Soft as the Earth

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Sunday afternoon’s walk (after B’s rugby match in Preston and a delicious lunch whipped up  by TBH). It was only going to be a short one: a chance to stretch my legs and grab some lungfuls of fresh air. First I had an errand to run, returning a child’s coat which had been left at our house (which made a nice change from retrieving one of our own children’s lost coats from wherever they have left them), so I walked over to Oak Tree Barn to do that. This is on Bottom’s Lane, near Bottom’s Farm and is really part of Bottom’s Barn, a much better name for comedic purposes, and one which I shall steadfastly use henceforth.

Anyway, continuing to walk from there, I noticed that the sun was setting. There are lots of good places locally from which to watch the sunset: Warton Crag, Jack Scout, Arnside Knott and, closer to home, The Cove all fit the bill. But in a field with Hagg Wood to my west didn’t seem like a great choice of vantage point.

I dithered momentarily about where to go next, but in the end decided to cut across to the Row and hence into Eaves Wood. A gateway in Jubilee Wood gave me another slightly obscured view of what looked to possibly be a stunning sunset…

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I climbed slightly to pass through the Ring o’Beeches. The sky to the South had some lovely deep blues offset with a little pink.

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Also the moon…

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But through the trees I could still glimpse some patches of highly coloured sky and so decided to head up to Castlebarrow. I suspected that I would be too late, and would miss the light show.

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Humphrey Head.

Not quite. The tide was in. The Bay was picking up the pastel yellows and oranges from the sky.

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It was enormously peaceful. It was just a shame I didn’t have the wherewithal to make a brew to sit with and enjoy it.

Instead I decided to extend the walk and head down to The Cove and across The Lots.

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It was getting pretty dark by now and Tawny Owls were hooting on every side. In winter, a spring rises at the base of the low cliff here, but aside from the gentle murmur of the water and the calls of the owls, it was still and quiet.

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Magic.

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And the title? Well, this post could have been ‘An Unexpected Bonus’ but I’ve used that title before. In the previous post, I had intended to quote from Auden’s ‘In Praise of Limestone’. But forgot.

I quite like:

‘soft as the earth is mankind’

But it continues …

‘soft as the earth is mankind and both
Need to be altered.’

Which puts an entirely different slant on it. A bit sinister I thought.

So, I’m going to go for:

‘when I try to imagine a faultless love
Or the life to come, what I hear is the murmur
Of underground streams, what I see is a limestone landscape.’

 

 

Soft as the Earth

Beneath the Boughs

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I was out early today, a half-moon still high in the western sky.

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It was my intention to watch the sunrise from Castlebarrow, but a line of cloud in the East was going to delay the sun’s first appearance and it was far too cold to stand around waiting.

Instead, I took a turn around Eaves Wood and watched the sunrise from the Ring O’Beeches.

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Later, I was out again with A. She chose the route and took me for another, longer tour of Eaves Wood. I hadn’t noticed the Snowdrops flowering there when I passed the in half-darkness earlier.

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I’ve walked past this new(ish?) bench once before…

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…, but didn’t notice then the small plaque attached to it.

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I’m sure I’ve quoted W.H.Davies poem ‘Leisure’ before. It must be his best remembered poem. I found his ‘Autobiography of a Supertramp’ very entertaining.

During both walks I saw, and heard, a buzzard coasting above the treetops.

I noticed last weekend that the Robins were singing, seemingly from every tree and bush. Great tits have begun to join them and I think I heard a Chaffinch today too.

I was out for a third time later, briefly in Eaves Wood, then crossing the Lots, but having set-off in the half-darkness again, didn’t take any photos.

Beneath the Boughs

Winging in the Blossoming

Clark’s Lot – Woodwell – Jack Scout.

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

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

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Great tit (and emerging ash flowers).

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

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

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

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

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

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…before dropping down into the brambles…

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

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

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

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

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

This one…

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

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

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

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

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

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These are Bee-Flies.

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

from Collins Complete British Insects by Michael Chinery

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

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last spring.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Winging in the Blossoming

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

Juice and Joy

Eaves Wood – Middlebarrow – Arnside Tower – Along the edge of the Caravan park – Far Arnside – Arnside Point – White Creek – New Barns – Arnside Knott – Hollins Farm – Holgates

What is all this juice and all this joy?   

Spring is here, and with it a flurry of local walks, followed by (hopefully) a flurry of posts about those local walks containing, it being spring, a smattering of quoted poetry, and lots of photos of birds and flowers and such like.

