Poirot and the Pied Wagtail

The pied wagtail patrolling the courtyard of the Stable Block at Nostell Priory reminds me of David Suchet’s portrayal of Hercule Poirot: busy, alert and pausing regularly to survey the scene with a detached intensity. Its jerky walk and the continuous polite little boughs of its head give it the deceptively ridiculous air that Poirot adopted to lull criminals into underestimating his intellectual powers.

The neat black-and-white pattern of its plumage reminds me of the immaculate old-fashioned formality of Poirot’s dress and of the smart white spats and black patent leather shoes that I can imagine him wearing.

Winter Winds

Despite the cold raw wind, the rooks have gathered at their nests in the treetops in the south east corner of the park. Crows and jackdaws are circling and calling around Joiner Wood and the Pleasure Grounds.

At Nostell, we hear the green woodpecker more often than we see it but today as its laughing call rings out over Top Park Wood we see it fly over to a dead beech tree where it settles to explore the pockmarked upper bough.

We saw a small flock of about twenty fieldfares gathering in the treetops last week but they’re still not regulars. The large thrushes with smaller birds that we spot in the canopy of a tall oak by the Lower Lake prove to be half a dozen mistle thrushes accompanied by a few starlings, rather than fieldfares accompanied by redwings.

Goosanders and Gadwalls

Goosanders are gathering on the Middle Lake. There’s a conspicuous group of six black-and-white males but the red-headed females are diving in a quieter corner of the lake, twenty or thirty yards away.

Other winter ducks joining the year-round mallards, included a dozen tufted and three gadwalls. In recent weeks a flock of around fifty wigeon have been grazing close to a small pool just outside the park boundary beyond Top Park Wood but they’re not here today. Perhaps the sound of a pheasant shoot not far away has persuaded them that it’s time to head for somewhere away from the firing line, such as the far corner of the big lake at Anglers Country Park.

Bonus Woodpecker and Wild Geese

As a bonus, we spot a second species of woodpecker in the late afternoon: a great spotted coming to the fatball feeder that hangs on our washing line. It’s a female with no red on the back of her head but with a conspicuous red vent as she hangs awkwardly from the feeder, tail cocked upwards for balance.

This morning, before sunrise, a shallow V-shaped skein of geese passed over our house, heading south east. A warm front had been sweeping across the country from the south west, resulting in snow as warm air coming in from over the Atlantic meets cooler air from the north. Snow disrupted travel in the Midlands but we had just a few wet flakes of snow mixed in with a shower of rain at breakfast time.


Nethergill Farm, Langstrothdale
Nethergill Farm, Langstrothdale, yesterday morning as the sun failed to clear the low cloud.

Nethergill Farm, 1.10 p.m.: Cumulus clouds are towering over Langstrothdale and the thunderstorms that the forecast suggested were a possibility would now be welcome as even here in the shade of the old barn the temperature is climbing into the high seventies Fahrenheit, 25 C.

A cuckoo is calling on the far side of the valley. Meadow pipits are the birds we see most often on the road across the moor to Hawes, so it will have plenty of nesting pairs in its territory.

The farm’s resident blackbird sings from the ash tree, which is covered in sprays of blossom, which is now going over, and freshly sprouted bright green fronds of leaves.

Goldfinches chatter excitedly in its canopy. A gentle breeze sighs as it passes across the valley ahead of the gathering cloud but does nothing to freshen the atmosphere.

A pheasant explodes in a brief grockle of indignation, flies murmur, a cockerel crows: a strangulated wail. The hens here at Nethergill farm ‘are still learning’ so Fiona added an extra egg to the small but deep yellow yoked half dozen that she gave us in our welcome pack for our self-catering apartment, the Hay Mew. Also included, slices of her homemade flapjack which has been enticing Dales Way walkers to take a break here for the last five years.


buzzard2.45 p.m., Bilberry Wood, Langstrothdale: We could hear a buzzard mewing but couldn’t spot one circling or perching in the pines on the far side of the beck; it was on the moorland edge on the slope beyond, perching on a fence-post. It was still there and still calling when we walked back, half an hour later.

starling3 p.m.: Starlings nest beneath the roof tiles at Swarthghyll Farm, Langstrothdale. House martin and swallow fly in at the barn window below.

green-veined white3.20 p.m.: A green-veined white is sunning itself on a bank by the track across the moor, after a brief chase with a rival. It has fine dark veins on its upper wings but lacks the spots and borders that you see on many white butterflies (including most green-veined whites). A brief glimpse of the veins of its underwing helps confirm that it really is a green-veined.

pied wagtail5 p.m. riverside hide, Nethergill Farm: A pied wagtail feeds amongst the rocks on the beck, which is running low. It flies vertically to snap an insect in mid-air, then switches its attention to the beck-side pasture, darting to pick up insects from the clumps of rushes.