breeding plumage).

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Edible Crab.

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Sea Spider.

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Butterfish.

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Broad-clawed Porcelain Crab.

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Chiton (possibly Lepidochitona cinerea).

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Starfish…

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…walking.

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Snot?

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Herring Gull.

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Juvenile Herring Gull (probably).

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Roa Island just keeps on giving and giving. Every visit throws up something new. This time both the wind and the water were perishingly cold and we didn’t find quite the same abundance as usual. Apart, that is, from B, who has an eagle eye for these things. Sea Spiders and Chitons are both new to me. Sea Spiders aren’t actually spiders, but do have an extraordinary resemblance, whilst Chitons are molluscs with eight overlapping plates. A found the Chiton – when she pointed it out in a shallow pool I assumed that what she’d seen was just a fragment of a seashell.

Whilst the others retired to the shelter of the car to eat their packed tea, I wandered back down to the end of the jetty and tried to capture images of flying gulls. Slightly quixotic behaviour, since the light was fading, and the gulls raced past downwind, but they were relatively stately when they flew back upwind so it wasn’t impossible.

Many of the stones we overturned were covered in eggs (or roe) of some kind. The roe, in turn, was often covered in Whelks. I couldn’t decided whether the Whelks were laying eggs or eating them. Several stones also had blobs of creamy white or emerald green…well, we’ve christened it ‘snot’, for want of any more accurate knowledge.

No doubt, we’ll be back again sometime this summer.

Turnstones on Roa Island

Strawberry Dahlia Anemone

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Green Shore Crab.

Another one of our sporadic visits to Roa Island occasioned by a relatively low tide falling on a Saturday when we were all free.

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Roa Island Lifeboat Station and Piel Island.

I’ve reported before that every overturned rock on Roa Island reveals hordes of Shore Crabs. This crab wasn’t even bothering to hide…

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Although in amongst the rocks and shells it was actually surprisingly difficult to spot.

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Sponge. Myxilla incrustans?

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Butterfish.

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We caught numerous Shannies and Butterfish.

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Shanny.

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Starfish.

And found lots of Starfish and Brittlestars.

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This is my favourite photo from the day, but also something of a conundrum: the banded tentacles are a distinctive feature of the Dahlia Anemone, whilst the red, spotted body is characteristic of the Strawberry Anemone. So this must be a Strawberry Dahlia Anemone?

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Sponge. Estuary Sponge?

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Long-clawed porcelain crab. I think.

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Common Brittlestar.

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Ophiocomina nigra – the Black Brittlestar. Possibly.

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Four-horned Spider Crab.

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As the tide reached it’s lowest point and some areas of seaweed were revealed, we were able to find lots of small spider crabs, I suspect of several different species. What a lot of these small spider crabs have in common is the way in which they decorate themselves with bits of weed or seashells. Also the fact that they are hard to hold still to photograph, unlike their surprisingly docile larger cousins…

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Edible Crab.

Something I think I’ve only really fully appreciated since we started to visit Roa Island is the fact that really low tides will always be at around sunset…

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(..or too early in the morning for us to have made it around the Bay to Roa!)

 

Strawberry Dahlia Anemone

Winging in the Blossoming

Clark’s Lot – Woodwell – Jack Scout.

If you go down to Woodwell today be sure of a big surprise. The pond has silted up quite considerably, and at one end the water is very shallow, and in that shallow water there must be thousands of tiny fish…

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Every attempted photo of a fish was later revealed to be a group shot. It was teeming. My best guess is that these are Three-Spined Sticklebacks, like the ones I used to catch in the brook with a bucket when I was a boy.

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Great tit (and emerging ash flowers).

The wind was in the North, and pretty icy, but the sun was shining and if you could find a sheltered spot it actually felt warm for a change.

