Monday, December 26, 2011

Across The Moss

I set out for Rawcliffe Moss this morning, hoping it would be less windy than the Pilling coast, but as I arrived at the farm the wind whipped over the open fields, holding out little prospect of a productive birding walk. From the comparative shelter of the barn I surveyed west and then east where in the distance flooded fields held many Lapwings, Black-headed Gulls and a few Common Gull interlopers.

I think it was the passing Kestrel that disturbed both Skylarks and Corn Buntings from the nearby stubble, as parties of each of the similar sized birds flew over, 11 and 30 respectively; fortunately the species have different calls as well as different jizz, and Corn Buntings seem to make bigger flocks into the new year when food becomes tougher to find.

Corn Bunting

I turned into the farm track from where in the distance I could see Pheasants, 3 or 4 Blackbirds and 100 or more Tree Sparrows dropping in turn to their breakfast on the ground. Then almost within seconds it appeared that some wary sparrows chickened out of this apparently dangerous manoeuvre, and as if tied by a piece of elastic they sprung back to the safety of the dense hedgerow, there to await their next dash for a piece of the action. I must admit that a couple of times of late I have seen the Hen Harrier also take an interest in this corner of the farm, so the sparrows are wise to feed with caution. As I watched the sparrows I counted 3 Yellowhammer, 3 Reed Buntings, 2 Blue Tit, 3 Great Tit and a Great-spotted Woodpecker heading towards the feed.

The wind was pretty strong, so like the Sparrows I chickened out, turned the car round and headed off the farm for a run across Pilling Moss to Lane Ends, where although it would be equally windy, there would be guaranteed birds.

From the road near Lousanna Farm I could see Rawcliffe Moss, the fields where in recent days I’d watched the wintering Hen Harrier quarter the fields as it drifted or deliberately headed west in pursuit of a meal. Right on the cue today the harrier appeared here at Lousanna Farm just a harrier's flap-glide from its other favoured feeding spot. Continuing over the moss I noted 2 more roadside Kestrels before I hit Pilling.

Hen Harrier

A blog reader asked me “where is Pilling Moss?”, a question which stumped me a little because although I know exactly where the moss is, I’m not sure I could draw the vague-in-my-head boundaries on a map. Those frontier limits are very imprecise and bound up in the ancient history of other Fylde mosslands, some of which abut Pilling Moss – e.g. Stalmine Moss, Winmarleigh Moss and Rawcliffe Moss.

The “Moss” of Pilling refers to the area of peat land more or less south of the village of Pilling, an ancient settlement, founded at the hamlet of Eagland Hill on what was essentially an "island" with the sea on one side and marsh on the others. From artefact finds, there is evidence of spasmodic human activity here dating back to the Neolithic period.

“Pilling Moss - a strange dark tract of land with a history full of curiosity and interest, situated on the western side of Lancashire, between the Wyre and the estuary of Cockerham.

It was in the year 1813 or 1814 that James Jenkinson and Joseph Isles, who were natives of nearby Churchtown and Nateby, selected sites for cottages and farm buildings at Eagland Hill, a portion of the (Pilling) Moss. Eagland Hill was a natural mound of sand, slightly elevated, but surrounded on each side by bog and deep, broad tarns. There was at that time no approach to Eagland Hill by any road, save and except such as a vigorous sportsman in quest for game might risk with fear of occasionally sinking to his armpits in a swampy bog.

Many people have an idea that Pilling is a barren, swampy, dim and unfruitful part of the country, worth nothing, full of the hardest headed of clod hoppers, and given up to seagulls, curlews and uncivilised turf getters. But they are mistaken. In the centre, nay all round that monotonously level region, with its long lines of white smoke, burning from heaps of peat refuse, there are busy souls contending successfully against the rude natural obstacles of a long neglected locality, and turning the peat swamp and the wild bog into a fruitful garden. Enterprising landlords and industrious farmers have transmuted the incoherent waste, the almost chaotic imbroglio of old Pilling into a charming agricultural arena, sending its produce into the busiest markets and towns of Lancashire, and competing with goods of more favoured places.

To be sure, there are still in the district uncouth and unproductive tracts of ground - patches here and there of boggy, rush-grown and heather covered land; but viewed generally, industry, with its potent alchemy, has changed the scene into one of fertility and use. Meadow, pasture and arable land are visible in all directions; smiling farm houses and homesteads are dotted over its surface; a new railway will soon bring them into sharp communication with more distant localities; in the very centre of the moss the plough is busy doing its work, slowly, but well, and creating a new life in quarters which Fate seemed to have reserved for sterility and unending waste”.

After two hundred years of agricultural and drainage activity the moss is hugely changed, the railway been and gone, but the peaty black soil is much in evidence when driving over the moss along the modern Lancaster Road running from Little Eccleston to the hamlet of Scronkey then on to coastal Pilling. Essentially then, Pilling Moss lies east and west of Lancaster Road, it’s still a reasonable birding spot despite the change to winter crops, with often more than Curlews and gulls. History lesson over.

Pilling Moss

I didn’t see a lot at Lane Ends, instead got button-holed by an old shooting sort who complained in turn and with equal ferocity about the RSPB and younger shooters, but he certainly knew his stuff about geese. I nodded in agreement then headed up to Pilling Water where my sometimes distant counts arrived at 1000 Shelduck, 1200 Pink-footed Geese, 41 Whooper Swan, 800 Teal, 240 Wigeon 55 Pintail, 8 Skylark , 5 Little Egret, 1 Merlin and 600 Woodpigeon.


Readers may have noted how today's birding was a little quiet; I hope the blog post proved a little more entertaining and instructive.


Bob Bushell said...

The Corn Buntings is good but, the Teal in flight are your superb, well done Phil.
To answer your question, is a lots of patience and a peanut, ha ha.

Kay L. Davies said...

My comment threatened to turn into a novel, so I sent you an e-mail.
I'm enjoying your photos and wishing you the very best for the coming year.

Mary Howell Cromer said...

I have just read your outstanding information and the way that you write and describe these beautiful areas that surround where you live, is wonderful and also fascinating Phil.
It all sounds quite charming in it's ways.
The Hen Harrier, is that a photograpgh, or a watercolour...oh amazing that is~

Christian said...

Hi Phil,

Thank you for the informative post and the history of the area is very interesting.

Must be great to see that Hen harrier (lovely picture), I'd love to try a visit to see that soon, perhaps when the weather is not as it is today!

Ayuwat Jearwattanakanok said...

Interesting story about the Moss. The picture of it is also very interesting. I've never seen such a landscape like that before. The watercolour effect in the Hen Harrier pic looks nice too!

Anonymous said...

Any chance of credits to the historical quotes (which I am about to double check [I think my family were at Eagland Hill a little earlier} and the artist of the hen harrier?

Anyone with an interets may wish to view
which contains some interesting maps (but no verification of the source)
see also

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