August 1998

Saturday 1st August – Wombwell Ings – A Sparrowhawk flaps steadily over the fields, jinking now and then to check a piece of ground. Mallard, Canada Geese and Lapwings glean the harvested wheat field. The water level on the ings is low with a large area of mud exposed. There are large numbers of Mallard, Teal, Shoveler (one with young) and Gadwall on the water – all the males in eclipse. A pair of Greylags swim around. The mud is being probed by the long bills of Common Snipe and a lone Greenshank. Unusual visitors are three sleeping Oystercatchers. Bubblegum pink legs whirr as Ringed Plovers chases insects on the mud. Coot also have young, but only two. A pair of Great Crested Grebe dive. The rain gets more persistent. Swallows, House and Sand Martins are all bunched together on a dead bush in the middle of the ings. A Common Tern passes over calling.

Sunday 2nd August – Anglers Country Park – The drive to Anglers is in bright sunshine but the cloud cover manages to get there just as I do! A Linnet with breast ablaze sings from a Willow by the Pol. A family of Whitethroats chatters noisily. Equally noisy is a young Great Crested Grebe following its parent on Anglers Lake. Purple Loosestrife stands tall at the edge of a pool. The total avian representation on the Pol is a lone Moorhen, although a Sedge Warbler chatters over the back somewhere. Single Great Black-backed Gulls pass over.

Tuesday 4th August – Barnsley Canal – Although there is bright sunshine, a strong northerly wind creates a considerable wind chill. A family group of Greenfinches chatter and wheeze from a bush top beside the canal. The Mute Swan family is asleep on the nursery nest, but the cob is awake and watchful as soon as Dill the Dog approaches. There is Fox spraint on the path here but it is unlikely a Fox will be a threat to the swans.

Thursday 6th August – Barnsley Canal –At last summer has put in an appearance. Sun shines down on Willowbank. There are good numbers of finches in the bushes near the canal – Bullfinches, Goldfinches and Chaffinches. A single tiny Moorhen chick runs across the putrating carpet of Duckweed after its parent. A Grey Heron preens in a dead tree in the loop. The Mute Swan cygnets are beginning to develop feathers on their wings. Blue, Great and Willow Tits are calling from the canal-side Hawthorns. Two naturalised flowers are common along the edge of the canal – Michaelmas Daisy and Spirea.

Saturday 8th August – Edderthorpe – The ings at Edderthorpe are now extensive – the majority of the meadow is flooded. On the old pit pond, Ruddy Duck and Little Grebe dive. There is a brief glimpse of a Turtle Dove on the fence lining the track that bisects the pit pond and meadow. Four Grey Herons fly across the water. There are good numbers of Coot and Tufted Duck. Overhead are Barn Swallows, Sand Martins and Swifts. Black-headed Gulls, many losing their hoods, preen on the fence posts. There are more Little Grebes on the ings. At the far end, by the old flash, there is a large flock of Lapwings. On the far side of the meadow is the disused railway and the equally abandoned Grimethorpe colliery complex. However, it is now not so abandoned as a new road is under construction – a link between Grimethorpe and the A1-M1, Dearne Valley link. Hopefully, a route to bring jobs back to the blighted Grimy area. From the railway the mud on the flooded meadow can be viewed more clearly. About fifteen Dunlin and half a dozen Little Plovers are feeding. A Coot has a large brood of young. A pair of Great Crested Grebe sail majestically around, although the water does not seem deep enough for diving. Several Snipe and a Redshank join the waders. There is another wader present but it is feeding in the longer grass and, frustratingly, out of view most of the time. Along further there are more waders on the mud – Green Sandpipers, Common Sandpipers, Greenshank and Redshank. Large numbers of eclipsed Mallard and Teal feed upended. Heading back and a Wood Pigeon flies over carrying nesting material. Back along the track where Dill the Dog surprises a large covey of Red-legged Partridges. A Kingfisher sits on the barbed wire beside the meadow.

