I promised myself a late-afternoon walk yesterday, if I could get through the work I'd set myself. Once again, I headed off down Burlees Lane and and up through the wood.
There were a lot of young birds around, being attended to by their parents. I saw robins, great tits, blue tits and swallows. It's a great time of year for a walk in the countryside. Mind you, when isn't?
I visited Burton Marshes on Tuesday last week. My Tuesday afternoon visits there, on the way to my Dad's, are becoming something of a habit. I just sat in the car for a couple of hours, taking in the view, watching the occasional little egret through my binoculars, and generally chilling out. Just before I left, I was delighted to spot a whitethroat—a relative rarity for me—in the hawthorn a few yards in front of the car. Of course, by the time I'd got my camera out, it had gone. Still, though.
I was back at Burton Marshes this Tuesday. The weather was glorious, so I sat on one of the benches for 15 minutes, trying (unsuccessfully) to spot any of a number of grasshopper warblers I could hear singing their hearts out in the nearby reeds. They realy do sound uncannily like grasshoppers. But no joy.
I then decided to take a short walk up to Burton Point. This turned out to be an excellent decision, as I was soon rewarded with my first proper sighting this summer of a wheatear—several wheatears, in fact. A short while later, I was positively cock-a-hoop to spot three whinchats perched on a bush in a large expanse of sedge, flitting up into the air occasionally after flies. I'm sure I must have seen whinchats before, but I can't hand-on-heart swear that I have, so chalk one up on my unwritten life list.
There were a few more whinchats farther down the track, and several little egrets flew overhead. On the whole, a delightful and productive short walk.
As I returned to the car, I was even jammy enough to spot a whitethroat—the same one as last week, I guess—and actually managed to take a couple of snaps. I was particularly pleased with the first one, which I had to focus manually (as I did with some of my earlier whinchat shots) due to there being too much undergrowth in the way for the camera's autofocus mechanism to deal with.
My friend Mike is currently building a kayak in Cumbria, so I went over to stay with him for a couple of days. On my way there, on Tuesday, I took a spin through the Yorkshire Dales, visited my joint-favourite second-hand bookshop in Sedbergh, drove over to Windermere, then took the Kirkstone Pass to Brothers Water.
I've wanted to visit Brothers Water for about 20 years—ever since Mum returned from a holiday in the Lake District with Dad, full of excitement at having seen red squirrels in the woods next to Brothers Water. She thought I should drive up there right away to look for them. On Tuesday, I finally got round to it.
Not wishing to build up any sort of suspense, I should tell you right away that I didn't see any red squirrels. I've only seen one red squirrel in my entire life: out of a car window, when I was about six, in Dibbinsdale, near our home in Bromborough. You won't find any red squirrels in Dibbinsdale today. Or ever again, most likely. They've been seen off by the pox, and a nationwide cull of the invasive grey vectors seems unlikely.
Who needs squirrels? It was a lovely walk along the footpath near Brothers Water. The weather was unseasonably warm, but there was quite a lot of mist about. Despite the mist, my photos came out better than I expected:
The following day, yesterday, with Mike taking almost as long as Noah on his boat, I took a spin up to Keswick to visit Castlerigg stone circle. I then popped into the town and visited the pencil museum. There's 15 minutes (and £4.50) I'll never get back!
I stopped for a brew at Coniston Water on my way back to Mike's place. As I tucked into my, I felt, well-earned Eccles cake, I was visited by a pair of robins, on the scrounge for crumbs. Unfortunately, they took it in turns coming over to me, so I wasn't able to get a photo of the two of them together. But they did come sufficiently close to enable me to use my favourite macro lens:
Yesterday would have been Mum's 76th birthday. She'd have been delighted to hear of my close encounter with a pair of her favourite birds. Even more delighted than if I'd seen some red squirrels.
On my way to the garage to saw wood yesterday afternoon, I was delighted to see a redwing in my neighbour's oak tree. Apart from the pair I saw back in November, and one possible sighting near the bird feeder last week, I haven't seen any redwings in our garden this winter. Which is very unusual.
Redwings are always smaller than I remember, and have a slightly angular look to them somehow. I think it might be due to their cream-coloured eye-brows (or supercilia, to give them their proper name).
After a minute or so, I turned towards the garage. Whereupon a flock of about 50 redwings took off from our sycamore and flew away across the fields. How had I missed those?
Fifteen minutes later, as I was sawing wood, I heard rooks and jackdaws making a commotion outside. They were mobbing a buzzard. It flew low over the garden, pursued by its tormentors. It was only the second buzzard I've ever seen from our garden in the 11 years I've lived here. It isn't the crows that keeps them away. Buzzards are simply not tolerated by humans in grouse- and sheep-country, even though killing them is illegal.
After I'd finished sawing, I returned to my study to write. Gazing out the window for inspiration, I found myself eye-to-eye with yet another redwing perched in our fir tree. Of course, by the time I'd got my camera out, it had flown off. But I did manage to photograph three in the neighbour's oak tree.
I'm relieved to see some redwings at last. But I haven't seen any fieldfares this winter, which is very unusual around here.
Jen and I have continued our regular walks around the Nook Circuit this week. It has been extremely cold, and extremely icy. But we managed to avoid snow until this afternoon.
Walking into the blizzard made looking where we were going very uncomfortable, so we didn't see much. But, as we emerged from the Carr Track, we turned uphill out of the wind. Scores of rooks and jackdaws were wheeling above the house in the driving snow: a black blizzard in a white blizzard.
Then, en masse they landed in our sycamore. By the time I raised my camera, however, they were flying down into the field, looking for somewhere better to shelter.
Jen and I took a walk round via Nook Lane this afternoon. As we approached the Lane Ends pub, I spotted a small group of rooks in the field opposite. Two of them were fighting rather violently (on and off), while six to eight others stood round them, watching. One of the fighting rooks clearly had the upper hand. Not that rooks have hands. When we got too close, they all flew off.
I have heard and read of (supposedly) mythical rooks' parliaments. This was certainly very like what is described—although there were clearly too few rooks to justify calling it a parliament. More of a rooks' parish council, I suppose.
I spent the afternoon as I spent the previous one, planting dad-grown lavender in our recently reclaimed rockery. Low-maintenance gardening is an awful lot of work, it turns out.
I managed to disturb a rather massive common frog as I was removing the last piece of remaining turf from the rockery—I wasn't joking when I said reclaimed. I haven't seen a decent-sized frog for ages. It made my day.
By the time I called it a day at 5pm, the tail-end of Hurricane Katia was doing its best to relocate our bay tree to Norway. I sat in the wind for five minutes, admiring the rooks as they tacked in three dimensions into the storm. People don't give crows nearly enough credit for their flying skills: they really are masters of the wind. I could watch them for hours.
But I didn't watch them for hours: the breakers in my cup of tea were threatening to soak me, and I had a bay tree to move into the house.