A day of breath-taking beauty, calm and still, White mist lingers in valleys and, to the east, toward the Howgills, the tops peep through- like slivers of dark cloud. How welcome the sun after such a wet October and gloomy November days. The second lockdown of 2020 and I can walk only here, but here is marvellous. We may only meet outdoors but it's so warm and bright we relax into companionability, as we did in spring. So, at Thanks Giving, I celebrate the beauty of the natural world, and friendship.
The rainbow is an emblem of hope and optimism. Always has been. Non sine sole reads the motto of Elizabeth 1st in her rainbow portrait.
Non sine sole where there's a rainbow you'll find the sun.
The rainbow has become an emblem of the Covid 19 pandemic. Yes, let's be hopeful. Hope underpinned with good sense and compliance. All of us, all the time.
Out on Scout Scar I find three rainbows. And I overhear conversations on Covid non-compliance and the anger it causes.
Above Torver Beck we followed a track below an embankment topped with a hedge of hawthorn. A sheltering hedge, old trees gone to wild, sculpted by age, by wind and weather. Men walked this way to quarry the green and black slate about Coniston back in the 13th century. A hedge is liminal, the boundary where we venture forth from the safety of farm and pastoral for the open fell and the unknown.
Hearing fieldfare and redwing, we found them in the top of a leafless tree , amongst ash keys. On a cloudy November day winter thrush appear darkly. No sun to illumine them but look closely and you can make out the grey head, the light grey rump and dark tail, the disposition of the wings when the bird is at rest.
On Cunswick Fell there are plentiful haws on hawthorn, with red arils on yew and holly berries.
The last hazel leaves fall to leave branches thick with green catkins, dormant and ready for winter.
Frost and a dawn of soft, warm colour.
I know where to find berried shrubs on Scout Scar and I'm always alert for winter thrush. The whitebeam crop has failed this year, so hawthorn will be the attraction. A bird's white belly gleamed in the sun. A lone fieldfare. Its throat and breast cloaked in warm pattern, a flush of pure gold then radiant white. You might think plumage would absorb light but this luminous heart of white shone forth The head grey, the under-side of the tail shows dark.
A sole fieldfare on a hawthorn, no more all morning. The sun was warm and the day rather misty
If numbers of blackbirds appear in gardens this autumn they may well be migrants from Norway, Sweden and Finland. Come to compete for food with native blackbirds here throughout the year. .
A bright eye-ring and black plumage distinguish the male blackbird. Follow this sequence of images and you'll see some with characteristic bright yellow bill, others- like this male, have a darker bill. I think this is a first-winter male.
This blackbird has squashed the berry he's about to eat. Others appear to swallow them whole.
Lockdown is an opportunity to discover more about a bird we think we know.
Change is in the air. Overnight frost, and fog, says the weather forecast. After the wettest October on record.
Welcome the sun after so much rain and gloom. The low November sun highlights limestone on the escarpment edge. Below, the woods are rich in autumn colour. A jay calls unseen. Raven in weird and witchy call. Sounds of a pheasant-shoot rise from the woods, all week they echo over Scout Scar. Mist lingers in the Lyth Valley, over woods, over flood-waters and the mosses. It is beautiful and strange.
November 2016: shock news, Trump elected President. Dismay and disbelief on my companion’s face over breakfast at Dumfries.
On Tuesday 3rd November 2020 anything could happen. Will there be a clear result to the US election?
4th November 2020, England goes into lockdown, again. Stay home, Stay Safe, Protect the NHS, again.
There has to be an anti-dote to our times and, for me, it is often history and natural history.
I remember winter thrush resplendent. Fieldfare erupt from tall trees in scolding call and fly in sunlit colour. Redwing of whistling note, a smaller thrush with a streak of warm colour half-hidden by the wing, and with pale supercilium. Mistle thrush sounding like a football rattle. Winter thrush close, intimate, and abundant.
Halloween is high season for migration, when flocks are borne on a north-east wind. Halloween, when the clocks go back, the nights draw in and the woods are golden.