– it’s april(yes, april;my darling)it’s spring!
yes the pretty birds frolic as spry as can fly
yes the little fish gambol as glad as can be

The agility of Blue Tits never ceases to amaze; this one…

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…was acrobatically hanging upside down whilst worrying the edge of a decaying piece of bark. Apparently they eat mostly caterpillars. I don’t know whether there were any beneath that flake of bark. I hope so.

Chiff-chaffs are generally much easier to hear than to see, as they often sing their distinctive song from the very tops of tall trees. But Jack Scout doesn’t have many tall trees, specialising instead in thickets of prickly things like gorse, brambles, holly, hawthorn and blackthorn. So this chap was chanting his name from a prominent, but relatively low, branch…

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…before dropping down into the brambles…

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…to play hide-and-seek in the way that two-year-old children do: ‘I can’t see you therefore I’m hidden’.

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This Bullfinch looks like it’s escaped from the set of the Angry Birds movie.

A brief glimpse of two butterflies circling, spiralling, dancing together, took me over towards the boundary wall, away from the cliff, the bay and the cold wind. Of course, when I reached the spot where the butterflies had been, they were long gone. I did eventually see one again…

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But here beneath the wall it was like I’d walked in from a winter’s day to a centrally-heated room. The contrast in temperature was quite astonishing. And, almost immediately, there were other things to look at.

I’ve been puzzled this spring by the behaviour of Bumblebees. There are lots of them about and they are all very busy, but none of them seem ever to be feeding. What are they up to?

This one…

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…buzzed over, landed on some moss, and then apparently did nothing.

I was photographing the Primroses, when I became peripherally aware of something strange flying across the clump.

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It was a tawny orange and looked something like a bee, but clearly wasn’t a bee. What’s more, it had thin, black, scalloped-edge wings which were perpetually in rapid motion, flickering back and forth and giving the impression of some bizarre bee/bat hybrid hovering over the primroses.

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Some moths imitate bees in appearance. So do many hoverflies. Even some bees impersonate other bee species. But this didn’t look even remotely like a hoverfly. Nor particularly like a moth. A second appeared…

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The curious, black, improbably thin, bat-like wings were revealed to be actually just the top edge of larger wings. And the hovering was an illusion created by the constant trembling palpitation of those wings.

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These are Bee-Flies.

The furry brown body and the long proboscis, together with the dark brown front edges of the wings make this fly very easy to recognise…Although appearing to hover while feeding, it usually clings to the flowers with its spindly legs. The larvae live as parasitoids in the nests of mining bees.

from Collins Complete British Insects by Michael Chinery

A parasitoid, I learn, differs from a parasite in that it will eventually kill or paralyse its host and then eat it. A slightly gruesome creature then, but fascinating just the same. What’s more, the presence of these flies surely indicates that their hosts can’t be too far away, and after being captivated by a Tawny Mining Bee last year, I’d love to find them closer to home. Actually, I have seen one closer to home, feeding on Blackthorn blossom…

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last spring.

My attempts to get to grips with birdsong have not been a massive success, but sometimes knowing that you don’t know can even pay dividends. (I’m in danger of slipping into Rumsfeldisms here if I’m not careful.) I could hear a bird singing from a very tall ash. I was fairly confident that it wasn’t a Robin, or any kind of Tit or Finch, and obviously not a Thrush or a Blackbird, nor a Nuthatch, which I seem to have recently become reasonably confident about picking out. Quite a musical song, I thought…

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…and there it was, way up in the blue, a Dunnock! I had no idea that they could sing like that.

(The RSPB page on Dunnocks has a handy sound file.)

So, alright, it’s a Dunnock. We get them in the garden, mostly on the ground under the hedges. You could maybe accuse it of being a bit drab. But I was thrilled to spy it way up there in the very tallest tree, proclaiming it’s territory.

(all the merry little birds are
flying in the floating in the
very spirits singing in
are winging in the blossoming)

All of the unattributed quotes are from e.e.cummings. Inevitably. Illimitably.

Winging in the Blossoming