A Bevy of Birds*

 

Or: My Favourite Christmas Present Concluded (for now)

Crossing the Kent Viaduct

I didn’t get far after finishing my lunch before I was distracted again by Fieldfares and Redwings. Arnside, with its promenade, has pretensions to seaside resort status  – in fact I have some rather fine old black and white postcards which prove its history as a resort. At one end of the promenade is a small strip of formal garden with lots of evergreen bushes, many festooned with berries and, on this day also festooned with birds. Most of them moved when I passed, but not all…

I liked the way this Fieldfare was caught peering at me through the branches. One Redwing was unusually content to sit whilst I took a few photos:

I was on the far side of the flood defence wall from the bushes and so was partially hidden from the many birds on the ground beneath the bushes picking up berries and some food which somebody had obviously put out for them. Or at least they were trying to get the food and berries, but one very aggressive Fieldfare was seeing off all-comers.

It was very shady behind the wall, so the photos are not what they might have been, but the antics of this bird entertained me for quite some time so – here s/he is showing tail feathers to warn of a blackbird…

…these are my berries, I’m not eating them now but…

Striking another aggressive pose – it’s a shame that this didn’t come out more clearly (but there’s so much character here even though it’s blurred)…

Taking an opportunity to tuck in…

… and resting for a moment…

The small trees along the railway embankment were also heavily laden with a mixture of Fieldfares, Redwings and Starlings…

 

The next stage of the walk took me along the embankment of an old railway line, following the landward side of the salt marsh bordering the river Kent. It was bitterly cold and here the slightest of breezes made me feel that cold quite acutely for the first time.

Looking back along the embankment to Arnside Knot.

At this point the road crosses the embankment. It’s possible to cross the road and follow the disused railway line into a cutting, but I preferred to drop down onto the mud at the side of the estuary, thinking that it might be frozen and firm for a change. It was.

Rather dimly, I wondered why the snow here was only in isolated patches and not the deep covering I’d seen everywhere else. Then it dawned on me that the river here is tidal (this being an estuary) and that the sea would have been up over this area recently. So this must be ice…

Little forests of ice crystals. Clinging to every grassy hummock, or in any slight channels where water might have gathered…

 

In other places the mud was covered in a layer of thick glassy ice, elsewhere a layer of ice stood above the mud, crunching and cracking with every step.

In the river ‘icebergs’ floated in great clumps. As if to demonstrate what had happened, as I reached the river bank a large piece of the ice which had accumulated along the edge of the river broke off and fell into the water.

The ‘icebergs’.

Looking down river towards the sea.

A little further along the river, four Goldeneye, one male and three females, were practising their synchronised swimming in a gap in the ice…

I’d set myself the deadline of two in the afternoon as a final time before I should turn for home. In the back of my mind I also had the idea that I would like to get to where the Bela, one of the Kent’s tributaries, flows onto the estuary. But it had become clear that it wouldn’t be possible to stick to my deadline and reach the Bela. So, although it wasn’t quite two, I decided to head back through Storth.

The trees and shrubs in the gardens here were once again full of Starlings…

and Fieldfares…

From Storth my route involved following a minor lane, but with trees either side and Bullfinches (that song again) I could almost have been in the woods.

A Kestrel sat high in a tree top, quite content to let me get closer and closer…until I turned on my camera that is. The lane brought me to Hazelslack farm, which has an old Pele tower…

…much smaller than Arnside Tower.

One of the barns at the farm sounded like it was full of Starlings, and many were congregated on the guttering…

You can see the local peacocks on the tower walls in the background too, albeit out of focus.

From here I could pick up a path again. A Buzzard flew over, then I watched a small group of Goldfinches flitting from tree to tree by the path. As I approached Silverdale moss a Snipe burst from cover with a surprisingly loud flurry of wings.

Ice in Leighton Beck.

Another Buzzard appeared over the tree-tops loudly kew-kewing as it floated by.

Looking across Silverdale Moss to Arnside Tower.

The Cloven Ash is more cloven than it was last time I visited.

I was interested to see whether Haweswater’s great depth had protected it from the cold, but no, it too was frozen over.

Reed seed head.

Reeds catching the winter sun.

Where a bridge crosses the small stream which flows from Little Haweswater into Haweswater I stopped to examine the snow on the banks of the stream, optimistically hoping that I might see evidence of Otter activity. I’ve seen spraints here before, which is close as I’ve come to encountering the local Otters. Nothing, I’m afraid, but whilst I looked a Kingfisher loosed a surprisingly strident call and shot out, from under the bridge I think, and away along the stream. It was the briefest streak of bright colour, but magical none the less.

The last leg of my journey took me into Eaves Wood again. I was intent on catching the sun dropping down through the trees…

There were more Redwings and Fieldfares, but don’t worry – it was now too dark to take any more pictures. I don’t think that I’ve mentioned the rather enjoyable soft chuckling sounds of the Fieldfares – another tune to add to my small but growing list of birdcalls which I can recognise. One definite success since I decided to try to learn some bird songs and calls is the Greater Spotted Woodpecker, and a pip-pip now had me turning back to see one high in the trees behind me.

* The collective noun for Fieldfares is apparently flock. For Redwings crowd. For Goldfinches I know that the word is charm. For Starlings a murmuration. And for Goldeneye it might be a wink. (But apart from charm this is all lazy internet research so take it with a pinch of salt.) What’s the collective noun for bird photos?

