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Blackcap singing on branch



It was the last couple of hours I had free before I had to head to London, and I knew exactly where I spending them. This was the last chance I’d get this year to photograph the toads gathering and mating up on Ilkley Moor.


I had already made two previous trips but the conditions were poor. I was hoping that this time it might be third time lucky and the conditions might just be right… for the next couple of hours at least. As I dreamed of the award winning photos awaiting me up on Ilkley Moor, I jumped in the car and turned the key in the ignition… Nothing. I tried turning the key again… and again… and again. The car was not going to start and I did not have enough time to walk.


Frustrated and annoyed I accepted defeat but by now I really needed to unravel the rage that was gripping me. At this moment, there was only one place that could release me from my monsters. The river.


As I turned off the main road and down the footpath my stresses and angst began to lighten. I was immediately greeted by a very vocal wren, who appeared to follow me along the path.


Just as I approached the river I was struck by an exquisite bird song coming through brambles. It was stunning, the singer seemed to channel the gusto of youth with an air of authority that only experience can bring. Like Leonard Cohen singing the lyrics to a song by The Jam. And who was this vocal artist? A Blackcap, I’ve always enjoyed seeing these birds but never fully appreciated their extraordinary sound before.


As I got to the weir a grey wagtail rock-hopped between the white water while a heron stood statuesque on the opposite side. I followed the grey wagtail along the piles of cobbles and pools of water as it hunted for various invertebrates.


Grey wagtail reflected in pool of water


When I looked up beyond the wagtail and beyond the natural island formed in front of the weir I saw a pair of mandarin ducks floating off towards the bend in the river and out of sight. Shortly after I heard that familiar, high pitched cry of a kingfisher. Sure enough, the iridescent king of the water whizzed past with a silver fish in its beak. An offering for a mate perhaps?


Watching two buzzards flirting high above my head, the tranquil, idyllic scene was abruptly interrupted by a jarring kerfuffle. I turned around to see a half deflated football fly over the weir and tumble down into the pool of water below. The ball was shortly followed by a number adventure-seeking young ones, travelling in Canadian canoes.


Canadian Canoe on top of weir


If I’m completely honest, my initial reaction to this disturbance was one of disgruntlement. But I quickly scolded myself. Who was I to claim these surroundings and the experience of them for just myself and who knows what effect such positive interactions with the outdoors could have on these fun-loving hoodlums. I relinquished my temporary ownership of the immediate landscape and enjoyed sharing it with the excitable youths before making a retreat back to the house, the car and all the unresolved issues that lay in wait.


As I left a male goosander, (maybe sensing the raucous that was approaching) flew past and continued upstream over the weir. At a higher altitude and flying in the opposite direction a Kestrel casually made its way before disappearing behind the trees.


My departure was serenaded by none other than the blackcap I had met earlier. Just as I was about to tear myself away from this beautiful song, a greenfinch flew into a nearby garden. This was a sight for sore eyes. Greenfinches have been in real trouble with a big decline in their numbers in recent years. I really hope this year sees a turn in their fortunes.


Just before I reached the end of my ephemeral haven and rejoined the main road a comma butterfly fluttered by and rested on a nearby fence. It marked the end of my short escape but pointed towards the beginnings of Spring.