The holiday really starts on a Monday

Dalegarth Station with train
Dalegarth Station with train

You really feel that you are on holiday on the first normal working day off. Today was no different, we woke up with the sun shining, a gorgeous if a bit hot lay ahead of us, the weather forecast ahead looked good, cooling slightly as the week progresses, which would be welcome, but today we were promised another scorcher.

The hot weather has made sleeping a bit interrupted we have kept the windows closed because the goats and sheep seem to bleat all night, and then the cockerel next door crows as the sun comes up at 04:51, but if they are the only complaints thing can’t be too bad!

Today we plan to walk up the river to the top end of the Esk valley, it should keep us around shade when we need it, and we have high hopes of seeing Dippers, as the river seems just the type that they would frequent. Highlights will hopefully include, Gill Force waterfall, Boot, Eskdale, and Dalegarth Station. The top end of the valley has a few pubs so if we can get there for lunch that will leave a short post lunch walk back to the station, and the train home.

Lakeland view with sheep
Lakeland view with sheep

We headed out at about 09:30 and after one hundred yards, had to go back because I had forgotten to put both of my walking socks on. It was already warm, so keeping to the shade was going to be the strategy, today. The bird were all out singing perhaps the crap spring has meant now is the chance for a second brood. There were lots of warblers, but our ID skills on warblers are crap so we only managed Blackcap plus 4 other assorted warblers. We got our first Stonechat of the holidays, as well as Wren.

About 2 miles out we had a rest sat by the river in the shade, the sounds of a river can be very relaxing, so far no Dippers. It was great keeping to the river as the going was flat, and there was plenty of shade. The habitat is quite different from what we are used to, there also seems to be a lot more birds about, perhaps due to the fact that we is in a far more rural location, and the landscape is quite ancient.

House with big chimneys
House with big chimneys

Soon we were rewarded by two Dippers one quite a fleeting view but the second we were able to watch hunting for stuff under the water by dipping it’s head under the surface of the water. After more woodland walking on a great smooth solid track we took another rest at hour two, near a bridge over a stream, just past Dalegarth Hall which is a mighty find building withe the fattest chimneys. Suitably refreshed we headed off to discover Gill Force.

Just before the falls we came across some stepping stones to cross the river, to a small church called St Catherine’s. We crossed and had a look round. The was a guy repairing the collapsed stone wall I did not envy him his job today, lugging stones about with no shade. The grave stones on the church yard were all very grand and large, I guess with all the stone and skills to mason it that is what you would expect, some of them were quite ornate, many had almost essays written on them.

Back over the stepping stones it was not obvious where the path went, so we followed the path that hugged the river bank. It turns out that it was not the footpath but after clambering over some fallen trees we were soon back on track. Ten minutes on we came a cross a lake of sorts with dragon flies and lilies growing, we took the opportunity for a sit on a bench and did a bit of bird spotting. We soon heard a Peregrin and spotted it gliding back and forth along the cliff.

St Catherine's Church by the river
St Catherine's Church by the river

The walk to the Woolpack in and Hardknott pass took about 20 minutes, it was 13:00 and time for lunch. The menu looked good and we could not resist the Falafel style veggie burger and chips, so we ordered one each and sat in the garden, I was supping and half of beer and helen a large lemonade with lots of ice.

Whilst we were sat waiting and trike turned up with lots of chrome and long front forks, the livery on the side suggested that guy did tours and they couple sat on the back seemed to have enjoyed themselves.

The veggie burger gets 3/5 certainly very welcome and filling. A Hercules flow low up the valley and reminded that I forgot to mention that two trainer jets flew over earlier in the walk. Now trying to build up some inclination to start walking again in the mid day sun. Perhaps another drink first.

Campion flower
Campion flower

We left the Inn and followed a sign pointing to Wasdale Head the plan to climb a hill and have a look at Eel Tarn, the climb took us from 60 metres to 220 metres in quite a short space, the climb was tough but the rest at Eel Tarn made it worth the effort. A pair Black headed gulls were nesting on the Tarn and we also spotted a pair of Mallards. Overhead at least 5 buzzards rose on the thermals.

The descent back down into Boot was a bit tedious and hard on the knees after the day spent on our feet. In Boot we stopped at the shop cum post office and bought some postcards, and a note book. It was hot in the shop and the shop keeper was, obviously feeling a bit tetchy as when I passed the time of day by suggesting that he was probably not selling too many has and gloves at the moment, replied that he loved it when people come in the shop and make statements of the obvious. Despite the great customer service we still purchased his goods! Down past the first pub and opted for the one near the station called the Brook House Inn a free house where the beer was really well kept. I had the summer all and Helen had Red Hawk something or other.

