More Butterflies and Wild Celery


Orange-tip butterfly on Dame’s Violet.




As you can see, I was quite taken with the combination of a male Orange-tip and the Dame’s Violet flowers. Ii was Whitsun half-term and I was on my way to Trowbarrow Quarry to look for Fly Orchids. It has become something of an annual ritual – every year I go to look for them and every year I fail to find them. This year I had a good excuse, because apparently, due to the exceptionally dry spring, Fly Orchids were only very short this year. And they’re pretty hard to spot at the best of times. Well, they must be – I’ve never found any anyway.


Green-ribbed Sedge again? Maybe.


Broad-bodied Chaser.

I’m not sure whether Broad-bodied Chasers are the most common dragonflies in the area, or just the easiest to spot and photograph because of their habit of perching on the end of a stem like this. This is almost certainly a female – males begin their adult life yellow, but rapidly turn blue.


B had warned me that Trowbarrow would be busy. He wasn’t wrong. The photo doesn’t really show the extent of it because there are plenty of hidden corners here, and a lot of the visitors were climbers on so out of sight on the quarry-face above. There were lots of picnickers, families on bikes and the afore-mentioned climbers. All seemed to be managing to enjoy the sunshine whilst maintaining sensible distancing. Still, it was a bit of a surprise after it had been pretty quiet for so long.


Female Common Blue butterflies and Northern Brown Argus are very similar to each other. Both should have orange spots around the edge of their wings, which were lacking in this case…


After consulting this excellent guide, I had decided that this was a Northern Brown Argus, because the long thin body suggests that this is a male and also because of a missing ocellus on the underside of the upperwing. But then I saw a photo of an almost identical butterfly labelled, by someone who I think knows better than I do, as a female Common Blue. So…..I’m not sure!


Rock Rose.


Male Common Blue – no such confusion.



Bird’s-foot Trefoil.


Common Twayblade. 

If I didn’t find any Fly Orchids, I did at least come across  some Common Twayblade, growing very tall and apparently defying the dry conditions.


It was a hot day and the sheep had the right idea.


Guelder Rose in the hedge on Lambert’s Meadow.


Wild Celery near Jenny Brown’s Point.


I think this is the plant from which both celery and celeriac were cultivated, but is not one for the forager since it is toxic. The same is true, apparently, of wild almonds. I’m always intrigued by how our ancestors could have managed to domesticate poisonous plants. Why would you even try, from such unpromising beginnings?



Quicksand Pool.

For no better reason than that I’ve been listening to reggae all day whilst working, three favourites of the genre…

‘Street 66’ by Linton Kwesi Johnson

‘Funky Kingston’ by Toots and the Maytals.

‘This Train’ by Bunny Wailer.

More Butterflies and Wild Celery

Third Stone From The Sun

Hagg Wood – Burtonwell Wood – Lambert’s Meadow – Bank Well – Myer’s Allotment – Trowbarrow Quarry – Eaves Wood – Elmslack.


I watched this blue tit going in and out of a narrow crevice in an oak tree close to home. I took several photos, all blurred, except for the ones where the bird was too quick, or I was too slow and all the pictures show is a tree trunk. These two are the least bad. I assumed that there must be a nest here, but on subsequent visits I haven’t noticed any further activity.



Marsh Marigolds at Lambert’s Meadow.


Female Chaffinch with nesting material.


New sycamore leaves.


Dog Mercury – virtually ubiquitous in our woods, with nondescript flower so easily overlooked.




Myer’s Allotment.


Leighton Moss from Myer’s Allotment.


Silverdale Station with train – any passengers?

I’ve been intrigued by our local bus and train services. Both the buses and the trains seem to be travelling without passengers, at least most of the time. There’s something very poignant about the apparently futile, but quietly heroic effort to keep these services running in the present circumstances.


Trowbarrow Quarry.



Yellow dandelion-like flowers are often still a bit of a mystery to me. With tiny leaves and very-short stems, these didn’t look like very typical dandelions, but I think that may just be down to the impoverished soil of the quarry floor.