Sunday 9th August – Pugney’s Country Park – Not actually the Country park, but the newly landscaped sand pits opposite. A large flock of moulting Black-headed Gulls mingle on the bank with Lapwings and Starlings and a single Common Gull. Half a dozen Common Terns, mainly juveniles are in the flock. An Arctic Tern fishes over the lake. A decent sized flock of Sand Martins feed high in the sunlit sky. Back down towards Crigglestone where the road crosses the M1 beside Wooley Edge Service Station. A track leads off parallel to the motorway along a ridge – well below the Wooley Edge ridge itself. The presence of several circular stone constructions (rather disfiguringly but probably sensibly surrounded by razor wire) reveals that this is above the Barnsley-Wakefield railway line. Great Willowherb stands some seven feet high, its purple-pink flowers high above me. The track drops down into thick woods and then ends up in a field of Linseed, which although sign posted, has no obvious route.

Tuesday 11th August – Barnsley Canal – Honeysuckle still blooms in the hedge at the bottom of the paddock by Smithies Lane – the end of this section of canal. Goldfinches fly around the trees by the footbridge, and Robins, Blackbirds and Tits sing snatches of songs. A pair of Goldcrests move along the Hawthorn hedge. The Mute Swan family is all busy preening on the nursery nest. The cygnets now have distinct primaries and possibly secondaries. A Mistle Thrush rasps high overhead. A Moorhen clucks warning to her chicks as they glide into the rushes.

Saturday 15th August – Wombwell Ings – The rains of the previous night have cleared and the sun is bright. The day still has an autumnal feeling about it – the fields of yellow stubble, Ragwort turning brown as it seeds, white fluffy seeds of the Thistles and the bright rust brown of Dock. Three Greenshank call continuously before flying off northwards. Seven Grey Herons stalk the Ings. Young Pied and Yellow Wagtails search the mud, moving between the preening Lapwings. The mud also provides a larder for a Dunlin, Green Sandpiper and two more Greenshank. On the water Shovelers, Teal, Coots and Great Crested Grebe feed or preen. A Grey Heron darts into the water and raises its bill holding a wriggling fry. An Arctic Tern hawks and dives over the surface of the water.

Broomhead Woods – The only sounds in the wood are running water and gently sighing leaves – and the occasional splutter from Dill the Dog as she sticks her nose into grass, bracken, brambles and the stream. Insects sparkle in the bright sunlight. A Wren suddenly rasps from the undergrowth, then the quiet returns

Midhopestones – The moors are glowing purple with blossoming Heather. A Willow Tit buzzes from the trees lining the stream into the reservoir. I scan the long dry stone wall that stretches across the moor for Merlin, but nothing. A raptor emerges from the conifer woods by the reservoir and disappears as quickly as it came. Its dark brown back means a juvenile Sparrowhawk or Goshawk. A sizeable flock of gulls is on Langsett Reservoir, but in the reflected glare of the sun and all facing away. The majority are juvenile Lesser Black-backed or Herring Gulls – discerning which is which or the possible presence of michahelis is impossible. There are good numbers of House Martins ands Swallows over the fields and villages. A Weasel stands in the middle of the road watching my car approach, but darts off before I have to slow down.

Sunday 16th August – The Dearne Valley – Broomhill Flash is shining in the morning sun. Time is spent on the eclipse wildfowl – Mallard, Teal, Gadwall and Shoveler. Migrant waders present are Green Sandpipers, Redshank and Ruff.

Wombwelll Ings – As I walk down the path below the dyke at Wombwell Ings, a Swift flies low over the wheat stubble. The hide is surrounded by travellers horses, which rather block the view. Dill the Dog is OK with them, standing on the bench with her forepaws on the ledge watching them. However, she is less impressed when one shoves his huge head in through the window! A small flock of Goldfinches feeds on the rough pasture along with Starlings and young Pied and Yellow Wagtails. The usual motley crew of eclipse duck, including a quite decent number of Shovelers, are preening on the mud. Suddenly, Dill the Dog cannot stand it any more and lets rip a bark which moves the horses on, for which I am grateful. However, I feel obliged to admonish her for barking at other creatures! A number of Snipe feed along the edge of a channel leading into the ings.

