September 1996

Sunday 1st September – Redmires – Check out Redmires reservoirs to the west of Sheffield. Cross country runners pass me, many with halos of flies about their heads! Near the pumping station the conifers are alive with twittering Siskins, Goldfinches, Chaffinches, Blue and Coal Tits. Above the reservoirs the moors are quiet – just the occasional piping flock of Meadow Pipits and a flock of Black-headed Gulls – not with black heads – flying low over the purple heathers. Over the farmland there is still a reasonable number of House Martins feeding. At the top of the hill a Grey Squirrel runs along a dry-stone wall – somewhat unusual as the closest woods are about half a mile away.

Saturday 7th September – Barnsley Canal – There are numbers of dead Grey Squirrels on the roads over the last week or so. Probably youngsters who are moving out from their parents’ territories to find their own but are lacking the awareness of road skills (if they every really gain them?) There are still good numbers of Swallows and House Martins feeding about the golden brown stubble fields. Above the canal is a large, twittering flock of House Martins. They are joined a little later by a flock of Swallows that has been feeding further over the fields near Redbrook. A family group of Goldfinches is feeding on the rushes in the canal. Eight Mistle Thrushes sit on the power lines that run up the valley, their calls rasping in the air.

Sunday 8th September – Edderthorpe – Edderthorpe is now virtually dry, and devoid of birds. A pair of Great Tits are chasing through the bushes by the pit pool. A large striped dragonfly flashes past. At Wombwell Ings, four Mute Swans lift off and swing round over Broomhill and head out towards Wath. The new wildfowl area at Wath Ings is now developing fast with several large pools filling with water. It will be an excellent site when it has grown over. There are some waders on Wombwell Ings, Spotted Redshank, Greenshank, Green Sandpiper and a Curlew Sandpiper. There is also a Pintail in eclipse. I must admit I would probably not have noticed the Pintail if I had not been told earlier that it was there! There are ripe sloes in the hedgerow along the old road and I upset a flock of House Sparrows when I collect some for Sloe Gin. In the afternoon the sun is making an effort to push its rays through the grey skies. The northerly wind has made the day somewhat autumnal. At Wigfield Farm at Worsborough I seek out the Little Owl which has eluded me all year – and there it is sitting on a fence post just below its favourite tree. In the fields is a flock of Highland Cattle with their long horns and shaggy, red coats. A couple of paler, creamy calves lay in the grass.

Saturday 14th September – East Coast – A bright morning, almost a frost overnight. Off to Flamborough Head to see what is around. Just south of the Barnsley/A1 junction there are six hot-air balloons rising into the air. Head north into Norse country, the place names reflect the Viking and Danish influence during the Dark Ages – Haisthorpe, Thornholme, Bessingby. Approaching Flamborough village I cross the Dane’s Dyke – a 2.5 mile long earthwork some 40 plus feet high completely crossing the neck of the headland. Its origin is unclear, other than it was thrown up in the Dark Ages and was probably defensive. Before the modern lighthouse is a white, chalk lighthouse built in the 18th Century. There is some debate as to whether it was ever used – some say it was in use for over one hundred years, other say there was never a fire lit on its top. Sea watch for an hour or so but it is slow. See a few Sooty Shearwaters (lifers!), hundreds of Gannets – a large proportion of which are juveniles, a few Fulmars and some divers. I will claim one of the divers as a Great Northern but the others were harder. I reckon another was a Black-throated but I’m unsure. A juvenile Kittiwake soars past at high speed. Little in the bushes along the cliff tops, certainly not the Red-breasted Flycatcher that had been reported. Dill the Dog is trying to make friends with everyone and sulks when I tell her to stop bothering people and sit down for a while. I also check the South Landing but apart from some gulls and a single female Eider, nothing. There is a rumour of a Greenish Warbler at Filey so I head up there but nothing but people everywhere. I decide it is not worth checking the Brigg for Purple Sandpipers, no self-respecting Calidris is going to stay around with all these day-trippers. I travel back via the A64 and pass Stanford Bridge, possibly one of the most influential places in British history as this is where Harold II defeated Harald Hardrada in 1066 but was then forced to rush south to meet William of Normandy and was thus ill prepared at Hastings for the battle which changed Britain from a Saxon to a Norman French country.