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In the immediate aftermath of our walk, A and I both wallowed in a couple of lazy days to recuperate. The day before I took these photos was my Birthday. The weather was pretty dire but we did get out. Well, TBH and I did: a very heavy downpour just before we set off put a dampener on A’s enthusiasm and she stayed at home. TBH and I walked around Hawes Water. We were lucky and didn’t get caught in another shower, although it stayed drab and damp and I didn’t take any photos. It was well worth getting out though – there were quite a number of swallows feeding over the lake, my first of the year. I often see my first swallow on my birthday, although I suspect that has at least as much to do with my insistence on going out for a walk on my birthday as it does with the date of the arrival of swallows. Usually I’ll see the odd one or two, but this time there was at least a gulp and possibly enough for a flight (the collective nouns for swallows).

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Marsh Tit.

This is my favourite time of year for bird-watching. To be in the woods is to be surrounded by a cacophony of songs and calls, the thrum and whirr of wings and the drumming of woodpeckers. And with no leaves on the trees, it’s the best chance to see the small, common birds of woods and gardens.

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My sporadic attempts to get to grips with identifying bird songs have been largely unsuccessful, but not in vain – I have added one or two birds to my limited repertoire. One song which is very readily learned is that of the Chiffchaff, a warbler named for its song. Since the Chiffchaff is a summer migrant, hearing it anew each year is another welcome confirmation of the arrival of spring. As I dropped down from Middlebarrow towards Arnside Tower I could hear one in the trees above. My confidence is hardly unshakable though and I scanned the crown of the woods, hoping for a sighting to confirm my suspicions.

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And there it is! An LBJ with more than a hint of yellow to liven things up a little.

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Later, at Far Arnside, I realised that I can recognise the contact calls of Nuthatches too, and spent a frustrating few minutes trying to photograph one which, whilst it was surprisingly close, just overhead in fact, wouldn’t sit still long enough for the camera’s autofocus to catch up. Later still the same sort of thing happened with a Goldcrest which swung around on a hanging twig almost within reach, but which I completely failed to photograph.

The principal reason for my choice of route was to catch the wild Daffodils at Far Arnside, but I bent my steps along the scrappy woods by Holgates on the off chance that another early flower would be in evidence. I thought that I was probably too early, but no…

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Green Hellebore.

Nothing is so beautiful as Spring –         

   When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;         

   Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens, and thrush         

Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring         

The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing;

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TBH bought me ‘Claxton’ by Mark Cocker for my birthday and I’ve just finished reading it. It’s marvellous, I can’t recommend it enough. Essentially it’s a nature diary, but with entries from several years, mostly based in and around Cocker’s home village of Claxton in Norfolk. The book is full of telling details and apposite similes, but it’s also packed with interesting ideas. For example: we’re often ready to ascribe great age to certain trees, but it never occurs to us to think in that way about shrubs or flowers. These hellebore come up in the same area each year. When the perimeter of the caravan park was bulldozed recently, they survived (although probably not unscathed I suspect). I’m wondering, in retrospect, how long they’ve been flowering here.

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The Daffodils at Far Arnside were well worth a visit. Much more spectacular than I’ve managed to make them look in fact. And in amongst them…

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…more Green Hellebore.

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It seems likely that Hellebores can be found elsewhere in the area, but these are the two spots I know of, leaving aside the many gardens which have cultivated varieties.

Overhead, this Coal Tit was pecking furiously at the moss, pulling lumps off the branch and tossing them aside.

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Are there potentially good things to eat hiding beneath the moss?

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The tide was in, and, unusually, there were small waves breaking against the cliffs.

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Across the Kent Estuary to Meathop Fell.

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And with a zoom…snowy Lakeland hills beyond.

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Obligatory Robin.

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I have so many out-of-focus photos of Long-Tailed Tits that I’m beginning to think that it’s them and not me or the camera; perhaps they are naturally a bit blurred. If so, I sympathise with them – I often feel a bit blurred myself.

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At New Barns the tide was so high that the road was flooded.

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Arnside Knott from New Barns.

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Kent Estuary.

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Kent Estuary from Arnside Knott.

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A shower hits Carnforth.

The quotes are from ‘Spring’ by Gerard Manley Hopkins.

Juice and Joy

Not November

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There’s a gale already raging outside as the latest winter storm rolls in off the Atlantic. These photos then, from the end of October, taken during a family stroll around Hawes Water and back home, are the antithesis of everything we’ve experienced since they were taken, full as they are of light, warmth, blue skies, butterflies, and leaves of myriad colours. Although November’s long since gone I’m put in mind of this poem by Thomas Hood, which, I’m surprised to find, I don’t seem to have shared through this forum before:

No sun – no moon!
No morn – no noon –
No dawn – no dusk – no proper time of day.
No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease,
No comfortable feel in any member –
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds! –
November!

