May Day – Monday 1st May – Glynde – May enters grey, damp and cold. A path towards Ringmer runs along a low slope above the Weald. Bird song (Blackbird, Wren, Tits, Blackcap, Chiffchaff and Chaffinch) is all around but the singers are keeping their heads down. An albino Pheasant slips along a field edge. Bluebells, Herb Robert and Wild Arum grow on banks. A large timber pillar with four wooden stays rises in a hillock, its purpose unclear. The rough meadow has large patches of purple Ground Ivy along its edge. The path in the opposite direction heads up towards the Down of Mount Caburn and Lewes. Hear the birdsong is mainly Sky Lark and Yellowhammer. A small copse is full of Blackcap and Garden Warbler song, but gunfire from across the fields silences it. The track rises into open downland, past an old chalk pit now well weathered and greened. Below the buildings of Glyndebourne Opera House nestle in trees. Rabbits vanish before Dill the Dog’s eyes into chalky warrens. Now dry valleys roll down in all directions. A field is blotched with buttery yellow patches of Cowslips. Caburn is ringed with Iron Age dykes. Old trackways cut into the downland linking top with top and then the Weald below. Rectangles of ploughed Down look like giant Rothko canvasses. Back at the copse a Mistle Thrush makes a piercing seep call. Three Grey Herons fly along the edge of the Down heading out into the Weald. Hedgerows here are old. They contain Dog Rose, Apple, Sycamore, Wayfarer’s Tree, Blackthorn, Hawthorn, Blackberry Bramble, Elder and Ash, often tangled with Honeysuckle and Black Bryony. A Whitethroat springs from the hedge top into his display flight.
Sunday 7th May – Blackburn Meadows – A flock of Swifts wheels across the sky – the true sign of summer. Swallows skim the surface of the ponds. A Sedge Warbler is scratching out his song, along with Blackcap, Willow Warbler and Chaffinch. Broom is in blossom, bright yellow in the main but some flowers have a rich crimson patch. Lesser Plantains are in flower – a black bullet of a head surrounded by a halo of tiny white flowerlets. There are young Rabbits everywhere. Dill the Dog seems to have realised the futility of chasing them, she looks interested and seems about to bound forward, then finds something interesting to sniff. Sedge is growing fast around the pools. A Grey Heron grabs something small and swallows it quickly. Both pools have a pair of Little Grebe, their eerie calls drifting around the site. A battle of song rages between the pools and lagoon with Sedge Warblers and Whitethroats shooting into the air and cascading down in a flurry of song. The lagoon holds Ruddy Duck, Coot, Mallard, Little Grebe and Shoveler. The first House Martin I have seen this year sweeps in towards the pools. One the far side, two Sedge Warblers are singing within a few feet of each other. One is clearly agitated by the presence of the second, jumping around a sapling, singing furiously. The pea-like leaves of Vetches are emerging fast as are large stems of Himalayan Balsam. White Dead Nettle, the sunny yellow disks of Hawksbit and deep pink of Red Campion brighten the dense green foliage and grasses. May and Apple trees are in blossom. There is even a Whitethroat singing from the top of a security light over a scrap yard on the far side of the canal.
Monday 8th May – North Lincolnshire – Woodlands are now becoming fully leaved. There is a delicious mix of deciduous species and conifers near the Humberside Airport. Many shades of green from the palest to darkest interspersed with the dark red of Copper Beeches. A deer is feeding in a field a couple of hundred metres from the M180. In the morning pigs are rooting through a well churned field. In the much warmer afternoon, they have had a good wallow in the muddy patches and sleep in the straw by their shelters.
