Birds and boats and lakes

Back in June my wife and I, and the dogs, went for a little break in the Lake District to celebrate her 55th birthday, and her semi-retirement. It was the first time I’d been to the Lakes for close on forty years, and I’d forgotten how wonderful the area was, just soaring beauty wherever you look. A good time was had by all, 0with a lot of good food, walking, and of course quite a bit of bird spotting along the way, some of which I’d never seen before, like this Pied Flycatcher that followed us up a hill above Ullswater.

A little further up the hill something else was chirupping away from a tree, but refusing to break cover for identification. I’m not great at bird calls – like many people, I know the ones I know – and this one I certainly didn’t recognise. But then it finally flew to the top of the tree, and I got a photo, although it wasn’t until I got back to the land of internet that I figured out what it was – a female Redstart, another first.

It wasn’t all about birds though – the views back down the hill were quite nice too…

… while this Chimney Sweeper moth that followed us for a little while was rather pretty…

…as were these Spotted Orchids.

Earlier that day we’d walked up and down the glorious Aira Force waterfall…

… which Woody enjoyed particularly.

The falls didn’t produce much in the way of birds, but they were beautiful in themselves, and anyway, not every walk has to be about birds, so here are some gratuitous photos.

A wind and rain-swept boat trip on Windermere was nonetheless lovely, although the dogs weren’t too impressed with the view at first…

Riley eventually figured out a way around this though…

Bird-wise, the weather wasn’t ideal, but there was a good showing of Greylag and Pink Footed Geese, Great Crested Grebes and Assorted Ducks – but then suddenly a rather different bird popped up from beneath the waves, a Red Breasted Merganser, very much a first for me, albeit a far away and grainy one.

The highlight of the holiday, however, as far as birds were concerned anyway, was the trip to St. Bees Head and its stunning cliffs, where I was really hoping to see my first ever Puffins.

After we had walked along the beach, watching the Sand Martins swooping overhead towards their beach cliff nests…

… and encountered a stranded jellyfish that could almost have been painted on the sand…

… and paused at the cafe for a cuppa and some chips that this Linnet obviously fancied…

… I headed off up to the cliff top RSPB reserve. I didn’t fancy the rather perilous-looking climb up, so while Julie and the dogs stayed on the beach, I drove back through the village up to the reserve. However, it turned out I couldn’t get the car anywhere near the reserve, so I had to park and walk the last mile or so, but this was OK, because if I hadn’t, I might have missed these chaps, a male Stonechat…

… and a female just along the road.

I would also have missed this guy. I heard his call first – it’s unmistakable, if you know what you’re hearing. I hadn’t seen a Yellowhammer for many many years, but there he was, trying but failing to hide in the top of a roadside tree.

Eventually I reached the cliffs, but it seemed it was still another mile or so along the cliff edge walk before I got to the reserve proper. Fortunately I had company – this little Meadow Pipit followed me almost all the way along the cliff walk…

… as did numerous butterflies, including this Ringlet, and the Large Skipper below it.

The cliff walk was stunning, if a little perilous in itself here and there – for those disposed to vertigo, it could definitely do with a few more handrails!

There was the occasional bench to hold onto though, or even to sit on – not too many benches have this kind of view.

The cliffs were mostly populated with the usual gulls and crows, but nothing more exotic – not yet anyway. But then down below in the distance one of the gulls started attacking something – I assumed it was another gull, but when I looked closer, I realised it was actually a near-fledged Peregrine chick!

The Peregrine chick wasn’t too fussed though – it was almost fully grown, and no doubt it had the confidence of knowing one or both of its parents would be back any moment to deal with the gull.

Further along the cliff things started to get more interesting, as a pair of ravens flew back and forth to their nest, which was sadly just out of sight.

One of them did do a passable Game of Thrones logo impression though…

Eventually I came to the reserve, in reality merely the section of the cliff with the best views, and, finally, handrails! I’d been hearing the sound of seabirds for a hundred yards or so, but hadn’t seen any – but now I did. The birds revealed themselves slowly, guillemots and razorbills mostly, with the occasional Kittiwake, their numbers increasing with every step along the path…

… until the whole view was finally revealed, of thousands of the squawking seabirds, all somehow clinging on to their miniscule perches, and more miraculously knowing where their perches were when returning from fishing trips. All in all they looked like nothing so much as an army of orcs slavering their way in to the mines of Moria.

But no Puffins. Not one. Not even a brief glimpse of one flying in and out. I learned later that the adults were mostly out at sea fishing at that time of day, while the young were in nests right at the bottom of the cliffs, only visible from boats. I should have done a bit more research, obviously!

There were other lovely days out while we were there, principally to see some awe-inspiring stone circles, but I’ll save those for another blog. But here’s one of the Castlerigg circle to be going on with.

No filters, I promise – the light really was that epic.

7 thoughts on “Birds and boats and lakes

  1. Yes, also enjoyed reading about your explorations. I used to live in Caithness, where’s there plenty of puffins in the summer, either sitting on cliff ledges or rock stacks or flitting across the open sea. One day I crawled along the clifftop round the back of Dunnet Head lighthouse, discovering a puffin having a rest there 300 feet above the waved. At that moment it and I were the two most northerly vertebrates on the British mainland.


  2. Hello Alastairs

    My Name is Shane Leslie. My 9 year old daughter Ruby Leslie was born with a 3 q29 microdeletion. She presents with gregarious and outgoing autistic symptoms.
    She pretty much identifies as a Bionicle at this point in her life. Her entire creative conceptual and idiological life revolves around the story and characters that you created.

    A very frequent and common expression that Ruby makes after she draws something or builds something with her Bionicle pieces is to say I want to send a letter to the Creator to show them what I made.

    Is there any possibility that if I make her a blog of some sort that you might make the occasional comment?

    It would mean the world to her, and could be the wedge we need to pry open her mind wide enough to cram in literacy so that she can learn to write ‘at’ you.

    Now that I know of your novel I will be getting a copy… HOLY MACKEREL A PHYSICAL COPY OF YOUR NOVEL STARTS AT $200 CANADIAN!!!… getting a kindle relase of your Max Tovey book to read to her.

    I’m going to assume that this is not the first parent of an autistic kid reaching out to you at 11PM following yet another evening of constant chatter about Toas whilecI drink cheap wine to libricate my sanity and just say… Thanks for making something that my kids loves, and gives me a way to communicate with them through.


  3. Hi Shane,

    Thank you so much for your message, it still amazes and frankly humbles me when I hear that kids are still so fascinated with Bionicle, especially as it’s now been twenty years since Bob and I first started working on the project. As I’ve said elsewhere on my blog, if I never do anything again, I can be happy that we reached so many young minds. Keep me posted about your blog, I would be delighted to see it, and would be happy to make the occasional comment. By the way, a quick check shows that Max Tovey can be had from at around 20 dollars Canadian. If you get a copy, I hope Ruby enjoys it!

    All the best,



  4. Thank you so much Alastairs.
    She lit up like the sun when I read your message.
    I’ll put together something for her to ppst to, thanks so much.


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