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Views from a train driving cab (1 Viewer)

Andrea Collins

Beside the Duddon, Cumbria
Supporter
England
Elsewhere on this forum I've posted a list of bird species I've seen from my mobile office, a train driving cab, along with a rather more morbid list of wildlife I've killed whilst working as a train driver. I'm not really a list sort of person though so I thought perhaps I'd start a more general thread about the things I see whilst I am working.

I'll just add to it whenever I've seen something that is of interest to me. It's possible that no one will be interested in which case it will die a quick death but I'll see how it goes. I see lots of wildlife every day but I often don't have time to identify most of it as there are sometimes more important things to be concentrating on!

I might still add some of the morbid stuff though as I think it is still "interesting". Trains are often seen as being an environmentally friendly form of transport but that is not always strictly the case. At least my experiences over nearly thirty years of doing the job mean I am not sentimental about wildlife.

The routes I drive pass through a wide variety of habitats. At the opposite extremes are the cityscapes of central Manchester and the wild river estuaries of south Cumbria (in the north west of England for anyone not familiar with the geography of the UK). In between there is farmland, rough grassland, woodland, derelict industrial land, suburban gardens, and dismal urban landscapes where people treat the railway embankments as their own personal rubbish disposal sites. Even here though there are often interesting wildlife sightings. I might also delve into my "back catalogue" of sightings if nothing much is happening at the present time.

The next post will cover a few observations from the past three days to set the tone. If nobody is interested, fair enough, I'll let the thread die a natural death.
 

Andrea Collins

Beside the Duddon, Cumbria
Supporter
England
A couple of days ago I was working the branch line from Oxenholme to Windermere. I like working this short stretch of line as there is usually some wildlife interest. On this occasion I was stopped at the small station in Kendal whilst waiting for the guard to assist a lady with a pushchair. There are usually several feral pigeons at this station. Suddenly, a female Sparrowhawk appeared, scattering the pigeons. She flew across just in front of me, striking one of the pigeons in an explosion of feathers. She failed to get a grip on her target and both birds disappeared from view. The whole encounter only lasted a few seconds but it was enough to keep me happy for the rest of the day.

Yesterday's main interest was at the point where the principle route I work on passes through the RSPB's Leighton Moss nature reserve. Most of the saltmarsh pools beside the line were frozen over and most of the wildfowl present were crowded together on the remaining unfrozen areas. A couple of very nice male Goosanders caught my eye but then I spotted the three Great White Egrets stalking the edges of the pools just beside the railway. Again just a brief view but more than enough to keep me happy.

Today, my first journey was in the dark of early morning. Immediately after setting off through the housing estates of Barrow-in-Furness a Tawny Owl flew across in front of me. Tawnies are easily recognisable when seen in the train's headlights as they look very pale but not as dazzlingly bright as Barn Owls. Twenty minutes later a Barn Owl flew across near Ulverston. Another twenty minutes into the journey and another Tawny Owl flew up from where it had been perched on the rails near Grange over Sands. I really wish they wouldn't perch on the actual rails. I didn't see much else as when I came back past Leighton Moss in daylight the saltmarsh pools were now completely frozen. A flock of Lapwings were standing motionless on the ice but otherwise the reserve looked deserted. Apart from a few Wigeon, Curlews and Common Redshanks on the estuaries the birds had clearly gone somewhere else, presmuably further out onto Morecambe Bay where everything wasn't frozen.
 

Stephen Dunstan

Registered User
I would certainly be interested, but if the death toll is too high I guess it might get a bit depressing during a covid lockdown.

I used to travel the Furness Line a lot and felt that it was under appreciated as a birding journey. Two estuary crossings, Leighton Moss saltmarsh pools and even Cavendish Dock at Barrow worth a look though I generally only went as far as Barrow.

Happy to share a couple of old anecdotes if of interest.
 

StephenHampshire

Well-known member
United Kingdom
A couple of days ago I was working the branch line from Oxenholme to Windermere. I like working this short stretch of line as there is usually some wildlife interest. On this occasion I was stopped at the small station in Kendal whilst waiting for the guard to assist a lady with a pushchair. There are usually several feral pigeons at this station. Suddenly, a female Sparrowhawk appeared, scattering the pigeons. She flew across just in front of me, striking one of the pigeons in an explosion of feathers. She failed to get a grip on her target and both birds disappeared from view. The whole encounter only lasted a few seconds but it was enough to keep me happy for the rest of the day.

