October 1999

Sunday 3rd October – Rotherham – A cool morning, 7°C, but bright. Into the small valley and down beside a stream. It is very quiet (motorway drone aside). A Jay flies across the valley and chacks loudly once ten disappears into the trees. A few Robins start to sing. Soon there is more movement with Blackbirds and Song Thrushes slipping between red berry laden Hawthorn bushes. A path leads up to the top of the valley and out alongside a stubble field. A Carrion Crow makes a strange knocking sound high on an electricity pylon. A pasture holds a small flock of Jacob’s Sheep, brown fleeces and magnificent curved horns. A rabbit tries to lay low in the field but panics and makes a run for the warren the other side of the path. Dill the Dog chases and could have easily cut off the rabbits escape route, but somehow contrives not to!

Tuesday 5th October – Barnsley – The mown grass in the Dearne Valley park glistens white with the first frost of the autumn. Robins call from the woods on the far hillside. A pair of Greenfinches flit between trees and three Mallard fly rapidly up the valley, high in the sky.

North Lincolnshire – Yellow stubble fields are turning grey, speckled with black Rooks searching out food. The winter wheat fields are turning from an earthy brown to green as the wheat shoots rise. Flocks of Lapwings, like the Rooks, are searching for wire worms and other bugs.

Sunday 8th October – Edderthorpe – The sun rises over the hill of colliery waste casting a golden wash over the flash. There are good numbers of Teal, some males just emerging from eclipse on the flooded field. Ten winter plumage Dunlin and a Greenshank probe the mud. On the far edge of the flash are eight Grey Herons, some hunched and still like eroded statues, others actively fishing. Another five are scattered around the water. A flock of forty-six Pink-footed Geese graze. Ten adult Mute Swans preen, their large white feathers drifting across the water’s surface. Good numbers of Mallard, Shoveler and Wigeon feed. A small flock of Long-tailed and Blue Tits moves noisily through the Hawthorn and Willow scrub. Gulls find a thermal and soar in circles high above the site.

Saturday 16th October – New Swillington Ings – A telling sign of the season is a Whooper Swan flying over the area as I arrive. Several pairs of Mute Swans feed on Astley Lake along with good numbers of Mallard, Wigeon, Tufted Duck, Pochard, Gadwall, Shoveler, Teal and Coot. Most patches of shingle are perching places for Lapwings. Winter plumaged Black-headed Gulls squabble over scraps of rubbish. A shining chestnut male Pheasant flies across the River Aire and glides into the long grass. Goosanders fish on the river having left the fast-flowing rivers of the North for the slower rivers and lakes that constitute their wintering sites. St Aiden’s Flood – a massive lake formed when the River Aire broke through and flooded a huge open cast quarry – has been drained and coal extraction recommenced. The turquoise flash of a Kingfisher brightens the greyness of the day.

Sunday 17th October – Flamborough Head – A bitter east wind makes sea-watching a rather painful experience, but there is plenty happening. Large numbers of Cormorants and Gannets are moving both north and south. A diver passes northwards but I pick it up too late for identification. Good numbers of Guillemots also pass in both directions with a few bobbing about on the high seas. Four Mallard and single Wigeon and Goldeneye head south. A couple of Shearwaters head north – one a Manx but the other seems far larger with a white tail band and white on the head – a Great Shearwater? A large Skua moves south. Above the grassland back from the Head a lot of Sky Larks rise and sing. Goldcrests feed eagerly in bushes beside the road. Up by the Golf Course in a walled patch of grass, a young Redstart hunts insects until it is chased off by a Robin. Towards Flamborough village I check the hedgerows. A splendid adult Fieldfare sits in a Hawthorn and a Redwing passes overhead. A large number of Blackbirds are at the foot of the hedge in the field. I check the fields to the south of the road. Again lots of Blackbirds. On the other side of the hedge leading away from the road is a ploughed and harrowed field. It is full of Redwings and good numbers of Fieldfares. Large numbers of birders mill around South Landing searching for a Radde’s Warbler – which, of course, does not show again until after I leave. A Red Admiral butterfly feeds on a flowering privet. Again, large numbers of Blackbirds and Redwings move through the trees.

Wednesday 20th October – Barnsley Canal – Winter edges ever closer. My fingers are nipped by the cold as I type. Trees and bushes are turning yellow and brown. Several flocks of Fieldfares have arrived and are circling the area. Suddenly a large flock of Redwings flies into Hawthorns by the canal. They are very flighty and quickly shoot off down the valley. The reed beds are filled with brown bulrush maces.

Friday 22nd October – Pagham Harbour, West Sussex – A damp and overcast morning. Ferry Pool contains two Black-tailed Godwits, a few Redshanks, preening and mud ploughing Teal, a lone Shelduck, Lapwings, Black-headed Gulls, a Dunlin, and Pied and Grey Wagtails. We pass a pair of birding nuns....

Church Norton – Several Swallows are over the churchyard and beach. It is high tide. Small groups of Brent Geese feed on the exposed edges of islets. Five Little Egrets, Grey Herons and Cormorants stand on the largest island. Various waders including Grey Plover, Curlew, Dunlin and Oystercatchers wait on the shingle banks for the waters to recede. Turnstones run along the shingle bank at the edge of the sea.

Sunday 24th October – Seaford – A massive depression moving in from the Atlantic has whipped up high winds and wild, wild seas. It also has brought vicious, squally showers, which soak Dill the Dog and me in seconds. Nothing is moving, either on land or at sea. A few seagulls either stay motionless in the winds or sweep rapidly westwards down wind. Many more seagulls have nothing to do with this swirling maelstrom and stand on fields waiting for the winds to drop. They may have a long wait.

Brighton Marina – Cormorants rest inside the harbour away from the turmoil beyond the huge concrete caissons that make the outer wall. The sea sprays over the top every wave. A few first year gulls bathe in the relative calm of the marina entrance. Cormorants stand on the floating docks.

Friday 29th October – Barnsley Canal – Whilst not quite cold enough for a frost, it is distinctly chilly. Chaffinches, Robins, Song Thrushes, Blackbirds, Redwings and Tits hop around the rapidly defoliating Hawthorns. Ten Mallard arise noisily from the water and swing around down the valley. Beside the canal large briars are heavy with the vermilion hips of Dog Roses. A Water Rail flies quickly between two reed beds. A Fieldfare, orange spotted breast glowing, sits atop a Hawthorn, surveying the rough pasturage of the valley.

Saturday 30th October – Edderthorpe – The morning is dark – really dark. Ghostly shapes honk from the air – Canada Geese sweeping around the flooded field. Many more are feeding and calling from the field itself. Other sounds include the keening cry of hundreds of Lapwings and whistling Wigeon. As dawn breaks, a number of Mute Swans start awakening and glide around the flash.

Sunday 31st October – North Gawber – The huge mound of the old North Gawber colliery spoil heap has been landscaped in recent years. Rough grasses cover the black, shiny earth. Oak, Rowan and Poplar saplings stand rather forlornly in rows, little more than three-foot high twigs. Birches are far more developed on slope below. A pool has formed with a few rushes. Dill the Dog is in it. The Dearne valley below and the canal have a different perspective from this angle. The hill above is covered with housing with the General Hospital dominating. Into town the tower of the Town Hall rises just above the offices and shops. Further west the Dodworth spoil heap lays like a great barrow on the landscape. The wind is buffeting Redwings that rise from the old track leading from North Gawber to Old Town. A rainbow arcs in the dark northern sky.