In Search of Butterflies and Orchids

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Speckled Wood Butterfly.

After my early morning outing, I took A and S for a dip at our local swimming hole. I didn’t swim – I settled down on the shingle by the river, down behind the bank, which kept the wind off, and enjoyed a couple of cups of tea and a book.

The following afternoon, I tried to entice the kids out for a bike ride, but only A was interested. It was TBH’s idea – I wanted to visit Myer’s Allotment, Trowbarrow Quarry and Gait Barrows, on the hunt for butterflies and orchids and TBH suggested that connecting them by cycling between them would make it feasible to include all three in one afternoon trip.

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Leighton Moss from Myer’s Allotment.

After my flurry of visits last spring, this was the first time I’d visited Myer’s Allotment since. I never seem to see many butterflies here, which is ironic since it’s a Butterfly Conservation Reserve, but there are always compensations, chiefly the fantastic view of Leighton Moss.

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I’m pretty hopeless with yellow daisies, but I think that this might be Rough Hawkbit, based more on the photo I took of the very hairy leaves than on the flower.

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Song Thrush with snack.

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Common Blue Damselfly.

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Black-tailed Skimmer.

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Only the second time I’ve seen a Black-tailed Skimmer and both have been at Myer’s Allotment.

Another short ride brought us to Trowbarrow Quarry…

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…where there were lots of these…

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Common Spotted Orchid.

But far fewer of these…

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Bee Orchid.

I’ve been aware that these can be found in the area for quite some time, but am very pleased to have finally seen some. The flower is adapted to mimic a bee apparently, in order to attract bees to facilitate cross-pollination. The plants take five to eight years to reach maturity, but are usually monocarpic, meaning that once they have flowered and set seed they die and won’t flower again.

Whilst A and I were crawling about looking for Bee Orchids to photograph, a movement caught the corner of my eye and turning I spotted this tiny…

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Dingy Skipper.

Which flew close enough to this…

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Common Twayblade.

…to attract my attention and which in turn was growing close to…

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Another Bee Orchid.

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Another Speckled Wood.

On a warm, sunny afternoon the open glades at Gait Barrows seem to be perfect for butterflies.

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Common Blue on Bird’s-foot Trefoil.

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Rock Rose.

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This has me very confused. The flower looks like a Crane’s-bill flower, but the leaves, seen out-of-focus in the background,  are more like a pea type plant

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Another Dingy Skipper. 

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We saw lots of Dingy Skippers and several orange butterflies. Mostly they were pretty elusive, but one sat where I could get a couple of photos…

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I think that this is a Small Pearl-Bordered Fritillary.

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Large Red Damselfly.

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Azure Damselfly. I know – it looks very like the Common Blue Damselfly above. Fortunately they have a distinctive mark on the second segment of their abdomens.

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Female Broad-bodied Chaser.

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Common Blue Butterfly.

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Our Trusty Steeds.

TBH’s walk/cycle idea, henceforth know as going on a Wicycle, worked very well. Might even do it again some time. It’s even possible that if we do it a few times, I might finish one of our short cycling sections without feeling jelly-legged when I switch back to Shank’s Pony.

In Search of Butterflies and Orchids

Up with the Warblers, Herons, Harriers…

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I had set my alarm for an early start, or to put it another way, I left the curtains open, which never fails. A quick cuppa and then I was out, the early sun lighting the clouds in the eastern sky from below, but not yet visible above the horizon. (At this latitude, and this time of year, that does require a bit of a sacrifice of potential sleeping hours.)

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Everything was freighted with pearls of dew and down towards Hawes Water a cloud of mist hung over the trees. I climbed up into Eaves Wood, hoping that the extra height would give me a good view over the low cloud.

With the trees in the wood now fully clad with leaves, the views weren’t as clear as they were after my last early start, but the mist was glowing pink with the early light, so churlish really to complain.

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The mist from Eaves Wood – Ingleborough on the right.

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Cobweb, Sixteen Buoys field.

The mist was more dense than last time. A pale white disc appeared though the murk and then gradually brightened, suffusing the fog with colour as it simultaneously burned it off.

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In the wildflower meadow beyond the lake, the grass was strung with gossamer, which was in turn bedecked with dewdrops.

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I suppose this mass of spider’s webs must always be here, at least at this time of year, but usually goes unnoticed without the coat of sunlit drops to illuminate it.