November seems to be doggedly persistent this year having dragged on for at least twice it’s allotted interval now. I hope it exhausts itself soon.

Not November

Where the Wild Things Are

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Nothing to do with Maurice Sendak’s evocative book I’m afraid, apart from the fact that I’ve appropriated his title. I have been thinking of launching into another of my occasional polemics, but I’ve decided that I enjoyed this walk too much to turn the account of it into an intemperate rant. So lets suffice to say that ‘where the wild things are’ is not in some distant, untouched, inviolate wilderness, but is on our doorstep, all around us. Nature lives cheek by jowl with manunkind: it doesn’t have much choice.

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Leaving aside the downsides of that fact – since I’ve decided not to rant – one happy consequence is that the wildness and wet, the weeds and the wilderness, can still be appreciated by anybody prepared to step outside their doors.

All through the winter months the fields around the village are full of birds probing the soil for food. Rooks and jackdaws, sometimes curlews, but most noticeably flocks of oystercatchers.

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My attempts to take photographs of them have not generally been very successful, and once again, the presence of me and my camera spooked the oystercatchers, along with a couple of stray black-headed gulls, but at least I caught them sweeping away this time.

It was E.E.Cummings again who provoked my pondering the relationship between man and nature:

when serpents bargain for the right to squirm
and the sun strikes to gain a living wage –
when thorns regard their roses with alarm
and rainbows are insured against old age

when every thrush may sing no new moon in
if all screech-owls have not okayed his voice
– and any wave signs on the dotted line
or else an ocean is compelled to close

when the oak begs permission of the birch
to make an acorn – valleys accuse their
mountains of having altitude – and march
denounces april as a saboteur

then we’ll believe in that incredible
unanimal mankind (and not until)

Not the hymn to spring I keep promising I know, but it’s another new addition to my growing list of favourites.

Anyway, this was half-term’s final Saturday afternoon and a meandering beating of the bounds, a glorious final fling for the holiday. (I did briefly get out on Sunday, but it was drizzling when I set-off and it went downhill weatherwise from there, so we’ll draw a veil over that.) The rest of the crew were furiously stitching Little S’s new teddy bear so I was once again on my own.

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Looking into Lambert’s Meadow.

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In Burtonwell Wood there were more snowdrops to enjoy and a shy pair of roe deer who escaped through the trees long before I could even retrieve my camera from its case.

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Larches and beeches. The right-most of the two beeches has a holly growing out of a hollow in its trunk. (The holly doesn’t have too many leaves though – I wonder whether it is struggling.)

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New leaves! Honeysuckle always makes an early showing.

I was improvising a trajectory which busily went nowhere. On Heald Brow, which I haven’t visited for a while, there’s a loop of permission path which perfectly suited the circuitous curlicues of my route. Whilst wandering I encountered…

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…what I assume is another of the village’s many wells.

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Heald Brow is dimpled with meadow ant mounds.

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Some of which have been got at….

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…I presume either by badgers or by green woodpeckers.

A supermoon had brought unusually high tides which had left the salt marshes flooded…

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This departure from the norm was too much to resist and so I took the steep path which headed down in that direction.

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The raised bank which has held back the flooding here is Quaker’s Stang – an old sea defence.

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This darksome burn, horseback brown,
His rollrock highroad roaring down,

Generally there’s a small trickle of water here, a tributary of Quicksand Pool, which drains Leighton Moss. On this occasion it was flowing with quite some volume, power and noise.

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This ash tree was still carrying buds –  I suspect it was left here by the receding waters and I think the same probably applies to the shingle ‘beach’ beneath it.

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I’m pretty shaky when identifying wading birds, but I’m hoping that the new camera will help with that. This is a redshank.

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Quicksand Pool.

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The old quay at Jenny Brown’s Point.

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I had intended to head up onto Jack Scout, but rounding the corner I found that the sand was firm and decided to continue round back to the village. ( It wouldn’t have worked without wellies; I had to wade an ankle deep channel.)

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The sun was heading towards the horizon; the wind was blowing cold and fresh; the views were expansive. Sometimes the ‘wildness and wet’ are not too hard to find.

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Arnside Knott.

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Noisy creatures gulls, but I’ve often noticed that, around sunset, they can been observed ghosting silently out into The Bay, drifting by overhead.

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Fish eggs.

Once again I was stalking oystercatchers. This time they let me get a bit closer.

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I took a few pictures of the birds. Then a picture of the sunset, or two. Then moved slowly a little closer to the oystercatchers.

Finally, the birds patience with me ran out and I almost got the birds and the sunset together….

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This was only an afternoon stroll….

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…but it was a real corker!

Roll on the next staycation.

Where the Wild Things Are