A Bevy of Birds*

Yes, We Have No Bitterns

Lest, after my previous post, I’m accused of painting TBH as the villain of the piece, I should make it clear right away that Wednesday’s very successful trip was entirely her idea. She’d seen a poster advertising a guided Bittern walk at Leighton Moss and suggested that I should go. Having set off a little later than I really should have (no surprise there for anyone who knows me well) I had to hurry as I walked to the visitor centre, but I still arrived a little late. The idea is that Bitterns, which are notoriously shy birds, can be most easily seen when the water in the reed beds, where they usually feed, is frozen and they are forced to come out to open water to feed. Unfortunately, the frost had been a little too efficient and frozen the meres too leaving very little open water.

From Lillian’s hide we watched Buzzards circling high above Warton Crag and a pair of Swans in the only remaining small area of open water. An unidentified brown bird of about the right size briefly caught the corner of my eye and then disappeared back into the reeds, tantalising us with the possibility of a Bittern sighting, but when it finally reappeared turned out to be just a female Pheasant – a trick they often play apparently. We strolled along the road which borders the reserve, in the direction of the causeway, and were encouraged to listen for the song of a Bullfinch. I shall be listening out for it from now on – one to add to my small but slowly growing tally of familiar birdsongs – it’s very simple, quite like a Greenfinch I thought, but less rasping.

On the causeway our party was swelled by the addition of a very confident Robin which seemed to follow us for a while, landing on railings and posts very close by and then hopping about round our feet.

There was some discussion about whether he actually craved our company, but it seemed to me at least that it was the birdfeed on the path which held more interest…

A couple that followed us along the path reported having persuaded the Robin to land on their hand to take food. A show of complete confidence, or utter desperation?

From the public hide it was possible to see a larger area of open water with many ducks congregated on the ice along the edge of that water…

..and many more ducks, another pair of swans and a huge number of coot in the open water beyond. We watched another buzzard, but this one flew low over the reeds, which is rather more characteristic of the Marsh Harriers which will be here in the summer, before dropping into the reeds and eventually reappearing to roost in a distant tree.

An icy wind was driving into our faces through the windows of the hide. We left to walk a little further along the causeway to where it crosses an open channel over a modest bridge. We were warned to watch out for Water Rail. I missed the first couple, too busy watching a huge flock of the diminutive Teal rising from the water to wheel over our heads – pure magic. I did eventually see some Water Rail though, skittering rather comically on the ice along the edge of the reedbeds. Something else small and fast ran across in front of us  – a Stoat.

We made our way back along the causeway…

The seed heads on the reeds glinting in the sunshine…

By Myer’s farm we saw Marsh Tits, more Bullfinches, and a Treecreeper improbably feeding on the Gable-end of the farmhouse itself. In amongst the trees we were warned to watch out for Siskins feeding on the Alders and sure enough that’s exactly what we saw. From Lillian’s hide again we saw a Heron standing right out in the middle of the ice for no reason we could fathom. A Snipe made several fly-pasts, and just as we were set to leave, a Water Rail obliged us with our best view yet.

So – no Bitterns, but lots to see otherwise, including this handy juxtaposition of red and white which rightfully belongs in a previous post

…although I suppose that it’s another combination which I shall be seeking out from now on.

After lunch in the cafe, my next encounter was with this Ram…

Who is wearing a fetching dye-dispenser so that the Ewes who have been ‘serviced’ (to borrow a euphemism from Blue Peter presenter Simon Groom – does anyone else remember that episode?) are clearly identified. And what do the Ewes think about that?

This next photo is perhaps another opportunity for a caption competition…

TBH suggests…’Form an orderly queue girls!’

My walk home took me past the Railway Station…

Where I got quite excited about an apparently enormous bird roosting in a tree top on the far platform. What could it be?

Just a Mistle Thrush it seems, with feathers puffed out for warmth making it seem much larger than it really is.

All birds puff out their feathers in freezing weather, to insulate themselves with a layer of air and so keep warm. The poet Robert Graves observed that ‘puffed up feather and fearless approach’ indicated hunger in birds, but that in man these signs revealed ‘belly filled full’.

Derwent May from A Year In Nature Notes

Crossing the golf-course…

I was struck, as I had been on Tuesday, by how well used paths in the area are…

Climbing down through the trees towards Lambert’s meadow, having lots of fun trying (and failing) to capture the way that the sun was glistening on the snow on the trees, I heard a drumming in the trees above, not the insistent territorial drumming which will begin soon, but more purposeful insect seeking I suspect. Scanning the treetops, I was rewarded with a flash of red and a first sighting for the year of a Greater Spotted Woodpecker.

Closer to home I was serenaded by this fellow..

…the first of the many Robins I had seen which deigned to offer a tune – most were clearly much to intent on filling their bellies.

Time for one last view of the Howgills..

…before returning home.

To find everybody else on the way out to go sledging on the Lots. Passing the butchers on the way we saw Walter throw meat scraps to a host of expectant black-headed gulls. Obviously a regular occurrence. Sledging continued long after the sun had sunk below the western horizon leaving only an orange glow to remind us of it’s passing.

Yes, We Have No Bitterns