December 2000

Saturday 2nd December – Worsbrough Reservoir – It seems ages since I was out with Dill the Dog just rambling along. The new house has taken up so much time, but the building works and decorating are finally coming to an end. We hope to move in shortly – well behind our original intentions. The morning is cool with a brisk wind. The reservoir is, unsurprisingly after the wettest autumn on record, at a high level. However, the duck population, apart from Mallard, is small. A couple of Tufted Duck and Pochard are swimming by the start of the Willow Carr. The muddy spit which often attracts waders and geese has vanished under water. The carr is even more of a swamp than usual. The jumble of broken boughs and fallen trees looks a mess but is a fertile nursery for the next generation of White Willow and wetland plants. Long-tailed and Blue Tits chatter in the Hawthorn hedgerow beside the path. Gulls, mainly Black-headed, circle the waters. A Common Gull stands on a wooden perch in the water and scratches its grey streaked head. A Great Crested Grebe dives near the dam wall. Early sown winter wheat shoots greenly through the wet fields. But there are areas where laying water has defeated it. A pair of Grey Heron stand in the lee of a wood on the field edge.

Wednesday 13th December – Willowbank – A night of gales and rain has again wreaked damage across Old Blighty. The soil cannot absorb any more water and it squelches underfoot even on fairly steep hillsides. Blackbirds and Robins scold our passage. The Dearne has burst its banks again and a large area of the valley is under water.

Home – We have moved into the new house. I have put out the bird table and a new Sunflower seed feeder. Today, the table and feeder have been emptied in a single day. This may require new tactics! Blackbirds, Robins, Blue Tits, Collared Doves, Wood Pigeons and Magpies frequent the garden.

Saturday 16th December – Dearne Valley Park – The first real frost of the winter has whitewashed the landscape. A crazy-paving of ice covers the canal. The Dearne bubbles and rushes over the fallen masonry of the old bridge. A fat Wood Pigeon waddles across the mown grass. Gulls fly lazily over the valley. A Moorhen cracks and crunches its way through the icy reeds lining the canal. Mistle Thrushes preen on high power cables. A Great Tit calls a short piercing note as it searches the bare branches of Hawthorns and Ash.

Christmas Eve – Sunday 24th December – Coxes Mill, Surrey – Water is roaring down the mill pond race and it is still raining. Fields beyond the canal are flooded. Canada Geese and Mallard are waking noisily on the mill pond. A large flock of Linnets lands in trees by a smallholding. A woodpecker is drumming in some trees but cannot be found. There are lots of Blackbirds, some singing, most making alarm calls. Robins are singing, Chaffinches pinking and Wood Pigeons clap their wings as they launch from tree tops. A Little Grebe dives noisily just beside me and emerges only a short distance away. It then scuttles across the canal into the safety of overhanging branches on the far side.

Wednesday 27th December – Dearne Valley Park – Crunching across the pale green, frost coated grass in the pre-sunrise gloom. A Sparrowhawk swoops over the trees. The Dearne has gouged away sections of bank during the recent flooding. A Grey Heron stands motionless whilst a Mallard glides by.

Thursday 28th December – Home – A light covering of snow greets the dawn. It continues to snow steadily, although the flakes are tiny. The seed on the table is frozen, so I replenish it and put out a bowl of warm water. Blackbirds, Greenfinches, Blue Tits and Collared Doves are the main visitors, with appearances by a Robin, Magpie and Dunnock. Then suddenly I notice a glimpse of red on the peanut feeder – a Great Spotted Woodpecker. It stays long enough for me to rush upstairs and tell Kay who gets a look before it arrows off into the trees. Later that morning all the birds have disappeared. Then the reason becomes clear – a female Sparrowhawk is sitting in the apple tree above the bird table. Eventually it departs and the Blackbirds and Blue Tits tentatively re-emerge. A pair of Redwings sit in the cherry tree.

Late Afternoon – A small flock of Long-tailed Tits moves through. The female Sparrowhawk sweeps in over the trees and lands at the top of a large Ash. We continue to watch the now deserted garden. Peter then comments on something moving in the brambles by the shed. Training the glasses on it reveals the Sparrowhawk. She is pulling something red and bloody out of the bramble patch. She looks around for a moment before launching off across the garden and away with the corpse of a Blackbird in her talons.

New Year’s Eve Sunday 31st December – Pugney’s Country Park – The constant freezing temperatures have meant there has been little thawing of the thin covering of snow. The Sand Pit lake is mainly ice free, although a Black-headed Gull has got itself trapped in a small area of ice. Noisy skeins of Canada Geese fly overhead, whilst more feed with a large flock of Wigeon on the far bank. Four pairs of Great Crested Grebe are in discrete areas of the water. Tufted Duck swim to and fro before departing to the main Pugney’s lake, arrowing through the air. Four Cormorant swim between large numbers of bathing gulls – Great Black-backed, Common and Black-headed. A couple of Redshank fly around before landing on the edge of the water. There is nothing on the mainly frozen fishing lake. The main lake is partially frozen with a concentration of duck and gulls in the open channels. A couple of gorgeous male Goldeneye are on the far side.

Home – Good numbers of Greenfinches, Goldfinches and Chaffinches are feeding on the fat ball, sunflower feeders and the ground. Blue and Great Tits grab seeds before retreating to the trees. An occasional Redwing lands on the Flowering Cherry but does not actually come into feed. Dunnocks slip out from under the brambles to feed, never straying far from the safety of cover.

Penistone – The year slips out with snow, although a thaw is forecast. I am only just awake at midnight for a glass of champagne to welcome what many consider the real start of the new millennium.