Red deer and raven, aura of the fells in October. Stags roar, bellow and grunt- notes of low horn and tuba. Accompanists in the seasonal ritual of the rut. Posturing, if we could see the action unfolding somewhere in the enveloping mist A symphony of stags scattered over the amphitheatre of the fells. Each responsive to the other’s voice, loud, resonant, yet secret. Raven is the saxophonist in a riff of stag and scavenger, then an interlude of silence until a stag bellows and they're off again.
Not a cloud in the sky early on a bright October morning. In the parkland habitat of Helsington Barrows the sun highlights anthills, a faerie light through tall larch now shadowed by gathering cloud. A clash of darkness and light. I hear mistlethrush, here in small flocks in August. And my focus sharpens as I catch a thrilling call. Winter thrush from the North, autumn migrants whose arrival on a such a warm October morning, seems anomalous, although the season is right.
Hush, be still and on with the cloak of invisibility. Look and listen. The wildwood will come alive.
Inky black and smooth, the water is held back by the weir, then plunges down in a cascade, into white water where a goosander is fishing, flapping her wings on the edge of the churn of white water. Sounds of falling water and of boulders rumbling in the bed of the river. A swan drifts toward the weir, hesitates, and drops white into turbulent white.
Spotlight and floodlight play over Piel Castle and cloud-shadows flow over the salt-marsh threaded with creeks where curlew and redshank call. Shingle, mud-flats and deep-water channels are sunlit, colour and fade. .
To the north, Piel Castle, Barrow, Black Combe and White Combe, the outliers of the fells. To the south, Morecambe Bay and Blackpool Tower. To the west, sand-dunes and the Irish Sea and wind farms.
Sunlight filters through a canopy of ancient woodland on a September day at Roudsea wood. Insects are lively in the warm sun. Speckled wood butterflies on the wing in glades between woodland fringe and rides, settling in leaf litter, on leaf and flower. Common darter and black darters bask in the warmth and mate.
Rousdea wood has charcoal pit-steads, tan bark barn, bark peelers house, potash kiln and powder house, The industrial archaeology of ancient woodland.
I have longed for Smardale, longed so deep that the reality may not live up to the longing. This year, this long year, spring and summer pass by with Smardale unvisited, autumn is come and here we are, at last.
For my companion I choose a looker, someone who delves dimensions and misses nothing. Someone curious. Who has to include Waitby Greenriggs in the fading light to see how every loop of railway line connects, from live lines with trains to disused railway tracks with embankments now habitat for flora and butterflies.
I heard a chorus of birds and followed to find a flock of starling strung along triple wires between telegraph poles. Dark shapes like notes of music on a stave. A stave of starling, that's my collective noun for them. Plumage of subtle colour, sheen and pattern. Birds preening. fluttering above and below the wires, then all off in a whoosh.
A soloist sang close by in the reed beds, clear and insistent. Forget the starling chorus, I'm the one.
Cumbria Wildlife Trust reminds us that the stridulations of grasshoppers are the sound of summer. This one was silent as it settled in bright sunshine on a chunk of limestone.
I've noticed that there are days when few butterflies are on the wing but still the grasshopper chorus is loud in the grass. It's unusual to see one so well and the rock makes a perfect foil.
Beautiful weather for the Bank Holiday and the last days of August. So my theme is sunlight and shadow. Shadow-play over the fells to the west. The Langdale Pikes are always a focal point and all morning they are sunlit and shadowed, by turns.
On Whitbarrow, the track to the Hervey Monument is an air-strip and my reconnaissance plane gathers pace, takes off and soars through cloud into blue sky. Perspective from the airy ridge suggests it.
A day of vistas. Perhaps we'll complete our walk before heavy showers reach us on strengthening south-east winds. If we wait for the wild weather of the coming days this exposed track will be just the place for flights of fancy.
An August heat-wave is not yet over. The morning is hotter than forecast, and humid. From Scout Scar escarpment I see the Langdale Valley filled with luminous mist and LImgoor, Side Pike and the Langdales Pikes rising above it. In the mist it will be cooler than here on Scout Scar where flocks of goldfinch twitter. And a few meadow brown butterflies alight on rock and are lost, unless you keep your eye steadily on them. It's their vanishing trick.
Jan Wiltshire is a nature writer living in Cumbria. She also explores islands and coast and the wildlife experience. (See Home and My Books.)