Trowbarrow Views

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The forecast promised that the weather was going to improve. I set out on trust, although there were still a few spots of rain in the fairly strong wind.

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The hay has since been cut – they were collecting it in today – but then the grasses were long and swaying in the breeze. The dominant, red-tinged grass here is, I think, Yorkshire Fog, but I’m really not sure about the patch of pale grass standing out amongst the red. Cocksfoot?

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Yorkshire Fog.

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Bittersweet.

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Leighton Moss.

Fortunately, by the time I reached Leighton Moss, the view to the west was finally looking promising…

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The reeds along the boardwalk were looking tatty and half-eaten. It didn’t take much sleuthing to discover the reason why.

Alongside the reeds, there were lots of these large Dock leaves. (We have several Docks – I have no idea which these are).

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Many of them were infected with a fungus causing red blotches on the upper sides of the leaves…

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And crusty white rings on the undersides…

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I’ve done my lazy research, and I think that it’s a rust fungus called Puccinia Phragmitis.

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Common Spotted-orchid and Quaking Grass.

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Red Wall.

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Bee Orchid.

I was looking for the Fly Orchid which apparently flowers here. I didn’t find it, but more of the Bee Orchids had come into flower. Also, while I was poking about, I found a narrow path which I assume is the climbers’ descent route from the top of the main crag. I’ve never been up to the top before, but the views were excellent…

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Humphrey Head.

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Leighton Moss from Trowbarrow.

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Common Spotted-orchid and Quaking Grass again.

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And another (but quite different) Common Spotted-orchid.

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Hedge Woundwort.

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The clouds were back.

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Six for gold.

Towards the end of the walk I came across a couple of bumblebees once again apparently asleep on flowers. It was very windy and when I grabbed one of the flowers to try to hold it still for a photo the bee waved one leg in a half-hearted fashion, like a person might if you tried to rouse them from deep sleep.

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Trowbarrow Views

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…

A Saturday Triptych – Fit the First.

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

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Eaves Wood.

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The Coronation Path.

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Honesty.

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

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The Ring O’Beeches.

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A Ruddock.

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Hawes Water mist.

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

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

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Hawes Water.

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

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Cowslips.

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

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

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This one was singing – a Chiff-chaff.

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Willow catkins.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Saturday Triptych – Fit the First.

Celandines, Buds, Sunset, Hirundines.

Hagg Wood – The Green – Clark’s Lot – Hollins Lane – Slackwood Lane – Leighton Moss  – Lower Hide – Yealand Allotment – Hawes Water – The Row – Hagg Wood

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Lesser Celandines enjoying the sunshine.

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The western edge of Hagg Wood, a small copse which edge’s Bottom’s Lane, seems to be a good place to spot our common songbirds, or at least at the moment it is, whilst the trees have no leaves.

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Chaffinch.

I keep returning to this particular path at the moment, because I’m anxious for clues to help me identify The Mystery Tree. It has been suggested that it might be a Sycamore, A Field Maple or an Ash. Here are its buds…

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…which categorically rule out the latter. And if it’s a Sycamore, it will be in leaf very, very soon, so I shall soon be able to confirm or discount that possibility.

The oak trees, which form the line which ends with the mystery tree, have much browner buds, in clusters and part way along the twigs as well as at the ends, rather than singly and only at the ends of the twigs.

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As well as the ground cover plants, which I mentioned in my last post, many of the woodlands under-storey shrubs are coming into leaf ahead of the trees above them. Honeysuckle is one of the earliest and is now often fully decked out with leaves. The raspberry canes have leaves again, and the gooseberry bushes have both leaves and flowers…

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Gooseberries are quite common locally and are very obvious at this time of the year, but, sadly, much less easy to spot in July when they are fruiting.

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Leighton Moss from the ‘Sky Tower’.

Although I’d set off with blue skies and sunshine, by the time I reached Leighton Moss, the sun was sinking low and it was beginning to get a little dingy for photography. Which was a bit frustrating, because I was very struck by the Alder trees…

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On the left are the cone-like fruit which have been on the tree all through the winter, on the right the long dangling male catkins, and just above those the tiny female catkins.

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As I struck out across the causeway, the sun was sinking behind the ridge of slightly higher ground which isn’t named on the OS Map, but which I shall call Silver Helme after the Scout Camp which is situated there.

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From the causeway I continued along the Lower Hide path, which, in my mind at least, is ’round the back’ of Leighton Moss.

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Eventually reaching Lower Hide itself.

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I was enjoying getting a variety of different perspectives on the sunset. I was also very excited because skimming low over the water were lots of very fast-flying birds…

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Hirundines!

Even if it hadn’t been so dark, I’m not sure I would have been able to tell whether these were House Martins, Sand Martins or Swallows. But I don’t care, because I know what they mean – they’re here to tell us that spring has arrived!

The remainder of my walk was a bit dark. I’d neglected to bring a headtorch. Again. Half an hour later, having crossed Yealand Allotment to Hawes Water…

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It was still just about light enough to see to walk.

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In the woods I heard something crashing about in the trees – Roe Deer I thought. Which was confirmed moments later when one of them ‘barked’ nearby. This is a pretty unearthly cry, and quite loud when it’s close to. I think that if I hadn’t heard them before I might have been unnerved by it.

When I passed Hagg Wood again, it was Orion’s belt I was trying to photograph (without success) and I was glad that I’ve walked these field paths many times before, including in the dark, because there was no moon and it was exceedingly dark, so it helped that I knew exactly where I was going.

