October 1997

Saturday 4th October – East Coast – Grim realisation that 5:00 a.m. exists. By 5:30 I am heading east towards the coast. The morning sky is cloud laden with a light wind. I reach Flamborough Head at 7:00, its light still bright as it sweeps the lightening sky. There is good visibility on the sea, so I settle down with another couple of birders to sea watch. We quickly locate a Red-necked Grebe on the water, about half a mile out. An Arctic Skua flies by some miles out, sweeping, twisting and dropping to the water in its search for food. Gannets are passing in large numbers, their seemingly endless variability of black and white plumages often making me look twice. The first of about a dozen Sooty Shearwaters scythes the air, inches above the gentle swell. Manx Shearwaters also glide past at a distance heading north. A flock of fourteen Whooper Swans sweep majestically past south, their almost grim determination showing in their powerful wing beats as they head for their European wintering grounds (I later learn on BirdLine they had spent the night at Teeside and were recorded again passing Spurn Point a little later). Auks are whirring north in groups of up to a dozen, they seem to be mainly Guillemots, but probably also a few Razorbills are with them. Duck movements consist of several flights of Common Scoter and single groups of Teal and Tufted Duck. There was also a pair of Eider. By about 8:30 things had quietened considerably so I headed back past the fields to check the bushes and brambles to see if any passerines had sneaked ashore (they are in very short supply this weekend.) Another birder and I are scanning a flock of finches and House Sparrows when we see a bright red head. We look quizzically at each other and then check all the field marks. We have no idea, except this has got to have come from a cage somewhere. Another birder joins us and reckons it is a species of cage bird called a Red Bishop. Above the cliffs are decent numbers of Swallows and an occasional Sand Martin feeding up before heading down the coast. The bushes are pretty barren, just the odd finch and a few Blackcaps. Another brief sea watch brings a single Bonxie. The Gannets are now plunge-diving in large numbers and lots of young Kittiwakes bounce over the now choppy sea. A visit to Filey brings very little, apart from a Red Admiral butterfly, so common in my youth but seem quite scarce now.

Sunday 5th October – High Hoyland – BirdLine reports a real dead-spot on the migration front. I drive up a little lane near Bretton Country Park. I have often passed this lane but never ventured up it. It winds up to High Hoyland where I take Dill the Dog down through some woods. She gets in a complete tizzy about the Pheasants running everywhere and flushes them right, left and centre. Back up the hill and I decide to have a look around the churchyard (the church now being used as an activity centre). The graveyard is overgrown with wild grasses and weeds everywhere. A young Yew is growing in the family plot of the Nortons. The wrought iron fencing around this vault is held together by rust and will not last much longer – how the mighty landowners memories are reduced as much as their mortal remains. Blue Tits, Great Tits and Goldcrests all are flitting about the Yew, filling the air with their high pitched cries. I wander down an old path beside the graveyard and a field opens out across the side of the gradually down-sloping hill. Beside the path there is the rusting hulk of “The Standen Multibeet Harvester”, its days of harvesting long gone. In the car park beside the church are two large pieces of dressed masonry, simply lying in the grass – who knows what plans had been made for them but never completed.

Thursday 9th October – Willowbank – The hillside and the canal area are dripping wet after a night of rain. This fails to discourage the tits – Blue, Great, Long-tailed and Willow – who are noisily moving through the Hawthorns seeking food. A couple of Swallows fly overhead. A Great Spotted Woodpecker shoots as if from a cannon down the canal and off into the woodland. There are large numbers of Blackbirds all over the place. A Kestrel swoops low over a hedgerow, pursued by a pair of Magpies, whose role in life is harassing any raptor that comes near the area.

Sunday 12th October – Anglers Country Park – The first cold wind of the season sweeps down from the North across Anglers, biting into my face. At least one hundred Wigeon whistle incessantly from the water. Canada Geese arrive in skeins from across the fields, filling the air with their calls – at least two hundred are here and the flock does not usually reach maximum for another few weeks yet. There has also been a build up of Tufted Duck, Pochard and Coot. A pair of Sky Lark fly up from the Pol giving short calls very different from their usual fluid song. In the afternoon I visit the Barnsley Canal. Blue, Great and Willow Tits call from Hawthorns. Robins tick from all quarters. As I walk along the field in the bottom of the valley I can see Mistle Thrushes on the tops of the Hawthorn hedge that borders the canal, but something else is calling. I climb up the bank to rejoin the canal and soon see a smaller thrush winging along the hedge. A quick glance with the binos and the red underwings are immediately clear – my first Redwing of the season. Then another and another then a Fieldfare and slowly it becomes clear there is a large flock scattered along the bushes. When it eventually decided to stop rolling along the canal and take off east, the flock reveals its size, at least thirty Fieldfares, fifty Redwings and a scattering of Mistle Thrushes.

Monday 13th October – Willowbank – Two Swallows fly over the hillside and three Redwings rise up from the bushes. Summer and winter meet.

