Back in April John went on a 'Forest of Bowland Festival' walk, looking for Hen Harriers & other birds, in the Leaburn valley. He didn't see any harriers then, but we think we did yesterday! (but they might have been Peregrine Falcons!)
The birds were quite distant & of course appeared just as John was trying to keep his feet dry, crossing the beck - and not succeding in either case - but the show they put on was worth getting his feet wet! Twisting & swooping, flying up together & turning as if passing something from one to the other, an amazing sight that went on for 10-15 minutes. Suddenly they swooped low over the valley, rose high then flew off in opposite directions & the show was over! Images from RSPB. These birds were too distant to photograph.
And then - there was the heather, covering the hillsides, coating them in a furry, lilac, purple colour!
We get our eggs from bleak Bank Farm, the farm whose fields surround us. John & Judith Dawson have handed over the keeping of hens & the egg business to their son William, or as John jokingly says, "I pay for the feed & William takes the money!". He is a keen young farmer & has full responsibility for the hens as well as a small flock of rare breed sheep.
This is what William has to say about his hens:
"We've kept hens at Bleak Bank for generations and little has changed in the way they are kept. All our 30 hens are able to roam about the farm every day. We don't keep battery (laying) hens; we stick to more traditional birds such as the Light Sussex and French Maran. I also keep a few Vorwerk as part of my passion for rare breeds. I hope you enjoy eating our eggs as much as our hens have enjoyed laying them".
Busy with guests, here for the Gaping Gill winch, or just getting away from it all (one couple escaping the TTs in the Isle of Man). Disappointing weather but it cleared on the Monday night for the lighting of Jubilee Beacons.
There was to be an "official" beacon for the area on top of Ingleborough, a gas-fuelled beacon, but several locals had decided that we should have one on Bowland Knotts - easier to get to too, road all the way! So with German guests we went up to that, enjoyed a warming & jolly couple of hours, spotting other beacons to north (Hawes area), south (Pendle) & west. Hot sweet coffee, whisky & damson gin added to the evening!
Last night when working in the garden at dusk (10pm!) I heard a familiar half-squeak, half-hoot coming from the big ash in the corner. Looking up I could see an owl fledgling, wings tucked, staring back at me.
I had seen the adult bird around once or twice recently & wondered whether any chicks would be seen soon.
As last year, two chicks. Fluffy, & fluttering from branch to branch, quietly "hooting". (Photos are from last year)
To coincide with Ingleton's OvergroundUnderground festival (www.ogug.co.uk) we were invited to a free caving "taster", by Pam & Dave at Yorkshire Dales Guides. I've said "yes" to it, I tell Di; "You go" she says. Well it looks as if she enjoyed it!
We met with 6 others at their base near Stainforth, changed into caving gear, then drove to Selside & after a 15min waddle in wellies, past Alum Pot, we descended into Long Churn.
Dave soon put us at our ease, laughing & joking, but explaining what we were seeing & explaining the signs to watch out for too.
Time passed rapidly. After 2½hours we emerged into the evening light, having had a thoroughly enjoyable time. Back to the car & change into something dry (you do have to enjoy being a bit wet!) & off to the pub.
Dave & Pam are offering introductory & intermediate caving trips on Monday evenings until the end of August, see www.yorkshiredalesguides.co.uk
Walking quietly across the area of golden grass, low moorland, in the valley below, within a couple of hours I saw:
One Sika deer, 3 hares, 2 rabbits (only!), 2 kestrels, 2 buzzards, 2 hedgehogs curled up, a swallow, countless curlews with their haunting, warbling call;
an Emperor Moth;
grey willow, gorse - in flower, a wonderful sight, wild raspberries, marsh marigolds, cowslips & several other plants I couldn't identify.
The fields are full of lambs, varying in age from a few days to about a month. Some of the older ones form groups that go charging around the field edges as if they were in the Grand National, but then stop, look round & charge back in the opposite direction. We aren't allowed to call them "cute"; the word is "bonny". Judge for yourselves.
