Thursday, 24 September 2015

Lake District 2015 - fauna

In this blog post I'll be focussing on some of the birds and other animals I encountered during my holiday in the Lake District last week. As I had my new camera with me, I was hoping to be able to get some better photos of birds than I'd been able to previously, and happily this did prove to be the case!

On the morning of our first full day, we had the only really bad weather of the week - continuous heavy rain, which kept us indoors for a few hours. Despite the confinement however it ended up being an action-packed few hours! Our bedroom looked out over the cottage's lovely front garden, and the neighbours had several well-stocked feeders in their garden. This meant that there were birds aplenty constantly passing through our garden, and I found that I could use the bedroom as a comfy hide from which to take photos through the open window. The heavy rain meant that the light wasn't great, but I did manage to get a few shots I was quite pleased with.

Slightly soggy Siskin.
I was especially pleased to see a Nuthatch fly into a pipe embedded in the wall, for shelter from the rain. It stayed there for a long time, drying off and preening, and every so often checking on the rain to see if it had slackened off enough to head out again. Here are a few photos!

Nuthatch sheltering.
Has it stopped raining yet?

Nuthatch checking up on the weather.

Staying indoors for a little bit longer.
My photo hide backfired somewhat as I left the sash window open quite wide while I went off to do something else - when I came back a Robin had flown in and was trapped in our bedroom. However I was luckily able to trap and release it quite easily. When I came in it obviously became more distressed and was flying against the window which caused it to slip down between the two layers of sash window. I grabbed a spare towel and used it to block off the gap at the top while slowly lowering the bottom window to release the Robin into the towel. I carefully wrapped the towel around it, quickly opened the window again and opened the towel. The Robin flew away with no problems so hopefully there was no harm done. On top of that we then watched the Labour leadership election on telly, it really was a morning of non-stop excitement!

I had several more goes in my bedroom photo hide during the week and these are my best results from those. Fortunately the weather was rather good for the rest of the week so these are less gloomy than my photos from the first morning!

My favourite - a juvenile Blue Tit.

Juvenile House Sparrow stuffing its face.
Although a relatively quiet time of year for birds, we still saw some nice Lake District favourites on our walks. Ravens were everywhere, honking away, and there were large flocks of Meadow Pipits preparing for migration on the tops of nearly every hill we went up.

We also saw some great mammals! On our second day, Chris and I went on an awesome walk/climb up Eagle Crag. This was a challenging ascent (by my standards anyway) with several scrambles up steep gullies, slippery in places after all the recent rain, and some rather precarious narrow paths through the rocks.

Eagle Crag on the left hand side. Yep we went up that way.
The walk started along Greenup Gill, which we walked with Chris's parents Dawn and Dave (we would rendezvous with them later after descending from Eagle Crag). Along here we had a great encounter with a Stoat looping its way through the grass straight towards us, seemingly not realising we were heading right for it! In the end though it did notice us and turned around.

Greenup Gill.
About halfway up Eagle Crag we followed a short detour which Wainright informed us would lead to a viewpoint. That view turned out to include a magnificent young lone Red Deer stag, eyeballing us from further down the slope! I didn't have my zoom lens with me so you'll have to scrutinise the photo closely to find him ;o)

View full size to find the stag!
We had some superb views from the top, and the descent was much easier. Dave and Dawn were watching and guiding us from afar too, to the safest place to cross Greenup Gill which was rather swollen after all the rain!

View of Langstrath valley from Eagle Crag.
The terrain on the descent was much gentler!
On another day we took it a bit easier with a stroll around parts of Borrowdale.This took in different terrains and habitats, where we encountered various characteristic inhabitants of each! On bracken-covered slopes we spotted a pair of Stonechats and some migrating Phylloscopus warblers (either Chiffchaff or Willow Warbler, we only had brief glimpses). 

Brackeny slopes.

Along the shallow pebbly-bedded rivers there were Grey Wagtail, and a Dipper only a few metres away from the path, seemingly oblivious to our presence. 

Perfect Grey Wagtail and Dipper habitat.
Walking between Castle Crag and the adjacent ridge, which sloped downwards towards us and was strewn with small rocky outcrops, scree and intermittent stunted Hawthorns and Rowans, I spied a small flock (ten or so) of Ring Ouzels making their way south along the ridge! Having only seen my first Ring Ouzels earlier this year, this is still a VERY EXCITING bird for me to see. Although distant, their silvery wings catching the sunlight were unmistakeable. 

Ring Ouzels to be found at the top of the left-hand slope!

The most exciting encounter of this walk was along the wooded river valley and was one I'd been hoping for, no trip to the Lake District is complete without it! Chris and Dave were up ahead when I spotted a quick movement on an Oak next to the path - it was a Red Squirrel! I whizzed over quicksharp to get a good look. Luckily it stayed frozen for a few minutes while we ogled it, before scampering further up the trunk and out along a bough. I was too excited to think of taking photos of it!

My favourite bird encounter of the week was on our highest walk. Chris and I walked from the slate mine on the Honister Pass to Green Gable, and then up Great Gable. The cloud base was low and as we ascended Green Gable we entered the clouds. The view from the top was cryptic to say the least!
As we couldn't see much we decided this was a good opportunity to stop for lunch before heading on up Great Gable.
After a surprisingly quick ascent up Great Gable (perhaps fog can make time appear to pass differently) we were making our way towards the summit when I heard a few muffled, gentle peeping calls. Scanning through the fog I found a super-smart male Wheatear, and three Golden Plovers not too far away, wandering through the rubbly stones which provided the perfect camouflage. I watched them for a bit but Chris had already headed to the summit, so I went to catch him up and enjoy the intermittent views which appeared every so often through the clouds.

View of Wast Water from the top of Great Gable.
I wanted to watch the plovers for a bit longer though so went back and relocated them. In the misty murk this chance encounter with these unexpected travellers had a slightly mysterious and magical air.

View full size to spot the Plovers!
The final wildlife encounter of the week was much closer to home. On the last morning we were all rushing around packing our bags and tidying up as we had to leave the cottage by 10. I heard a sudden exclamation from Dawn - she'd opened the front door only to find a large Common Toad sitting on the doorstep! In fact it was more draped over the threshold (it must have been huddled against it before the door was open) so the door couldn't be closed again without crushing the poor amphibian's feet. I only had time to take a few quick photos, before I gave the Toad a gentle poke to try and encourage it on its way. It seemed very reluctant to move however, so I picked it up and carefully deposited it in some ivy covering the ground in the garden. The last I saw of the Toad was it crawling away into the undergrowth. Godspeed, Toad!

Common Toad.

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