Saturday 13th May – Little Don Valley – The grey and dull morning does not discourage Chaffinches who sit at the very tops of conifers, singing their little hearts out. The plantation of conifers is a bit of a mess where loggers have been thinning out the trees. Song Thrushes sing from deep inside the forest. The Little Don is low and slow, rippling gently over and around the rocks and boulders. The path climbs high above the valley. The plantation rising above the path is dense and dark, just the occasional squeak from a Blue Tit emerges. Ewes and their lambs crop the grass on the opposite moor side. In the distance I hear my first Cuckoo of the year. Surprisingly, Long-eared Owls start calling from the woods. The path drops down to the river again. Here there are natural conifers growing. Tits call excitedly from the tops. The Cuckoo flies across the valley and over the crest of the moor. A keening Curlew glides overhead. The path rises and falls through valleys carved by small streams over the centuries. Green stalks of Bracken are beginning to unfurl. Up through the Oak wood and then out above the confluence of the Little Don and Mickleden Beck. Willow Warblers are singing all around the valley. A Pakistan Airlines jumbo roars overhead. It seems strange, even today, that the people on board will be landing in only a few hours in an environment so totally different to this little valley. The valley flattens out more. This is Meadow Pipit country. An iridescent dark blue beetle scrambles over the short, tough grass. Back towards the Oak woods and a loud bubbling sound. A female Cuckoo stands atop a tree, rotating her tail provocatively. In the Oaks, numerous Chaffinches, Willow Warblers and Goldcrests call and sing. Back along the valley a Mistle Thrush harries a Jay. A Spotted Flycatcher sits on top of a broken conifer. A Small White butterfly flutters along beside the river.
Sunday 14th May – Pugney’s Country Park – A large nest mound has been constructed on the pond by the sand pit lake by Mute Swans. The female is sitting. The cob is on the lake and heads towards me watching intently. A family of Coot scramble off the grass and into the reeds. A pair of Shelduck have ducklings on the far side of the lake. A pair of Great Crested Grebe are displaying, shaking their heads vigorously. Sand Martins fly here and there. A Little Owl sits on wires behind the quarry offices. A single Dunlin feeds on the mud next to three Lapwings, a tiny remnant of the large winter flocks. Back on the pond, three Little Grebe are getting in a tizzy, diving at each other, chasing and calling excitedly. Little red and yellow heads pop up out of a Coot’s nest.
Stocksmoor Common – A track from the Barnsley - Huddersfield road, near Midgley leads through fields towards woodland. Three Curlews glide over the young wheat. The track is lined with a variety of trees, Wayfaring Tree, Oaks – some festooned with Oak Apples (although they are small, hard, brown balls), the galls of the Gall Wasp, Andricus kollari, Birches, Beech, Ash, Birch, Hawthorn, Apple and Sycamores. In the woods, an Oak has large, soft red and green galls, looking much like apples, caused by another Gall Wasp, Biorhiza pallida. The bird song in the woodland is loud and varied.
Saturday 20th May – Deanhead – The A640 travels from Huddersfield across wild country, high on the Pennines, past Burne Moss, Marsden Moor, Castleshaw Moor and on towards Manchester. It was originally built by the Romans. At Slaithwaite Moor the Kirklees Way crosses the road and seems worthy of a short walk. Skylarks, Meadow Pipits and Curlews break the silence. A small, hidden reservoir contains several Mallard, a Reed Bunting and, inevitably, a pair of Canada Geese. An old water wagon lies rusting at the edge of the track. A Swift glides down and scoops a beakful of water. The views are enormous – across Huddersfield and Halifax, out east the steaming towers of the Selby coalfield power stations, south are rolling moors with occasional farmhouses and north are more hills with wind farms. A Curlew and Carrion Crow tussle in the cool breeze, keening and cawing. A Peacock butterfly flits among the sedges and tussocks. Further down the road moorland sheep and their lambs wander and, rather more unusually, a small herd of stocky black cattle amble down the middle of the carriageway. The road passes through Pennines villages and small towns. In Newhey there are two public houses, both called “Bird in the Hand” and both with signs depicting a Peregrine in a falconers fist within a couple of hundred metres of one another.
