Saturday 1st June – Netherwood Country Park – We return to the park to check the Perennial Cornflower. It is confirmed but a check around the area reveals no other clumps of this lovely flower. The temperature is rising as the sun rises higher into a clear blue sky. Apart from the Red Oaks there are also other oak trees with the “normal” leaf pattern. One sapling is a beautiful dark red colour. Butterflies are making the most of the weather – Speckled Woods, Common Blues, Whites and Brimstones. A Robin sits atop a tall conifer, watching the considerable area of land beneath him. Huge leaves of Giant Hogweed are growing fast now. Wild roses are in blossom, a rich pink display.
Monday 3rd June – Cliffe Wood – High above the Dearne Valley Park, the view across to Oakwell and beyond, central Barnsley gives a good idea of the topography of the area. The line of the canal can be seen curving around the hill opposite. Likewise, there are hints of the routes of the disappeared railway lines. Chiffchaffs call in the woods, their songs have degenerated from the clear chiff chaff with extra syllables. The woods are dry. Oak and Silver Birch dominate. Good numbers of Blackbirds move through the leaf litter searching for breakfast.
Home – Maybe a sign of global warming, a Hawthorn Shieldbug sits on a broad bean leaf. The guide records them as fairly common but confined to the southern half of the country. We picked a few broad beans the other night, but the beans inside are still tiny. Some of the potatoes are coming into flower. We have lost some glorious Lupins to Lupin Aphid, a large grey aphid that heavily infested the plants and killed them.
Wednesday 5th June – Barnsley Canal – The greenness of the area is overwhelming. Everything is lush and growing, from the huge leaves of Burdock to the ground covering clovers, from Water Mints to Bulrushes and from grasses to great Willows. A steady whooshing beat overhead marks the passing of a Mute Swan. Wrens are very vocal around the footbridge and Whitethroats sing from Brambles.
Home – Many young birds around the garden now. A pair of Coal Tits hover by the peanuts. They have not become afraid of humans yet and I approach closely before they fly off. Young Starlings strut around the grass seeking out the bread I put out earlier. A fledgling Mistle Thrush, a strange pale imitation of the adult, attempts to join in, but is easily intimidated by the Starlings, despite being somewhat larger than they are. The Wrens in the potting shed have fledged, but I have not seen them around.
Thursday 6th June – Dearne Valley Park – Dozens of Swifts are circling the woods on the hillside leading to Barnsley Main Colliery. Heading up river, there is a very loud and mobile Blackcap in the bushes, but it manages to remain unseen. A steady stream flows out from Slough Dike into the Dearne. A Grey Heron stands immobile on the bank of the fishing lake. A Common Tern hawks over the water, dives and emerges with a fry. It is immediately hassled by a pair of Black-headed Gulls and heads off with its catch.
Friday 7th June – Barnsley Canal – A quick walk before heading into town for the crucial World Cup match, Argentina -v- England. A Treecreeper is searching the huge Willow that hangs over (and in) in the canal. Young Blue Tits chatter in the branches above. A Whitethroat skulks in bushes, muttering. Swifts have congregated above Willowbank like a cloud of giant mosquitoes. (England 1 Argentina 0 – YES!!)
Saturday 8th June – Barnsley Canal – Down Willowbank on a very damp, grey morning. Everything is growing at full pace. Hawthorn shoots hang over the pathways and are heavy with rain water. Moving them aside gets me soaked. The grass beside the paths is wet and overhanging so that my boots are wet as well. The Mute Swan cob sails proudly along the loop followed by five cygnets and an equally proud looking pen. By the time I have headed along the canal, crossing where at a spot where a Coal Board manhole cover hides access to I know not what, and back up Greenfoot hill, I am wet through, both with rain drops from plants and sweat from the very humid air.
Sunday 9th June – Blackburn Meadows Nature Reserve – Squally showers and grey skies does not stop Whitethroats from chattering from bush to bush. The banks around the ponds are a riot of colour – rich purple of Tufted Vetch, the whole spectrum of white through pink to almost red of Dog Roses, white and yellow Ox-eye Daisies, pale yellow of Wild Mignonette, pale blue Meadow Cranesbills, pink Herb Robert, pale violet of Black Horehound, creamy Yellow Rattles and the huge white disks of Hogweed. Honeysuckle is just starting to bloom. Teasels are shooting up pale green stems and leaves, whilst the brown, dead Teasels from last year still stand on the banks. House Martins twitter as they fly low overhead. Rabbits run off and on one occasion, Dill the Dog makes a half hearted attempt to chase one.