Don't you think that the sheep top right look like computer-generated sheep? They're pedigree Texels from a farm in the valley below us. Middle right & bottom left are Dalesbred (with the tear-drops on the nose) from Bleak Bank farm, surrounding us.
The wild & sparsely-populated area to the south of us, the Forest of Bowland, celebrates its wildlife with a festival of walks & talks each year & I went on one last week - "In search of Sky Dancers", looking for Hen Harriers. These are, or were, heavily persecuted as one of their favourite prey animals is grouse chicks (and other small birds)! Now, the principal landowners, of which United Utilities is one, and the RSPB are working together to try to pull these magnificent birds back from the brink.
We didn't see any Hen Harriers - they are very rare. But we did see Merlin, Ring Ouzel (also quite rare), Winchat (sparrow-sized with russet-brown chest), Reed Bunting, Willow Warbler. Also a pair of Emperor Moth.
For anyone interested in the Forest of Bowland Festival, see http://www.forestofbowland.com/ There are almost weekly wildlife walks & many cultural activities too
This morning it was a pair of pigeons sitting on the greenhouse roof, making lovey-dovey! Yesterday a pair of rabbits emerged from the hedgerow just below us & chased madly, round & round in the field.
Lambs, just one or two, are being seen in the fields and Ian, one of the farmers in Clapham showed his first born calf of the year in a field, just down the lane. Diane's bees have been flying, the snowdrops are going over, daffs, crocuses and some tulips are open & the elder bushes are beginning to sprout, holding the promise of elderflower cordial & champagne in a few months time!
Birds are tweeting - we heard our first curlew on Feb25th again, just as last year. The wren is looking for nest sites. Blue & great tits, goldfinches, chaffinches & greenfinches, robins, blackbirds, thrushes & dunnocks are all looking lively around the garden. Everything, including us, is emerging from winter hibernation.
Several days of lovely crisp, cold, clear weather have given the chance for long walks out in the fresh air. Here we repeated part of our Christmas day walk, at the top of Crummackdale but in totally different conditions. Then it was pouring, horizontal rain; now crisp & clear & seeing for miles.
Another day, it was up to Little Ingleborough, through 2-3" of snow, but going no further as the summit was in cloud & time late.
And today, after another snowfall of 2½", a walk through the fields between Newby & Cold Cotes, with Jack off the lead & chasing madly to & fro, practicing the "Come!" call. It's a joy to see him at full stretch!
Now, the temperature must be just above freezing, signs of a thaw are all about. The snow, still white is turning slushy, but there are still lovely things to see. And, no doubt, the top of Ingleborough will still be covered & picturesque for some time to come.
Cards are all sent. Preparations made. Presents wrapped. Time for us to subside....into our handkerchiefs & hot Lemsips & Night Nurse, to cough & splutter through the night! probably the worst colds we've ever had! (Di says, even for her, "It's Man-flu!")
However, Christmas Day arrives. We've arranged to meet James & Sue, friends from Clapham Village at their house, for a walk & in spite of the rain, off we go, heading for Norber Erratics.
Fortunately, the rain is at our backs, all the way out. We perch behind a wall to eat our sandwiches, slurp damson gin, nibble mince pies & drink soup, then stand...and wow!, the rain has stopped!
It's still blowing a gale, mind.
We drop off the high ground at Sulber Gate & head towards Austwick, then cut across a corner for a quicker way back to Clapham. By now its dark. We've been out for nearly 5 hours. Home to a hot bath & soak, clean up.
Get the meat in the oven. Lay the table. Soon enough, James & Sue arrive with the veg & the brandy butter & we are sitting down to gloriously tasty, locally farmed, roast pork with crisp crackling & all the works, followed by flaming Christmas pud & that brandy butter! And chatter is continuous too.
So, thank you James & Sue, for joining us, leading the walk (new ground for us) and making our Christmas Day really special.