September 2003

Wednesday 3rd September – Barnsley Canal – There is now only the occasional Swallow feeding over the fields and canal. Goldfinches twitter around the allotment beside the bottom of Willowbank. There is a loud and sharp call from the Hawthorn hedge – Great Tits feeding. Fluffy red galls infest Dog Rose briars, product of the Gall Wasp Diplolepis rosae. The galls are called the Bedeguar gall or Robin’s Pincushion. The male of the species are extremely rare; the females lay eggs without mating. The lack of rain means there is no flow of water through the canal and thus it is choked with waterweed. In the damp areas surrounding the canal and the swampy area on the flood plain are large patches of bright yellow Common Fleabane. Towards the north end of this section of canal is a standpipe and valve that is supposed to maintain the level of water. It gushes water out of the top and the pipe is covered with a white deposit. There is also a strong stench of Hydrogen Sulphide. A new housing estate is encroaching down the hill from the Huddersfield Road at Redbrook. A Jay flies over silently.

Thursday 4th September – Barnsley Canal – A grey yet mild morning. A Willow Tit calls from the Hawthorn hedge. A recent report states that the Willow Tit may be the first species to become extinct in the UK for many years. South Yorkshire is its remaining stronghold, hence the need to prevent the destruction of its habitat around here. Young Moorhens strut across the waterweeds. A pair of Jays slip silently along the Hawthorns and disappear. Yarrow is blooming well. It is also called Milfoil and looks like an umbellifer, but is a member of the family Compositae, the daisies. It has been used for the treatment of wounds, going back, it is said, to Achilles who used it for wounds made by iron weapons. Greater Willowherb is also in flower, so much more delicate and pleasing than its brashy cousin, Rosebay Willowherb. Dill the Dog seems in a poor temper but cheers up when she has a Grey Squirrel to chase and bark at.

Friday 5th September – Barnsley Canal – A Chiffchaff is singing strongly, unusual for the time of year. A Great Spotted Woodpecker is calling from a large Ash but is obscured by the dense foliage. The Haws are at their peak, shining scarlet masses in the morning sun. A Cormorant flies down the valley. The big field over the river is being harrowed. Down and across the rough meadow to the stream. A snipe flies up. Despite the lack of rainfall, the stream flows well and I cannot get across in my training shoes. I actually could have as I got them soaking wet any way, along with my trouser legs walking through high, dew laden grasses. So back up to the canal. Japanese Knotweed is in flower, delicate fronds of creamy white flowers. It is easy to see why it was popular with plant collectors, but it is now a much hated weed.

Saturday 6th September – Barnsley Canal – A grey clammy morning. A large dead Roach floats in the canal. Pond Skaters are active on the water. A noisy flock of young Blue Tits dances around a dead Hawthorn at the bottom of Willowbank. Near the foot bridge are a large number of birds – Willow Tits calling, Blue Tits, a loudly singing Dunnock feeding on Elderberries. Across the rough meadow, awash with thistledown, to the plank across a gully through which the stream runs. More mixed Tit flocks flit from bush to bush. Beside the Dearne, we meet Bill with Otis and Prince. Unfortunately, Dill the Dog is in season and Prince is very interested so we have to move on quickly. Bulrushes are appearing, smart and pristine heads of chocolate brown. There a couple of small piles of iridescent blue wing cases on the canal tow-path. It looks like disintegrated pellets from an owl that has been possibly dining on Violet Ground Beetles.

Saturday 13th September – Barnsley Canal – A bright morning that has followed several dark, rainy ones. Robins are singing again. Another is tick ticking from the horse paddock below the tow-path. A Moorhen rushes away in a squeaking panic. Elderberries hang heavy on tired branches. Water Mint has almost finished flowering, there is surprisingly little scent from the leaves. A flock of young Goldfinches flies up from the path, twittering excitedly. Large black shiny slugs cross the path. A Woodpecker flies over. It must be a juvenile as there are hardly any markings on it, but size says Great Spotted. Soon after a Jay flies in the same direction carrying something large, an acorn probably, in its bill. Bronze Dragonflies, midges and gnats sparkle in the sunlight. A day-flying moth flutters around but does not come to rest. Several Willow Tits inspect every nook and cranny of a dead Hawthorn.

Wooley Edge – On the way north up the M1 motorway, just beyond Barnsley there is a sight familiar in the west of the country but only now becoming more so here – a circling Common Buzzard.


Chellow Dene, Bradford – The village of Allerton is now completely subsumed into the urban sprawl of the city of Bradford. Near to the village are two reservoirs, one above the other. The valley in which they lie is Chellow Dene. Paths lead around the two, relatively small, waters. Ducks, mainly Mallard with a few Tufted, squabble. Black-headed Gulls, now with just a spot of black behind their eyes, swim around looking for anything vaguely edible. Coots and Moorhens are also present. Magpies are noisy as are a couple of Nuthatches. A young Kestrel calls from the top of a tree but is soon seen off by a Magpie.

