November 1997

Saturday 1st November – Pugney’s Country Park. – An unexplained pain in my heel is still making walking difficult. A young Northern Gannet sweeps across the water, seeming absolutely huge. It is being harassed by lots of Black-headed Gulls. Across the water a Slavonian Grebe is preening. A huge flock of Fieldfares flies over.

Monday 3rd November – Wombwell Ings. – The air is damp and full of the whitterings of Lapwings and the whistlings of Wigeon. A Cormorant wings over, high in the air. On the water, a pair of Pintails are mainly upended. At Broomhill there are at least ten Gadwalls – also mainly with their beaks on the bottom.

Tuesday 4th November – River Aire – Cycled along the path beside the River Aire, south west of Leeds. There are several small groups of Goosanders are on the river, all red heads bar one. The wildfowl on Astley Lake are the usual for the time of year. In the afternoon a quick visit to Edderthorpe. Goldcrests are moving through the scattered Hawthorns. Several flocks of Fieldfares, amount twenty strong, are overhead. On the flash a pair of Whooper Swans are preening. There are also large numbers of Teal, Wigeon, Lapwings and Golden Plover – the usual suspects again.

Thursday 6th November – Seaforth Nature Reserve – In the pre-dawn darkness and heavy fog, Dill the Dog and I slipped over the border into Lancashire. It was light when I reached my first destination – Seaforth Nature Reserve. It was a major shock when I drove straight through a picket line to get there. It had never occurred to me that the Reserve is actually in Mersey Docks and I saluted the brave lads on the line as I passed, thinking that will cost me a hefty donation to salve my conscience. The Reserve consists mainly of two large pools, one fresh and one sea water, set in an industrial wilderness. Piles of broken concrete and old bricks lay everywhere. There were hundreds of Lapwings and Golden Plover everywhere, along with decent numbers of Pochard, Teal, Mallard, Shelduck, Tufties and Coot. A group of about fifteen Black-tailed Godwits and a single Bar-tailed stood on a spit of grimy sand.

Marshside – The reserve boasts a new visitors centre – actually rather too warm for my liking! Marshside 1 down the road held a huge flock of Pink-footed Geese. Marshside 2 had large flocks of Wigeon and scattered Greylags and Curlew. Skeins of seventy plus Pink-footed passed overhead. A large female Kestrel sat on a post watching the geese, who seemed totally unconcerned.

Martins Mere – The Whooper and Bewick Swans have arrived in good numbers and were as noisy as ever. The feeding station was over-run by Collared Doves, but every now and again the Tree Sparrows would gang up and move in en masse to take over one of the tables before being bullied off by the doves. Greenfinches and Chaffinches meanwhile either moved to the quiet table or picked up all the grain scattered by the squabbling doves. I reached the far hide to discover a Lesser Yellowlegs had been reported. As seems frequent with lifers these days it was a lurker, disappearing for long periods. It was seen several times but I only got the fleeting of glimpses. Eventually, after over an hour, most folk had either seen enough or given up. Then I saw it wander out of some thick short sedge type weed and feed for a moment before wandering behind more sedge. This happened several times but long enough sightings were obtained for another birder and myself to get decent views. This crowned a good day, not many rarities but lots of nice birds.

Sunday 9th November – Grange Lane – The disused rail track from Grange Lane to Cudworth now boasts a new tarmac path. I wonder if it was really necessary as the old clinker formed as good a base for walking. Along the path, in a quite out of the way part, there is an example of how much pride there was once in the design and workmanship of our railways; a three span arched bridge carrying a minor road is built in bricks the colour of burned copper. A line of cross-hatched bricks and a ridge of rounded bricks outlining the arches displays an attention to detail missing all to often in later times. Indeed further along is a bridge of worked stone and brick, but it was clearly built for a single track and when the line was made into a dual track, the bridge was widened with cast iron girders and panels – without any redeeming features. There are plenty of Jays along the line, which is flanked by rock faces out of which Silver Birches and Oaks grow. It is the latter that attract the Jays to their acorns. A Green Woodpecker undulates down the valley calling continuously. A pair of Little Grebe dive on the River Dearne. Clown-faced Goldfinches twitter in the bushes beside me. Crows and Black-headed Gulls search the newly sprouted winter wheat for grubs. A chill wind has arisen making my cheeks ache.

Tuesday 11th November – Barnsley Canal – A damp morning down the canal. A Fox trots up Willowbank, the first time I have seen one here. Dill the Dog also sees it but oddly seems only vaguely interested in contrast to her usual bounding greeting to domestic dogs. By the canal bridge is an area of rubble covered by Willows, Hawthorns and Rose Briars. It is full of birds – Reed Buntings, Dunnocks, Linnets, Goldfinches, Blackbirds, Redwings, Blue Tits, Robins and Wrens. On a dead Willow, a Great Spotted Woodpecker is working its way up the branches. Overhead are wheeling flocks of Fieldfares, Redwings and Mistle Thrushes.

Friday 14th November – Willowbank – The area is gilded with frost. By the canal young Silver Birches glow golden in the rising sun. A train rumbles past to the top of Willowbank, a JCB growls from the Smithy Lane Depot as it digs into the mountain of road salt. On the ploughed fields, Black-headed Gulls and Rooks call. From the hedgerows and bushes come various pinks, cheeps and tics. A Grey Heron squawks menacingly as it drops down onto one of the pools in the river flood plain. Sharp chacks echo from a flock of Fieldfare overhead. Underfoot the frozen earth crunches satisfyingly.

Friday 21st November – Barnsley Canal – A thin mist hangs over the River Dearne and the loop. The area is flooded after yesterday’s heavy rain. On one pool drake Teal circle and pipe their love calls to the ducks. A Grey Heron croaks and flies off down the valley. Moving up the valley, a few finches fly over chirping. Blue and Willow Tits call from the Hawthorn hedge along the canal path. A flock of over forty Redwings circles the hillside before settling on a Hawthorn that runs at an angle up the slope. A small flock of gulls is circling much higher, maybe trying to decide which direction to head off. By the canal a large flock of Goldfinches twitter in bushes.

Saturday 22nd November – Barnsley Canal – Yesterday’s thin mist is a blanket of fog today. The Hawthorn hedge up the slope from the canal is a silhouette like black tatting edging the meadow. It is ringing with the pinking alarm calls of Blackbirds and rasping of Mistle Thrushes. I peer through the fog but can see no reason for their alarm. A flock of Greenfinches watch me from a small tree by the canal.

Sunday 30th November – Little Don Valley – At last it stops raining. Everywhere is mud. I wander up the Little Don Valley just as the sun peeps over the moors. The river is in full spate, its brown waters rushing over the rocks. A Buzzard floats across the narrow valley and sits on a broken stone wall on the steep hillside opposite. It is the first Buzzard I have seen in the area, they were exterminated by gamekeepers many years ago. Despite the continuous murderous behaviour of these alleged protectors of the countryside, hopefully the Buzzard will recolonise and join the Hen Harrier, Goshawk, Merlin and Kestrel as the raptor presence here. Dill the Dog knows there are Grey Squirrels about but she cannot find one. She flushes several Pheasants from the brown bracken. A pair of Red Grouse fly up from beside the river and off across the hillside.