May 1996

Sunday 5th May – Hood Green – To the west of Barnsley is rolling countryside leading up to the moors. Some steep wooded hills and valleys dotted with hamlets and farms. One hamlet is Hood Green, just below the top of the hill on which stands Stainborough Castle – a Victorian Folly. A track leads down from Hood Green towards woodland. It looks normal except the track is metalled and there are concrete lamp posts, long empty of light, in the edge of the trees. Suddenly the scene is concrete and shrubbery – another disused colliery. The trees are either old Oaks, Ash and Elm – all battered, blackened and often pollarded – or incomers like Silver Birch and Willows. All around are the songs of Chiffchaffs, Willow Warblers, Blackcaps and Whitethroats. But the reason for the visit is to find Jynx torquilla – a Wryneck. However, an hour later and no joy. Dill the Dog has found a disgusting stream and is now black and wet. After a little longer touring the site again, with birders wandering as aimlessly as I, it is off to the supermarket.

Wortley – In the afternoon, down to Wortley Top Forge. Here is the old South Yorkshire Iron Works, no longer used, in the valley of the River Don. I did not look around the site, although I really must soon. On the grass outside the buildings stand a group of 30-40 foot high Massey presses, like complex great Hepworth sculptures. The river runs gently here towards Sheffield. The open woodlands clearly hold woodpeckers, but none to be seen. Indeed, the bird life was sparse. However, the plant life was more prolific with Wood Anemones and Lesser Celandines, white and yellow respectively. A few Coal Tits feed in some ivy covered trees. Beyond the woods, Hawthorn has blossomed – the glorious snow-like covering of May Blossom. Beside a small rill feeding the river is a stand of Butterburs. Once their huge circular leaves were used for wrapping butter.

Bank Holiday Monday 6th May – Ilkley – I could start getting a complex about it all (if that is possible for a simple soul like me!) First I dip on the Lesser Scaup, yesterday I fail on the Wryneck and now this morning I fail to find a group of Dotterels. Up before dawn and off to Ilkley Moors. Right across the moors to the 12 Apostle Stones and the area is perfect for migrating Dotterels – large patches of burned off heather. But none anywhere. I see summer plumage Golden Plovers and lots of Meadow Pipits doing all sorts of mating rituals. I also find four Canada Geese – slightly unexpected as there are no areas of water up here. I walk the moors, see a Short-eared Owl quartering an area of moor; lots of Wheatears but no Dotterels.

Wombwell Ings – The afternoon session takes us over to Wombwell Ings. Here, at least, something was on. On the Ings are a Temminck’s Stint and a Wood Sandpiper, both useful birds for a year list. I also finally manage to get my first Swifts of the year, a pair over Broomhill. Walking back, Dill the Dog decides to open a new chapter to her opus, “Rivers I have Jumped In”; this chapter, “Sewage Channels I have Jumped In”. Needless to say I am none to pleased and she gets ordered three times into the River Dearne to get most of the black slime off. At least the sun is shining – indeed it is getting decidedly warm despite the large billowing clouds. The lack of wind means the clouds stay put and the sun pours down on the area – just what is needed!

Sunday 12th May – Carlton Marsh – Too much work this weekend for proper birding – I have got to get my priorities right. Up to Carlton Marsh this morning. Across the small valley there are at least twelve Sedge Warblers singing their scratchy song. In the Phragmites reed bed two Reed Warblers are also singing, slightly less scratchy than the Sedges, described as “two pebbles being rubbed together”. Eventually one appears and gives excellent views – not easy as they tend to sit in the middle of the reed beds. Male Reed Buntings are also fluttering around the reeds. A meadow the other side of the old railway is dotted with the creamy yellow flowers of Cowslips – once quickly disappearing from the countryside because of the extensive use of herbicides but now recovering. At a pool at the Cudworth end, Swallows were “dunking” into the water. This did not seem to concern a pair of Little Grebe. On the way back a pair of Hares came up from the marsh to cross the railway, which runs parallel to the marsh. These were not the dull brown so often shown but a mixture of browns, gold and even black. Dill the Dog made a totally hopeless charge after them.

Tuesday 14th May – Barnsley Canal – Early(ish) morning walk down the canal. As soon as I leave the road the wall of bird song hits me. Robins, Blackbirds, Great Tits, Wrens and Willow Warblers are immediately identifiable. Willow Warblers are flitting across the open ground from bush top to bush top. Heading down to the canal and a Whitethroat gives a short call very similar to a Greenfinch. On the canal a Wren was in a tiny bush and flew out across the reed beds until Dill the Dog had passed. Another Wren was calling from the top of tree, seemed unusual for such a low growth loving species. On returning a Cuckoo was calling from the trees over the far side of the railway. Everywhere there are the signs of new growth – the green reeds pushing through the dead leaves of last season. Bright green Hawthorn leaves unfurling – much paler than their later dark colour – and the flower heads developing now on some bushes, whilst they are in full blossom on others.

Saturday 18th May – Thorpe Hesley – The village of Thorpe Hesley stands by the M1 motorway. On the other side of the junction is a turning leading to The Travellers Inn. From the Travellers an overgrown road leads back towards the village but come to an abrupt halt at the motorway. In the opposite direction the road dives down through woodland to the base of an old colliery spoil heap. The heap is high and nearly a mile long. The sides are now becoming wooded with Silver Birches. Willow Warblers are calling from the woods at the bottom of the steep slopes. On top there are only a few Wood Pigeons and a sole Yellowhammer calling from a small Silver Birch copse. Dropping off the north end of the heap and entering a mature wood and suddenly bird song is far more varied. A laughing yaffle and a Green Woodpecker flies off across the tops of the trees. Robins, Great and Blue Tits and Wrens are calling. From a thicket a Blackcap sings loudly, but keeps hidden. A Jay sits on a low branch but is not staying around as Dill the Dog approaches. Walking along the base of the heap, Swifts shoot overhead. Back up into the woods near the pub and Bluebells will soon be out. Beside the old road, a Whitethroat advertises his presence and defines his territory.