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It looked likely that anyone who had opted to watch the sunrise from Arnside Knott would also have been treated to a temperature inversion. I don’t suppose that Brocken spectres are a common sight from the Knott.

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In the trees on Yealand Allotment, I had more cheering, but slightly frustrating encounters with families of Marsh Tits and Great Tits; I have lots of photographs showing birds partially obscured by leaves. I did eventually locate a tree-top Chiff-chaff, which was singing it’s name as ever. I also saw a couple of Fallow Deer again, although they too were too veiled by leaves for me to get a very clear photo.

This big, old Horse Chestnut by a gate into Leighton Moss is a favourite of mine.

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We drive past it every weekday morning and I was alarmed to notice, last week, that its large limbs have all been lopped off. I hope that isn’t a precursor to chopping the whole tree down.

This tiny Sedge Warbler, probably weighing about 10g…

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…was singing with great gusto and astonishing volume.

“…exuberant song, full of mimicry, seldom repeating itself, suddenly halting, then tearing off again, always sounding vaguely irritated.”

from The Complete Book of British Birds

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Yellow Iris.

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On this occasion, I had Lower Hide all to myself. Aside from the Greylag Geese and a lone Moorhen, there didn’t seem to be much to see. But with a couple of windows open I could hear warblers on every side. I kept getting brief, occasional views in amongst the reeds, but it didn’t seem likely that I would get a better view than that, until, just as I was thinking of moving on, a pair of birds landed in the reeds right in front of the hide…

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They were Reed Warblers. Like other warblers, migrants from warmer climes. Paler than their close cousin the Sedge Warbler and less yellow than a Chiff-Chaff.

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They shuffled between the reed tops, the nearby bush…

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…and down deeper among the reeds…

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They would fly off for a while, or disappear into the reeds, but eventually they would reappear. Maybe they were building a nest?

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As I reached the Causeway path and looked out into the fields towards Grisedale Farm, I was lucky enough to spot these deer.

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My immediate thought was that they must be Red Deer, because they seemed relatively large, but then I began to doubt myself; if they were Red Deer, why weren’t they in a large group, which is how I’ve usually encountered them locally? Maybe they were Roe Deer and I was mistaken about their size? After the fact, I’ve realised that I should have had the courage of my convictions. Roe Deer bucks have mature antlers at present, whereas Red Deer stags have new antlers, covered in velvet.

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Dog Rose

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Another warbler

Where the causeway crosses a small bridge I always pause to take a look around.

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And to peer into the water…

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Common Backswimmer (I think)

I was astonished by these tiny red mites…

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…so small that I wondered at first if they were inanimate particles undergoing some sort of Brownian motion. But they have little legs, so clearly not.

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From the Public Hide, I took no end of photos of this Heron…

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…which was feeling very chilled, in no hurry at all, and quite happy to pose. Perhaps predictably, it’s the very first photo I took which I prefer from the entire selection.

Although it was probably still what most people would consider to be indecently early to even be up on a Saturday morning, there were quite a few people about now. Birdwatchers are an ascetic bunch; up with the lark and all that. A chap and his daughter (I assumed) had spotted this warbler…

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…which was singing from the reeds. He asked me if I knew what it was. At first I demurred from offering an opinion. Then said that it was a warbler, probably a Reed or Sedge Warbler. I don’t know why I’m so reticent in these sort of circumstances; I’m usually not short of an opinion, or shy about sharing my views. It’s a Reed Warbler. (And even now I’m fighting the temptation to hedge my bets with a ‘probably’ or ‘I think’). Not only does it look like a Reed Warbler, but it sang like a Reed Warbler. Reed and Sedge Warbler’s have similar songs, and it comes as something of a surprise to me to realise that I could tell the difference, at least on that Saturday morning, having already heard both species singing when I could see them clearly as they sang.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a huge variety of wildlife as I have this spring, but then I know I’ve never before made such an effort to get outside to have the opportunity to have encounters. Reed Buntings are a good case in point: I’ve seen far more this year then I’ve previously seen in total.

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Male Red Bunting.

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Yellow Iris with Tree Bumblebee (?)

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Marsh Harrier.

There’s more water to peer in to at the pond-dipping area.

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Pond-Skaters

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View from the Skytower.

This bumblebee…

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…was stock-still, apparently frozen in position.

