Monday, 4 January 2010

Lake District

It's been a while since I had a festive period off from work so I ensured I made the most of it by getting away. Right away, up north and to a village nestled amongst the peaks of Cumbria, Braithwaite. The idea of the break was to do some walking and birding if possible, but the weather made us alter these plans.

Snow and ice everywhere - made for scary driving conditions and forced us to walk like a penguin so as not to fall over, which is worse when you're carrying camera gear. Still, the scenery made up for it, and I switched to my old mode of photography - scenic shots. Some of which will appear here, though as this is a birding blog, I'll try to cover that angle as best I can.

At Braithwaite, the stream seemed to attract wagtails, as I saw both pied and grey hopping about, though the light was so bad I didn't attempt a shot - would have been a blurred tail instead. Also heard a tawny owl at night, and one morning there was a sparrowhawk scouting the area near the cottage. Aside from that, very quiet... which was a sign of things to come.

Around Derwentwater were loads of cheeky robins, several ravens and a few blue / great tits. On the lake I spotted a lone goldeneye plus the usual wildfowl, mostly out in the middle where the water was not frozen.
One of the days we headed to the Whinlatter Pass area, to walk in the woods, hoping to see a red squirrel. We actually saw mountains of snow - several feet deep in places, which was initially amusing to walk in, but eventually knackered my ankles from twisting and rolling on the surface under the snow. Saw a pair of buzzards, loads of goldcrests and coal tits in the trees, plus a fair few ravens, soaring by, croaking as they went.

Up on Honiston Pass, which was closed, we saw a lone kestrel, and that was performing miracles given the wind speed and inclement weather. We were almost blown off our feet in the gusts. Horrid conditions.

The best day for birding came when I headed to the coast. Initially to Grune Point near Skinburness, but the coastal path was sheet ice and I couldn't stand up on it, let alone walk along it. So I opted for a coastal drive instead, and at a place called Beckfoot, spotted some waders on the shoreline. Turned out to be a small flock of sanderlings, plus a couple of turnstones and redshanks. Despite the freezing temperatures, I crept down and crouched at the water's edge to get some shots. Various gulls came over too, and some flocks of curlew headed north past me. The light wasn't great though and the cold eventually persuaded me to head back to the warmth of the car.

Over in Dodd Woods, at the Osprey Viewpoint (needed powerful bins when they're in Africa!!) I did see some red squirrels, which were as cute as I remember them from back in 2005. Masses of tits, finches, robins, jays, crows and the odd woodpecker too, at the feeders, but never in decent light.

Ullswater held some wildfowl including tufted ducks, but it was a blizzard when I got there, so greyness covered all. The surrounding fields had some thrushes hopping about, but these never came close enough for a picture.

Finally, on the way home I dropped into RSPB Leighton Moss, only to realise that it too was completely frozen over, yielding only a few glimpses of water rails, a lone peregrine and the distant calls of bearded tits. By the centre I managed to photo a song thrush... and little else. Shame, as it looks like a good reserve. One for later in the year when it's less cold, perhaps?

So to summarise, the cold killed off my chances of birding, and the break was more of a scenic holiday than anything else. Not that I complained, especially when the local pub was no more than 30 yards from the cottage! I'll miss my pints of Jenning's Cocker Hoop.

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