December 2006

Sunday 3rd December – Fleets Dam – The mercury has fallen over the last couple of days and is now 980 mbars. This has meant high winds and heavy rain overnight. Water pours rapidly over the weir, although it is not as fast as I would have expected. The lake is quiet as the sky clears of the dark stormy clouds and becomes blue. A Grey Heron flies off the aerator and lumbers around the lake squawking. A few Black-headed Gulls squabble over a piece of flotsam.

Monday 4th December – Home – A late evening walk with Dill the Dog over to the green opposite the old Girl’s High School, which has now been converted into flats. The green was a reservoir and then an air-raid shelter in the war. A full moon is high in the sky. Rain clouds are rushing past the pale disc. A gale booms and hisses through the now leafless tree branches. A part of me wants to be somewhere wild – the moors or on a cliff top – to see the full might of the stormy night, but a greater part is pleased to get back home and into the warm.

Wednesday 6th December – Willowbank – The weather seems to have settled into a pattern over the last few days. A wet and gloomy night clears during the morning to bright blue skies. Then during the afternoon, the clouds return and rain starts to fall again. This has left Willowbank, and everywhere else, utterly sodden. Clumps of the soft, short grass will slide away from the underlying soil is as if walking on an icy slope. The rain has silenced the Song Thrush at the top of the slope, although another is singing near home.

Home – It has been raining on and off all morning. By lunchtime the skies are still grey and angry. A Coal and a Great Tit are visiting the feeders. A Sparrowhawk glides overhead but this does not seem to worry the Great Tit who just sits in the cage of the feeder down the bottom of the garden and roll the seeds around his bill to extract the kernel.

Fleets Dam – The rain has certainly boosted the River Dearne, it is higher than I have seen it for a long time. There is a considerable roar and water plunges over the weir and crashes down on the concrete bed below. Swirling, foamy water rushes off under the bridge beneath Old Mill Lane. More water pours out of culverts on the concrete walls above the river. There are a lot of anglers on the Fleets. Turning back along the path to the car park, a Kingfisher darts along the river. It seems to settle a little way ahead, but I cannot see it. Walking on further and it flashes out from an overhanging bush and shoots up into the trees opposite. I guess it will fly a short distance through the trees and re-emerge by the weir and fly downstream. It begins to rain again.

Thursday 7th December – Fleets Dam – It is raining again. There have been squally showers, many heavy, all day. The river continues to rush over the weir. A Grey Heron flies up from the bank-side somewhere, then jinks in the air as it decides it does not want to cross Old Mill Lane at such a low height. Two Robins are singing in the willow carr, despite the weather.

Friday 8th December – Willowbank – It is not raining, which makes a change! Clouds are still racing across the sky, but a bright moon shines through casting moon shadows on the ground. A single “kik” call of a female Tawny Owl seems quite close, but nothing else is seen or heard. Fitful Robin song comes from a long way away. A Blackbird squawks.

Sunday 10th December – Wombwell Ings – A new housing development has been crammed in next to the Low Valley roundabout on the Wombwell by-pass. Clearing some of the vegetation near the road makes the remains of the Barnsley canal much clearer. The route of the former waterway runs beside the road towards the end of Wombwell. As the land dips an embankment rises to keep the canal level. It would have crossed the road by the Broomhill junction. The canal then swings gently around beside a field. The stone reinforced embankment can still be clearly seen. A cold wind blows across the ings. Dill the Dog is bright and bouncy and runs to and fro. There are at least twenty travellers ponies on the rough pasture and path. They are almost all piebalds. One stares at me suspiciously through pale blue eyes. A noisy flock of Canada Geese crosses the fields. A flock of Lapwings flap slowly over the winter grain crop – it is usually barley here. A large flock of Wigeon is moving from the water onto the grass to graze. Teal, Mallard and a decent number of Shoveler are on the edge of the pool with a single Shelduck. A pair of male Goosander sleep in the middle of the ings. It begins to rain. A Kestrel sits on top of a goal post in Broomhill Park. A ragged group of Redwings alight on the top of the trees and drift off, high in the sky.

Thursday 14th December – Willowbank – A few Redwings and Fieldfares scatter from the tops of trees in Wilthorpe Park. Down the slope and under the railway, the track is full of pools of water. Dogs by Tinkers Pond bark at Dill the Dog who does not notice them. Another dwelling is being built in the lane. I turn off along the path across Willowbank. Dill the Dog, meanwhile has managed to notice one of the dogs and is engaged in mutual sniffing and so loses me. She hears me shout back down the road at her but has no idea which direction the sound is coming from. Eventually she makes out my waving arm and trots up to me. Far below, the Loop remains flooded. Grey clouds scurry across the sky in a fierce wind. Squeaking tits dash between bushes. It starts to rain.