Yesterday's main interest was at the point where the principle route I work on passes through the RSPB's Leighton Moss nature reserve. Most of the saltmarsh pools beside the line were frozen over and most of the wildfowl present were crowded together on the remaining unfrozen areas. A couple of very nice male Goosanders caught my eye but then I spotted the three Great White Egrets stalking the edges of the pools just beside the railway. Again just a brief view but more than enough to keep me happy.

Today, my first journey was in the dark of early morning. Immediately after setting off through the housing estates of Barrow-in-Furness a Tawny Owl flew across in front of me. Tawnies are easily recognisable when seen in the train's headlights as they look very pale but not as dazzlingly bright as Barn Owls. Twenty minutes later a Barn Owl flew across near Ulverston. Another twenty minutes into the journey and another Tawny Owl flew up from where it had been perched on the rails near Grange over Sands. I really wish they wouldn't perch on the actual rails. I didn't see much else as when I came back past Leighton Moss in daylight the saltmarsh pools were now completely frozen. A flock of Lapwings were standing motionless on the ice but otherwise the reserve looked deserted. Apart from a few Wigeon, Curlews and Common Redshanks on the estuaries the birds had clearly gone somewhere else, presmuably further out onto Morecambe Bay where everything wasn't frozen.
Fascinating! My experience of railways (from early days commuting to school and then to work) was not as fascinating as that, being often stuffed into a 4-EPB with a lot of other commuters, standing room only, which was not conducive to wildlife watching. My stint as a volunteer on a heritage railway (now rather constrained by COVID restrictions) does allow me to wildlife watch whilst walking the lineside. Red Kites, buzzards, muntjac, roe deer are the general fare.
 

Stephen Dunstan

Registered User
Firstly a non birding one. There was a train guard who was well know for his comedy announcements. I can't remember most of them but approaching Cark & Cartmel 'change here for Cark International Airport'. When he passed away it made the Evening Mail as he was such a cult figure in South Cumbria.
 

Stephen Dunstan

Registered User
Secondly a birding one. I was going from Lancaster to Dalton for a driving lesson. A couple of birding twins whose names escape me were looking out approaching Silverdale. They saw a Red-footed Falcon on the wires and tried to get off but it wasn't stopping there. They got off at Arnside and legged it presumably back in the direction of Silverdale to confirm their sighting. They were absolutely spot on but needn't have rushed as when they got there a crowd was watching it, and it had actually been reported at Leighton Moss the day before but not followed up properly as I think there was some scepticism.
 

Andrea Collins

Beside the Duddon, Cumbria
Supporter
England
.....There was a train guard who was well know for his comedy announcements. I can't remember most of them but approaching Cark & Cartmel 'change here for Cark International Airport'. When he passed away it made the Evening Mail as he was such a cult figure in South Cumbria.
That sounds like Gerry Puddle. One of the great characters from the past.
 

BBandW

Well-known member
Not the normal hide, but whatever works :)

Looking forward to hearing more of your sightings. I was bought up in Preston and have family in Lancaster and near Kendal so know the places you mention.
 

Deb Burhinus

Used to be well known! 😎
Europe
Having gone to school daily by train, then to university to attend lectures (sometimes😁) by train as well as birding around most of Europe by public transport, I can attest to the large number of species you can see (as a passenger!) by train - Whenever I am travelling by train I am constantly birdwatching. I think I would rather not see graphic descriptions of birds being run down though (I still have horrible visions of the Barn owl incident ☹️) but would be great to see your sightings.

(The Furnace line is a great stretch of railway, I used it frequently when I was up there house hunting and birdwatching.)
 

Andrea Collins

Beside the Duddon, Cumbria
Supporter
England
^I'll keep the unpleasant stuff out of this thread.

All of my driving this week has been in the dark so I haven't seen much except for a couple of Barn Owls last night. The first encounter was just a typical brief glimpse, but the second bird appeared as I was traversing a slow speed junction south of Wigan and floated leisurely along in front of me for some distance before veering away across fields.
 

pbjosh

missing the neotropics
Switzerland
Having gone to school daily by train, then to university to attend lectures (sometimes😁) by train as well as birding around most of Europe by public transport, I can attest to the large number of species you can see (as a passenger!) by train - Whenever I am travelling by train I am constantly birdwatching. I think I would rather not see graphic descriptions of birds being run down though (I still have horrible visions of the Barn owl incident ☹️) but would be great to see your sightings.

(The Furnace line is a great stretch of railway, I used it frequently when I was up there house hunting and birdwatching.)

I have always loved train travel but haven't lived in a train-blessed country since I've been an active birder. Looking forward to being back in Europe shortly and, post pandemic, leisurely train travel with an eye out the window. I also still wish there were a good 4x or 5x binocular choice for train based use, maybe I'll get adventurous and order one of the Ali-Express offerings some day :)
 

pbjosh

missing the neotropics
Switzerland
Also, to chime in, I find it an interesting thread as well. Cheers and Happy New Year!
 

