May 2001

Wednesday 2nd May – North Lincolnshire – At the junction of the river and drainage channels there is a cacophony of Sedge Warblers. Their scratchy warbling comes from all sides and their subdued buff breasts and streaky backs are contrasted by the striking cream eye stripe. Swallows sweep down the channels, alighting on the footbridge. A male Reed Bunting sits atop a Willow, his jet-black head in pristine condition. Small groups of Linnets fly over, chattering busily. They return and search the stony car park for seeds and dropped food. A distant Little Grebe wails. A Peacock butterfly lands on a clod of drying mud and suns itself. However, the sun is being dimmed by building cloud. A pair of Canada Geese appear by the road bridge accompanying four yellow goslings. Stitchwort is in flower. Small Tortoiseshells flit along the bank paths. A Wren whirrs into the brambles overhanging the water.

Thursday 3rd May – North Lincolnshire – Leaving the village of Kirton Lindsey, a Brown Hare dashes across the road. Inexplicably, it jinks just before the verge. I brake hard, but the hare resumes its course and disappears into the long grass. A Corn Bunting, the black spot on its chest displayed clearly, sits on an outgrowth of Elder above the roadside hedge. Oilseed Rape is coming into flower, so large slabs of yellow-green dominate the landscape.

Thursday 10th May – Home – Bright and hot sunshine spurs plants into accelerated growth. Potatoes are earthed up, more Spring Onions sown and a Radish pulled for a snack. Tomato plants are still in pots, their first real leaves developing now. The same applies to Courgettes, but the Runner Beans have yet to sprout. After earthing up the potatoes, a Robin drops down straight away to see what has been disturbed and soon departs with a worm. A Small White butterfly visits the all to numerous Dandelions. Dill the Dog just lays idly under the apple blossom in a bit of shade. In the evening, a Great Spotted Woodpecker searches the bark of one of the trees at the bottom of the garden. A screaming pack of Swifts soars and sweeps overhead. A Song Thrush, almost hidden in the top of a Leylandii, sings loudly.

Saturday 19th May – Barnsley Canal – The area is green and vibrant. Willow Warblers, Wrens and Blackbirds sing as if it is their last day. The Mute Swans have nested and the female is preening whilst sitting. The male is watchful and moves swiftly towards the edge of the canal as Dill the Dog approaches. She, of course, trots past oblivious of the concern she is causing. Gaudy pink and white Crab Apple blossom contrasts with the subdued flowers of the Lesser Plantain below. The white saucers of Cow Parsley are the first umbellifers in flower. Dense patches of Bluebells lurk under Hawthorns. Celery-leaved Buttercups flower in the canal margins. A pair of Swifts sweep low overhead.

Sunday 20th May – Carlton Marsh Nature Reserve – A Whitethroat greets us, scratching out its bursts of song from the top of a roadside Hawthorn. Up on the old railway and heading towards Cudworth. A pair of Ruddy Duck drift slowly across the pool. A couple of pairs of Mallard and a busy Black-headed Gull share the water. Red Campion flowers profusely on banks. Across a wide meadow there are numerous clumps of buttery-yellow Cowslips. A Green Woodpecker calls frequently from the top of a stand of Birches. The north side of the track drops away steeply to the wetland below. The bushes on the slope are full of warblers – Willow, Garden, Chiffchaff and Whitethroat. Across the reedy valley, calls of Sedge and Reed Warbler mingle. Male Reed Buntings with streaky, rusty backs and striking black heads flit around the reed beds. An Orange Tip butterfly visits Dandelions on the trackside. Reed Warblers spin and tumble through the air above a reed bed. There is clearly a territorial dispute and one chases another off. Suddenly, a Cuckoo shoots past. It must be the first year ever I have seen a Cuckoo before hearing one. Back in the woodland is a man made pond. On the green stems of Bulrush are emerging Four-spot Chasers. Most are pinkish brown and rather grotesque, but one has pumped its wings full of green ichor to expand them.