Saturday 16th December – Barnsley Canal – The sky is cobalt Hawsand the sun bright. The pastures by the River Dearne are dusted with frost and there are slivers of ice around puddles on the tow-path. A micro-moth flits in front of me. Scarlet Haws are still abundant, despite the attentions of the flocks of Redwings that fly off at my approach. There are also lots of Blackbirds in the area. The canal is full and is overflowing the path at one point and water pours down the embankment and into the river. A few Black-headed Gulls are on the flooded area of the loop. Coots are squabbling somewhere in the reeds, but there seem to be no duck around. A Grey Heron flies off with a grunt. A Magpie sits at the top of a tall tree. It is noticeable that its tail is so integral to its balance and I wonder how on earth those Magpies seen with no tails due to moulting manage.

Monday 18th December – Home – It is something of a coincidence that following my recent comments about the lack of Great Spotted Woodpeckers there is one on the peanut feeder this morning. A magnificent black and white adult with a bright crimson vent.

Newmillerdam – No, Zebedee has hardly slowed at all! He takes off through the woods – racing up through the trees, back down, into the undergrowth by the lake, back out, into the lake and back up the steep slope through the woodland. And this is repeated time and time again without a pause. Jasper and Dill the Dog are supremely sedate and calm in comparison. It is cold and clammy with a thin mist in the air. There are good numbers of duck on the water – mainly Mallard with a fair few Tufted Duck. Lots of Coot, some Moorhens and half a dozen or so Great Crested Grebes. There is a surprising absence of Pochard. Black-headed Gulls perch on a dead tree in the lake, others are out on the water. Zebedee harasses a Carrion Crow which seems determined to stay in this area even with an annoying dog at the bottom of every tree it lands in, rather than flying off somewhere more peaceful. We wander around to the end of the lake and back down the other side. Blackbirds and Tits are creating a considerable fuss high in the trees – I suspect an owl, but it seems it may only be because of a couple of Magpies. There are lots of Grey Squirrels around, so maybe they are causing the disturbance. One Grey Squirrel, somewhat stupidly, makes a dash down a lake-side tree and across the path and is immediately hotly pursued by Jasper and has to move like lightning to get up another tree and to safety. A pair of Mute Swans with a single cygnet approach. The cygnet hisses at the dogs, the parents seem unconcerned. A Jay undulates across the lake and into the trees. It starts calling its guttural cry as it heads deeper into the woods. Beeches here have exposed roots at the edge of bank by the path. They look like melted flows of giant grey candles. A Grey Wagtail hops about the lodge at the entrance to the lake.

Wednesday 20th December – Barnsley Canal – The first hard frost of the season. Roofs are white, as is Willowbank. The tow-path frozen hard. Dill the Dog and Jasper trot along happily, Zebedee takes off seemingly in every direction at once. He manages to end up in the canal on several occasions. There are good numbers of Blackbirds and Redwings flying around. A white flash of rump is all I see of a disappearing Bullfinch. Tits are squeaking around the footbridge area.

Thursday 21st December – Barrow – Down the rutted and pot-holed road that led off over the spoil heap of Barrow pit, now landscaped. A fir tree looks far better than most decorated Christmas trees with its long red-brown cones hanging down. Flocks of Redwings fly hither and thither. The sun is blazing just above the horizon, glaring straight into eyes facing South-east.

Home – The bird table is not often used during the summer and had fallen into disrepair. The top was waterlogged and sagging. Thus, I went to Howarth’s timber yard to see about getting a replacement. I explained to the man in the timber yard what I wanted and he produced a sheet of thick plywood. I reckoned that half of it would be fine. He cut it on a brand new vertical panel saw – a pretty impressive piece of kit. He then said I could have both pieces, for free – “It’s only old scrap”. I soon had the old piece of wood removed and a new table screwed onto the base (although, it may be the last time I do this repair as the base is also in a fairly rotten state!) Over the weekend we made enough food to feed an army and thus there were some mince pies far in excess of what could be eaten. So these have been crumbled on the new table top. A couple of Greenfinches are in the cage feeders. Blue Tits dive into the feeder, grab a seed and back out again. When a Greenfinch moves away, a Great Tits takes its place. Both Greenfinches and Great Tits are messy eaters and spill seed. Collared Doves and Blackbirds both soon find this spillage. The latter seems move interested in darting across the garden, I guess after another Blackbird although I do not see more than one. The Collared Dove flies close to the new table top but veers away at the last moment. It will take some time before they get used to it. Likewise a Blue Tit thinks about visiting the mince pie crumbs but decides against and heads for the fat ball. A Robin perches on the rotating clothes line and looks for a minute and then launches off and onto the table. It pecks at the food and then is off. It makes another foray but this time a second Robin appears and the first aborts the mission. The second bird looks like it is going to investigate the table but then changes its mind. The Blackbird turns his attention to the numerous apples laying in the grass.

