Tuesday 6th August – Blackburn Meadows – After a weekend of almost continuous rain, finally some brighter weather. Summer looks blown around the pools. Thistles are topped by whitish brown fluffy seed heads, grasses beginning to turn yellow. Teasels are in flower, bright lavender purple flowerets surrounding the spikes. A Great Black-backed Gull flaps lazily across the sky. A Pheasant croaks from across the meadow towards the Magma Project (an earth sciences display in a huge old rolling mill). Cinnabar Moth caterpillars infest Ragwort. A Grey Heron leans forward and steadily stalks some prey – a study of concentration. A Dabchick cries out and dives. House Martins are low over the water, Swifts somewhat higher in the sky. Ungainly young Coots strut around the mud.
Wednesday 7th August – Old Mill – Four small Moorhen chicks emerge from the reedy fringes beside the path. Their parent is some way away and apart from a loud squawk, seems uninterested in their cries as they motor away through the weed from a staring Dill the Dog. Suddenly a fifth appears and chases after its siblings. The Dearne has fallen after a dry day. Back along the canal, small fish break the surface. The weed cover is increasing, mainly Water Plantain and Water Soldier.
Saturday 10th August – Kessingland – A small community south of Lowestoft on the Suffolk coast. It is greatly enlarged during the summer by holiday makers who stay in the numerous chalet and caravan parks in the area. Below low crumbling cliffs there is a wide area of sand and shingle above the tide line. Classic seaside plants such as Sea Kale, Sea Holly and Yellow-horned Poppy (the flowers gone, just the leaves and the long horn of a seed pod) grow between clumps of Marram Grass and occasional Gorse. Sea Pea has also finished flowering except in a very few instances and the plants bear large pods of seeds. Sea Radish is still in flower, yellow flowers on a bushy plant. Flocks of Linnets and the occasional Meadow Pipits flit across the area. Jasper, Jo, Jemima and Peter’s Irish Wolfhound, Alsatian cross is huge. Dill the Dog can walk straight under his belly. Their play-fights look and sound quite terrifying but neither is hurt in the slightest.
Sunday 11th August – Minsmere – A quick visit to the famous reserve. Large numbers of Sand Martins flit around the area and return, often together as though synchronised, to their nests in a large sandy bank next to the visitor centre. Tall orchids bloom nest to the pool under the bank. Whirligig Beetles spin in the water like tops. Bright yellow flowers of Common Fleabane shine like the sun from the edges of the pools. A loud yaffle precedes a Green Woodpecker that flies across the bushy area. A gentle, but quite loud purring reveals a Turtle Dove on top of a Hawthorn. The sandy path is riddled with holes, burrows of solitary wasps. A Jay flies across a patch of scrub and lands low in a small bush. Numerous Peacock Butterflies feed on Hemp Agrimony. We look in vain for a Bearded Tit on the extensive reed beds. So off to one of the hides overlooking the pools. Outside the hide something is reeling loudly. A Lesser Whitethroat moves through the base of a bush but is not the source of the sound. Then a Wren appears, reeling away despite a beak full of insects. On the lagoons, Wood and Green Sandpipers are feeding furiously. A group of terns are noisy on a shingle spit. One is noticeably smaller – a Little Tern. Avocets gracefully sweep the mud for crustaceans. We move around to another hide. More Wood, Common and Green Sandpipers, Redshanks, Ruff and some Snipe. Suddenly a Bittern sweeps over the lagoon like a raptor and continues to fly to and fro over the reed bed giving wonderful views before dropping out of sight into the bed.
Kessingland – A few Swifts are feeding overhead. Most seem to have departed in the last week.
Monday 12th August – Oulton Broad – A large open stretch of water that leads into the River Waveney and the Norfolk Broads. Arctic Terns dive close to the edge of the path, ignoring the anglers. A Great Crested Grebe pops up with a silver fish which it throws onto the water and picks up repeatedly until it has it in the right position to swallow. Mute Swans glide past with one foot tucked up against their bodies and the other being used for gentle propulsion. Young Pied Wagtails check visitors’ crumbs. A pair of Egyptian Geese stand by the yacht station where many cruisers and yachts of all sizes are docked. A pair of traditional yacht sail down and dock. A pair of Norfolk Wherries come through the lock. They are traditional clinker built sailing boats of the Broads. They had a shallow draught and their main masts could be lowered to allow them under bridges. However, these two keep their masts high and the railway bridge is pivoted on a central pillar and both the road and foot bridges are raised. The locks are fully automated so just a push of a button releases the valve to lower the water level to that of the Broad and another to open the gates.
Carlton Marshes – A Suffolk Wildlife Trust Reserve a little upstream from Oulton Broad. It is a large area of reed bed and water meadow. Work will soon begin to improve the flooding of the water meadow and extend the reed beds. Despite reports of Marsh Harrier and Hobbies, we see little apart from numerous Wood Pigeons and decent numbers of Kestrels. A pair of the latter are chasing and tangling in the air. A hedgerow is alive with warblers (which are being very secretive – probably Willow Warblers) and Blue Tits. A Redshank calls across the fields. “What a lot of Whirligig Beetles,” says Peter looking at the ripples everywhere on a drainage ditch. “Err, some of them are rain drops,” comments Kay!
