December 2001

Saturday 1st December – Coxes Lock and the River Wey Navigation, Addlestone, Surrey – There has been far more rain in this part of England than Yorkshire. The canal is very full. The water surface in the lock is coated with brown leaves. It starts raining, at first just a gentle mist caught in the sun, then harder. Feral Mallard hybrids quack loudly from the gap between the canal and Coxes Mill Pond – an incongruous name for a decent sized lake. A Cormorant flaps steadily overhead, going downstream. Chickens scratch in a pen by a cottage. A splendid cock with a golden mane and green tail shelters from the rain. Suddenly the rain stops, the sun emerges from behind dark clouds and a rainbow arches across the sky.

Sunday 2nd December – Chobham – The mercury has fallen to around zero and a sharp frost coats the grass and leaves. Fog hangs around the tree tops menacingly. A slightly sunken path covered with pale brown Oak leaves leads past fields. Dill the Dog sticks her head down a large set, probably fox. There is a large pile of fresh sandy soil down the bank. A Blackbird is singing. A Green Woodpecker laughs.

Sunday 9th December – Newmillerdam – A thick fog blankets the land. The woods are dank with only the occasional cheep of a Tit or a warning tick from a Robin. I collect a sack of wet kindling from the fallen twigs under the Birches and Oaks. Up on Wooley Edge, the temperature is down to -2°C and the fog even thicker.

Tuesday 11th December – Westwood Country Park – Despite the temperature hovering around -1°C, there is no ice or frost on the ground. Mistle Thrushes rasp across the fields. On the way into Sheffield, cows in a field above Burncross steam in the weak sun. Great banks of fog lie over the Ecclesfield valley.

Saturday 15th December – Worsbrough – The old railway trail is quiet and damp. Only the odd Magpie flies across the fields. A Great Tit sings half-heartedly. “It sounds like a laser printer”, comments Kay. Now I have heard the squeaky, repetitive call described as many things, but a laser printer....

Sunday 16th December – Grange Gate – The dampness is unpleasant. The sky has a light covering of cloud that is thickening steadily. Long-tailed Tits squeak in the young Silver Birches. A Great Spotted Woodpecker flashes out of the scrub and disappears up the hill towards Ardsley. Great Tits are singing. The asphalted path is treacherous with a thin sheen of ice. A pair of Jays flies down towards the Dearne with flashes of blue and white. A Grey Heron flaps over the marshes. Back on the old railway track, small patches of Gorse and Broom are in bright yellow flower, otherwise it is all dull greens and browns.

Thursday 20th December – Blackburn Meadows – The main pond holds decent numbers of Gadwall, Tufted Duck and Coot. Black-headed Gulls stand around the edge with a few afloat on the water. A number of Wrens flash across the path from the pond banks to thicker vegetation on the other side. A Magpie stands at the top of a lone sapling like a sentinel guarding the area. Long-tailed Tits flit through the scrub growing on the old settling pits. The grass is thick with frost which Dill the Dog finds delightful for rolling. A Robin stands on a frosty post, all puffed up against the cold into a little ball of brown and red. A Kestrel watches from the top of the artesian windmill.

Christmas Eve; Monday 24th December – Home – A thin dusting of snow from Saturday night has completely disappeared and the temperature has risen considerably. However, there is a cold wind and the sky is leaden. A Goldcrest hops around the Fir tree just outside the kitchen window, oblivious to me watching it from a few feet away. A little later a Wren is in the same place. A Greenfinch that has ventured to the base of the tree is chased away by a Robin that regards this corner of the garden as its own. A Magpie struts around the leaf strewn lawn. Chaffinches and Greenfinches visit the bird table. A female Blackbird and a Collared Dove watch from the tall Cherry tree.

Thursday 27th December – Edderthorpe – The sky is grey with broken cloud, crossed with vapour trails for aircraft. A Pheasant croaks from a dull brown hillside. There are decent numbers of wildfowl on the flash – 130 Teal, 170 Mallard, 180 Wigeon, 50 Tufted Duck and 9 Goosander. A Grey Heron finds it hard to settle and drifts to and fro across the water. The water itself is partially frozen, but looks wet and is probably thawing in what is a relatively mild 8°C, although it feels a lot colder. On various spits of mud stand numerous Golden Plover and Lapwings. A few Dunlin and other waders (possibly Greenshank although it is difficult to tell in the poor light) are preening or feeding amidst the plovers. Good numbers of Coot are everywhere.

Wombwell Ings – Large flocks of Lapwings rise and fall across the shallow valley between Darfield and Wombwell. Similarly large flocks of Golden Plovers arrow in sweeping turns over the fields, common land and Ings. They soon settle again, but not on Wombwell Ings which is nearly deserted. A few Lapwings, Black-headed Gulls, three Common Gulls and a Great Black-backed Gull are the only birds on the water and mud. Travellers’ horses, mainly piebalds, with a couple of chestnuts and a single all black mare, are scattered across the common land.

