All we have to do is look.

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How is it that we can have Roe Deer in our garden, even up near to the house, but I still get excited when I see one across a field, partially obscured by reeds? This one, incidentally, is male, unlike the two which were recently in our garden and seems to have lost it’s winter coat completely.

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How is it that I feel drawn to return to Gait Barrows every year to see the reintroduced Lady’s-slipper Orchids and photograph them yet again, even though it’s overcast and the photos won’t be as good as those I’ve taken before?

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Not that I’m complaining.

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I’m very lucky I suppose, that I never tire of the views over the Gait Barrows limestone pavements. Or of our ever changing skies.

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Or Rowan flowers.

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‘You can’t see Venice twice for the first time,’ Mirabel said. After the first excitement of newness, will there always be the same enchantment every year, watching the rose buds open, the irises unfurl? It’s the challenge that faces us all at some point, and which faces me now, twenty years on from the beginning of the garden. And it’s true: you can change the colour of your tulips, you can forswear roses in favour of dahlias, you can even move house and make a new garden, but you can never leave yourself behind. For it is the eye which becomes jaded – the mind, not its object. Even for Traherne it was a struggle to retain that freshness of vision, to protect it from the eroding sea of experience. As he constantly reminded himself, ‘I must become a child again.’ But even if we cannot see all anew each year, we can each time strive to see it deeper, differently: the experience can be enriched not impoverished. A rose at forty or at eighty means something different from a rose at twenty; we naturally bring to it more associations, whether personal or literary or historical, more ‘back story’. And if we can’t see Venice twice for the first time, neither can we step into the same river twice – the world is perpetually changing, renewing itself. See how different a single rose, a single petal can be, not only every year, but every day, and every hour of every day, as the world turns around it – in all weathers, in every season, bud and bloom, calyx and corolla. All we have to do is look.”

Katherine Swift The Morville Hours.

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Traherne is Thomas the seventeenth century poet, Mirabel is Mirabel Osler who writes, like Swift, about gardening. I’ll probably have more to say about ‘The Morville Hours’ at some point, but for now, suffice to say that it is an excellent read, and I’m not an enthusiastic gardener.

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Ear Fungus.

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And all we need to do is look.

That being said, I’m happy to stick with just looking. Any additional interaction is generally unwelcome.

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I wasn’t overly struck with the attentions of these six ponies. Admittedly, they were pretty docile, just following me across the field.

But the calves in the next field ran after me. Now, of course, here in front of my computer I can see that they were inquisitive, gambolling playfully perhaps, and not ravening beasts braying for blood after all.

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Anyway, there were only five of them. And I reached the stile before they made it across the field.

In the next field, there were more like thirty. It was a large field and I felt quite uncomfortable walking across it with all of them behind me. Could they tell that I’d had roast beef for my tea? I only stopped to take a photo once there was a wall between them and me.

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Since this is not something which usually happens to me, four times in one week seems like more than just a coincidence. I shall have to assume that either I have suddenly started to emit some sort of ‘hunter-gatherer’ pheromone which is inducing this behaviour, or that it’s a spring-time, fading-light instinct particular to this season in herding animals. The latter seems more plausible.

All we have to do is look.

In Praise of Limestone

Castlebarrow – Waterslack – Hawes Water – Gait Barrows – Silverdale Moss – Hazelslack – Beetham Fell – Beetham – Dallam Deer Park – Milnthorpe – River Bela – Sandside Cutting – Kent Estuary – Arnside – Arnside Knott – Heathwaite – Holgates

This could have been ‘A Snowdrop Walk’ but I think I’ve already had at least one of those in the last nine hundred posts (the last one was number 900, I now realise). It might also have been ‘The Ruined Cottages Walk’ since I passed three ramshackle buildings, generally not too far from where the snowdrops were.

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Before I departed, I’d already been for a wander to the Co-op to pick up croissants, rolls and eggs for everybody else’s breakfast. After a second, leisurely cup of tea, I set-off at around ten and was soon at the edge of Eaves Wood, by a substantial patch of snowdrops, donning a coat as it began to first rain and then hail.