Tuesday 13th August – Holkham Hall, Norfolk – On our way back North we stop off on the Norfolk coasts. I mention that the woods just inside the entrance to Holkham Hall are good for Nuthatches and Woodpeckers and they do not disappoint, several of the former, a brief view of a Great Spotted Woodpecker and a calling Green Woodpecker. Many Blue Tits are moving through the tree tops. Lunch by the lake – Egyptian Geese on the banks and a large flock of gulls and Jackdaws on a field opposite. We pass a large flock of Roe Deer as we return to the car park. They are clearly unhappy about the proximity of Dill the Dog, who pretty much ignores them. Several of the deer are very dark, almost black on their backs.
Titchwell Marsh – A brief visit to this wonderful RSPB reserve. Large numbers of Black-tailed Godwits are feeding in the shallow lagoon. Some are still in breeding plumage, a gorgeous chestnut red. Avocets, Redshank, Oystercatchers and Ruff are all feeding. Ringed Plovers scurry across the sand. A few Golden Plover have arrived in summer plumage, black chests and bellies setting off their golden backs. Just as we leave, a female Marsh Harrier swoops over the reed beds.
Tuesday 20th August – Barnsley Canal – Grey Herons stand motionless in the dead trees in the Loop. House Martins call excitedly as they chase insects in the morning sun. A large bronze Dragonfly hawks the reeds. Blue Tits chatter. Suddenly a large flock of Goldfinches twitter as they travel down the Hawthorn hedge.
Wednesday 21st August – Barnsley Canal – A Linnet sings from a branch from the northern stretch of this part of the canal. Dill the Dog has disappeared. I call and then hear coughing from the direction of the muddy pond hidden in trees. Out comes a soaking wet dog. Blackberries are beginning to ripen plentifully. I collect some and simmer them with some windfall apples from the garden and some sugar. Pass through a sieve to remove the pips and pulp. When the juice has cooled, I half fill some plastic cups and put them in the freezer. When half frozen, a plastic garden plant marker is inserted to serve as stick and back into the ice box again. It takes a while, but out come delicious ice lollies the following day.
Thursday 22nd August – Aire and Calder Navigation (Barnsley Branch), Cold Hiendley to Old Royston – The canal is overgrown and green, but the tow path has been restored well enough. Workmen from Wakefield Council are strimming the weeds and grasses and cutting back branches along its route. The canal turns sharply after a while and heads south. Common Toadflax, Hawkweeds and Purple Loosestrife are growing in profusion. The canal travels through a cutting. Bare rock has eroded down in places. It is a soft mudstone that cleaves easily. I find little in the rock, just a couple of what could be fossilised plant stems. A train passing on the other side of the cutting, evidently in a cutting of its own as it cannot be seen, upsets some Jays that fly off noisily. A few Boletus and Amanita fungi are growing on the side of the cutting.
Sunday 25th August – West Yorkshire – Off to a National Waterways event in Huddersfield. The canal is lined for miles with canal boats. Interestingly, most of them have been built in the last twenty years. A number of dogs there have spotted red kerchiefs tied around their necks. I tell Dill the Dog she has no chance! We then cross over to Oakwell House on the Batley to Bradford road. There is a open day there. Lots of stalls selling the usual jams, pot plants, old books, alternative healing objects and various draws and pot luck games. A nice old roundabout for the children as well as a Punch and Judy show. A jug band plays in the old stables courtyard. There is a falconry display underway when we arrive. Nice to see a Sakar in flight, even if it is not tickable.
Tuesday 27th August – Barnsley Canal – A Sparrowhawk flies across Willowbank – flap, flap, glide – clearly searching the ground beneath. Willow Warblers wheep gently in the bushes either side of the canal. A Bullfinch slips quietly into the Hawthorns. Large Sow Thistles are blooming bright yellow. Also yellow are the buttons of Tansy. Himalayan Balsam is blooming in greater quantities every year – pretty but a pernicious weed really. I collect a decent number of Blackberries. Elderberries are also ripening to a deep purple. A Chiffchaff half-heartedly sings. House Martins are noisy high in the sky above.
Thursday 29th August – Barnsley Canal, Old Mill – Blue Tits chatter in the Silver Birches on the steep slope above the canal. A number of small Roach swim close to the water’s surface, their red fins and tail clearly visible. A Chiffchaff calls, a sad apology for its Spring song. The Japanese Knotweed has returned despite being cut down last year and is now in blossom.
Home – There are numerous young frogs and toads about the garden. Dill the Dog will spend hours staring at the clumps of grass in which they have hidden. The apple trees have varying crops – the eaters by the greenhouse are numerous, large and luscious. The tree in the wooded area has produced only one, huge apple. The cookers are far less prolific this year as are two of the other eaters. The one near the wooded area has done better. I really must get these trees identified! Riesentraube tomatoes in the greenhouse are doing well and many of the cherry-like fruits with a little nipple at the base have ripened. A plum tomato plant is doing relatively well, although I have failed to identify it. Runner Beans and Courgettes are still cropping wonderfully. Beetroot will soon have to be pulled, but the Red Onions look a near complete failure. I am bemused by the continued presence of tadpoles in one of the pool – why have they not developed into frogs?