Wednesday 1st May – Monk Bretton – On the Rotherham Road by the Hope Inn. This is where the canal crosses the road as described on 4th April. There is no sign of the canal, just an asphalt path curving gently northwards and some manhole covers of undetermined use. To the east is situated Lundwood and the path runs behind the school and stables. It is surprising how many small stables there are around the town. A Wayfarer tree is coming into flower. Dark clouds threaten rain and almost immediately, down it comes. The track crosses Littleworth Lane at what was Littleworth Bridge, but now the path simply rises to the level of the road. On the other side of the road, the path enters a wide open space of grassland with a few clumps of Hawthorn thickets. There is no sign of the canal. Ahead should be a short terrace of houses and a bridge at Day’s Croft, but there is no sign of any of this. Heading away from the path, westwards, I soon meet the railway, the Midland Railway, Cudworth and Barnsley line that crosses the Dearne Valley back at the Rotherham Road. Following this back to Littleworth Lane, where there is a row of old terraced houses. These are shown on the 1906 map and with maybe another dozen dwellings formed the hamlet of Littleworth. This has now been subsumed into the village of Monk Bretton and the large modern housing estate surrounding the area. The railway travelled back south on a high embankment. A Dunnock sings from a bush and a Bullfinch disappears quickly into the undergrowth. Just before the Rotherham Road, the ridge rises and the path goes into a cutting. There are a good number of Apple trees along this section, all in flower. Broom is blooming with bright yellow blossom. Just before the road, young Oak trees are infested with red and brown galls of one of the gall wasps.
Monday 6th May – Barnsley Canal – A dull and grey morning, but not cold. In other words, typical English Bank Holiday weather. At the top of Willowbank, by Smithies Lane, a Whitethroat is dancing frantically in the air, singing continuously, trying to attract a mate. A Bullfinch dashes for cover with a flash of white rump. Long-tailed Tits flit like balls of fluff on a stick between bushes. A female Blackcap clacks in the undergrowth. A Chiffchaff has an odd call, chiffit chaff. Pass the capped mine shaft deep in the Hawthorns when a Mallard flashes low overhead, undercarriage and wing flaps down for a landing on the canal. Down by the footbridge, a Garden Warbler sings loudly. As soon as it sees me, it is off. Cuckoo Flowers are blooming all over the rough meadow, but its avian namesake is nowhere to be seen or heard. A carpet of Bluebells rolls up the hill under the Hawthorn hedgerow. A Long-tailed Tit is singing from the top of the hedge. Horsetails are emerging on the edge of the tow-path. Further along, where the canal is reedy and the pasture turns to marsh, Sedge Warblers are much in evidence, their scratchy song carrying on and on. I try to detect if there is a Reed Warbler song from the marsh, but a Blackcap is singing so loudly in the bush next to me, it is difficult to hear anything else. I eventually decide it is a distant Sedge Warbler. A Green Woodpecker calls. Reed Buntings flit through the small Hawthorns along the old track on the other side of the canal. A pair of Lapwings flap lazily over the fields up on Redbrook. I climb the hill and sit on the top. Behind me a ring of Hawthorns have a haze of blue at their feet from the clumps of Bluebells. Below the valley is alive with bird song. A Black-headed Gull follows the River Dearne upstream. A Fox, probably an old dog, trots up a field towards the railway embankment. Behind me is a call I am not sure about, I scan the bushes and am surprised to see a pair of Tree Sparrows, not a common sight around here. There are Linnets, Greenfinches and a Willow Tit in trees by the railway. Heading back up to the Huddersfield Road through Gawber Park, a young Chaffinch hops very unsteadily through the trees.
Wednesday 8th May – Edderthorpe – Various visitors have been through Edderthorpe in the last couple of days, but, of course, they are not here now. In particular, there has been a good Whimbrel passage, but I missed it! Redshank are the main waders on the mud along with a few summer plumaged Dunlin, their black bellies very prominent. There are also some very active Ringed Plovers, much flying about and chasing, including having a go at a pair of Greylags feeding on the mud. A Coot is being territorial as well, chasing Mallard and Gadwall. A Sedge Warbler is singing in a bush in the ditch below the disused railway upon which I am sitting – ballast chippings somehow never make a comfortable seat. A Sky Lark adds to the loud song. A Cuckoo, my first for the Spring, calls briefly from the high spoil heap behind me. A White Wagtail, the continental variety of our Pied Wagtail, is on the mud. They are becoming increasingly common in the UK. A pair of Lapwings mob a Carrion Crow which is searching the grass tussocks. On the far side of the flash a pair of Grey Partridge creep through the long grass, their heads popping up now and then to check the area.