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It had been sunny only moments before and I decided to head up to Castlebarrow – not part of my original plan – to get a higher viewpoint. Just short of the top, I disturbed a Buzzard which flapped lazily out of a tall standard left in an area which had otherwise been cleared of trees.

When I reached Castlebarrow and the Pepperpot…

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…it had stopped raining, but it looked like Lancaster was probably getting a hammering.

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The weather seemed idyllic again when I reached Hawes Water.

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Another pair of Buzzards were circling overhead, but by the time I had dug my camera out of my rucksack, they had disappeared behind the trees. I would hear the plaintive kew of Buzzards several more times during the walk, but this was the last time I saw any. Nor did I see the Sparrow-hawk which I saw here last week and forgot to mention in the appropriate post.

Having stopped to look though, I now realised that atop one of the trees down by the reed fringed shore of the lake…

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…perched a Cormorant. I’ve seen them here before and they’re hardly uncommon on the Bay, so perhaps I shouldn’t be so surprised (and delighted) to find one here.

In the woods there was a Nuthatch and a Treecreeper, both too elusive for me and my camera. And of course…

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…more snowdrops.

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Looking back across Hawes Water to Challan Hall. (The Cormorant was still on its high perch).

By the bench on the boardwalks near the lake another walker had stopped for a breather. He had company…

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Although I was heading for Beetham Fell, I didn’t feel any need for urgency and took a detour across the meadow, by the hedge…

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…wondering about the very tall cloud above the Gait Barrows woods, and whether it might be an ill omen, weatherwise…

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I was heading for the Gait Barrows limestone pavements…

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It’s not all that far from there to Silverdale moss, but you can see that in the meantime, the weather had taken another turn for the worse…

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The Cloven Ash.

It was pretty gloomy, but I could pick out a few Greylag, one of them clearly sitting on a nest, also a distant white bird, probably a Little Egret, and what I could identify, with the aid of the camera, as a male Golden Eye.

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I turned to take some photos of these King Alfred’s Cakes on some logs left from the demise of the Cloven Ash and, as I did, it began to hail, soon quite ferociously.

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I pulled my coat back on again, and then turned back to the Moss, because the nesting Greylag was clearly upset about something and was honking vociferously. A Marsh Harrier was quartering the reeds, at one point dropping and spiralling down to a spot very close to the excited goose.

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It was gloomy and chucking it down, so none of my photos came out brilliantly, but it was fantastic to watch.

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Fortunately, the rotten weather didn’t last too long, and soon I was shedding layers for the long climb from Hazelslack to the top of Beetham Fell.

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Arnside Knott, Kent Estuary and Hampsfell from Beetham Fell.

Last Easter, when A and I came through this way on our walk to Keswick, we noticed a huge area of Snowdrop leaves, though the flowers had long since finished. I decided then that I would be back this February to take another look.

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I think that this was the largest single patch, but the Snowdrops extend over quite a large area.

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The climb from the outskirts of Beetham uphill to Dallam Deer Park was hard work because the ground was super-saturated, a bit like your average Highland hillside. I think it was mainly due to the extent that the ground had been trampled by the sheep in the field, because once I crossed the ha-ha wall into the Park the going got much firmer.

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Dallam Deer Park, the River Bela and Milnthorpe.

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Farleton Fell.

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The Deer.

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This unusual building…

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…is a shelter for the deer.

From Milnthorpe I turned to follow the Bela, first across the park and then out to where it meets the Kent on the latter’s estuary.

In the park, a single Canada Goose joined a flotilla of ducks, mostly mallards but with a group of four diving ducks amongst them, the males black and white, the females a dull brown: tufted ducks.

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River Bela and Whitbarrow Scar.

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Greylag Goose.

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A little further along, on the Kent, a group of six small fluffy diving ducks gave me pause. Even with the powerful zoom of the camera I struggled to get decent photos, but I think that these are Dabchicks: Little Grebes.

