Saturday 2nd April – Little Don Valley – A Chiffchaff calls his repetitive song from the edge of the softwood plantation. Moving down the track through the trees, Robins, Great and Blue Tits are all calling. The track is very muddy, which is unusual as it is normally a hard flinty surface. Down at the Little Don River a new channel has appeared through a peninsula of Spruce. It is noticeable that there are no lambs with the moorland sheep. Along the bottom of the valley, Chaffinches abound, often chasing one another through the branches of the Scots Pines and Oaks. It has been quite a while since I was last here and the small fenced off areas now contain tall Silver Birches. These areas have been protected from the sheep to recreate the original habitats. Red Grouse chuckle from the steep heather covered hillside. Keening Curlews glide high across the valley. A flock of Siskin feed on the firs. A Mistle Thrush stands high on a tall pine, surveying the whole valley.
Wednesday 13th April – Willowbank – The month is turning out to be very traditional – April Showers. It is difficult to know what the weather will do next. This morning it is grey and trying to rain. This does not stop Blue and Great Tits chasing around the great Hawthorn hedge down Willowbank. A Blackbird sings from the top. The first Blackcap of the year is singing from the top of a young Ash tree.
Monk Bretton – I glance up whilst driving through the old part of Monk Bretton and espy two Swallows on a wire across the road.
Friday 15th April – Willowbank – Grey and rainy weather continues. However, this has not halted the arrival of the summer visitors. A Willow Warbler is singing near the canal. A Garden Warbler skulks in a thicket of brown, leafless brambles singing his exquisite bubbly song. A Green Woodpecker is yaffling nearby.
Saturday 16th April – Barnsley Canal – The sky is leaden and looks full of rain. A car passes with the remnants of snow on its bonnet. It has clearly rained heavily overnight, Willowbank is sodden. The River Dearne has burst its banks at Smithy Green and the Loop is a sheet of water. Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers are everywhere, singing their little hearts out. Chaffinches are also prominent songsters. Great and Blue Tits chase and call incessantly. Down the valley, maybe at the Fleets Dam, comes the call of a Cuckoo. This is the first one I have heard in several years. Two Coots are fighting furiously in the flood water, whilst a third, presumably a female, looks on. I manage to skirt around large pools (Dill the Dog goes straight through them) and reach the stream that drains the middle of the valley – the Dearne being over on the east side here. A Fox slips quietly down the line of trees and bushes that follows the stream. The plank across it is under water. I plunge across and my trusty Gortex lined trainers give up and I have wet feet. The river rushes by – brown and rather smelling of raw sewage. An abandoned car has been pushed a short way down stream by the force of water. A Green Woodpecker flies across from the Silver Birch covered spoil heap on the other side of the river and into some old Oaks. It then flies up onto the summit of a wooden electricity pole and proceeds to poke at the top. An odd call is coming from the reed beds across the pasture – I reckon it is a Water Rail. A Grey Heron flaps steadily down the valley. Greater Stitchwort (also called Adder’s Meat) is in flower at the top of the river bank. It has five white petals that are split to half way. A Kestrel flies up from the spoil heap and flaps furiously to gain height. It then glides down across the flood plain. At the end of the canal a Skylark rises in song. Percy Bysshe Shelley captured the moment in his poem:-
Bird thou never wert,
That from heaven, or near it
Pourest thy full heart
In profuse strain of unpremeditated art.
Pale pink Cuckoo Flowers are blooming in the damp meadow. Finally the sun peeps out from the great grey clouds. A Dunnock heralds the warmth with song from the very top of a Hawthorn. Up the hill towards Greenfoot and a Swallow sweeps low along the crest.
Thursday 21st April – Trans-Pennine Trail, Penistone – A morning walk, made possible because I was made redundant yesterday as a consequence of the collapse of MG/Rover. The trail heads west out beside the Recreation Field. All along the trail there is the constant song of Willow Warblers – they are here in excellent numbers. Yellowhammers are also present, picking up dried bits of grass and flying off. Swallows glide overhead. The trail is the old line to Manchester. Cuttings go through gritstone, leaving large flat faces of the grey stone bared to the elements. A woodland area between the trail and Thurlstone is full of Robins, Song Thrushes and Chaffinches. I turn back along Leapings Lane. Beside the road the land drops steeply down to the River Don, here a wide stream rushing down the valley. Beyond the river are old and new industrial sites. A jumble of boulders lies on the hillside. They are covered in velvety mosses. The road heads down, now it is Rock Side Road. Hornthwaite Hill Road heads off over the trail. I join the main Manchester road. There is a splendid group of cottages, Don Cottages, which I must have driven past on many occasion but never noticed. Up Stottercliffe Road which leads back up to the trail.
