June 1997

Sunday 1st June – Rother Valley Country Park – A pleasant walk around the disused railways. The heatwave continues but there is a relieving breeze. Large numbers of Swifts are chasing and screaming overhead. There are also good numbers of Whitethroats in the bushes and hedgerows.

Monday 2nd June – Pugney’s Country Park – A quick visit on the way to work. There was a report of Little Gulls yesterday but today there are only noisy Black-headed Gulls and Common Terns. One of the latter hawks over the main lake shadowed by a Black-headed Gull who will be quite happy to pirate anything the tern catches.

Friday 6th June – West Bretton – Overnight rain has freshened everything – although I probably did not need a line full of washing to have been freshened as such! A Curlew floats over farmland. A Yellowhammer sits on a stone gatepost and watches me and Dill the Dog before disappearing into a small Elder bush. The umbellifer (must find out which one sometime) is splattered with Cuckoo Spit.

Home – Sitting quietly looking out the window, I was surprised to see a splendid male Bullfinch sitting on the climbing (and very rambling) rose by the window. It was the first time I have ticked this species around home.

Saturday 7th June – Pugney’s Country Park – A report of a Garganey sends me off up the motorway on a dull morning. I had not known about the new landscaping at the sand pit and was surprised at the size of the site. A pair of Little Ringed Plovers, a few Tufted Duck, Pochard and Great Crested Grebes dot the water but no sign of the Garganey. A family of Canada Geese glides across the pond, the goslings nearly full-grown. Across the surface skim Sand Martins. By the path are towering waste mounds from the old soap works, mainly made up of a variety of Fuller’s Earth. In the hedgerows the creamy pancakes of Elder flowers shine in the weak sunshine. I wander back up the River Calder. Dill the Dog has found plenty of dirty, damp grass to roll in and looks fairly disgusting. Sedge Warblers are singing from each bank. A small brown and white bird proves elusive in the grass and disappears across the river into the undergrowth. It looked like a Reed Warbler but the environment is completely wrong. It goes down as one that got away. Reed Buntings and House Sparrows feed in a boggy dip entering the parkland, filled with Willows and sedges. I check the fishing pond but only a pair of Mute Swan and some Coot are present. Wrens, Reed Buntings and Greenfinches are singing in the bushes lining the ditch between the farmland and park. I hear a Garden Warbler in a willow and the disembodied song is moving around but it took fully five minutes before I can locate him. Over the meadow a Sky Lark parachutes slowly down, singing continuously. A singing Whitethroat rises up from a bush like a rocket into the air that runs out of fuel and is slowly reclaimed by gravity. Common Terns and Black-headed Gulls are nesting on the Nature Reserve lake and there at the back of the lake amongst the sleeping Tufted Duck is a sleeping Garganey – my first since 1993. Overhead there are clouds of Swifts like giant mosquitoes darting through the air. From the main hide I can see the ungainly Black-headed Gull chicks staggering around a pontoon, whilst a family of Mute Swans lie asleep in the brightening sun.

Sunday 8th June – The Moors – Another attempt to find Wood Warblers at Ewden Beck – and another failure. A Chaffinch sings noisily from deep in the woods, a Blue Tit chirps intermittently and a Willow Warbler meeps quietly from a small tree by the track. But no whisper of a Wood Warbler. I drive down and back up the steep valley and across the moors. Nothing moving here. I then drop down to Broomhead reservoir. Nothing on the water. A Garden Warbler sings from the centre of the thick shrubbery under the towering pines. A Song Thrush alights at the top of one of the conifers and sings loudly. Movement in a thicket in the pines reveals a young Long-tailed Tit. As I head back towards Barnsley I decide to drop into the Deepcar valley. A track leads along side the River Don and then up into the Ash and Maple woodlands. A Blackcap sings from a low bough. Further up a Spotted Flycatcher sits on an upright dead branch, scanning the air for insects. It suddenly launches into the air but unusually does not return to the perch. On some open land beside the river the grass is full of Ox-eye Daisies and Red Clover.

Wombwell Ings – The last port of call. A pair of Shoveler trawl the shallows beside a Redshank. A Yellow Wagtail flits up onto the bank beside the hide. A pair of Little Ringed Plovers chase around the mud. Overhead a lazily floating Sparrowhawk is harassed by Swallows.

Monday 9th June – Caldervale – A walk along the Calder Hebble Navigation on the way to work. Willow Warblers are still calling from all directions. A small jet black Rabbit hops across the path and into the undergrowth – what does this mean? A black cat crossing ones path is lucky, but a black rabbit was none too lucky in Watership Down! Silver Birches are in abundance on the abandoned colliery site. From the top of one a Blackcap rings out its song for all to hear. A Jay watches nervously from a tree climbing up a high railway viaduct and then slips silently deeper into the branches.

