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

The Early Birder and the British Bird of Paradise

An early start 

“Enjoy your lie in on Sunday morning”, my mother-in-law suggested as we left our kids with her in Crook and set-off for Wakefield. (The kids would be returned on Monday: don’t worry, we weren’t dumping them for good!) But here we were, on Sunday morning, the final fling of the Easter break, back from Wakefield, at home in Silverdale, and I was up and out with the first of the light. Not wasting a moment. The forecast was for cold, but clear and dry weather, and I wanted to savour the arrival of spring before returning to work the following day.

Back in the dark days of winter, when we planned our trips to York and Wakefield, they were something to look forward to, an incentive to get us through the winter gloom. But, in the event, with the sun shining and the advent of spring, I didn’t want to go. I wanted to stay at home. I was keen to explore, but what I really wanted to explore was my own backyard. Of course, despite my reservations,I did enjoy both trips, but now that we were home again, I was glad of an opportunity for a bit of a leg-stretcher on the home-patch.

I must have missed the start of the dawn-chorus, early though I was, but the birds were still singing with gusto as I walked across the fields and down through the golf course, where the fairway was silvered with frost.

I was heading for Leighton Moss. From Lillian’s hide the cacophony of the black-headed gulls, screeching and squabbling, put an abrupt end to the early morning peace.

I walked across the causeway to the public hide, where I was expecting to hear the same row from black-headed gulls; but whilst there were a few about – I watched three perched on posts in front of the hide having a proper ding-dong argument – they weren’t present in anything like the numbers I had expected. It looked like there was a pair of black-backed gulls on the small island in the mere and I wondered if that was why the black-headed gulls were concentrated around Lillian’s. A couple of lapwings were wheeling and stunting over the mere. I watched them for a while before sauntering around to Lower Hide.

Reflected sky 

There’s a viewpoint on the causeway where a low bridge crosses a channel. There’s often things to see here – deer, stoats, water-rails, fish leaping, once, perhaps almost an otter. The view east from here has become a firm favourite of mine, but with the sun beginning to climb into the sky, the better view on this occasion was to be had looking west.


Bulrushes catch the sunrise.

Frosted alder leaf 

Frosted alder leaf.

Great crested grebe 

I sat in lower hide for quite some time, drinking tea and taking things in. When I arrived, a great crested grebe was showing directly in front of the hide, but frustratingly, by the time I had my camera ready, it had disappeared into a clump of reeds. From there it made occasional sallies into the emerging horsetails around the fringes of the mere. I took loads of photos, but despite its relative proximity, none of them were as good as I had hoped. This is probably the best, in part because the grebe has something in its beak, almost certainly a small fish.

Whilst I waited for the grebe, I watched geese and black-headed gulls fly-over. There were pochard swimming out on the mere and blue-tits clinging acrobatically to reed-heads. The principle entertainment was provided by an extremely determined and aggressive coot defending its territory. It tolerated the grebe, but mallards were pursued and dismissed. And this pair of gadwalls…


…made a sharp exit…

A sharp exit 

…when the coot challenged them.

A determined coot 

Eventually a second grebe emerged from the reeds – I hadn’t realised that there was a pair there. Perhaps I’d unknowingly watched them taking it in turns to come out and fish. I remember, years ago, watching grebes dancing their amazing mating ritual on a lake in northern Germany, something I’d love to see again. I wonder whether I’m too late this year? I suppose I might have sat and watched a while longer, in the hope that these grebes might feel inclined to dance, but the cold was really getting to me, despite the fact that I’d brought several layers of clothing for exactly this eventuality. It was bitter.

Stepping out of the hide and into the sunshine made an immediate difference however. The frost was gone. These cowslips were still looking a little sad and droopy,…


…but not half as bad as they had when I’d passed them earlier.

Willow catkins

Willow catkins.

An unopened catkin? 

Could this be an unopened catkin? Rather handsome I thought.

It was breakfast time. Time to head home. Or, at least, that had been my original plan. But, the sun was shining. What little cloud there had been, had completely disappeared. The trees and birds and stones and streams were revelling in the spring. What was the hurry? Time, then, to go a little further. To take a circuitous route home. I walked around the ‘back’ of the reserve. The trees were awash with bird-song, and I stopped frequently to try to check my tentative identifications.

Blue tit amongst ash flowers 

Blue tit amongst ash flowers.

I took a lot of photos too. Most of them came out a little like this…

The one that got away. 

..where the poor old autofocus thought I wanted a photo of branches, rather then the chiff-chaff….

Ah...a chiffchaff 

…which was chiffchaffing away in the background.

I have a few favourite trees, old friends whom I like to drop in on from time to time: the climbing-beech in Eaves Wood, the coppiced willow on another path in Leighton Moss, the cloven ash by Silverdale Moss. This huge gnarly horse chestnut is a fairly recent addition to the circle.

