Saturday, 23 June 2012

Tranquility and Red Squirrels

The Haweswater Hotel by the side of the lake is magic.  It’s the only building along the length of the lake and must be one of the most tranquil places to stay in the whole of the Lake District.  Built in 1937, the interior is pure Art Deco, with most of the original features intact.  That said it’s the outside that impresses most.  On a rare beautiful sunny day and with not a breath of wind, we sit in the garden overlooking the steep-sided valley drinking in the peace.  Blackcaps sing from the wooded slope behind, House Martins feed young in nests beneath the roof of the hotel and Chaffinches fly back and forth taking peanuts from the bird tables.  But it’s the Red Squirrels that provide the real magic.  So tame but yet so wild, they too come for the peanuts, sitting in classic Squirrel Nutkin poses on the lawn just a couple of yards from the excited guests. There’s a Golden Eagle in the valley behind the hotel, which may be the only one in England, but it’s impossible to leave the squirrels that for me define a part of wild England now mostly gone. They strengthen my resolve to campaign for the culling of Grey Squirrels.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

Scissor-tailed Flycatchers are common in southern Texas.  This first sighting during our recent spring trip to Texas took our breath away.  Their beauty and elegance never failed to make us stop and marvel.  If only we had such a bird on this side of the Atlantic!

Tuesday, 5 June 2012


Out very early this morning I turn a corner along a deserted woodland path. In an instant I’m frozen to the spot. In one of those rare magic countryside moments there, only twenty or so yards away in the middle of the path, are two fox cubs at play completely oblivious of my presence.  In the dappled morning sunlight I watch, spellbound for what seems like an age; they get my scent and are off.  What a privilege to get so close to such a timid and beautiful wild animal.  I shared a similar moment on a woodland track at the Blackwater Wildlife Refuge in Maryland last year. This time the fox was tame, very tame, staring us out before slinking off into the field. Such moments stay in the memory.

Foxes in Britain have spread into urban areas in recent decades and are now very common in city centres.  Unlike their wild cousins these urban foxes are bold, often very tame and can often be seen in daylight.  They make dens under garden sheds and other buildings, even occasionally underneath the floors of houses.  We put out scraps for our foxes most evenings and when I can accept the carbon guilt, I turn on the light by the old willow tree.  We’re delighted to see them wandering around the garden after dark ignoring the hedgehogs, but always noticing the neighbourhood cats.

I move on, recording every bird I hear or see.  This mixed woodland contains no rarities, just common species, but it holds a good population of woodpeckers.  I’m sure there are Lesser-spotted Woodpeckers here, I hear them from time to time, but all I detect today are Great-spotted.  I’m always green with envy when visiting my friend Colin’s garden in Annapolis. Woodpeckers abound at any time of the year; Downy, Hairy and Red-bellied visit his bird table and in the summer months there’s often a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker too, not to mention the Flickers in the adjacent woodland.  I can’t compete, but whatever I find in the countryside is beautiful, wherever I am. 

Saturday, 2 June 2012


There are four kinds of Avocets in the world, but I’m only familiar with the European and American species. Below are photographs, which show some differences between the two species.  The first four photographs are European (Pied) Avocets and were taken in the UK, the American Avocet photographs were all shot on the Bolivar Peninsula, Texas in April 2012.