Sunday 19th May – North Lincolnshire – A grey and dull day, but still off to Swinefleet and still chasing my first Dotterel. Swinefleet is just SE of the port of Goole on the Humber. The area is flat and virtually featureless. Huge fields with few hedgerows make a monotonous view. Stop by the field mentioned by BirdLine and there they are – a flock of 22 across the field. I watched them for a while and then headed back for breakfast.

Barnby Bridge – This afternoon took Dill the Dog for a short stroll up the Old Waggon Road near Silkstone. The fields here, whilst at least being more traditional in size and with hedgerows, are mainly growing Oil Seed Rape – it smells bad and the acreage of bright yellow does not have the same joy that Van Gogh captured in his sunflower pictures. Not much happening bird-wise either, a Dunnock, a few Chaffinches and Greenfinches, a couple of Whitethroat performing and over 70 House Martins sweeping low around the trees by the sewage station. In the hedgerows the Garlic Mustard, known as “Jack-in-the-Hedge” is coming into bloom and in the damp areas of woodland and beside the stream there a the deep green strap like leaves and loose spiked club-head of white flowers of Ramsons, wild garlic.

Thursday 23rd May – Barnsley Canal – Wandered down the canal fairly early. Willow Warblers are still in full song but the Chiffchaffs are now almost entirely silent. Other choristers include Great Tit and Blue Tit (of course), Robin and Wren (again, ubiquitous), Whitethroats, Blackbirds and a Reed Warbler. The latter is in the new reed growth – bright green and overwhelming the old pale brown and dead stalks of last year. However, much as I look I cannot find the songster. Further along the canal, a Great Spotted Woodpecker is on an old tree, calling and feeding in turn. It flies off across the hillside and I see it again on my return. A couple of male Reed Buntings are singing from stunted Hawthorns.

Saturday 25th May – Wombwell Ings – It is still cold and windy. It seems that the sun has deserted us this year. Over to Wombwell Ings. Along the river, Sedge Warblers and Dunnocks are singing. Swifts are chasing each other in small groups and then soaring into a larger group of 40-50 birds higher over the Ings. A Green Woodpecker is yaffling in some nearby woods. On the Ings, a small flock of Ringed Plover are chasing each other. A pair of Canada Geese stand in the meadow with chicks – I can only count three, so I imagine the others have fallen prey to foxes, gulls or even the poor weather? A pair of Redshank are feeding in the mud and I catch sight of a chick with them. Again I can only see the one although there may be more in the grass. On the other side of the river is an old wall with a circular drain emerging from it. At the base of the wall is a short bank covered in various greenery – swords of reeds, both fat and thin; a huge rhubarb like leaf of the Hogweed; feathery fronds of Cow Parsley and a myriad of smaller leaves of different sizes and hues of green.

Sunday 26th May – Worsbrough Country Park – At least it is not raining – yet. Over to Worsbrough Country Park. The scrub beside the old railway line is a reliable site for Lesser Whitethroat, but not a sign. In the park woods, Chiffchaffs are still calling as are Chaffinches. Over the reed bed, three Whitethroats are chasing each other. At least two Sedge Warblers “sing” from the Phragmites. One sits in front of the hide, its red gape wide open and it lets forth its scratchy song. A pair of Common Terns are on the raft, one flies about dipping into the water and then harassing a Black-headed Gull.

Wharncliffe – In the evening I head off to Wharncliffe to fail – yet again – to find a Nightjar. Pheasants are roosting in the woodlands. Up on Wharncliffe Crags, the wooded valley of the River Don sweeps away from me. Up the valley flies a Kestrel carrying a mouse or vole. As it gets dark, Woodcock fly over piping their tsiip call. We wait until it is almost dark before stumbling off through the woods, still with no Nightjar sighting. Down the track into the valley, bats flit overhead – probably Pipistrelles.

Wednesday 29th May – Rockley Forge – A friend tells me of a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker nest site. Beside a stream that passes the ruins of an early steel making furnace at Rockley stands a dead Alder. Towards the top are a couple of holes. I sit on an old 5-bar gate and wait. After about five minutes, the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker darts out of the wood, visits one of the holes and then flashes back into the trees. Whilst waiting for another visit, the sound of Goldcrests fills the air. Overhead on the bough of an ivy-covered Spruce a Goldcrest is looking around with its bill full of wisps of grass. It then dives into the ivy. The woodpecker makes several more visits to the hole, obviously passing over food but I cannot see whether it is directly to young or the female inside the hole.

Thursday 30th May – Carlton Marsh – At last it almost seems like summer has made the effort to arrive. The temperature has soared (to quote a cliché) to a grand 25°C. Wandering along beside Carlton Marsh, Sedge Warblers are still defining their territories with their scratchy song. A Cuckoo calls from distant trees. On the marsh pool, most the Mallards are asleep on an islet. A Canada Goose incubating her eggs looks warily at a Magpie hopping around. Many birds are flitting through the bushes but now the leaves are fully formed all that is seen is a brown flash then frustratingly lost behind a green curtain. The sun has brought forth butterflies - Whites, Orange Tips and a Peacock visit the flowers along the path.