Comma on willow catkins.




This was an excellent walk for butterflies. There were brimstones about too, but they wouldn’t pose for photos.


Bee fly.

Three years ago I didn’t know what a bee fly was; now I realise that, in early April, they are everywhere. Another indication of the value of putting a name to the things that you notice whilst out and about.







Violets and celandines.




Grey squirrel.










This roadside verge is one of the most cheering sights when the sun is shining and the celandines are flowering.



The flowers close when the sun isn’t shining, but the way they strain towards the sun when it is on show is almost comical: like a class full of primary school kids with their hands up, all earnestly entreating their teacher, “Pick me, pick me”.




Definitely dandelions.

The tune was supposed to be ‘Third Stone from The Sun’ by Jimi Hendrix, but I can’t find an original version. Nor can I find either BBC session version of his ‘Driving South’ one of which was on the original ‘Jock Hols’ tape.

(“But who is Jock Hols?”, asked TBF)

So, here’s a highly enjoyable alternative, ‘Back Off Boogaloo’ by Ringo Starr:

Third Stone From The Sun

One Summer Evening


There were lots of climbers enjoying the evening sunshine at Trowbarrow. Sadly, down in the base of the quarry it was already shady. I had come in search of Bee Orchids…


And found that there were lots flowering, more than last year I think.

Almost as an afterthought, on the way home I called in at Leighton Moss to take in the view from the skytower…


I thought I might see some Red Deer out amongst the reeds and meres, and sure enough, there they were…


What I hadn’t anticipated was the commotion caused by a Marsh Harrier making regular raids on a group of nesting Black-headed Gulls.


The photos didn’t come out very well, but watching the acrobatics of the harrier and the organised and vociferous defence of the gulls was breathtaking.


When the harrier stayed away for a while, some of the gulls turned their attentions to the deer and attempted to drive them away too. The deer looked more bemused than worried.


The Summer Day
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
—Mary Oliver



One Summer Evening

Fat Man on a Bike

Or: A Promise Fulfilled


B on his bike. Not the fat man.

The actual Easter Weekend was at the end of our fortnight off. The Surfnslide crew were scheduled to join us and, in the run up to the weekend, although we were all, as ever, excited about the impending visit, the Dangerous Brothers in particular had just about reached fever-pitch.


At Trowbarrow Quarry.

Rather rashly, when we had last seen him, Andy had promised that on his next visit he would bring his bike and accompany the boys to their favourite local mountain biking venue.


Andy on his bike. Not the fat man.

For weeks before Easter they had been pestering me to remind him of his promise. And now that he had finally arrived they couldn’t wait to get out on their trusty steeds. So, on Good Friday, we all agreed to head for Trowbarrow Quarry.


Little S.

Our two-family party spilt into a cycling group and walking-to-watch-the-cyclists-fall-off brigade. Somewhat to everybody’s surprise, especially my own, I decided to join the ranks of the cyclists, which meant something of a delay whilst the entire party lent a hand to replace both of my bikes inner tubes. (You’d be right to conclude that my bike doesn’t leave the garage very often.)

Once we’d set-off, it was to discover that TBH’s bike wasn’t in a good state of repair either: one of the wheels was out of true and wobbled prodigiously as she rode. I waited a while and lost the others as TBH decided to turn back for home. When I eventually got going again, for some reason I didn’t take the first turn, along Moss Lane, but went the long way around beside Leighton Moss. It wasn’t much of cycle, but by the time I arrived I was already jelly-legged.


At the Quarry, the boys were showing Andy, the honorary Dangerous Brother, all of the steep banks which they enjoy riding down, and also the various mounds and edges they like to jump off.


Little S on his bike. Not the fat man.

They all looked much too steep to me.


I decided to try out my camera’s sports setting instead of attempting any feats of derring-do.