Edderthorpe Flash – More Swifts feed over Edderthorpe. There are also four more Ruff here. Over 25 Little Grebe are diving around Coot and Tufted Duck. Ten Grey Herons stalk the flooded field. Cormorants sit on an old fence sticking out of the water. Greenshank, Dunlin, Little Plovers and Green Sandpipers are flighty and keep chasing around the water, alighting only for a few minutes. Terns and Black-headed Gulls swoop over the old flash, but the light is bad and most birds are little more than silhouettes. Linnets twitter from the barbed wire around the pit pool. A large concentration of wildfowl is resting or preening at the far end of the old flash. Great Crested Grebe and Ruddy Duck dive near them. Three Grey Partridge run along the farm track that leads back to the road. Suddenly a covey of ten or more explodes from the long grass beside the track. A Willow Warbler feeds and calls a gentle wheep appropriately from a Willow beside the Dearne. A Grey Wagtail bobs on a rock under the road bridge. A Weasel runs across the road near Cudworth.

Pugney’s Country Park – Three Arctic Terns scream and squabble above the lake. A Great Crested Grebe dives near the edge, sensibly avoiding the dinghies and sail boards. Good numbers of Sand Martins sweep across the water helped by the strengthening wind. I visit the hide and leave £250 poorer having purchased a pair of Opticron SR GAs. Over to the quarry pond for a reported Wood Sandpiper. Have a frustrating time trying to turn firstly a Greenshank and then a Common Sandpiper into the Wood Sand. But eventually a beautifully marked Wood Sandpiper emerges from the reeds. On the main quarry lake Canada Geese honk and drift around. Juvenile Terns sit on the shingle along with a flock of Black-headed Gulls.

Monday 17th August – Barnsley Canal – House Martins chatter in the bright morning sky. Willow Warblers are singing a short trunk of their spring song. A charm of Goldfinches twitter by the bridge. A faint rainbow shines ephemerally to the north.

Wednesday 19th August – East Sussex – A early morning mist lingers on the South Downs. Through to Rye and out across the Camber road. Check the gulls at a flooded gravel pit and eventually fail to turn a pale Lesser Black-back into a Yellow-legged. At the next pit Sand Martins flit across the water chirruping. Again a strange looking juvenile gull has me thinking. At Dungerness, the first plants seen are Horned Poppies. The birding is not too good, the only sighting of note being a Wood Warbler. There are good numbers of probably migrating warblers around – Whitethroats, Garden and Sedge Warblers and a few Wheatears. It was disconcerting when the nuclear power station regularly let off steam. Plants around the area include Great Mullein, standing erect nearly 6 feet high (and which I elect to rename the Viagra plant), large stands of Purple Loosestrife and Viper’s Bugloss.

Hollingbury Camp, Brighton – It is very strange to walk through woods in which I virtually spent all of my childhood and recognise next to nothing. I had not been up the track beside the allotments since the mid 80s. Since then the storm of ’87 has felled almost every one of the massive Beeches that made up Hollingbury woods. Many other species of plant have leapt into the void and established themselves, totally changing the whole landscape. Unfortunately this means I fail on what I was hoping was going to be a cheap lifer – Ring-necked Parakeet. They have been in the trees near the old corporation yard since the early sixties, but now no trees and no lifers. Over the golf course and up onto Hollingbury Camp – an Iron Age fort as children we used to incorrectly call the Roman Camp. There are three Wheatears standing alert on the gorse bushes and triangulation pillar. To the east the view looks out to Lewes and Mount Caburn, crawling with paragliders. To the south Brighton and west the Downs stretch on across Devils Dyke, another Iron Age fort and on into West Sussex. Here the Great Willowherb has virtually finished flowering and is scattering its downy seed into the wind. Greater Knapweed, Wild Parsnip and Hemp Agrimony are all flowering.

Thursday 20th August – Brighton – It is cool and overcast on Brighton race course. There is little around, apart from a male Sparrowhawk shooting out of a long Privet hedge bordering abandoned allotments. There is little happening at sea either. A few Gannets head west and various gulls roam the wave tops.

