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Saunterings:  Walking in North-West England

Saunterings is a set of reflections based upon walks around the counties of Cumbria, Lancashire and North Yorkshire in North-West England (as defined in the Preamble). Here is a list of all Saunterings so far.
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37.  Whoopers on Thurnham Moss

It is hard to believe, after all the rain, cloud and wind of the last few days, that some of our visitors at this time of year prefer our climate to that which they’ve left behind. Whooper swans do. They come all the way from Iceland in order to pootle about in our muddy fields. We thought we’d go to see them in action, but by walking along the quiet, flat lanes that cross Thurnham Moss not in the muddy fields that looked too waterlogged for us.

We began our search from Tithe Barn Hill, Glasson, which at 20 metres was the highest point of our walk and which, from this prodigious height, afforded a fine view over the River Lune to the village of Sunderland. We set off with optimism because a Lancaster & District Birdwatching Society's website’s entry for the day before had said that hundreds of whooper swans were in the region.

Sunderland from Tithe Barn Hill across Glasson Marsh and the River Lune (with, unusually, a large boat)

whooper swan I don’t know what those interested in birds prefer to be called nowadays. They used to be birdwatchers – or ornithologists if especially keen – but now I more often read about ‘birders’ going ‘birding’. Perhaps there is a subtle distinction between ‘birdwatcher’ and ‘birder’. Rosen (2011) writes that “birdwatchers look at birds; birders look for them”, although he admits that this distinction is “crudely put”.

But ‘birder’ and ‘birding’ are odd words, aren’t they?  Normally, words ending in -er and -ing are from a corresponding verb, which would be ‘to bird’ in this case. If there were such a verb then we could also say “She birds enthusiastically” or “I birded yesterday”. Do birders ever use such expressions?  My dictionary (admittedly a little old) has ‘birding’ meaning ‘the hunting, shooting, snaring, or catching of birds’. Of course, our birding birders don’t do that – although ‘fishing’, perhaps the closest analogy to ‘birding’, similarly means ‘the catching of fish’. Never mind: I’ll use ‘birding’.

Walking and birding are not entirely compatible. Both activities get us outside to appreciate the natural environment but birding demands occasional non-walking. Birders have to pause in order to binocular (anyone can play this noun-to-verb game) the shrubbery before the little brown bird disappears to another shrub. We have no such difficulty with swans. They are large, prominent and stay put.

We found our first swans, about a score of them, in the first field south of Brows Bridge. Most were our native mute swans (with a black knob on the base of the bill) and some were visiting whooper swans (with a yellow-based bill). Thus encouraged we pressed on towards Thursland Hill where large numbers of swans could be seen and heard (and were therefore not all mute swans) in the fields to the west. It was a little difficult for us to identify the species because the sun behind made them silhouettes. We came across two birders with their tripods and camera-binoculars and one of them confirmed that all the swans were indeed whoopers. He seemed somewhat saddened by this. He was hoping to see a Bewick’s swan. They visit from Siberia (in lesser numbers than whooper swans) and one had apparently been reported in the region. Judging from the bird guides, I doubt that I would be able to tell the two species apart if they stood side-by-side in front of me but these two birders obviously would.

Whooper Swans

Elated by all these whoopers, we walked on to the ruins of the 12th century Cockersand Abbey and continued a breezy walk along the weather-beaten coastal path back to Glasson. We were treated to clear views over the choppy bay to the Lake District hills and, inland, to the Bowland fells. The footpath along Marsh Lane (a reasonable name but a little under-stated) was several feet under water because of all the recent rain, necessitating an escape via the flood protection wall that was keeping all the water inland. On the coastal walk many species of birds – some of which we could identify and some perhaps not – obliged with aerial displays. However, I doubt that I will ever become a true birder, that is, someone who is more saddened by the absence of one bird than pleased by the presence of three hundred similar ones.
Cockersand Abbey

The remains of Cockersand Abbey, Plover Scar lighthouse and Heysham Power Station

    Date: December 9th 2018
    Start: SD443559, Tithe Barn Hill, Glasson  (Map: 296)
    Route: NE, SE, S – Brows Bridge – S, W on Moss Lane, S – Thursland Hill pond – W, SW, W – Cockersand Abbey – NE, N – Crook Farm – NE (using embankment) – Tithe Barn Hill
    Distance: 5 miles;   Ascent: 20 metres

The two following items:
     39.   Halls Galore by the Middle Ribble
     38.   Reflections from Jeffrey's Mount
The two preceding items:
     36.   The Flow and Ebb and Flow of Morecambe
     35.   Dufton Rocks
Two nearby items:
     76.   The Belted Beauties of Sunderland
   204.   In the Dock at Glasson
A list of all items so far:

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    © John Self, Drakkar Press, 2018-


Top photo: The western Howgills from Dillicar; Bottom photo: Blencathra from Great Mell Fell