Tuesday 11th June – Barnsley Canal – Just a few yards along the canal, the reed beds begin. And at last a Reed Warbler has arrived in the valley, singing loudly. I am able to watch from behind a small Hawthorn for several minutes, his white throat shining in the depths of the reeds as he jug jugs. Young Blue Tits hop around the great Willow. A Mallard duck with five large ducklings slips into reeds and other water plants at the bottom of Willowbank. Further along, both Wren and Sedge Warbler are singing constantly. Near the bridge, the reed beds have been hit by recent winds with areas about ten foot across flattened as if a giant ball has bounced on them. From the bridge, the greenery is spotted pink by Dog Roses with pats of cream Elderflowers in full bloom. The canal is a green channel, cracked by trails of Moorhens. A Blackbird takes advantage of the pools of muddy water on tow-path to have a bathe.
Wednesday 13th June – Barnsley Canal – A little later than usual as the early morning was taken up with a rather boring game of football – England -v- Nigeria. A goalless draw, but the result was important as it means we go through to the next round. Dill the Dog and I wander down Smithies Lane and onto Willowbank. Down the steep slope to the canal and along to the bridge. It is quiet and warm. Flies hover in above the path. A bright coppery orange Skipper butterfly is resting on a grass just too far to get a decent view. I guess at Large Skipper. Suddenly I stop when I hear a trilling call from the marsh in the valley. It sounds like a giant grasshopper, which is appropriate as it is a Grasshopper Warbler. Finding it in the dense marsh is impossible with the view obscured by the Hawthorn hedge that lines the tow-path. On the other side of the canal, a broken Blackbird eggshell lies on the track. The plaintive weeeip of Willow Warblers comes from all directions. A Chaffinch stands at the top of a bush singing, a Wren does the same from another bush but a boldly black mantled Reed Bunting on top of the hedgerow is silent. Clumps of pale pink Ragged Robin bloom in the wet sedge marsh. Up the hill and across the railway, where sadly a Hedgehog has met its death. In the meadow opposite, the pale green of tall grasses and the yellow of buttercups is contrasted with the rich purple of Hedge Woundwort.
Friday 14th June – Barnsley Canal – A leggy black ball staggers across the mud at a drier section of canal – a young Moorhen seeking cover. The Reed Warbler near Smithies Lane is still in fine voice. The duck Mallard and her chicks are sunning themselves on the remains of a Mute Swan’s nest – the one abandoned after the adults were shot at by thugs. In the old dock area below Willowbank, another much younger Moorhen chick, merely a black ball of fluff with a bright red spot of a head, is frantically trying to find its mother.
Tuesday 18th June – Barnsley Canal – The bird song has settled down to the usual suspects now. The Willow Warbler is close to the tow-path but flies deeper into the reeds as I pass. I stand still for a few minutes and he climbs the reeds and looks around. Eventually he starts singing again, but Dill the Dog comes back to investigate the delay and he is off down the reeds again. A Willow Tit calls in the thin hedgerow between the paddock and the canal. Mosquitoes buzz across the surface of the canal along with pond skaters. A Kingfisher flashes electric turquoise out from under some overhanging branches and off up the water. I catch the sight of a brown brush disappearing behind a hedge near the edge of the dock. I quietly run up the tow-path, keeping Dill the Dog with me. A large old dog Fox is padding across the slope. He turns, sees me and breaks into a run, disappearing into a mass of Brambles, Hawthorns and Elder on Willowbank. The meadow down from Greenfoot is a mass of colour – green grasses, yellow Buttercups, rusty red patches of Dock and white spots of Oxeye Daisies. Further along, the white spots are more varied with Cow Parsley and Bladder Campion as well as Daisies. A pair of Bullfinches are investigating under the roots of a fallen tree by the edge of the canal.
