July 1998

Sunday 5th July – Pugney’s Country Park – A strong wind rustles the leaves. Few birds sing, just the plaintive descent of a Willow Warbler. There is a stand of Spear Thistles, just coming into bloom. Sky Larks sing and Reed Buntings’ black heads and white collars flash by. On the fishing lake a Great Crested Grebe has its tippets raised. The pale mauve heads of Field Scabious or Gypsy Rose stand proud in a corner, overshadowing the pink blossom of Red Campion and the now finishing umbrellas of Cow Parsley. By the river, Fat Hen and Tansy have a week or two to go before they share their glory with us. Bright yellow star shaped flowers of Biting Stonecrop are adorning on the soap making residue mounds. At least ten Great Crested Grebe on the new lake the gravel quarry. Unfortunately, the new lake meant the destruction of an old sand cliff which had housed a good sized Sand Martin colony. An Arctic Tern swoops over the surface of the water. Black-headed Gulls and Lapwings are beginning to flock up on a spit of gravel. The sighting of a Sand Martin brings hope there is still a nesting site somewhere here.

Wednesday 8th July – Barnsley Canal – Another wet night, but it makes the air fresh and clean smelling. Blackcaps are still singing in their territories. I suddenly have to stop when I catch sight of small objects moving on the tow path. Dozens of tiny frogs everywhere. I stand for a while and fortunately they hop back towards the canal. However, as I proceed along the path walking becomes a delicate operation as the dozens turn into hundreds. Whitethroats’ chattering song has been reduced to a six note effort, repeated continuously. White, fluffy Meadow Sweet (a source of aspirin) blooms beside the water. The Mute Swan cygnets are either asleep or preening on the nursery nest. They are growing rapidly now.

Thursday 9th July – Barnsley Canal – Yet another cloudy, cool and blustery day. The huge leaves of Burdock are now joined by stalks of globular flower heads festooned with hooks. Ragwort is blooming but no sign of the Cinnabar Moth caterpillars that feed exclusively upon it. Most bird song is now the post breeding truncated trunk – except for a Blackcap which insists on serenading all with his full aria. On the hillside a Kestrel justifies its old name of “Wind Hover”. The shining pink flowers of both Great and Rose-bay Willowherbs are enriching the canal side.

Saturday 11th July – Barnsley Canal – There are still some froglets hopping about the tow-path. Dill the Dog excitedly finds a full grown specimen, not difficult as it is squatting motionless in the middle of the track. I launch it back into the reed bed. The edge of the canal is profuse with colour – purple Tufted Vetch, spotted pink of Black Horehound, yellow Ragwort, sky blue Forget-me-nots with a yellow eye, white clover all set against a myriad of greens. A Little Grebe dives into the reeds. A Bullfinch meeps quietly as it slips across the canal into the Hawthorns.

Sunday 12th July – Gypsy Marsh, Broomhill – A Kestrel twists and turns in the wind as it drops from on high then hovers motionless and silently above the mown meadow beside the marsh. On the marsh, Reed Buntings are calling from all directions. A pair of Gatekeepers enjoy a brief respite from the wind driven drizzle. The large yellow flowers of Greater Spearwort brighten the Bulrush stands.

Friday 17th July – Broomhill – The old Broomhill to Darfield road is closed, superseded by the parallel A1-M1 link road. Greenery is creeping out from the kerbs to reclaim the land. Flowers – Hogweed, Wild Parsnip, Spear Thistle, St John’s Wort, Feverfew, Common Mallow and Burdock bloom in this kerbside strip. A screeching sound comes from beyond a tumbled-down wall. Over the wall is a small, very overgrown sandstone quarry and the caller is on the side – a fully grown Kestrel chick being fed by its parent.

Saturday 18th July – Broomhill – I look in again on the young Kestrel which flies under a bush and peers out at me. The old railway, which was abandoned long before the road was closed, is completely overgrown with grasses, young Ash and Beech. A Yellowhammer is calling insistently. Swifts are feeding high overhead. Jays chack and a pair of Green Woodpeckers laugh as they fly through the surrounding woods. Back on the road, tiger-striped caterpillars of the Cinnabar Moth are feeding on Ragwort. Returning past the quarry and two juvenile Kestrels are on the rock face.

Old Moor – The new wetlands at Old Moor are quiet – a few juvenile Black-headed and Lesser Black-backed Gulls. There are numerous House and a few Sand Martins over Broomhill Flash. Coot, Mallard, Tufted Ducks and Shelduck all have young. A male Linnet with its breast looking like fresh blood stands by the water. Young Pied Wagtails chase. Wood Pigeons and Stock Doves feed on the mud.

Sunday 19th July – Wortley Top Forge – The old forge lies on a curve of the River Don north of Sheffield. The surrounding woods are quiet, fractured only by the occasional Magpie and a burst of song from a Wren. The river is low and flows steadily, in no haste to reach the city. As the woods peter out a field of Meadow Sweet appears. In damp patches along the path, the huge leaves of Butterbur are tatty and worn.