Tuesday 10th June – West Bretton – Whilst wandering down a farm track near the village, I suddenly hear the jangling call of Corn Buntings. This is always welcome as they have not fared well in the modern agricultural age.

Wednesday 11th June – Redbrook – Despite the persistent rain, a Cuckoo is calling across the waste ground at Redbrook. It flies to the top of a tree and is harassed by a small bird – I am too far away to identify it. The Cuckoo is still present and calling in the afternoon.

Thursday 12th June – Edderthorpe – An evening wander. Before I get out of the car I see a resplendent male Bullfinch cleaning its beak on a wire fence. Dill the Dog flushes a pair of Grey Partridges as we walk along the track. The River Dearne is flowing fast with the run-off of the recent rains. A pair of Mallard rides the stream. Young Great Tits feed in a bank top Hawthorne. There is a animal muskiness about the air, Wild Garlic. By the pond I can hear Sedge Warblers scratching out its call from the river bank and a jug-jugging Reed Warbler in the depths of the reed bed. The latter eventually pops up to the top of the reeds. I scope the distant flash noting Tufted Duck, Mallard, Shovelers, Redshank and Little Ringed Plover. Blue-tailed and Common Blue Damsel Flies dart through the grass. Dog Roses are in full bloom. As I head back along the path I notice movement in an Elder bush. I can see black and white that could be a Magpie but then a flash of red. It takes a few moments staring into the bush before I realise it is a Moorhen. Shepherd’s Purse is flowering beside the path leading to the road, showing its triangular seed pods which named it.

Sunday 15th June – The Moors – Flaming June? – hardly on a cold, drizzling day. I get to Broomhead Reservoir shortly after 6 o’clock. I was hoping for an overflight by a Woodcock but no. There are high-pitched calls from deep in the woods, Coal and Blue Tits and Goldcrests. Nothing else around. Clouds drift like smoke over the woods covering the hillsides. I check out Ewden Beck on my never-ending search for a Wood Warbler, but still no joy. I then try Winscar Reservoir, high in the moors. Mist rises in columns off the reservoir like a company of wraiths. A good number of Canada Geese slide silently across the water and the odd Chaffinch chirps in the conifer plantation. But no Peregrine or Short-eared Owls about – and who can blame them. Later in the morning I go to Hood Green pit site. The concrete pathways are still present but the rest of the site is overgrown with shrubs, bushes and trees, including a beautiful little Copper Beech. Several varieties of Wild Rose are growing all over the place, their flowers varying from white to the richest pink. Ox-eye Daisies push up through the broken concrete. There are good numbers of Yellowhammers sitting out in the constant drizzle, their sulphur heads shining against the steel skies. The wet weather makes feathers stick together and part strangely, resulting in a Willow Warbler apparently with a black collar and dark spots on its underparts. Dill the Dog is in her element, her belly and legs filthy from the coal stained mud, her head hair like a punk, spiked up where she has stuck her nose deep into the saturated grasses. She spots a Brown Hare that does not look a great deal smaller than her. The Hare lopes off somewhat lackadaisically, clearly in the knowledge that the charging dog has no chance of getting anywhere close.

Monday 16th June – Westwood Country Park – A walk on the way to Sheffield. Something large and brown is being harassed by a Carrion Crow on the far side of the valley, but as they pass behind a large Oak, only the crow emerges, the other must have taken refuge in the branches. As everywhere, Willow Warblers are calling all over. Steam rises from the fences as the sun burns off the previous night’s rain.

Tuesday 17th June – Cold Heindley – An early morning walk around the reservoir. From an inaccessible marsh area I can just hear the reeling song of a Grasshopper Warbler but there is no way of finding it. The end of the reservoir has some sort of ruined bridge surrounded by scrub. The path then leads up onto the dam of Wintersett reservoir, which is also scrub covered. The whole area is alive with warblers. Sedge Warblers are singing from Hawthorns all around me. Willow Warblers and Whitethroats are diving into thickets with beakfuls of grubs. From the higher trees beyond Chiffchaffs call and a Garden Warbler starts its song but stops, probably to return to collecting food. On the way home I stop off at the waste ground at Redbrook. I can hear one Cuckoo calling from the trees on the edge of the site and then another rises from the willow scrub and flies off towards the canal.

Wednesday 18th June – Wombwell Ings – The main water is fuller than I have seen it for several years. On the limited mud that remains feed Little Ringed Plovers and Redshank, including a still downy juvenile. I head over to the wetlands that are being developed on Wath Ings. A pair of Shelduck with three young are swimming across one of the still barren lakes. A Kingfisher flashes across the water. The huge white umbrellas of Giant Hogweed are rising from the banks along the river. A Wren flies up through some grasses that pour pollen out like smoke.