Saturday 1st February – Wombwell Ings – It is cold and grey, but this does not deters Dill the Dog who charges around happily. From the hide I scope thirty Goosander, 13 of them being males with their graceful long white bodies and black-green heads. Some of them are tossing their heads in display but the females are far more interested in food and are cruising across the Ings with their heads under water. A large flock of Teal and Wigeon feed in the shallow, muddy edges of the Ings.
Monday 3rd February – Westwood Country Park – Yesterday was Candlemas Day – if it is clear and bright, expect another dose of winter. Clear and bright it was. This morning there is a frost. At Westwood, a drumming comes from the woods. Although I pinpoint the area quite closely I cannot find the originator of the sound – most probably a Greater Spotted Woodpecker. These woods are odd, large dips and ridges run through the trees, probably old mining, but the trees are at least fifty years old and probably another fifty older than that.
Saturday 8th February – The Moors – Up onto the moors. A bright morning but the only birds that could be heard as I wandered down the path through the conifer plantations are Blue Tits. At the bottom of the steep valley the Little Don River is heavily stained with peat and flowing fast. I wanted to go up river to where the Little Don and Mickledon Beck join but the ground was so boggy that I was forced up the side of the valley and eventually met the Cal-der-went path on the top. A lot of the heather has been cut, probably because it has been so dry over recent years that there is a risk of setting the underlying peat bog alight if the gamekeepers burn the heather off in the traditional manner. Dill the Dog puts up quite a few pairs of Red Grouse who cry Go Back, Go Back as they glide back down into the denser areas of heath. When I reach the conifers again a flock of over sixty Siskins twitter overhead and land in the larches which are gaunt and bare with just seed cones on their branches. The Siskins are feeding and twittering in equal amounts. Back at the car park and scan across the fallow fields. A flock of over sixty Fieldfare are feeding on the muddy ground.
Saturday 15th February – Thorpe Hesley – A quick walk on the abandoned road off the M1 motorway on my way towards Sheffield. A few Blue Tits, Song Thrush and Chaffinches were calling. A Blackbird with a single white feather in its tail flashed by. Waxwings had been reported in the Meadowhall car park in Sheffield but had moved on, of course, by the time I visited.
Blackburn Meadows. – My luck did not improve when I checked the main pond and found only Tufted Duck and gulls – nearly all Black-headed and a few Common. The Black-headed Gulls are getting back their chocolate caps that give them their name. However, it appears I managed not to see the Smew which was reported in the corner. In the meantime I headed down the top side of the canal across the wastelands of deep pits and scarred soil. At the end of this area is the River Don – flowing fast and churning in places, full of mud and in other spots, the sunlight danced off the surface and rippled across the trunk and boughs of an overhanging tree. A few Mallard rose noisily into the air. When I got back to the reserve I was informed I had missed the Smew by five minutes. I then decided to head along the canal towards Rotherham. Dunnocks sang from scrubby bushes. All along the canal are the remains of walls of buildings which along with the huge areas of reclaimed land bear testament to the loss of so much industry along the Tinsley-Templeborough valley. When now a green grassy park stands once stood the furnaces and slag heaps of one of the great steel industries of the world. A strange semi-circular wall sits in a gap in the canal edge – no idea what its purpose had been. A large flock of Redpoll chitter down the valley feeding on the young Alders planted in the reclamation. On some of the Alders are large bunches of Catkins. High overhead a disembodied song floats down – the Sky Lark is there but I cannot locate it.
Sunday 16th February – Staveley, Derbyshire – The weather forecast is for wind and rain. However, I set out, for a second time, to Derbyshire to try and find the Black-throated Thrush. I arrive on the housing estate and find the road junction that the bird apparently frequents. Another birder is wandering about but no joy. He comments that the bird has been reported in a Hawthorn but where? It is cold and getting wetter. I look into a back garden and realise a largish tree is actually a Hawthorn. After a couple of minutes I spot a motionless bird, larger than a House Sparrow, sitting in the tree. I point it out to the other birder and we quickly agree we have finally found it. Eventually, the Black-throated Thrush hops up a couple of branches and shows a brown-grey back and pale underparts. There was little evidence of streaking on the breast or flanks but a scrappy black area on the throat is clear. By now my hands are freezing, so I depart.
Home – I had already got a fire going before going out so the room is warm and glowing. During the early afternoon a couple of Coal Tits visit the peanut and fat feeders – they have been scarce in the garden this winter. Later a fracas breaks out between a couple of male Blackbirds. They stalk each other around the Lilac tree and then burst into frantic fluttering and kicking across the grass.
Saturday 22nd February – Horbury – Walked along the tow path of the Calder-Hebble Canal from Horbury. Chaffinches, Blue and Great Tits all call from the hedgerows around the surrounding fields. A flock of Long-tailed Tits squeaks through a grove of trees lining the steep bank opposite. Up onto an old abandoned embankment. There is no sign of any bridge or continuation over the other side of the canal so this must have been a point where goods – coal? – were delivered by rail and loaded onto barges. Along the top of the embankment the Goat Willow (Pussy Willow) is in bloom. A Sparrowhawk sails overhead, moving this direction and that as it covers the rough ground next to the railway line and over the woods leading up to the main road. It attracts the attention of a Carrion Crow and they have a half-hearted dog-fight high in the air. The woods are covered with undergrowth, mainly Ivy and are quite a risky place to walk as the place is strewn with old dressed stone. It is quite unclear what structure once stood here and is now just large pieces of moss covered ankle-twisters.
Sunday 23rd February – The Moors – Who would be a sheep? Up on the Moors near Holme Moss and it is blowing a gale and driving that fine, penetrating rain right through me. Even Dill the Dog is standing, tail down, looking at me and making it clear that enough is enough! A few Carrion Crow float on the gale above but little else moves. The hillside is a maze of small fields delineated by dry stone walls. As I drive up towards the summit of Holme Moss the television mast is half obscured by cloud and rain. The poor old sheep are huddled up against walls which block the driving rain. Others stand in loose flocks, all facing the same direction with their rear ends taking the full blast of the elements. I drop down the long winding road to the Woodhead Reservoir – a road now quite well known to many as one of the highlights of the Leeds Cycle Race, an annual event which attracts many of the world’s top racing cyclists. Woodhead Reservoir is full and there is water rushing down the stone overflow channels – the first time I have ever seen any water in them!