Broomhill Flash – Large numbers of Golden Plover, Lapwings and Starlings rise and resettle by the flash. A few Shovelers and a single Shelduck feed in the centre of the water, surrounded by bobbing Black-headed Gulls. Large flocks of Golden Plover, Canada Geese, Wigeon and Teal occupy the northern end of the flash. A pair of Mute Swans feed and a Grey Heron stands on the water’s edge, motionless.

Tinsley – A pair of Teal leap up off the River Don and fly upstream. This is a strange area of overgrown ruins of industry, mainly steel works and mills. A Dunnock and Blue Tits flit through willows. A fish splashes as it breaks the surface of the river several times. A Kestrel hover very high above old slurry pits that are now covered with rank grass, docks and other disturbed land plants. It drops onto a tall iron post whose previous use I know not. A ten foot high pile of earth covered with bracken has settled enough to allow rabbits to burrow into it. It starts raining.

Home – The first garden Redwing of the winter sits in the cherry tree watching. I do not know whether they ever feed in the garden, I have not seen one yet doing so. Lots of Chaffinches visit the table. Bacon rind put out first thing this morning has disappeared as has all the fruit and nut bread.

Saturday 29th December – Home – Overnight the garden has been transformed into a winter wonderland. A couple of inches of snow coats everywhere in pristine whiteness. I clear the snow off the bird table and put out some fresh seed. Chaffinches, Greenfinches and Blackbirds are soon flocking down for breakfast. The trees looking truly beautiful with a couple of centimetres of snow topping each branch and twig. By mid morning, the sun is bright and snow is floating down off the branches with the odd plop of a larger lump.

Sunday 30th December – Home – Four Stock Doves and a Grey Squirrel soon make a large hole in the pile of seed on the table. The whole garden is still covered in snow despite the bright sun. Last night a near full moon rose behind the skeletal branches of the trees at the bottom of the garden and then higher and bathes the snow in spectral light.

Barnsley Canal – It is still freezing, -2° Celsius, but it has not gone deep into the ground. My heavy boot crunches through the surface ice on the puddles into cold mud beneath. A large branch from the old Willow beside the canal is lying across the water. It may be a problem for the Mute Swans, who normally nest on the south side of this branch, as there is little open water there. It appears to be an old break and has probably just dropped that bit further under the weight of snow. The Mute Swan family of cob, pen and two large cygnets are in a small pool of open water under a Hawthorn at the bottom of Willowbank. Seven Moorhens are gathered on the loop; odd as they tend to be rather solitary birds. A pair of Teal fly off up the River Dearne. A couple of Long-tailed Tits search branches overhanging the canal. They are usually in larger flocks; it makes one wonder if many have succumbed to the freezing nights. A few Fieldfares chatter and fly up the canal. It is surprising that any still remain as the Hawthorns have been utterly stripped of all their haws. One Hawthorn is spotted with bright vermillion, but these are rose hips on a briar that has reached the top of the bush. Few birds are making any noise at all, but one Great Tit seems to have time to sing continuously. I arrive back at the road with feet feeling a bit bruised from clomping along on the frozen ridged path, but it so much better than slipping and sliding through deep wet mud!

Home – By midday, the garden is a busy restaurant. Five Stock Doves (although I notice they are now called Stock Pigeons on the British List) are too much, gobbling down seed like no tomorrow. I politely ask them to leave. A Mistle Thrush has found a crust smeared with peanut butter and is letting nothing else near it. I had despaired that nothing would touch the block of beef dripping in a cage feeder on an apple tree, but at last a Great Spotted Woodpecker has found it. The Jay drops in and feeds on the table. It is very flighty, even a lump of thawing snow falling from the laburnum spooks it. In between the visits by the larger species, Greenfinches, Chaffinches, Great, Blue and Coal Tits all visit the table. Blackbirds are flying to and fro across the garden from shrub to shrub. The remaining snow on the Christmas tree is actually lying on the tops of the needles rather than the branches. At night a brilliant full moon rises. Clouds scud across the sky occasionally blocking out the moon’s light altogether.

Monday 31st December – Newmillerdam – The woods are cold, icy and very quiet. A lone Robin hops around the base of Silver Birches looking for food. I collect a bag of kindling and small logs. The lake is largely frozen with a flock of Black-headed Gulls standing on the ice.

Pugney’s Country Park – The small pond on the sand pit site is frozen over and has the inevitable group of Black-headed Gulls. However, the main lake is free of ice. Twenty-five Great Crested Grebes are scattered across the water. A single male Goldeneye glides along. There is a Cormorant on the lake and a further twenty eight standing on the bank. A Grey Heron stands hunched on a shingle spit. Wigeon are spread right along the far side either feeding on the grass or milling around on the lake.