Wednesday 19th June – Barnsley Canal – It is wonderful how it does not matter how often one visits a place like the canal, there is always something different or new to see. The Kingfisher is present again, flashing up the canal, but this time it sits in a bare branched bush about six feet above the water. It suddenly turns and plunges, then off up the bank into the undergrowth. This is the first time I have ever seen a Kingfisher plunge in “real life”. There are several family groups of Long-tailed Tits working their way through trees. Three Dabchicks are by a narrow strip of reeds. They have the remnants of a stripe down their necks, indicating they are juveniles. They all dive at our approach. Something medium sized and grey explodes out of the Hawthorn hedge and away up the pasture with a loud strangled cry. It is repeated further up the path and is eventually located coming from the edge of the pasture, and more clearly from a telegraph pole. The mystery is solved as I spot a young Green Woodpecker on the pole, its back still spotty. An adult calls much more loudly and with a fuller yaffle from a short distance away. A pair of small brown birds are moving through the undergrowth of the hedge with a repeated short rasp of a call. I only get a few glimpses but I am sure there is a white throat on one of them. Checking the call later confirms them as Whitethroats. More of that species are singing from their more normal positions at the top of the hedge. I meet an old chap on the way back. “He’s accused me of cutting his wire”, he grumbles, “I said it weren’t me, he says R said it was! I reckon it were R that’s doing it and accusing other folk. He used to get the field rent free but now it’s rented out for the horses.” And off he goes. As it happens I have heard about this dispute in the pub. I really do not know who is who but it is all about some fences and gates being put up to pen horses in – and some folk do not like it. Ah, the problems of land disputes! The canal is almost glowing a luminous emerald green with algae in the sun.
Sunday 23rd June – South Downs, Sussex – Below Ditchling Beacon, the Weald stretches out. To the North, the North Downs sweep round from Kent and meet the South Downs on the Sussex Hampshire border. In between lies an ancient landscape of villages, small towns, farms and, most of all, woodlands. At the foot of the steep scarp slope is a vineyard on the edge of the village of Ditchling. Archery butts are set up on the rugby pitch. Beyond, the huge façade of St Francis Hospital, a former asylum. I can still remember lines of patients, their eyes dead to the world, walking along the roadside in the 1950s. To the west the Downs rise and fall in humps. Chanctonbury has not yet regained the full majesty of its ring of trees on its summit, the former ring being destroyed in the great gale of 1987. Behind the beacon is an Iron Age fort. Sky Larks rise over the fields, singing to the bright morning sun. In the far distance to the north-east, the heathlands and conifer woods of Ashdown Forest rise high from the flat clay landscape. I wander along the ancient trackway on top of the hills towards the west. A Meadow Pipit pauses on a stunted Hawthorn, its beak full of Green Bottle flies. Pale violet Orchids rise in the long grasses. In another wind-deformed Hawthorn, a Jay is very upset with a Carrion Crow and is berating it loudly. The hilltop flattens on Ditchling Down, a site protected by the National Trust. There are areas of Gorse. They contain numerous Yellowhammers and a few Linnets, whose bright red breasts look like they have been injured and are bleeding copiously. A well-established dew pond has water plants growing and a large blue-bodied Dragonfly hawks through reeds. Past Keymer Post and the path starts to drop towards the Hassocks-Ditchling road. Jack and Jill, a post and a tower windmill stand on the hill as they have done for a hundred years or more.
Wednesday 26th June – Barnsley Canal – The sun shines wanly through a thick haze of glaring cloud. But still no rain. The canal is low, just black mud in places. The tow-path is dry and dusty. Two Grey Herons and a Stock Dove rest in a dead tree in the Loop. The trunk is stained white with guano. A Honeysuckle blossoms rich cerise, pink and orange in the Hawthorn hedge. The Mute Swan family is asleep on a muddy edge of the Loop, the cygnets a mass of grey fluff. Purple and pink flowers are in ascendance – Thistles, Foxgloves and Purple Loosestrife along the damp edges of the canal. Elderflowers are coming to an end, tiny green berries replacing the creamy flowers. Haws are beginning to take on a hint of redness. The local leaf warblers – Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler are again in song.
Thursday 27th June – Barnsley Canal – A sudden brightness in the background of green – a male Bullfinch and a Kingfisher both in view simultaneously. The latter flies up over the Hawthorn hedgerow towards the river. House Martins swoop low over the canal. A cold wind blows from the north. A young Dabchick is in the same place I saw the older juveniles last week, maybe a second brood. Under the hedgerow, a small pink flower (one of the Willowherbs?) has shown its determination to bloom by growing through a hole in a vast Burdock leaf.
Friday 28th June – Barnsley Canal – Overnight rain has dampened down the dust on the tow-path and the pools are a little muddy. A Grey Heron is squatted at the top of a Hawthorn by the Loop. Its incongruous position makes it look rather daft and it flies off with an indignant squawk. A Meadow Brown flits along the edge of the canal and a Comma is visiting leaves on a Birch in the bright sun.