Saturday 2nd November – Wombwell Ings – A typical November day – grey, damp and windy. Hardly anything being reported on the Rare Bird Alert, so wander off to Wombwell Ings. Flocks of Fieldfares watch from the top of the trees surrounding Broomhill Park. They are flighty and constantly flitting off across the park. Another birders comments they were not around yesterday, so the flocks must have dropped in during the night. Further flocks are feeding in winter wheat fields. There are also good numbers of Blackbirds around, and a few Mistle Thrushes. On the Ings are a few Mallard but the mud surrounding the water is alive. The recent rain has turned the horse-hoof churned mud into a wetland full of Golden Plovers, Lapwings, Canada Geese, Wigeon and Black-headed Gulls. When some dogs put up the Canada Geese they drop onto the water. A quick check reveals a lone Greylag with them. At Broomhill Ings, the Goosander have arrived with thirteen on the water. There is an increase in the numbers of Pochard as well. There are also six Coot this week.
Sunday 3rd November – Barnsley Canal – A gentle stroll down the canal this morning. The Fieldfares have arrived in force, with a flock of over fifty rushing from one clump of trees or hawthorns to another. Occasionally, their sharp calls are interrupted by the staccato rasp of a Mistle Thrush. There are also decent numbers of Blackbirds around, but few Redwings. A Robin makes a half-hearted attempt at a song from a near leafless tree. A Wren ticks angrily from the base of the Hawthorn hedge. Dill the Dog is in the canal, just for a change! The bright sun does not help picking out birds. However, a familiar yaffle and a glimpse of a pointed body speeding down the far side of the hedge signals a Green Woodpecker. Later in the afternoon a pair of Little Grebe are feeding on the river loop. The Fieldfares have now flocked up and large numbers are sitting high in the trees with what always looks like a single sentry watching from the very top.
Wednesday 6th November – Home – Poor Dill the Dog. After a few days of terror because of fireworks, she is now sitting through a violent hailstorm. The crystals of ice thrash against the windows, which leaves her perturbed, but it is the sudden clap of thunder that sends her back into a panting and shaking fit. In the evening, the clouds have built into a vast array of whites, greys and even brownish tinted layers across the southern sky.
Friday 8th November – Barnsley Canal – First frost of the autumn. A thick rime on the car windows, and as I am too lazy to scape it off, I walk down to the canal with Dill the Dog. It is bright and the grass sparkles.
Saturday 9th November – Wombwell Ings – Bright sunshine between heavy showers. A busy morning as I want to get to the pub for the England-v-Georgia match from Tblisi. Near to the hide at Wombwell Ings a flock of some thirty Fieldfares is struggling against the wind as they head towards Broomhill. The large flock of Wigeon is feeding on the grass a little way from the water, at least one hundred Teal are feeding in the mud along with a large flock Golden Plover and Lapwings. Four Dunlin scurry across small pools in the mud, feeding rapidly. Over to Broomhill where a Whooper Swan has arrived. Although four were in for a few days during October this may be the first of the regular winter group at Broomhill. There are also fifteen “red head” Goosander on the water.
Sunday 10th November – The Moors – After the first frost of the autumn, the first major fog. Not a good day for birding with the poor visibility but one’s got to try. Start off at Silkstone Fall, mainly to see if any Ceps are going to appear before winter sets in. The woods are damp and the only sound is the constant drip of water onto the leaves covering the ground and the odd cheep from a Blue Tit. It has been a bad year for me as far as fungi are concerned – no Ceps anywhere. Dill the Dog goes on a squirrel hunt, without success, of course! Next we head up to Scout Dyke reservoir. Again, very quiet only four Little Grebe winking like black lights on the water as they dive. A flock of some thirty Fieldfares fly over and a Tit flock moves into hearing range in the conifers. The conifer plantation is probably Larch and many have turned yellow making a strange patchwork of dark greens and yellow-browns. The water is still very low at Ingbirchworth despite the recent rains. Two Goldeneye were diving in the centre of the water, the male has not got its full breeding plumage back after eclipse. There were only a few Black-headed Gulls, Common Gulls, Mallard and Lapwings around the edge of the water. Up on Whitley Moor the stand of wind turbines are still and silent in the windless air. From here, the various valleys can been seen and above all of them are inversion layers and another fog banks sits above Hepworth’s pipe factory at Crow Edge (we are talking about clay pipes for sewers and many other uses, not Meerschaums).
