A great deal of us long to be somewhere else, maybe on a tropical beach or possibly sitting in the shade of a harbour a cafe, hiding away from the Mediterranean sun whilst sipping a long cool drink, but these are luxuries that come very rarely and also at a cost. Fifteen or so years ago I found myself flying over the North West of England on my way to a Caribbean Island known as the Dominican Republic. It was a fourteen hour flight in miserable cramped conditions and to be perfectly frank, not worth it. Upon my return; and suffering from a major tummy bug, I vowed never to try it again and dedicate more of my time to exploring the countryside and the wildlife that surrounds Preston.
“Ok”, I hear you think. “What countryside and what’s in it?”
“Plenty”. Would be my reply; and that’s all year round, furthermore, and to prove my point I will be giving you a regular report on just this subject as well as how to get the most out of your back garden by turning it into a little wildlife oasis.
The countryside in and around Lancashire boasts some of the finest to be found in the UK if you take the time to look and know what and where to look. Morecambe Bay and the Ribble Estuary both have World Wide significance for nature conservation because most European migratory birds either use it as a stopping ground when flying North or South or use it as a summer or winter home.
The other day I had the privilege of being in the right place at the right time and watched a most magnificent sunset take place over the bay.
I had been in College during the half term; preparing for lectures which were to be delivered the following week, when at around four thirty pm I decided to finish up and head back through Lancaster to Galgate and the peace and tranquillity of my narrow boat. Driving the relatively short distance from Morecambe to Galgate at that time of day is normally a very difficult task due to masses of vehicles all trying to negotiate the Greyhound Bridge. Bearing in mind Lancaster was built as a fortress city, it’s therefore hardly surprising the roads are hostile to passers by so I prepared myself for a long wait. The first turn out of the College grounds and onto the main road proved to be very easy, similarly the first roundabout offered no resistance as I coasted round it without having to stop. The rest of the route met with the same result and as if by a miracle I was soon on the A6 having left Lancaster’s one-way traffic system far behind. The late afternoon sun played hide and seek with the roof tops and chimneys and as I neared Galgate my mind told me ‘not to go home but head for the hills instead’.
Earlier in the day there had been a flurry of snow which had been masterfully dealt with by the midday sun but where its warming rays could not reach, it gave the far away ground a marbling effect. The distant woodland looked inviting as I parked up in Scorton Village and hurried up the road, not wishing to waste a single second of what promised to be a glorious sunset. On my ascent I realised the birds were already in full evening song, goldfinches; so splendid with their red and yellow blazing pattern, made light tinkling noises as they gathered winter seeds. Pheasants called, strutted and clattered, all trying to get the attention of the drab brown females as these proud survivors of the ‘winter shoot’ paraded in their splendid, almost military coats of many colours.
If you are a bird, now is the time to stake your claim to the territory in which you wish to breed and that’s what singing is all about. Instead of being a happy little sound uttered for mankind to wax lyrical about, in truth it is a threat for any rival within earshot, a specific song for a specific species saying, “stay out or reap the awful consequences”.
Above Scorton, the top road divides the hill into a woodland pasture below and a highland moorland above and as I got closer I could smell the wonderful aroma of last years leaves as they gently rotted at the side of the road. Along the lane I rambled, listening to crows, a pair of Buzzards, some chaffinch and an array of robins until I stopped to look at the breathtaking view in the west.
From my vantage point, and to the right, I could see the snow covered Lakeland hills rising out of Morecambe Bay. I scanned slowly left, seeing the flat lands of Cockerham Sands disturb the smooth bright red glow of the smoother sea behind. Further left; and in stark contrast to the rest of the regions weather, a dark grey cloud hung over Blackpool and through experience, I knew it to be sending down a heavy load of sleet. I watched for a few minutes as it very slowly crawled North towards Cleveleys. Surprisingly, Preston was clear, as was Southport and in the far distant horizon I could see Wales. Lower the sun sank until it revealed the Isle of Mann as a craggy barnacle and I realised it was a most wonderful sight which had cost me nothing accept the price of few drops of petrol. I admit not everybody gets the chance to leave work early and have the time to take a walk but how many of us forget nature and instead spend our time in the City? You may not have transport or the cash to take a train, perhaps the children prefer to stay glued to the TV, insisting they’d melt if they got a little rain on their skin but give it a try. There are groups of like minded people who gather together, share the cost of a bus and take regular ‘low cost’ outings. Maybe find them through Blog Preston.
This time of year the pink footed geese fly overhead in v-shaped skeins making that wonderful sound that can be quite bewildering when a mist hangs in the air. They are no doubt getting ready for their long flight home. Bats, hedgehogs, frogs, toads are coming out of hibernation and hopefully, the latter will not get frozen to death as many of them have already been when they came out during a warm spell in January.
Catkins are on the willows, snowdrops are out, daffodils are reaching for the sky and soon to be in perfect yellow bloom. In short, spring is about to shoot forth so get out there and breathe in the fresh air. Take a picnic and a warm drink, sensible footwear and clothing, (I bought a pair of rigger boots over 2 years ago, straight away covered them in Vaseline and have worn them over hundreds of miles, possibly thousands and still enjoy warm, dry feet. They cost £19-95p).
Have a good time but please remember, take your litter home, close all gates and keep your dog on a lead during the lambing season, WHICH IS NOW! The farmer has the legal right to shoot any dog ‘he/she believes’ to be a danger to his/her sheep. These need not necessarily have to be on his/her land. This means to say any dog running and causing fright to sheep or lambs can be shot, or taken into custody and destroyed and to make matters worse, the owner charged.