June 1999

Wednesday 2nd June – Westwood Country Park – Rain soaks into the dusty ground. The Whitethroat is missing from his corner but the ground below is full of Lupins, mainly purple with the occasional white or pink bloom. Buttercups dominate but other meadow flowers are emerging – Shepherd’s Purse, Bird’s Foot Trefoil, Wild Mignonette and Foxgloves.

Thursday 3rd June – Frodingham Railway Cutting, Scunthorpe – Under grey skies, the Nature Reserve is blooming. Numerous Spotted Orchids make a splendid display. There is a patch of Common Milkwort – tiny brilliant blue flowers which the Irish used to think were used as soap by the fairies. Blackcaps and Whitethroats are in song. Dog Roses and Oxeye Daisies cover the steep bank up to the road.

Friday 4th June – Barnsley Canal – A Willow Tit buzzes quietly in the hedgerow by the car park. Swifts sweep low over the fields, their wings scything the cool, damp morning air. A broken shell and a bundle of grey fluff indicates the Mute cygnets have started hatching. A Reed Warbler jugs from the base of a young Willow by the reed bed. A Cuckoo calls in the distance. Creamy saucers of flowers cloak the Elders. On the return leg of the walk, the Mute pen has left the nest and has five cygnets with her.

Saturday 5th June – Edderthorpe – Bright sunshine sparkles the dewy grass. Heifers come to investigate Dill the Dog, which she is very uneasy about. A Blackcap sings as it traverses the creamy flower heads of a large Elder. Dozens of Swifts sweep low over the reed beds after the insects rising from them. A Mallard leads her ducklings into the safety of the reeds, accompanied by the song of Reed Warblers. Reed Buntings chase. A drake Ruddy Duck bobs his head in display to a female, who simply ignores him and dives for breakfast. Wildfowl on the ings include Mallard, Teal, Shoveler, Shelduck, Pochard and Tufted Duck. Redshank, Ringed Plover, Lapwings and a couple of Dunlin search the mud. Flowers are typical wasteland species – Oxeye Daisies, Common and White Meliot, Wild Mignonet and Red and White Clover. The Mallard drakes are beginning to look tatty as they head for eclipse. A Redshank chick follows its parent through the grass. A Turtle Dove sits silent and motionless at the top of a dead tree. At the far end of the ings, Grey Herons stalk the shallows. Gawky Canada Goose goslings hurry after the adults. A Common Snipe drums overhead. A fracas develops between a Mallard and a Mute Swan. The Mallard’s ducklings become separated and she frantically flaps around the aggressive swan whilst trying to get a lone duckling back with its siblings. Good numbers of young Pied Wagtails, dull grey compared to their parents, feed on the mud. There are also a few young Yellow Wagtails about. Sky Larks parachute down in song. A few Sand Martins are over the water at this end. The sulphur coloration of the Yellowhammer shines as they sit atop Hawthorns surveying their territory. The new link road remains incomplete and, thus deserted. The railway bridge has been demolished since I was last here. The vestiges of the old Grimethorpe Colliery are slowly disappearing. Back along the path, cries of hungry chicks come from riverside Hawthorns. A singing Whitethroat jumps around an Ash.

Sunday 6th June – Manvers – This area was the heart of the Dearne Valley mining area. When I first visited this place ten years ago, it was a continuous range of slag heaps and dereliction from Darfield Main through to Wath-on-Dearne. Now it has been landscaped, the new Old Moor Wetlands centre has been developed, a new road from Wombwell to Wath and here at Manvers, a large lake has been formed. Like all new waters, it is quiet, especially in early summer. A Great Crested Grebe slides away from the edge towards deeper water. A few Tufted Duck sleep. Five Mute Swans fly overhead, wings beating the air noisily. Sky Larks sing on high. A good selection of trees – Oak, Beech, Spruce, Willow, Mountain Ash, Elder and Wild Rose, have been planted, although the Wild Mignonet, the commonest plant on these rough grounds stands as tall as the saplings. A pool is full of Water Plantain, Bulrush and Fool’s Watercress with a stand of Purple Loosestrife by the edge. Up on top of the old spoil heaps, clovers, Black Medick and Dock dominate. At the top edge of the heap, where bulldozers droned and sounded their warning horns all day, there is a fine view of Old Moor Wetlands. Mallard, Shoveler, Gadwall and Coot dot the water. In the marsh are good numbers of Grey Heron. A Common Pheasant noisily moves through the brush below. Sedge Warblers scratch out their songs from the Willows. Dill the Dog is, of course, soaking wet as she decides she must test every pool on the site. A lone Goat’s Beard, also known as Jack-go-to-bed-at-noon due to its habit of the flowers closing at midday, rises from the stony soil back on the flat ground. Scarlet Field Poppies grow in profusion on the earth mounds blocking the unused roads. House Martins twitter overhead.