Thursday 9th May – Barnsley Canal – The dull, grey weather continues. If it is going to be like this, it could at least rain, that would be good for the garden. A member of the Buttercup family with particularly large petals blossom in the damp basin of the canal, possibly Greater Spearwort, which would be nice as it is an increasingly uncommon plant.. A Whitethroat moves through the Hawthorns; it is silent which seems unusual! Water Mint flourishes in the wet edge of the canal wall where mud has built up to give plants a good foothold. I leave the tow-path and go down to the edge of the Loop. A large patch of Crosswort blooms – spikes of tiny yellow flowers with a cross of leaves beneath each whorl. Stitchwort is also blooming here in profusion. I have come down here because I have seen no sign of the Mute Swans or their nest for some days. The cob sails up the Loop and regards Dill the Dog and me with great suspicion. I check the reed beds and eventually locate the pen. Whereas the nest was easily visible a few weeks ago, the steady growth of the new reeds has hidden it well. Back up to the tow-path and the first Swift of the year is twisting through the air above the canal. A small Crab Apple tree has taken root in the mud of the canal opposite the larger old tree.
Friday 10th May – Smithies – Over the Smithies Lane railway bridge, the lower one that carried the now disused GCR line north out of Barnsley. The track runs alongside the Council depot and there are huge mounds of graded rubble, hardcore and composting materials in the yard. Bullfinches and Chaffinches are diving in and out of the Gorse and Broom. At the end of the yard, quite some distance along the track, the valley of the River Dearne lays out below the embankment. It is odd seeing it from the opposite side of the valley from my usual perspective on the canal. I drop off the embankment and head off towards the river past a field of Broad Beans. Whitethroats are singing on the shrubbery and Broom, one of which has deep scarlet centres to each flower, creating a glorious bloom. The track leads into a marsh and an area of Silver Birch. Reed Buntings hop through the trees. A side path leads to another field but there is a track down beside a drainage dyke which heads for the river. Rape and Comfrey are growing profusely. Peacock, Small White, Small Tortoiseshell and Orange Tip butterflies are all fluttering around the area. A pair of Grey Partridge startle me as they are flushed from cover beside the path. Again the river looks different from this side. It winds round towards Smithies Lane and is guided under the road by an old stone wall. The path drops down and back up a deep ditch and then up to the lake by Smithies depot.
Saturday 11th May – Titchwell Marsh RSPB Reserve, Norfolk – I had forgotten what an awful drive it is from the North to Norfolk. I am simply unused to long periods of single carriageway, around here it is all dual-carriageway and motorway. Anyway, I made it to Titchwell in reasonable time, despite my whinging! Paul, Sandra and Moira were already there – and it was raining. We got pretty thoroughly soaked through the morning. A quick visit to the visitors’ centre. On emerging, Dill the Dog was on her hind legs at the café hatch, scrounging as usual and being rewarded with pieces of ham. Off to the first hide. There was an abundance of stuff on the lagoon outside the hide, and large numbers of hirundines and Swifts over the water. There are good numbers of wildfowl and gulls – very noisy Black-headed Gulls especially. Several Avocets are feeding, beautiful white waders with such delicate black tracing in their plumage, like cracked porcelain. Reed Buntings and Reed Warblers are numerous in the extensive beds. We obtain a brief view of a much rarer reed bed specialist, the Bearded Tit (or Reedling). A magnificent pair of Marsh Harriers hunt the beds; it is not often I have had such good views of such well marked individuals. There is even bird life inside the hide. A Wren has made a nest in the rafters and loud cries reveal wide open gapes of her brood. We are told the “Sammy” the regular Black-winged Stilt has been seen on the salt marsh along with a Little Egret. However, we see neither. I am now thoroughly chilled (and a bad cold really does not help) so it is back to the centre for a coffee and lunch. In the car park, Robins are ever attentive for crumbs. One perches on top of Paul’s scope to get closer to his food. Another takes crumbs out of my hand. Back down the path towards the sea. There a good numbers of Grey Plover is splendid summer plumage, they look like knights in armour with silver backs and jet black fronts. Still no sign of Sammy, indeed, I have problems with drake Shovelers insisting on looking like smaller white birds through the marsh grasses. However, there is suddenly a piping overhead and there it is, a Black-winged Stilt in flight, its legs trailing a long way behind it. Off to the beach, which is a bit bleak. The tide is way out and the horizon is shrouded in mist. Lots of Oystercatchers, Dunlin and Turnstones frequent the sea’s edge. We locate a few terns – Arctic and Sandwich – a passing group of Gannets, but little else. Small flocks of Brent Geese are moving about. We check through them on our way back and, after considerable debate, locate the reported Black Brant, a Nearctic version of the Brent Goose. It is my first “lifer” of the year. We head steadily back to the car park. I am exhausted, so I head back north, whilst the others continue to Holkham.
