May 1997

Saturday 3rd May – Edderthorpe – A warm day with a slightly hazy sun. All down the river sides are the songs of Whitethroats and Sedge Warblers. From the reed beds in the pool comes the song of two Reed Warblers. One makes occasional appearances to survey the area before climbing back down into the bright green new growth. A Little Grebe swims quietly along the edge of the reed bed. Up on the hillside a Red-legged Partridge was sitting on top of a fence post. Behind the reed bed a large Hare lopes quietly away from me. Above the meadows, which have now mainly dried out, comes the song of Sky Larks. There are a couple of Shelduck, Gadwall, Tufted Duck, Shoveler and Mallard on the flash. Lots of Coots fed on the muddy field. The scrub beside the old railway is ringing with Willow Warbler songs. There seems to be Willow Warblers everywhere this year. A lone Yellowhammer was calling from a scrubby bush. A few Swallows skim over the pool as I return and a Green Woodpecker flies silently across the fields towards the woodland.

Wombwell Ings – Oddly, the first thing I see here is another Hare loping across the field. On the mud is a Ruff, not with a ruff but the feathers on its back are glowing gold with dark edging. A Yellow Wagtail calls from the top of a Hawthorn next to the transfer ditch.

Sunday 4th May – The Moors – I decide to check out some of the moorland sites. First call is the Little Don Valley but the heavy mist makes it impossible to see anything. It may be haunting and bring visions of Brontё stories to mind, but makes for poor birding. I move on to Langsett Reservoir where a quick peek over the wall reveals a Common Sandpiper feeding on the dam below. The only bird on the water is a female Mallard with a single chick, which makes me wonder what happened to the rest of her brood. Around the corner is an old Oak woodland above the valley and pumping station below the dam. A Sparrowhawk flashes through the trees and disappears towards the large fir plantations. Deep in the woods I find my target – a gorgeous male Pied Flycatcher sitting on an Oak bough. A visit to Ewden Beck fails to find any Wood Warblers. In the afternoon I visit the Worsbrough Country Park area. I park up on the abandoned Worsbrough – Penistone railway and walk along the trail created from the levelled track. Orange-tip Butterflies flutter between the flowers along the edges. Looking across towards Worsbrough Reservoir I realise there are large flocks of Swifts moving through. In the Country Park I am fooled by a bird whose song seems to lay half way between a Whitethroat and a Garden Warbler. The fact that I never get more than a flashing glimpse tends to support the Garden Warbler, but not one I could count. In the middle of the reservoir is a raft and on it a pair of Common Terns. House Martins are zipping across the surface of the water. A sudden flash of lightning, although many miles away, prompts me off home.

Monday 5th May – The Moors – Up early and up onto the moors. In the dense fir plantations I can hear dozens of Goldcrests but have considerably difficulty in spotting one. Today the Little Don Valley is clearer and I head up stream. I check the trees high on the valley sides but no Tree Pipit. At one point a lamb decides to investigate us by approaching. I had already told Dill the Dog to sit still so as not to frighten the lamb and its anxious mother. The little chap gets within ten feet then runs away again. This is repeated several times before the lamb eventually heeds its mother’s increasingly urgent calls and they trot off down the valley side through the dead bracken. In the old Oaks I find a resplendent male Common Redstart. Below me the lower reaches of the moors and Mickleden Beck are a patchwork of tan dead bracken, dark green heather and emerald grasses. These colours are matched in the trees with yellow-green Oak buds, gloomy Yews and brilliant green Aspens. By the time I drop down towards the confluence of the Little Don and Mickleden Beck clouds have rolled onto the tops and hang down the sides of the moors like an old man’s beard. Then it starts raining – serious rain! By the time I get back to the car I am soaked to the skin and Dill the Dog looks a pitiful sight. It also means much incense is burned throughout the afternoon to disguise the smell of a slowly drying dog.

Sunday 11th May – The Moors – Another try up the Little Don Valley. However, I start at Scout Dike where a Kingfisher powers across the reservoir, gleaming in the early morning sun. A pair of Dabchicks dive near the banks. There is nothing at all on Ingbirchworth Reservoir so I head for the Flouch. Down through the fir plantation and again Goldcrests are tinkling in the dense woods but prove impossible to see. Up the Little Don a group of Barnsley birders tell me a Ring Ouzel is singing further on. As I walk beside the rushing river I look up onto the top and catch a glimpse of a Goshawk as it seems to fall off a limb on a dead Scots Pine and disappears behind a dry stone wall. Mistle Thrushes are flying between the trees, mainly in pairs. The little beck flowing down a narrow clough is usually easy to cross by some strategically placed stones but today these are some six inches under the rushing water, so I get a very wet boot. Dill the Dog, of course, just plunges through as normal. As I crest a hill above another clough a Merlin shoots off from a branch. I continue a way up the Little Don but there is little more than Meadow Pipits – and I get another boot full when I slip off a rock into a muddy pool.

