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A beautiful spring morning (1 Viewer)

Andrea Collins

Beside the Duddon, Cumbria
Early morning. The River Duddon Estuary in Cumbria, north-west England. It's a gorgeous sunny morning although a stiff breeze is blowing from the north east.

As usual at this time of year, as soon as I step outside the back door I get some grief from the House Sparrows nesting somewhere on my roof.

"Ok, ok, I'm going. See. I'm walking away". A Starling does a good Common Buzzard impression from a neighbouring roof but having lived here for twenty years I'm no longer fooled. Jackdaws, Collared Doves, Herring and Lesser Black-backed Gulls are perched on other roofs all round.

A couple of minutes walk past old terraced houses and I'm in the scrappy scrubby grassland and woodland on old industrial land just above the beach. The incessant chirruping of more House Sparrows is soon replaced by the song of newly arrived Willow Warblers. It's a bit of a relief from the surround-sound Chiffchaffs of a couple of weeks ago.

A Great Tit teaches me a new song that isn't in the guidebooks, and both Stonechat and Reed Bunting follow suit. I continue deeper into the scrubby woods, splashing through boggy bits full of Marsh Marigolds and soon-to-be-flowering Yellow Iris.

The Mute Swans are still on the lagoon, their heads stained red from the iron in the soil and water. I continue up through the woods, struggling to pick out individual bird songs. It's very loud in here, but in a good way. I stop to watch and listen to a Goldcrest, a new tick this year for my local patch. A Great Spotted Woodie drums somewhere in the distance.

Mistle and Song Thrushes, and Blackbirds have beaks full of worms. I focus hard on Treecreepers and try to summon them but they aren't here this morning. But no matter, another Goldcrest is working its way through the ivy covered trees.

I emerge from the woods at the limit of my local patch but today I am going further. Along the beach I get lost in my thoughts for a bit then suddenly realise I am standing just a few metres away from a pair of Ringed Plovers. No, actually there are lots of Ringed Plovers; at least a dozen. How do they do that disappearing trick on shingle? Oh, hang on, there's a nice smart Dunlin there in breeding plumage, presumably a newly arrived bird. Oh wait, those pebbles aren't pebbles. They're more Dunlin. About fifty of them.

I try to tread a path between the Dunlin and the Shelducks out on the sands, but ultimately fail, and the Dunlin are away across the estuary.

I continue into the dunes where a singing competition is underway between a Dunnock, a male Chaffinch, and a rather lovely Common Whitethroat. The Chaffinch wins easily as far as volume is concerned.

The dune slacks are drying rapidly with the lack of rain and there are few ducks about but I am kept entertained by endless Meadow Pipits, Skylarks, Stonechats, Whitethroats, Willow Warblers, Wrens and Wheatears. The latter are in a loose flock of about twenty individuals. I try to detour around them but somehow they keep ending up right in front of me. Eventually I have to walk through the middle of them but they don't go far and are soon feeding again behind me.

Curlews are bubbling away in the distance and a small flock of Lapwings are very twitchy as are a larger flock of Linnets. I emerge onto the beach again beyond the dunes and stop for a brief snack. A male Mallard settles itself down on a warm bed of Bladder Wrack at the water's edge. A couple of runners head past but otherwise the beach is deserted apart from the Swallows that seem to have arrived en masse in the past few days.

The incoming tide has isolated a large sandbar which is crowded with Cormorants and Curlews. As I walk along the water's edge I see a couple of dazzlingly white shapes heading south just beyond the sandbar. Two Gannets, apparently not in a hurry to get anywhere. I continue along the deserted beach towards home hoping to hear the "kerrick" of a Sandwich Tern but there are none today. It's still early in the year yet. A flock of brilliantly white waders head past; maybe the Sanderling flock I saw a couple of days ago.

The Lake District mountains are looking very sparkly beyond the head of the estuary but for now they are out of bounds. Over the dunes a pair of Common Buzzards are involved in an aerial tussle with a pair of Carrion Crows. Further on a Kestrel is hovering on the updraughts above the dunes.

Out on the water another white shape catches my eye. A lone male Scaup is bashing its way through the wind waves and beyond are several small flocks of Common Eiders but the usual crowds of Red-breasted Mergs are notable by their absence today. I wish I had my scope with me. There's probably so much more I can't see although I can just make out a very fine Bar-tailed Godwit in full breeding plumage amongst the Oystercatchers.

It's time I was heading home. Just a few more Willow Warblers and Stonechats to negotiate and I'm back amongst the houses, and there's nothing more but the Starlings and House Sparrows to welcome me home.
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