Tuesday 14th October – Barnsley Canal – Another large flock of Redwings has arrived in the valley, probably in excess of 100. It is difficult to count Redwings – the flock leaves the hedges in smaller groups and head off in different directions. Although it was possible to get a good estimate of each flock but still more rise and flocks wheel around. Am I now double counting? Chaffinches, Yellowhammers, Greenfinches and a single Dunnock sit at the top of Hawthorns, chirruping. There are good numbers of Blackbirds and Mistle Thrushes in the valley.

Saturday 18th October – Wombwell Ings – A heavy dawn mist cloaks the ings. As I approach the banking around the meadow fifteen Grey Partridge watch warily from the top. The sight of Dill the Dog is too much and they whirr off across the common land. At first little can be seen from the hide, most of the Ings are hidden by the mist. A large flock of Lapwings and Golden Plover sit on the water margin. Whistling tells me there are Wigeon around and a couple come out of the mist and start feeding on the muddy grassland. The sun is more Jupiter than Apollo – a large pale orange disc streaked with grey clouds. Slowly it grows in luminosity and the mist lifts but still rolls around. There is little on the Ings after all apart from more Wigeon and a few Shoveler. By the entrance to the park there are at least twenty Blackbirds, many calling and squabbling. A lone Little Grebe dives on the River Dearne. At Broomhill Flash the visibility is far better. There is a mixture of ducks – Teal, Mallard, Gadwall, Shoveler, Pochard, Tufted and Ruddy Duck. The Great Crested Grebes are in winter plumage. A Kingfisher sits atop a thick reed watching the water.

Tuesday 21st October – East Coast – Travelling through the dark before dawn towards Flamborough. The great lighthouse is sweeping the countryside. It is still dark when I get to the car park, so I wait a while. I then notice flashes in the sky, like a cosmic scintillation chamber. Looking more carefully, I can see the flashes come from the lighthouse beam glancing off gulls. As soon as it is light I head down to the end of the head and over the top. Although I have a jumper, fleece and a waxed cotton drover’s coat, I am still pierced by the north-easterly wind. At sea a single skua passes, but it is still too gloomy to make it out properly. As the light improves I can see lots of Gannets and Auks moving mainly south. A couple of small groups of Brent Geese pass, in either direction. Fulmars skim the waves and juvenile Kittiwakes are everywhere. A single Shag rushes by close under the cliffs. Small groups of Common Scoter and Eiders also are heading south. The odd diver passes, but too far out to identify accurately, I would guess Red-throated. Eventually the cold drives me back onto the cliff tops.

I check the hedgerows but there is nothing showing. Next call is South Landing. This is a wooded gash in the cliffs leading down to the sea. I check the woodlands first and find a flock of Tits and Goldcrests and a single Blackcap. I then proceed down to the sea where gulls are on the water. Along the shore are huge piles of seaweed, mainly wrack and bladder weed. A good number of Redshanks and Turnstones are feeding on these piles. I head back up the ravine and watch the bushes for a while. There is another birder further up the hill, then a couple more, then more and more. “What’s about?” I ask. A birder tells me a Blythe’s Reed Warbler was reported the night before. It then transpires that the bird had been trapped and ringed. The ringer had taken measurements and confirmed its identity. About an hour later it is relocated. I focus on the bird as it hops up through a Hawthorn, seeking insects. Maybe it does look a little colder in colour compared to the normal Reed Warbler. However, the distinguishing field mark is the shiny new ring on its leg! I check out the area again and find a Brambling in a flock of Chaffinches. On the way home I drop into New Swillington Ings. There are a couple of splendid male Pintails with their bright chocolate heads, lots of Gadwalls and four red-head Goosanders.

Wednesday 22nd October – Barnsley Canal – The first heavy frost of the year and the canal area is gleaming white. Redwings are dashing hither and thither. Moorhens skip across the green weed on top of the canal.

Monday 27th October – Barnsley Canal – Again the canal is under a cloak of fog. Although birds are tricky to see they are easy to hear. Tit flocks chatter incessantly from bushes, Magpies croak, Blackbirds chuck and Robins tick. Along the canal there are sudden whirrings of wings as large flocks of winter thrushes shoot out of the Hawthorns and head off up the valley. One Fieldfare stands at the top of the bushes, pulling off Haws and gulping them down whilst swivelling its head to check the area. A Water Rat plops unusually loudly into the canal. Dill the Dog chases a Weasel under a small Hawthorn. I call her sharply as a loud, angry squeak means that she is likely to get a bitten nose. On Willowbank an out-of-season Foxglove is in bloom.

Wednesday 29th October – Willowbank – A sharp frost again, with temperatures down to -7 °C. Flocks of Fieldfares are moving across the valley. There is a constant pitter-patter of leaves raining down from a large Ash.

Thursday 30th October – Barnsley Canal – The Ash is now bare of leaves, just the bunches of keys remain. The ground is coated with the recently fallen leaves.