Loafing

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Last Whit a female Broad-Bodied Chaser visited our garden. This year we had two. Then another a couple of days later, or possibly a return visit from one of the first two. I half hoped that one of them had adopted our garden as its territory, but dragonflies are short-lived in their adult phase, and I’m not sure that they are at all territorial.

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If I hadn’t spent so much time loafing in the garden in the sunshine, I might have missed our visitors, so there’s something to be said for a little inaction.

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When the golden Summer has rounded languidly to his close, when Autumn has been carried forth in russet winding-sheet, then all good fellows who look upon holidays as a chief end of life return from moor and stream and begin to take stock of gains and losses. And the wisest, realising that the time of action is over while that of reminiscence has begun, realise too that the one is pregnant with greater pleasures than the other – that action, indeed, is only the means to an end of reflection and appreciation. Wisest of all, the Loafer stands apart supreme. For he, of one mind with the philosopher as to the end, goes straight to it at once, and his happy summer has accordingly been spent in those subjective pleasures of the mind whereof the others, the men of muscle and peeled faces, are only just beginning to taste.

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And yet though he may a little despise (or rather pity) them, the Loafer does not dislike nor altogether shun them. Far from it: they are very necessary to him…It is chiefly by keeping ever in view the struggles and the clamorous jostlings of the unenlightened making holiday that he is able to realise the bliss of his own condition and maintain his self-satisfaction at boiling-point.

Kenneth Grahame from the essay Loafing, collected in Paths to the River Bank

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I was struck by the size of the bees feet in this photo. Some trick of perspective?

If I didn’t have clamorous boaters anxious to wring the most out of their days on the Thames to observe, as The Loafer in Grahame’s essay goes on to do, I could at least wonder at the industry of the bees in amongst the Green Alkanet in the garden.

I did get out for the occasional stroll. The first was a late evening outing. It began with the cheerful accompaniment of a Blackbird singing…

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Then I seemed to be handed from the territory of one Chaffinch to another. They were perched in trees, on TV aerials, telephone wires, but every stretch of my route seemed to have an on looking Chaffinch. Finally, when I reached Jack Scout it was Thrushes and Blackbirds which dominated again.

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One Blackbird hopped around by my feet on the path, apparently unconcerned by my proximity.

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I’d hoped that by heading to Jack Scout I would find the last of the sunshine, but even there the paths were mostly in shade, although the birds overhead could still enjoy the sun…

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The low-angled light, where it could be found, worked nicely for photos though…

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I had a couple of fleeting glimpses of a Green Woodpecker and then followed it’s mysterious yaffle around the field, eventually creeping under an Oak in which the bird was perched and laughing (astonishingly loud up close), but just out of sight behind a screen of leaves. Needless to say, when I tried to move to get a view, and maybe a photo, the Woodpecker heard my inept attempt at stealth and was off and away in a flash.

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Loafing

Winging in the Blossoming

Clark’s Lot – Woodwell – Jack Scout.

If you go down to Woodwell today be sure of a big surprise. The pond has silted up quite considerably, and at one end the water is very shallow, and in that shallow water there must be thousands of tiny fish…

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Every attempted photo of a fish was later revealed to be a group shot. It was teeming. My best guess is that these are Three-Spined Sticklebacks, like the ones I used to catch in the brook with a bucket when I was a boy.

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Great tit (and emerging ash flowers).

The wind was in the North, and pretty icy, but the sun was shining and if you could find a sheltered spot it actually felt warm for a change.

– it’s april(yes, april;my darling)it’s spring!
yes the pretty birds frolic as spry as can fly
yes the little fish gambol as glad as can be

The agility of Blue Tits never ceases to amaze; this one…

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…was acrobatically hanging upside down whilst worrying the edge of a decaying piece of bark. Apparently they eat mostly caterpillars. I don’t know whether there were any beneath that flake of bark. I hope so.

Chiff-chaffs are generally much easier to hear than to see, as they often sing their distinctive song from the very tops of tall trees. But Jack Scout doesn’t have many tall trees, specialising instead in thickets of prickly things like gorse, brambles, holly, hawthorn and blackthorn. So this chap was chanting his name from a prominent, but relatively low, branch…

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…before dropping down into the brambles…

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…to play hide-and-seek in the way that two-year-old children do: ‘I can’t see you therefore I’m hidden’.

