Back to the Bela

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Another Monday night bout of ballet lesson related Dad’s taxi duties provided a window sufficient for a good long walk, but, unusually, wading through a quagmire of lethargy, I took a while to get going and then eventually set off to repeat the short circuit along the Bela to its confluence with the Kent and back via the Orchid Triangle and the road past the Heronry.

I was photographing a distant Little Egret when I noticed this Heron sat on the river bank. I adopted my standard iterative approach – take a photo, walk a few paces, take another, repeat. As a rule, Herons are very cautious and will soon fly away if you get very close at all, but this one was unusually forbearing, so that when it did take off I was poised to catch another picture…

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By where the Heron had been a sitting, a Mallard and her chicks…

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How many in her brood?

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Seven!

It seems to me that she must be a relatively successful parent, as Mallards go. These are not particularly young ducklings and she still has seven. I well remember the instructive experience of taking our small children to see the ducklings at Bank Well one spring back when we lived nearby. There were 14 little balls of fluff to begin with, the next day there were only 12. Then 10. And so on.  Eventually, there were none. Like ‘ten in the bed’, but more final. A harsh introduction to ‘nature, red in tooth and claw’ for the kids.

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A little further along the bank, a pair of Greylag Geese seemed to be without goslings.

The Heron meanwhile, had only moved on as far as the top of the weir.

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Below the weir, a pair of Mute Swans were feeding…

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The Bela and Dallam Bridge.

It not being as windy as it was last time I came this way, I was able to get some slightly better photos of the Oak Apple Galls

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When I was in my early teens, my parents let me subscribe to a partwork called The Living Countryside. I’d always loved books about animals and had quite a collection of animal encyclopaedias, but what I loved about The Living Countryside was the fact that it covered only British wildlife and brought everything closer to home. It built up into several large tomes, which sadly I no longer have. Apart from my general enthusiasm, I don’t remember many individual articles, but I do remember reading about gall wasps, because I was so astounded by their life-cycle.

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This gall contains numerous grubs which will eventually become gall wasps, both male and female. The female wasps are winged and can fly, but weakly. After mating they fly to the ground, burrow down to the roots of an Oak tree and lay eggs. A gall forms on the roots producing a new generation of flightless wasps, all female. This generation is agamic, that is asexual. The wasps crawl up the trunk of the tree and lay eggs on twigs. The eggs irritate the tree, causing it to form the gall around the eggs. And so on.

This seemed, and still seems to me to be more like something you might read in a Science Fiction novel than in a Natural History magazine.

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The Oak, meanwhile, has its own reproductive agenda and is busy flowering.

This patch of woodland…

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…is the site of the Heronry. I watched several Herons and Little Egrets fly in and out.

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I guess that they too have young secreted up there in the trees.

This Chaffinch…

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…was serenading me when I got back to my car and continued to do so whilst I changed my footwear.

Turned out to be well worth the effort to get out after all, despite my initial lethargy.

Back to the Bela

Birds by the Bela

River Bela – ‘Orchid Triangle’ – Dallam Bridge

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A dance lesson for A and a short stroll for me, with more gawking than walking. I wasn’t too surprised to see the Pied Wagtails by the River Bela, but I was slightly taken aback moments later to spot a Wheatear – a passage bird?

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Whitbarrow Scar across the Bela.

On the ‘Orchid Triangle’ some orchid leaves in evidence – heavily spotted Early Purple and what I assume is Common Twayblade. No flowers yet, but plenty of other flowers incuding Cowslips and Bluebells. The latter in particular were attracting this very handsome bee…

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…which was quite small. I assume that it’s some sort of Solitary Bee. It has the ginger thorax of a Tree Bumblebee, but not much white on the tail and a good deal of very pale yellow hair too.

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Marsh Tit.

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Grey Heron and Little Egret perched at the Heronry.

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I walked past a substantial Oak which was liberally festooned with Gall Apples like this one. I was surprised by how fresh and apple-like they looked.

Birds by the Bela

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

Orchids and Egrets

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River Bela

A Tuesday evening and another dance lesson for A, meaning another brief window of opportunity for a wander. I took an oft-repeated circuit along the River Bela to where it meets the Kent, then up on to the course of the old Milnthorpe to Arnside branch line and finally back along the road to the car.

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Whitbarrow and the Bela.

The sun was shining, but dark clouds threatened to the east and south; it seemed only a matter of time before the rain would arrive.

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Dark skies over the weir.

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Dallam Bridge

This Grey Heron was much further from my lens than the one which I photographed at Attenborough recently, but I decided to try to capture its antics anyway…

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It seems it was having some success…

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Whitbarrow Scar across the Kent Estuary.