Celandines, Buds, Sunset, Hirundines.

Slightly Blurred

Clark’s Lot – Hollin’s Lane – Slackwood Lane – Leighton Moss – Trowbarrow Quarry – Eaves Wood

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In like a lion, they say of March, but if I remember right, this had been a very pleasant day, although sadly, a Wednesday spent at work. I had the idea that I would get out and catch some sunshine, but, as you can see from the photo above, by the time I reached Clark’s Lot, only a few minutes from home, the sun was already sinking behind the trees.

Slightly blurred photos of Long-Tailed Tits have become an irregular feature of this blog. Here is another example of the genre…

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Generally, the problem is their propensity to flit about relentlessly, but this was a remarkably relaxed Long-Tailed Tit content to sit still whilst I took three photos. Sadly, the auto-focus trained in perfectly on the branches just in front of the Bumbarrel. Even when the tit moved on, it rested in new positions, allowing me to take more photos, but in high branches, silhouetted against the sky, it came out very dark. It was obviously some kind of Zen Long-Tailed Tit however.

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Down at Leighton Moss the Starlings were gathering for the roost, which isn’t the massive affair of earlier in the winter, but still worth watching.

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On the Sunday before, I’d been out for a walk in unpromising conditions, leaving my camera at home since rain looked so imminent. I hadn’t intended to stay out long, but in the end, had a great walk, on a circular route I don’t think I’ve ever walked before. (Which says a great deal about the wealth of options in this area). At Hawes Water there had been four Cormorants on the trees where I saw one not so long ago. Later it began to rain, but at Leighton Moss I was cheered by an abundance of spring fungi, Scarlet Elf Cup…

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Which was why I wanted to return to Leighton Moss, now that I had my camera with me. Whist I was taking this photo, this Robin…

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…surprised me by practically landing on my shoulder.

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At Trowbarrow there were some climbers still bouldering despite the gathering gloom, and in Eaves Wood, when it was almost dark, I met a couple of dog walkers. I wasn’t the only one thinking that it was good to be out.

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Slightly Blurred

Simply in the Springing

Clark’s Lot – Burtonwell Wood – Lambert’s Meadow – Bank Well – Myer’s Allotment – Leighton Moss – Trowbarrow – Moss Lane – Eaves Wood

A gloomy start. At my new favourite place, Myer’s Allotment, I decided to follow the path way-marked with small blue-paint splashed posts. It took me around the reserve and then up and along a tree-lined edge. A gap in the trees revealed…

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…a rough-hewn bench with a great view over Leighton Moss…

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It needs some blue sky and sunshine to make the most of it. And maybe a stove to brew a cuppa.

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Down at Leighton Moss I was told that there were two Marsh Harrier nests by the causeway, and an Osprey passing through, and Red-poll and Siskins on the bird-feeders.

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I saw none of them. But there were Chaffinches, Greenfinches and a Coal Tit just sneaking into this photo.

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And by the pond-dipping area a nest neatly woven from reeds…

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It was much too close to the path however, and I wondered whether it had been abandoned. I passed it again a couple of days later and it was empty, not even any remains of shells.

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Willow catkins – a bit of a departure from my obsession with Hazel catkins.

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The new boardwalk which cuts the corner to the causeway path is open, and close to the end of it a Wren singing full-throttle from a prominent perch had attracted a small audience.

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By the time I reached Eaves Wood, the sky was brightening, and along the fringes of the path Bluebell flowers were opening…

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And Sycamore…

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…and Hawthorn leaves were unfurling in the sun.

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Oh, give us pleasure in the flowers today;
And give us not to think so far away
As the uncertain harvest; keep us here
All simply in the springing of the year.

from A Prayer in Spring by Robert Louis Stevenson

Later, through the kitchen window, another slightly-blurred, pastel Long-Tailed Tit…

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Simply in the Springing

A Bird-Watching Walk

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Two views from the top of RSPB Leighton Moss’s new Skytower. Which is…well, a tower. It’s about 30’ feet tall – affording great views, but hardly scaling empyrean heights.

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I think the RSPB can be forgiven the hyperbole – it really is a great place from watch a quartering Marsh Harrier, or flocks of Teal on the mere…

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…as I did.

My walk to the Skytower was just before Christmas, in a moment of calm before the next storm hit.

The causeway across the Moss was still flooded from the previous deluges, but I had new Wellies and waded across, then wandered past Leighton Hall and up Summer House Hill to the benches and viewpoint at the top…

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Naturally, I decided to sit for a while, despite the bracing wind, and was rewarded by some close up views of a pair of buzzards.

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I associate the display flights of male buzzards with the onset of spring.

Pairs mate for life. To attract a mate (or impress his existing mate) the male performs a ritual aerial display before the beginning of spring. This spectacular display is known as ‘the roller coaster’. He will rise high up in the sky, to turn and plummet downward, in a spiral, twisting and turning as he comes down. He then rises immediately upward to repeat the exercise.

from Wikipedia

I wonder if these birds were confused by the very mild weather which we had been experiencing, as many of our spring flowering plants seem to have been.

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Buzzards, now thought to be Britain’s most numerous raptors, are very common in this area. But…

“…the species large size, free-floating movements on broad wings and wild high calls still have a capacity to capture our attention and imaginations.”

from ‘Birds Britannica’ by Mark Cocker and Richard Mabey

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I certainly never tire of watching them.

From Summer House Hill I walked through Cringlebarrow Woods and Yealand Allotment to Hawes Water…

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A Bird-Watching Walk