Friday 22nd April – Trans-Pennine Trail, Worsbrough – Home is shrouded in mist but along the old railway the sun has burned it off. Goldfinches twitter in the bushes with bright painted faces of black, white and red. Great Tits and Willow Warblers songs fill the air. Yellowhammers sit on a barbed wire fence. There seem to be Robins everywhere. A Chiffchaff moved through the base of a bush with a beakful of white feathers looking like an Einstein moustache. It is noticeable how the grass and bushes are encroaching on the track; it is far less wide than when the trail was opened some years back. A Horse Chestnut has still limp leaves waiting to be filled with fluid to fill them out and small, green candles which will grow and explode into colour in a few weeks. Wych Elms are covered in pale lime green keys, which are their fruit. All around there are various catkins of Willows, Poplars, Hazels and Alders. A Greenfinch perches on the top branch of the tallest tree and sings. A Blackcap moves through the bushes, singing al the way. Rooks fly over. Many are rather “tatty” with feathers missing or askew. Blackthorn is in blossom, somewhat late because of the cold spell earlier in the Spring. The violet flowers of Ground Ivy peep shyly from under the bushes.
St George’s Day, Saturday 23rd April – Barnsley Canal – White rumps flash between the bushes as a pair of Bullfinch slip silently away at the top of Willowbank. A Mistle Thrush rasps from the top of a tree. Long-tailed Tits flit. Willow Warblers are everywhere, their cascading song filling the air. By the canal, a Willow Tit calls. Beyond the footbridge, parts of a Willow have fallen across the canal. In the more open landscape just further on, the reeds are shooting up, green and fresh as last year’s brown remnants decay away. A Little Grebe bobs up, realises Dill the Dog is there and quickly dives and is not seen again. A Sedge Warbler is singing its scratchy song from one of the scraggy bushes surrounding the very wet area on the flood plain. Then there is the distinctive reeling of a Grasshopper Warbler nearby, but I cannot locate it. Swallows in decent numbers now are sweeping across the reed beds. A Whitethroat starts singing. A male Reed Bunting with his striking black head flies up into the Hawthorn hedge that lines the tow-path. At the end of the canal, across the field, Lapwings dance an aerial ballet, calling their plaintive peewit. A keening Curlew drifts across the marshy field. A row of Carrion Crows lines the fence beside the sewage works’ settling tank. A Fox is on the path between the old settling pools and the newer ones. The path is fenced down both sides, so he beats a retreat down to the river. Across the fields and past Swallow Hill Farm. A small paddock beside the farmhouse contains pregnant ewes and some very newborn lambs. There is also a set of stone steps that look like those that coaches would draw up to so passengers could descend easily. But why they are in the middle of a paddock is somewhat unclear. I head back up Dearne Hall Road though Lower Barugh. I have yet to locate Dearne Hall, assuming there was one to give the road its name. A white Victorian house, Alpha Villas has one area of roof tiled with some splendid scallop shaped slates. Unfortunately, the other sections of roof are of plain rectangular slate. At the junction of Barnsley Road and Barugh Lane, the road has a stone wall on either side. It was through here a branch line of the wonderfully named “Sheffield, Rotherham, Barnsley, Wakefield, Huddersfield and Goole Railway”, built in 1850, ran to Silkstone Colliery.
Sunday 24th April – Barnsley Canal, Old Mill – A female Mallard leads her brood of ducklings across the canal and into the safety of reeds. Bluebells are in flower high on the ravine that would have been below the old aqueduct. At the bottom of the ravine, there are huge lumps of masonry, remains of the aqueduct.
Monday 25th April – Wombwell Ings – Lapwings stand on the rough pasture, crests erect, watching and then pecking at the ground. As they bob over their rufous vents contrast with their bronze green backs and white chests. Mallard are flying around noisily. Skylarks are at various levels, some just rising from the fields, others invisible in the aether, yet their song is clear and loud. Fifty Golden Plover stand in the short shoots of wheat, their black bellies clearly visible. I note that what I have always called the sewage transfer ditch has a name on the map – Bullings Dike and the path past the hide is called Ings Road. Decent numbers of Shoveler and Teal are on the Ings. There are a couple of pairs of Gadwall but just a single Tufted Duck. Several pairs of Canada Geese and a couple of Grey Lags are on the far side. Swallows and a few Sand Martins sweep over the surface of the water. A pair of Mute Swan seem to be preparing an area for nesting on Gypsy Pond. A male Ruddy Duck bobs up and down again. On the far side is the confluence of rivers Dove and Dearne. Greenfinches sing nasally and Linnets twitter. Along the bank are clumps of the already enormous leaves of Giant Hogweed. A Blackcap sings from the bottommost branch of a tree beside the recreation ground.
