Over this year I’d heard some good stuff about Hammonds Pond in Carlisle – the otter sightings had particularly caught my interest – so Zahrah and I set off bright and early to make the most of the morning.
We were immediately met by a beautiful green park with footpaths snaking off in all different directions. Nestled in the middle of the green was shimmering water. ‘Pond’ seemed too small and meagre a word for it. It took us half an hour to circle the perimeter, though that may have been as a result of us stopping to photograph the inquisitive and downright adorable Mallard ducklings (Anas platyrhynchos).
The skies were clear and the sun was shining down on Hammonds Pond. As we crossed the bridge that split the water in half I saw my first black-headed gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus) of the year. The last time I’d seen these smart-looking little gulls was at St Andrews beach in Scotland several years ago. According to the ICUN Red List the species’ current population trend is decreasing. I hope they can regain their numbers; it’d be a shame for yet another British species to become threatened.
After leaving the water birds behind, we followed the track further down the pond. Suddenly a bright speck of blue appeared in the dark soil. After some deliberation we decided the egg had belonged to a blackbird (Turdus merula). Although similar to those of a thrush (Turdus philomelos), theirs aren’t quite as speckled. Sadly this egg was still inhabited – a crack in the shell showed a glimpse of shiny orange yolk inside. Although this bird wasn’t going to make it, we both knew someone would gladly take up the offer of a free meal.
After a loop through the woods we had a sit down by the miniature railway and watched flies wander closer and closer to their fate on the spider-web covered information post. We were joined by a regular visitor to the pond, who told us that the otter had recently left, but that there had been sightings of three individuals here. Although we wouldn’t see any otters for the foreseeable future it was good to hear that these beautiful mustelids were visiting, especially since stumbling upon Hammonds Pond is unlikely. As no water leads to it, the otters were obviously travelling across land to reach the pond, which was both interesting and encouraging.
Soon I heard the sharp trill of a wren (Troglodytes troglodytes) and moments later the tiny bird appeared atop a signpost, singing at the top of its lungs. After graciously posing for us it took to the air and disappeared, though its voice could still be heard loud and clear.
Just before we started to head back we got one last treat: mating chaffinches (Fringilla coelebs). I’d only just seen the male chaffinch’s mating display in Carna a few weeks previously; watching him shuffle to one side then another with chest puffed out and head bowed was fascinating then and now. In response to his alluring routine the female bowed low to him with an upturned head and accepted him. It was a privilege seeing such an intimate moment and rounded off a great wildlife-filled morning.