Oughtershaw BecksandpipersEvery time we drive over the cattle grid, a sandpiper pipes at us in obvious annoyance and arcs around in an ostentatiously level flight, flashing its wing-stripes. It’s on sentry duty again this afternoon as we walk down the track. It perches on a fence post to pipe at us until we leave its marshy patch but a little further along a pair of sandpipers fly up from the rushes alongside Oughtershaw Beck.

We find a spot downstream where we can sit at the beck-side, undisturbed by waders. The beck, which is rather low at present, plunges over a bed of limestone. The blocks and cracks remind me of the clints and grykes of the limestone pavement at Malham Cove.

Oughtershaw BeckWhen I’m drawing a subject like this which is almost abstract with its interlocked, repetitive shapes, I keep finding distinctive features to act as landmarks as I map out the adjacent sections of the formation, briefly giving them names so that I can plot a point as “level with ‘The Brow'” or “directly below ‘The Triangle'”.

I’m wishing that I had a length of string so that I could strap my spiral bound sketchbook around my neck. I really wouldn’t like it to drop in the beck.

As I look down I notice water avens growing from the turf that projects out over the water. Here, probably somewhat beyond easy reach for browsing sheep, there are probably half a dozen species within a square foot, including lady’s mantle, birdsfoot trefoil, plantain and a sedge.

Redstart and Redpoll

redstart6 p.m.: perching on a tree guard by the edge of the birch wood alongside Oughtershaw Beck, a male redstart sits preening. It occasionally darts up for insects.

redpollOnce again siskins outnumber other birds at the feeders. A more unusual visitor is a redpoll. It isn’t much bigger than the siskins and is considerably smaller than the occasional goldfinches and chaffinches which fly in to feed.

Tawny Owlet

tawny owl chick

owletThere’s a single tawny owl chick sitting in the morning sun perching on the lower section of the barn door. The owls have nested under the roof beam in the barn, stuffing sticks into the end of a piece of sacking that had been draped beneath.

The resident blackbird scolds it. This is the farmyard’s resident blackbird that, Fiona tells us, has been angry ever since it arrived.

Greenfield Valley

low cloud

Bird's-eye primrose
Bird’s-eye primrose

The sun struggles to get through the low cloud over Langstrothdale and it never breaks through at all in the next dale, the Greenfield Valley.

We see pied and grey wagtails at Oughtershaw Beck then head up the slope towards Pewet Moss where bird’s-eye primrose, lousewort and butterwort grow in the boggier patches.

The plantations on the far side of the hill, on the slope down into the Greenfield Valley, have been clear-felled so what used to be a shady ride between conifers is now a track across an open slope.

We sit on a couple of sawn off stumps to take a break for a flask of coffee and look out over a slope that has already been planted out with conifer saplings. Each sapling is planted on a scooped up mound which prevents its roots becoming waterlogged.


water avensThere are chaffinch and blackbirds about, birds that will probably find the open habitat more to their liking than the dense stands of conifers that stood here a year ago. Jackdaws call over pastures in the valley.

Water avens (right) grows alongside one of the gills draining into the Green Field Beck.



lithostrotionlithostrotionThe track has been repaired with crushed limestone. A few of the fragments are full of fossils, including the rugose coral Lithostrotion (above & left).

Another fragment (below) contains the valve of a brachiopod shell and a cross section of another type of coral, divided by septa which radiate from a central point.

fossilsLimestone Pavement

Greenfield valleyWe take another short break by the limestone pavement in the Greenfield Valley where I sketch Beckermonds Farm.

Common spotted orchids are in flower amongst the grasses near the exposures of limestone.

On our walk back via Oughtershaw village we see spotted flycatcher. The narrow roadside verges in front of the drystone walls are full of red campion, Herb Robert, water avens and dogs mercury.

Dales Birds

courtyardlittle owl1.45 p.m.: Getting myself in holiday mood, I sketch the view from the Courtyard Brasserie, near Settle, looking west over the grassy embankment of the Skipton/Settle railway. Swallows are nesting under the end of the roof on the gable end of the barn, perching and preening on the lines of bunting hanging over the courtyard.

2.30 p.m.: A little owl perches on a roadside fence post, in Horton in Ribblesdale.

siskins5.30 p.m., Nethergill Farm, Langstrothdale: With their characteristic single-mindedness, siskins are feeding on niger seed at the beck-side hide. The males are in such glowingly green plumage that they look as if they’ve been freshly painted.

A curlew probes the turf amongst the rushes by a bend in the beck.


Stoneycliffe Wood

hawthornThere’s an arch of hawthorn blossom over the path at the entrance to Stoneycliffe Wood Yorkshire Wildlife Trust reserve. Silver birch and oak are in fresh foliage ; evening sunlight dapples the path.

It’s been cool all day then at four the sun came out and it’s turned into a glorious summer evening.

Stoneycliffe Woods YWT nature reserve.
Stoneycliffe Woods YWT nature reserve.

wild garlicAs we walk down into the wood there’s a waft of wild garlic ; some of the leaves are starting to turn yellow and shrivel but some plants are still in flower.

wood avensAnother path side plant, wood avens, also known as Herb Bennet, grows alongside. It’s currently in yellow flower but will later have clusters of hooked seeds which can hitch a ride on a passing dog to be transported along the network of paths through the woods.

Tree canopy: sessile oak.
Tree canopy: sessile oak.

yellow archangelherb robertThere’s a lot of Herb Robert too: it’s hooked cranesbill seeds are transported in a similar way. The limestone chippings used in the path provide it with a suitable habitat as it’s a plant that tends to avoid acid soils.

There are a few patches of yellow archangel at the top end of the wood, a plant that is taken as an indicator of ancient woodland.

Song thrushes are calling in alarm or more probably in a dispute over territory.

Garden Warbler

gardenwarblerbubbling10.00 a.m.: There’s a song that we don’t recognise in a bushy woodland glade on the nature trail at the Caphouse Colliery National Museum of Coal Mining. I try to come up with a visual metaphor to help me remember the song and the best that I can do is a bottle of sparkling mineral water, shaken up and then bubbling when opened then subsiding as it uses up its fizz; not very long and not with much of a pattern to the song.

I do a field sketch (above, colour added later): the bird has no distinct features, so not a blackcap or a whitethroat, and not a wood warbler, which is my first guess. It sings from amongst the foliage near the top of a tree.

It’s a garden warbler, described on the RSPB website (see link below) as:

‘a  very plain warbler with no distinguishing features (a feature in itself!)’

The Collins Bird Guide describes the song as ‘beautiful, 3-8 seconds . . . not forming any clear melody but shuttling irresolutely up and down: it sounds like a rippling brook.’

So my metaphor of a bottle of sparkling mineral water bubbling up briefly and subsiding as it loses its fizz, works well as an aide-mémoire.