The road wound beside the River Conder, through salt marsh and reed beds to Glasson Dock where we began our walk. South, through fields with a large flock of wild swans- mute swans and whoopers. Some half dozen whoopers took flight with that distinctive trumpeting call for which they’re named. At Caerlaverock in early November the whoopers were newly arrived from Iceland. They will stay on the marsh grasslands at Martin Mere and Caerlaverock through winter, returning to Iceland in March.
It is the year’s midnight, and it is the day’s. Not always. St Lucy’s Day can be full of light, heavenly light, moonlight and stars and sunlight reflected off snow. I remember a sublime winter solstice six years ago.
I lay in bed, long after my hour, listening to a volley of hail on a skylight. Sky light. Not much light until noon when a wand of silver birch gleamed in sunlight and the clouds parted briefly. Befuddled by a heavy cold, I feel a little more regal to hear that the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh have heavy colds too.
See the suppleness of the bird as the waxwing reaches down for rowan berries, balancing with its wings tips in an arc above its body. Its brilliant yellow tail feathers show left of those raised wings. A claw grips the horizontal twig from which it hangs. At rest in the high trees they sit demure. Feeding, the birds morph into assorted shapes to reach the clusters of berries. It's a question of taste; do you like a composed image or an action shot that might turn your bird into something unrecognisable. Here's a waxwing selection of acrobats and tumblers.
Mapping the waxwing across Kendal, that's the focus. I've watched this exotic rowan to see if it would attract them. Almost home and it began to rain. I heard starling and glanced up at an alder. Not starling, but waxwing. As I settled in to watch, birds flew down to the rowan to feed. Look at the posture of the bird on the right, so supple and acrobatic compared with the blackbirds that fed beside them. Despite the rain, their colours show.
To-day, I can show the red 'wax' for which the bird is named.
Today, waxwing are chattering in the tree tops about Abbot Hall. It's a gloomy and rainy morning, so the vibrant colours of their plumage do not show. Perhaps you can make out the pallor of the tail-tip, which is yellow. And a hint of white below the eye. . The crest shows well, and the claws clutch a twig. I found only half a dozen birds this morning, and when the sky cleared to give a transient brilliance the birds had gone. I hope for a coincidence of waxwings and better light. Monday 5 December saw a bright and frosty morning. How unlike this day a year ago when storm Desmond struck with such ferocity!
Waxwing: I could hear their constant chatter and I found them in the topmost branches of a tree so tall I was glad of binoculars. I listened through the flow of the river, the town traffic. Rowans heavy with berries grew either side of the road and volleys of waxwing flew over rooftops, and chose the rowan beside St George’s Church. By early afternoon they had stripped the top of the tree of fruit and bare stalks showed where the waxwing had fed. A bright morning showed off their colours.
From the Scout Scar escarpment, look west toward Windermere and the Lake District Fells. Today, Windemere is made visible by white mist that lies over the lake. To the left of the image, the Coniston Fells, to the right the distinctive Langdale Pikes. There's fresh snow on the tops and bursts of sunlight gleam brilliant. As we watch the mist over Windermere rises and begins to disperse.
Once upon a time one icy January day, we came upon something curious, something out of fairy story. It’s a tale so strange you may not believe me. Once upon a time, in the last millennium, some quarter of a century ago, before the age of smart-phones and digital photography so there are no photographs. But I have witnesses- friends from Bristol Ornithological Club whom I met up with on a recent birding trip to Dumfries and Galloway. It took us time to puzzle out what we saw that day, to believe what we were seeing.
Jan Wiltshire is a nature writer living in Cumbria. She also explores islands and coast and the wildlife experience. (See Home and My Books.)