To the Farne Islands sea bird sanctuary on a perfect day. At Seahouses, we board The Glad Tidings bound for Staple Island and Inner Farne. Billy Shiel has a fleet of boats and we choose 'a day for ornithologists and photographers’ and everyone climbs aboard bearing binoculars, cameras and tripods. A week later and Iolo Williams and the Spring Watch team cannot film on Farne because weather has deteriorated and it’s wild in the North Sea .
Perfect weather to sail to the Farne Islands. Iolo Williams will be there for ‘Spring Watch’ during this week. On a fine day a fleet of boats takes visitors to the islands so the Spring Watch team will have to find the solitude needed for filming, if they prefer to avoid a crowd of extras. Home with a lots of photographs, I’d like to reflect on the experience before writing about it. In the meantime, some image of the sea-birds that colonise the cliffs and breed on the islands.
Welcome to the Lake District National Park, including Scout Scar- a Site of Special Scientific Interest. What's special, what might I find ? A local man who walks there daily asked me that very question. There is nothing to tell the diversity of flora and fauna. Where does the Park begin and what might visitors see? Coming to a new place, it's good to find a welcome and to learn what the highlights are. Of course, you may read my books and this blog but we also need welcoming information boards to set the scene for everyone, for locals and tourists alike.
Wild pansy and lark-song in a wild wind. Up on Smearsett Scar pansies in the rough moorland grasses took a thrashing. Limestone is the character of the place but the wind gave us such a buffeting we walked briskly above the Scar, scarcely stopping to admire landscape features. A hazy day, and the quality of light was less spectacular than when I was here in early February. Viola tricolor was the motif of the day on the moors. What a contrast with Wharfe Wood and Oxenber Wood, enclosed in field walls of limestone. A flora wonderful to see. The lost glory of an English wood, here lovingly conserved.
When I first found linnet on the Gower coast in May the colours were stunning: gorse a deep gold and the male linnet resplendent in breeding plumage. Years later, I began to find linnet on Scout Scar in summer, infrequently. Now I know their habitat, I know the gorse and juniper scrub they favour, I’ve learnt their song and their habit. For some time I’ve been hearing lesser redpoll in this same habitat, but until late April I wasn’t able to confirm this with images. It’s easy to confuse the two, unless there’s strong light and a good sighting.
Early in the morning a bluish haze blotted out the fells. Heard my first cuckoo of spring, where I had seen a cuckoo in silent flight last week and where I found him two years ago. I lingered, checked out every likely tree where I knew he might display. A hare jinked away over limestone clitter into the juniper. Made my way to a stone ruin on a hunch- there had been rain earlier in the week so there might be rue leaved saxifrage.
A glorious day for Yewbarrow and Latterbarrow. Cowslips and primroses were abundant, with the first early purple orchids. There were orange-tip butterflies, brimstones and peacocks active in the morning sunshine. Tree-flowers were a delight. We looked down on WItherslack, with its damson trees white with blossom. Oak were bursting into leaf and I could see catkins high in the crown, too far off to show.
Redstart are come. There’s a sense of urgency in the chilly air. The imperative of the breeding season: find a mate, claim a territory. Here, and now. The topmost branches of budding whitebeam rise above the cliff edge and here the males display. Hot African colour against snow on the distant fells which the sun highlights. Cloud blots out the Langdale Pikes , flows across the Lyth Valley and unleashes a volley of hail on Scout Scar. The birds vanish, down into the trees that grow against the cliff face- an inaccessible wood perfect for their nests.
Jan Wiltshire is a writer and naturalist living in Cumbria. She take photographs.