Whilst I was taking the photo, several of her sister Early Bumblebees arrived to forage…

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But she stayed completely motionless.

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My theory is that, on cold nights, like many we’ve had of late, bumble-bees get benighted, too cold to continue, so they have no option but to stay where they are, effectively asleep until at least the following day, when the sun warms them sufficiently to get them mobile again..

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Ragged Robin in Lambert’s Meadow

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Early Bumblebees again (I think).

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Female Broad-bodied Chaser

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Episyrphus alteatus (?).

All that and still back in time for a latish breakfast. It had been slowish progress however: roughly four hours for a route which I know I can complete in two and a half. Sometimes, taking your own sweet time really pays off.

Up with the Warblers, Herons, Harriers…

A Corvid Walk

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Later in the day, after my walk from Brockhole, with the weather now much improved, I was out for another stroll, a standard Hagg Wood, Silverdale Green, Stankelt Lane and across the Lots to the Cove wander.

The trees were absolutely full of small birds, but whilst they were very easy to hear, they were much less easy to see. The Oak above had a family of Blue Tits, which tantalised me by briefly showing themselves then hopping about in the branches, mostly obscured by leaves.

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The Sycamore helicopters which only recently appeared have changed colour already and are now tinged with red.

I watched these two Crows for a while.

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Shortly after I took this first photo, the Crow at the front leant a little too far forward, over-balanced and did an involuntary forward-roll, then sprang back-up and comically continued as if nothing had happened.

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Of course, I’m anthropomorphising, but it’s almost impossible, I suspect, not to project human emotions on to animals when you watch them going about their daily business.

Jackdaws can regularly be found in certain places in the area: Trowbarrow, Arnside Tower, the quarry on Warton Crag. I’ve realised recently that Stankelt Road is another such venue. These chimney pots had four birds perched on them…

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But when all four had flown away, perhaps unnerved by my attention, I could still hear the sounds of Jackdaws from that direction…

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There were more birds in the chimney pots! I think that these are juvenile birds sitting in nests. Some hopped out for a look around…

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…and a bit of an explore…

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When I lived around the corner on Emesgate Lane, I used to get a lot of squawking and detritus down my own chimney, most memorably an abundance of cherry seeds one summer. I suppose that may well have been Jackdaws too.

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A Corvid Walk

Walking the Lanes above Brockhole.

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Little S was invited to a party at the Lake District Visitor Centre at Brockhole. Looks like another job for taxi-Dad! Once I’d dropped him off with our friends, I had around three hours to wait until the party would finish. The forecast hadn’t been great, but not diabolical either, so – just for a change – I thought I’d get out for a walk!

I started on Mirk Lane which took me up to Newclose Wood where I found another Woodpecker nest. The adult was back and forth to the nest, but it was very difficult to get a clear view for a photograph.

The path, seen above, brought me out to a minor road on the outskirts of a hamlet seemingly composed entirely of fairly new houses. This set the tone for much of the walk, taking me past many large expensive looking properties, most of them with great views across Windermere to the Langdale Pikes. Many of the gardens, and hedges, were full of Rhododendrons which were flowering and looking splendid.

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Wansfell above was lost in cloud, but the weather generally held, bar a few occasional drops of rain. The whole route was resplendent with wildflowers, changing subtly as I climbed the hill and came back down again.

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Foxgloves.

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Meadow Crane’s-Bill, probably.

One short section of roadside verge had three different Crane’s-Bills.

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French Crane’s-Bill, I think. A species introduced from the Pyrenees.

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Wood Crane’s-Bill (I think).

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Windermere.

Skelghyll Lane took me past more grand properties. At one point, I was pleased to see a smaller, more rustic looking building with a traditional round Cumbrian chimney, but then realised that it was actually a garden folly.

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Holbeck Ghyll.

I passed a hedge absolutely cloaked with tent moth caterpillars…

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Water Avens seedhead.

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Low Skelghyll.

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Hol Beck.

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Early Bumblebee on Marsh Thistle (I think, in both cases).

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Marsh Lousewort.

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Lousewort.

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Robin Lane.

Robin Lane, which is part of the old route from Ambleside to Troutbeck, is a favourite of ours and very familiar, but it was really interesting to approach it via the lanes from Brockholes which I’ve never walked before.

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Windermere.

