A Golden Oriole in Cumbria

David Knass

by David Knass

My wife, Lesley, and I had booked to stay ay Keswick for our group RSPB trip to the Lake District and coincidentally our walking group had also arranged a short break nearby a few days earlier so we took advantage of that too.

Our accommodation for 3 nights was at Glaramara near Rosthwaite and we settled in for 3 days midweek walking before the weekend birding. The weather was glorious and I couldn’t resist a pre-breakfast walk each morning. On the second morning (8th June) I walked around Seatoller and quickly located Swifts, Tree Pipit, Redstart, Cuckoo and Green Woodpecker and then walked through the car park up a short hill towards a gate leading to the woodland.

I reckoned I had heard or seen most of the resident and migrant species but was particularly looking out for a Spotted Flycatcher which has almost disappeared from our area on the edge of the Peak District.

I stopped at the gate for a while to watch a pair of Pied Flycatchers near their nest hole. It was then I heard the unmistakeable call of a Golden Oriole further down below in the woodland. My experience of this species is that it can be difficult to locate despite it’s bright plumage. I couldn’t see it, and was unlikely to given my distance from the call. My immediate thought was to report it on Birdguides so as to alert any other birders in the area and then to make a recording on my iphone. Instead of using voice memos as I usually do I used the Merlin app so as to give an annotated record at the exact time of each call. It called 3 more times at this point and that was it. I had also put my records on Birdtrack that morning and recorded 30 species between 6.30-7.50am (not including a Spotted Flycatcher though).

Marsh Fritillary

There were other distractions apart from the excellent bird life, such as this Marsh Fritillary. I came across a small colony near Watendlath, not appreciating at the time that this was a rare and precious foothold for this species in Cumbria.

After breakfast about 10 of us set out on our walk and I played the call to the group as some of them have more than a passing interest in birds but this was more in hope than expectation. We had walked most of the way through Johnny Wood and one of our members, Rob, and I had lagged a bit behind when the bird called again and without prompting Rob exclaimed ‘isn’t that your bird’? We hung around for a short while with no further call and then caught up with the rest of the group. I subsequently learnt from Guy Shrubsole’s book ‘The lost Rainforests of Britain’ that Johnny Wood is an SSSI and indeed one of the remnants of temperate rainforest in the Lake District. I wondered if in past times Golden Orioles were more than just a passing rarity.


Looking down the valley at Rosthwaite. Johnny Wood, the remnant of a temperate rainforest that I was walking in, is at the far right-hand side of the picture.

The happy endings to this story are that the brilliant weather lasted all week and for the weekend trip (see previous trip report), I caught up with a few Spotted Flycatchers and, perhaps most interestingly, the Golden Oriole was accepted by the Cumbria Recorder (thanks to the phone recording) as the first record for 12 years.

David Knass