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This Bullfinch looks like it’s escaped from the set of the Angry Birds movie.

A brief glimpse of two butterflies circling, spiralling, dancing together, took me over towards the boundary wall, away from the cliff, the bay and the cold wind. Of course, when I reached the spot where the butterflies had been, they were long gone. I did eventually see one again…

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But here beneath the wall it was like I’d walked in from a winter’s day to a centrally-heated room. The contrast in temperature was quite astonishing. And, almost immediately, there were other things to look at.

I’ve been puzzled this spring by the behaviour of Bumblebees. There are lots of them about and they are all very busy, but none of them seem ever to be feeding. What are they up to?

This one…

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…buzzed over, landed on some moss, and then apparently did nothing.

I was photographing the Primroses, when I became peripherally aware of something strange flying across the clump.

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It was a tawny orange and looked something like a bee, but clearly wasn’t a bee. What’s more, it had thin, black, scalloped-edge wings which were perpetually in rapid motion, flickering back and forth and giving the impression of some bizarre bee/bat hybrid hovering over the primroses.

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Some moths imitate bees in appearance. So do many hoverflies. Even some bees impersonate other bee species. But this didn’t look even remotely like a hoverfly. Nor particularly like a moth. A second appeared…

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The curious, black, improbably thin, bat-like wings were revealed to be actually just the top edge of larger wings. And the hovering was an illusion created by the constant trembling palpitation of those wings.

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These are Bee-Flies.

The furry brown body and the long proboscis, together with the dark brown front edges of the wings make this fly very easy to recognise…Although appearing to hover while feeding, it usually clings to the flowers with its spindly legs. The larvae live as parasitoids in the nests of mining bees.

from Collins Complete British Insects by Michael Chinery

A parasitoid, I learn, differs from a parasite in that it will eventually kill or paralyse its host and then eat it. A slightly gruesome creature then, but fascinating just the same. What’s more, the presence of these flies surely indicates that their hosts can’t be too far away, and after being captivated by a Tawny Mining Bee last year, I’d love to find them closer to home. Actually, I have seen one closer to home, feeding on Blackthorn blossom…

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last spring.

My attempts to get to grips with birdsong have not been a massive success, but sometimes knowing that you don’t know can even pay dividends. (I’m in danger of slipping into Rumsfeldisms here if I’m not careful.) I could hear a bird singing from a very tall ash. I was fairly confident that it wasn’t a Robin, or any kind of Tit or Finch, and obviously not a Thrush or a Blackbird, nor a Nuthatch, which I seem to have recently become reasonably confident about picking out. Quite a musical song, I thought…

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…and there it was, way up in the blue, a Dunnock! I had no idea that they could sing like that.

(The RSPB page on Dunnocks has a handy sound file.)

So, alright, it’s a Dunnock. We get them in the garden, mostly on the ground under the hedges. You could maybe accuse it of being a bit drab. But I was thrilled to spy it way up there in the very tallest tree, proclaiming it’s territory.

(all the merry little birds are
flying in the floating in the
very spirits singing in
are winging in the blossoming)

All of the unattributed quotes are from e.e.cummings. Inevitably. Illimitably.

Winging in the Blossoming

Back To Jenny Brown’s

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A Sunday stroll. One of our favourite routes: down through Fleagarth wood to the salt marsh, round to Jenny Brown’s, Jack Scout and home again via Woodwell.

The kids are posing here on the remnants of the bridge which, when I first moved to the area, used to cross Quicksand Pool, but which was laid low by the moving channels hereabouts.

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The channels are continuing to shift, and the old wharf is now under threat of being undermined.

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It may not last much longer. Soon afterwards we heard that moves are afoot, sponsored by local charity Morecambe Bay Partnership, to get an archaeological survey organised, involving local people. I put my name down as a volunteer, but couldn’t think in what capacity I might be qualified to assist, apart from perhaps as a hod-carrier, or chief cook and bottle washer.

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The wharf is already damaged.

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I wonder what will be turned up, and whether a bit of sleuthing will reveal the purpose of these mysterious odds and ends.