Farnboro John

Well-known member
I too am interested. I commuted from Farnborough to London for about eight years from the late Eighties and often saw something or other - a family of foxes in the Surbiton sidings, Ring-necked Parakeets, various waders on the pools at Berrylands - my best sighting was an Osprey just West of Weybridge over some gravel pits.

John
 

SimonLS

Well-known member
Very interesting thread, Andrea - please keep posting.

From my half hour commute into London from Essex over 32 years I have managed to see Fallow Deer, Peregrine and Kingfisher.
 

Andrea Collins

Beside the Duddon, Cumbria
Supporter
England
A lovely morning today with a really hard frost and some beautiful views on my first bit of driving from Barrow-in-Furness to Lancaster.

Most of the saltmarsh pools beside the Leven and Kent estuaries were frozen so I wasn't expecting to see much in the way of birds but it turned out to be a quite decent day.

The Leven estuary had a modest number of Eurasian Wigeon. The saltmarsh was almost deserted except for a lone Little Egret and a single Common Shelduck, both staring somewhat forlornly at the frozen pools. The Kent estuary had a couple of Common Goldeneyes, and a small unfrozen side stream had lots of Eurasian Teal and several Little Egrets all crowded together.

Just before RSPB Leighton Moss the fields were full of Eurasian Curlews and Oystercatchers probing in the frozen grasses. The main saltmarsh pool on the reserve surprisingly still had an area of open water which was crowded with Teal, Wigeon, Northern Pintails, and other wildfowl which I didn't have time to identify. A large flock of waders were probably Black-tailed Godwits.

Next was a trip down to Windermere and a couple of return trips on the branch line. Running into Kendal on the first trip I spotted a couple of Carrion Crows dive bombing something in a tree which turned out to be a female Sparrowhawk, maybe the same one I saw a couple of weeks ago. She had one wing held out to one side as if perhaps shielding a prey item but I couldn't see for sure. She was still there when I came back an hour later but the crows had lost interest.

On the second trip down the branch line a Green Woodpecker flew up just in front of me and went dipping away across the fields. On the return trip what was presumably the same bird was at the same spot and again flew off in typical woodpecker fashion, this time in the opposite direction. A flock of about twenty Fieldfares flew off from a large Hawthorn tree. I don't know what they were finding to eat. There are very few berries on the trees this winter. Perhaps the trees are having a rest after last winter's glut.

Over the nearly thirty years I have been working this route I've got to know where the local Common Buzzards are likely to be perched and today two of the likely trees had birds perched in them. I do like working the Windermere line. There is always something interesting. I had a break at Oxenholme before my next bit of work and whilst standing on the station enjoying the snowy views a Great Spotted Woodpecker flew over.

After that I had a trip to Manchester Airport and back to Barrow. It was a bit quiet but there were several Common Buzzards and a couple of Common Kestrels along the Chat Moss line between Wigan and Manchester. Heading homewards in the last of the daylight a Tawny Owl flew up in front of me just after Carnforth.

Not a bad day's birding really and I even managed to fit in a bit of train driving!
 
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Andrea Collins

Beside the Duddon, Cumbria
Supporter
England
What a contrast to yesterday weather wise. The temperature had risen to a balmy 10C (according to the train management computer anyway) and overnight rain had thawed all the frozen water.

Wildfowl numbers had increased significantly on the Leven estuary with a large flock of Wigeon and PIntails now present whilst the saltmarsh was dotted with lots of Shelducks and several Little Egrets. A freshwater stream near Cark had a great mass of Teal on it. The fields everywhere were full of Curlews.

The saltmarsh pools at Leighton Moss were no longer frozen but were oddly quiet although a Great White Egret was a nice sighting as it stood at the water's edge just beside the line. I wonder if, in a few years time, they'll be just as common as Little Egrets are now.

There wasn't much else of note but a ghostly Barn Owl on the outskirts of Lancaster just after dark was nice. I'm certainly seeing lots of owls at the moment.
 

Andrea Collins

Beside the Duddon, Cumbria
Supporter
England
A nice simple job today - two return trips to Lancaster giving me maximum time to enjoy the estuaries, but it was another oddly quiet day. The single Great White Egret at Leighton Moss had turned into two birds, but the highlight of the day was a Peregrine perched on the lineside wall beside the Leven estuary. As I approached, it just stepped forward off the wall and powered away across the saltmarsh. Nice.
 

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