Barnsley Canal – Before evening I visit the Canal. Three Little Grebe on the old river loop obviously have good eyesight as they head for the reeds despite Dill the Dog and I being quite some distance away. However, a Kingfisher refuses to be disturbed by us as it thrashes a Minnow side-to-side whilst perched on an old fence post. Above, on a branch of a dead tree, sits a Grey Heron, preening. A huge flock (well, probably around seventy) of Chaffinch rise up from the waste ground near Tinker’s Pond. Wrens tick from the base of the bushes along the canal. Then suddenly a grey bird moves along the Hawthorn hedgerow. At first I try to convince myself that it is a fat Willow Tit but it just does not fit. Finally I accept it has to be a Blackcap, a summer visiting warbler. Increasing numbers have been reported as wintering in the UK in recent years but this is the first I have recorded in this part of the country.
Thursday 14th November – Barnsley Canal – It is a cold, clammy day down the canal. The whole Dearne valley is alive with winter thrushes. Small flocks of Redwings and Fieldfares rise and fall in the air, seeming to rest at the top of trees or bushes for just only an instant before swirling off to the next spot. Blackbirds flash between bushes and Mistle Thrushes rasp as the also keep changing vantage points. About half way along the canal a large white flash reveals a Jay moving through the young Silver Birches. A flock of finches also has a single, much smaller flash of white. The owner then comes out of the flock and a splendid male Bullfinch strikes a pose at the top of a Silver Birch sapling, meeping quietly. In a Hawthorn bush a Robin ticks loudly, throwing its head forward and down whilst its tail shoots skyward. A Mistle Thrush flies over, twisting its body in a flight seemingly to look behind itself. As I cross a stile, Dill the Dog is staring intently into a briar thicket. Suddenly a Weasel zooms out of the far side and through the fence. Dill the Dog catches a glimpse but her chase is thwarted by the cross bars of the fence. As we climb back up Willowbank, a flock of over fifteen Long-tailed Tits squeak their way through the Hawthorn thicket.
Friday 15th November – Barnsley – Returning to Barnsley just after midday and the sky is full of Starlings flying in apparently random motion. They are not in flocks but just hundreds of individuals flying up or down in every direction.
Saturday 16th November – Wombwell Ings – Another damp November morning at Wombwell Ings. Flocks of Redwings and Fieldfares fly over. A flock of Long-tailed Tits is moving down the hedgerow beside the transfer ditch – one has no tail and looks a funny little ball of fluff. The usual species for the time of year are on the ings. A couple of Goosander are feeding by swimming along with their heads under water. They are shortly joined by another sixteen arriving from Broomhill. Four Dunlin, a Green Sandpiper and nine Common Snipe feed amongst a large flock of Golden Plover and Lapwings. On leaving the hide I see nine Whooper Swan have dropped in onto the winter wheat field between Wombwell Ings and Broomhill Flash – three are juveniles. A Kingfisher flashes down the ditch. On Broomhill there are Pochard, Shovelers, a single Greylag and five more Dunlin.
The Moors – In the afternoon I head up to the moors. This is not a particularly good idea as it is cold, damp, windy, getting dark and virtually birdless. A couple of flocks of Fieldfares try to fly westwards into the teeth of the wind, but although they climb ever higher in the sky, they make no forward progress at all and eventually they wheel off towards the north.
Tuesday 19th November – Home – After a cold grey start to the day – blizzards. I head home at lunchtime but it is already chaotic on the roads. I arrive home after two hours. The snow is still falling steadily and the bird table is covered. A quick sweep and off comes the snow and I top up the platform with fresh seed. However, the usual visitors – House Sparrows and Blue Tits are laying low. Only a single Blue Tit visits the peanut feeder and then snatches a seed off the table. It stands on a branch that has been blown clear of snow and vigorously attacks its prize. By mid-evening there is a strong thaw.
Wednesday 20th November – Barnsley Canal – Much of the snow is now disappearing. Down the canal this has resulted in much of the low land around the old river loop is flooded. Mallards, Moorhens and Black-headed Gulls take advantage of this new area of food-rich water and are feeding energetically. A flock of finches wheels overhead and drop down into the bushes.
