April 1997

Wednesday 2nd April – Calder Grove – Walking Dill the Dog along the canal at Calder Grove this morning. Chaffinches, Blue Tits, Robins and Wrens all are singing from all directions. A Grey Heron flaps off towards the main river. As I head onto the old pit site, I locate a Chiffchaff that I had been hearing for some time. The area is covered with willows all blooming with yellow-grey fluffy flowers. Much twittering reveals the Redpoll flock I have found here before. However, this time there is also at least one Siskin in with them.

Scout Dyke – A visit in the afternoon on my way home. This is a reservoir just outside Penistone. There are some Goldfinches calling but not much else. I walk along the top of the dam and around the woods at the base of the dam and head back up the grass bank to the top. Just beside me in the woods a twig clatters down through the conifers. I look for the squirrel I assume had caused it. No sight so I go up to the dam top where is just about level with the top of the trees. I see a bird moving at the top of a tree, get the binos on it, and jump with joy – a Crossbill. There is a pair there, one is fairly brightly coloured with yellows and greens, but no noticeable red. The other is far duller. A Goldfinch and Chaffinch sit near the pair watching them and at one point the bird I think may be a male seems to suggest the Chaffinch might like to go away – it does not actually chase it off but its much larger bulk heading towards the Chaffinch gets the message home.

Thursday 3rd April – Calder Grove – The Redpoll flock is at the top of some Birches across the canal this morning. I am able to count over fifty, making the flock far larger than I had realised previously. A Grey Heron keeps moving down the canal and is probably annoyed that we keep disturbing it. Eventually it decides to move much further down the canal where it can get some peace. The Chiffchaff is still calling from the top of the trees surrounding the old pit site.

Saturday 5th April – Edderthorpe – A grim morning with a gale blowing across the flooded meadows. A pair of Shelduck flies around the field, flashing white and black. Another pair feed on the flashes below. The ten Whooper Swan are still in the winter wheat field. The three hundred strong flock of Golden Plover are also still present, seemingly crouching in the middle of the field, battened down against the incessant wind. The gleaming white edging to the males’ black breasts and bellies shine out against the golden backs which make good camouflage against the grassland. Last week the air was full of the calls of Lapwings peewitting and Golden Plovers piping, today there is only the rushing sound of air pulling at the Goat Willows and Silver Birches. A Sky Lark makes a brave effort at soaring up in song but probably only reaches about 40 feet before deciding to parachute back down again. As I walk back along the track towards the road, three of the Whooper Swans, the 747s of the avian world, rise up from the field and with almost a roar fly low over the flashes.

Tuesday 8th April – Redbrook – A Blackcap is singing at the top of willow on the waste ground.

Thursday 10th April – Westwood Country Park – The Willow Warblers have arrived overnight. Yesterday there was no sign of them, today at least half a dozen are singing in the park and four at Redbrook. A female Bullfinch is also calling at Westwood. The bird song has changed now – before it was predominately Blackbirds, Robins and Blue and Great Tits, now it is Chiffchaffs, Willow Warblers and Blackcaps.

Saturday 12th April – Wombwell Ings – Bright sunny day but the birding is quiet. A morning visit to Wombwell Ings produces little out of the ordinary. A large flock of Golden Plover is on the rough ground – they seem very twitchy and are possibly leaving soon for their breeding grounds. A couple of Shelduck are feeding on the Ings and a couple of Swallows fly over.

Barnsley Canal – In the afternoon I walk down to the canal. Willowbank is alive with Willow Warblers that are calling from seemingly every bush. Their song continues along the canal. Towards the end of the canal the area becomes marshy and there are small pools in the tussock grass. Dill the Dog decides she has been dry long enough and launches herself into a pool, emerges coughing furiously and then takes off charging in circles through the grasses. From a bush in the middle of the common land at the bottom of the valley comes a song that sounds like Great Tit but wrong. I quickly find the singer, a Willow Tit, the first time I have heard one make any call other than the diagnostic buzzing call. As we head back Mistle Thrushes are calling from the top of a row of Hawthorns and a pair of House Martins fly over, first of the year.

Sunday 13th April – Pugneys Country Park – An early start as a singing Grasshopper Warbler has been reported. I do not hear it but I am close to being deafened by the chorus of Wrens and Willow Warblers (whose old name, appropriately, was the Willow Wren). Splendid black-headed male Reed Buntings stand proud on the top of Willows. The Nature Lake is a screaming maelstrom of Black-headed Gulls – not quite as bad as Leighton Moss, but still quite noisy enough! Ruddy Ducks are diving and leaving a stream of ripples and bubbles in their trail. More than ten Cormorants stand on a concrete island, their white bellies indicating their youthfulness.

Anglers Country Park. – I start at the bottom of Cold Hiendley Reservoir for a change. Chiffchaffs are calling in the woods leading away from the water. But more loudly and persistently are the Blackcaps, their liquid warblings filling the spring air. A group of Bullfinches slip quietly through the hedgerow and off across the winter wheat field, their white rumps winking at me. From the ruins at the end of the reservoir I can overlook a small area of dense bushes and grasses. From somewhere in the middle comes the scratchy song of a Sedge Warbler, another first of the year, but I never actually locate him. I walk around the road towards the visitors’ centre. The sheep fields are verdant, sparkling with bright yellow Buttercups. On the Pol a lone Ringed Plover feeds and a pair of Redshank are busily consummating their partnership.

Monday 14th April – Calder Vale – The woods, as it would appear everywhere else, is full of the loud, gently falling song of Willow Warblers. A pair of Grey Wagtails flies along the canal and a Blackcap is singing at full volume from a Silver Birch over the tow path. The flock of Redpolls are nowhere to be seen now.