I had an ice cream as we waited for the train which departed on time and soon had us back to Irton Road station. We had spent almost 8 hours out a good day.

Mad dogs, field mice, cuckoos, and Bucks folk go out in the mid days sun.

Leaving Dalegarth station
Leaving Dalegarth station

Up not too early, had breakfast and watched a bit of Sunday morning TV. Helen spotted a field mouse that lives in the stone wall making dashes out to pick leaves, I failed to get a photo.

We took plenty of water when we left the house at 09:45, as it looked like another scorcher, sun block factor 30 was slapped on and Helen even wore a white sun hat. The plan was to walk the tops of the hills over to the sea at Ravenglass then get the train back to the hut.
The path the hut is on leads towards a river but we took a right to take us high over Muncaster Fell with views of both Eskdale and the River Esk valley on the other.

The climb was tough but once up top it was rolling but no shade meant it was quite tough walking. We saw lots of birds, Yellowhammers, Skylarks, and Pipits. We also heard several Cuckoos, then when we stopped for a break at some rare shade we got great views of a close by Cuckoo being harassed (or is that the other way round) by a smaller Lark/Pipit. Eventually thje smaller bird chased the Cuckoo off. Further on we saw another or the same one again in another tree.

Lakeland view
Lakeland view

We stopped for a break, water and fruits bars, near a cairn over looking the sea view, Sellafield could be seen, as could an Inviting looking lake. Next stop would be the lake then Muncaster Castle for lunch/ice cream. We found the castle entrance, stopped for a comfort break at the car park toilets, and then had ice cream and lemonade, at the World Owl Trust cafe, the girl there also refilled our water containers.

We opted to not pay to see the castle as it was too hot and they wanted £12! We followed the public footpath through the grounds and “accidently” got lost and ended up on a better public footpath that closely follows the river, spotted Treecreeper, Woodpecker, Heron and Merganser.

Another rest for another snack bar and liquids was taken in the last shady spot, at the edge of the woods. Then it was off for the final leg past the lighthouse, Roman bath house and fort before Ravenglass.

We got a bit lost as the footpath was not well sign posted, we were not sure if we had followed the path or not. We had a look round the Roman bath house, there was not much of it left.

We arrived in Ravenglass at about 14:40 just in time to catch the 14:50 train. We had planned to look round the seaside but it was hot and we were tired. The train is quite swift and 20 minutes later we were at Irton Road Station literally 100 yards from the hut.

We had not had any lunch so we had an early tea of my pasta sauce and garlic bread, and settle in for an evening watching telly and an early night. We had a lovely day even though it was hot and hard work.

Minsmere, lies lies lies!

Colchester our coach to Minsmere
Colchester our coach to Minsmere

It was up early for us second day running, the Aylesbury RSPB group were running a coach trip to Misnsmere RSPB. Helen only spotted the trip on the local groups website on thursday, but there were still spaces, so we were on, and A of A&C was up for it too. C was going to football.

The coach departed at 07:45, and we were soon on the M25. The day looked like it was going to be great weather wise the sun was shining and it was already warm and it was still early. The weather forecast suggested sun all day with some cloud possible late afternoon. What could be better a sunny day by the seaside, and Sole Bay to boot.

We had a comfort break just outside of Colchester, at a BP Connect with an M&S food shop. The journey was very pleasant it made a change to be able to gaze out of the window and enjoy the view, rather than having to keep my eyes on the road.

The end to end trip was almost exactly 3 hours, and a peasant journey it had been. We grabbed out what’s about sheets and map of the reserve, from the friendly volunteer, and headed off into the woodland trail in the direction of Dunwich Heath, in the hope of a Dartford Warbler.

We were not disappointed we headed towards two big lens, the couple were taking pictures of Stonechats feeding a younster, a a couple of Linnets. After a few fleeting glimpses two Dartford Warblers came a long really close and perched on the vegetation giving us cracking views. It was time for a celebratory coffee stock at the Dunwich Coastguard cottages.

An interesting bench design
An interesting bench design

I had elderflower presse, and a huge slab of bread pudding, lovely, the girls had cheese scones. Suitable replete we headed down to East Hide. The wind was much colder down on the beach, we quickly headed to the shelter of the hide.