Saltaire – After a stop in Bradford for a fine curry (a misnomer, but everyone knows what is meant), we travel on to Saltaire. A quick visit to Salt’s Mill to look at the David Hockney exhibition and get a christening card for Ruby and then on to the West Yorkshire Organic Group show. A fine display of organic vegetables with a member of the organic computer list taking many prizes. We taste some fine tomatoes and buy some to take home.

Monday 15th September – Barnsley Canal – Six Jays flew away from the Hawthorn hedge by the old dock and up Willowbank. Over the other side of the River Dearne the large field has been ploughed and harrowed and is now a smooth area of brown soil. More than a score of Magpies and many more Wood Pigeons are scattered across the field feeding on anything and everything the harrowing has left.

Friday 19th September – Barnsley Canal – After the surprising numbers on Jays on Monday, today a Jay is standing on one of the dead trees in the Loop. It is unusual to see this species in such an open area with no cover for a good hundred yards in any direction. Willow Tits are calling from a number of locations, which is splendid news for this threatened species. A Chiffchaff is still singing, maybe it will over-winter. A twittering flock of Long-tailed Tits busies itself through the Hawthorn hedge. Like a fighter aircraft, a dragonfly speeds across the rough meadow below the canal. There are flocks of Goldfinches and Greenfinches moving across the area.

Saturday 20th September – Grange Gate – It is quiet along the old railway. Up the sandy, water scarred slope into the stunted Sessile Oaks woods. Here I find a couple of large and, surprisingly worm free Boletus fungi. Some make a breakfast with the bulk being blended with kidney beans, onion and garlic and wrapped in silver foil and baked for an hour to make a pâté.

Sunday 21st September – Road to Holmfirth – Walking Dill the Dog down the old Wagon Road. Several types of Rose Hip are brilliant red in the hedgerows. Elderberries are looking old now and drooping in thick black clusters from branches that have lost the majority of their leaves. Some bunches have been stripped by birds. Clouds hang in the valley of the River Calder beyond Huddersfield to the north. The moors rise behind the cloud. Rooks seem to consider a juvenile gull – probably Great Black-backed from the size – as a threat and are mobbing it.

Monday 22nd September – Barnsley Canal – A long snaking tendril of Woody Nightshade runs along the canal wall bearing bright red and extremely poisonous berries. A Moorhen flits across the tow-path and over the canal into the reeds, but her chick is unprepared and now stands motionless under the Hawthorn hedge. “Hawk-eyed” Dill the Dog fails to notice the terrified bird, of course! A family group of Bullfinches crosses the canal into dense foliage, meeping continuously. A young Sparrowhawk rises from the Hawthorns and floats across towards Redbrook. The morning had started out bright and sunny but has now clouded over. Suddenly a sharp shower hits. This does not seem to concern the dozens of House Martins wheeling and swooping high over the river valley.

Wednesday 24th September – Fleets Dam – Black Bryony weaves its way through the brambles with a spotting of blood red berries. Blackbirds are muttering in the bushes. Grey Herons stand on the jetty and anglers’ platforms. One lifts off heavily and croaks its way across the lake, its wing tips making rings in the water. A hidden Wren chirrs angrily. A Bullfinch meeps in a Silver Birch. A noisy skein of geese passes over high above. A pair break off and head in a different direction. A Fly Agaric has sprouted under a Silver Birch on the tow-path.

Friday 26th September – Wey and Godalming Navigations, Surrey – The drake Mallard on the huge Millpond have regained their breeding plumage and are quite frisky, which does not seem to impress the ducks much. A Jay flies across the canal. There is a considerable spread of another imported Balsam – Orange Balsam. Not as widespread as Himalayan Balsam, which is growing in profusion in the damp shade of the edge of adjoining woodland, this import from the Americas has red and orange spotted petals. The woodlands close in on the tow-path. They are mainly Pendunculate Oaks and their elongated acorns crunch underfoot. Flocks of tits – Great, Long-tailed and Blue – move through the trees. New Haw Lock is just the other side of a busy road carrying commuters to work, but is still peaceful, with just the rushing sound of water gushing through the overflow system. The lock was built in 1653 and this was the site of a wharf and lime kilns. A large Water Vole splashes into the water and can be seen swimming rapidly away beneath the surface. The little door in the base of an oak (See here) has been destroyed – much to my dismay. Another six noisy Jays fly over. A Grey Squirrel climbs an oak and shouts loudly at Dill the Dog whilst flicking its tail vigorously. Dill the Dog just stands and stares. An angler has caught a large Jack Pike, maybe six pounds from the mill pond.


Saturday 28th September – Slindon – We call into the little village just west of Arundel to buy some pumpkins. The yard is brimming over with pumpkins, marrows, gourds and squashes of all shapes, sizes and colours. We come away with some Roulets (for frying), a couple of small squashes and a decent sized traditional pumpkin.

Devils Dyke – The highest point on the South Downs and it affords a wonderful view of the patchwork of fields, woods, coppices and villages across the Weald. The North Downs in the distance are shrouded in mist. A couple of Swallows swoop along the scarp edge. A Yellowhammer flits into a gorse bush.