Saturday 1st July – Pugney’s Sand Pit Lake – It is more like a November day rather than the first day of July. Very fine rain and a heavy mist shrouds the area. There are good numbers of young Shelduck. Numerous Sand Martins and Swallows sweep low over the water and banks. Black-headed Gulls are gathering into a flock. A number of waders search the mud including a Green Sandpiper, Little Ringed Plovers and Dunlin.
Bottomboat – Small village to the North of Wakefield. A path leads past a pond where white Water Lilies are opening. A half-hearted Sedge Warbler song comes from the reeds. The River Calder is slow and languid. Pair of Tufted Duck fly upstream. The path leads around the edge of a field and up onto the river bank. The scent of Chamomile fills the air. Bistort, a strange looking red flower grows in the long grass. A steep climb up a colliery slag-heap to a plateau of desolate scrubby grasses on black coal waste. There is the strange combination of Sedges and Dog Roses. From the top the Aire and Calder Canal can be seen running alongside the river. Another slag-heap is still being raised to the north. A Hare runs for cover. Back down to other end of the village. Narrow gauge rails emerge through broken tarmac. A pub, The Rising Sun, has survived as has the Post Office, but the Primitive Methodist Chapel of 1874 is derelict as is the Bottomboat Clarence Working Mens Club and Institute (Registered and Affiliated No 4737) of 1911. A row of cottages has a plaque “Wynard House, 1893”. Another chapel at the end of the village is now a domestic dwelling, but retains a simple stone cross on the apex of the roof. Driving through the pit villages around Wakefield, most of the chapels and some churches are now commercial properties. As Christianity took over the sites of the old religion, so the new religion, capitalism is taking over from the Church.
Broomhill – A dull evening for a visit to Broomhill to try out Burnsie’s new telescope. There is a report of a female Scaup and it takes a while to confirm a sleeping duck is indeed this bird. A Black-tailed Godwit also makes things a bit tricky by burying its beak into its back. There are good numbers of Little Plovers and Redshank. A nesting Common Tern gets angry with a Moorhen who is returning to her on a wooden platform. Fat Stock Doves waddle around the edge of the flash. There are good numbers of young birds including Redshank, Common Tern, Coots, Mallard and Little Plovers.
Sunday 2nd July – Wombwell Ings – It is raining heavily and incessantly. Dill the Dog is very unimpressed. Teal, Gadwall and Snipe are feeding on the soaking mud and both Little and Ringed Plovers chase around. Little else is moving. A Toad crawls through the wet grass towards the sewage transfer ditch.
Saturday 15th July – Wombwell Ings – Where is the summer? A cold north-westerly blows over the area. A swarm of House Martins swoop low over the trees and hedgerows by the park. Swallows quarter the recreation ground, a few inches above the mown grass. A Grey Heron rises heavily from the sewage transfer ditch and flaps off. High above a “Commic” Tern shrieks loudly whilst being harassed by two Black-headed Gulls. Lapwings are flocking up on the Ings along with a number of Black-headed gulls whose chocolate hoods are fading. Ringed Plovers stalks among the Lapwings. A small flock of Linnets feed on the algae by the water’s edge. A pair of Mute swans still have four fluffy grey cygnets. Teal are in eclipse. Young Tufted Duck learn to dive as their mother watches. The rough meadow is dominated by Ragwort and Spear Thistles. Red, club-like heads and serrated leaves of Great Burnet tangle with a thistle. Meadow Browns are common.
Sunday 16th July – Silkstone Fall – The woods are quiet. The occasional cheep of a Blue Tit is all that disturbs the air. Underfoot fir cones crunch. No sign of any fungi yet.
Langsett Reservoir – Not a wildfowl in sight on the blank expanse of steely grey water. A family of Grey Wagtails flit along the dam, their bright yellow breasts bringing some colour to the dark scene.
Midhope Moor – A twitch! A young Montagu’s Harrier has been reported from this site for some weeks now. The bird had been seen earlier in the morning but has now gone to ground. Suddenly, it rises from the bracken and lands on the rising side of the moor. A pale grey bird with those long, bent harrier wings. It lands again and preens for a while. Then it takes off and drifts along the side of the rolling moorland. Upset Lapwings harass it. It has a brief encounter with a Common Buzzard before moving on.
Oxspring – The old road bridge is closed and a functional, but less visually pleasant concrete one carries the traffic a few metres away. Large pipes also cross the small river. Rocks in the water are streaked with guano, signs of Grey Wagtails and Dippers using them as convenient perches. A spotty, fat juvenile Robin demands to be fed.
Friday 21st July – Barnsley Canal – A tangle of Honeysuckle is draped over bushes beside the canal. It has burst into delicate peach coloured flowers. Young, rather scruffy looking, Chiffchaffs search bank side grasses for insects. Sadly, it appears the Mute Swans have lost their only cygnet. Meadow Sweet is flowering into fluffy, cream heads.