I did have a couple of freewheels down this, less intimidating, slope…


A on my bike. Not the fat man.

The net result of my change of heart was another puncture for my bike. Andy very kindly cycled back to our house for his car so that he could collect me and my long-suffering bike.

The ‘Fat Man on a Bike’ was, of course, me. But also the late Tom Vernon who wrote a book of that name after radio and television series about his cycling exploits. I can’t really recall anything about Vernon, apart from the title of his book. In my mind, he seems to have become muddled with Richard Ballantine, who wrote ‘Richards Bicycle Book’…

…a book which I thoroughly enjoyed when I was in my teens and very much bicycle obsessed. B is similarly bike fixated now. Of course, things have changed in the intervening years. I joined the Cycle Touring Club and fancied a set of Carradice panniers (handmade in Nelson, Lancashire since 1932), B hangs out in local quarries with his mates and has just acquired a dropper seatpost (whatever one of those is). We didn’t have mountain bikes, although I did enjoy off-road cycling, or rough-stuff as we used to call it. I even briefly kept a diary of my cycling exploits, a sort of forerunner to this blog, with carefully hand-drawn maps of the routes.

Finally, a bit of nature to round off the post…


In one corner of the quarry, we spotted a couple of what I think are slime moulds, probably the False Puffball, Enteridium lycoperdon, which is apparently common in Britain in the spring. According to this article, slime moulds, once thought to be fungi, are now classed as amoeba. They are certainly very strange.


Enteridium lycoperdon is found across Europe, but also in Mexico, where, in the state of Veracruz, it is known as Caca de Lune or Moon’s Excrement.

If this is False Puffball, then it is in its plasmodial stage, preparing to spore. The plasmodial stage is mobile, which I find very disconcerting – it looks like some sort of fungi, but it can move around. How very odd.

My extremely limited knowledge of slime moulds is a perfect example of one advantage of blogging – if it weren’t for a question I posted years ago, I wouldn’t even know they existed.

Fat Man on a Bike

Mending Wall

Eaves Wood – Ring O’Beeches – Waterslack – Hawes Water – Moss Lane – Trowbarrow Quarry – Storrs Lane – Red Bridge Lane – Golf Course – Bank Well – Lambert’s Meadow – Burtonwell Wood – Hagg Wood.


A half-term Monday, no work, not a cloud in the sky: better get out for a local walk!


In Eaves Wood.



The circle of beeches.




Woods near Challan Hall.


Exmoor ponies, used for conservation grazing.


The only fly in the ointment that day was the new fencing and padlocked gate near Hawes Water. It looked as though the intention will be to keep the public off the grassland which borders the lake which the old boardwalk used to cross. That will protect the habitat of the plants which grow there – Bird’s-eye Primrose at the southern end of its range and Grass of Parnassus for example – but will also mean that people like me who enjoy seeing those plants will no longer enjoy that simple pleasure. I could be wrong of course, I hope I am: the fencing was far from finished and I haven’t yet been back to check.

“Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,”
from ‘Mending Wall’ by Robert Frost


The bright sunshine went some way to alleviate my concern about the number of poor photographs of fungi I’ve taken this autumn; with better light the camera coped admirably.


Birch polyps.


Hawes Water.


Trowbarrow Quarry.


This female pheasant seemed unusually sanguine about my close proximity. I couldn’t decide whether or not she might be sitting on a very late clutch of eggs.


I rather liked this new (to me) carving on a dead tree by the visitor centre at Leighton Moss RSPB reserve.



By contrast, the following day the whole family went to Blackpool Pleasure Beach in bitterly cold weather. We’d bought tickets from a charity auction.


Poor Little S wanted somebody to accompany him on all of the white knuckle attractions, but the rest of us were relatively cowardly. TBH did eventually agree to join him on the ‘Ice Blast’.


Here they are, both looking very nervous, shortly before being sent hurtling skyward…


I was up for taking him on ‘The Big One’ – I like rollercoasters, but it was shut due to the high winds. We had to settle for the old rickety wooden ones, which left me feeling pummelled and slightly nauseous. I must be getting old.