Wednesday 9th June – Barnsley Canal – After days of clouds and rain, dawn is bright and sunny. Greenfinches wheeze and glow like burnished, green-tinged brass in the sunlight. Whitethroats sing as if asking a question. Blackcaps tick like struck pebbles. The Mute pen and her cygnets are deep in a reed bed. A Mallard and her brood are using the swan’s nest as a temporary resting platform but slip off into the cover of the reeds when Dill the Dog trots past. Bird’s Foot Trefoil has joined the flowering plants. Hawthorns are past flowering and their greenness is tinged with the faint red of the pubescent berries. Wrens, Willow Warblers and a distant Sedge Warbler are still singing lustily, but other calls are either half-hearted trunks of the song or warnings.

Sunday 13th June – Bristol – A couple of days in the city made rich and famous by its shipping trade, now long moved down the River Avon to Avonmouth. A plaque on the walls of an old dock shed acknowledges that much of the wealth of Bristol came from the suffering of Black Africans in the slave trade. Much of the old docks are being gentrified, but there are still the echoes of the old days in some abandoned sheds, preserved tug boats and dredgers and the saddletank steam engine drawing a couple of wagons converted for tourists along the dock. The River Avon is a muddy effort. Beside the road running along above it is a scrubby area with Broomrape growing – a parasitic plant living off the roots of other flowers, mainly the pea family. The predominant gull is the Lesser Black-backed Gull. These are very precocious, standing on café tables and staring at customers. In the city centre one lands on top of a stationary bus and is surprised when its perch suddenly moves off.

Tuesday 15th June – Barnsley Canal – Bowers of Dog Rose, bedecked with porcelain pink flowers, arch next to the car park. Honeysuckle clambers over the fading Elders by the allotments. A lone Blackbird sings, whilst the air is full of the excited calls of Long-tailed, Blue and Great Tits. The Mute pen has taken back ownership of the nest mound from the Mallard. Her cygnets sleep whilst she preens. There has been no sign of the cob for some time. Bladder Campion, Foxgloves, Meadow Vetchling, Blackberry, Woody Nightshade, Zigzag clover and Water Forget-me-nots are in flower. Baby Moorhens scurry across the Duckweed mat into the safety of the reed-fringed bank. Water Crowfoots (or is that Crowfeet?) have pushed their way through the red mat of Duckweed. Small reddish green Haws are swelling. Dozens of small moths flutter above the canal.

Wednesday 16th June – Barnsley Canal – Willow Warblers and Greenfinches are calling along the canal. Robins are also singing strongly. The Mute pen has brought her brood along the canal into more open water at the foot of Willowbank. A nest in the Hawthorn hedge has scruffy grey squabs lying mute. A pair of Stock Doves perch in one of the loop’s dead trees. Dill the Dog’s tail flicks a tall grass that sends out a cloud of pollen that looks like smoke.

Thursday 17th June – Blacktoft Sands RSPB Reserve – A Marsh Harrier sweeps majestically across the road from Scunthorpe. It tilts its wings into a V and glides across the reed beds. At the reserve, Wood Pigeons coo and clap their wings as they fly off. A male Reed Bunting sits at the top of a Phragmites bed whilst a Reed Warbler jugs and bubbles from the interior. A few Teal sleep on the lagoons, whilst a Little Grebe and a Cormorant fish. Small groups of Shelduck move through. A Sedge Warbler perches on a blossoming Elder and scratches out his song, red maw shining in the hot sun. Swallows and Swifts feast on the insects over the water. Off across the reed beds the Marsh Harrier reappears. As I leave a Dunnock sings from the top of a bush and Sky Larks are high above the prairie-like fields of peas.