Home – Black Sunflower seeds have proved a great attraction to finches. Bullfinches, Chaffinches, Greenfinches and Goldfinches are all regular visitors, along with Dunnocks, Great, Blue and Coal Tits, House Sparrows, Blackbirds of various ages, Robins, Wood Pigeons and Collared Doves. A Song Thrush makes a very rare appearance but does not stay long.
Sunday 23rd July – Wombwell Ings – A female Tufted Duck with nine ducklings swims down the Dearne, eyeing me warily. Another female Tufted Duck has three much younger ducklings. A Yellowhammer sings nearby. Some Spear Thistles have already gone to seed, much to the delight of a flock of Goldfinches. A large flock of House Sparrows is flitting down from the riverside Hawthorns into a wheat field and pulling the nearly ripe grains from the wheat heads. A Cormorant, the first I have seen in the area since the early spring, flies overhead.
Wednesday 26th July - Barnsley Canal - Pinks and yellows dominate the floral scene - the latter almost exclusively provided by Ragwort. The pinks range from the near purples of Purple Loosetrife, Burdock and Lesser Knapweed to the rich pinks of Great and Rosebay Willowherbs, Selfheal and Spear Thistles. A Sedge Warbler sings, disjointedly and half-heartedly. Half a dozen Grey Herons sit in trees around the loop A Greenfinch wheezes and a Willow Warbler huits plaintively. Green berries have formed on Elder and Hawthorn. Further up the canal white flowers take command – Gypsywort (named since Gypsies were meant to have blackened themselves with it to pass themselves off as Africans whilst performing magic and fortune telling), Yarrow (or Milfoil), Bladder Campion, Northern Bedstraw, Meadow Sweet and Blackberry Bramble. A family of Dabchicks (Little Grebe) dive with a splash. Chocolate brown truncheons of Great Reed Mace (Bulrush) are forming. Butterflies include Small White, Gatekeeper and many Meadow Browns. On the rough meadow, young Whitethroats shoot out from a Hawthorn with grating alarm calls.
Thursday 27th July – Blackburn Meadows – A Water Vole is motoring across the Sheffield – Rotherham Canal, leaving a little wake behind it. Mounds of Vetch are a rich variety of purple through pink to white, although they are beginning to fade. Across the ground between the ponds the purple blends with the bright yellow of Ragwort and St John’s Wort to form a glorious riot of pastel shades. Teasels are in flower, a band of purple around the green bottle brush heads. Greater Knapweed flowers have a halo of purple rays around the purple head. Field Scabious is a delicate blue, certainly not reflecting the grey sky. A young Little Grebe calls for its mother as she dives on the lagoon.
Bolsover – A mining town high on a hill in Derbyshire, seat of the legendary “Beast of Bolsover”, Dennis Skinner MP, a veteran socialist and parliamentarian. The top of the long slope up from the valley containing the Markham Main Colliery (closed) and the M1 motorway (far from closed) is crowned by Bolsover Castle. It is a mock castle built on the site of an old Norman Castle. Building started in 1612 and continued until the 1660s. The castle consists of a fantastic house, the Little Castle, the Terrace Range, the main house and the Riding School Range, for horses. The buildings were started by Charles Cavendish and completed by his son William. The castle was designed by Robert Smythson and his son John. The Little Castle is partially redecorated inside, with lavish wall panels and friezes. Buxom women rest in idyllic bowers, musicians play and muscular men wrestle wild beasts. Fire places are tall complex constructions in marble. The kitchens are in the basement and the bread ovens, sinks and storage cupboards are still in place. The Terrace Range is far more ruined. From certain angles, the silver trails of snails up the wall look like a decoration. In the walled garden’s walls are small rooms. In one dark, dank room a bat expresses its annoyance with being disturbed. The sandstone door frame of the “Shoeing” Hall has been planed off, revealing the extraordinary grain of the layers of sandstone. In the grassed area in front of the Riding Range stands a magnificent Copper Beech. Below the castle, way down the slope is a model town built for miners. Kay is amused by a doctor’s surgery built in the grounds of a graveyard – not the best advert!
Friday 28th July – Wombwell Ings – Five Grey Herons sit morosely around the shrinking ings. The numbers of Lapwings and Black-headed Gulls grows. A pair of Mute Swans with cygnets sleep in the middle of the water. Stock Doves fly in to the edge of the mud. Swifts and Swallows hunt insects low overhead. Canada Geese and Ruddy Duck have removed to the smaller pond. The only sound is the constant peewitting of the Lapwings. Walking through the rough grass disturbs large numbers of Meadow Browns and Gatekeepers.
Saturday 29th July – Pugney’s Sand Pit – Over one hundred Sand Martins jostle for space on a wire fence on the far side of the lake. They rise like flies occasionally and then settle again. A single Little Plover moves through the flock of Black-headed Gulls and Lapwings. A stand of late Field Poppies splash red over a bank of shingle by the sandpit workings.