The huge, gnarly horse chestnut 

I wonder whether it was pollarded when the Moss was farmland, perhaps a century ago? Anyway, it’s coming into leaf right now, just as it will have done at this sort of time over the course of that century….

Coming into leaf 

On this sort of day, I find the light and the colours irresistible.



Storrs Lane follows the edge of the reserve. From there I had a great view of a male marsh harrier quartering the reedbeds, occasionally dropping out of sight. It was close enough for me to see his pale beige on his head and the leading edge of his wings, but not close enough to get a really sharp photo.

A path from Storrs Lane leads into Trowbarrow Quarry…

Trowbarrow quarry 

In the woods on the edge of the quarry I had a stunning view of a pair of nuthatches – I got a photo, but only of a behind – the nuthatch turned away at the crucial moment.

I watched two marsh harriers fly high overhead. They are, I now realise, quite distinctive from below, particularly the males, with a pale body and the undersides to the wings chiefly white, but tipped with black. Later, I would see them again, this time from quite a distance, flying over Haweswater Moss.

The birches in the quarry were coming into leaf, and the leaves were catching the light superbly.

Birch leaves 

As I faffed about, trying to capture the effect….

More birch leaves 

…..a shadow passing close to my feet had me glancing up to catch a glimpse of a jay. Jays are relatively common birds in the woods around home. But glimpses are mostly all that I catch. I frequently hear jays and quite often see jays, but I’ve rarely ever had a chance to actually look at a jay. They are extremely shy and secretive birds. But this jay landed in a tree quite close by. I could see it, and even got photos – although there were a few twigs partially obscuring the view. When it shifted it’s weight and then took to the wing I fully expected that it would be away, but to my amazement, it flew down to the ground…


Here’s a cropped version.


It’s a stunning bird, not at all like any of it’s corvid cousins to look at (at least not the British ones). Usually it’s the white rump and the grey-pink colouring which stands out, but with a chance to see a stationary bird, the other distinctive features are the black moustache, the freckled head and the blue and white striped covert feathers.

The jay hopped out of sight behind a rock, but then posed in a nearby tree. Like the grebe it has something in its beak – I think nesting materials.


“…not altogether unworthy of being called the British Bird of Paradise”



Eventually, the jay hopped back down to the ground, flew somewhere out of sight in the trees to my right and then flew back overhead and away, soon followed by three more jays.


I hadn’t exactly been holding my breath, but I had that feeling, of tension released, of a spell broken.

A track from Trowbarrow leads down to Moss Lane, and where Moss Lane ends, a path around Haweswater begins. My fingers had finally defrosted. The day was even beginning to feel a little warm. From the duckboards by the lake I watched the marsh harriers and, high above them, a pair of buzzards.

Near to where the toothwort grows (now looking quite desiccated and past their best) a strikingly musical song caught my attention. I’m making glacial progress with my project to learn birdsong, but although it’s slow, it is progress, and I knew this song wasn’t one of my limited repertoire. Scanning the branches overhead I spotted the minstrel – a blackcap. The blackcap soon departed, sadly, but beneath the tree it had perched in there was a a sheltered spot, out of the wind, but in the sunshine, where I settled down to finish my mammoth flask of tea. I chatted to a couple of other walkers who passed. Buzzards flew overhead. There was a symphony of birdsong all around.


In an article in the Independent, Michael McCarthy identified the date of this walk, April the 15th, as the start of spring in the South.

This is the date when conventionally, the cuckoo could first be heard in the Thames valley, and it also works, more or less, for first hearing a nightingale (if you’re in the right place) and first seeing a swallow.

I’ve never heard a cuckoo in this area, although I often hear them in the Lakes, nightingales don’t venture this far north and I didn’t see any swallows during this walk, despite having seen them the day before at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. But I had to smile later on when I found that someone had arrived at this blog after searching for ‘Gaitbarrows Nightingale’ and finding a previous walk during which I was regaled by a blackcap – sometimes known as the northern nightingale.

Walking past a small copse en route to Eaves Wood I heard another song which I couldn’t be absolutely sure I recognised, but I thought it might be a another nuthatch. And….


…it was!

Several things I’ve read recently have reminded me of the value of stillness and connectedness – of getting to know one area intimately.

My vicinity affords many good walks; and though for so many years I have walked almost every day, and sometimes for several days together, I have not yet exhausted them. An absolutely new prospect is a great happiness, and I can still get this any afternoon. Two or three hours’ walking will carry me to as strange a country as I expect ever to see. A single farmhouse which I had not seen before is sometimes as good as the dominions of the King of Dahomey. There is in fact a sort of harmony discoverable between the capabilities of the landscape within a circle of ten miles’ radius, or the limits of an afternoon walk, and the threescore years and ten of human life. It will never become quite familiar to you.

from Walking Henry David Thoreau

If you feel inspired to explore this vicinity, you might be interested in these guided walks…


Click on the photo to go to the flickr page where larger versions are available. This should work with all of the photos.

The Early Birder and the British Bird of Paradise