Without entering her owner’s house, I took Rosie the reluctant cocker spaniel for a long walk up through Crow Nest Wood, along the lane past Old Chamber, down the steep cobbled track, and back home through the wood.
It’s always strange to look towards home from the other side of the valley. Familiar landmarks arranged in an unfamiliar way. Our naturally camouflaged millstone grit house almost impossible to spot in the general terrain.
A generous gift arrives through the post: an 1889 edition of Charles Darwin’s Journal of Researches, more commonly known as The Voyage of the Beagle. A present from someone who enjoyed my Moor book and who follows my Darwin-related activities on the internet. I’ve promised to buy him a pint once this virus crisis is over.
A fleeting visit to the Dee Marshes in the later afternoon en route to a Dad’s before he goes into self-isolation. I saw a grey heron trying to intimidate a great white egret. I’d never seen the two side-by-side before, so had not appreciated how much taller the egrets are, although their bulk seemed comparable.
St Patrick’s Day. A quick circuit of the lanes at lunchtime to de-stress from all the virus news.
I heard a meadow pipit singing from the field opposite Ernest’s and sat on the low wall to listen. An empty bus passed by. The pipit was then drowned out by an explosive outburst from inside the building: it might be a ruined farmhouse to us, but it’s a highly des res to the local wrens.
Rooks were looping and cavorting above the treetops at Ibbot Royd, and I spotted a threesome of moulting carrion crows in one of the fields. Two of them bore white feathers on their wings: a temporary de-pigmentation known as leucism.
I completed my circuit without encountering a single fellow walker. Normally this would delight me, but in a time of crisis like this, it felt more than a little sinister.
As Jen and I drove down the hill towards the house this evening, there it was again: the local barn owl tacking back and forth on wide wings above the long grass in the Farm’s front field.
We first saw the owl just over a year ago. It has continued to thrill us with its occasional appearances, and now appears to have taken up residence on the Farm. A truly magical creature. I hope it continues to stick around.
With coronavirus panic sweeping the world, as I opened the driveway gate this morning, I could have sworn I heard an airborne CRONK!. There it was again! I looked up to see a magnificent raven flying past. The first raven I have ever seen from our garden! It flipped upside-down briefly, in that weird way ravens do, then headed off across the fields in the general direction of Nutclough Wood.
When I tweeted about my sighting, my favourite TV presenter, Prof. Alice Roberts, was on hand to made a joke:
Only later did I realise today is the Ides of March… And the raven had flown in from the left: a quite literally sinister portent to the ancient Roman augurs.
High Spring tides were forecast for lunchtime, so I headed off to the Dee Marshes. Parkgate was full to brimming for the promised extravaganza, so I drove up to Gayton to avoid the crowds.
I’d never seen the tide so far in before. The marsh was completely submerged. The local birds were extremely agitated. Flock after flock headed up the estuary in search of dry land. Pink-footed geese, a few shelducks, teal, and hundreds and hundreds of curlews, redshank, and oystercatchers. There were gulls as well, a couple of egrets, small flocks of dunlin, and a single kestrel.
I stood at the edge of the marsh for a couple of hours, watching wave after wave of birds pass by. I had no idea there were so many birds on the marsh. Warm sun sparkled off the incongruous water, but the breeze was strong and chilly. So, every so often, I had to retreat to the car for warmth.
As the tide began to subside, birds began to return, jostling for footholds on emerging banks of grass. Then a peregrine shot past. She made a half-hearted attack on a nearby flock of redshanks, then headed off low across the marsh. Through my binoculars, I could see she was heading full-tilt for a large group of waders on a grass-bank far out on the marsh. She kept very low—presumably to avoid detection, but also, maybe, to avoid having to attack downwards, towards the water. The waders were oblivious of her approach. When they finally spotted her, all hell broke loose. Panicking birds scattered everywhere. I soon lost sight of the peregrine in the mayhem, but it was easy to tell where she was as the chaos rippled back and forth along the bank.
A 5:30pm walk up the hill to the Farm for a birthday meal.
As we walked down through the cobbled yard, a barn owl flew out of the open cowshed door and disappeared behind the barn. Final confirmation that the owl is roosting on the Farm. Our farmer friend later told us she recently saw it in the hay-loft.
What would have been Mum’s 83rd birthday. A hard frost overnight, with a clear, still sky in the morning. The perfect excuse for a walk on the Moor.
Before I’d even reached the second Moor gate—the start of the Moor proper, as far as I’m concerned—I heard the familiar Go back! Go back! call of a red grouse from the disused quarry behind me. For once I obeyed instructions, turning back to see if I could sneak up on the bird. He watched me warily from the heather until I was concealed by the quarry-side, whereupon I slipped into the quarry and bumbled my way through tussocky heather and over loose piles of millstone grit, heading in the general direction of the bird. I could hear him clucking softly from the heather above me, over the lip of the quarry. He must have been able to hear me too: my attempt at walking in stealth mode was ungainly in the extreme. His clucks grew louder and more frequent as I got to within about 10 metres of him, although I still couldn’t see him. Then he exploded out of the heather, flying off low over the skyline as my camera snapped away. Not one of the photos was in focus, although one I’d taken before I entered the quarry was usable.
As I approached Churn Milk Joan, the famous local standing stone bearing prehistoric cup-and-ring carvings, I heard an arcade-game WHOOP! off to my right, and my heart skipped a beat… The lapwings were back! I spent the next 20 minutes peering over the drystone wall into the field below, as three lapwings soared, and plummeted in their unmistakeable courtship display. One even took the opportunity to dive-bomb a hare that was sneaking through a clump of moor-grass. I love lapwings. Definitely a top-ten bird!
Having, as tradition demands, left a coin atop Churn Milk Joan, I made my way up to the trig point for a brew, then headed along the edge, spooking several more grouse in the process. I then headed down and back along the wall at the edge of the Moor. As I neared Johnny House, my heart skipped another beat… Far off in the fields below, the lilting warble of the season’s first curlew. So I guess that makes it official: spring is definitely in the air.
Much later, at 5:30pm, as Jen and I were driving down the hill past the Farm, a barn owl swung up from the field below and began to flutter back and forth, low above the long grass. I slowed down to a crawl for twenty thrilling seconds as we watched the magnificent bird hunting just a few metres from the car, its wide wings translucent against the lowering sun. Unfortunately, other rush-hour cars were behind us, and their drivers didn’t seem in the least bit interested in owls, so we had to move on.
I remain convinced the owl is roosting in one of the Farm’s out-buildings.