Sunday 21st May – Wombwell Ings – Rain falls gently. A Lapwing and a Redshank are having a set to on the meadow. Dill the Dog disturbs a female Mallard that jumps into the sewage transfer ditch, quacking loudly and urgently. Dill the Dog then stares intently at the spot the Mallard moved from and there is her brood of ducklings. I order her off and the little bundles of chocolate and yellow fluff slip into the water to join their frantic mother. Young Lapwings strut about the Ings’ edge. Gadwall feed in the mud. Swallows, House Martins ands Swifts swoop to gather insects. Two drake Shovelers are displaying at each other, stretching their necks, bobbing their heads and jumping out the water. The travellers’ horses are standing or lying around peacefully except one that is rolling about a bit. I suddenly realise it is foaling. The mare lays exhausted for a minute whilst the foal struggles with the caul. She then stands and drags it off. Other horses come and stand around the foal as it tries to rise to its feet. Its mother licks it gently and it keeps trying but its back legs will not obey its instructions. So this is life, a cold and wet Sunday morning on Wombwell Ings and recalcitrant legs! The hedgerows look snow covered with the dense white blossom of May (Hawthorn). Up on the old Darfield branch line, the May is complimented by the brilliant yellow of Broom. Yellowhammers, Chaffinches, Willow, Garden and Sedge Warblers sing loudly. Unusually, the Garden Warbler is in full view on a bush. There is a decent sized Black-headed Gull colony on the Old Moor Wetlands and there is the attendant raucous din of such gatherings. Feathery green leaves of Tansy grow all around. Flowers include Birdsfoot-trefoil (also called Bacon and Eggs), Weld (or Dyer’s Rocket), Ox-eye Daisies, White and Red Campion. A Grey Heron flies across the wetlands which cranks up the Black-headed Gull volume considerably. A Cuckoo flies across the huge hill of colliery waste, now greened over. Back alongside the river, Whitethroat is added to the list of songsters.
Edderthorpe – Two large flashes remain from the winter flooding. Sky Larks sing over the lush meadow. Half a dozen Greylags are with Canada Geese. There is also an escaped Bar-headed Goose feeding in the grass which seems to upset Black-headed Gulls who mob it whilst ignoring the other geese. However, any anthropomorphic thoughts of avian xenophobia are dispelled when another Black-headed Gull mobs and drives off our Royal bird, a Mute Swan. On the water are Mallard, Teal, Gadwall and Shelduck. A Cuckoo calls from distant woodland. A Small Blue displays the coppery lacework on its wing undersides.
Saturday 27th May – Wombwell Ings – A strong wind blows from the west. The wheat fields ripple green and silver. Swifts and Swallows sweep low across the Ings. Some insects must have brief lives, emerging from their pupae, struggling clear of the surface tension of the water to be instantly a mouthful for a hirundine. The foal lies in the grass with his (gender can now be established) mother. A single Shelduck sits on the meadow. Lapwings fly around the fields where a fat Stock Dove feeds on the soil. Fairy Ring Champignons are emerging, one of the earliest fungi of the year.
Bank Holiday Monday 29th May – Blackburn Meadows – A Sedge Warbler greets us with its excited scratchy warbling. A new pond has been created and a single Yellow Flag blooms. Swifts glide low over the main ponds, insects driven low by the the threatening black clouds overhead. Guelder Rose is in flower, umbrellas of creamy white flowers, with much larger flowers on the outer edge of the heads. A Whitethroat moves up and down a bush, singing continuously. Tail up and nose down, Dill the Dog bounces from scent to scent. Hogweed (or Cow Parsnip) is coming into flower in large quantities. A Wall Brown butterfly settles on the stone sides of a hide.
Hoober Stand – The views across the rolling fields towards Rotherham are bright and sharp in the wet air. Hoober Stand is a triangular tower whose 518 feet above sea level. Built at a cost of £3000 between 1747 and 1749 it stands 85 feet high. It is topped by a flat platform sits a hexagonal, domed cupola set off centre giving a strange toppling effect to the tower. Above the door (now permanently closed because mining subsidence has made the tower unsafe) is a plaque reading:
The event recorded was the defeat of the Jacobite rebellion. However, the rather obsequious tract is more likely to be record Lord Malton’s gratitude to being elevated to Marquis of Rockingham.