The goosander has a five ducklings. Their chestnut heads are the colour of her crest and their flanks have similar white patches. She dives down into the water to feed, visible below its surface, teaching her ducklings how to fish the river. She heads upstream, where the river banks are lined with trees. High in one of them is the nest-hole from which her downy ducklings parachuted as she called them down to earth, to life on the river.
Interlude with great crested grebe on a beautiful May morning. Calm and tranquil, no ruffled feathers until his mate emerged from the islet of reeds and they danced on the water. A choreographed bonding sequence designed to show off the long, sinuous neck of gleaming white, black cap and erectile crest of dark feathers, white face in a shock of tawny-black ruff and tippet. Breast to breast, riding high on the water in courtship, they shook out their head-plumes. 'He has a beard,' exclaimed Rosie. Like a judge in full court regalia.
A cloudy day with an invigorating wind that almost drowned out the cuckoo calling toward Sunbiggin Tarn. High in a leafy summer canopy he was canny, knew we could not see him as he called loudly above us.
We set out to the call of curlew and skylark sang as we walked the moors. Wheatear amongst outcropping limestone, with flowers of mountain everlasting.
The stonechat parents are busy feeding their young on a glorious day in May. A cuckoo calls from across the Lyth Valley, but not on Scout Scar. Not today. He is guile and subterfuge.
Flowers come into bloom rapidly, yellow flowers. There's hoary rockrose, common rockrose, horse-shoe vetch and bird's-foot trefoil and a range of compositae with green beetles in the flower-head, as usual. The patterns of their petals, of stigma and stamens is fascinating, especially when sunlight pours through the flowers.
A bright morning, with alto-cumulus cloud. The cuckoo was slow to give voice but then he called, showing in unmistakeable posture in a bare tree on Scout Scout. And flew. Calling moments later to the south, more distantly. For two or three hours he called from different locations. He would fall silent, relocate and call again. As I returned across Kendal Race Course he was still audible.
A diffuse sunlight over hoary rockrose, but the flowers only open when the sun gains strength and I was too early for them. Soft grey flowers of mountain everlasting, in grass near the cliff edge. And hawkweed freshly opening. May blossom is the dominant motif on Scout Scar at the moment, and early purple orchids.
The cuckoo. Bird or wandering voice, asked the poet Wordsworth? Cuckoo, cuckoo, now here, now faint and further off, now close in my ear. Without the luxury of good binoculars I wonder if Wordsworth is telling us he rarely or never saw the cuckoo. Or was he consoling friends who often heard but never saw the bird.
Another overcast morning, with light rain, but still. So once I heard that wandering voice I was intent on a close-encounter. I heard him again, found him in a tree, saw him fly low and rapid in stealth flight. I can do stealth too. I know not to let my profile be seen against the horizon, I keep low, using stone walls and hawthorn and juniper to conceal me, where I may.
Cuckoo, at last! Heard none in the Yorkshire Dales this last fortnight, none by Shap Abbey and Knipe Scar, none on Scout Scar- although my scouts reported hearing the bird. So this morning I lingered and lingered, heard the cuckoo faintly in the distance, and at last quite close. The call of the cuckoo defines the coming of spring. Without it, nothing is the same. Without it, we're in trouble with species loss and habitat loss. I was out at 6.00am this week, when once the volume of bird song would have been loud. The diminution is apparent.
Pastoral in limestone country. From Langcliffe, vistas unfold before us. Aspects of Pen Y Ghent, changing perspectives along our way.
Beside a hollowed-out ash set in mossy limestone pavement, an interlude where skylark sing and lapwing call. Before us, the Celtic wall and Ingleborough beyond.
Hoping for field pansies on Smearsett Scar we find them sooner.
Weird weather. The hottest Easter on record, the coldest May Bank holiday. A chill wind and poor light with skylark singing in display flight. A day in the vicinity of Plover Hill and Pen Y Ghent. In this moorland solitude aerial display is enchanting. A curlew sings and displays above us as we shelter beside a wall overlooking Wind Tunnel Cave where water trickles from beneath limestone at Cosh Head Beck. Perhaps in wild weather the wind sounds through the tunnel.
Jan Wiltshire is a nature writer living in Cumbria. She also explores islands and coast and the wildlife experience. (See Home and My Books.)