Beachy Head – Here the South Downs end spectacularly in sheer, pure white chalk sea cliffs. The cliffs called the Seven Sisters lay to the West – Went Hill Brow, Bailey’s Brow, Flagstaff Point, Brass Point, Rough Brow, Short Brow and Haven Brow. Wheatears bob indignantly around as Dill the Dog and I walk over their grassland. At sea things are still pretty quiet although a passing Bonxie enlivens the morning. A Fulmar Petrel races past the cliff top on stiff wings, banking left and right to change direction. Westwards along the coast to the Belle Tout outlook. Jackdaws chack on the edge of the cliff top. More Gannets now, moving east.

A little further west is Horseshoe Plantation, a small copse of mainly Sycamore. Goldfinches twitter from bushes beside the wood and a Green Woodpecker yaffles from within. Through the other side of the plantation, the steep downside leading up to the cliff edge is multicoloured with yellow Ragwort, a yellow sort of Spear Thistle and Mouse-eared Hawkweed, cream coloured Carline Thistles, purple Greater and Black Knapweed, Thyme and Stemless Thistle, mauves of Devilsbit and Field Scabious and Clustered Bellflower and white Honewort. A family of Stonechats flits around the stunted bushes. A pair of Willow Warblers, one richly pale yellow, emerge from a privet like bush. Linnets on brambles. An hour later I have only walked a couple of hundred metres – so many flowers to try (and often fail) to identify and small birds to be checked. In the woods stalks of the vermilion berries of Cuckoo Pints stand erect. A Wall Brown and Speckled Woods fly through beside the woodland path.

Ditchling Beacon – A high point on the South Downs north of Brighton. The scarp face of the down drops steeply to the Weald below stretching away to the distant North Downs. The Weald was once a dense Oak forest, home to bears, lynxes and wild boar but they are all long gone. A lot of wood remains, but the old forest was felled, firstly to provide charcoal for an early iron industry and then to provide the huge Oak timbers of England’s great navies, including Drake’s fleet that routed the Spanish Armada. Here on the beacon, history stretches back far further with an Iron Age fort.

Ditchling Common – The area of rough ground, gorse and pond I remember as a youth is now Ditchling Common Country Park! In a reedy area there is a decent display of Fleabane, large shiny yellow flowers brightening the now overcast afternoon. Long-tailed Tits and Willow Warblers chase through the trees around the pond. There are beautiful white Water Lilies on the pond. Returning via Plumpton Green a plantation on the scarp of the Downs of trees in a V shape is visible for miles. I have always been told that the trees were planted just after the First World War to commemorate the victory. However, I now learn that they are Spruce Firs planted in 1887 to commemorate Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria. To the east is King Harry’s Mount where an earlier war was settled when in 1264 Simon de Montfort’s army was defeated by King Henry III.

Friday 21st August – Pagham Harbour – A strong wind does not help birding! On Fiddlers Pool – Shelduck, three Black-tailed Godwit, Ruff, Teal and Stock Doves. Out on the salt marsh – Curlew, Little Egrets, Grey Heron, Redshank and Oystercatcher. But then, disappointment, checking the tide tables would have been a good move. Virtually no mud was showing. However, we still find summer plumaged Grey Plover, large numbers of Cormorants, Turnstones and Ringed Plover. A Green Woodpecker flew up from the broad field edge, calling loudly. Another followed it, silently. Back near the car park, Whitethroat, Willow Warblers and Blue Tits chased around the bushes. A small flock of Dunlin feed. There is a lot of excitement in the hide about a larger wader with the Dunlin. I state that the bird is only a little larger than a Dunlin and could be a northern bird which are larger. Everything else about it says Dunlin. Everyone seems to disagree with me but no-one manages to come up with a different identification! We next checked out Selsey but nothing was out at sea.

