November 2006

Tuesday 1st November – Willowbank – It is quite light on Willowbank this morning. British Summer Time finished at the weekend and the clocks went back. But it is also a very clear morning and the pre-dawn sky is amethyst blue. The temperature has dropped considerably with the gales of the last few days gone. In sheltered dips, a light frost has tinted the grass.

Saturday 4th November – Barnsley Canal – Another bright and cold autumn morning. Frost is only apparent in sheltered spots, but the mud on the path is hard with ice. Numerous Blackbirds fly up from the dry part of the canal at the Smithies Lane end. A Grey Heron stands hunched on top of a Hawthorn. It stands slowly as we approach and then off. A Great Spotted Woodpecker is at the very top of one of the few trees to have lost all its leaves. Willow, Long-tailed, Blue and Great Tits are all moving around the bushes seeking food. A cock Pheasant prowls through the pasture by the Loop. Dill the Dog is fine fettle again, she even jumps at something she imagines is in the grass. There is no actual bird song, but there is a continuous sound of croaks and peeps, chirrups and squeaks.

Friday 10th November – Out and About – My job takes me around the area, from Nottingham to York, Grimsby to Bradford. Most sights are fleeting glances as I speed past, often on motorways. But there is still much to observe. There are decent numbers of Kestrels around, including three in a short stretch of the M18 by the new wetlands near Doncaster. Then an odd sight, a field being ploughed near Scunthorpe with just one bored looking Black-headed Gull standing on the freshly turned earth. Several miles down the road, nearer to Grimsby, another field is being turned. Here there are hundreds, indeed probably thousands of gulls covering the field like snow. A large swirling cloud are following the plough. Up near the M62 another field also has a large flock following the tractor and plough, so what was wrong with the Scunthorpe field? Flocks of birds are on the flat winter grain fields and the billiard table flat fields of grass being grown for turfs. Lapwings, Golden Plover, Starlings, Wood Pigeons and various gulls are in large numbers. Rooks perch on electricity wires and poke around in the fields. Many trees are still full of leaves, some even quite green. But the leaves are beginning to fall in serious numbers; a swirling mass on some parts of the road resembles golden snow.

Saturday 11th November – Barnsley Canal – The weather has been very variable this week. The week began grey and cold. By Thursday the sky was a pale aquamarine blue with just one small cloud, apart from on the northern and western horizons. Friday was again grey and this morning a gale is blowing. The wind means that birds are keeping their heads down. A Grey Heron is buffeted as it rises above the trees along the canal and flies off north. There are still plenty of fungi about; boletes, clitocybes and what looks like the uncommon but wonderfully named, “Herald of Winter”. This last toadstool normally only emerges after the frosts, late in the autumn, hence the name.

Thursday 16th November – Fleets Dam – A dull, cloudy afternoon, but suddenly the sun breaks through and lights up the lake. A Willow has fallen across the path down from Old Mill Lane. It appears to broken just below soil level, rotted I would think. A Grey Heron stands on the old staging attended by two Black-headed Gulls. More gulls are wheeling and crying over the water. A couple of Great Crested Grebes glide across the smooth surface of the lake. Everywhere leaves are turning, resulting in wonderful displays of gold, rust, red and yellow hillsides and valleys.

Saturday 18th November – Penistone – There is a bitter north-westerly blowing across the recreation ground. It seems the only tree species that has shed all its leaves is the Ash. Just large bunches of brown keys remain on the branches. Most other trees and bushes still have a full complement of leaves. Returning to the car park I leave Dill the Dog and head into the town. There is no market but the auctions of goods and livestock are underway. Dozens of almost exclusively men are in a barn whose walls are lined with cages containing chickens, ducks and turkeys. Bidding is brisk.

Monday 20th November – Fleets Dam – A bright afternoon. A couple of Grey Herons are lurking around the lake. One takes off and lands on the water oxygenator. I often wonder if these oxygenators actually work, although there has been no repeat of the awful mass deaths of fish that occurred a couple of years back, and the weather has been hot in the early summer and rainfall patchy. Two Great Crested Grebes are on the water, ignoring one another. A few Black-headed Gulls fly slowly round and round the water’s edge in hope of finding something to eat. The jewel of our waters, a Kingfisher, darts across the lake and perches low in an overhanding bush. It catches sight of me and darts back across to the other side. There is much talk these days of plants flowering at odd times, with the suggestion that global warming is the cause. Whatever the reason, there are Bramble flowers out along the path.

Tuesday 21st November – Willowbank – It is dark and wet as we slip and slide through the mud down Willowbank. Rain wets Dill the Dog and me quickly. There is no sound at all. The last few days have had a Song Thrush singing at the top of the hill and Blackbirds chacking and pinking, but not today. The rest of the morning is a weird mixture of brilliant blue skies quickly followed by dark clouds and rainbows.

Thursday 23rd November – Willowbank – The sky is mainly clear with purple and orange clouds in the east. A satellite, probably the International Space Station, passes overhead. It brightens and then darkens again before disappearing entirely. The Song Thrush is greeting the dawn.

Fleets Dam – There is much more water flowing over the weir than of late. The waters of the Dearne spread right across the concrete wall instead of just the channel in the middle. It crashes down and flows swiftly away downstream. The usual crew of Grey Herons, Great Crested Grebes and Black-headed Gulls populate the lake.

Home – Over at the old reservoir the ground is soft and wet. Overhead is clear. A shooting star flashes across the sky and is extinguished in the wink of an eye; its journey through the darkness of space since the dawn of time ends in a moment of brilliance.

Sunday 26th November – Royd Moor – The moor consists of a number of fields above Royd and Ingbirchworth reservoirs. The road forms a boundary between Royd Moor and Whitley Common, the latter with its wind farm. Beside the road is a new watch point. A circular drystone enclosure contains a plinth with a steel disc etched to show the directions of various landmarks, a toposcope. The view is stunning. To the east is Barnsley, to the north-east, Wakefield and Pontefract. On a good day, I am told that York Minster can be seen, but today there is a haze on the horizon and it is difficult looking through the binoculars as the wind is constantly buffeting us. To the north is Leeds and Bradford, then around a bit to Dewsbury and Huddersfield. To the west are the Pennine moors, dark and brooding under rolling rain clouds. To the south are the hills before Sheffield. Below the hill is Bullhouse Mill, the site of the notorious Bullhouse Bridge railway disaster of July 1884 when a broken crank axle on the locomotive of the Manchester-King’s Cross express caused a runaway and the loss of 24 lives.

Tuesday 28th November – Fleets Dam – The River Dearne is rushing over the weir. Clearly the recent rain has been more productive in water volume terms, than it has seemed. My attention is caught by a disturbance in the water at the edge of the willow carr. There is water dripping in a steady flow from a small Silver Birch standing in the water. I cannot work out why this tree should be producing water like this. I move round through the brambles and Ivy and can see the water is dripping off some piece of rag or something. Moving round further and there it is: a Grey Squirrel clinging to the tree, absolutely soaked. I imagine it saw Dill the Dog, who of course, did not see the squirrel, and made a dash for the trees and fell in. The rather amusing spectacle has a darker side; the squirrel needs to get dry and into somewhere safe before nightfall as it will be cold tonight and the poor creature could freeze to death!

Thursday 30th November – Home – Tattered grey clouds scurry eastwards in a strong wind. High above them a thin moth-eaten layer of cloud is motionless. Slowly the clouds turn pink then orange as the sun deigns to rise just above the horizon. It is still three weeks to the shortest day but today it feels like winter is here.