Sunday 15th September – Dearne Valley and the Moors – Another bright day that becomes increasingly hot. Start off at Wath Ings but little around – a flock of Wigeon and Teal, some Snipe and thirty five Linnet on wires by the road. On Wombwell Ings a pair of Curlew Sandpipers are feeding voraciously. There is also a Shelduck and a Pintail in the middle of of the water. A couple of Greenshank, a Green Sandpiper, Redshank and a lot of Lapwings made up the rest of the wildlife. In the afternoon I check Scout Dyke. Four Great Crested Grebe and a few Tufted Duck are scattered over the reservoir. In the conifer plantation a decent sized flock of Blue, Great, Long-tailed and Coal Tits are feeding. Dill the Dog catches a rabbit but I quickly deflate her pride as the poor creature is close to death with Myxomatosis or some similar viral disease. At Langsett Reservoir I find a couple of Horse Mushrooms but they are too wormy to be any use. A White Wagtail is chirping on the dam. Over the moors it is very hot, windless and quiet. The sky is mainly blue with few high cirrus clouds and criss-crossed by vapour trails. Heading back towards Dodworth a Weasel jumps into the verge. At Broomhill Ings the whole surface of the water is covered in wildfowl – Mallard and Wigeon mainly with Teal, Mute Swans, Shovelers, Pintails and Coot. Wombwell Ings has not changed much since the morning but the sun really catches the plumage of the Lapwings, greatly highlighting the bronze-green feathers.

Saturday 21st September – Anglers Country Park – An easterly wind is blowing across Anglers Country Park. A small flock of Calidris sandpipers flash over the lake and land on the edge. With the wind blowing across the water raising wavelets it must seem like the sea side. Scanning the flock reveals 7 or 8 Little Stints and a couple of Dunlin. A pair of Ringed Plovers are hunched against the wind near the feeding sandpipers. In the fields behind the Country Park are three Charolais cows. Laying on the grass next to them are a pair of black twin calves and a white one. One of the cows is standing over the little white calf, looking threateningly at Dill the Dog and me. The twins look damp and may have only just been born. The white calf has its eyes closed and its head nods towards sleep.

Sunday 22nd September – Wombwell Ings – So much is happening on the East Coast but too many things to do preventing me going. Wombwell Ings is slightly overcast with an easterly breeze. Migration is underway as evidenced by a flock of sixteen Little Stints and eight Dunlin. The former are tiny jewels feeding vorociously; their backs are scalloped orange brown with black edgings to the feathers, contrasting with the pure white bellies and faintly buff breasts. In most wader flocks, Dunlin are the small active species but here they look bulky and slow. A lone Greenshank and Green Sandpiper patrol the mud. There are also a few Ringed Plover hunch backed in the holes churned up the the travellers’ horses. A few duck are feeding on the Ings – a pair of female Northern Pintail, Shovelers, Wigeon, Mallard and Teal. As I head back to the road a small skein of Canada Geese speeds low over the fields, their honking has Dill the Dog looking up with a slightly quizzical expression. Broomhill Flash is covered with Wigeon, Mallard and Coots. Mute Swans and Grey Herons stand on the fringes.

Monday 23rd September – Westwood Country Park – Draw up into the parking space in Westwood watched by a covey of ten Grey Partridge. They wait to see what is going to happen but quickly take to the air and fly off low across the fields when they espy Dill the Dog.

Saturday 28th September – Anglers Country Park – Only have a short time at Anglers Country Park. A large Starling flock is on the grass near the reservoir. Coot, Wigeon and Pochard flocks are all building up now, but they are scattered all across the water, making counting too long a job. A Sky Lark lifts up from near the Pol and sings its way into the air. It is not the rich fluid song of spring and summer but enough to evince memories of earlier in the year. Five Snipe suddenly shoot up from the Pol muttering with rasping calls and head off north. In the afternoon I spot a couple of Green Woodpeckers slipping away from a dead tree in the valley. Mistle Thrushes pass overhead calling.