Wednesday 15th May – Home – Recent rain has livened up the garden no end. It was getting very dry and needed watering – in May! Potatoes are heading skyward like Jack’s beanstalks. Peas are all sprouted and beginning to climb their sticks. The fruit blossom is nearly finished. Bluebells still provide a splendid display, but many spring flowers are now spent and the summer ones are just beginning. Kay will probably plant out the annuals soon, the risk of frost recedes each day. Swifts are screaming overhead in gangs.
Thursday 16th May – Barnsley Canal – Hawthorns are billowing clouds of white blossom. Specks of white fluff from Willow blossom floats through the air. Bird song is everywhere in the warm sunshine. A Blackcap is singing on the edge of the car park, Sedge Warblers can be heard from over the river, Whitethroats are scattered around but Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers are now hardly heard. By the bridge there are a couple of red flowered Hawthorns in the mass of white. A male Bullfinch sits on a brier is pink splendour. A Mistle Thrush rises from the hillside below Greenfoot with a beak full of worms. A pair of Little Grebes are on the canal with at least four young. They keep close to the reeds and disappear quickly upon my approach. Large numbers of mosquitoes are dancing on the surface of the canal. I drop off the tow-path and walk back up the rough pasture in the valley. One of the arms of the Loop is shallow and still. Marsh Marigolds flower on the edge of the water, brilliant yellow on green. Clumps of Comfrey are scattered across the pasture. An Oak is coloured ochre by the mass of flowers on its branches.
Friday 17th May – Edderthorpe – The site seems to have settled for the summer. Gadwall, Shoveler and Mallard are all paired up and generally quiet. A few Lapwing flap around the area. A Cuckoo calls from the woods on the other side of the valley. Ringed Plovers and Dunlin feed on the mud. A pair of Arctic Terns seem to annoy the Black-headed Gulls. The latter are mainly first year non-breeders. Suddenly another pair of terns appear at the southern end of the site, much darker looking – Black Terns. They dive around for a while and are then gone.
Wombwell Ings – Here is even quieter than Edderthorpe, but it has a surprise. In the pond near the Travellers site, a Spoonbill is feeding in the reeds. It swings its bill through the water, side to side; suddenly catches something and gulps it down. A male Ruddy Duck slips into the reed bed next to it.
Sunday 19th May – Pennine Moors – A few of us go up to the edge of the Moors, north of Sheffield. We head for Strines, not actually planned, I took the wrong turning. It is noticeable that many new gates and fences have been erected with signs saying “Keep Out – Private Land – So and So Estate”. It seems the gentry are ensuring their position in case the Government ever gets around to introducing meaningful “Right to Roam” legislation. The track above Ewden Beck has been closed off and barbed wire runs along the edge of the woods. Bluebells shimmer in the bottom of the steep valley. Yellow Archangel flowers beside the track. I listen in vain for a Wood Warbler – it has been some years since I heard one here.
Tuesday 21st May – Barnsley Canal – The rain has filled the puddles in the tow-path and turned the mud sticky and claggy. An Orange Tip butterfly suns itself on a Ribbed Plantain. The hillsides are splashed yellow with buttercups.
Thursday 23rd May – Barnsley Canal – Dark clouds scurry across the sky. This is typical April weather of showers and sunshine – pity it is May! Bird song still fills the air. The Hawthorn blossom, May Blossom, is on the turn now, the centres becoming brown and the petals limp. However, they will shortly be replaced by Elderflowers. A Carrion Crow is moving noisily through a Hawthorn by the bridge, an ominous sign for any bird nesting in the branches. Members of the pea family are coming into flower – Kidney Vetch and various vetchlings – all yellow petalled varieties. The Comfrey clumps are in flower. Some areas are coloured like a child’s painting with Buttercups, Red Clover and Forget-me-nots mingling on a green background. A large female Sparrowhawk rises briefly above the trees that line the river near Smithies Lane.