The orchid triangle didn’t disappoint; the Twayblade has finished flowering, but there were new flowers to replace those…

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I’ve posted a few pictures to show the variety in shape and colouration.

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This middle one is, I suspect, Heath-spotted orchid, whereas the other two look more like Common spotted-orchid, but then orchids hybridise so who knows?

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I’ve walked past these woods a couple of times this year, on Monday evening outings, and noticed quite a cacophony of bird noise. I assumed that somebody was keeping some kind of poultry in the woods.

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But I should have known better…

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A friend told me years ago that there was a heronry here. As I watched – and fat rain drops began to fall – several Little Egrets  and a Grey Heron flew to and from the trees.

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Not the sharpest photos, I know, but its so rare that I manage to catch birds in flight that I’ve decided to post them anyway.

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Orchids and Egrets

Two Walks by the Bela

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More ‘Creative Use of Odd Moments’, or ‘Excerpts from the Diary of a Taxi Dad’. On a Monday evening A has two consecutive dance lessons in Milnthorpe; this creates a welcome opportunity for a bit of a daunder and since Dallam deer park and the river Bela’s confluence with the Kent are both conveniently close by it’s natural to head that way for a look-see.

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TBH generally does this particular taxi-run, because Monday night is also the appointed niche for my social life, such as it is, but with the evenings drawing in I snatched the opportunity to forgo the delights of the Lancaster City Quiz League and to get some fresh air and a little exercise instead.

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This last photo was taken near the end of the walk, when it was, frankly, almost dark. These two Fallow Deer bucks, part of a domesticated herd kept in Dallam Deer Park, stood out a ghostly white under the spreading shade of a riverside tree, seeming to concentrate and reflect the light of the recently risen moon. I was surprised, given the relative darkness, that the camera managed to capture an image.

A week later I took a more direct route to the level ground beside the Bela’s final few yards, having missed the sunset the week before by dallying elsewhere.

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I still missed the sunset, but the afterglow wasn’t too shabby.

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There was a chill in the air which had me regretting choosing to wear shorts.

Two Walks by the Bela

From the Banks of the Bela

Needing to deliver A to a dance class in Milnthorpe, and with the boys in tow, I decided to revisit that stretch of the Bela which the boys and I walked in the spring.

Where we’d looked at butterbur flowers we now found the giant leaves of the same plant…

The bank was also clothed in a tall umbellifer…

…not dissimilar to the hemlock water dropwort I saw at Leighton Moss, and which I had originally mistaken for wild celery. But this I think was wild celery.

Although I’m far from confident. It was popular with bees…

I noticed that the polled baskets on this bee were grey – it never occurred to me that the colour of the pollen basket might be a function of the type of pollen being collected until I came across that idea here.

Whilst I was chasing bees, I noticed in the corner of my eye a movement on another flower and just managed to see the tail-end of something disappear into what seemed to be a silken tunnel…

A tantalising glimpse of….what? Shame the picture isn’t sharper.

Away from the river we found this garden, which aside from a small vegetable plot in the centre was almost entirely given over to nettles and ground elder.

Still, ground elder was once grown as a garden vegetable…

This garden weed is not a native of Britain, but more of a guest that has outstayed its welcome. It was introduced from the Continent, presumably by somebody who wanted to eat it: the young leaves, boiled like spinach and eaten with butter, were once considered a delicacy.

This is the 16th Century naturalist John Gerard complaining ground elder…

groweth itselfe in gardens without setting or sowing, and is so fruitful in its increase, that where it hath once taken root, it will hardly be gotten out again, spoiling and getting every yeere more ground, to the annoying of better herbes.’

I had partly sold this route to the boys as being ‘the way to the playground’, which was true – it’s the scenic route. Once the boys were enjoying the swings and climbing frames I found ivy-leaved toadflax and more biting stonecrop on the wall of the park…

From the Banks of the Bela

Butterbur and Excavations

Woefully behind as ever. A week and a half ago: ferrying A to pre-exam ballet lessons in Milnthorpe again, I took the boys too, knowing that they would enjoy the path beside the Bela I had walked earlier in the week. It gave them an opportunity to lob great boulders into the water and me a chance to take photos of the butterbur whilst the sun was shining.

Later in the week I had a short post-work stroll to Pointer Wood and Clarke’s Lot. There were many more violets…

And an ants’-nest mound which had been comprehensively hollowed out.

I know that both green woodpeckers and badgers will dig into these mounds in search of ants to eat. This time the culprit had left footprints….

….which I don’t think belong to either a woodpecker or a badger, but I’m not at all confident of a positive ID.

Butterbur and Excavations