There were not many waders about, Ringed Plover and a Sandpiper. Plenty of gulls and Common Terns, ducks Gadwall, Shelduck, and Shoveler. I noticed my BB battery was almost flat, I blame Google Latitude, constant trying to get a fix and communicate back to base. I have turned all the wireless off to try to finish this blog entry.t

We headed back to the newly adjusted visitor center for some lunch, beans on toast, parsnip bake and mushroom and leek soup was had amongst us. Then suitably refreshed we headed out towards island mere, where on the way a gathering were watching a newly fledged set of 5 treecreepers were being fed by attentive parents. From island mere we watched Bearded Tits flitting about above the reeds.

It was getting late so we headed back stopping off at Bittern Hide, in the hope of seeing obviously a Bittern. A few times a Bittern was called out and on a couple of occasions, we managed fleeting views.

The view from Bittern Hide
The view from Bittern Hide

With only half an hour to spare we strolled back to the visitors center, for a look round the shop, on the way we say 3 hairy green dragon flies. Back at the centre I took another panorama set of the building, if it turns out OK I will see if the RSPB want a copy. All in all a great day out and what value for money, thanks must go to the Aylesbury RSPB group for organising and the William Harding trust for the generous grant that keeps the price down.

On the way back we had the traditional team bird count sweep stake, all the birds the people on the coach counted are tallied up and the person who guessed the number correctly get half the money and the rest goes to the groups coffers.

We were back at Bedgrove just after 20:00 after a pretty smooth and comfortable journey. We got home and I had time to pack for a Monday trip to Belfast (watch this space you know what is coming) and then off to bed for another early start.

You should not believe everything you read in this blog, and never blog things in anticipation you will get caught out. It turns out there was a 1 hour delay on the A12 due to a horse box accident. We sent the time identifying wild flowers on the roadside. We hit the M25 at 20:00 the time we thought we might be back in Aylesbury.

We got to Bedgrove at 20:55 and were home by 21:00 I have time to have a shower and pack, catch up with emails and RSS feeds then it was time for bed and an early start. We certainly made the most of the weekend.

There are also a couple a panoramas you can see here.

Dancersend NR more butterflies

Common Blue
Common Blue

Thought I would try out my newly found butterfly id skills, so Helen and I took her mum up to Dancersend NR, to see what we could find. We parked up at the pumping complex car park, and headed into the reserve. Dancersend is notorious for Duke of Burgundy butterflies so there was the potential to see a very rare one.

We headed round the reserve taking our usual route along the field to the bottom of the hill with steps, then turn left at the top[ and come down into the reserve via the foot path and over the large log. We stopped to take some pictures of some of the wild flowers for later identification, although I think Nancy had already figured out what most of them were. We did not see too many butterflies but I spotted a Cardinal Beetle. There were lots of Blackcaps or Garden Warblers singing.

Cardinal Beetle
Cardinal Beetle

There were some volunteers working in one of the paddocks, it looked like they were chopping the young hawthorns back to stop them taking over. We then headed back up hill back toward the car and got a few of the butterflies I learnt about yesterday. We sat for a wile on the Susan Cowdy bench, she was obviously an important person in BBOWT as there is a hide at Weston Turville reservoir. We then headed back, but on the way there was a spot that seemed protected, we could see two types Orchid growing, one was Fly Orchid.

Fly Orchid
Fly Orchid

We were soon back at the car, the weekend almost over, although I had one last appointment with my camera and the church, I needed to get a complete 360 degree panorama of the church, watch this space for the results. The final tally of butterflies was Common Copper, Common White, Orange Tip, Green Veined White, Brimstone, Peacock, Blue something, Grizzled Skipper, Speckled Wood, and finally Red Admiral.

Aldbury Nowers butterfly walk

Dingy Skipper
Dingy Skipper

Helen spotted a butterfly walk/meetup on the BBC website, so she made enquiries and we arrange to meet at the lay by near the Aldbury Nowers (Grid Ref SP949128). Helen had other things to do but I went anyway and took Helen’s dad with me.

After hang about in the lay by waiting until the intended start time, and whilst listening to all the butterflies we might expect to see, we set off round the edge of the field. It soon became apparent that Butterfly miles are far slower than Bird miles, but the act of looking down at the ground and walking slowly means that you have time to take a lot in, and it is surprising what you find when you take the time to look. As well as some of our intended butterfly species we saw spiders, beetles, and a lizard.

After a look round the edge of the field we headed into the woods, which was not as productive, but when we then headed out on the chalk slopes that had been cleared/managed we again started seeing butterflies.