Friday 22nd December – Willowbank – Now I have finished working (again), it is nice to see Willowbank in daylight rather than in darkness stained by the glaring light pollution of the car showrooms on Wakefield Road. Blue Tits are chirping everywhere. A gull, far overhead, calls to a couple of others moving up the valley from a different direction. The sky is scored by vapour trails. The grass is coated in frost and there is a mist in the valley, but nothing like the thick fogs that have covered Southern England over recent days causing chaos at airports as thousands are held up from making their polluting flights that may well be responsible for the fog! It seems clear that we shall have no snow by Christmas. I cannot remember a year where we have not had at least a dusting of snow before the New Year. The radio reports that Alpine skiing resorts are facing financial disaster as it is even not cold enough to maintain artificial snow.

Saturday 23rd December – Barnsley Canal – It is a very damp and grey morning. However, a male Bullfinch brings cheer with his rosy pink breast. A Wren is less cheerful, angrily tic ticking Dill the Dog and I as we pass. A Carrion Crow caws in the distance. A small flock of Greenfinches is in the Hawthorn scrub on the west side of the canal. Up near Tinkers Pond, a pair of Mistle Thrushes argue in rasping tones before one departs leaving the other standing erect at the top of a Poplar. Redwings and a single Fieldfare fly over. Along the canal another Wren scolds our passing. Horses in the pasture up the hill are all in their blankets. An unseen flock is twittering distantly somewhere in the long Hawthorn hedge that runs down the hill. Bulrush heads stand brown and velvety high above the pale and broken reeds. More Redwings pass over along with a few pigeons. Halfway up the hill Dill the dog, for some unfathomable reason, heads off in the wrong direction. I call loudly and she stops and looks around, confused as she cannot see me. She eventually locates my waving arms and trots back. At the top of the hill the source of the twittering is found – a large flock of gabbling Starlings. There are lots of small flocks of Redwings all along the edge of the field, probably at least one hundred individuals. There are catkins on the Hazel trees by the school.

Shopping – Off to Penistone to collect my order of pies, cheese, black pudding and bacon from Raymond Lodge. He has premises in Meltham where he makes his pies and cures the bacon. Then up to Hazelhead Farm to collect the turkey. I still want a few more bits and pieces but the queue is daunting, so I head off to Birdsedge, between Penistone and Huddersfield. Here is a splendid farm shop – a lean-to next to the barn. Clearly a family affair with everyone serving or carrying and fetching. I am thinking about making a traditional mince pie with minced beef, so I purchase mince and a tray of eggs. ( I now discover that, like “modern” mincemeat, it needs several weeks to mature, so a bit late for Christmas! Maybe next year.)

Christmas Eve – 24th December – Smithies – A short walk around the pond next to the Council depot in Smithies Lane. A pair of Mallard fly off leaving a dozen or so Black-headed Gulls on the water. A few are bathing – plunging their heads under the water and flicking it over their backs – the rest are just sitting and seemingly waiting for something to happen. A cock Pheasant thinks it is invisible under a bush but then realises it is not, although, of course, Dill the Dog has not seen it. The pheasant flies off across the marsh pasture croaking loudly. Scolding Wrens lurk in the reeds. A Mistle Thrush rasps from high in the Ash trees.

Christmas Day – 25th December – Barnsley Canal – Hopes of a white Christmas were lost days ago. It is damp and grey. I head along the Huddersfield Road with Dill the Dog. House Sparrows are twittering excitedly in the hedge of a house a few doors up. They are seldom seen around our house, yet there is a small flock just 50 yards up the road. Down to Willowbank. A Jay cries somewhere down the valley. Along the canal Redwings are darting this way and that. Instead of following the canal I turn up the hill towards Tinkers Pond. There are two ponds, one on a lower level than the other. I have reported before that the area here was used to dry linen after it had been bleached. I assume the ponds were something to do with the bleaching process, although they may have also been associated with “skin pits” – the tanning of leather. A lot of undergrowth and shrubbery has been removed and a feature I had not noticed before was clearly visible. An arching wall of stone was below the path below the lower pond. In the wall was a small doorway, maybe 4 foot high, made of two stone uprights and a semi-circular lintel. Beyond was a small room, for want to a better expression, about five foot square. Water was running down the walls and out through the entrance. Between the lower and upper pond is a roadway. A stone wall lies beneath the roadway at the top of the lower pond, but there is no equivalent doorway or room here. A Song Thrush is singing in the trees by the upper pond.

