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.

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Winging in the Blossoming

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

Go green, do nothing.

Be radical: work less, travel less, shop locally, tend your garden and go for a walk.

Angie Elliot from a letter to The Independent

Sound good to me. Perhaps I should add: eat less and spend more time with your family.

After snow, hail and sleet yesterday, today began with a hard frost and stayed bright and cold all day.

I had an unexpected opportunity to come home early so we took a family walk (and bike ride) to Woodwell. We did try to suggest alternatives but this route is currently a firm favourite with Amy. She relented near the end of the walk, when it was too late, and decided that she wanted to go and see the Bay after all. Next time.

The ransoms in Bottoms Wood are progressing well.

The joy of sticks:

The ‘waterfall’ catching the late afternoon light as it runs out of the cliff:

Fishing for pondweed:

Go green, do nothing.

Memory Maps

On Sunday morning, with the weather still clear and sunny, I took Amy and Sam back to Woodwell.

Without Ben to play with, Amy fell back on talking to me, which was a great delight. Already different parts of our route are linked in Amy’s mind with memories, associations, activities and even future projects.

“We walked here with playgroup Dad, when Ben had chickenpox.”

“We came back this way from the barbecue in the dark with our torches”

Where the path scrambles down Woodwell cliff:

“We climbed up here once. You helped Ben and Andy helped me.”

When we heard a woodpecker drumming:

“I want to see a woodpecker. Where could I see one?”

After our last visit Woodwell is now not only The Place With The Treasure, but also The Place To Fish For Pondweed.

In this ambition, Amy was thwarted because the pond was frozen over. But this prompted a new game in its turn: Breaking The Ice. She first tried hitting it with a stick, then throwing pebbles at it, which skittered across the surface “like marbles”. Finally she found a larger stone, which when dropped onto the ice did at least produce some cracks, and although it rested on the surface, perhaps a hidden hole, because a number of silvery bubbles of air appeared, trapped against the ice.

I’ll give Amy the last word. When we saw three bullfinches in the treetops (which don’t seem to interest her when they are on the feeders in our garden, but which had her complete attention flitting allusively from tree to tree):

“Shhh. Shhh Dad. Shhhhhhh!”

Memory Maps

Plenty of Birds, More Trees Please.

A good day for birds.

The day started auspiciously, with just enough mist to wreath the trees and lend an atmospheric air to the view, but not enough to hide another clear blue sky tinged with the pink of the approaching sunrise.

On my drive to and from work I drive past Barrow Scout Field which has been flooded to provide an extra habitat for the Bitterns of Leighton Moss. As a consequence, I have a brief, but often fruitful bird-watching (or perhaps bird-spotting) opportunity twice each day. Recent mornings and evenings have provided a field full of lapwings and a wheeling cloud of roosting starlings. This morning it was Greylag Geese, both in the fields and in the air. Tonight there were Canada Geese in the mere on Barrow Scout Field and a host of Curlew feeding in the adjoining field.

Although it had clouded up, as I drove over Warton Crag I could see shafts of sunlight picking-out spots of gold in the Bay.

As I set out for a walk with Sam, I could see that the sky was still clear to the east and that the Howgills were still in full sunlight.

That’s them on the horizon. I’m afraid that the photo doesn’t do them justice. They were glowing gold, pink and orange, with some very dark areas of shadow. Incidentally, I love this view, even though I know that it is deceiving me. The many hedgerow trees and patches of woodland in the middle distance seem to join together to give the impression (sadly illusory) that the many miles between here and the Lune valley below the Howgills is a great swathe of woodland. It will have been once.

I remember, many years ago, walking with my friend Valerie, who grew up near the Pyrenees. We were on the edge of the fells, near Kirby Lonsdale, with what I thought was a pretty fine view. I made some comment to that effect and Valerie asked: “Where are the trees?”

Oystercatchers often feed in these fields. Usually I see them in groups of 6 or perhaps 10, but today I think that there must have been about 50.

The half-moon was almost directly overhead. I think that sometimes you can pick out more detail on the moon when it rises before dark.

I took Sam to Stankelt Road, and then we followed the path along the top of Woodwell Cliff (more National Trust property). The path eventually takes a short little scramble down the cliff to Woodwell. We paused here to watch a Grey Wagtail. Not a rare bird, I know, but an unusual treat for me. With its grey-blue top and lemon yellow breast I think it’s a very handsome little fellow. It bobbed enthusiastically on the stones bordering the pond, flitted across the other side, bobbed a bit more, back across, bobbed a bit more….etc. Eventually, it landed on some of the vegetation on the surface of the pond and then appeared to walk on water as it moved around the pond.

We turned for home, but as we entered Bottoms Wood, the sound of a Heron taking wing from the top of a tall tree caught my attention. (Sam was finally asleep.) I’m hard put to explain why I feel such great affection for Herons, but although they are relatively common here I don’t think that I will ever tire of seeing them.

Plenty of Birds, More Trees Please.