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Cantharis Rustica (Soldier Beetle).

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Mouse-ear-hawkweed.

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Lady’s Mantle.

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Wain Lane, by which I returned to Brockhole, has handsome stone barns all along its length.

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Ribwort Plantain.

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Garden Chafers.

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Roe Deer.

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White-lipped Snail.

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Silver-ground Carpet Moth.

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Honeysuckle.

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Another Wain Lane Barn.

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Another Roe Deer.

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Middlerigg Tarn.

I’ve never been to Middlerigg Tarn before. It’s difficult to get a proper view of the tarn, it being bordered by trees and a high wall, but there are one or two gaps. It’s not in the Nuttall’s Guide to the tarns of the Lake District, or in Heaton-Cooper’s, but it is a very peaceful spot.

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Yellow Irises.

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White Clover.

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Comfrey.

As I was almost back to Brockhole, I was looking over into a field on my right at pony dressed in a Zebra-skin print coat. I noticed a buzzard, relatively close by, sitting on the ground…

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Sadly, it took off just as I was taking a photo.

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White Stonecrop.

I’d been worried about arriving late for the end of the party, but actually arrived with half-an-hour to spare, so was able to get some soup and a pot of tea in the cafe there. Then when I picked up S, he declared his intention to stay a little longer to play on the adventure playground. The weather had improved considerably so that I was able to sit in the sun and read the book I’d brought for just such an eventuality – ‘Counting Sheep’ by Philip Walling.

I’d seen a lot of sheep of many different kinds during my walk. Apparently the UK had more breeds of sheep than any other country. Here are a few examples from my walk…

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This looks some of the very dark Scottish sheep, like Hebridean or Soay, but I’m not sure that it is either of those.

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I’m pretty sure that this is a Swaledale.

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I think that this is a Blue-faced Leicester, but as ever, stand ready to be corrected.

 

 

Walking the Lanes above Brockhole.

Palmate Newts, Red Tarn.

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We have three species of newts: Smooth, Great Crested and Palmate. These are the latter – the smallest British species, about 8-9 cm long. The newt at the back is a male – the spots and the red on his tail are part of his mating finery, and characteristic of male Palmate Newts.

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These…

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…are both males. The webbed rear feet are also something males develop only during the mating season.

And finally…

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…this male has a thin filament at the end of his tail – another peculiarity of male Palmates during the breeding season.

My field guide says:

“Found in lakes, ponds and canals; often occurs in fairly acid pools on upland moors.”

Red Tarn fits the bill then.

Palmate Newts, Red Tarn.

Family Wild Camp: Little Stand

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It’s been a long time on preparation this trip: the kids have all wanted to try a wild-camp for quite some time, and have been accumulating kit via Christmas and Birthday present requests to that end. I’ve slimmed down enough to manage to squeeze into an ordinary sized sleeping bag and have bought myself a down-bag to celebrate. TBH has agreed to join us in roughing it. All we needed was the right weather, so a forecast for a couple of  settled days in the middle of Whit week had us all packing our bags for the off.

We managed to find a parking space at the top of the Wrynose pass and plodded up the path to Red Tarn.

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I camped above here, on the slopes of Pike O’Blisco, on what must have been my own first wild-camping expedition, back in September 1985. This was one potential site, if any of us had been struggling with our loads we would have stopped hereabouts.

Little S had other ideas:

“Can we swim?”

When we joined my old school-friend J on Haystacks for his final Wainwright tick, B spotted a newt in floating near the surface of the water in the small tarn near the top. It wasn’t at all surprising that it was B who first spotted the newts in Red Tarn:

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There were quite a few about, and they weren’t at all discouraged by our proximity, even when the kids entered the water…

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In the end, nobody swam. B was quite contemptuous of the other two: “Just duck in and swim. If I didn’t have this pot on I’d be swimming.”

I’m inclined to believe him.

(More about the newts in the next post)

After our Red Tarn interlude we continued to the point were the path crossed Browney Gill…

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Happy campers. Pike O’Blisco in the background.

And then set off across pathless terrain to the top of Little Stand…

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As a result of monthly walks with our friend Dr R, TBH has developed a sudden interest in Wainwright bagging, and was very excited when I erroneously told her that Little Stand is a Wainwright. I should have realised my error sooner: there is virtually no path at all on Little Stand. This is one of Wainwright’s suggested routes up Crinkle Crags, but obviously that isn’t enough to bring the crowds.