Saturday 23rd November – Dearne Valley – A crisp, bright morning with a very heavy frost. Both Broomhill Flash and Wombwell Ings are frozen. Forlorn flocks of Teal, Wigeon, Lapwings, Golden Plover and mixed gulls stand on the ice. The Canada Goose flock has joined the Whooper Swans (one of which was missing) on the winter wheat field. A Kingfisher sits on a Hawthorn twig overhanging the transfer ditch. It is utterly iridescent in the bright morning sun and allows me to approach but someone small, white and hairy bounds up the bank side and scares it off! The new wetlands on the other side of the Dearne Link Road are now really taking shape. Gulls are feeding and slashing on one of the larger lakes. A wader flies up from a small stream – certainly a “shank” but I’m not sure which one – it looked a bit dark for a winter Greenshank but did not have the Redshank “jizz”. Despite the sub-zero temperature Dill the Dog plunges in the stream and rushes up and down it. She returns to my side with her eyes shining with pleasure – totally mad!!!
Sunday 24th November– Lancashire – Off to the CIS meet in Lancashire! An early morning start indeed, leaving at 5 o’clock is a shock to the system. After a hassle-free journey I arrive at Formby Point before 7 o’clock and it is still dark. When it lightens enough to see my surroundings I head off across the tussock grass covered in sand dunes. A large black bird with white wings flies past which confuses me to say the least. When it lands it is clearly a Carrion Crow and it is only when it flies up it reveals its partial albinism on both wings. Dill the Dog is chasing around like a thing possessed – the smell of rabbits is everywhere to her nose. At 8 o’clock Dave and John arrive and we head for the beach. Along the edge of the water are small flocks of Grey Plovers, Bar-tailed Godwits, Curlews, Oystercatchers and Sanderling. The latter are chasing along the sand just as they are supposed to! A strange gull passes – all too quickly. It appears to be a Herring Gull with no black on the wing tips, just a darker grey. Otherwise it is relatively quiet off shore, just a Common Scoter, Great Crested Grebe and three Goldeneye.
Next we head off towards Marshside, stopping to check a lake at Ainsdale. Many birds there are clearly used to people so I give them some bread but as I am tearing it up Dave calls Scaup! The ducks get the lump whole as I rush to get my binoculars on the duck. It is a splendid male – my first male and only my second ever. It is strange being able to approach Coots to a few inches but it gives the opportunity to see how fine their feathers are and perfect for water living. Continuing on to Marshside and a probable Merlin flashes across the road and into the dunes. At Marshside, we meet Jo and Steve – and it starts raining. Scanning the marsh reveals only a few Pink-footed Geese with some Canada Geese, Snipe, Wigeon and Black-tailed Godwit.
We head off in convoy to Martin Mere, via Ainsdale to ensure Jo and Steve get the Scaup (this time a young Swan decides to try to eat me!) and over the mosses – which hold no geese, just flocks of Lapwing and a few Pheasant. At Martin Mere we wander from hide to hide in the rain. There are large numbers of Whooper Swans and many other wild fowl – including the most Pintail I have ever seen at one time. From a particularly draughty concrete hide we watch a feeding station which is being visited by Greenfinches, Chaffinches, Tree Sparrows and a Brambling. At one point, a Moorhen lands on the bird table! Far across the marches a Peregrine Falcon sat on a fence post hunched in the rain. As the wild fowl were going be fed at 3 o’clock, the Whoopers start moving onto the main mere. It is both fascinating and hilarious to watch these huge birds land in a seriously crowded area of water – yet they generally succeed without mishap. Indeed, it is a little female Pochard that gives us the biggest laugh when it lands and crashes straight into the back of a Whooper. At another hide we watch another feeding station and another Brambling. Two miserable yet beautiful looking male Pheasants sit on a fence in the still pouring rain. At the furthest hide we find the large geese flocks, although not the usual numbers of Pink-footed. We spend a while trying to turn a leucistic Greylag into a reported Greater Snow Goose. Dave finds a Pale-bellied Brent Goose in a flock of semi-tame Barnacle Geese. At this point, the cold and wet had got through to us and we retreat to the visitors’ centre for a welcome cup of coffee and I feed myself, although my fingers have reached the stage where I find it nearly impossible to take the wrapper off the cake. When we have warmed a little we head off back for a final look at Marshside. Clouds of Knot are still swirling on the horizon but again little else is venturing out into the cold rain. Thus we call it a day and I retreat back over the Pennines, to discover that the rain has been heavy snow in Yorkshire.
Saturday 30th November – Blackburn Meadows – A wander down the River Don at Blackburn Meadows. A few Redwings watch seemingly nervously from the top of the Hawthorns edging the canal. A couple of family groups of Mute Swans (only one or two juveniles with a pair of adults) are on the canal and river, with another group on the nature reserve pools. Four Little Grebe are feeding on the River. A Grey Wagtail flies over the land-fill site and there are three Gadwall (two males) on the pool.