Tuesday 1st November – Trans-Pennine Trail – Worsbrough – Everywhere is wet. The bushes are full of bustling life. One bush alone contains Goldfinches, Chaffinches, a Blackbird and a Dunnock. Beneath, a Grey Squirrel scrabbles though the leaves. There are also Greenfinches nearby. A cock Pheasant croaks as it lumbers through the air over the old railway track and down into the fields beyond.
Friday 4th November – Barnsley Canal – Squelching down Willowbank and onto the mud bath that is the tow-path. There is some flooding at the end of the Loop. A pair of Magpies rise above the ground, feet outstretched at each other as they squabble. Moorhens are chasing one another. Already it seems that territorial battles are underway. There are numerous Redwings in the Hawthorns. A Bullfinch slips away through the bushes. Chaffinches and Greenfinches are seeking food.
Tuesday 8th November – Fleets Dam – The weekend was wet and miserable. Doubly so for Dill the Dog who suffers from the sound of fireworks. Despite giving her tranquilisers on Bonfire Night, she was still in terror going to the pub through what seemed like a re-enactment of the Battle of the Somme. Kay suggested Dill the Dog should stay at home, but she was shaking and panting on the settee, and the fireworks cannot be heard from the bar of the pub, so I decided a quick walk of terror was the best plan. The fireworks were off again on Sunday and Monday – why cannot these people just enjoy them on the one night instead of spreading them over weeks on end? Today is drier although the paths remain wet and muddy. I visit the Fleets twice, morning and afternoon. There is more water flowing over the weir in the afternoon, despite the lack of rain. Black-headed Gulls are chasing a grumpy Grey Heron.
Wednesday 9th November – Barnsley Canal – The sky is blue and the sun shines brightly. Underfoot the ground is still sodden. Half way down Willowbank Long-tailed Tits can be heard in various spots along the canal. A large flock, or maybe several flocks are moving through the trees and bushes. Chaffinches, Goldfinches, Greenfinches, Dunnocks and Redwings are flying around the bushes beside the foot bridge.
Thursday 10th November – Scout Dike – A cold wind whistles through the evergreens. The moors in the distance are cloaked in cloud. A flock of Long-tailed Tits and Goldcrests moves through bushes and trees by the car park. Out on the reservoir is a small flock of Mallard, a pair of Tufted Duck and a couple of winter-plumaged Great Crested Grebe. A large flock of Starlings rises from the fields, along with Black-headed Gulls and Lapwings. There is a brand new set of steps leading down to the tunnel by the pumping station. Its chromium bright railing seems incongruous set against the moss and lichen covered stones.
Monday 14th November – Trans-Pennine Trail – I join the trail at Notton Lane and head towards Royston. The wind is cold and the sky a luminous grey. The path splits where the Royston-Carlton Boundary walk heads off, but I follow the path running parallel to the old Midland Railway line. The path veers left and above the end of the Barnsley Canal. The map shows that the canal comes down from Cold Hiendley and under the railway at this point, but it seems now, that the tunnel through which the canal flowed is blocked. The path climbs up onto a ridge made by the railway and canal both cutting through a hill, the path running high between them. Below is a cave cut into the sandstone, maybe six feet high with bars across its entrance. This locally is known as the Bear Cave, and is a drainage shaft for the canal. Long-tailed Tits are feeding in the trees. Tall stone built stanchions stand across the canal and on the ridge. The Central Railway line crossed here, although there is no sign of any stanchion on the far side of the present line. It is strange that so many of the trees are carrying so many leaves this late into autumn. A Jay flies down the canal with something in its beak – probably an acorn, Oaks are numerous here. A small charm of four Goldfinches chatters merrily up ahead. The canal changes suddenly from a wide open stretch of water to a reed choked, willow-lined affair.