Back down at the confluence of the Little Don and Mickleden Beck I sit down for a while in the hope a Ring Ouzel will turn up. On the opposite side of the water junction a Grey Wagtail stands on a grassy knoll calling – its plumage is absolutely perfect and brilliant. Nothing else is around so I head back down the valley. Up in the old Oak woods a Tree Pipit performs its parachute display. I reach the second clough which is a deep valley sparsely dotted with a mixture of Scots Pine and Mountain Ash. As I climb up the side of the valley a Goshawk flies across giving a decent, albeit very short view. The Merlin also crosses the valley again. On the other side of the valley two Cuckoos are chasing. At first I assume they are a male and female. One comes across the valley and sits in a tree just above me and starts calling. Then the other Cuckoo returns the call, so it would seem they are two males trying to attain mastery of the site. Along the far top of the valley is a row of lightning blasted pines and something black flies up and starts singing from the top of one – the Ring Ouzel. Even at the considerable distance I can make out the white crescent across its breast. As I head back down the clough to the main valley it starts to rain, which continues until I reach the car – wet again. I check out Langsett Reservoir but there is nothing in the driving storm. By the time I reach Ewden Beck I seem to have out-driven the rain and head down the path. Here I see two more groups of Barnsley birders, one contains John Hewitt and Mick Turton, two of the area’s best birders and my mate Gary is in the other group. It still takes me a few minutes to work out this lot in the area must mean the Barnsley Bird race is on and they are after a Wood Warbler. However, there is still no sign of one in the area. Then the storm catches up with me – torrential rain, thunder and lightning! Dill the Dog makes it very clear that it is time to go and I retreat through hail and blinding downpours.

Wednesday 21st May – Dale – Dyfed – Long drive down to Pembrokeshire but I am now keen to get down to the Gann to see what is around. Dill the Dog is also keen to get out onto the beach with her friend Buster for a charge around. It is quite quiet in the area. There are over a dozen Shelduck on the river, their brilliant bands of colour pleasing the eye. An occasional Curlew keens over the salt marsh. A flock of Oystercatchers huddle on a spit of shingle awaiting the fall of the tide. High over the conifer woods hangs a Buzzard motionless in the air. Along the river edge Samphire grows in the tidal washed mud but it is too small to gather. A flock of six Dunlin flit around the beach, some in breeding plumage. We have a walk in the evening going up a shady little lane out of the village. The steep bank sides are covered in Herb Robert, Red Campion and a beautiful strap fern. We find a dead Rook under the rookery with a stick jammed in its beak and throat.

Thursday 22nd May – Dale – Start off going up the river near Dale. Reed Warblers are singing from the depths of the reed bed, with little forays to the tops to check out what is around before disappearing into the depths. There is a huge patch of Chamomile that would be worth gathering for tea, but it is too close to a grain crop and who knows what it has been sprayed with.

Walwyn’s Castle. Heading into the woods that rise steeply above the lake the eye is almost assaulted by the riot of colours from the green ferns, Bluebells and Red Campion. Foxgloves are coming into flower – one is well over six-foot tall. The woods echo to Chiffchaff and a Blackbird. On the dam of the lake the gorse is in flower. Yellow Flags flower around the edge of the water and of course, Dill the Dog is in the water. A Willow Warbler calls from the dense scrub below the dam and I think I hear a Lesser Whitethroat but I cannot locate it. There are, surprisingly, no Canada Geese on the lake – has someone taken Jim Bangma’s advice and terminated them? Climbing back up into the woods and a Marsh Tit chirps explosively above me.

