December 2003

Wednesday 3rd December – The Fleets – A quiet and grey morning, but enlivened by the glorious sight of nine Goosanders gliding across the lake. Five males and four females dive and pop up again still in a tight knit group. Three Mallard move out from the lee of the bank at the approach of Dill the Dog. She also disturbs one of the two Grey Herons, which flies off barking gutturally. A lone Shaggy Inkcap fungus is growing in the grass.

Monday 8th December – Barnsley Canal – The heaviest frost of the year so far. Bushes and grasses are covered in sparkling rime. A Reed Bunting, Bullfinch, Blackbirds and Redwings move around the hedge bordering the horse pastures and canal. The canal has frozen and the muddy path is rock hard; the churned up frozen peaks are hard on the feet. My face aches from the cold and I wonder why I have not brought a hat. The central part of the Loop is still open water and Coots feed. A Kestrel keeps a cold vigil from the top of a tall Hawthorn. Large numbers of Wood Pigeons are moving down the valley, many alighting in the winter wheat field. Over the valley beside the River Dearne, Fieldfares chatter. Finally the sun tops the hill and the fields and copses are bathed in a golden light. High voltage wires crackle. A Willow Tit calls from the edge of the old settling pits of the sewage plant. A stream down from Redbrook crosses the field and steams in the freezing air. From above comes the pulsating beat of a Mute Swan flying down the valley.

Tuesday 9th December – Grange Gate – A constant high pitched piping of Long-tailed Tits comes from the Silver Birches and Willows beside the old railway. Most trees have dropped their leaves, but the small Oaks retain their curled brown ones. A high row of railings has been erected on either side of the high viaduct over the River Dearne; much safer but they greatly detract from the view. Below, Mistle Thrushes feed on the pastures.

Wednesday 10th December – Pugneys’ Country Park – A thick fog lays down the Calder river valley. The M1 motorway is crawling along, although this is not uncommon at rush hour. A small flock of Wigeon whistle alarms at Dill the Dog’s approach. Various aquatic species emerge from the fog – a pair of Cormorants flap noisily off; Black-headed Gulls swim around inspecting every object on the water’s surface; Coots bob down to the weed below and pop up like corks again and a pair of Great Crested Grebe are together, unusual at this time of year when they are very territorial. Dill the Dog takes great pleasure in rolling in the icy grass. A pair of female Goldeneye drift into view. Further around there are hawthorns beside the path, full of Blackbirds. Tufted Duck and Pochard swim on the small area of the Nature Lake that is visible. A noisy Carrion Crow sits atop a Silver Birch. A flock of Fieldfares erupts from a small coppice.

Friday 12th December – The Fleets – Grey, overcast skies forecast rain, although it is cold. Everywhere is damp and there is an odour of decay. Blackbirds and Redwings explode out of a tiny, misshapen bush on the edge of the lake. Wrens are widespread in the thin line of dead rushes. Three male Goosander shoot down the lake, rising steadily like a flight of fighters off on a mission. A Grey Heron comes in slowly and steadily, deciding where to land. A large Fox meanders across the horse stable pastures over the river. Someone cleaning out a stall throws a bucket of water. Although a fair way away, this encourages the fox into a trot and off into a row of bushes and trees. Long-tailed Tit flocks are numerous this year, evidence of a good breeding season. A small flock of Sisken feed in a tall Alder.

Monday 15th December – The Fleets – A brighter day. A pair of Goosander sail majestically across the lake. A Goldfinch flock occupies the Alder tree today. Three Grey Herons fly to and fro across the water, their feet making little puddles on the surface.

Wednesday 17th December – Dearne Valley Park – A morning of frost and ice, but also bright sunshine. A hazy mist floats over the river valley. It is quiet, birdwise, only Great and Blue Tits calling, but the noise of the rush hour traffic is very intrusive, reminding me how seldom I hear only the sound of the natural world around here. A brown cloud of pollution drifts up the valley, trapped by the inversion layer. There is much activity around the car park – Blackbirds and Great Tits chasing and feeding and a lone Song Thrush hopping along the edge of the shrubbery.

Thursday 18th December – Sheffield-Rotherham Canal, Tinsley – The canal has a thin, greasy looking coating of ice. Tufted Duck, Teal and Mallard leap out of the water at fly downstream at the approach of Dill the Dog. She leaves a large semi-melted patch in the frosted grass where she has rolled. Down beside the weir is a large clump of Hawthorn. Redwings stand at the top of the heavily berry depleted branches. A mass of bright scarlet hips drape over a fence, sparkling in the sunshine. Below the weir, Mallard and Teal swim about.

Friday 19th December – The Fleets – A grey overcast morning with just a touch of drizzle. An excited flock of Long-tailed Tits squeak their way through the trees. About half the lake has a thin sheet of ice covering it. Black-headed Gulls stand about with occasional flurries of excitement when one finds something possibly edible and the chase is on. As usual the Grey Herons move from one side and back as I walk round.

Wednesday 31st December – Nunney, Somerset – The old year ends cold, damp and misty. House Sparrows, Blue and Coal Tits bustle around the feeders. Tiny pieces of peanut pop off in every direction. A fat Wood Pigeon sits in the tree in the paddock behind the cottage garden. An equally fat Common Pheasant stands motionless on the ground. The Corkscrew Hazel is already covered with catkins.