Saturday 1st January – New Year’s Day – Nunney, Somerset – The drink, food and fireworks of the previous night are now a memory. We feed the Mallard and varieties of semi-domesticated duck by Nunney Castle. Jackdaws chack loudly from the battlements. The leucistic Blue Tit is still visiting the fat ball and bird table.
Sunday 2nd January – Nunney – We walk by Nunney Brook, downstream. A Kingfisher darts away. Large numbers of Goldcrests, Blue, Great and Coal Tits are feeding in the Ivy that grows up the mature trees. Catkins are forming densely on Willows. A flock of Fieldfares flies overhead, calling. The area is muddy and seems permanently damp. Dripping bright green mosses cover dead Elders. A Jay croaks up in trees on the hillside above the brook. Dill the Dog changes colour from mud brown back to white as she jumps in the river and back onto the muddy path, where the cycle starts again. Meanwhile, “teflon” Buster the self-cleaning dog follows Dill the Dog but somehow remains a clean golden colour! A bridge takes a track up to the road. Further downstream a Dipper bobs on a spit of sand. The road heads back to Nunney. In one field there are scattered trees and a large hedgerow. The twittering from the hedges sounds like an aviary. Hundreds of Redwings are scattered across the field. Starlings, Blackbirds, Chaffinches and Meadow Pipits dart to and fro from the hedge to the field. A Great Spotted Woodpecker flies through roadside trees.
Saturday 8th January – Edderthorpe – The new road is now open, with a large lay–by for birders to park up. However, no-one has told the birds which are in very short supply. A large number of Wigeon are moving around the area.
Wombwell Ings – Good numbers of Goosander are preening, stretching and generally circling on the Ings. A large flock of Redwings, Meadow Pipits, Starlings and the odd Mistle Thrush feed in areas of short grass in the common ground around the Ings.
Sunday 9th January – Blackburn Meadows – A bright frosty morning sees considerable duck movement over the reserve. Groups of Mallard circle and disperse. A remarkable sixty three Gadwall are on the Lake, with another four on Holmes Farm Flash. A group of five Mute Swans is approached by a sixth in an aggressive display – wings flared like the Melbourne Opera House and his neck arched with his head on his breast. He swims rapidly across the pond creating a fair bow wave and picks on one of the others and drives it off. However, they both disappear into the sky. Much whistling comes from McKay’s Lagoon where half a dozen male Teal circle a female, trying to impress her. Another larger group of Teal seem to be content to watch the wooing. The Mute Cob is with a pen on the Lake, whilst the driven off cob is looking rather nervous and dejected on the canal.
Sunday 16th January – Pugneys Country Park – A heavy frost sprinkles the grass with gleaming white tints. However, we are not having a sustained cold period which would kill off a lot of the garden pests. Last winter had few really hard frosts and it showed in the summer with near plague numbers of snails and slugs. The small pond by the sand pit is frozen and Black-headed Gulls skate across the surface. Canada Geese, Mallard, Coot, Great Crested Grebes, Wigeon and Lapwings occupy the sandpit and the surrounding grassy banks.
Saturday 22nd January – Saltaire – Titus Salt was a Victorian Mill owner of considerable wealth. He had a number of mills in Bradford, but was disturbed by the appalling living conditions endured by his workers. Between 1851 and 1853 he built a new mill up the Aire valley by Shipley. He then built a model village on the surrounding twenty five acres. The mill was bought in 1987 by Jonathan Silver (who sadly died last year) and turned into workshops, including Pace Microelectronics and retail and exhibition areas. Silver was a good friend of artist David Hockney, himself a Bradford man, so there is a substantial Hockney exhibition in a huge open floor of the mill used as a bookshop. The village is built in the dark yellow-grey local stone and main streets are named after Salt’s daughters. Huge lions adorn the corner plinths of the walls in front of the Institute and school. Near the canal and park rises the extraordinary Congregational Church. The front of the building is semicircular with pillars holding a roof from which rises a “pepper pot” of a tower. The tower is bejewelled with panels of coloured stone and it is all topped with a dome. The one thing not found in Saltaire is an inn or public house, although tales of Salt’s militant teetotalism are untrue, he drank wine and allowed an off-licence in the village.
Sunday 23rd January – Scout Dyke Reservoir – A bitter wind blows across the reservoir, which nestles under Whitely Moor, an eastern outcrop of the Pennines. Below the dam is the pumping station, header pool and the run-off stream. A Dipper is dunking itself in the middle of the stream. There are a disturbing number of dead spruces in the woods. A Great Crested Grebe, four male Tufted Duck and a gorgeous male Goldeneye brave the wind on the reservoir.
Ingbirchworth – The next reservoir up the valley. A small flock of Pochard sleep. Male Mallard are circling around females. A few Black-headed and Common Gulls are still roosting.
Huddersfield – A search of Sainsbury’s car park fails to find a reported Waxwing. We walk along the canal besides the store and cross a bridge constructed in 1865. Huge counter weights raise the whole road vertically, rather than pivoting on one end of the roadway as normal. A huge mill, built in 1846, towers above.
Wednesday 26th January – Thorne – A brief walk around some fishing ponds on a cool and cloudy afternoon. A family group of Bullfinches meep quietly from a plantation of saplings. A motley gathering of Mallards and feral hybrids quack loudly on the ponds. A Moorhen skitters across the water. A few Black-headed Gulls bathe.
Sunday 31st January – Newmillerdam – Great Tits and Robins sing in what is a largely quiet woodland. An abandoned railway track has collapsed in one place and flooded. Dill the Dog delights in charging through the dirty blackened water, and is, of course, soon dirty and blackened herself. An old bridge, built of stone has been reinforced with an arch of old railway track. A great plume of pure white steam from Royston Coking plant rises against the grey sky.