Monday 30th September – Scotland – Head north via Bradford, Skipton, Settle and then onto the M6. Through the Dales, clouds sit on and top of the grey sides of Ingleborough. There is a considerable breeze with Rooks hanging onto it. Indeed there are substantial numbers of Corvids all the way up into Scotland, Rooks, Carrion Crows and Jackdaws. On top of the Lakeland Fells Goldfinches flit over Rose Bay Willowherb fluffy with white seed. The Fells here are huge, gently rounded mountains none of the jagged outcrops of Snowdonia. They are multi-shaded greens and browns. Into Scotland where the gentle hills are now covered with serried ranks of conifers. Over the River Clyde and into the glens. The conifers are now gone leaving huge glens disappearing off into the distance. Still 35 miles south of Glasgow and the size of Scotland begins to sink in – the hills go on for miles in every direction. A quick detour to the Strathclyde Country Park near Motherwell which, apart from a female Pheasant crossing the road, was quiet. Stirling Castle looms over the town on a high outcrop of rock. Another outcrop has a tower adorning its summit.

River Almond – At Muthill a Standing Stone guards a field whilst a Common Buzzard wheels overhead. Through the town of Crieff and up to the bridge over the River Almond. There is a footpath to Loch Tay. I get out of the car and look up the towering face of a mountain and immediately a Golden Eagle lazily drifts over the top. It flaps strongly for a few moments and then glides up the cliff face. Walk up the glen with a river bubbling down the centre of a carved plain with the sides of the hills rising sharply. It is very quiet – too quiet in fact, a few bird sounds would be welcome. In the end I retreat before the rain which is heading down the glen before me. A few Blue Tits, Meadow Pipits and a lone Buzzard are all I see. Lots of rabbits everywhere so the Buzzard and Golden Eagle has a constant food supply. Dill the Dog adds the River Almond to her list – several times. Just as I reach the car, another Golden Eagle drifts down the same cliff. This one shows white under the tail indicating a young bird.

Loch Garten – Decide to head for Loch Garten even through the Ospreys for which the area is famous will have gone. Up the A9 and the hills are blotched with golden yellow bracken. What looks like a Goshawk comes out of the conifer forest and flies across the road. At Loch Garten there are 35 Goosander on the loch, just a small remnant of the earlier flock present according to the notice board. Also on the loch are 3 Greylags, 3 Pink-footed Geese, Mallard, Goldeneye and Pintail. Fly Agaric is plentiful in the woods. However, woodland birds are in short supply. Eventually, near the car park I stand and wait for something to turn up – and it does – Chaffinches and Coal Tits. Very nice but 370 miles for a species I can get within 5 miles of home. After half an hour I am getting despondent but I decide that feeling sorry for myself is pointless and head off down the woodland path. After I while I hear Tits again calling. I stand still and a flock of Blue, Coal and Great Tits chases through the branches. Then suddenly there is a Crested Tit – a lifer and only present in the UK in Scottish woodlands – just three feet from me. I stand stock still as it rips pieces of moss and lichen off the branches seeking insects. Remarkably, Dill the Dog also sits very still so I get great views of the bird. I press on to another loch but this is deserted. Following the path round Dill the Dog is looking up a tree with her intense look and there on a branch watching her is a Red Squirrel. I believe this is the first I have ever seen as all we get down south are Grey Squirrels. S/he has a much prettier face than a Grey and a beautiful russet coat. S/he does not seem anxious but just watches Dill the Dog.

Musselburgh - As it has started to rain by the time I get back to the car and is getting dark I head into Aviemore for a meal and then had a think. I am now feeling pretty ill so I do not want to go further north if I am going to be really bad in the morning. I am tempted to go east but decide in the end to head down to Edinburgh. I somehow manage to miss the by-pass and go straight through the centre of Edinburgh but my innate sense of direction gets me to Musselburgh, where I get my head down to the sound of Curlews, Redshank and Oystercatchers calling in the darkness.