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I was a little torn here: I had wanted to climb Haverbrack, but I also wanted to include Arnside Knott and didn’t think I had time for both. In the end, I decided to walk along the embankment (an old railway line, a Beeching casualty) which follows the Kent Estuary. The walk was delightful, but a low blanket of cloud was flattening the light so I didn’t take any pictures for a while.

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Silverdale Moss from Arnside Knott. A snow dusted Ingleborough in the background.

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In Praise of Limestone

A Feast of Flora and Fauna

The Row – Challan Hall – Haweswater – Gait Barrows Circuit – Moss Lane – The Row

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A beautiful sunny afternoon stroll with TBH. The boys were trampolining in Morecambe, thankfully without incident, A was otherwise occupied and so we were free for a quiet roam.

(A bit of a spoiler – Dad: there are photos coming up which you won’t appreciate.)

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Azure Damselfly.

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TBH spotted this little vole sitting by a field path. I think that it’s a Bank Vole rather than a Field Vole (but stand ready to be corrected).

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It was even less concerned by our presence than the Blackbird which featured in my last post. In fact, it was so bold that I wonder whether it’s devil-may-care attitude has subsequently got it into hot water. I took endless snaps and TBH eventually decided to see just how tame it was and bent down and stroked it’s back.

That got it moving, but perhaps not with the urgency we had expected and rather than making a beeline for the nearby hedge, it ran towards me, over my shoe, around my ankle and then we lost it in some longer grass.

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The wildflower meadow (where we saw the Vole).

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Gait Barrows Limestone Pavement.

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White-spotted Sable Moth

We spotted a couple of these nationally scarce day-flying moths, a first for me.

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Scorpion Fly

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Lady’s-Slipper Orchids

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Lily-of-the-Valley.

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Rock Rose.

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Dingy Skipper (another first for me).

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Green Lacewing.

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Common Blue.

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In the rides between the trees in Gait Barrows, out of the wind, it was really very warm and there were butterflies everywhere. As well as the ones I managed to photograph we also saw Brimstones, Orange-Tips and other Whites, and a few Fritillaries.

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I was intrigued by these striking white flowers growing in profusion in one stretch of the hedge-bottom, opposite some cottages on Moss Lane. I now think that they are Star of Bethlehem, an introduced species – possibly someone has planted some bulbs here along the verge.

A Feast of Flora and Fauna

Meadowland Review

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I’ve recently finished the third of the library books I snagged a while back, ‘Meadowland’ by John Lewis-Stempel. The book is effectively a series of diary entries (although admittedly much more crafted than that implies) all relating to three fields in a small-holding in Herefordshire and the flora and fauna which inhabit those fields. It’s a very easy and enjoyable read and I would highly recommend it.

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Toothwort.

The farm which provides the setting is by the Escley River (the OS map has Escley Brook) on the fringes of the Black Mountains, which added to the interest for me because it’s an area I’ve visited a couple of times, and which is much frequented by my old mucker Andy.

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These photos are from a tail-end of March evening stroll around Haweswater and the Gait Barrows nature reserve. It was a dull evening and I was making the most of the last of the light. What sticks in my mind at this remove was the duelling thrushes and blackbirds giving song from every tree-top.

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This last, out-of-focus shot, was taken a few days later through our kitchen window.

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There’s a tall silver birch just beyond the window (almost certainly too close to the house) and it’s often diverting to watch small birds bobbing about in its branches. I wasn’t wearing my glasses and asked the rest of the family: “What’s that bird – it’s very green?”

TBH suggested that in that case it might be a finch, but even without my spectacles I thought it seemed too small and too dumpy for that to be true. It’s the third time recently that I’ve seen a goldcrest, after a long spell when I can’t recall spotting any. Interesting to have a myopic perspective on them – I usually think that their salient feature is that striking golden stripe, but when I couldn’t see that what stood out was an overall impression of greenness.

Meadowland Review

A Culture Is No Better Than Its Woods

Or: Another Rant with Photographs. 

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

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

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

from the Torygraph website.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Guelder Rose

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

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

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

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

from www.gov.uk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can find the entire poem here.