Here’s the rest of the family on something much tamer, but wet, which is why I refused to join them.


To finish, another snippet of my diverse musical taste, in contrast with the previous post, this harks back to the late eighties when I waited eagerly for each addition of Maximumrocknroll where I could discover obscure punk bands, like, for example, Angst.

This song is the opener from their album “Mending Wall’. The fact that the album was named after the Frost poem was what put it into my mind, but I suppose that the song is also tangentially relevant, since it seems to be, in some way, about an inability to adapt to change (although I don’t think padlocked gates at nature reserves are explicitly mentioned). Angst were on SST records, run by Black Flag’s Greg Ginn and home not only of Black Flag, but also of Husker Du (at least for a while), Sonic Youth (for one album I think), the Meat Puppets, Saccharine Trust and a host of others including, best of all in my opinion, the Minutemen. Simply being on the label was recommendation enough for me and most of the records I bought on spec turned out to have been worth a punt.

Do people still become single-mindedly obsessed by the output of a favourite record label? I hope so. I was quietly pleased to see that Maximumrocknroll is still going strong.

Mending Wall

An Orchid Hunt


Female Broad-bodied Chaser in the garden again.


The final day of our Whit half-term holiday. TBH and I were out for a turn, looking for various kinds of orchids: I’d heard the previous day that there were Fly Orchids flowering at Trowbarrow Quarry, and felt that there would probably be Bee Orchids too, TBH wanted to see the Lady’s-slipper Orchids at Gait Barrows.


The Elder was in flower and TBH had been busy making cordial, as she habitually does at this time of year. Very nice it is too.




Comma butterfly.


Fossilised coral at Trowbarrow.



Common Spotted-orchid and Quaking Grass.


Common Blue Butterfly on Bird’s-foot Trefoil its principal food-plant.


Northern Marsh-orchid. Possibly.


Bird’s-eye Primrose by Hawes Water. At the southern limit of its range.



Common Spotted Orchid again.


Northern Marsh-orchid or maybe a hybridisation of same with Common Spotted-orchid.

I didn’t find what I was looking for at Trowbarrow and at Gait Barrows the Lady’s-slippers were rather dried-out and exhausted looking.


It was a very pleasant walk though.


An Orchid Hunt

Trowbarrow Views


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.


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?


Yorkshire Fog.




Leighton Moss.

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



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).


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


And crusty white rings on the undersides…


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


Common Spotted-orchid and Quaking Grass.


Red Wall.


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…



Humphrey Head.



Leighton Moss from Trowbarrow.


Common Spotted-orchid and Quaking Grass again.


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


Hedge Woundwort.


The clouds were back.


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.


Trowbarrow Views

Pulchritudinous Pruinosity

Lambert’s Meadow – Bank Well – The Row – Myer’s Allotment.

Later that day: A Tour of Trowbarrow


Ragged Robin


A Green-veined White on Cuckooflower.

Cuckooflower is one of the food-plants for the caterpillars of Green-veined  White. This butterfly was flitting from Cuckooflower t0 Cuckooflower, ignoring the many other blooms on offer. Green-veined Whites favour damp areas, which makes Lambert’s Meadow a perfect environment for them.


Emerald Damselfly (I think).

At Myer’s Allotment my every step seemed to raise clouds of damselflies. Once landed again, they weren’t always easy to pick out against the ground, despite, in some cases, their vivid metallic colouration.


Common Blue Damselfly.


The Cinnabar.


Bee Fly.


Myer’s Allotment view.


Broad-bodied Chaser (again).


Black-tailed Skimmer.


A new dragonfly to me and therefore very exciting. This is either a female or an immature male. Males ‘develop a blue pruinescence on the abdomen darkening to the rear with S8-10 becoming black’. (This from the British Dragonfly Society website).

S8-10 refers to the eighth to tenth segments of the tail.

