Introducing My stretch of the Leeds to Liverpool Canal at Micklethwaite

Identifying my bit of the Leeds to Liverpool Canal

On a short stretch of canal, five minutes from my new home, I, at the ripe young age of 58, discovered birds.  I did know of their existence before, in a sort of half interested, 'I know you’re out there', abstract sort of way, but I never did get the hang of binoculars, or the patience to persevere.  Tiny birds flitting through trees were…. whoosh…. gone, long before I managed to focus.  All that changed in October 2009, when I discovered digital photography.  The two discoveries became one absorbing fascination that will take me comfortably through my remaining decades.

What I want to do here is to introduce you to what I consider to be my stretch of the canal. I've broken into three sections that altogether is probably about two miles in length.
5 Rise Locks at Bingley West Yorkshire
Photography by annmackiemiller

We start just outside Bingley at the 5 Rise Locks, which are just what they say, a series of 5 connecting locks designed to lift (or lower) canal barges up the steep gradients that are typical of Yorkshire.  The tow path runs along the south bank of the canal, passing first a field with cows, then houses.  There are generally quite a few birds along here especially since they have upgraded the area around the 5 rise to encourage visitors. They have provided a lively picnic area birds love - never mind visitors. 
field at 5 rise locks

Barges moored along the first stretch of canal

We carry on passed brightly coloured canal boats moored on the north bank.  Then we pass the boat repair yard, regular haunt of a pair of breeding swans, and the Airedale Canal Club with its outdoor barbeque which reminds me of a cook-house in Africa.  Most days, the canal dazzles, reflecting the green of growth bounding it, the vivid colour of the barges and the changing blue and grey of the sky.  In gentle curves, it leads you on to the next bend, and then the next, just to see what lies beyond.    

Mute swan called the boat yard home
Open air cooking at the Airedale Canal Club

 Just beyond the moorings, the north bank opens onto open fields; the permanent home to about 70 white geese, temporary home of shire horses and cows who delight in soaking their feet in the canal and in chasing off all comers.  This is also where my Micklethwaite Moorhens nested until Yorkshire water permanently disturbed their nesting site.

Greenhill and our Embden geese

That brings us to a swing bridge across the canal at Micklethwaite Wharf.  An old, single lane, white painted metal bridge designed to…er um… swings open to let barges and boats pass.   Cross the road and we are onto the next stretch.
Swing Bridge at Micklethwaite Wharf

Close by the north bank is the old bridge house then an old mill which has been converted to flats.  Out on decks and patios lucky owners sit and watch life on the canal.  The geese often provide grass cropping services though I'm not sure how welcome that is to some.

Canada Geese provide grass cropping services for the mill flats

Older houses run along the south, but the ground slopes down away from the canal and they are not intrusive.  Then, reed beds with yellow irises contentedly rooted in the water.  Along the edges of the path are high hedgerows and trees, home to a multitude of said flitting birds,  and that brings us all the way to the next swing bridge at Lingfield Wharf.   It is about a mile long, certainly not more than two, yet this small space represents a complete universe.
Beyond the swing bridge

Smudge the duck likes the water lilies

It started off innocently enough that October: I thought the canal would provide somewhere for me to practice when I had started an introductory course in digital photography at my local college.  From that introduction I became so interested that I went on to join a level 1 NCFE course.  For this we were required to produce a number of photographs both for on-going weekly exercises and for a portfolio.  October is perhaps not the best time of year to be thinking of taking up outside photography, but I was in for a joyful surprise.  One or two short visits to the canal, watching the lives of the birds there, sharing the space with cyclists who cycled, joggers who jogged, dogs that… well you all know what dogs do – and also sharing the tow path with their walkers blithely swinging black plastic bags filled with said doings of said dogs.  Through the lens of my camera I found myself sharing their time and their lives, including, that of the sweating face of a slim young woman who couldn’t possibly get any slimmer, documenting the rounded stoop of the old lady who walks the canal path daily and the seeing the sheer joy on the face of a child feeding the ducks.  If the people who used the tow path fascinated me, it was the wildfowl that really got me hooked.

During the winter I photographed the resident geese, moorhens, ducks and swans as they struggled over ice, fed from people’s hands and generally delighted the senses.  I very quickly saw how each breed had different characteristics from the noisy geese squabbling like children to the quiet and attentive caring between two tiny moorhens. 

Come Spring I delighted in the pairing off of birds (something I stupidly never noticed before), I watched the building (and destroying) of nests and the hatching and protection of chicks.  Now, as summer tickles the end of spring, the canal if full of life: characters emerge, families establish themselves and there are endless dramas to watch unfold.  I hope you will join me as I share with you some of the life along the canal.  

The next most populous were the Mallard ducks, the males with bright green or purple head and the females brown but really quite exquisite with flashes of blue on their wings and white darts on their tail feathers.  What I also discovered was that interbreeding among the different species was common resulting in some quite dramatic colourings, shapes and sizes.  Included there, was one almost golden brown female mallard hybrid who was to become the head of one of my favourite families come spring.  Another character that is not quite mallard is a pure white duck with a single black smudge on her head.

Four swans regularly ran the canal; I believe one breeding pair that had nested one this stretch for many years. And, each pair with their own territory, moorhens of which I knew little or nothing before then.  Well I did know they were black with a red beak, long legs and a funny way of moving their heads.  What I didn’t know was how devoted to each other and their young moorhens are.

This brings me to spring.  My stretch of canal is teeming with new life and with on-going dramas.  The golden mallard laid 15 eggs with a variety of colours including one truly yellow duckling.  Sadly only 5 have survived, but the yellow one is still there and I breathe a sigh of relief every day I go down and she is still there.  Female mallards are generally good mothers.  The male leaves very early but the female will stay with the chicks until they are fully grown.  She does not feed them, they do that themselves immediately, but she runs protection for them.  She will lead them to good places for food and to safe havens, chasing off any other ducks that come too near.  She will also brood them especially when it rains as the chicks are not completely waterproof at this downy stage. 

Well usually they do.  Remember Smudge?  She laid about 8 eggs of which 4 hatched.  I think she looked out for them for about three weeks then took off on her own.  I suspect this was her first brood.  The four ducklings were left to completely forage on their own and became a common sight nipping sharply in between geese and other ducks to snatch food.  They are almost fully grown now which says much for their own tenacity and little for Smudge.
On the whole the mallards have been very successful breeders this year.  I have been watching one family of nine, and they have all survived, another family of five including two very pale ducklings and the most recent arrivals, a family of three of which two survive.

The arrival of spring brought visiting Canada geese, six in total with one breeding pair.  There are seven goslings and I have been discovering just how aggressive they are even at a very young age.

Then there are the breeding swans.  They have produced seven signets.  The male is very aggressive and won’t tolerate any Canada geese on the canal when he is about.

No comments:

Post a Comment