Pulchritudinous Pruinosity

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

Later that day: A Tour of Trowbarrow

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Ragged Robin

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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.

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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.

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Common Blue Damselfly.

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The Cinnabar.

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Bee Fly.

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Myer’s Allotment view.

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Broad-bodied Chaser (again).

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Black-tailed Skimmer.

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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.

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Another Green-veined White. (I think).

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Common Blue.

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Bird’s-foot Trefoil (with bee).

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Fossilised Coral at Trowbarrow.

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More Trowbarrow fossils.

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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.)

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Common Blue Damselfly.

Pulchritudinous Pruinosity

Trowbarrow and Back – Glorious Mud

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

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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….

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…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.

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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.

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

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The boys were delighted.

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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.

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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.

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You might just about pick out….

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…a robin!

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

Trowbarrow and Back – Glorious Mud

Bad Bird-Watching

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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.

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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).

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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?”

“Passing.”

“Nothing.”

“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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Oh…and not forgetting thumper.

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Challan Hall.

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Haweswater.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Bullrushes 

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…

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,…

Cowslips 

…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.

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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…

Jay 

Here’s a cropped version.

Jay

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.

Jay 

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

W.H.Hudson

Jay

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.

Jay 

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.

Blackcap 

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….

Nuthatch 

…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…

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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

So good to be back home again

Playing pooh sticks

Pooh sticks.

It’s nice to be away obviously. I adore the Llyn Peninsula. The Vosges and the Pas de Calais had much to recommend them and are both areas I would like to revisit. Jersey made quite an impression, as you may have noticed if you’ve been following recent posts. But it is nice to be back.

Because of my extended raving about Jersey, I’m a little behind (no change there then) and have several local strolls to catch up on. The first began at Leighton Moss, where on summer Sunday mornings one can share with the expert enthusiasts in the opening of moth traps which have been out on the reserve the night before. On this particular Sunday there were more caddis flies than moths, but there were some interesting specimens, and it being later in the year, different ones than those we see on our annual ‘mothing’ day, also here at Leighton Moss.

Feathered Gothic 

Feathered gothic.

Sallow 

Sallow.

Centre-barred sallow 

Centre-barred sallow.

We walked from there to Trowbarrow, a quarry jointly owned by the RSPB and the BMC. The ankle-biters were very excited there by the small puddle by the shelter stone (where the quarrymen used to hide during blasting and practice their close-harmonies and Chuck Berry riffs). I was busy trying to catch up with dragonflies and grasshoppers to photograph, without much success, when I noticed this tiny caterpillar snacking on a leaf on a sapling.

Caterpillar munching on leaf 

On a leaf above the caterpillar I then spotted this forest bug.

Forest bug 

I assumed that it was a coincidence that they were on the same plant, but I now find that forest bugs feed on caterpillars, amongst other things, so perhaps something more purposeful and sinister was afoot.

On yet another leaf on the same plant was this…

P8281840 

..what? A gall? An egg?

This tiny spider…

P8281846 

..seemed to be eating, or perhaps removing, a seed from its web. Perhaps like this hapless fellow.

Red admiral 

Red admiral.

One reason I had wanted to come this way was to catch these flowers whilst they were still in bloom, having seen them in seed last year…

Helleborine 

…too late! I think that these are helleborines. Johnny-on-the-spot was in the right place at the right time and posted photographs back in early August.

Not too late however, for ragwort…

Ragwort

…which was plentiful in the rough on the return leg of our journey across the golf course. Ragwort is the food plant of…

Cinnabar caterpillar 

…cinnabar moth caterpillars, which were also plentiful.

Another cinnabar caterpillar 

Ragwort can be poisonous to cattle or horses when dried in feed. The caterpillars absorb alkaloids from the ragwort and can therefore feed brazenly in the open, and are brightly coloured to warn potential predators of their unpalatable status.

Banded snail

Banded snail.

So good to be back home again

On the Hoof

Three walks to report on. The first, late on Saturday afternoon, with friends small and large, from the Leighton Moss car park to Trowbarrow quarry and back via the golf course. Very much an amble this one with lots of opportunities for scrambling on the rocks and boulders of the Trough for the kids.

One surprise – this orange ladybird, halyzia 16-guttata, on a tree trunk on the edge of the quarry. It seems that this type of ladybird has become more common in the UK as it has begun to live on sycamore and ash. At this time of year ladybirds are usually dormant, so what this one was up to (not much whilst we watched) I’m not sure. Looking for information on ladybirds I found this helpful site.

 Trowbarrow Quarry.

Sunday afternoon’s walk took me past an old friend – the Cloven Ash. I think the gap is getting wider. But I might be wrong. We’d come via Eaves Wood and Haweswater and were now following the trough again (although a little further north). We followed it to this bridge – where R and S examined a geocache. R has placed a new geocache nearby, part of a series on or near the parish boundary which he is organising to celebrate the village bicentenary.

From the new geocache, we took a peek at the remnants of Coldwell Limeworks. Around the ruin there has been lots of tree-felling – R thinks that it’s the RSPB removing sycamores. Bad news for orange ladybirds! I knew that the RSPB had bought Silverdale Moss, but not that they owned this woodland too.

