Yesterday something extraordinary happened. The sun came out. We’re just emerging from the wettest winter on record in Britain, and although most of the North of England escaped the drama (of tidal surges, giant waves, and widespread flooding) this time, two months of wet gloom had left most of us in a rather tetchy depressed state. So it was brilliant to get out in some light.
My other half had gone out earlier and phoned, in some excitement, to say that a male Eider Duck was on the canal nearby. This was a very unusual occurrence -Eiders are a marine species and we’re about seventy miles from sea- so I set off to pay my respects. There he was, a gorgeous handsome creamy white and black individual, with a lovely pale green nape. A local birder, equipped with flask and sandwiches, was encamped on the towpath, as the duck, eyes shut and head tucked into the creamy ‘eiderdown’ of his back, paddled round in dreamy circles. Was he all right? Oh, yes, he’s in fine breeding plumage. He’s just having a nap. The birder apparently needed an Eider Duck for his Calderdale list. If the bird had been a couple of miles up the road, across the border, ‘it would have been of no interest at all’. He was appreciative and knowledgeable though.
I carried on and climbed the hill -this is a three mile walk that includes a 680′ (211m) climb, quite a lot if you’re vari-abled- following Salter Rake Gate, an ancient weathered stone trackway. In summer, a patch of this unremarkable looking boggy ground comes alive with miniature plants, including tiny insectivorous sundews. (the photos below were taken a few summers ago). Following a path up on to the moor I began to notice a thin silvery music. As I climbed it became more and more distinct. The skylarks were back! Most were singing from the ground -a tentative exploratory version of the bravura performance to come, but after a while I did see one make a vertical foray. He went quite high, then flew round and round, surveying his territory for the season, pouring out song. Then, as though someone had switched him off, he suddenly went silent and plummeted back to earth. It was wonderful to see them again, but I worry that someone will decide to burn off the moor after they’ve started nesting.
After sitting on the Basin Stone -where someone had left a couple of sea shells- and listening for a while, I continued up to the reservoir. The sun was catching the gleaming quartz crystals in the gritstone. A pair of Goldeneyes swam about, the male ostentatiously thrusting his neck up from time to time. A red grouse called out from the moor. I sat and gazed into reflections in little mirror pools, and then in the wide expanse of the dam. One day last summer I shared this place with about a hundred swifts, tearing about, mouths agape. I love the way memories like that attach to places, and light up when you return.
The wildlife up there gets quite a lot of disturbance. Its a popular place with wild swimmers, dog walkers, and picnicking families. Yesterday some humans were flying a model plane. We humans need to enjoy ourselves, of course, but in a populous part of the world we also need to respect the wildlife – not least by keeping dogs under close control on moorland in spring and summer, when the birds (this is part of a site of international importance for moorland birds, many of which are in precipitious decline) are nesting on the ground. Please!
On the way down, the trees at Honey Hole were full of song. As I approached, dark shapes flitted away to safety. This was the flock of Redwings that have been keeping us company over the winter months. It was good to see them before they set off across the North Sea to Scandinavia. Then my attention was caught by a loud staccato drumming. A greater Spotted Woodpecker was staking his claim. Another sign of spring. I love the way the sound reverberates around a wood. As I headed back into town some young human people came past, on their way up to the moor, loud music pouring from someone’s rucksack. No doubt they were staking their claim too. Its still early days, but it feels as though our world is waking up again.