Wednesday 27th December – Fleets Dam – Plenty of anglers out this morning scattered all around the perimeter of the lake. Three Great Crested Grebes are together in the centre of the water. Black-headed Gulls are sitting around the grebes, probably hoping one of them will dive and bring up something for them to try and steal. However, the grebes look content to just sit there themselves. Cutting up across the edge of the open area below the bank where the canal travelled, there is a large steel enclosure. On the other side, at the bottom of the Honeywell estate is a sign declaring that Berneslai Homes (the Council’s housing company) is going to build 351 houses here. I had thought there were plans to develop this area for recreation, but no, another green space that must be filled with poky, poorly designed houses. (I later learn this is not the case, although my cynicism tells me there is little chance of the land remaining open forever!)

Thursday 28th December – Fleets Dam – The mildness of the season is evidenced by the presence of fungi this late in the year. A couple of The Deceiver – Laccaria laccata – emerge from under a fallen Willow. The three Great Crested Grebe are in the same place as yesterday, but without the attendant Black-headed Gulls. A couple of the latter species are circling the water. Four Mallard swim slowly across the lake. A Great Tit is singing his squeaky song tentatively. There are snatches of Robin song but nothing is singing in true fashion. Back in the willow carr, Blue Tits chatter as they move through the branches.

Home – Two Grey Squirrels are chasing around the garden, up and down the apple trees with a quick break to raid the feeders. Blue and Great Tits are dashing to and from the feeders. A Greenfinch drinks from the bird-bath. Long-tailed Tits have been moving through, foraging acrobatically through the branches. A Great Spotted Woodpecker visits just after midday. I then put out some crust from a pork pie. In the mid-afternoon a female Blackcap (a summer visitor) is pecking away at it.

Friday 29th December – Worsbrough – Parked up by the old road that led to Barrow pit and headed down the road towards Park Cottages. It is nearly 9 o’clock but the sky is so grey and dark that it seems pre-dawn. Rain comes in short sharp bursts. Across the field past the strange shelter built in the middle – a brick square with a concrete roof that overlaps the building by several feet all round and is supported by steel uprights. The path enters the woods above the Worsbrough Bridge (this name now refers more commonly to the housing estate far up the road towards Barnsley town) and The Button Mill pub, which I recall was called The Red Lion until a few years back. Wood Pigeons explode out of the trees. The path drops steeply down a muddy bank. A Beech has been felled exposing its rotten core. More trees have been felled below near the Sheffield Road. I cross the side of the hill but the path drops down a steep gully and then onto a main path towards Worsbrough Village. Robins and Song Thrush sing and Blue Tits chirp. A large flock of Rooks heads south over the trees. Back up the hill where a flock of Long-tailed Tits squeak as they scurry through the tree tops.

Saturday 30th December – The Fleets – I appear to have slept through a wild night. Storms were forecast and the river level indicates that one has passed through. Brown water roars over the sluice. The sky is blue and the sun blazes low in the South-east. But it looks like more rain is heading in from the West – a rainbow arcs across the Northern horizon. A pair of Bullfinch disappear into a hedgerow. There are only three Black-headed Gulls on the water; the Great Crested Grebes seemed to have disappeared.

West End, Surrey – We head south for a family birthday on New Year’s Eve. Traffic is heavy but moving. A Common Buzzard soars over the M1 motorway near Nottingham. Shortly after we reach David and Joan’s home the heavens open. It then clears but huge black cumulus clouds are moving east in the southern sky. The rain is extremely heavy in many places. Football matches in Watford and Aldershot are abandoned.

New Year’s Eve – Sunday 31st December – West End – We take a stroll around part of the “village”. In reality the area is a large area of housing which runs into Bisley and on into other Surrey villages. The Recreation Ground is a large open space. Over the road is a private school, Gordon’s School, founded 1886 by public subscription, at the wish of Queen Victoria, as the National Memorial to General Gordon, who was killed at Khartoum in January 1885. A large bronze statue of General Gordon on a camel can be seen in the grounds. The wind is still gusting strongly and a young lad and his father flying a model aircraft seems unwise. The aircraft rises rapidly and is last seen high over the church, heading north. Jackdaws sit in a dead tree by the pond. Nearby, Etonthe house of Malthouse Farm is a splendid residence. Opposite one of the farm’s former barns is still standing.

Eton – Joan’s birthday party is held in Evan’s, one of the houses of Eton College. The room is a small hall with a magnificent fireplace with inglenooks. I would guess as 17th century. On the wall is a portrait with the legend Henricus Sextus Fundator – the founder of the college, King Henry VI. Above the portrait are the heads of three stags, the largest a 10 point buck. A Minstrel Gallery is high above one end of the hall. The ceiling is painted, murals mainly of recent origin apart from one panel which is the arms of Henry VI – Henricus VI Rex Anglia – Rex Francie Dom: Hiber – (translating I believe as, Henry VI, King of England, King of France and Spain.)