Tuesday 26th April – Fleets Dam – A damp and grey morning. A V of seven Mute Swans flies over and on down the Dearne Valley. Three Grey Herons move around the lake, from landing stage to water purifiers and back. A Great Crested grebe preens itself. Suddenly the cry of a tern is overhead and a Common Tern is quartering the lake. It makes a couple of dives, the second successful and then moves off south. Four Black-headed Gulls, all in breeding plumage, fly in but do not tarry. Three drake Mallard swim lazily down the centre of the lake.
Wednesday 27th April – Netherwood Country Park – The area is sopping wet; there is standing water on the paths, but the sun shines. The River Dove is high and flowing fast. In the Silver Birches, Willow Warblers and Chaffinches are in song. As the conifer woods take over, Chiffchaffs dominate. Ransoms, Wild Garlic, fill the air with a musky scent. Two large trunks of an ancient Willow have crashed down, but leaves have emerged defiantly on the remaining trunks. A Jay cries out, annoyed at being disturbed. A turquoise jewel of a Kingfisher arrows upstream. Four Jays fly over the fields on the other side of the river. The path meets the old railway.
Thursday 28th April – Scout Dike – The lower section of the earth dam of the reservoir is covered with a thick plantation of firs. Over recent years these have been showing signs of distress and dying back. (Ref: Jan 2000) However, there is fresh green growth on many of them now. It is cool, wet and rather windy. Swallows sweep low over the water. There are a few Tufted Duck, Mallard, Canada Geese and Coot on the reservoir but no sign of Great Crested Grebes. A House Martin, my first this year, joins the Swallows. Up on Whitley Common, the wind turbines are spinning. In the plantation, Robins, Chaffinches and Blue Tits sing. Goldfinches twitter along the edge. Archangel is in flower, a delicate yellow lipped bloom, along the track that leads to the pumping station. It is sad to see all the windows have been replaced by boards – doubtless the result of mindless vandalism. Grey Wagtails, their sulphur breasts shining, feed in the wide overflow steps.
Barnsley Canal – Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers carry on singing into the afternoon, whilst many other species have fallen silent. Orange Tip butterflies fit along the tow path. A Cuckoo calls from the tall Ashes up the horse paddock towards Croft Farm. He occasionally flies around the top of the tree, long tail feathers fanned out, before settling and calling again with renewed vigour.
Friday 29th April – Carlton Marsh – The meadow between the marsh and railway is full of Cowslips. It takes me back to my childhood; the field opposite my grandparents house in Wivelsfield Green always contained masses of the pale yellow beauties, but they are now so much rarer. Willow Warblers are calling everywhere – it is wonderful to hear so many of these pretty little leaf warblers. Sedge Warblers are calling from the marsh below. On the main pool, there are a pair of Mute Swans (one seems particularly grey), nesting Canada Geese, Mallard and Tufted Duck. Spiders’ gossamer glints in the sunshine. Red Campion is in flower. Further along there is a snatch of the jug jug of a Reed Warbler, but it is difficult to hear it over the cacophony of Willow Warblers either side of me. A male Reed Bunting clings to a long dead reed in the middle of the marsh. A Pheasant croaks from behind me and a Green Woodpecker yaffles from far across the marsh. A Little Grebe dives in a small pool. I pick up a Blackbird egg shell from beside the path, so there is a nest with young nearby. A Hare lopes along the path ahead and disappears off down the bank to the open grassland. Across the bridge over the main road into Cudworth. A Whitethroat sings its scratchy sing-song from flowering Broom. A Jay lands high in a tree behind houses at West Green. Returning along beside the marsh and a Blackcap bursts into song. A birder kindly points out an old Magpie nest. Through my binoculars I can clearly see a Long-eared Owl on the nest.
Saturday 30th April – Barnsley Canal – April ends in typical fashion, raining, although this is continuous rain rather than showers. The songsters are still advertising their prowess but maybe with a little less enthusiasm. A pair of noisy Carrion Crows fly over Willowbank. Drumming comes from a telegraph pole that is hidden by the Hawthorn hedge along the tow path. When I get sight of it, the drumming has stopped and the two crows are sitting on the top of the pole. A few minutes later, either the same, or another pair of crows harass a Wood Pigeon that was sitting in a tree minding its own business. The crows clearly have mischief in mind.