Trip reports

Visit to Walney Island

Oystercatcher wading in shallow water

Sunday, 10 October 2010

On the 10th October, seventeen members led by John Richardson, visited the Cumbria Wildlife Trust
reserve at South Walney. We were greeted at the reception area by warden Trish Chadwick who described to us the facilities for visitors and what species of birds and other wildlife that we might see at this time of year. In brilliant sunshine, we set off on our planned route that would initially take in
the northern half of the reserve.
Our first stop was at the Bank Hide overlooking the Gate Pool. There, a `mystery` wader was hiding
all but its tail in a clump of vegetation. We debated as to what the bird might be - but it never permitted us a better view. Looking out to sea from the top of the shingle bank, someone spotted
a red-throated diver; the bird bobbed in and out of view on the swell as we peered through our telescopes. A little further on, near a derelict wartime concrete pillbox, one of our party discovered the
body of a kestrel. The dead bird was wearing a ring, this was duly removed and will no doubt be
sent to the B.T.O. A happier site was that of a live kestrel, who was hovering above the dunes behind us. Near the bramble clad boundary wall behind Gate Pool, several small birds were moving in
and around the vegetation - a wheatear, several meadow pipits, a skylark, and a warbler (probably a
chiffchaff) that kept hiding itself from view.
Returning southwards, a turnstone was feeding by the water's edge on Walney channel. One had to
look very carefully to pick him out - his tortoiseshell plumage affording almost perfect camouflage
as he searched and fed amongst the pebbles. Out in the channel and looking towards Piel Island, a
party of eider swam by. The cryptic plumage of the ducks contrasted sharply with that of the handsome drakes. Sadly, the engaging crooning calls of the drake eiders were well out of earshot. It is
of interest to note that this species has only colonised Walney Island since the early post war years.
Looking across the lagoon towards the spit at the southern extremity of the island, we had excellent
views of waders at their high tide roost. This location was to provide the highlight of our visit. After
several minutes of patient observation, the whole roost took to the air; knot, redshank, curlew and
the ever noisy oystercatchers. Someone remarked that a marsh harrier had passed over (we had seen
one earlier that day). After a while the roost settled, and then rose up again with great alarm - a hunting peregrine falcon had entered the scene causing the waders to swirl and cry loudly above the
shingle bank and the rising water. This spectacle continued for several minutes and was a great photo
opportunity.
Other aspects of Walney`s wildlife were perhaps less dramatic but nonetheless interesting, for during the course of our walk we were impressed by the size and quantity of two species of fungi, in
particular, the parasol mushrooms and the puffballs. Both species, are, I believe, edible, although
none of us were tempted to take any of them home for breakfast. On our way back to the car park
we saw a small copper butterfly feeding on ragwort; the insect was obliging enough to allow me to
take a photograph.
An autumn day spent at this northern-most point of Morecambe Bay can be just as rewarding as at
other times of year, and what`s more, you don`t have to contend with aggressive gulls dive- bombing you!

Michael Gardner