Saturday 22nd August – Brighton – Wild Park drops down to the Lewes Road from Hollingbury Camp. This place feels very strange as it really has not changed since I first walked these paths 35 years ago. It is the sheer familiarity that is odd! Trees were brought down by the Storm of ’87 but unlike in most places, their moss covered trunks remain along with the large disk of chalk, covered in plants, that was ripped from the earth when the tree was uprooted. It is quiet in the woods high on the slope but towards the bottom, the slope steepens and opens out into Hawthorn scrub. Here flocks of Long-tailed Tits chase across the hillside and Blue and Great Tits dart from bush to bush.

Sunday 23rd August – Devil’s Dyke, Brighton – Another top on the Downs and another Iron Age Fort. The Downs stretch westwards and the Weald lays flat under a grey sky, wrinkled like an elephant’s hide. Mist lingers at the foot of the North Downs, some forty miles away. A few columns of smoke rise from farms below. In the distance is Chanctonbury Ring, a ring of trees planted on the top of Chanctonbury Hill, looks sad with only a few straggling specimens left, the others victim of the Storm of ’87. I thought to celebrate Victoria’s Golden Jubilee (note the comment above about the Spruce Fir V on the Downs near Lewes). However, again, I am wrong as the Beeches were planted in 1760 by Charles Goring of Wiston. He wrote in 1828:

The escarpment slope is patterned by small land slips leaving it looking like muscle cells. We walk round to the Dyke itself, a deep valley curving into the down. It is told that the folk of the Sussex Weald were a Godly lot and this upset the Devil. So he decided to teach them a lesson and started to dig a channel through the Downs from Saddlescombe to the sea so that the Weald would be flooded. So great were his shovelfulls of earth that one that he threw over into the sea became the Isle of Wight. However, a woman, catching sight of him put a lamp in her window and her cockerel thought it was dawn and crowed. This made the Devil think it was dawn and he fled, leaving the job unfinished.

Monday 24th August – West Yorkshire – Caldervale – A large flock of House Martins feed above the trees in the cloud-laden sky. Many flowers are now finished, only Himalayan Balsam still showing bright pink. The enquiring wheep of a Willow Warbler sounds from the dense woodland. Teasels are still blushed with purple.

Wednesday 26th August – Barnsley Canal – A Grey Heron rises from the canal and heads off to a less disturbed part of the valley. Overhead a Carrion Crow harasses a hovering Kestrel. Three Barn Swallows fly over in the rain laden sky. The canal above the bridge is a green carpet of Water Fern. It is so complete it is hard to imagine there is water there. This is a boon to the Mute Swan family who a chomping away at the weed. The cygnets are now showing the merest trace of white in their primaries. Three Mistle Thrushes sit at the top of a tall Ash.

Thursday 27th August – Barnsley Canal – The morning is bright and crisply cool. A large Willow near the beginning of the canal hosts Chiffchaffs and Tits, Blue, Great and Long-tailed. Young Bullfinches sit at the top of a Hawthorn, whilst from another a Robin sings its wistful autumn melody. The Elderberries are ripening to purple-black. Large bunches of yellow keys adorn the Ash. A Willow Tit calls nasally from the hedgerow.

Friday 28th August – Barnsley Canal – A beautifully marked Little Grebe dives in the canal. I catch only a brief glimpse before it dives again and probably surfaces in the reeds. There are lots of juveniles in the area. A spotty group of Blackbirds sit a-top a dead tree. A young Bullfinch preens in a Hawthorn. There are also a good number of Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers flitting around the bushes. A young Kestrel flies around the canal bushes crying out. A young Moorhen half flies, half runs across the canal leaving dark circular spaces in the emerald carpet of Duckweed that soon close again. A family of Whitethroats investigates a dead Hawthorn lying at the edge of the canal. Blue Tits inspect the dark candles of Bulrushes. Dunnocks, Robins, a young Blackcap are all searching through bushes for food. A solitary Song Thrush watches motionless from the top of a dead tree. I find the Little Grebe again and it is accompanied by what seems to be two juveniles and a single, much younger juvenile, possibly the survivor of a second brood.

