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

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