August 1997

Saturday 2nd August – Worsbrough – The banks of the disused railway at Worsbrough are ablaze with colour. The pinks of Thistles, Willowherbs (Fireweed) and Mallows, the yellow of Ragwort and Toadflax and the paler shades of daisies and white Foxgloves. The last are at the end of the flowering season and many tall green spikes with just one or two flowers at the very top are bent over by the weight of the seed pods. It seems odd that only the scarce white variety are still in flower. All is quiet on the reservoir. A Great Crested Grebe is being followed by its chick which is only slightly smaller than the parent. A small Oak is host to masses of parasitic galls, still small like pale red berries. In the later afternoon I wander along Willowbank. Here the Ragwort is being feasted upon by Cinnabar Moth caterpillars whilst the flowers are being visited by Honey Bees. Larger Solitary Bees are visiting the Rosebay Willowherb. A few Gatekeeper butterflies are flitting in the hot sun. Further down the hill Green-veined Whites are feeding on Bramble flowers. The only bird sounds in the area are Willow Tits buzzing at each other.

Sunday 3rd August – Edderthorpe – A cloudy and cooler day. As I get out of the car at Edderthorpe there is a Green Woodpecker making half-hearted gurgles in the woods over the river. A Yellowhammer is calling from a nearby bush and Wood Pigeons coo gently. The river is slow and sluggish with weeds covering much of the surface. Aromatic Tansy, Knapweed, Ribbed and White Melilot and Mugwort are all growing alongside the path. Large bushes of Broom have black and twisted seed pods that have exploded, scattering the seed violently over several metres. A small pool contains a Coot with a pair of very young chicks, who are squeaking loudly to gain attention. On the Pit Pool are five Ruddy Duck, three males still resplendent with their rich brown backs and bright powder blue bills. Reed Warblers chuckle in the large Phragmites bed, a couple burst into song but it is hesitant and lacks the full throated power of the spring song. Dill the Dog and I tramp along beside the old railway, the lumps of ballast forming ankle twisting obstacles. We have a short walk on the railway bed itself, which Dill the Dog loathes. Scanning the flash reveals little, a few Mallard and Shoveler in eclipse, a flock of Lapwings and Black-headed Gulls and the ever present Canada Geese. A Whitethroat hops between bushes below the railway. Five Grey Herons sit about 10 metres apart along the top of the dyke like a row of sentries. As we plod back a Yellowhammer is belting out its song, the only singer I have heard that still sounds as if he means it. A Weasel pops its head up from under the fence but soon disappears when it sees us approaching.

Thursday 7th August – Bretton Woods – A warm morning that turns into a seriously hot day. I have a wander along a path that runs to the north of West Bretton village. A track leads off through the trees to a small lake. A Moorhen leads a couple of tiny chicks into the reed beds. A shadow rises and turns in the water causing a small ripple – a Carp? Suddenly, overhead there are a mass of jip jip calls and a flock of 37 Crossbills wheel around. They are very flighty and will not settle on any of the pines around the lake, so I do not get a good view. After a few minutes they disappear eastwards. Retracing my steps along the path I am passed by a large Hawker dragonfly, probably the Gold-ringed Dragonfly – well named for its glorious black and yellow ringed body. I visited again in the early evening. Fish were splashing against the surface and a decent sized shoal of Roach with some Goldfish darted to and fro just under the water. A beautiful Small Copper butterfly rested on some dock.

Friday 8th August – Redbrook – The heatwave continues. Red Field Grasshoppers sunned themselves on the parched, gritty soil at Redbrook, taking flight as I approached.

Saturday 9th August – Silkstone Fall – A morning stroll around the woods. There is almost silence, just the occasional squeak from a Blue Tit, and a vague hum of passing insects. A mature Stinkhorn stands beside the path, its odorous head covered with large black flies – not one of nature’s prettier sights.