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This couplet is also rather wonderful:

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

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

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A Culture Is No Better Than Its Woods

Robin in Eaves Wood

Singing robin in the sunshine

On the morning after my Swirl How and Grey Friar walk, I was out again, this time for another stroll around our local Haweswater circuit. On this occasion I was on my own and reverted to a clockwise lap.

Robin between riffs 

Just into Eaves Wood I was regaled by a fearless robin. I snapped away with the camera, adding, aimlessly, contentedly, to my huge collection of tame robin shots. Momentarily, the sun came out; in the two photos I took in that brief window of bright light the colours of feathers, branches, leaves etcetera were completely transformed, making the other photos look rather dull, grey and lifeless by comparison.

Seedhead 

The same fortuitous circumstances didn’t arise when I reached the snowdrop wood down by Haweswater.

Snowdrops in the woods 

Pig house 

Moss Lane pigs.

Sleeping it off 

It was only a short walk, but it didn’t half brighten my day. Days without a walk seem rather dull, grey and lifeless by comparison.

Could be worse though…..

An advertisement

Robin in Eaves Wood

Cornucopia

The day after my Langden Castle walk (so over a week ago now) and my third post-work walk in as many days. Once again, I found myself drawn back to Gaitbarrow. I had an idea that I might enjoy a brisk circuit for a change, but as usual I was easily distracted. It was just one week after my previous visit, but in the interval so much had changed. One of the principal changes was that in every sunny spot, there were hosts of damselflies…

Damselfly

There are several species of blue damselflies, and I can’t usually identify them, but I’m reasonably confident that this is a common blue damselfly, Enallagma cyathigerum, because in a full-size version of this cropped photo… 

Damselfly II 

…its just about possible to make out the black shape on the second segment of the abdomen which identifies it as such.

Blue-tailed Damselfly 

Blue-tailed damselfly.

Once I’d paused to photograph the damselflies, I soon noticed grasshoppers jumping and spiders scurrying about…

Wolf spider 

Wolf spider, Pardosa lugubris, carrying egg-sac.

I made a brief foray into the boggy meadow where I recently saw a roe deer. Even after some drier weather the middle section of the path has become welly territory. Some creatures appreciate some damp conditions of course…

Frog 

After the ‘banded snail killing ground’ of my last visit, it was nice to find a banded snail which was clearly flourishing…

Banded snail 

In the meadow on the shore at the end of Haweswater, something drew me into a small scrubby tree in amongst the reeds. I can’t remember now what it was that first attracted my attention, but when I had thoroughly tangled myself in its branches, I discovered that it was flowering, in a very undemonstrative way….

Unidentified tree flower 

Naturally there was a resident damselfly, its silvery wings catching the light beautifully…

Damselfly 

And now that I had started to look, I realised that the tree was also home to a troop of banded snails….

Banded snail 

More banded snails 

Yet another banded snail 

B is always excited by cuckoo spit, I think for the same sort of reasons that makes Horrible Histories in all of its many guises so appealing. I stooped to photograph a gobbet for him…

Cuckoo spit 

..and as I did so, I caught a flicker of movement amongst some grass stems beside a charred log. I didn’t see what moved the grass, but I was hopeful: I rolled away the log, and hey presto!….

Common lizard 

…a common lizard.

Another contrast with a week before: in the meadows….

The flower meadow 

..the yellow rattle is now flowering in abundance…

Yellow rattle 

From the meadows, I took a different route across the limestone pavements than I usually follow. There were still plenty of damselflies to see…

Damselfly on bleached tree root 

…on a weather bleached root stump….

Damselfly on oak leaf 

…on some oak leaves.

Equally abundant, and a delight which will bring me back this way at this time of year, was lily-of-the-valley….

Lily-of-the-valley 

Lily-of-the-valley II 

This one….

Lily-of-the-valley with spider 

…had a tiny spider clinging to it…

Spider on lily-of-the-valley

Sadly, I don’t know what species this one is.

Avocets and bugs galore by Allen Hide; ring ouzels, stonechats and reed buntings in Bowland; and a variety of delights at Gaitbarrow: my cup runneth over.

Cornucopia