Hood Green – Down a cracked and broken tarmac road, lined with ruined concrete lamp standards. The only sound is an insistent Yellowhammer, his sulphur yellow head gleaming in the grey morning. Into a mass of concrete bays and roadways, all being taken over by Birches, Ashes, Oaks and Brambles. The smell of coal is still here giving away the former use of the site as a pit. Lupins, escaped from a garden dominate a bankside. Nettles, Comfrey, St John’s Wort, Ragwort, Goat’s Rue, Common Centaury and Bindweed add to the colour. A path leads off and then branches off into fields. (Checking the map later shows the main path was an old colliery Branch from the Worsbrough to Penistone line.) Dill the Dog flushes a Grey Partridge which squeaks angrily whilst whirring off and down into the safety of wheat. A Chiffchaff starts singing in the woods. Dill the Dog is full of herself today and there are sharp words as she nearly disappears down a large sett. Swinging back through the woods brings the path back to the other end of the colliery. Flies are rather a nuisance here. The path here is a long straight concrete roadway with a narrow gauge rail track running along its centre. A Green Woodpecker flashes by. Back at the bottom of the lane leading back up to the road, a covey of ten Red-legged Partridges is feeding on the crumbling surface.

Monday 20th July – Barnsley Canal – There are only three Mute cygnets now. A “Commic” Tern (so called by birders when they cannot make their mind up if it is a Common or Arctic Tern) flies over, calling loudly despite having a beak full of food. There are still no Cinnabar moth caterpillars on the Ragwort. Greenfinch, Chiffchaff, Sedge Warbler are all singing.

Thursday 23rd July – Barnsley Canal – Early evening and the kissing call of House Martins is overhead as they twist through the air chasing insects. A Willow Warbler meeps loudly from a Hawthorn, also feeding furiously. On the canal the three cygnets and their parents are skimming beakfuls of Duckweed off the surface. The cob arches his wings menacingly as Dill the Dog stops and looks. The cygnets are quite large now and look like young swans rather than balls of grey fluff. On the rough meadow there are, at last, black and yellow striped caterpillars on Ragwort. Bloodsuckers, feed on thistles.

Friday 24th July – Barnsley Canal – A shiny furred Water Vole sits in the middle of the Duckweed covered canal nibbling at the head of a broken reed, oblivious of my presence. There are now substantial numbers of Hedge Browns fluttering in the long grass.

Burnsie in the Shaw Inn – “I had an Hamster. A beast of an Hamster. It used to get out of cage – just ripped door open. One night it disappeared and we gave it up for dead. One morning me mam went down t’ coil ’ole and came up screaming, “Thar’s a rat dahn thar”. So I was despatched down with an iron poker to deal with t’rat. It were the Hamster. It had been rolling in the coal so it were all black.”

Saturday 25th July – Darfield – House Sparrows chirp noisily from the hedge down the old road. Harvesting has begun and the field on the left is cropped and golden like a Romanian World Cup footballer. Small Tortoiseshells and Large Whites are feeding on Ragwort. A Gatekeeper and a dragonfly (green body, black pterostigma– Lestes sponsa?) sun themselves by a tumbled down sandstone wall. A Wood Pigeon calls in the wood – My toe bleeds Taffy.

Sunday 26th July – Barnsley Canal – The muggy weather has brought out the flies in profusion and they buzz annoyingly around my head. A horse has decided to follow me along the fields. The rough ground near the old canal bridge has all been grubbed up by a JCB. I cannot imagine anyone has planning permission to build here – it will be a bad loss of a good warbler habitat if this area is lost. There are considerable numbers of Cinnabar moth caterpillars on the Ragwort now. A Reed Warbler is singing in full flow from the beds. Tufted Vetch is growing in purple profusion in the yellowing meadows. The paths around the canal are now bone dry, which makes a pleasant change. I suddenly hear a sound that has been absent recently, for some reason – Dill the Dog in the canal. She appears to have chosen a particularly foetid part to bathe in as she emerges black and slimy! I cross the broad flood plain and she is in again. This time the slime is a red brown. We reach the Dearne, and whilst it is far from the purest river ever, at least it cleans her. Crossing back towards the canal and there is a patch of delicate blue Meadow Cranesbills. Tansy is about to flower. Huge Burdock plants are covered in their burrs.

Monday 27th July – Barnsley – On the old Stairfoot-Cudworth line at Laithes Lane. Yellow Common Melilot in profusion in the disturbed ground beside the new path. The Beatson Clark glass works drones away in the background, whilst Willow Warblers cry questioningly. Black Medick is low growing with yellow ball like flowers. Lesser Knapweed is profuse. There is much twittering and chattering overhead as Swallows and House Martins feed. Mistle Thrushes rasp as they fly across the parkland beside the ruined Monk Bretton Priory. Further up the Dearne Country Park, Golden Rod is beginning to bloom. A dragonfly zips past, brown wings, brown striped body (Aeshna grandis?).

Tuesday 28th July – West Yorkshire – Lapwing flocks over Hartshead Moor (on the M62) and an Industrial Estate by M621, just outside Leeds.

Barnsley – A Hedgehog pauses by the side of my street hoping not to be seen. After I pass s/he ambles through a garden gate in search of the near Biblical plague numbers of slugs and snails around this year.