Monday 21st May – Home – Yesterday, another pile of feathers in the garden bore witness to the presence of a Sparrowhawk. This evening she flew up from the garden and sat in the large Sycamore. Yellow bunches of flowers hang down from the Sycamores branches. A Horse Chestnut is also in flower, its white candles making the tree look like a Christmas fantasy. The garden’s Robins appear to have raised only one chick. It lumbers through the branches of the Apples trees in an ungainly fashion. One of its parents regularly feeds it. Bluebells are in full bloom around the garden. The Daffodils have finished, Tulips nearly through their season, but many of the plants Kay has put in are coming into bloom. The Broad Beans are in bloom and the potatoes keep rising despite earthing up and covering with lawn clippings for a mulch. Peas are also growing well, as are the Lettuces, Cabbages and Radishes. Another sowing of Carrot has been made as the first failed to germinate at all.

Thursday 24th May – Pennines – The A628, the Woodhead Pass over the Pennines starts to rise shortly after The Flouch, once a well known road side inn, now set back from the new road and mainly a restaurant. Lapwings flap lazily around the stone walled fields. Up past the Dog and Partridge and over the summit. Either side of the road there are fences which attempt to hold back drifting snow in winter to keep the road open. A Red Grouse stands atop this fencing. The traffic is heavy and in convoys as it lines up behind heavy lorries grinding their way up the long drag.

Winscar – A reservoir out on the moors. Sheep call from the surrounding expanse of tussock grass and heather. All the paths, bar the one to the reservoir are closed because of Foot and Mouth. Willow Warblers sing, a Cuckoo calls in the distance. Overhead the song of Sky Larks drifts down. Suddenly chaos reigns as Dill the Dog chases a female Pheasant. She crashes into a fence, but fortunately is uninjured and Dill the Dog does not actually want to catch her. But more worryingly are the chicks she has left behind in a ditch. I move on swiftly so she can return to them. The reservoir is an extraordinary sight. Normally a placid water, it has been drained so that work can be carried out on the dam. A domed tower has emerged in the middle. A road on a splendid stone buttressing wall winds its way around under the now high and dry cliff sides and heads off up the valley into the moors. Beneath young conifers, small red-spotted brown-capped fungi grow, which I have failed to identify. As more of the dog-legged valley comes into sight, more features emerge, normally hidden under water. Stone walls, a stone enclosure, an iron footbridge and a leet carrying water into what must have been the original reservoir, a fraction of the size of the present one. A couple of pairs of Mallard and Canada Geese remain in the small remaining patch of water. Sluice control mechanisms stand coloured blue by the copper leached out of them by the acid moorland water. Mistle Thrushes search the path for morsels. Back across the dam wall where Chaffinches, Song Thrushes Blackbirds and Robins search the short grass for worms and insects. A noisily trilling Linnet flies over and lands in a small Birch. Its head and breast look like blood. A Blackcap sings in the conifer plantation. The Pheasant chicks have gone, so it seems likely the mother has returned to lead them to safety. Suddenly, there are explosive calls and there she is, the other side of the fence, warning her chicks of the apparent danger of Dill the Dog.

Sunday 27th May – Nunney, Somerset – Last night bats raced over the garden like fighter planes. The morning is grey, threatening rain. A Jackdaw is on a small bird feeder in a garden trying to winkle out some nuts. Up the lane the Wild Garlic is in flower. It is the season of white and blue flowers. Cow Parsley and Garlic Mustard display for the whites and, in far fewer numbers, Bugloss and Larkspurs for the blues. The flowering giants, Hogweed and Burdock are still growing their massive leaves. Wild Arums’ hoods are dying back to reveal a tight bunch of spherical green fruits. These will soon grow and turn bright vermilion. Hart’s Tongue ferns have unrolled. Overhead a Common Buzzard and a Carrion Crow bicker. The crow departs and the buzzard drifts very slowly over the village. A young Grey Wagtail flicks up and down Nunney Brook.