Sunday 10th August – Anglers Country Park – A mist has lowered the temperatures this morning, although doubtless it will burn off (indeed, it did and by midday it was sweltering again). There were at least twenty Great Crested Grebes on Cold Hiendley Reservoir. A juvenile Common Tern bounced in the air above the water. I followed the abandoned and mainly choked canal though Haw Park, near the bottom of the reservoir. There are soft brown sandstone bridges and concrete posts holding rusted wheels, whose use is not immediately obvious. I did not have to look at the small trees beside the path to identify them as Hazels, the cobs empty shells were crunching under my feet. Each cob nut had a neat hole drilled into it and the meat removed. The Grey Squirrels responsible were still around as Dill the Dog regularly got excited by some movement in the tree canopy. However, little else moved in the woods. A juvenile Robin, still brown and spotted stares at me. A flock of strangely quiet Long-tailed Tits fluttered around the leaves of a Sycamore – leaves spotted black with fungal disease. Further along the tow path a Wren called incessantly. The path then entered a channel through sandstone banks, between fifteen and thirty feet high. Trees grew seemingly straight out of the layered stone, some none too stable in their position whilst others had already outgrown their tenuous perches and crashed down over the canal. In this cutting insects were far louder and the air was constantly buzzing. (The “Summer” track on Walter (or more correctly Wendy) Carlos’ Sonic Seasonings captures this perfectly). Eventually the path reached Waterton Hall, now an hotel. I am not sure the posh looking guests were too impressed with a sweat soaked scruff with a mad dog wandering through the car park. We climbed the hill and back into the woods. A couple of Wigeon in eclipse were preening on the lake below and a small flock of Canada Geese watched us warily, although I think they were more at risk from some of the wayward drives from the golfers. Back through Haw Park again revealed little. Roll on autumn!

Monday 11th August – Scunthorpe – Work takes me to this town in North Lincolnshire. The M180 cuts through the flatlands – fields of grain and the occasional greens interspersed with straggly woodland and hedgerows. I park in a large cutting dug out in Victorian times for the railway. Beyond the car park is a nature reserve. An area of grassland and marsh, which is pretty dry after the recent weather. Dill the Dog charges to and fro the grass despite the 31°C heat. Along the edge of the marsh grows stands of Hemp Agrimony, a rare plant in these areas. There are also Knapweeds, Thistles and some Field Marigolds. Grasshoppers by the dozen jump off the hot asphalt path into the grasses.

Saturday 16th August – Mirfield – The plan was to walk up the Calder-Hebble Navigation from Dewsbury, but it did not quite work out that way. Firstly, I could find no way onto the canal at Dewsbury so I headed up to Mirfield and started walking the tow path north. Just past the town centre there is a large area of boat yards with canal boats up in the yards and many tied up along the sides. Some are dilapidated but others have been newly restored and gleam in their bright fresh paint work. Just past the boat yard the canal joins the River Calder. There are two large rusty trumpet shaped pillars in the middle of the river – all that is left of what must have been a fairly impressive bridge. Unfortunately, the tow path disappears and there is no way along side the river. So I return back down the canal and head towards Dewsbury. A few Mallards in eclipse clatter down stream. Just before the Shepley Bridge basin there is a family of Shelduck – a surprising sight here. Again there are canal barges tied up along the docks. Even the old crane remains but looks little used these days. Again, shortly after the basin, the canal joins the river and the path peters out. I sit for a while watching a reed bed, which is being visited by the odd Goldfinch and a large dragonfly hawks.

Sunday 17th August – Penistone – An abandoned railway runs from Penistone out into the Pennines and on towards Manchester. I pick it up at Bull House Lane, but with some difficulty. The well marked line has a nicely made up fenced path leading of the bridge at the Penistone side of the main A628 but the other side is blocked by a commercial yard. Getting onto the path requires climbing a dry stone wall – a task that took several scrambling attempts by Dill the Dog. The path continues under a road bridge which still has its steam guards intact. The first of four Green Woodpeckers I find is clinging onto a telegraph pole watching me before lumbering away. Thirty-three Mistle Thrushes are sitting on the wires. The flora along the path includes Great, Rosebay and Broad-leaved Willowherbs, Knapweed, Field Scabious, Harebells, St John’s Wort (several kinds), Tufted Vetch and Toadflax. The old station at Hazelhead has been converted into a very nice residential unit. As the moors approached the fields become more rugged. A small valley beside the line has a stream running through it. A stone sheep dip has been sunk near the stream. On the way back a family of Spotted Flycatchers squabble with Willow Warblers (which are present in splendid numbers) high on the side of a cutting. Many of the Willow Warblers are very yellow, indicating first winter status.

Saturday 23rd August – Silkstone Fall – The morning started with heavy rain. Tramping around the woods revealed very little. A lot of Earthballs are now growing to full size, pity they are poisonous. Another inedible species, a bracket fungus covered a dead Silver Birch stump and the trunk lying on the sodden earth.