Nursery Web Spider (Pisaura mirabilis)
Nursery Web Spider (Pisaura mirabilis)

The whole evet was about 3 hours from arrival to departure and it cost us nothing, real value for money. We saw the following butterflies: Dingy Skipper, Brown Argus, Green Hairstreak, Small Copper, Small Heath, Grizzled Skipper, Brimstone, Large White, Green Veined White, Orange Tip, Common Blue, and Peacock,

Thanks to the British Butterfly Conservation Society

Purple Heron Wilstone

View over Otmoor
View over Otmoor

Weather was still great so we thought we would have another trip out. After some discussion and a phone call to Hillside,  we eventually settled on Otmoor again as we felt we had not done it justice last week. We set out and got as far as the holiday in when we got a phone call and had to do a u-turn and go and pick up John, who preferred out trip to the other trip that was on offer, basically a day at Hughendon grounds sat in a blanket.

We went the usual way i.e. down the A41 then left at the Brill turn off, then cross country to Beckley where you turn off the main road to get to the reserve car park, where we were lucky enough to find a space. We decided to do the walk that skirts round the outside of the reserve. The countryside different to the Chilterns, very flat and open pastures basically a flood plane. The birds were really singing Whitethroats were everywhere, Helen could heard Grasshopper Warbler, and we saw the odd Reed Bunting. The walk round the reserve took about 2 and a half hours and as it was the middle is the day really hot. We wanted to stop for sandwiches but could not find a place in the shade until we got to the new hide.

Suitably refreshed we headed back to the car park, we heard Cuckoo and saw 4 Hobbies flying around our first this year, and a few Sedge Warblers doing their stuff in the reeds. Whilst we were walking back I checked my phone, would you believe it there was a Purple Heron at Wilstone Reservoir.

Chris Packham load of old snot

Went to a talk by Chris Packham at the John Collet school in Wendover this evening. He is a very good public speaker and his enthusiasm for his subject matter is inspiring. The talk was loosely based around his passion for photography with a sprinkling of interesting facts about the animals and bird kingdom. Birds featured a lot, which is always a plus point with me.

He also did a really good job of putting across his usual message, which is that we should try to make the most of what we have around us and go a look at nature for what it is, don’t just go out there to get the ticks. He is a great advocate of promoting the less promotable species that need help. The door mouse already has lots of money ploughed into it’s conservation and it is a boring mammal, what about all the other less cuddly species that need help for example Britains rarest mammal the Black rat!

A couple of the things I remember well are his story of how when he was young he found a blackbird carcass which was being buried by grave digging beetles. He dug it up put it in an aquarium and sat it on top of the TV. So for a few weeks he could watch the beetles as the buried the blackbird. he also did a section about animals that get rid of excess slat in their snot, and even birds that live of the snot of other animals when times get harsh.

At the end he had a bit a a rant and asked everyone to get the kids out and about exploring nature, because unless that happens then they will not grow up to have the respect for nature that it really needs in the age of disappearing habitat.

Ponchos rule, and 5 Warblers in one bush.

Neil in his poncho
Neil in his poncho

Up again early on a Sunday, for a breakfast at 8:30 we were on the trail at 9:30. We headed towards Minsmere but took a diversion off the road to take the path that runs through the woods that leads to Westleton Heath. In the woods the recent damp weather seemed to have bought all the mushrooms out, they were literally everywhere. The sun was out and the light was really bright even in the shade of the trees. So taking photos was really easy.

I modified the gorilla pod by shortening the two front legs this allowed me to set a small aperture, and by using the 2 second delay on the Lumix LX3 I got some really clear shots. Once we hit Westleton Heath we headed towards Dunwich. We started to get the odd light shower but nothing was going to dampen our enthusiasm, we were really happy to be out in the fresh air. We bagged a Coal Tit on the way down.

Coming across the Dunwich museum was well timed. There was an art exhibition going on in a hall behind the museum, some great original water colours and prints were on show. Mainly Suffolk and Essex, painted early in the morning. The guy who had painted them explained to me that he had been a container boat captain for a Brazilian company. He had worked 3 months on 3 months off then retired at 52, lucky bastard!

Mushrooms
Mushrooms

We also had a look round the museum all about Dunwich, I really had not appreciated just how much of a town existed around 1900’s, then we drifted down to the car park and famous fish and chip establishment down by the sea. We sat out the front with our bowls of chips and beverages, there was quite a wind blowing, I literally had a storm on in my tea cup. We scanned Dingle marsh for signs of Hen Harrier, but it was wishful thinking. I did spot a bird in the distance but we could agree what it was, when it flew away we were able to identify it as a Greenshank, by the long white patch on the back, a good tick.