Over the other side of the railway, hidden by an embankment, is the coking plant. Machinery hums and grumbles. Tall chimneys smoke and a siren wails for a minute. The canal comes to Midland Road where it has been filled in. I head off down this road towards the centre of Royston. The street is a mixture of small terraced houses and larger detached buildings, probably all late Victorian. Small streets of terraces run off the main road. Just before the crossroads in the centre of the village are larger houses. On the junction there is a broken cast iron plate set into the pavement, saying “BOUNDARY”. Up Station Road, which now contains no station, past the Victorian Town Hall and Police Station and the modern Leisure Centre (although everyone still calls them Royston Baths). The road is now lined with Council housing and beyond, the awful new housing estates where the maximum number of houses is crammed into the minimum space. Just on the edge of the village is the boundary walk path, running alongside the abandoned Central Railway line. This is the point my walk of 19th July ended. The path is wet, clinging clay. Blue, Long-tailed and Willow Tits flit through the saplings and bushes.
Tuesday 15th November – Anglers Country Park – A glorious bright blue sky with a blazing sun lights up the world. A large flock of Canada Geese with seven Greylags are grazing the grass in fields by the car park. A rasping Mistle Thrush flies over. There are wild fowl scattered all over the lake. Three white geese with an Egyptian Goose in tow head across towards the bank. Coot bob near the shore. Out on the water there are a number of Goosander, Shoveler, Gadwall, Wigeon and Great Crested Grebe. There are surprisingly few Tufted Duck and I do not spot any Pochard. Cormorants and Lapwings stand on the rocks placed around a small bay on the north side. The scrape has become hidden by the willows and other saplings and scrub that have grown considerably over the last few years. Along the path, edged on both sides by saplings and bushes – Alder, Willow, Hawthorn, Rowan and more – birds dart to and fro. A Jay drops down onto the path. Blue, Great and Long-tailed Tits, Goldcrests, Wrens, Reed Bunting and Blackbirds are all present. Carrion Crows stand and watch from fence posts and trees on the more open grassland beside the lake. A small group of Meadow Pipits sit in an Alder. Beneath the saplings several species of Cornus have been planted and their yellow and red stems glow in the sunlight. At this end of the lake are many more wildfowl including Goldeneye and Ruddy Duck. Around the south side, a flock of 150 or more Wigeon whistle from the water’s edge. There is a smaller flock sheltering under the bank on the far side. A pair of Mute Swan glide in.
Wednesday 16th November – Calder and Hebble Navigation – I join the tow-path by The Navigation public house at Calder Grove on another fine autumn morning. The canal is full and water cascades down a wide sluice to the River Calder below. It is really quite cold, near to a frost overnight. The path passes under a cast iron girder bridge which once carried the line which formed a triangle between the Barnsley to Wakefield line and the Wakefield-Lancashire line. Over the other side of the river is Healey Mills sidings, once the largest marshalling yard in England, now virtually empty. It brings back memories of watching goods trains being divided and reconstituted at Lovers Lane marshalling yards in Brighton over 40 years ago. Now all those goods travel by road at a far greater environmental cost, whilst the train yards are silent. A strip of Hawthorns, Silver Birches and Willows grow either side of the canal, with open fields beyond. The trees are alive with birds – Blue, Coal, Great and Long-tailed Tits, Blackbirds, Bullfinches, Chaffinches and Wrens. There is an adult Mute Swan and four fully grown cygnets on a flash in the field. Moorhens feed on the far side of the field, near the river. On the way back, a Goldcrest squeaks as it feeds. A Kingfisher darts across the canal and down to the river.
Home – Putting bread out for the birds (as opposed to the feeders) has attracted the attention of a number of Wood Pigeons, Magpies, Stock Doves and Carrion Crows. The latter seem merely interested in stealing anything the Magpies take. After they depart, Greenfinches, Chaffinches, Blue and Great Tits return to the feeders. Around midnight, there is a huge circle around the moon. There have been circles around the moon in recent nights, but this is far greater in diameter and covers a large proportion of the sky.
Thursday 17th November – Home – The first frost of the autumn, although it is very light. As I hang out the sheets to dry, a skein of geese flies over, maybe thirty or forty birds. An occasional yelp from the geese marks their passing. I guess they were Pink-footed Geese, although their destination is unclear as they were heading north.
Friday 18th November – Barnsley Canal – The world is an under-exposed photograph as Jack Frost has sprinkled his dust all over. This is a heavy frost. The leaves crunch noisily underfoot. The churned up mud of the tow-path is rock hard and threatens one’s ankles. A Jay and Magpie quarrel on Willowbank. Mallard circle one another, quacking. Just beyond the footbridge over the canal, much twittering from finches alerts all to a drifting Sparrowhawk. The sun illuminates the rusty shoulders of Fieldfares sitting on top of the Hawthorns down from Greenfoot.