Friday 23rd May – Westfield Pil – A morning walk down the abandoned railway at Westfield Pil. To one side flows the River Cleddau, to the other an old wood rises above me. A Great Tit emerges from a hole in a stump with a fecal sack. A Blackcap sings loudly in the willows along the track. The birds along here are very much as expected – Mallards, Shelduck, Kingfisher, Wood Pigeons, Chiffchaffs (which, incidentally seem in decent numbers across the whole area), a Jay, Mistle Thrushes, a Cormorant with a white front and a single, circling Common Buzzard. A rock face is decorated with very pale pink Dog Roses and Ox-eye Daisies. Along the ballast of the old track grows Tufted Vetch, Germander Speedwell, Clover, Field Mouse-ear, Wild Strawberries and many more.

Saturday 24th May – Dale – Peter is able to join me today so we start of at Dale as usual. Again nothing unusual around. A pair of Shelduck look angrily at a Carrion Crow which is far too close for comfort to their brood of at least a dozen fluffy ducklings. The Dunlin flock has split into singles that seem to prefer running away from us rather than taking flight. This enables us to get very close and see the beautifully intricate patterning in the back feathers. A single Common Tern hawks over the bay. Surprisingly, Dill the Dog actually tries to out-swim Buster to retrieve a stick. Usually she waits at the water’s edge and just takes it off him. However, she is no match for Buster’s large paws so she reverts to forms and just steals it from him.

Walwyn’s Castle – Here we find the same cast of birds. A couple of Canada Geese are now on the lake as is a single male Pochard. In the woods, Black-veined Whites, Speckled Woods and a Common (?) Blue butterflies flit in the dappled light. At the end of the afternoon we take the dogs around the coastal path at St Ishmael’s. A single Stonechat and Yellowhammer call from the gorse. Two maroons go up and the lifeboat is launched and heads off around the headland from Milford Haven. The edge of the path is covered in flowers including Greater Stitchwork, Navelwort and Devil’s Bit Scabious that attracts large Bumble Bees. A Fulmar and a Raven soar above the cliffs.

Sunday 25th May – Martin’s Haven – Up and out before seven o’clock to check out the Deer Park and Skomer Island. Above the Deer Park the sky is full of the liquid trill of Sky Larks. There are Stonechats everywhere. Skomer is dotted with nesting Lesser Black-backed Gulls with a few Greater Black-backed Gulls on the top. On the sea below are rafts of Puffins, Guillemots and Razorbills. On a rocky spur sit a couple of Shag. Far out at sea a single Gannet lazily sails over the waves. On the cliff top a single Chough pecks at the soil. We find another two further round the headland. Surprisingly, we do not find a single Wheatear. Thrift is growing in the sparse grass on the edge of the cliff tops. Both Marloes Mere and Dale Airfield are very quiet. The only additions on the Gann are a couple of Ringed Plover which have joined the reunited Dunlin flock.

Monday 26th May – Walwyn’s Castle. – I still keep hearing the very occasional call of a Lesser Whitethroat but still fail to locate it. The area below the dam is a veritable orchestra of bird song with Blackbirds, Garden Warblers, Sedge Warblers and Whitethroats all vying for attention. Peter says he has been told Peregrines are nesting in a nearby quarry. We go up onto the earthworks of the castle from where we can scan a portion of the quarry, which is still worked. Using my expertise I announce it looks wrong to me and give the cliff face a cursory scan through my binos. Just as I am about to turn away I notice a white mark which turns out to be guano and just above it – a nest! And on the nest sits a Peregrine. When we scope the nest we can make out two white, fluffy headed chicks. We wait some time for the mate to return with a catch but it does not happen. In the evening we go to a barbecue and as the sky darkens we watch bats jink through the trees. The small ones are Pipistrelles but we do not know what species the larger ones are.

Tuesday 27th May – Mid-Wales – I head back home via the Cambrian Mountains to try for Red Kites. Some way before I reach my target site, Oreil Jones’ slaughter yard, I see three circling high above the road. Another two swoop through the slaughter yard as I pass.

Saturday 31st May – Upper Don Valley – The hot, sunny weather continues. Little is moving at Scout Dike reservoir. In the pool below the pumping station a pair of frogs are mating, which seems odd, as the pool is full of tadpoles, which would surely eat any eggs laid. Langsett Reservoir is even quieter. At Ewden Beck I sit on a large stone at the top the steep woods that fall away to the little beck below. A Chiffchaff and Chaffinch call repeatedly and there is an occasional croak from a Pheasant behind me. But not the call I was hoping for, a Wood Warbler. I finally check out Rockley Forge. It is clear that the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker is not nesting in the dead Aspen used last year. However, I did hear some drumming from deeper in the woods but was unable to locate the drummer.