My partner, Jen, and I took a week's holiday in Anglesey at the start of September. It was the fourth time in five Septembers.
I don't know if it was because we were a week earlier this year, or because summer is running later, but there seemed to be less wildlife about this time. No wheatears, only a few gannets, and a single tern. But it was still a wonderful holiday, there were plenty of flowers still in bloom, I saw ravens, a seal and goosanders, and I got to take an extremely jammy photograph of a black-headed gull watching a bottle-nosed dolphin failing to catch a fish:
Natural Selection is very much alive and kicking in Anglesey. (As it is everywhere else.)
We had been getting anxious for bats, not having seen any flitting above our patio this year. But we finally saw one—just one—on Tuesday evening. The bats are attracted to the house by insects, which are themselves attracted there by the residual day-warmth radiating from the stones of our south-west-facing house. The warmth was very noticeable. Jen and I could feel it from at least ten feet away. Our own little micro-climate!
Seeing the bat made my week.
Then, on Wednesday, we made a day-trip to Whitby to buy crab and to eat fish and chips. We took our farmer friend along for good measure. The fish and chips were excellent, as was the crab, which we ate in a sandwich for lunch on Thursday.
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.
I went to sleep at Dad's last night to the sound of a vixen screeching to attract potential mates. She was very nearby—on the railway line most likely. It is a disconcertingly human-sounding noise. Indeed, the first time Mum and Dad heard it, many decades ago, they thought a woman was being attached. They stood worried at the bottom of the garden, trying to work out where the noise was coming from, wondering whether they should call the police.
The mid-winter screeches of vixens is one of the sounds of my childhood. I have only heard it once here in Yorkshire: in August 2001, on Jen's and my very first night in our new home. It carried on for about 20 minutes, until in was terminated by a single shotgun blast. Foxes are not tolerated in sheep country.
Three or four mornings over the last week, I have lain in bed in the dark, not particularly early hours, listening to a little owl calling somewhere nearby. It is a delightfully eerie sound.
On Monday morning, while making a cup of tea, I looked out of the kitchen window to see a grey squirrel—a rarity in this neck of the non-woods—chasing Philip the pheasant around the lawn.
It was only afterwards that it occurred to me that all three creatures—owl, squirrel, and pheasant—represent non-native species that were introduced to the island of Great Britain by mankind. Just like me—a Wirral lad relocated to Yorkshire—they are off-comed-uns who will never be totally accepted by the natives.
I am remarkably inconsistent when it comes to non-native species. Little owls and pheasants don't bother me in the slightest. In fact, I rather like them, as I like other non-native species, such as rabbits and brown hares. But grey squirrels really wind me up. Grey squirrels and domestic cats.
Domestic cats and grey squirrels will be first and second against the wall respectively, come the Glorious Richard Revolution.