Rain, rain, rain, flash floods, rivers on flood alert. Relentless rain through April, June and late into July. The jet stream was locked too far south, again. After overnight rain, vegetation was lush. The morning was humid and warm, an al fresco sauna fragrant with herbs. Shadow-wings flickered about my shadow in an hour of bright sun. Before raindrops evaporated, flowers and grasses were astir with micro-moths. Fritillaries were everywhere, foraging for nectar and pollen, in courtship flight, mating and egg-laying.
Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary is an exquisite butterfly. My first of the season, that dramatic upper-wing is unmistakable as it settles on a flower open-winged. I hoped for photographs to show the pearls of the under-wing too. Strong sunlight made their wings translucent, like stained-glass windows. The butterflies are fresh and lovely and after a generous interlude with Small Pearl-bordered Friillary I have images which show their interaction with the flowers they pollinate.
Strong sunlight at 6.00am and volleys of swifts swept low as I set out for Scout Scar.
Straying from the track to Helsington Barrows, we heard redstart and stopped to find him. Along our way there was mountain everlasting and dark red helleborine on a raft of limestone clitter. It should flower soon, although the weather is set to turn cooler by mid-week.
Hoping to find the linnet I'd heard singing two days ago, we settled down on a grassy slope overlooking gorse where I'd heard them, making sure the tall trees were outlined against the sky.
This is the driest May since 1896. The sunniest in England since records began. Glorious days, but drought-stress is visible in the landscape and Meteorological Summer doesn't begin until 1st June.
Today, United Utilities tell us we need to conserve water to ensure the taps keep running. Because of lockdown and our being at home we're using abnormal quantities of water.
The weather forecast gives no sign of rain to come.
The lemon flowers of Hoary rockrose open to the sun and spill over the limestone cliff of Scout Scar escarpment. They are glorious right now, eclipsing the more blowsy flowers of Common rockrose. On the cliff-edge, on the shallow limestone terraces set back only a little the rare Hoary rockrose grows thick over the rock, where little else can compete with it.
A flock of starling swept clamorous across Kendal Race Course, and came down into the trees, still vocal. Some had beaks full of insects. Did the flock including this spring's juveniles?
Early in the afternoon, the cuckoo was calling and we saw him in flight. The light was constantly changing, illuminating the landscape anew, with dark yew trees casting dark shadows on the limestone clitter.
The morning was calm. still and humid. There had been drizzle all the previous day and the atmosphere was full of moisture- like a sauna. The hottest day of spring. A small bird perched above a blaze of gorse and I held my breath in the silence of the morning. I crept closer- he was shielded by a tangle of brambles and hawthorn. I could see the deep crimson on his breast.
I always listen for linnet, look for linnet. Now he appeared in the peace of the morning.
Yes, Scout Scar again. This is lockdown. But it's a glorious spring and the shared experience has never been so rich and rewarding.
'People are looking at what is on their doorstep, and one can only hope that when this is all over they will re-evaluate their lives and how they live, and opt for a slower pace of life, to look, and see, and enjoy their own surroundings.' So wrote a friend.
The Land of Lost Content is here, if we look about us. It is not lost.
At this season the cliff-face of Scout Scar escarpment is a glory of yellow flowers. Hoary Rock-Rose is the rarest, the most delicate, its flowers opening only when the sun shines- as its Latin name implies. It is found only on the cliff-face, or on the nearby shallow limestone terraces. And its flowering time is brief, unlike Common Rock Rose which is less specialist.
At first, I took him to be a meadow pipit. Then he took off in song flight, the song of the skylark. And my images show the breeding crest of the male skylark.
There were meadow pipits singing and gliding down to earth, in parachuting descent.
Once again, the cuckoo was calling and we found him surrounded by small birds, on a juniper bush. And off he flew. He reappeared within the same territory during the morning.
His yelling startled me. The Belted Galloways took to their hooves and their calves went frisking after them. The farmer had brought them feed, or water. Both needful as the grass isn't growing for lack of rain. There was a shower overnight, scarcely enough to dampen the ground. The farmer's gathering his cattle put up the lapwing I've heard calling. Now they flew calling over trees and pastures. A young father with a little girl on his shoulders stopped to show her the Belted Galloways.
