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part 1: northern england trip report -- morecambe "tern project" and leighton moss nature reserve

2008-10-01 - 7:31 p.m.

all photos © 2008 by elaine radford

morecambe bay

Monday, September 22

Today, while DH was busy with his presentation, I explored Morecambe Bay, its birds, and its public sculptures, collectively known as "The Tern Project," because (almost all) of the sculptures are bird-themed to honor the bay's importance as a reserve for the birds. It's almost like a game. You bumble around the town and see how many sculptures, in how many different styles and forms, that you can discover. The odd exception is the sculpture of Eric Morecambe, who isn't the founder of the town or anything, but who instead named himself after the town. I just looked it up on the internet, so don't think I'm real knowledgeable on the subject of British comedy or anything. He was apparently the opposite of "a prophet in his own country" and was, instead, apparently wildly popular in the U.K. and mostly unknown elsewhere. However, I was to be assured that the statue of Morecambe is the most popular sculpture in the town and the one that was unveiled by Queen Elizabeth herself during a whirlwind tour of the area.

Be that as it may, I was more interested in the variety of ways that artists could find to sneak birds, both large and small, into the artwork around the town. There was everything from the Stone Jetty, which includes the piece, "Flock of Words," with all kinds of poems, jokes, and games set in the walkway, to small touches such as bollards (in America we might just call them posts) with Cormorants or Puffins perched on top.

The Bay is quite large and gives a view of the Lake District mountains on the other side. There seems to be just miles and miles and miles of mud flats, complete with large drifts of Oystercatchers standing around, jostling and teasing each other, and, of course, catching what do indeed appear to be oysters. Here and there, the shore is dotted with Redshanks or Eurasian Curlews. In a very rocky area, I encountered a number of autumn plumaged Northern Wheatears, some dipping in and out of what appeared to be roost holes in the rock. I don't know if they breed there, or if they were staging there for migration, or what, but there were quite a few of them.

I strolled in both directions, from Morecambe to Bare (Bare? Don't you love the names of these British small towns!?!) and then back again through Morecambe to Heysham, an easy walk along the promemade.

I caught the bus back to our hotel and arrived there just minutes after DH got off work. He said he heard the bus drop people off, and he wondered if I was on it, but then I didn't come in right away. Silly me, I saw a cottontail rabbit in the field behind the hotel and I looked quickly to see if there was anything else. Hey, you never know.

Tuesday, September 23

I caught the train to Silverdale and spent all day at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds Leighton Moss Nature Reserve. (Whew, that's a mouthful.) The reserve is free to enter if you arrive on foot, by bike, or by public transportation, but you have to pay 4.5 pounds (almost $9!) if you take your car. There are lots of footpaths and trails, and there are also a number of large blinds ("hides" in British-speak). The reserve is actually discontinuous, and you have to hike along the road for a ways -- a road without any sidewalk -- and across the railroad track to reach some of the hides, so you have to take some caution.

At one point, I encountered a mixed flock of small tits, chaffinches, and that sort of thing, and soon noticed a number of tiny kinglet-like birds flittering and feeding on something in the trees in question. Goldcrest! They were so restless that at first I couldn't quite see the first one, and then suddenly I had the bird in perfect view, with its cute wide eyes and neat line of a bright yellow crest showing perfectly. An older couple came by, stopped when they saw that I had stopped, and then commented that they had never seen so many Goldcrests together at one time. It was a nice little flock that let us get quite close; indeed, the birds basically didn't even acknowledge that we were standing around watching them feed, so we had terrific views of every last feather.

I did not realize that Little Egret was a rarity in this area and said nothing when I saw one in the distance and after awhile it wandered off. Then a lady came around asking about Little Egret, and I felt rather bad that I hadn't spoken up. However, on the positive side, while on a sunny trail, I noticed three (and then a fourth) Common Buzzard catching a thermal to go up and up. The birds were distant but so large that they showed very well in my binoculars. I did point them out to some other folks on the trail, and they seemed thrilled. I'm sure Common Buzzard is not a rare bird at all, but it's always fun to see even a small kettle.

The largest remaining reed bed in Northwest England is at the Leighton Moss reserve, although it apparently isn't big enough, since they said they have had only one "booming" male bittern per year on the land per year since 2004.

Lots and lots and lots of Black-Tailed Godwits in the saltmarsh. Lots and lots of Lapwings, really close to the road, in a soggy field near the railroad crossing.

I seemed to see more colorful butterflies in this area than I did on my trip to the Cotswolds, and a lovely big-eyed Peacock was happy to stop and pose for my camera.

peacock, the british variety, near "lower hide" at leighton moss bird reserve

Note: Stay tuned for part 2 of my trip report to exotic Northern England. Coming soon!

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