On our way to Semerwater, as the road from Langstrothdale starts to drop from Green Side moor down Sleddale towards Hawes, we drive very gently through a small herd of hill cattle, a tough-looking bunch, who have gathered around some piles of rock salt at the road side. It’s the equivalent of the natural salt-licks which attract animals and birds in places like the African savannah and the Amazon rainforest.
Four whooper swans are relaxing on the narrow beach at the top end of Semerwater. They’re the first that I’ve seen, other than those at the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust reserve at Martinmere, in over twenty-five years. They appear to be the same size as our resident mute swan but, even at a distance, I can see that triangle of brilliant yellow on their bins. I also get the impression that they have a straighter neck than the mute, with its gracefully curved ‘swan neck’, giving them a somewhat goose-like appearance.
We’re first made aware of the wigeons as we approach the lake by their whistling calls. I count thirty-eight but they’re outnumbered about ten times over by mallards. A flock of Canada geese leave the grassy eastern shore as we approach and launch themselves onto the lake in a leisurely fashion.
There’s a small flock of lapwings, perhaps twenty or thirty, by the inlet at the quiet western corner of the lake.
Swaledales have been described as ‘the hardiest of all British sheep apart from the Herdwick’.
Marsett to Stalling Busk
As we cross another beck, Cragdale Water, via an elevated footbridge I disturb a grey partridge which flies off over a marshy field. At that moment we hear an unfamiliar piping call and a kingfisher zooms across just yards in front of me, just below my eye-level, giving us a flash of its brilliant color in the bright afternoon sunlight.
A buzzard drifts over as we climb up towards the hamlet of Stalling Busk then a flock of 23 fieldfares flies up from a group of bushes on the hillside but the highlight of the afternoon is a fly past by a merlin. It’s a neat-looking grey and black male, zooming down the slope above the village at wall top level, with a nimbler style of stealthy flight than the larger sparrow hawk. It sweeps up into a tree but we can’t tell whether it settles there or not. Five or six crows appear a few moments later; they’re not calling but I can’t help thinking that they’ve been disturbed by the merlin.
Driving back over the moor with the sun low over Ingleborough, we see two short-eared owls flying low and briefly swooping at each other. We pull into the viewpoint lay-by and, resisting the urge to get out of the car to retrieve our binoculars from the boot, we use the car as a hide. This works well as one of the owls flies to within twenty yards of us as it crosses the road to join a third short-eared. Every hundred yards or so one will dip down into the moorland vegetation but we don’t see them emerge clutching any prey.