A day with the snowbirds

Yesterday’s walk finished well after dark – though admittedly that’s not hard at the moment; it wasn’t really much after 5.30pm and though the snow was still falling much of it was then coming as sleet and the stuff on the road was as slushy as a not-very-slushy Slush Puppy. 

A nice walk, though, primarily for the birdlife. Flocks of goldfinch were feeding on frozen seedheads up at Winskills and just beyond the quarry cliff face a couple of ravens – an uncommon sight still round here – were delighting in the cold air, barrel-rolling above the whitened fields. 

Nearer Langcliffe fieldfare, the winter-visiting thrush, were flitting from tree-to-tree ahead of me. 

Best “spot” though was a kestrel, flying low and fast across fields with a weighty little lump in its talons.

Its flight was being paralleled across the fields by a magpie and as they reached a clump of leafless sycamore the magpie swerved closer, harrying the kestrel which cried out in distress.

Just before it flew up into the branches the kestrel dropped its burden and flapped around mewing terribly for a minute or two; another magpie hopped across the ground but didn’t find what the kestrel had dropped, then all the birds withdrew – I think they’d sensed me watching. 

It didn’t take me long to find the kestrel’s loss – a headless starling flopped on the snow just beyond the cover of the tree’s canopy. 

Just as entertaining, and far more amusing, was bumping into “Pet Shop” Bob, “Elbow” John and Benji hours later, as they slipped and slid their way back to Giggleswick from the Helwith Bridge Inn. I don’t know whether the slipperying and sliddering was due to the thickening snow on the road or the Celebration ale they’d been sampling; Benji appeared lucid so we’ll put it down to the snow. 

I’d covered some similar ground the previous day, also finishing in the evening after dark.

I encountered two characters that day too though I didn’t see them – I just heard one of them call, an awful, alarming, heart-tearing bark that sounds like someone’s soul is being violated.

 Yesterday morning I found their tracks marked down in the snow register: roe deer.

The register also recorded many foxes, where they’d trotted through the fields, and where they’d scraped away at the ground, presumably looking for shrews or voles to snack on.  

I didn’t get my beer at the Craven Heifer in the end but spending a day observing wildlife in this wonderful part of the Dales should be refreshing enough for anyone. 

John Manning

Freelance outdoor writer John Manning and his family are based in the Yorkshire Dales

3 thoughts on “A day with the snowbirds

  • 04/12/2008 at 11:47 pm

    Haven’t spotted where they’ve nested yet though I put the local buzzards up during the summer. Cried like babies for half an hour they did.

    I enjoyed the ravens’ barrel rolling though it’s less productive than the barrel rolling what gets done next door, and the fruits of which we will sample tomorrow night…

  • 04/12/2008 at 6:39 pm

    For some reason, I’ve always been very fond of ravens. I think they used to nest in the big quarry at Stainforth. I get the impression, though, that they’re one of the few British wild birds with anything like a sense of fun – all that tumbling and hurtling about and so on….

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