Pruinescence, or pruinosity, is a dusty looking coating on top of a surface. Well I never. I particularly like pruinosity and shall be using it at every suitable opportunity. ‘Look at the pruinosity on ‘ere!’ for example.


Another Green-veined White. (I think).


Common Blue.


Bird’s-foot Trefoil (with bee).


Fossilised Coral at Trowbarrow.


More Trowbarrow fossils.


I think that this might be a Tree Bumblebee, a species which only arrived here from Mainland Europe this century and has spread rapidly, helped by the profusion of bird-boxes in the UK, where it tends to build nests, even sometimes evicting resident Blue Tits in the process. (Yes, I know, the temptation to draw some kind of political parallel here would be almost overwhelming were I of the persuasion that we can somehow up-anchor and sail away across the Atlantic, as many people seem to be at present. But I’m not.)


Common Blue Damselfly.

Pulchritudinous Pruinosity

Trowbarrow and Back – Glorious Mud


Thursday’s wander. We gave the kids two options: Haweswater or Trowbarrow and they chose the latter.


This is another part of the trough, a natural feature which runs across the area. That’s B demonstrating his climbing skills.

We were intrigued by this tree….


…which has a huge area on its trunk completely free of bark. According to the boys this is because it has been struck by lightning; I’m not sure why they concluded that, or if they may be right or not.


At Trowbarrow (a former limestone quarry) we discovered that two ponies have been enlisted to keep the vegetation in check. It was A’s idea to pet the larger of the two, but the small one was clearly jealous and insisted on our attention.





We’d had some rain overnight with the result that some of the paths were very muddy.


The boys were delighted.


I had a really great view of a nuthatch on a tree-trunk right by the path. Sadly the photos have not turned out as sharp as I had hoped.


In the woods it’s common to hear a bird tapping a tree-trunk. Nuthatches do it. I think that great tits do too. This one was. You can see that it has something in its beak here, a seed perhaps? There are several more seeds jammed into the crack in the bark; I have a feeling that the nuthatch was using the tree like a workbench – the seeds are held in a vice and can be conveniently worked on.

As well as stopping to photograph the nuthatch, I was also having to pause to indulge a particularly vociferous cough which insisted on being heard. The others left me behind. Not to worry: I didn’t want for company. If you look very closely, on the left-hand side of the photo.


You might just about pick out….


…a robin!


Which was singing very sweetly. Hence the slightly ruffled throat feathers.

Trowbarrow and Back – Glorious Mud

Bad Bird-Watching


At the tail-end of every winter comes at least one day when the sun shines, the wind drops, the temperature is mild, and it feels as if spring is approaching. A day like that has a few predictable effects on me – one of them is that I get over excited and write a post declaring the arrival of spring. Another is that I dig out my copy of e.e.cummings selected poems, start reading them again, and then quoting them, usually in the very blog-post which is prematurely heralding the onset of spring. Valentine’s day here was just such a day and this post was originally destined to be another of those mistimed fanfares.


But then Chrissie posted a comment on a previous post:

I wish I could do birds. Love watching and spotting them, but can’t remember them at all. 😦 Well, other than things like Robins and Blackbirds….

And I decided that maybe I would write about bird-watching instead. Except, now I feel a digression or two coming on. Firstly: poetry. I know not everybody reads or likes poetry. Personally, I don’t get it. Or quite often I don’t. But then, somehow, seemingly by accident, I’ve acquired quite a collection of poetry books. And paradoxically it’s the poets I find most impenetrable to whom I keep returning. Cummings particularly, but also Eliot and Dylan Thomas. (This isn’t entirely accurate, I like Robert Frost too, and his oeuvre doesn’t quite fit my argument, so let’s skate over that point!)

