Next morning the swans and their cygnets were gone and in their absence I noticed the safety barriers and signs chucked into the river, the habitat of these beautiful creatures. Vandals at large. Below Stramongate Bridge, I came upon a family of swans, perhaps the one I found yesterday. The adults' parenting skills were impressive. One would feed, its head beneath the water, whilst the other kept a look-out. They swam before and behind their brood, and approaching the rough water of the weir, one adult set the course and the cygnets followed in the safe water he found for them.
The swan sat amidst lush vegetation on the bank of the RIver Kent which flowed fast and high after days of rain. Her mate lay half-hidden by umbellifers and I leant over the railing on the riverside walk to see more closely. A pair of mallard swam by and dipper flew upstream. Yesterday, house martin fed low over the river, their rumps a flash of white against the dark water. At last, the cob raised his head. Hidden by stems of umbellifers, a spread of soft grey lay heaped on the river bank, like a discarded sheep's fleece. Within the softness, their brood of cygnets.
New flowers come thick and fast on the limestone of Scout Scar. An invigorating wind sets the tall flowers of the escarpment dancing and white clouds scud across the sky. Along the path close to the cliff-edge are the flowers of squinancywort. Pale and tiny, they're easily overlooked. In late June, frog orchid appear. They're one of the rarer flowers here, an inconspicuous olive colour in the short grass. Look closer, and they are rich and subtle.
Today, Kendal Mountain Rescue are training and they prepare to enact a cliff-face rescue. Sometimes they're called out to rescue over-inquisitive spaniels.
June is the season for the marvellous hay meadows of Dentdale. Upland hay meadows beside the River Dee refreshed with overnight rain and under cloud slow to disperse. A freshness welcome after a heat-wave. Hay meadows rich with a fragrant flora of golden buttercups and rosy sorrel, with red and white clover, eyebright, bistort and pignut. Then yellow with hawkbit, autumn hawkbit, I believe. It's a complex genus of hawkbit, hawksbeard and hawkweed.
The key to the success of hay meadows is the presence of Yellow rattle, Rhinanthus minor and Eye-bright, of the Euphrasia genus. Underground and unseen, they make magic.
Tomorrow is the summer solstice, the longest day, and the sea-hides at Leighton Moss were an escape from the blaze of the heat wave. A grasshopper warbler sang in the reed beds and perhaps we saw him deep in reeds and flowering grasses and no longer singing. The susurration of the breeze through the high reeds and defined clouds gathering in a burnt-out sky are a delight. A male reed bunting flits about the reeds and we photograph him and a mystery companion through a screen of seeding grasses. And a tall creamy flower that puzzles me.
There's a cuckoo calling and, not finding him, I linger amongst dropwort and fragrant orchid. If I'm still and silent, perhaps the cuckoo will appear. It's happened before, as if he's curious to know what I'm studying down in the grasses. I'd like photographs to focus on a single flower, whilst hinting at seeding grasses and an abundance of flora beyond. Dropwort is a beauty in its structure, its subtle colours and the detail of pattern. So of my morning's photographs, here are a few to enjoy.
Osprey have returned to breed at Foulshaw Moss and we headed for the viewing platform. It rises from birch carr, its feet in water, so you cross a wobbly platform that can respond to flood and rising water. We had planned to visit earlier in the month but heavy rains and strong winds suggested we postpone the visit. The day was cloudy but that only made the light more interesting. A reed bunting sang in the birch trees at our backs and we admired him and the ospreys too. The osprey nest is at a distance, so a telescope is essential.
Goosander are daily fare on the River Kent, but today she brought her chicks to town.
Swifts and house martins wove a dizzying web over the river, feeding low, house martins lit by white rump against dark water. So fast, so agile, sweeping up above the trees in twisting and turning flight. A house martin's nest was tucked below the eaves, riverside, and birds zipped in and out again. Goosander flew fast and low upriver, with rapid wing beats.
Couldn't find the cuckoo this morning, but he'd spat liberally onto the flowers of the limestone grassland. There was dark cloud, perfect for photographing the creamy-white butterfly orchid and the cuckoo had found the flower first. Dropwort is a beauty: deep pink buds then a froth of delicate white flowers. It's white petals present a challenge to a photographer, light bounces off them. But beneath this cloud-shield I was determined to try again. I love the pattern of calyx against the pink buds. And I began to see that at certain angles the cuckoo spit caught the light and the froth of bubbles made by the frog hopper showed every one distinct. So , dropwort with cuckoo spit.
In early June, the seed heads of cotton grass illuminate the Lake District Fells. Cotton grass is a sedge found in blanket bog, in hollows and in wet places. Tussocks of hare's-tail cotton grass are found on wet ground but common cotton grass sometimes grows in the upland tarns. In late summer and autumn the narrow leaves become wine red. Today, there were slopes of bilberry, fresh and green.
The first fragrant orchids appear, slender and elegant. There are white butterfly-orchids and dropwort too. The early morning light was almost too strong for flower photographs. Then dramatic dark clouds gathered, casting shadows over the landscape. Heading home, I'm walking toward the most threatening cloud but there's little rain. There is little light shed onto the ground and darkness is now behind and before me- when I catch the call of a cuckoo. So what if it rains. I turn back and follow the intermittent call of the cuckoo, uphill, scanning trees against the sky in the hope of seeing the bird. I follow the call for half an hour and follow it to the trees I know it favours.
Jan Wiltshire is a nature writer living in Cumbria. She also explores islands and coast and the wildlife experience. (See Home and My Books.)