The Treecreeper: A Fine Little Passerine3 minute read


A treecreeper features in this piece of nature writing, which is the fourth and final part of a small series of pieces based on a walk, in autumn, along a section of the Ullswater Way between Pooley Bridge and Aira Force.

This piece can be read as a stand-alone piece; however, you may wish to read the previous parts first, which are (oldest to most recent): The Dunnock: Drab or Dreamy? A Red Campion: A Star Poised in Space, and The Beech Tree: One of Nature’s Treasures.

The Treecreeper: A Fine Little Passerine

I enter Bennethead, a small Lakeland hamlet situated on the Ullswater Way. House sparrows squabble over the right to drink from a tiny puddle. There is one male who seems particularly possessive of the little pool of liquid, so much so that when a second male approaches tempers quickly flare; feathers clash; beaks are held wide open; they fight face to face in the air.

The aggressor triumphs; the interloper backs off; the victor returns to his precious puddle to drink. What is so special about this specific puddle I will never ever fathom, for here, in the Lake District, water is hardly scarce.

I follow the narrow road right through Bennethead and beyond, remaining in motion until the next creature pops up to stop me in my tracks.

A great sycamore, its bark turquoise with lichen, hosts a cornucopia of avian guests. An array of tantalising titmice—coal, great and blue—entertains with a terrific display of acrobatics. A male chaffinch is present in opulent apparel, his cheeks, chest and belly a mix of pink, peach and red, his crown and nape the colour of slate, and his mantle chestnut brown.

Head first from high in the tree, a nuthatch inches its way down to me. A treecreeper, a fine little passerine about the size of a wren, shimmies along in the opposite direction, creeping, crawling, corkscrewing around a branch before falling, in a controlled manner, to repeat the process anew on another sycamore branch.

Such behaviour provides a fascinating sight, as does the treecreeper’s plumage, the majority of the bird’s underside an unadulterated white. The dorsal surface is just as lush, a detailed canvas of variegated brown and touches of black and the incorporation of a golden wing bar. Its cap is streaked and its face marked on either side with a wide but tapering, off-white stripe extending from the eye to the back of the head.

For a bird of its size, the beak is of substantial length, and it is slightly curved so that when the bird is perched it points down to earth—the perfect pair of tweezers for extracting insects from bark.

All too soon the birds disperse, which is my cue to move on too. I wander through a woodland silent and shady, fit to be the home of a magical fairy. I can see many a tree, but only barely, for masses of mosses and lichens bedeck their bark, and throngs of frilly ferns furnish their trunks and boughs.

Down through the autumnal amber of deciduous larch sink the high-pitched squeaks of out-of-sight goldcrests, a fitting supplement to the forest’s silence.

Once out of the wood, I navigate the eastern flank of Gowbarrow Fell, where the views of Lake Ullswater cast their usual spell. Again and again, I must force myself to move, eventually reaching the bounds of Aira Force. Alas, the waterfall will have to wait for another time, for today the day has already turned into night.

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