Easter Monday 1st April – Nunney, Somerset – Peter and I take the dogs out across the fields to Nunney Brook, down stream from the village. Chiffchaffs are calling all around. A ruined lime kiln is in the trees, almost hidden by ivy. The woodland floor is covered in green and flowers: Lesser Celandine, Forget-me-nots, Dog Mercury and the delicate White Anemone – the Windflower. Bluebells will be out shortly. Ransom leaves are covering the damp areas, filling the air with the scent of garlic. A Blackcap sings from flowering Blackthorn. Back near the village a couple of Dame’s Violets, a purple crucifer, bloom on top of a limestone wall. A fat Wood Pigeon is in a cottage garden on top of a well shredded Sprout plant. At least six House Martins fly over the village. A Great Spotted Woodpecker can be heard drumming up the road.
Mells – The annual Daffodil Flower. In the big field beside the church there is terrier racing. The little dogs are frantic with excitement, bouncing around and yapping furiously on their leads fixed to the ground spaced carefully. Dill the Dog and Jasper seem only mildly interested. Two long rows of stationary engines are a joy. Most built in the early years of the last century they pop and phut and turn various pieces of apparatus from grain grinders to knife grinders and most commonly, water pumps. Over into the church yard (history) and down the street to the main street. It is crowded! Stalls are selling everything – I buy an electric toothbrush, Kay buys a couple of weird pottery faces to hang on the garden wall. Down by the Manor House, there is a Nuthatch calling constantly. It suddenly appears and flies over the street with a beak of something. Back outside the pub, Morris Dancers are performing.
Kilmerstone Road Quarry – Henry, Peter, I and the dogs leave the others and head off to this quarry. The site is no longer a commercial site and is indeed now a SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Importance). This is because the stone comes from the Triassic period of 208 million years ago when it was in the shallows of a tropical sea. The soft sandstone is full of fossils and we find ammonites, belemnites, clams and many other kinds of shells. One bivalve is very common across the area and called
the Devil’s Toenail. On the way back to Nunney, Common Buzzards soar above the trees.
Wednesday 3rd April – Newmillerdam – A village on the Barnsley-Wakefield road. The road passes over a dam which creates a large lake in a wooded valley. This was park of the Chevet Estate owned by the Pilkington family. Up one side of the lake is a boat house built some time before 1826. It was used to entertain visitors and is now a visitors’ centre. Mallard, Canada Geese, Tufted Duck, Great Crested Grebe and Coot frequent the water. Marsh Marigolds flower in the shallows. A Coot is on a nest not three feet from the path. A Common Tern fishes.
Thursday 4th April – Old Mill to Dearne Valley Park – As soon as I set off along the tow-path of the canal I hear a Blackcap singing in the Willow scrub rising steeply above the other side of the water. It is located after a few minutes, a delicate grey bird with an almost shiny black cap. A Chiffchaff sings nearby (I locate seven in total in the valley and probably missed a couple). A Jay is calling below near the river. Over the bridge that sits on the stanchions of the old Aire and Calder Navigation (Barnsley Branch) Canal. The path rises back up to the old level of the canal. The Jay flies overhead. There is a broad sward of grass that marks the route of the canal. It sweeps eastward along the side of the valley through Cliffe Wood. The original tow-path becomes clear. There is suddenly a blast of fragrance which comes from the leaves of Walnuts (Juglans regia – not the Black Walnut J. nigra). The tow-path suddenly rises as does the far side on the canal edge and it is clear a lock was situated here. Just beyond here is the huge base of the beginning of the viaduct that carried the Midland Railway, Cudworth and Barnsley line over the valley. Several Bullfinches meep gently in the trees. Now the lay of the land is confused. In-filling must have happened as there is a substantial climb up to the road. The canal swung hard round to the north here and crossed under the road at Cliffe Bridge beside The Hope Inn. I cannot make out whether the canal route has been filled in or there were some locks to raise it up towards the ridge. I turn back and drop down the side of the valley to the Dearne Valley Park below. Along through the woods to the lakes. A Wren hops through trees with a beakful of moss. Over the Dearne by a footbridge standing on the base of a bridge that brought the GCR Barnsley Coal Railway Extension over the river. The path rises up the valley side to run under an old stone wall that that held the Barnsley Canal (or to be precise, the Sheffield and South Yorkshire Navigation (Dearne and Dove Canal)). This path leads back to the junction of the canals I left earlier.