Last night, the Prime Minister announces a new watch-word for Phase 2 of lock-down. 'Stay alert.' Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland prefer the clarity of ' Stay at Home.' They do not want visitors. Nor does Cumbria, which has one of the highest infection rates in the UK.
To see cuckoo this morning, staying alert is the only way. Monday 11th May is cold and blustery. Gathering clouds cast darkness over the land, then the sun breaks through- so light is fitful. Difficult for bird watching.
Rachel and Maurice set out early for Scout Scar, so I often meet them returning. And they're among my scouts. Yesterday, two cuckoos were calling, we agree. This morning they heard a cuckoo and saw it fly off, harassed by a small bird. I am delighted for them, of course. It's all about sharing finds. Delighted, but if the cuckoo doesn't show up for me, sooner rather than later, I'll be miffed.
A humid and warm morning with clouds streaming toward the sun. Finely worked 'cloths of Heaven.'
The call of the cuckoo frames my morning. I hear him the moment I step down from the milestone stile onto Kendal Race Course. Another is calling over toward Helsingon Barrows. Perhaps the same male- his territory is wide-ranging. The call arrests me as I head for home, to and fro over the Race Course. He must be down-slope of the horizon but I cannot find him and I've looked for him all morning. Another day.
Swifts are screeching, high in a blue sky. The morning is warm and still, I hear the soft footfall of a runner
'Shame about the crowds and the awful weather', she grins. Love the irony. And the chance of solitude..
Here's my male redstrart on the perch he favoured for years. He or his progeny.
This spring the redstarts of Scout Scar escarpment seem to have grown more wary. Perhaps it's a response to the volume of walkers during lock-down, and many are setting out early in the hope of finding solitude. Redstarts are singing and displaying, but they are far harder to see. This slender whitebeam was perfect for him and me, rising above the cliff- top and showing the bird well.
Its International Dawn Chorus Day and that's my theme as I head for Scout Scar.
There's a slender whitebeam where for ten years a redstart has sung and displayed but he is not here. A redstart is singing, somewhere in the hanging wood below the escarpment. If I'm still and quiet the bird will settle and resume his song. Closer, closer. I'm searching amongst whitebeam leaves and branches, when someone calls out to me.
Ewes with lambs are come back to Kendal Race Course and what a joy it is to see them. Hopefully, next spring they will be born here.
LInnet are calling somewhere amongst the golden gorse bushes. But the birds which perch amongst the ash buds are long-tailed tits.
Redstart are come, on cue. I heard one several days ago but today is my first sighting. He's rather too far off to photograph well, but he's in fine voice. The whitebeam leaf-buds unfurl, pale as flowers. And Scout Scar escarpment has all the freshness of Maytime.
The bluebells of Warriners Wood were to be the highlight of my morning's walk. And Herb Paris, Paris quadrifolia, An April day with tree flowers, leaf buds unfurling, the canopy a luminous green and the herb layer a haze of bluebells. Mosses were sprinkled with petals of cherry blossom. Four hazel nuts clung to the trunk of a hazel, as if stuck to the bark. A blackcap sang loudly and brown butterflies flitted about the bluebells.
In spring especially, I set out with a wish-list- flora and fauna I hope to find- like the elusive Herb Paris which I came upon in Warriners Wood some years ago, but not today.
A warm day, Thursday 23 April. There were male orange-tip butterflies on the wing, settling on flowers in the under-storey. so caught-up in a spiralling dance their wings almost touched my face. A brimstone and a green-veined white too.
Ewes with lambs in the pasture on the track to Hellsfell Hall. Someone had adorned a ewe with the rainbow motif that reminds us of children during the Covid 19 lock-down. I've seen the emblem displayed in windows, now travelling the pasture on the flank of a ewe. The morning was so warm that lambs stretched out luxuriating in the sun beside their mothers. A peaceful scene.
Jan Wiltshire is a nature writer living in Cumbria. She also explores islands and coast and the wildlife experience. (See Home and My Books.)