Friday 5th January – Barnsley Canal – Mist covering the area. Down on the canal I am surprised at the size of the Fieldfare flocks. They are very flighty and wheeling around from high tree to high tree making counting difficult, but I reckon somewhere around 120. Oddly many fewer Redwings, maybe only 30 around.
Home – Made up a couple of pots of seed and suet cake last night, so hung them on the lilac in the front garden (garden is a bit of a euphemism). Also bought a self assembly bird table from the supermarket. Nearly poke eye out with screwdriver whilst assembling! Of course, no bird has got near it, but doubtless they will – aha! just as I typed that I turned around to see a Blue Tit alight, grab a seed and retreat!
Saturday 6th January – South Yorkshire – The mist is far worse today. Peer over the wall at Ingbirchworth reservoir but unable to even see the water. Drive east to Broomhill but still bad visibility. A Kestrel rises from the road side with what looks like a large worm in one claw. Above Wombwell Ings a large flock of Golden Plover wheels.
Sunday 7th January – Barnsley Canal – Much clearer conditions after a night of heavy rain. There is considerable surface water over the valley below the canal. An attempt to get across the swollen streams is abandoned when Dill the Dog demonstrates how deep the water and mud actually is. The Fieldfare flock is charging around all over the side of Willowbank; indeed it is quite a sight with the flock dividing and rejoining, settling and rising in different areas almost continuously. Moorhens and Mallard are feeding in the flooded flats. Three Grey Herons flap lazily to various parts of the marshland, occasionally croaking to one another. Beneath a bush a flock of Goldfinch and a single Willow Tit are feeding, presumably on seeds. In the middle of the flood a lone, stranded bush provides a perch for a Kingfisher who intently watches the sub-aqua grasslands.
Tuesday 9th January – Sheffield – Looking out of my office window in Sheffield and saw several large flocks of Fieldfares flying over the city. More rose up from the old Cemetery beside our offices and they headed north-west. In the night, I awoke and heard at least two Tawny Owls calling from the woods behind the houses opposite.
Wednesday 10th January – Pontefract – A meeting in the town this morning. Stop just before the town to let Dill the Dog have a walk down a farm track. From a field comes the key jangling calls of Corn Buntings. A small flock is feeding in the field with a couple in a bush calling. The Corn Bunting has declined hugely over this century because of the change of farming methods. Again, overhead a huge Fieldfare and Redwing flock flies south. Although not a deep flock it stretches across the sky for what looks like over a mile.
Saturday 13th January – Barnsley Canal – Fewer Fieldfares down the canal but now there are far more Redwings - a couple of flocks of 30 plus and a lot of individuals standing on the top of Hawthorns surveying the valley. Blackbirds, Robins and Great Tits are all singing, presumably beginning to establish territories.
Home – At last a Blue Tit decides to investigate my suet and seed cake and a first year Blackbird cagily approaches the bird table and feeds on the seeds and nuts.
Saturday 20th January – Barnsley Canal – A week of non-stop work. However, I seem to have been always driving in the right direction as the heavy fogs have caused innumerable accidents on the roads, but always holding up the traffic in the opposite direction to that I am travelling. During the week, as Dill the Dog had her short walks in the morning, signs of spring are at least being heard. Blackbirds, Robins, Starlings and Great Tits are all singing away loudly. Much colder this morning with a cutting easterly down the canal. Still decent sized flocks of Redwings and Fieldfare around the area. A couple of Wrens fly across the canal. From a small woodland comes a shrieking like a pair of wild cats fighting. It takes a few minutes to locate the Jays making the noise, and then it is a brief flash of white as they disappear deeper into the woods.
Saturday 27th January – Willowbank – Heavy snow overnight and snowing all day. A quick trip down to Willowbank but I am cold and the hill down to the canal looks lethally slippery, so I just scan the area. Nothing apart from a couple of gulls, either Herring or Lesser Black-backs I would guess, high overhead. The Great Tits are still calling out merrily despite the constant drizzle of snow.
Home - Top up the seed on the bird table and clear the snow off the other feeders. The young Blackbird has decided it owns the bird table and stands guard over it. A poor little Dunnock does not get a look-in until I stand at the window gesticulating at the Blackbird which goes away for a while. House Sparrows are on the peanut feeder and Blue Tits on the suet. I also throw some seed out the back and a Robin and Wren both come to investigate. By early afternoon the bird table needs topping up again - and it is still snowing.
Sunday 28th January – Barnsley Canal – Still cold but a thaw has set in, but more snow as well as staying cold is promised. Decide not to dig the car out and we just head off for the canal. How Dill the Dog manages not to injure herself with her manic behaviour in snow is something of a mystery. She skids, swerves, tumbles over yet still seems to want more. Then some odour calls her and she settles down to some serious sniffing and scenting herself. At first I assumed the big winter thrush flocks had broken up with the snowy weather. However, when I reach the bottom of the valley beside the cut-off river loop the sky fills with Fieldfares – a flock of some 200 plus rise up from the fields and move onto the hawthorn hedgerow. As we pass the loop, two groups of Wigeon rise up – not a species often seen down the valley. A pair of Grey Partridge and a pair of Jays are also spooked up. Round the other side of the valley, beside the Dearne, there is another large flock of Fieldfares and Redwings. On the hillside Great Tits are still calling regularly. Back home, get a fire going. The logs from the tree chopped down in the summer split well to make both kindling and nice large pieces that burn well. A pair of Collared Doves squeeze onto the bird table, much to the disgust of the Blackbird. A Coal Tit makes one of its all too rare visits and feeds on the suet cake.