Birding by the Kent – Kendal to Hawes Bridge and Back

River Kent 

Saturday brought real rainbow weather. It was quite dramatic at times: strong sunshine with forbidding black skies behind. We tried to get out for a walk, down to Haweswater to look at the snowdrops in the woods there, but we didn’t get far: the kids were scrambling on some rocks, S slipped and now has a proper shiner to show for it. So the walk was curtailed.

Sunday morning brought similar weather. This time I was out on my own, with the intention of giving my ankle a bit of a test (but nothing to strenuous!). During the short drive to Kendal it rained, and I wondered a little about the sanity of the enterprise, but as luck would have it, I parked the car on Natland Road just as the shower was petering out.

The plan was simple: to follow the Kent’s eastern bank as far as Hawes bridge and then return on the western bank.

It soon became obvious that it’s a popular path and I met several other strollers, dog-walkers and joggers. But no fishermen, despite the many signs claiming the angling for the Kent Angling Association.

The wind was whipping the clouds through overhead, but although I’ve read that it was very windy elsewhere, down here by the river it was mostly sheltered and in the occasional sunny spells it felt decidedly spring-like.

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The Kent is a fast-flowing river and as it approaches Hawes bridge the angle must change a little and the river had white-caps and small standing waves. On the far bank a wall diverts some of the water into a channel which is very placid – in marked contrast to the river alongside.

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Presumably it’s a millrace. Kendal mills produced paper and snuff and no doubt other stuff too. There was a small building a little further down – I wish now that I had paused a while to investigate.

Snowdrops 

In the woods around Hawes bridge I found my snowdrops.

By Hawes bridge 

This is taken from the bridge, looking back upstream. The river boils into the narrow fissure of Natland gorge here and the power of the thing is pretty spectacular. I hoped I might see a canoeist tackle the rapids, but no such luck.

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Natland Gorge, looking downstream.

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The millrace and the Kent again.

The trees along the river bank were busy with birds – and the birds were singing! Not full-throated music, but cheerful cheeping is a start.

Thrush 

Thrush.

Blue tit 

Blue tit.

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Another river view.

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My ankle was holding-up well and I was really enjoying myself. With the patchy cloud moving through, the play of light and shadows on the fells beyond Kendal was great to watch.

Mallards 

Mallards.

Mallard 

I didn’t see any goosanders this time on the Kent – in fact, aside from lots of mallards and a solitary goldeneye I didn’t do all that well for ducks. But as I walked around the loop in the river at Watercrook – once the site of a Roman fort, although I couldn’t see much evidence of it now – I did spot this group of feral geese on the far bank, apparently engaged in Tai Chi.

Geese tai chi 

Further round still a group of kayakers disturbed two herons and a cormorant. And then, after I had passed the sewage works on the outskirts of Kendal, I noticed a small dark shape floating down the river towards me. It kept disappearing under the water and, even from a distance, I began to wonder if it was a dipper. It was. As it came almost level with my spot on the bank it whirred off across to the far bank. And then hopped about on various perches: an almost entirely submerged stick, a pipe emerging from the wall which forms the bank here, a patch of dried and withered grass; and from each perch in turn it sang its socks off. I was quite a way away, but could hear it loud and clear. (You can listen to one here.)

Dipper 

I took loads of photos – sadly, all of them useless. I’ve stuck this one in just to show the stunning colours. (Browns I know, but lovely none-the-less.) The singing is territorial, and eventually it flew into this nearby culvert, a prime nesting spot for a dipper.

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I was almost back to Romney bridge, where I would re-cross the river and shortly be back to my car. By the bridge a group of black-headed gulls were waiting expectantly on a railing by an unoccupied bench. Something about their pose made me smile. Another augur of impending spring: the gulls are in various states of transition into their black-headed breeding plumage.

Black-headed gulls*

I haven’t had a caption competition for an age – any ideas?

All-in-all a lovely morning’s walk, and great for birding. A full list: oystercatcher, cormorant, heron, goldeneye, mallard, crow, raven, jackdaw, rook, wood pigeon, robin, blue tit, great tit, marsh tit, chaffinch, song thrush, blackbird, dipper, domestic geese/greylag cross, black-headed gull. Also a small bird of prey seen too briefly to identify and a wagtail too far away and too dark against the water to be completely confident about.

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Birding by the Kent – Kendal to Hawes Bridge and Back