Friday 5th April – Barnsley Canal – A second sunny day, can Spring really have sprung? Two Song Thrushes are trying to outdo one another in the strange song stakes. Their songs are far more varied than usual with mutterings and outburst normally associated with warblers such as Blackcap and Garden Warbler. The Mute Swans on the Loop have nested in the reeds on one of the ponds. Greenfinches and Chaffinches are particularly vocal this morning. Lapwings soar and dive over the fields peewitting mournfully.
Monday 8th April – Wombwell Ings – A cool morning, barely above freezing. The trees around Broomhill Park are showing the ravages of the winter storms – most have lost branches, some their central crowns. Magpies and Wood Pigeons feed in a ploughed field. The next field is sprouted winter wheat. Lapwings swoop over the field. Four Redshank are on the brow, apparently two pairs as one of each pair is following the other with its back hunched and rapid steps. A pair of Grey Partridge feed. Sky Larks sing overhead. A small flock of Canada Geese are feeding on the rough meadow. The Ings and its environs hold four Shelduck, a few Wigeon, a pair of Greylags, another four Redshank, a Gadwall, Mallard, Teal and no fewer than twenty six Shoveler, twenty of which are drakes. Beside the far pond is a Little Ringed Plover, a Common Snipe and a Mistle Thrush.
Broomhill Flash – The flash has six Mute Swans and the same sort of mixture of wildfowl as are present of Wombwell Ings. However, it also has Tufted Duck, a lot of very noisy Black-headed Gulls and a solitary Common Gull. There is an absence of Grey Herons, although one is flying over the road when I depart.
Home – The Great Spotted Woodpecker is regularly visiting the garden. Dunnocks fly repeatedly from one side of the garden into the thicket area by the side of the house. Potatoes (Accent) have sprouted. I have planted out all the Broad Beans which are progressing well. Some of the Autumn sown have flower buds. The daffodils and tulips are still a glorious wash of colour. A Starling has discovered the use of the bird bath and splashes vigorously, much to the consternation of a Blackbird who just wants a drink.
Haw Wood – Cold Hiendley reservoir is nearly empty of birds, just a few Great Crested Grebes in their own patches. Into the woods to the call of a Chiffchaff. Robins are also in song. The delicate white flowers of Wood Anemone are in patches through the Oak woods below the tow-path. The canal is the old Aire and Calder Navigation (Barnsley Branch), i.e. the one that joins the Barnsley Canal at Old Mill. Cold Hiendley reservoir was built to maintain the water supply to this canal. Little remains of the canal infrastructure; a stone post with a pulley on top is about it. A bridge crosses the canal with 1828 scratched into the stonework. Dog Mercury is in profusion in the woods. Peacock butterflies visit the Pussy Willow, which is coming to the end of its blossoming. A V-shaped wake moves through the water. Through the binos I can see a small black water beetle moving rapidly across the surface of the canal. After several attempts, it catches a small brown insect that failed to lift off from the water.
Tuesday 9th April – Barnsley Canal – The recent dryness means the tow-path has dried to rock hard clay. This makes walking here a pleasant experience for a change. A Willow Warbler is singing on the hill above the old canal basin, my first of the year. Chiffchaffs are numerous all along the canal. A Moorhen takes off from the canal. Although they appear to be ungainly fliers, it negotiates a barrier of willow shoots that rise from a fallen branch with ease. On the return leg, a Blackcap is now singing by the basin. At the foot of Willowbank the Willow Warbler is moving through Elders and Hawthorns seeking insects. A man passes with the base of a pram loaded with three baskets of racing pigeons.
Home – Tadpoles are hatching in the pond. The surface quivers with the tiny wriggling black bodies.