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Close by, to the north, low tide shows the remains of a long stone embankment stretching a mile into the sea, the remains of a controversial land reclamation scheme. An Act of Parliament (1874) permitted the Warton Land Company to enclose an area stretching from Jenny Brown’s Point to Hest Bank. Work began in 1875, building the embankment from limestone extracted from the quarry at Jenny Brown’s Point, but proved much more difficult than had been expected by the surveyors and engineers. In 1885 the company was declared bankrupt.

from the website of the Mourholme Local History Society

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Just a couple of weeks later there was a local history weekend in the village (of which more anon). I attended a talk about the Matchless disaster, subject of a new book.

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Here we are in the Gaskell Hall, just after the talk. It was absolutely fascinating, setting the accident in context. I have to confess, I hadn’t previously heard of the ill-fated Matchless.

Just beyond the remains of the embankment is the site of a boating disaster – the sinking of the Matchless in 1894. A pleasure boat sailed from Morecambe with 33 passengers, taking the much-travelled route to Grange, and carrying a cargo of millworkers holidaying in Morecambe. A sudden squall caught the boat broadside, rolled the boat over, and resulted in 25 passengers drowning. 8 others, together with the boat’s skipper, were saved by other pleasure boats. The inquest that followed was brief and hurried, and seemed to be something of a whitewash.

from the website of the Mourholme Local History Society

Matchless Sketch

Many of the victims were from Burnley. I think I shall always think of this tragedy when I visit Jenny Brown’s from now on. And also of the image of Barnum and Bailey’s circus crossing the sands with elephants amongst their company, which was another story we heard that weekend. What a sight that must have been!

We searched for, and found, fossils in the cliffs below Jack Scout.

S also found…

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….a sponge.

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Crepuscular Rays

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Jack Scout seat.

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Traveller’s Joy.

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The Bay from Jack Scout.

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This is the Wolfhouse, named for this crest and its motto: Homo homini lupus.

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A bit of lazy internet research reveals that this is (or maybe) a quote from the comic play Asinaria by Titus Maccius Plautus from 194BC. It’s more normally quoted as ‘Homo homini lupus est’ – Man is a wolf to man. Not the cheeriest thought, but in light of the total disregard for safety which led to the loss of life in the Matchless disaster, or in Morecambe Bay’s other great tragedy 110 years later, when the cockle-pickers were drowned, perhaps depressingly accurate at least some of the time.

That’s a very sombre note on which to end an account of what had been a most enjoyable saunter!

Back To Jenny Brown’s

An Autumn Ramble

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Little S, who isn’t that little anymore, but is probably always destined to be Little S in my mind even when he’s towering over me, has often been the family’s reluctant walker. Pleasing to report then, that last autumn he began to suggest, even to demand, that we take him out on walks.

These photos are from one of several local walks we did together, this one will stick in my mind because it was just the two of us, with the rest of the family being busy elsewhere.

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We discovered a superabundance of fungi and ferns, and in one spot a woodland windfall of surprisingly sweet and tasty apples (these were decidedly not crab-apples). I’ve made a mental note of the place for future reference.

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This, I think,…..

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…is a Harlequin ladybird. It’s not native to the UK, but was introduced in 2004, is extremely invasive and represents a threat to our indigenous species.

We’d walked through Pointer Wood and Clark’s Lot, through Fleagarth Wood, past the old chimney to Jenny Brown’s Point (near where, S insisted I take this picture)….

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At Jack Scout we stopped to do a spot of birding, having, for once, remembered to bring some binoculars along for that purpose. Memorably, we watched a black-backed gull catch a crab – we could clearly see the crab frantically wriggling its legs whilst pinned in the gull’s beak. A pair of crows then harried the much larger gull, with, I think, some partial success – I’m fairly certain that they gained possession of part of the crab.

Later the same day, we all had a wander down to Leighton Moss. From Lillian’s Hide, we spent quite some time watching a pair of snipe in the reeds at the near edge of the mere. They were incredibly difficult to spy, their camouflage is so effective. This photo was taken at maximum zoom and has then been heavily cropped:

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It was only today, six months later, that I realised that both of the birds are in this shot. Can you pick them both out?

They were pointed out to us by some Proper Birders, who very kindly let us view the snipe through their powerful monocular. They thought, or perhaps hoped, that these might be the more uncommon jack snipe, but I think that they were wrong – some of the many photos I took show the yellow crown stripe which identify them as plain old snipe.