Saturday – 29th August – East Coast – Approaching Bridlington just after dawn, and wave after wave of gulls head inland. At Flamborough Head, Kittiwakes cry and fly on and off the cliffs. Gannets glide low over the surface of the sea. Large numbers of Great Black-backed Gulls pass. Out at sea Manx Shearwaters regularly pass sweeping the wave tops. Two Great Skuas fly north, high in the sky. Small numbers of Guillemots bob on the sea. Several pods of cetaceans break the surface. Fair numbers of Arctic Skuas pass, some chasing gulls and terns. Occasionally a Sooty Shearwater sweeps past far out. A Black-throated Diver flies through on high. A number unidentified divers move through, mainly in singles. A large female Peregrine Falcon, mobbed at sea by Arctic Skua, flies on shore. Swallows and House Martins feed over the headland. Near the car park, a patch of mud holds large numbers of Starlings, Pied Wagtails and a single Dunlin.

Hessle Foreshore – On the edge of the River Humber, under the Humber Bridge, once one of the longest spans in the world. A flock of Ruddy Turnstones rises from the rock strewn mud and flies down stream. A large flock of Black-headed Gulls sits on the water, with more on the shore. A large container ship heads up the river to the port of Goole. A round conical watchtower stands guard still, its purpose long gone. Back beneath the road and railway into wood where ancient sea cliffs of chalk rise, ivy coated. Various Tits are calling noisily. A Wood Pigeon displays to another with flicks of his wings. The other seems singularly unimpressed, especially when he attempts a rather more direct approach!

Sunday 30th August – East Barnsley – At a grey and dull Broomhill, there is a Garganey, good numbers of Shoveler and Gadwall, Ruddy Duck, Tufted Duck, Mallard, Coot, Green Sandpiper and a flock of House Martins. The usual crowd of Lapwings sit around the muddy edges of the flash.

Wombwell Ings – It is quiet, only the plaintive cries of Lapwings piercing the morning calm. Two Grey Herons fish. One comes up with a small fry which it quickly swallows, the other with an empty beak. A Common Snipe patrols the water edge. A Pair of Common Terns arrive noisily. The surface of the sewage transfer ditch erupts into rings as fry scatter upon my approach.

Edderthorpe – Two Greenshank call and twist and dive as they drop down over the hillside to the flash. Along the track, a Chiffchaff calls from a Poplar and a Whitethroat scurries through Hawthorns. Grey Partridges whirr up the hill. Over thirty Little Grebes are on the water. Good numbers of Snipe, Little Plovers and Ringed Plovers feed with over a dozen Ruff, Greenshank, Dunlin and Curlew Sandpipers. Yellow and Pied Wagtails chase on the mud. Wildfowl include Tufted Duck, Ruddy Duck Shoveler, Teal and Mallard. A Kingfisher emits a piercing peep as it speeds across the meadow. Grey Herons bark at one another, and all the time Lapwings whine. Four Cormorants wing in. A dead bush beside the river contains a family of young Bullfinches, just small patches of pink on brown chests, and a Spotted Flycatcher.

Monday 31st August – Edderthorpe – Robins tick and Blue Tits chatter in the Dearne side bushes. A flock of Swallows call as they pass over. Five Swifts are high over the waters of the flooded meadow. Waders include substantial numbers of Snipe, Greenshank, Dunlin, Ruff, Little and Ringed Plovers, Curlew Sandpipers, Green Sandpipers and Dunlin. Wildfowl are Mallard, Teal, Shoveler, Ruddy Duck, Gadwall, Tufted Duck, a juvenile Shelduck and later an adult Shelduck arrives. The large numbers of Little Grebe are still present, uttering their weird cry regularly. Yellow Wagtails sit on a fence wires. Reed Buntings appear and disappear into the Phragmites bed.. Suddenly a huge flock of several hundred Sand Martins appears, darting over the water’s surface like flies. Up on the abandoned railway and road construction site, Meadow Pipits, Yellowhammers and Goldfinches twitter. I eventually give up the thankless task of seeking out an eclipsed Garganey in the large numbers of eclipsed Teal. A pair of Great Crested Grebe glide past fishing Cormorants. Common Terns, juveniles and adults preen on the mud. There are fourteen Grey Herons on the site.