April 2001

Sunday 9th April – Blackburn Meadows – A bright Spring morning, but there is the threat of rain in the air. A pair of Swans has nested on one of the main pools, with another pair on the marsh area. Good numbers of Gadwall are in the reeds and rough grass along with Tufted Duck and Mallard. A Little Grebe shrieks somewhere. Blackthorn shines with pure white flowers, blossoming before the leaves have opened. Large areas of yellow Pussy Willow brighten the reclaimed slurry pits. Another bright yellow delight is Gorse.

Good Friday 13th April – Sheffield – The Government may claim the countryside “open for business” but it remains firmly shut for those of us who long to wander the hills, woods and pathways through the English landscape. So another urban ramble from the Tinsley Viaduct, carrying the M1, down the Sheffield – Rotherham Canal, across to the River Don and back round Meadowhall (a shopping mall less than fondly known as Meadowhell) back to the viaduct. Anglers, denied access to their usual rivers, have flocked to the tow-path and Tinsley lock basins. Bird life is scant, the occasional Robin singing, Magpies carrying sticks to a nest and Racing Pigeon groups dashing overhead. Cutting across the main routes (rail, road and supertram) into Sheffield city centre and down newish industrial estates, built on old steel rolling mill sites. A pub, built in 1912, with splendid mock Baroque fascia in a rich yellow-brown polished marble seems to have been converted into offices.

Saturday 14th April – Home – An impatient gardener is a futile one. I scan the soil anxiously for signs that seeds are sprouting. Indeed, there are tiny purple shoots coming up from the potato trenches. The Broad Beans sown indoors and transplanted several weeks back are growing slowly, but steadily. The directly sown ones are breaking the surface. Even the Radishes seem slow. However, the Rhubarb is like a triffid. A Song Thrush is now a regular visitor. There are still a good number of male Blackbirds in the garden; I would have assumed a dominant male would have established it as his territory by now. In the trees at the end of the garden, a Great Tit cycles his song from dawn to dusk.

Easter Sunday 15th April – Nunney, Somerset – Like elsewhere, the footpaths are closed, so we are restricted to the roads. Steep banks are covered in fresh young growth – Cuckoo Pints, Wild Garlic, Alexander and Garlic Mustard are all in leaf. Lesser Celandine, White Dead Nettle and Violets are in flower. Many of the Violets have had their colour washed out, whilst others retain their rich violet colour. The Cuckoo Pints or Wild Arum come in a number of differing varieties. Some are quite pale green with darker green veins whilst others are much darker so that the veins do not show. Again, some are spotted with near black spots; others have no spots at all. The sound of sheep baaing loudly comes from fields where they are being fed concentrates. The field getting muddy and smelly as the sheep cannot be rotated to other fields because of Foot and Mouth restrictions. Many-coloured snails festoon dead umbellifer stems. Above the sky is grey and angry. A Yellowhammer sings across the field, whilst a Skylark rings out from above. Ivy berries are still on old walls.

Duck Race

Off to the Easter Bonnet Parade and Duck Race. Jemima has a huge egg shaped bonnet that balances precariously on her head; she comes third. A Grey Wagtail flits up Nunney Brook. Jackdaws chack Duck Raceon the nearby cottage chimney stacks. The yellow plastic ducks are tossed into the brook beside the Post Office and float slowly under the bridge. Their progress is much slower than last year. A Grey Wagtail is flitting over the surface of the brook catching insects. Eventually a few ducks appear round the slight dog-leg above the finishing line by the Market Cross. One is way out ahead – should there be a doping test? Most have come to grief on the brambles and other branches growing out from the bank.

Easter Monday 16th April – Nunney – A flock of twittering Goldfinches flies into Birches on the edge of a horse paddock behind Jo and Peter’s cottage. Jackdaws drop down to search the churned soil for breakfast. A Starling with a beakful of dried leaves disappears into a hole in the chimney stack of a nearby house. Another mutters and calls from a television aerial. Blue and Great Tits call intermittently whilst searching branches for insects. A large Shield Bug crawls over plants in the greenhouse.

Out along the Frome road, Chiffchaffs call from trees surrounding the large house at the end of the village. It is then out into open fields whose hedges have been pruned hard. Holly, Elder, Hawthorne and Ash leaves are unfurling. Dog Mercury, Stinging and White Dead Nettle, Dandelion and Cow Parsley dominate the verge with small patches of Red Dead Nettle, Common Fumitory, Greater Stitchwort, Yellow Archangel. Small flocks of twittering Linnets rise and fall in the low, green shoots of cereal crops. A Rabbit scuttles down a warren, suddenly awakening Dill the Dog’s interest.

Afternoon walk – Up Horn Street, past the quarry. A few wild Primroses grow on the verge banks. The first Blackcap of the year is in full song near the main road. A Bullfinch slips down the hedgerow, white rump flashing. Wild Strawberry is in flower on the roadside banks. Many fossils are embedded from the limestone wall around the Big House. Above Lesser Periwinkle flowers. Rooks mate noisily on their nest.

Saturday 21st April – Home – The first really warm day, although it has started to cloud over by early afternoon. A hatched Pigeon’s egg shell lay on the lawn this morning. A little later an unhatched Blackbird egg was also on the grass. Magpies are a prime suspect for this. Hundreds of tadpoles are either laying on the surface, wriggling or feeding on algae on the pond liner. Potatoes are beginning to break the surface all along the trenches. They have been covered with a Daffsfleece because of the continuing risk of frosts. It seems strange that it is only two months to the longest day of the year, yet we had snow earlier in the week. Of course, it did not last long but the temperatures have been low all week. Tomatoes have sprouted and been transplanted into individual pots. Beetroot, carrot, eat-all peas and some more lettuce seed have gone directly into the ground, whilst celeriac, celery and aubergine have been planted in trays to be started indoors. Much of the seed is from the HDR seed bank of discontinued old varieties. We have the somewhat ridiculous situation wherein it is illegal to sell “unauthorised” seed and thus hundreds of traditional varieties are disappearing. Fortunately, the seed bank distributes seed to members for free so these wonderful old varieties can be saved for the future. Daffodils are still making a vivid yellow splash across the garden whilst more create a yellow spotting beneath the trees at the bottom of the garden.

Saturday 28th April – Barnsley Canal – At long last the closure signs have gone from the canal tow-path and Willowbank. Much has changed since my last walk along here at the end of February. Then the Hawthorns alongside the path were brown and skeletal, now they are a brilliant green as the new leaves burst out. The willows are also in leaf now. Bright green shoots rise through the old khaki remains of last year’s reed beds. A pair of Mute Swans have built a nest mound in the centre of the canal near the allotments. Initially, they are further up the canal but move down. The nest looks cold and wet, so it is not clear what is happening. Swallows and House Martins swoop over the water, letting out explosive, rasping calls. Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers join the chorus of song from Blackbirds, Robins, Chaffinches and Wrens. A Grey Heron flies up the river, harried by Magpies. The steady beat of wings signals another Mute Swan rising from the loop.

Sunday 29th April – Home – Truly April weather – sun and showers. A Willow Warbler cascaded its song beneath the old Barnsley Main colliery this morning. In the garden, weeds, especially Dandelion, are growing faster than anything else, although the rhubarb runs a close second. A Tit is building a new nest in one of the boxes after the last one was abandoned. Tadpoles wriggle around the ponds. In the late afternoon a Sparrowhawk rises from a bramble patch and disappears over the garden wall. A Blackbird is singing at an extraordinary volume outside the front window from the top of a Holly.