February 2003

Saturday 1st February – Newmillerdam Woods – A large flock of Fieldfares is flying across fields near the woods. Southern England has been plunged in chaos in the last couple of days by snow (not really that much either!) However, there was a flurry last night which has completely thawed this morning. The woods are damp, of course. A moth falls dead to the path straight in front of us – seems slightly odd. Apart from a few cheeps from Blue Tits, it is quiet. Back towards home, near Haigh, there is another flock of Fieldfares and Wood Pigeons descending onto a field.

Monday 3rd February – Fleets Dam – A mini blizzard hits. It is difficult to see anything with snow lashing my face. Certainly I can see nothing across the lake. In the woods, everything is silent.

Thursday 6th February – Fleets Dam – There is a thin veneer of ice across the Fleets. The ten Goosander present on Tuesday have gone. The ice is thick enough to carry the weight of Mallard and Black-headed Gulls. Two Grey Herons chase up through the trees. It is remarkable they seem so lumbering, yet can fly through a tangle of branches with ease. Robins are singing. It begins to snow slightly.

Monday 10th February – Willowbank – A sharp overnight frost has left the ground white and twinkling in the bright morning sun. Great Tits, Song Thrushes, Robins and Blackbirds are all in song. Wood Pigeons sit on the wires in the valley. A Grey Heron lurks beneath a Hawthorn on the edge of the canal. Greenfinches are still in flocks, but Chaffinches appear to be paired up. Of winter thrushes, there is no sign, although the large number of Blackbirds may indicate that some continental birds have yet to depart. Coot, Mallard and Teal are on the pools by the Loop. A Long-tailed Tit bobs by.

Thursday 13th February – Fleets Dam – For once, a rare bird alert works for me. There was a report last night of Waxwings by the Dearne as it passes the Asda car park. This morning they are still there. Six Waxwings, crests erect and yellow and red quills bright in the grey dingy morning. They are at the top of a tree right on the main road and hundreds of people pass without any realisation of the rarities a few feet above their heads. Blue Tits chase through the shrubbery. The Fleets are quiet – a solitary Black-headed Gull with its chocolate cap almost restored to breeding condition, circles the water looking for scraps.

Friday 14th February – Pugney’s Country Park – Burnsie and I check the Waxwings which are still present on the Wakefield Road and then head for Pugneys. It is another cold morning. There is a little ice on the large boating lake, but most of it is open. Good numbers of Tufted Duck and Pochard are present. There are also decent numbers of Goldeneye. The nature lake is mainly frozen over. Teal, Mallard and Coot crowd the small shingle bank. Cormorants crowd onto their usual haunt, small protrusions of shingle with stakes driven into them.

Sunday 15th February – London – An extraordinary event as well over a million people come to the capital to protest against the threat of war against Iraq. We leave our coach some way short of the dropping zone and head for Gower Street – a short distance away. The crowds are so dense it still takes half an hour to get there. We join a thronging mass of people. It is not clear where we are in relation to the start or finish of this section of the march (another march has set off from the Embankment). We edge forward towards Hyde Park to the rhythm of drums and shouts. Great roars go up in waves. Banners hang from windows. We move very slowly and eventually reach Cambridge Circus after three hours. This is far short of half the distance. After another half an hour we have moved another couple of hundred yards and we need to get back to our coach, so we break off and take the streets through Soho to Hyde Park. It is clear later that the majority of people on our coach did not make it anywhere near the rally in the park. We did not reach our destination but certainly attained our goal – the largest demonstration ever in Britain.

Friday 21st February – Fleets Dam – The first morning for a while where the temperature is above freezing. The carr ponds are still iced up though. The River Dearne is running low; nearly all of the water is running through a cut-out in the weir, rather than pouring over its full width. Blue and Great Tits are noisy. A Chaffinch pinks from the top of an Ash sapling. A Moorhen scuttles across the path and down to the river. Fleets dam is still iced over. A Grey Heron steps gingerly across the surface. A group of Black-headed Gulls stand on the ice; a couple have their breeding plumage chocolate hoods. A Carrion Crow is on the ice pecking at something but gets driven off by a Black-headed Gull.

Sunday 23rd February – Pugneys Country Park – A cold and damp morning. Coots scatter as Dill the Dog emerges from the car, but she ignores them. From the pond, the sharp squawk of Coots arguing is heard along with piping Teal. They and Mallard are in pairs. Wigeon, however, are still in a sizable, whistling flock on the sandpit lake. It appears that Great Crested Grebe have staked out their areas of influence. Black-headed Gulls with the occasional Common and Lesser Black-backed Gull stand in the shallows at the far end. The Lesser Black-backed Gull has a very dark back, either Larus fuscus intermedius (the Scandinavian variety) or L. f. fuscus (the Baltic variety). A Redshank skims over the water and up into the grass.

Wednesday 26th February – Home – In the misty predawn the first stuttering notes of song can be heard from outside the bedroom window. A Song Thrush has taken a residency in the roadside Plane tree. By seven o’clock his repeated phrases are at a full and lusty volume. He will continue through most of the day. Most of the vacant vegetable beds have been turned. The top layer of soil in the greenhouse has been removed and a fresh layer of home made compost deposited there. Broad Beans have been sown.

Harborough Hills – Bird song trills up from the valley below through which the canal and River Dearne run. Blackbirds, Chaffinches and Song Thrushes can be heard. Blue and Great Tits are making their wide range of calls from both below and on the flat area of the old glassworks.