Old Moor Wetlands – Canada Geese are around the path as Burnsie and I head towards the hide. They nearly all have goslings, one a splendid ten, although it may have been eleven, counting bobbing and ever moving goslings is tricky! One pair was odd as one of the pair was a Greylag; they had six goslings. Out on the shingle islands there is nesting galore – Black-headed Gulls, noisy as ever; Common Terns; a single Oystercatcher, its orange eye alert despite its apparent somnolence. On a far islet, a pair of Little Ringed Plover chase around whilst a Ruddy Turnstone moves far more deliberately, searching for food. Some extremely ugly Black-headed Gull chicks stand in the shallows – great balls of dark brown fluff. Coot chicks do not exactly come high in the beauty stakes either! There are good numbers of the increasingly uncommon Tree Sparrow. Their brown caps are so distinctive. Reed Buntings and Linnets flit between the small Willows in the reedy marshes. Orchids are in flower in the dry gravel path edges. Not having a field guide and not noting the details properly leaves identification open, but Fragrant Orchid looks a good option. A Brown Hare is in the ride towards the farm buildings. A Kestrel sits atop an old telegraph pole. Ragged Robin, with pink ragged petals, hence the name, flowers on banks.
Friday 24th May – Old Mill – Bullfinches seem to be less secretive these days. A pair is feeding on the path and whilst they slip away quietly as ever, I am much closer that I would have been in the past. Of course, this could all be in my imagination... Male Blackcaps are such splendid little chaps, neat grey suit, a jaunty black cap and a talkative little song. Down beside the old aqueduct, a much longer chattering song reveals the presence of a Garden Warbler, but its secretive ways keep it hidden. A Jay flashes past, all pink with a blue sparkle. Despite the recent rain, the River Dearne is not particularly high or fast. On the other side of the river, a Guelder Rose is in flower, large umbrelliform heads with a fringe of single flowers. A small bright yellow snail is crossing the tarmac path; I give it a helping hand into the grass.
Saturday 25th May – Blackburn Meadows – The weather is very unsettled with sun and showers throughout the day. It is quiet around the ponds, a few sleeping Mallard, a Coot with young, a few Black-headed Gulls squabbling about nothing much as usual. Red Campion is in flower and in profusion. Dill the Dog makes a pathetic attempt to chase a Rabbit. There are more around the far side and this time she does not even break into a trot – some hunter that dog! Whitethroats launch themselves into the air singing furiously.
Home – We have a Wren’s nest lodged on top of the potting shed door. Little yellow gapes appear when I waggle my finger in front of the nest. I take a few photographs and then leave them alone so the parent can return. S/he does so by flying through the doorway, perching on a block of concrete by the door, then up to the nest and out by the hole in the roof. Another excuse for not fixing it!
Tuesday 28th May – Harborough Hills – The sloping land down from Queen’s Ground, through Oakwell and on towards the canal as it sweeps around from Old Mill to Hoyle Mill is strange. It is crossed by paths through mainly bracken and small Hawthorns. A few battered Elders cower here and there. At the turn of the 20th century, there were just plots of land. Some old broken walls can be seen under bushes and undergrowth. At the top of the hill, the old Queen’s Ground – a field and a running track, has been replaced by the Metrodome leisure centre. Oakwell is now a large modern football stadium towering above the old buildings of the Oakwell Brewery and some cloth dying sheds, many in a very poor state of repair. A pair of Grey Partridge are disturbed by Dill the Dog.
Thursday 30th May – Netherwood Country Park – Grass stalks under the Silver Birches on the spoil heap of Darfield Main Pit are bespattered with Cuckoo Spit, the protective foam around Froghopper larvae. A flower very like a Greater Knapweed, but with blue rays on the flower head is a beautiful sight. I check later and determine it to be a Perennial Cornflower, a rarity for the area. Red Oaks, a Nearctic species of Oak, spreads it large pointed-lobed leaves beside the River Dove. The river is crystal clear and runs gently over the shingle bed. A couple of large boletus fungi are growing under Birches. Although the tubes (which contain the spores) are eaten and spongy, the heads themselves are in reasonable condition and provide a meal. Yellow Flag (Iris) blooms in the ditch running alongside the park.