Silverburn Walk by Pete
I haven’t walked up my local river for quite a few years now so, since I was off work and the weather wasn’t too hot (overcast in fact, yippee my favourite!), I decided to go. I had done a quick guestimate of the distance I would be covering and it came out at around 8-9 miles with a couple of ascents and descents of a few hundred feet chucked in for good measure.
In the upper reaches I was hoping I might pick up some woodland birds like Wood Warbler, Garden Warbler, Pied Flycatcher, Redstart etc. These are all scarce on the Isle of Man and it takes either pure luck or persistent effort to see them.
My camera went over my shoulder, my bins around my neck and off I walked. It was 9.15am.
I started near the mouth of the Silverburn river in Castletown where there is a section called “The Lake”. It’s not actually a lake just a slow section of the river about 40-50ft across and a few feet deep. (This is probably the widest part of the whole river so we aren’t talking about the Thames here or anything :).)
Here I saw the resident Mute Swans, Canada Geese and Mallards and also quite a few Herring Gulls who are always ready to take on a Swan for some bread.
On the opposite bank were some Jackdaws and Rooks. Then, just as I was about to cross the road, a Grey Heron appeared, miles closer than I normally see them so I quickly got a pic.
Photo1 shows the end of the lake. In it you can see the road and Steam Railway bridge that I had to walk under next.
After crossing the road I walked along the side of Poulsom Park. There are lots of trees here (I have no idea what sort of trees only that they are deciduous ones) with many overhanging the river. (photo2). The river is about 20ft wide here and it ranges from a few inches to a few feet deep. I spotted a Dunnock pop out of a hedge quickly followed by a Wren, then also a Robin. There must have been a party going on!
A few hundred yards further up I heard then saw a cracking Grey Wagtail.
I tried several tactics to get a picture. The majority failed as these birds seemed to sense me from a mile off! Luckily one was sent towards me by a dog walker so I was able to get a couple of shots off. (Dog walkers do have their uses sometimes! :).)
I continued on, spotting a Moorhen edging along the opposite bank with a male Blackbird just above it in the overhanging tree. I left the nice shade of Poulsom Park and was then into open fields. I turned and took a picture showing the corner of the park. (photo3). Further up river a Pied Wagtail appeared and a Male Chaffinch was having a bath. It seemed that in every bush was a nest as all I could hear were the squeaks of young birds getting fed. It appeared to be mainly Dunnocks but one bush held a Linnet’s family.
There was a concrete cow bridge (bridge for cows?) here so I used it to take a photo looking upstream (photo4). By now the sun was out and this meant the flies started to appear. It didn’t feel like I was getting bitten, which is a miracle for me, so I happily continued. (Not that I would have stopped if I was bitten just that I would have continued unhappily :).)
The next 500-600 yards along the path didn’t result in anything new for the day then strangely a Brown R.a.t ran across no more than a few feet in front of me…weird.
There were also some Rabbits playing in an adjacent field. A quick look up saw some Wood Pigeons flying over then a large number of House Martins, Swallows and four Swifts appeared, shooting across the sky eating flies. Hurray!!
A bit further up I had to cross a footbridge to continue so I took another pic before moving across. (photo5).
Across the river the fields really open out and are more arable than grazing so they have very few hedges but in one of the hedges I heard a Sedge Warbler so stayed till I got a glimpse of it. It duly popped up said “hello” then dropped back down.
No sooner have the fields opened up than the path winds away and you end up going through deep overgrown bushes. In here were quite a few Whitethroat but I only managed to catch sight of a couple. A butterfly appeared on the path in front of me so I took a picture as it looked quite nice in the sun. I am only guessing, as I have no idea when it comes to butterflies, but I think it was a Peacock.
Further on the path takes its first detour from the river so you can cross a road further up. This section goes along a farm’s driveway and here I saw my first House Sparrows of the walk. I kept checking the field edges in case of a Grey Partridge but only saw a Pheasant. I got past the farm without getting attacked by a farm dog, which was nice, then I crossed the road at the village of Ballasalla. Here there is an old abbey but there was nothing new on the walls. Back on the river again, it is lined with deciduous trees with some overhanging but I didn’t spot anything at all amongst them. Further up, near the ford, the river shallows out to only a few inches deep. It is about 20ft wide at this point. There are also many pebbly sections but there was not a sausage there either.
After that the path enters the glen. This meant I had to walk along a little path, meandering all over the place going up and down for no reason (apart from to annoy me I reckon :)), with tree roots just high enough to catch your foot if you’re not looking.
This was the area I had my hopes pinned on. Straight away I spotted Blue Tit and Great Tit in the trees. Also a Song Thrush was belting out his song at the top of another tree. Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs were calling all around and while I was trying to find the calling Chiffchaff a few Goldcrests worked their way past.
This was more like it…so I continued on but no sooner had it all kicked off, it went dead … completely silent!!. I couldn’t work it out, the area looked identical to the place I had just left but there was nothing. Flummoxed I walked on. It did pick up again further up but nothing new was seen.
