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.

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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

Oxburgh Hall

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Our last day in Norfolk. We were heading home in fact, but wanting to make the most of our opportunity, had decided to stop en route at Oxburgh Hall. Not that it was really on our homeward route, but in retrospect, it was well worth a bit of a diversion.

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There’s was lots to see. So much so that we didn’t get around to a walk around the extensive woods in the grounds.

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The house was interesting, both inside and out.

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You can possibly tell that it was the moat, and the views of the house across the moat which captivated me.

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I think the kids might pick their visit to the tight little priest hole as their highlight of the day. I deferred that pleasure for another visit – I had an unpleasant image of myself stoppering the entrance like Winnie the Pooh stuck in Rabbit’s hole with washing dangling from his legs.

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But, as I say, it was definitely the moat for me. It had a huge cast of attendant dragonflies and damselflies. Some of the dragonflies were of quite a size – I like to think that they were Emperor’s, but I’m only speculating. Other dragonflies were mating in flight, quite a curious thing to see. I took lots of photos, none of them even remotely successful. The damselflies were more accommodating, often settling on a lily pad…

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These are red-eyed damselflies, which are apparently very fond of lily pads, and who don’t venture as far north as Silverdale: always nice to spot something not found on our home-patch.

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The moat is fed by water diverted from the River Gadder and very clean and clear looking it is. And abundantly full of fish. I wondered whether it had been stocked.

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There seemed to be at least two sorts of fish swimming about. Smaller stripy ones swimming nearer the bottom of the moat…

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…not sure what these are. Perch are quite heavily striped, but they aren’t really small. The larger fish however…

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…with their red fins, I think are probably Roach.

Meanwhile this bundle of fluff looks drab enough to be a young Coot, except that the colour on its beak makes me suspect that it might actually be a Moorhen.

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The formal gardens were resplendent, not just with flowers, but also with butterflies and moths. I would have been flummoxed by this little, colourful moth – it isn’t in my field guide, but fortuitously I discovered that it is a Mint Moth when a picture was posted over at Quercus Community

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Peacock.

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We did manage a little wander down to a pleasant flower-filled meadow where there were many more butterflies and dragonflies. I think that these are both Common Darters, although I’m not at all confident with dragonflies.

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And I’m guessing, thanks to an informative comment in a previous post, that this…

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….is a Turkey Oak acorn.

I watched a little drama unfold whilst I was photographing the dragonflies. A ladybird ran along the top bar of the fence, straight into the clutches of one of the Darters…

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Both are predators, but I feared for the ladybird in a quarrel. However, the dragonfly seemed quite perturbed by the ladybird, and after a cursory examination allowed it to continue on its way.

Oxburgh Hall

Pond Life

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Most of the time the sea in the Bay is pretty placid. But once in a while we do get some waves. Here’s some evidence from one of our local walks with our American cousins.

On another local walk we visited Burtonwell Wood rift cave…

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The passage runs parallel to the cliff-face, and part way along there’s a spot where it’s possible to climb up to a ‘window’…

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From the cave we walked to Woodwell. We often visit, but this time we came prepared with nets and plastic tubs…

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The kids caught quite a variety of pond life. I think that this…

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…is probably a Three-Spined Stickleback. (But, as always, I stand ready to be corrected.)

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Pond Skaters.

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I’d call that upside down insect a Water Boatman, my field guide tells me that it is a Common Backswimmer (also know as a Water Boatman). The rather splendidly red snail is a Great Ramshorn (I think).

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This must be a Water Beetle, but I’m really not sure which kind.

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Here, the Water Boatman has a silvery sheen due to a trapped air bubble which it uses to enable it to breath.

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We were all fascinated by the contents of our tubs.

Well…almost all…

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Later that day we wandered into Eaves Wood for a bit of tree-climbing. Professor A can never resist joining the kids…

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Once again, B’s busted arm proved to be a great hindrance…

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Here we all are by the Pepper Pot…

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Pond Life

A Short Stroll Along The Shore

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With members of our little tribe now working or studying at four different schools we had a staggered back to school arrangement. The boys had a weeks more holiday left when I started back and had gone away to County Durham for some peace and quiet. (Peace and quiet for those of us left behind, obviously.)

On the Thursday afternoon, with the sun still beating down, TBH, A and I decided to get out for some fresh air. We didn’t go far. Just down to the Cove and then a little way along the shore.

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The ladies decided to cool their feet in the channel, whilst I took a closer look at this rockfall…

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Part of the charm of the outdoors is the way things change with the seasons and the weather and even the time of day. We’re well used to seeing the course of the channels in Morecambe Bay changing for example, we expect it, and the changes are frequent and sometimes quite dramatic, but I was bit taken-aback to find these large boulders and the matching scar where they had tumbled to the beach. The striking colour revealed is evidence of the haematite present, which was quarried nearby at Red Rake at the back of The Cove.

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Apparently, I was missing out on shoals of tiny fish which were hurrying about in the shallow channel.

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But there were bigger fish too, quite a few of them it seemed. We saw the splashes as they sprang from the water from time to time, and this heron..

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…seemed to be finding rich pickings, when we weren’t disturbing his fishing.

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I’ve cropped these already, they aren’t as sharp as I would like, but you can see a successful catch below.

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It really was all wonderfully peaceful and not solely because the Dangerous Brothers were away terrorising their grandparents.

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TBH and A headed home at this point, but I extended the saunter just a little by heading up Stankelt Road to Sharp’s Lot.

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There’s a wilding apple tree there which seems to produce a lot of fruit every year. Last year I was bit late in visiting it. This year I was too, although at least there was still some fruit on the tree.

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The apples are pretty tart, not as tooth-curlingly sharp as crab apples, but not really dessert apples. I imagine they’d be good for jam, but I’m only guessing really.

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This year seemed to be a bumper year for hazelnuts. Certainly, the large tree which hangs over the bottom corner of our garden was shedding large quantities of nuts for a few weeks. Although many of the shells held disappointingly small kernels when you cracked them.

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Acorn.

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Sloes.

Another autumn has passed without my fulfilling my regular promise to myself to make some sloe gin. I don’t like gin at all (something to do with drinking it in inappropriate measures in the dim and distant past, perhaps) but I do enjoy sloe gin. And I suppose that’s the problem – if I make some, I’ll only end up drinking it, which is probably not advisable.

A Short Stroll Along The Shore