I met my friend Carolyn for lunch at her home on the Wirral on Tuesday. The weather had been dreadful all morning, but the sun suddenly came out, so we decided to take her very reluctant dog for a walk.
It has been pointed out to me that I haven't updated this journal in several months. Not that it needed pointing out, you understand: I was painfully aware of the fact. To be honest, I had been toying with the idea of scrapping the whole thing and using the lifesgrandeur.com domain name for some other, as-yet-unidentified purpose.
I've been very busy, you see. I've been writing my book. In fact, I've written my book, and am now looking for a literary agent. Literary agents are extremely difficult to get hold of, apparently, but it's definitely the thing to do, if you can manage it. And, if you can't, there's always the self-publishing-on-Kindle option.
And the weather has been so damn awful, you see. ‘The crappiest summer since records began,’ the Met Office said. Or something like that. So I haven't been getting out as much as I'd like.
And then there's the backlog, you see. I haven't posted here since mid-June. That's over four months' worth of posts I would have to write. Which is a daunting prospect to say the least.
So, tell you what: why don't I just post a whole bunch of photos of stuff I've seen since mid-June, with no commentary except the photo captions, and we'll carry on from there as if nothing happened. Which it didn't, I suppose.
Of course, this means I won't get to tell you about all the stuff I didn't manage to photograph, like the two female goshawk sightings in Anglesey (or, more likely, the same female goshawk twice—my first ever goshawk sightings), and the stoat that failed to spot me sitting on my favourite rock, and the peregrine falcon which flew right by my windscreen while I was stuck in a traffic jam on the M56 near Frodsham Marshes only last week. But you're not interested in goshawks or stoats or peregrines if there aren't any photos, are you?
So, without further ado, on with the pictures. First, a few shots I failed to include in my last post:
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I took another walk on the Moor on 12th July—a longer walk than usual, up to High Brown Knowl:
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And, other than a couple more walks which did not yield any photos of note, that's about it. We're up to date!
More like summer. Three days of unseasonably hot, sunny weather, with more promised.
I stood for twenty minutes, leaning over the gate near the compost heap, soaking it up. A couple of butterflies, several bumble-bees, lapwings calling, and a pair of rabbits in the back field. I have been seeing quite a few rabbits there in recent months, which is unusual. I think they might have established a new outpost nearby. They have even been digging in the lawn by the compost heap.
The larger of the two rabbits, which I assume was a male, was very active, hopping back and forth, scratching in the soil, and rubbing his chin against spiky, dead nettle stalks, presumably leaving his scent. The sap is rising. He had a sizeable, ginger, Mohican strip at the back of his neck. Do rabbits usually have these? I have not noticed them before.
It's about now that I start looking optimistically for swallows, but the earliest I have seen them up here is on my birthday, 2nd April.
An autumnal afternoon, warm, with a hint of chill in the breeze. Perfect. Up on to the moor!
To my great surprise, I spotted a lone wheatear at the top of the moor near the trig point. He was leaving it a bit late: all his friends appear to have flown. No sign of any swallows, either. Looks as if another summer is officially over.
Judging by all the go-back! go-back! calls, there seemed to be quite a few red grouse about, hidden in the heather. So I decided to sit and wait, to see if any of them would reveal themselves. I had brought a flask of tea with me in anticipation of such a wait.
Of course, as luck would have it, I got my best view of a grouse while I had the flask of tea in my hand. But I managed to fire off one photo, albeit one-handed:
Having come down off the moor, I went through the mandatory ritual of looking over the wall into the lucky field to see what delight it had in store for me today. Just a couple of rabbits. But then I heard a commotion to my left, and turned to see a merlin in hot pursuit of what I assume was a meadow pipit. They dipped and soared, almost in unison, then disappeared behind a row of pines. There is no mistaking a merlin when they fly like that. Fabulous. Somehow, I don't think the meadow pipit would agree.
Heading down the Nook track later on, I spotted a speckled wood butterfly on some brambles. I am hopeless at identifying butterflies, but, as luck would have it, my guide book fell open at exactly the right page.
Back home, early this evening, I was taking some potato peelings out to the compost heap, when I heard a familiar clicking chortle up above: a pair of swallows looping in the clearest of blue skies. They will probably be my last swallows this year. I shall miss them.
A glorious, late-summer day, with a hint of chill in the air. Time to hit the moor.
I decided to make a diversion from my usual route to visit Churn Milk Joan, relocated prehistoric 'cup and ring' carved stone, latter-day boundary post, and subject of a poem by local lad and Poet Laureate, the late Ted Hughes. The location of the stone supposedly marks the place where a milk maid named Joan froze to death while crossing the moor. Or possibly, where she used to leave milk for the people of plague-ridden Luddenden. Or possibly something else. Possibly.
On my way to the stone, I saw a very strange-looking butterfly fly past and land amongst the heather. It looked as if it had an extra pair of wings. On closer inspection, it turned about to be a pair of amorous small copper butterflies caught in flagrante delicto:
Having drunk my cup of tea, and left the obligatory coin in the hollow on top of the Churn Milk Joan, I cut across the moor along a track I had not used before, which my map told me would eventually join my usual route. And then I saw them: the red grouse ahead of me, feeding in the burnt heather stubble. They had seen me too. So I pulled out my camera and fired away as they flew away.
It wasn't until a few minutes later that I realised I still had my camera set to a slow shutter-speed, having used my wide-angle lens to photograph Churn Milk Joan. A schoolboy error. With my telephoto lens, camera-shake was pretty unavoidable. I have to say, though, one of my blurred photographs had a rather pleasing abstract quality:
Having re-joined my normal path, I decided to make my way home via Johnny House. Late-season wheatears led the way as I walked alongside the wall bordering the moor. There must have been a dozen of them, but I seldom got close enough to get many photographs.
Coming down from the moor, I headed down the Nook track. A pair of goldfinches were feeding on the thistle seed-heads in the field. I disturbed them as I took out my camera, and they set to flight approximately 100 other goldfinches which had been hidden in the thistles.
I have never seen so many goldfinches in one place before. A lovely end to a lovely walk.
Bright and sunny. Up to the moor!
In the lane just past Mount Skip, I spotted something I have wanted to see for years. It was unmistakeable: a humming-bird hawk-moth flitting back and forth next to the drystone wall. It really did look for all the world like a humming-bird. I fired off a few photos, but the thing was so fast, I just couldn't focus on it. Eventually, it landed on the wall (a typical behaviour, I learnt later), and I managed to get a close-up:
It turned out to be a very good day for lepidoptera. There were butterflies all over the place, making the most of the blossoming heather and the bright sunshine:
White thistle and rosebay willow-herb seeds filled the air. A summer snowstorm. Strange, it had never occurred to me before that the thistles and willowherb that grow in unchecked abundance around here don't seem to grow at all on the moor. I find it hard to believe that the acid soil is to blame—the soil in my garden is very acidic, and they certainly have no difficulty growing there—so perhaps the heather and moorland grasses simply don't allow them living space.