Yesterday after work, I left the railway station in the wrong direction for home, and took a turn instead around Leighton Moss. I was hoping to catch the starling roost. I only saw the starlings briefly. But for about 10 minutes, I watched them wheeling in a huge cloud, about 100 yards away across the reed-beds. They’re fantastic to watch, but also, as I watched, many of the birds seemed to alight on the reeds for a moment – the sound they made as they all lifted into the air again was amazing. Finally the original cloud of birds was joined by a zeppelin of starlings from the north, and moments later by a long worm from the south and the new larger host sped away westward across the moss and were lost to view.

On the Hoof

Another Series of Sorties to Assorted Spaces

Or Radius of Activity II

A number of short trips to report on. On Good Friday the boys and I sped down to Woodwell. We hoped to see frogs in the pond but found only frogspawn. Later S was on his bike again, this time joined by his sister A and I…

It was her idea to go out – she wanted to join the vicar and a few parishioners on a walk across the Lots which included several stops to read the passion from the Gospel of Saint Mark. A bit of a departure for me!

On Saturday we were in Eaves Wood. Climbing up Elmslack Lane towards the wood we saw several brimstone butterflies, our first of the year. As we entered the wood we bumped into friends and the children (of all ages) climbed trees, carved names on tree trunks, collected sticks and ended up building a den together…

We played hide and seek, as we often do. I took some photos from one of my hiding places…

Balancing on tree trunks is another great woodland activity

On Easter Sunday, whilst the girls were at church, the boys and I had an outing to Hyning Scout Wood. It’s just a couple of miles away, on the outskirts of the village of Warton. (Or should I say that the village of Warton is on the outskirts of Hyning Scout Wood?). But despite its proximity, I don’t know it well and the boys have never been there before. It’s definitely somewhere that is worth further investigation. There are a number of sizeable sweet chestnut trees in the wood…

…and although the nuts are reputed not to ripen this far north I have occasionally found palatable ones locally in the past. There is also an abundance of wild gooseberry bushes. And large areas of bluebell leaves, which bodes well for a few weeks time…

The boys had a whale of a time. We found a small hollow which proved to be the source of endless fun. They decided that it was their rabbit hole…

They climbed up the steep banks at the side…

…and then leapt back in again…

They grubbed around in the leaf-litter looking for mini-beasts…

Or a millipede curled up in the prickly remnants of a sweet chestnut shell…

The sun shone briefly and a nearby tree-stump was very comfortable to sit on, if I’d had the foresight to put a book in a pocket I would have been as content as the boys were to go no further. But I eventually persuaded them to go a little further. They were OK, they found more tree-trunks to balance on…

This one was host to the fungi King Alfred’s Cakes…

Another was huge, and very rotten (it made disturbing cracking sounds when I balanced on it).

It had also been host to some sort of fungi…

…I think that these ‘bootlaces’ may be honey fungus which kills trees, and also can make the wood fluorescent,  but I am probably wrong!

As we were leaving the wood we found a plant which is new to me…

…although curiously I recognised it as moschatel even before I got home and looked it up – clearly too much time spent pouring over field guides. The scientific name is Adoxa moschatellina. Apparently adoxa means ‘not worth mentioning’ and the flower is tiny and not immediately striking, but what the photograph doesn’t show is that five flowers form a cube – the uppermost one has four petals (that’s the one seen in the centre of the photo) and the other four each have five petals. It’s unusual nature lends it a little charisma.

Also by the edge of the wood we found the Hyning lime kiln…

That afternoon we (all of us but A who had been invited to join some friends for a walk by the Lancaster canal) were back at Leighton Moss for a very brief visit. At the pond dipping area we hoped to see frogs, but once again found only frogspawn….

…the trees reflected here are these alders…

…beyond which I briefly spotted one of the marsh harriers flying. Next to the nest which we have noticed before (see previous posts) a second has appeared…

This is a neater and more compact affair and the eggs are more difficult to see, although still evident. A moorhen was nearby and I assumed that this was its nest.

Water and sticks both exert a powerful influence on the boys, the conjunction of the two is irresistible.

We usually play pooh sticks here but they needed on this occasion to get a little closer. Fortunately they never got any closer than this.

Easter Monday was a bit of a wash out. Well…it was a bank holiday. But on Tuesday we were all back at Leighton Moss to join an organised Wildsquare walk…

Our guide, seen in the foreground here, was informative and witty and pitched it perfectly for the kids whilst still managing to point out many things which I wouldn’t have seen or heard or recognised without his help.

After Lunch at the visitor centre A and B walked home with me via Trowbarrow quarry and Eaves Wood. We passed the pond dipping area on our way and were able to confirm that the second nest is a moorhen nest…

On the path between Trowbarrow quarry and Moss Lane I spotted this skull…

I knew that B would be determined to bring it home, and he has.

He was keen to add this to the ‘rabbit skull’ which he was given last week. He was also very keen to identify this skull and helped me to search through my natural history library looking for help. We found none and so naturally fell back on Google, which led me to this blog which in turn brought me to this handy identification guide. Apparently the large gap between the incisors and the other teeth is typical of rodents and rabbits. Our skull has a second set of incisors behind the first making it either a rabbit or a hare. Which means that the ‘rabbit skull’ he was given isn’t a rabbit skull at all. Now that I’ve looked at it properly, I don’t think that it is a skull of any sort.

Anyway…bugs, dens, pooh-sticks, hide and seek, leaping, climbing, nests, skulls….it’s a wonder we ever find any time for our wii.

Another Series of Sorties to Assorted Spaces