Wednesday 10th April – Barnsley Canal – Two Wrens, barely 20 paces apart are singing furiously to establish their dominance of the area. A Kestrel sits on the air high above Willowbank. A Grey Heron stands in a dead tree in the Loop. The northern end of the canal is much more open than the Willowbank end. The Hawthorn hedge is thinner and straggled. Either rough meadow or marsh covers the area below the tow-path and on the other side of canal there is an area of marsh and Willow. Here Linnets and Yellowhammers sing, not the warblers present further down.
Home – In the early evening, Kay calls me urgently. She has just seen something that looks like a Fox in the garden. We scan the garden from the kitchen window and sure enough, there is movement in the Daffodils and a white-tipped brush can be discerned. However, where the Fox then goes is something of a mystery as it appears to vanish into thin air.
Saturday 13th April – Edderthorpe – It is chilly in the wind, but the sky is reasonably bright. There is still a fair scattering of duck on the flash – Mallard, Wigeon, Teal, Gadwall, Shoveler and Tufted Duck. A few Snipe probe the mud. Redshank are all over the site. A flock of about thirty Dunlin are flighty. A couple of Little Ringed Plovers are standing motionless on the spits of mud. An Oystercatcher feeds on the far bank.
Sunday 14th April – Westfield Country Park – A cloudy start to the morning clears to a sunny walk through the woods of the Country Park. Dog Violets and Stitchwort flower on the banks by the track. The whole countryside is greening rapidly as trees come into leaf. Wild Arum leaves are common in the woods. Peacock butterflies rest on the warming clay. A Small White flutters by. Blackbirds, Chaffinches, Wrens and Song and Mistle Thrushes are in song. From the top of a small hill, the countryside is reminiscent of the South Downs of my youth.
Tuesday 16th April – Barnsley Canal – A Blackbird egg shell lies beside the tow-path – new life has sprung. There are several pairs of Reed Buntings along the canal. I am surprised that they appeared to be missing all winter; the resident stock is supposed to be augmented with North European and Irish migrants, but it would appear the local stock moves off as well. Old orange-brown bark is peeling off in a translucent layer from the trunks of Silver Birches revealing pale grey-brown, almost white, bark underneath. On one tree, branches emerge from the canal waters, whilst the main trunks are right on the edge of the bank. Fresh green leaflets and catkins adorn these branches. Leaves of summer flowers abound – Tansy, Bramble, Goosegrass, Umbellifers, Sow Thistles and both Greater and Ribwort Plantains. Song Thrush and warbler song fills the air.
Wednesday 17th April – Home – Hopefully the last night for a while that I have had to put out the fleeces to protect the emerging potato shoots against frost. The wet fleeces were bitterly cold when I removed them this morning. There is definitely a Robin nest tucked right under the inside eave of the potting shed. My investigation produced one angry ticking Robin. I retreated rapidly. Apple and Cherry blossom is now out – a beautiful sight!
Barnsley Canal – Two Kestrels rise from near the river and circle upwards and upwards. The delicate dark lines across the under wings show well in the morning sunshine. The sound of two pebbles being rapped together indicates a female Blackcap in the trees above the canal, but all I locate is a Long-tailed Tit feeding voraciously. A little further on, by the dock, a male Blackcap is singing from the top of a dead tree. Wrens are both numerous and very vocal. Just after the footbridge an area had been cleared some time back. Large clumps of Comfrey have sprouted all over the place. On the loops, three Coots have their wings cocked and heads down in aggression – the interloper rapidly departs.
Home – And rubbish still keeps coming out of the new flower bed. A Victorian cast-iron fireplace, unfortunately broken, along with more of the old boiler stove is dug out this morning.
Thursday 18th April – Barnsley Canal – A Grey Heron appears to have made the bend on the canal below Willowbank a regular spot. As usual, it flies off at the approach of Dill the Dog. Lapwings are on mud beside the Loop. An Orange Tip butterfly flits up the canal; it lands sporadically, but refuses to stay put long enough to get a photograph. A cock Pheasant struts around the edge of the Loop. My first Swallow of the year darts low across the rough grass and up the hill. A Dabchick dives.
Friday 19th April – Old Mill – Anoth