After a quick look at the sea we headed up the hill and along the ever moving west cliff path. Great views of the coast and Sole bay in the distance can be had at a couple of spots before the path heads inland, after you pass the ruins of the abbey. It then started to rain heavily as we walked through the woods towards Dunwich heath. I was glad to be able to try on the poncho that my mother in law had kindly bought for me in Millets Oxford for £1.50.

I have to say I have been considering getting one for a while, I am now a convert they cover you and your luggage, you have to be careful that the wind does not catch it but they keep the wind and the rain off. We walked though heavy rain across the heath and could not get any view of Dartdord Warblers, as we headed toward the National Trust tearooms at the Coastguard cottages, we had coffee and I had some bread pudding. When the rain had cleared we could see yet another big bank of storm clouds on the horizon, so after a couple of pictures we rushed off down to the East Hide at Minsmere, and we timed it just right the rain started as we arrived.

Dunwich from Minsmere
Dunwich from Minsmere

We spent about 30 minutes in the hide and some patient scanning revealed Little Ringed Plover, Black Tailed Godwit, and a couple of Snipe. The weather system moved on and the sun came out so we walked back to the visitors centre and on through to the Island Mere hide. I then suggested that we walk back along a footpath that runs parallel to the tarmac road, but involves an extra 10 minutes walking, it was towards the end of the day and Helen was in a “trough of disillusionment” so I got the usual ranting.

Later in the pub Helen did agree it was a nicer walk back, I don’t think the high winds and dropping branches helped the situation. We rejoined the tarmac road and walked the final yards back to the pub, the light over the water logged field was begging for photos to be taken, I obliged.

Back at the pub I stopped the GPS logger and we had walked over 13 miles (may be adjusted down). What a fantastic day out 8.5 hours out on foot, with the wife, plenty of tea and bird watching stops, can life get better?

8 and a half miles in as many hours

Another mushroom
Another mushroom

We arrived at Southwold on Friday and went for a shop round town then a quick tour of Minsmere. Then we went to the Eelsfoot Inn at Eastbridge, booked in. There were a family of Swallows sat under the metal stairs outside our room. All weeknd they were there sometimes all sometimes just a one or two. The parents were doing lots of swooping about, and would roost next to the young at night.

On Saturday we woke up in good time and thought we would have a go at our day record to celebrate our recent wedding. So we got up for an 8:30 breakfast at The Eelsfoot Inn, and were on our way down to the Minsmere sluices via the path that goes directly to the sea from Eastbridge. The weather was bright with a stiff wind from the north east but the air temperature was pleasant. Saw some great beetles and butterflies on the way. Saw a spotted flycatcher on top of a tree. When we got down to the sluice bushes we paused for a while in hope of a Pied Flycatcher but it was not to be, although the lesser and common Whitethroat we adequate compensation.

Sticky bud thingy
Sticky bud thingy

On to the public hide to see some Knot, Dunlin, common Sandpiper, and Redshank. Then on to the East hide, where some Sandwich Terns appeared. We were soon sat outside the Coastguard Cottages fighting off the wasps while we ate our lunch of toasted cheese sandwiches. The wasp I trapped in a bottle was really mad, even after Helen freed it. A bit of sea watching produced Common Scoter, but nothing else the winds was probably blowing them all off shore.

Over to Dunwich Heath we did not rate our chances of seeing any Dartford Warblers after the hard winter they have suffered, but there they were loads of them. The Heath was looking good the heather was bright purple and the gorse was starting to flower giving a contrasting bright yellow. We walked to the far north end of the heath before turning round and walking along the west boundary back towards Minsmere.

Four baby swallows
Four baby swallows

Lots of different mushrooms were out a sign of the recent damp weather and Autumn approaching, the light was really bright so it was a great opportunity to get pictures. We strolled along back to the visitors centre back at Minsmere via the west hide to share a portion of carrot cake. We headed off back to Eastbridge stopping off at the Bittern Hide (not much action except a juv. Marsh Harrier) then on to the Island Mere hide, where a few more ticks were recorded. We saw a very yellow warbler in a willow tree but could not make Icterine from it.

The sun was low in the sky as we headed down the Minsmere road back to the pub, we had a great day out, but had not managed to beat our record. August can be quite a quiet, we managed 61 quite a reasonable tally. There is always tomorrow when we plan to head slightly in land then out to Dunwich and back through Minsmere again. What a great day!