An Autumn Ramble

Woodwell and Jack Scout – slight return

Crow

Another sunny day for an amble. A was keen to get in on the foraging act, and to walk round the shore from Jack Scout so we decided to visit Woodwell and Jack Scout as I had done a few days before, although in the event, the routes we took were almost entirely different from the paths which I had followed.

Some snow in the Howgills 

We started across the fields towards the Green, in part because that gave us a view of the snow still clinging to some slopes in the Howgill Fells.

Blackthorn 

Because the hawthorns are coming into leaf and everything is arriving so early this spring, I’d been thinking that somehow I’d managed to miss the blackthorn flowering. Fortunately, I was wrong.

Ash buds - a bit further down the line. 

The ash flowers near Woodwell are just that little bit further along. I think that these might be male flowers, but I shall have to go back again to be sure. Ash trees are sometimes male, and sometimes female and sometimes have flowers of both types.

A pointy pond snail 

Another pond snail. A ‘pointy shelled one’.

Ash flowers 

These are definitely female ash flowers.

Near Woodwell we watched a pair of buzzards circling overhead. The smaller of the pair (and therefore probably the male) repeatedly pulled in his wings and went into little dives and swoops. I asked A what she thought he was up to. “He’s trying to impress the female isn’t he?” Even at her tender age she probably recognises this sort of behaviour from the playground!

Cow's Mouth 

Cow’s Mouth with Grange-over-Sands in the distance.

At Jack Scout we discovered that the tide was in and so we couldn’t return by the beach.

Song thrush 

Song thrush again.

A in Bottom's Wood

We went back through Bottom’s Wood instead. Here’s A surrounded by the lush carpet of ramsons. We’d already collected some young leaves to add to sandwiches and salads and to chop into mayonnaise to give a garlicky relish to accompany or Good Friday fish.

Woodwell and Jack Scout – slight return

Woodwell and Jack Scout

Ramsons

The day after my idle afternoon stroll. The weather was still holding fair, although much colder than it had been. I nipped out for another short wander, calling in on a couple of local spots I haven’t visited in a while. In Bottom’s Wood the ramsons are tall and verdant and almost in flower…

Almost flowering 

Ash buds are bursting open…

Ash flowers, bursting out. 

At Woodwell the pond is silting up, and the water level was very low after the long fry spell of weather. There were very few tadpoles to be seen this year, but even more small fish than ever. I’ve never photographed the fish here. The camera’s autofocus seemed intent on keeping it that way…

Confused autofocus 

But I eventually got some clear(ish) shots…

Fish 

My best guess is that these are minnows, but I’m not confident about that and as ever stand ready to be corrected.

Another fish 

This pond skater seems to have made a catch…

Pond skater 

I think that there are at least three types of snail in the pond. Here’s one of the ‘rounded, green shell variety’ (I’ve got a book with these in somewhere – now what have I done with it?)

Pond snail 

One edge of the pond is greeny yellow with flowering golden saxifrage.

Golden saxifrage 

And some trees are coming into leaf at last…

New sycamore leaves 

From Woodwell I went down to Jack Scout to find some thing of a surprise. The banks and channels have changed. The wall which extends into the bay from Jenny Brown’s Point has all but disappeared, with only a small section close to the shore visible. The rest has disappeared under a new sandbank.

Where's the wall? 

Looking across Morecambe Bay. Heysham power station on the horizon right of centre.

Clougha Pike

Cliffs at Jack Scout. The dark line right of the cliffs is the Bowland Fells, Clougha Pike on the extreme right-hand end.

Shells 

Seashells.

Cow's mouth

A sloppy and muddy surface here has been replaced with a fairly sandy surface, pleasant to walk on. This small cove is Cow’s Mouth which was one of the embarkation points when lots of traffic crossed the sands of the bay bound for Furness.

Sun and clouds

I was able to follow the shore back around to the village, mostly walking on the sand, although a channel under the cliffs necessitated retreating onto the shingle at the top of the beach…

Shingle 

…and then onto the cliff path.

Coastal lichen 

Sea-cliff lichen.

A sizable flock of birds whizzed overhead with an impressive whoosh, then flew low over the water. Very impressive to watch. I was pretty sure that they weren’t oystercatchers. My blurred photos of them in flight showed white edges to the wings and a large white shape on their backs, but the most telling photo was the one I took after they had landed…

Redshank

…redshanks!

Woodwell and Jack Scout