Darfield – A charm of Goldfinches twitter beside the abandoned road. Mallow, Purple Loosestrife and White Bryony are in bloom.

Monday 21st June – Barnsley Canal – It has been a bad weekend for the Mute Swans, the family is reduced to three. However, they are growing well. The Mallard ducklings are also growing fast and are half adult size. A Little Grebe is in the pool beside the swan’s nest, but there is no sign of any young. A pair of House Martins skim the field – they seem scarce this year. Common Toadflax and Purple Loosestrife have come into flower.

M1 – Some wheat fields next to the M1 north of Barnsley are splashed with broad swathes of Red Poppies. Others must have been treated, as they have nothing but the uniform green heads of grain.

Scunthorpe – A sandy path between a housing estate and woods, with open spaces. Spear Thistles are beginning to flower, their bright purple heads attracting bees. Willow Warblers are singing partial songs or just calling weeeee. House Martins chatter overhead. Dwarf Mallow creeps out onto the path with delicate pale purple flowers. Ragwort will flower in a week or two, just the faintest peek of yellow can be seen in the tightly closed young heads. A group of five Magpies chase noisily across the meadow. Above great glowing white cumulus clouds are stained with grey.

Saturday 26th June – Caldervale – The cows in the meadow and Dill the Dog are uneasy with each other. We move past quickly. Whitethroats and Willow Warblers still sing from the tall saplings on the old colliery site. St John’s Wort and Lesser Willowherb are coming into flower. Foxgloves, Docks, Weld (or Dyer’s Rocket), Dog Rose, Blackberry, Common Vetch and Birdsfoot Trefoil are all in full bloom. In a marshy spot by the Calder & Hebble Navigation, an Amphibious Bistort is in flower, a small, elongated ball of rich pink on a leafy stem.

Sunday 27th June – Edderthorpe – The sky is grey, it has been raining. Singing Whitethroats are in the trees and bushes along the old railway. Up on the hill a flock of Rooks sit on the field boundary hedge, cawing. Black-headed Gulls circle overhead before moving off. Flocks of Starlings rise from farm buildings. The track to the flash runs parallel to the Dearne, Meadow Sweet and Tufted Vetch rise above the rough grasses of the intervening strip of land. Then large swathes of Stinging Nettles and Cow Parsley take over. A Reed Warbler calls from the reeds. The flashes are retreating in the dryness of summer. Large areas of mud are now exposed. Several Grey Heron are around the site. Lapwing, good numbers of Redshank and Ringed Plover feed on this mud. Drakes of Teal and Mallard are moulting into eclipse. Lesser Black-backed Gulls in various 2nd and 3rd year plumages stand with a number of Black-headed Gulls. There are a number of species with young, including Shelduck, Coot and Mallard. On the rough ground beside the path, Kidney Vetch and White Melilot are flowing. A pair of Mute Swans land on the pit pool and bark noisily at Dill the Dog.

Monday 28th June – Barnsley Canal – Yesterday’s torrential rain has gone, although clouds still cover the sky. Roads had flooded and the ground has been washed clean. Droplets of water sit on the Water Fern mat like slivers of sparkling glass. The Mute pen and her three cygnets are resting on the canal bank at the foot of Willowbank. A Song Thrush and a Whitethroat sing lustily from the Hawthorn hedge. Sedge Warblers’ song scratches across the meadow. House Martins and a Sand Martin swoop over a pond that has formed this year at the foot of the hill from Croft Farm (although there is an indication on the 1985 1:25,000 Ordnance Survey that there was a pond in this region). Creamy blossoms of Meadowsweet rise from the canal bank. Great Willowherb is also coming into flower.

Wednesday 30th June – Barnsley – I check my nest boxes at the front of the house. One is completely empty; nothing seems to have been in it. That one will have to be moved before next season, it is too exposed on the side of the house. The other is in a similar position but a large shrub gives it a lot of protection. Inside there is a wonderful nest – a mass of dried grass and moss, typically Blue Tit. But when I check the well of the nest there are four desiccated little bodies. I can only guess that one of the parents was caught by the numerous cats in the area and the other parent could not cope.