Tuesday 22nd November – Dearne Valley Country Park – In the early hours of the morning there had been a heavy fog across the district but it had cleared by dawn. It is now overcast, grey, damp and cold. A flock of Goldfinches flies up from some Teasels on which they had been feeding. Magpies are chattering up in Cliffe Wood. It is a just over week away from December, yet the trees are still heavily leaved. Hazel catkins hang from branches with this year’s leaves that look tired but still green. A Great Tit’s cyclic call comes through the trees. The wood was used as a source of timber for charcoal in the early days of steel making in Barnsley, before the coke furnaces were built. It is disturbing to see how widespread Japanese Knotweed has become along the banks of the River Dearne. A Blackbird rummages through the leaf litter. A Mute Swan family, pen, cob and five cygnets glide down the short section of water that runs parallel to the river.
Friday 25th November – Barnsley Canal –It is bitterly cold in a blustery north wind. Snow has been forecast but has not made an appearance. A Grey Heron flies down Willowbank from the north-west and off across Smithies. Something large and brown slips silently out of the Hawthorn hedge and up the valley. From the brief glimpse, the jizz says owl. I have seen Short-eared Owls here in winter before and Long-eared Owls have bred here. There are numerous birds are flitting about the trees and hedges, mainly Redwings, Blackbirds and Blue Tits. A Treecreeper is scurrying about the top of a Hawthorn. Now leaves are falling rapidly, the many Magpie nests can be seen in the Hawthorns. Up on the hillside large flocks of winter thrushes, mainly Fieldfare fly to and fro. The hydrogen sulphide from the drainage pump is particularly pungent today.
Monday 28th November – Higham – I parked outside The Engineer, one of the few Sam Smith pubs around Barnsley, and headed down Pog Well Road to Higham Bottom. Pogmoor is situated some way to the south-west of this point, so I am unsure of the location of the well referred to. It is still cold and damp. The road goes under the M1 and at Higham Bottom it becomes a dirt track that continues towards Silkstone, but I turn right and across a small pasture and into the edge of Hugsett Woods. A deep ditch separates the path from the fields rising up to the motorway. The woods are silent, all the song that rang out here a few months since has been silenced. A few Blackbirds flit up into the trees on the edge of the wood, but nothing moves within. The path reaches another track and here a small stream runs through broken masonry. The track heads back up the hill, forming the third side of a triangle. Through Royd Hill Farm where flocks of House Sparrows and finches fly around seeking spillages of grain. It has started to snow.
Barnsley Canal – Old Mill – It has been sporadically snowing during the morning and into the afternoon, but not laying. Three Moorhens stand on the path beside the short section of canal. They seem almost blasé about Dill the Dog’s approach but soon fly off and land in the canal and disappear into the reeds.
Tuesday 29th November – Blackburn Meadows Nature Reserve – Bright sun shines down on the Sheffield Canal, but it is still cold. The canal lock has probably not been used recently judging from the amount of rubbish floating against the gate. There are a number of gulls on the first pool – Herring and Black-headed and a Greater Black-backed Gull with a leg ring. Duck are scarce, only a pair of Pochard. The path is blocked near the first hide because of “unstable ground conditions”. A quick look from the hide reveals an empty second pool.
Home – A Great Spotted Woodpecker is on the fat ball and the Nuthatch on the peanut feeder hanging from the apple trees. Both seed feeders have their usual Greenfinches in attendance.
Wednesday 30th November – Fleets Dam – It has been cold overnight and there is a heavy frost, but it has now begun to rain. The lake is frozen. Several groups of Black-headed Gulls stand on the ice along with a Grey Heron whose head is sunk into its shoulders in a picture of misery. Long-tailed Tits are working their way through the branches of the trees. Unusually, they are silent, may they need all their energy to concentrate on finding sufficient food. A pair of Mallard explode from the River Dearne and land on the ice, sliding gracefully to a halt. They seem to look at one another as if to ask “Where is the water?”