In Cumming’s ‘Selected Poems’ there are certain favourites I read and reread. Most of them I’ve already quoted in full on the blog over the years – ‘nobody loses all the time’, ‘etcetera’, and the one which begins ‘I thank you God for this most amazing..’ which I think of as ‘Illimitably Earth’. Then there are others which have small parts or phrases which I really like. For example, ‘mud-luscious’ and ‘puddle-wonderful’ from the first poem in the book which features a ‘little lame balloonman’ and which I still can’t make head or tail of. And then there are lots of others which leave me…well, bemused, befuddled and confused. But here’s the thing: I’m continually drawn back to the book, and my little collection of favourites keeps growing. I was, of course, tempted to quote another, perhaps ‘Anyone lived in a pretty how town’, but had to restrain myself – after all this is a post about bird-watching. So I’ll content myself with a scrap:

o to be in finland / now that russia’s here)

Which I’m guessing was written in 1939 when Russia invaded Finland. (Some things hardly change).


Silverdale has many small orchards. But only one of them has a resident plastic cow.

Digression alert: secondly – football. (Pay attention, stop groaning at the back). That Saturday, as most Saturdays, had started for little S and I, with a trip to his football training. Now, I shall have to be careful here, because S may one day read this, but, well, suffice it to say that it seems unlikely that S will ever set the football world alight. But he loves his football, and since he started attending training, and playing regular matches, he has come on leaps and bounds. At the end of each session, the coaches always ask ‘What have you learned today’. The answers are usually the same – passing, tackling, marking, shooting, dribbling, etc. But this week, for some reason, there weren’t many kids there, perhaps because it’s half-term, and by the end of a three-a-side match, those that were there were more than usually exhausted. Here’s the final exchange, as best as I can remember it:

“So, what have you learned today?”



“Nothing! Thanks for coming. What about you S, what have you learned?”

S didn’t reply, but was clearly racking his brains, trying to find a sensible answer. His coach had a suggestion:

“Alright, I’ve got one for you: Never giving up. You never give up, you always keep chasing.”

I was really chuffed with that. For me that’s the principal way in which S has improved – he’s dogged. I don’t play much football anymore. (I’m almost ready to concede that I may never be called upon to pull on the number 7 shirt for Leicester City.) But when I did play a lot, I always thought that whilst I lacked any great talent for passing, tackling, marking, shooting, dribbling, etc., I did at least run around a great deal. I know – it’s not the most flattering thing you can say about a footballer ‘He runs around a lot’ (although it didn’t seem to stand in the way of Robbie Savage’s career), but the thing is, I loved playing football anyway, and S does too.


No, don’t ask: I don’t why either.

Now, where was I? – bird-watching!

I don’t tend to think of myself as a bird-watcher. I’m a walker who likes to spot birds whilst I’m walking and likes, generally, to know a bit about the things I see when I’m out and about. My friend and colleague The Proper Birder; now she’s the genuine article. A dyed-in-the-wool fanatic. Her planner is plastered with beautiful photographs of birds, beautiful photographs which, I should add, she has taken herself. Her holidays are bird-watching holidays. She knows everything about birds. All of my queries are referred to her and sometimes I think she knows the answer long before I’ve finished asking the question. Recently I came in from a lunchtime stroll, a little excited because I had seen ‘a wagtail, like a pied-wagtail, but not black and white enough. More grey.’ I thought maybe I’d stumbled upon an off-course migrant, a rare visitor which would set the twitchers’ jungle-drums rumbling. But no: it was a pied-wagtail after all – a juvenile.

During another recent lunchtime we were discussing those lucky few who manage to make a living from their knowledge of birds – working for conservation bodies, ringing, estimating populations etc. I put it to her that she had all the skills and knowledge herself to make the transition to that kind of work, but she said that no, that isn’t the case.

So, if even The Proper Birder doesn’t think she’s qualified to be, well, a proper birder – what chance do the rest of us have? You can probably see where I’m going with this – it doesn’t matter whether you ‘get’ all poems or any particular poem; it doesn’t matter whether you can mesmerise like a Weller or a Worthington; it doesn’t matter whether you know all of the names of birds – just so long as you’re enjoying yourself!