I crossed another road and walked through Silverdale Glen. In the past this was a mill of some sorts but is now a café and park. It has a boating lake (pond) and in it I saw some decent sized Brown Trout and a few Eels. Not far out of the park but still in the glen I heard a good song being belted out. Now, some people will probably laugh but the way I try to remember Blackcap/Garden Warbler song is anything that sounds like a Blackbird. Then it’s just a matter of checking what’s singing. (This will do me until I can be bothered to learn the songs properly.) Quite quickly I noticed the bird fly from a branch and saw it was only relatively small. This narrowed it down in my head to a Blackcap or Garden Warbler. I edged a bit further up the path to get a clearer view through the trees and there it was…… a male Blackcap. Not what I was hoping for but none the less a nice bird to see.
I took a pic of the area since I failed to get a shot of the Blackcap! (photo6).
Further on I managed to find another 2 Blackcaps including another male singing….
Between Blackcap sightings there was a female Siskin right at the top of another tree.
I then had to cross another road and the next part of the river was what you would probably class as the upper reaches. The river is very narrow and is in a deep valley rather than being on flat-ish land as earlier and the path climbs up the side of the valley away from the river. (The path also shrinks to about the width of a person’s foot now!)
I hadn’t been to this section for a very long time so had hopes that there might be something good buried deep in the trees. Unfortunately the path was so slippery that I ended up spending no time looking into the trees and was fully concentrating on not slipping to my doom!! Luckily it didn’t last and the path worked its way back down to the river (Thank God! I can’t stand being high up). (photo7)
The area now flattened out and it looked like in the past the river might have flowed on this area before cutting deeper to make the valley.
Here there were a lot of gorse and thorn bushes and the place was alive with Whitethroats. I checked the tops of every bush carefully, as I have seen the amount of Red Backed Shrikes that have occurred in the UK in the last few weeks and was desperately hoping one might have popped over here for a bite to eat! :)
Unfortunately not so I carried on walking and the path climbed up again. Eventually I reached the end of the path (photo8) looking back where I had just come from).
My initial plan was to turn around and retrace my footsteps home but there was no way I was doing that last section again!! So a quick change of plan meant a walk along two country roads (photo9) which would then lead to the top of the Silverdale Glen. I had hoped, walking along the road, I might see a Hen Harrier hunting along the hedgerows or a Peregrine passing over on its way to Langness but the only thing I saw was a group of Chaffinches that were following me.
Just before turning back into the glen a male Greenfinch was singing his heart out at the top of another tree.
Right through the Silverdale Glen section nothing new was seen. This didn’t surprise me though as by this point I was just a bit on the tired side and wasn’t paying much attention!
I had reached the abbey area again when I spotted a bird fly out of a tree and go back in again. I thought oooo maybe a flycatcher so looked through my bins and a male Chaffinch looked back at me!! Damn it! I hate when Chaffinches do that. I put my bins down and was just about to continue when the Chaffinch plus a female flew out of the tree. However, they were followed by another bird which after a few yards turned and went back to the tree. Thinking oh brilliant another Chaffinch, I wasn’t going to bother looking properly but being a glutton for punishment I looked through the bins.
To my complete amazement there was a flycatcher there!
But no sooner had I seen it than it was off again before I could decide which one. So I walked into the trees where I thought it had gone and I sat on a rock. Suddenly all the birds there decided to do impressions of a flycatcher. Not only were the flycatching Chaffinches back but Robins started it as well!!! Grrrrr. Ten minutes passed and no sign of the flycatcher but there did seem to be a lot of birds in this little area including Song Thrush, Blackbird, Great Tit, Blue Tit and Willow Warbler. Also a Coal Tit appeared directly above me and a noisy Mistle Thrush came flying through the trees.
Still no sign of my flycatcher so I stood up and walked the few yards back to the track. As I did I heard a little squeak in the tree above me. I looked straight up and there it was.. Spotted Flycatcher. It escaped to a tree on the opposite side of the river before I managed a record shot though. Fair enough, it wasn’t the Pied Flycatcher that I had hoped for but I was pleased to have seen a 'spotfly' in the habitat I assume it actually lives in, rather than it sitting in a coastal bush.
Lifted by this I got a second wind and managed the last few miles quite quickly. It did help not seeing any new birds that I needed to stop for of course. :)
I reached home at 2.00pm so I had been out for nearly 5 hrs which was good.
The only disappointments were that I saw nothing new for the year and no birds that I had hoped to see. Also the fact that I saw no raptors was a bit of a downer. But, saying that, it was an enjoyable walk (I am not sure my feet and neck agree though!) and something different from my usual coastal outings.
I doubt I will do that walk again though but instead drive to Ballasalla and walk the hundred yards or so to the good section :)
Here is a map of the walk with the scenery photos marked where I took them.
(Warning to 56k users, the pic is around 200k).