Pugney’s Country Park – The sun came out later in the day so a visit to the park. The heat of the sun and the incredible humidity had me soaked in seconds. Not that it worried Dill the Dog, who charged around regardless. I walked along side a drainage ditch full of Reed Mace and other aquatic flora. Great Willowherb covered the edge of the ditch. Dragonflies were everywhere, tiny near invisible needles of brown, sliver and blue to giant brown monsters that whirred through the Willows. They compared with the little Bell helicopters and the giant, twin rotor troop carriers. Heading along the bank of the River Calder I climbed up the bank to look over the fishing pond. At first it seemed birdless then I noticed a Sandpiper on a concrete knob sticking out of the water. It was dark enough for a Green Sandpiper, but when it flew off, there was no white rump but clear white wing bars; I can only assume it was a dark Common Sandpiper. I was making a note about this and a butterfly that I later checked out to be a Wall Brown, when there was a thud behind me. Dill the Dog had fallen down the bank onto the path. She just stood there with what can only be described as a silly laugh on her face before trotting off up the river – I despair! A little further, on the river bank, was a large area of Lesser Bindweed, pink-edged white trumpets on a carpet of green leaves. A spider had built a web across several and sat waiting in the centre. Several varieties of bees visited the flowers. Over the road are the soap manufacturing waste stacks – huge piles of soda mud hardened to rock. A tiny apple tree grew out of the side of the stack, carrying some apples. I picked half a dozen but the close proximity of Hawthorns resulted in a few scratches for my prizes.

Sunday 24th August – Wombwell Ings – The persistent showers are practically continuous rain as I stomp towards the hide. I hope the weather will have caused a fall of migrants, but it is not so. On the Ings are four Greenshank, whose movement always makes me think they are about to topple forward onto their beaks. A Green Sandpiper is at first sleeping on the mud, then starts to scurry around feeding. There are several Snipe chasing around or probing the mud with their long bills. Well over one hundred Teal are sifting the mud or searching the grassy meadow for food. All the males are in eclipse. Pied and Yellow Wagtails, mainly juveniles, run through the churned up mud hunting insects. Those other insectivores, Swallows, are sweeping low over the water and common land. A group of Mallard feeding on the mud suddenly panics and takes to the water as a Grey Heron swoop low over them and lands in the water. On Broomhill Flash a flock of seventeen Greylags eye me suspiciously as I scan for a reported Pintail. But the rain defeats me and I retreat.

Monday 25th August – Wombwell Ings – Drier conditions than yesterday. Much the same species as yesterday, although a pair of winter plumaged Ruff drop in. As I am wandering back along the path a Merlin being harassed by Swallows shoots over the dyke and disappears into the hedgerows in the adjoining fields. There are small groups of white toadstools growing out of the horse dung, one of the Panaeolus group, possibly the one rejoicing in the name of the Dung Mottle-gill. My normal route onto the new wet lands has been fenced off, but it is clear from what I can see that ducks and gulls are finding the new surroundings to their satisfaction. Beside the disused road running near the Ings I find plenty of ripe Sloes and pick enough for this year’s Sloe Gin.

Blackburn Meadows – I then head off towards Rotherham. Just past Greasborough, a Sparrowhawk shoots across the road hard on the tail of an unidentifiable SBJ, (Small Brown Job – an indentified small brown bird) the latter swerves into the roadside hedgerow and escapes. Blackburn Meadows is quiet, except for the large flock of Swallows and House Martins feeding high overhead. There are a few flowers that looks like one of the Evening Primroses growing beside the path. There are also large numbers of flowers that have been confusing me for a while now. They are purple with yellow centres, and I have seen them growing down the canal in profusion. Checking the books once again, I come to the conclusion that they must be Michaelmas Daisies.

Saturday 30th August – Wombwell Ings –The fine day forecast is, in fact, continuous rain. The ings is lively though with large numbers of Teal and Snipe. There is also a couple of Curlew Sandpipers, several Greenshank and three Ruff. The Coot flock is beginning to build up, but there are still some very young chicks amongst them. Passage Sand Martins are swooping low over the stubble fields.

Sunday 31st August – Anglers Country Park – So the month departs in grey and gloom. Little is happening as I plod around the lakes. The grass is soaked which pleases Dill the Dog who has a fine roll and stands there with her punky spiked hair. A large flock of Black-headed Gulls are feeding on the sheep field. The Mallards, Teal and Tufted Duck all seem a bit unsettled, flying around the area. Maybe they sense the storm that hits several hours later. I am back home by now – thankfully. The rain is torrential and the guttering around the roof cannot cope, so it waterfalls down in front of the windows. Lightning takes out a sub-station so the area loses electricity for about half an hour.