But – yes, there is a but – I do know what Chrissie means. Not long after I started this blog I decided I would try to learn to recognise some birdsongs. Progress has been incredibly slow, although at least there has been some progress. But then again, it often feels like I take two steps forward and one step back. I have the same frustration with clouds and rocks. Ask Andy. I repeatedly quiz him about geology and nephology (the study of clouds!), but for some reason the answers, fascinating though they are, just won’t stick. Maybe I gave up to easily. I think we’ve got a book somewhere of ‘geological walks’ around the Lake District, but if we have, we’ve never tried any of the walks. And, although I was enjoying reading Gavin Pretor-Pinney’s ‘Cloudspotter’s Guide’, I was distracted by something else I wanted to read (which often happens) and I never finished it – I shall have to dig it out and try it again. When I think about it, I also bought a book, with an accompanying CD on birdsong. And a DVD on British birds. (Not that I’m a birdwatcher, you understand.)

So, some February resolutions (bit late for New Year’s)

  • Try some ‘geological walks’ (presuming I’m right about that book).
  • Read The Cloudspotter’s Guide
  • Redouble my efforts with birdsong.


Every year I admire a superb display of snowdrops and crocuses under a Copper Beech in a garden on The Row, but, for some reason, I’ve never taken photographs before. Now I have.

So, Chrissie, with the caveat that I am very far from being expert: this time of year is fabulous for getting to know some of our small, resident woodland species of birds: the birds are very active, but there are no leaves on the trees, so they’re a bit easier to see than they will be in late spring or summer. A bright sunny day is best, if luck is on your side, if only because it’s easier to see clearly what you’re looking at. A woodland is good, I find the edges are often the most rewarding, but a hedge which has been left alone for a while is maybe as good or better. Even a garden can be good, if there are trees nearby.


One of my favourites are long-tailed tits. They’re tiny, one of our smallest, although the tail makes them more conspicuous than they might otherwise be. The tail is distinctive. Also look for a hint of pastel pink. They’re always in flocks, moving together, and always on the move, bobbing and flitting about, hanging quite acrobatically from twigs and branches. Which makes them very difficult to photograph. I’ve tried no end of times and this is the best to date. I’ve never seen them on a feeder before. Their nests are amazing. Appropriately, sort of egg-shaped, with a small opening. Made from moss and spiders’ webs, lined with thousands of feathers and disguised with a coating of lichen. I’ve only seen one just the once. Both parents feed the young and other adult males will also help, brothers, apparently, of the male bird.


I’m not very good at this myself, but it helps if you have the patience to keep still. Because it was warm, and because I’m full of cold and finding walking a bit of a challenge at the moment, I sat under these trees for a bit. Once I’d been there for a while the birds started to appear amongst the branches. None of my photographs were very spectacular, but there were chaffinches, blue tits, great tits, wood pigeon, and a solitary song thrush.


Oh…and not forgetting thumper.


Challan Hall.




This is a marsh tit. This is another bird I’ve usually struggled to photograph, so again, I was quite pleased to get this. Willow tits look exactly the same (this probably isn’t true, but it’s close enough for me). How do I know which it is then? Because The Proper Birder once told me that Willow Tits don’t live in this part of Lancashire. One way to tell them apart is by their songs. This is a case in point for my lack of progress with birdsong – I’ve previously announced on the blog that I have learned to recognise a marsh tit’s song, but I’ve subsequently lost that ability again. You might mistake a coal tit for a marsh tit, but they’re only superficially similar. A coal tit has more black on its head, with white cheeks and a white stripe up the back of its head.


Forgive me yet another digression – I always enjoy snowdrop season. My favourite spot is in the woods by Haweswater. It seems to me that the snow-piercers there have spread and are now making an even better display than before. This photo only shows a part of that display.

One frustration with my new camera is that it doesn’t have a similar macro facility to the Olympus and I haven’t fully mastered yet how to photograph small flowers to best advantage.


