Enjoying the last days of England’s Indian Summer

Nature Diary With Wendy LeVoi

A  welcome friend. Picture by Tony Sutton

A welcome friend. Picture by Tony Sutton

IT is a fabulous day in early autumn as we set off on our push bikes down Cycleway 72, past St Bridget’s Low Church; we leave our steeds near the giant’s picnic bench a mile down the cycleway, and continue on foot over the stile, where tarmac ends and nature begins! Today we are joined by Chris, long time friend, and avid twitcher, but there seems to be little bird life about today. A large black crow watches our progress, perched up high on a fence post, preening itself irritably from time to time.

“Can you hear that turtle dove?” The dulcet mewing tones of a dove drift into earshot from across the sunlit grassland.

“It’s that crow!” Chris soon has his telescope focused towards the sound.

It can’t be! Can it?

“Take a look”. Sure enough, the sound was coming from the crow.

“Well, I’ve never seen anything like that before; why on earth would it want to do that?”

Approaching the railway bridge we are assailed by loud and prolonged birdsong, far more creative than the dove-like song of the curious crow.

“It’s a dipper, but I’ve never heard a dipper sing like that before!’”

I’ve never seen a dipper at all, never mind heard one sing! Maybe this Indian summer has confused it into thinking it’s spring again. I was surprised to see a chubby dark brown bird with a snowy white breast foraging around in driftwood caught against the bridge supports, her song echoing around the arches.

Over the bridge and out the other side via the railway man’s tunnel, a kestrel scatters sand martins over the river into a world of sand dunes and pampas. And there it is, the sea, calm as a mill pond as it rolls high up onto the beach.

As we set up camp in the shelter of the sand dunes, ringed plovers scamper along the shingle, and on a sand bank towards Braystones beach Chris has soon picked out kittiwakes, cormorants, shags, and a red throated diver, disappearing beneath the waves.

Further out to sea a flock of scoter have alighted, a sea duck that feeds on molluscs, looking like inky black dots bobbing about in the waves.

This time on the homeward trail along the embankment there are rosy breasted stone chats, sparrow-like dunnocks, with their mournful ‘seep seep’ call, willow warblers and gold finches, flitting in and out of the bushes. As we pass St Bridget’s Church, we can’t resist an opportunity to visit ‘Edith, little maid’, and her tall Saxon companion,* facing east towards towards Scafell and the Langdale Pikes, our most ancient of mountains, or is it west, towards the sea and the setting sun? Whichever way, the Saxons clearly had enough respect for their dead to choose a position that could hardly be surpassed anywhere else on the planet for its awesome beauty. Let’s hope their legacy is allowed to continue (Our walk down the cycleway to the sea and the uninterrupted view to the mountains enjoyed for so long by our Saxon ancestors will be no more if the Moorside Project to build three nuclear power stations here is given the go-ahead.)

*A runic inscription which has had many readings, the prettiest of them referring to ‘Edith, little maid’ (Edih ginel miec) and the date 1103. (from Buildings of England, Cumberland & Westmorland – Pevsner).