Although fair weather was forecast, we were expecting cloud cover to come in off the Irish Sea, and in fact it was already stealing in by the time we reached Little Stand.

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Scafells from Little Stand.

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Crinkle Crags from Little Stand.

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Fortunately, the kids approved of my camp-cooking and made short work of the pasta I’d brought. I found a comfortable slab of rock and sat by the tarn, using my old MSR water-filter, which requires a lot of pumping and is a bit laborious.

“Look at your Dad sat there with his legs crossed. He looks like Buddha. Look at him: he’s happy.”

I was.

I thought we might get some kind of sunset, but we had to content ourselves with a line of brightness out over the sea.

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It was at this point that the wheels started to come off, at least to some extent. The weather, as I say, was supposedly set fair. But it began to rain.

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TBH and A had already retreated to their sleeping-bags. The boys were charging around the tarn, attempting to circumnavigate it without leaving the rock at any point. I watched a pair of Peregrines circling round the steep slopes to the south, then, as the rain intensified, suggested to the boys that we hit the sack too.

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It was a pretty wet and windy night. The Quechua tent survived the wind fairly well, something I had been worried about, but the fly and the inner were pushed together at the back, which was facing the wind, so that the foot of our sleeping bags did get slightly damp.

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We woke next morning to find ourselves in the cloud. Porridge, tea and a quick pack-up and we were on our way. The general enthusiasm of the night before for climbing Crinkle Crags, Cold Pike and/or Pike O’Blisco had completely evaporated.

A bit of judicious compass work brought us back to the path at Browney Gill, where we finally dropped below the cloud.

At one point B decided to assist with the navigation:

“This is the right way, Dad. We came this way last night.”

“How do you know?”

“We passed that white sheep with a black lamb.”

From that point on, virtually every sheep we saw was white and was accompanied by a black lamb. B stuck to his guns, though, brazening it out by claiming that the same lamb and sheep were leading us down the mountain.

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Langdale Pikes.

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Pike O’Blisco.

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Happy campers again.

Perhaps things didn’t turn out quite as we had hoped, but it was still an excellent first outing. Here’s to many more.

Family Wild Camp: Little Stand

Helicopters

Hagg Wood – Clifftop Path – Wolf House – Jack Scout – Lindeth Road

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Bank Holiday Monday, as is so often the case, was a bit of a wash-out, weather-wise at least. What better way, then, to spend a wet day in May than chatting and playing daft games with old friends?

The Shandy Sherpa and The Beach Funster and I did escape for a shopping trip, incorporating a wander to The Cove and across The Lots.

These photos are from the day after, when the weather improved somewhat.

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These Sycamore keys – ‘helicopters’ when I was a nipper – have appeared on the Mystery Tree, or perhaps I should say Former Mystery Tree, which is by Hagg Wood.

I’ve been mulling over an idea on recent walks about why I prefer Spring to Summer, or at least one reason why I do. In Spring there’s an orderly progression of events: Snowdrops appear in the lanes and then in the woods by Hawes Water; then I expect to see Daffodils, Toothwort and Green Hellebore in short order; swallows will arrive around my birthday, Beech leaves shortly after. I know what to expect, roughly when to expect it and where I might find things. The changes are familiar, and reassuring, and limited in number.

But when summer comes around, I can’t keep up. There are new flowers everywhere, in profusion and a myriad of forms, many of which I can’t identify. One moment the new oaks leaves are yellow and wrinkly, the next they’re lush and green and obscuring the birds in the trees. Changes seem to happen at a bewildering rate. It’s not that I don’t like Summer, it’s just that I wish it would take its time a little more.

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Gibraltar Farm.

Anyway, this is now sounding like a moan, which wasn’t really my intention and which doesn’t fit at all with these photos from what was really a very pleasant stroll down to Jack Scout to watch the sunset.

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Swallows by Gibraltar Farm.

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Blackbird.

Except I missed the sunset: by the time I’d walked around the landward side of the field and reached the clifftop at the southern end of the site, the sun had already disappeared. The after show was pretty good though.

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In among all of the Foxgloves, which seem to have crept up on me and arrived tall and all-grown-up without warning, there was a single specimen with white flowers…

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Less whinging in the next post, I promise.

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Helicopters