Sometimes, you just need to get lucky. I was watching a small bird flying around in the lowest branches of a yew tree. I thought it was a goldcrest, but it was so dark under the dense yew that I couldn’t really be sure. Which was a shame, because I haven’t seen a goldcrest for ages. But then on a adjacent trunk – a treecreeper! Because of their superb camouflage, I don’t see these too often. They tend to spiral their way around a tree trunk and so often disappear and reappear from view. I’ve never successfully photographed one before. This one stayed frozen on the spot for a while. Apparently that’s quite characteristic behaviour – they rely on their disguise to protect them. Look at those huge rear toes, adapted for clinging to a trunk.


A great tit. Here’s a first birdsong to learn Chrissie, listen for them calling you by name (sort of) teecher, teecher, teecher. Confusingly, great tits have a wealth of other calls and are also good mimics. I tend to assume that anything I can’t recognise is a great tit being awkward. Which will be right at least once in a while. Learning birdsongs, even if it has been painfully slow, has helped – as I’ve got to grips with a few I’ve also begun to get a grasp of where different kinds of birds are likely to be calling from and also, of course, if you recognise the call (which is satisfying in itself) you have an idea what it is you’re looking for.

I don’t have any photographs of the group of four jays which I watched for a while amongst the trees. Jays are very shy, and although I was initially very close to them when I saw them, I never got a complete view without an intervening branch spoiling the shot.


I spent a while watching and trying to photograph another group of long-tailed tits. With familiar results. This is still probably my second sharpest photo of one. It does at least show the pink flush, and the ‘ball and stick’ shape they have.


The light as I crossed the boardwalks by the lake was lovely.





Blue tits are noted for their rudeness, and just won’t turn to face the camera.


This is a bit of The Trough – an unusual local feature. Limestone bedding planes have turned through 90 degrees and softer rock (I think mudstone: there’s that lack of geological confidence again) has eroded away leaving a natural lane – straight and high-walled. I followed the trough (a little bit off-piste here, shall we say, don’t tell anyone will you?) to Trowbarrow quarry.


I knew I was arriving before I could see the quarry, because of the bird calls overhead. At Trowbarrow there are always, and I mean always, jackdaws.


Once upon a time I didn’t know a jackdaw from a crow. Seems astonishing now. They’re sociable – crows aren’t. They make a din, shouting ‘jack-daw’ the whole time. And they don’t look like crows, they’re much more natty and neat, smaller and not half so black.


No real sunset to end this post – I must be slacking. There was a nice bit of colour in the sky as I crossed the golf course though.


I know that I’ve already tried your patience, by waffling on at ridiculous length (I hope you made a cup of tea at the outset), but even without a sunset, I feel like I need some kind of conclusion. This is probably some kind of blogging cardinal sin, but I’m going to quote myself, from one of the first posts I wrote on the blog, back in 2008, because this neatly sums up why I think it’s worth while being dogged, persevering, making an effort to know a little bit about the things you see when you’re out for a wander:

This book, then – apart from being meant for amusement – is merely intended to illustrate how much free enjoyment anyone can derive from simply keeping his or her eyes open in going about normal daily affairs.

Richard Adams – from the Introduction to A Nature Diary

How’s that for a manifesto?

He goes on to mention stars, birds and wildflowers as things that anyone could spot and identify with the aid of a suitable field guide. You might add clouds, fungi, trees…… Or even shopping trolleys and city-limit signs.

To be honest, even with the aid of a field guide I’m a pretty limited amateur naturalist. But I don’t mind. The thing is that it’s not the identifying that’s important, but the close attention required in order to make an attempt. By being aware of our environment we allow the possibility for the familiar to surprise us, for the local to become exotic.

A little bit more about ‘A Nature Diary’ on an even earlier post here.

I can also strongly recommend Simon Barnes’ book ‘How to be a Bad Birdwatcher’ from which I sort of stole the post title.

Bad Bird-Watching