Tuesday 1st February – Willowbank – For the first time this year, the air rings with a dawn chorus. Under a cloudy but lightening sky, Blackbirds, Robins and Song Thrushes are singing right across the area. It is wet, but I can now see the mud under my feet.
Saturday 5th February – Barnsley Canal – Although the weather has been grey over the past week, the lack of rain means the tow-path is not entirely made up of churned mud. A Goldfinch flashes yellow in the car park. A group of Bullfinches fly on ahead and land in a bare Hawthorn. A male Bullfinch is one of the sharpest dressed birds around. Its blushing pink breast contrasts perfectly with its sober grey back and is topped off by a precise black cap. There are very few haws left on the Hawthorns, but some briars have a fair number of hips remaining. Crab apples still litter the ground. The white tail feathers of a Moorhen bob into the reeds. Blue Tits hurry here and there. A Sparrowhawk sails over Willowbank.
Monday 14th February – Willowbank – February is always the gloomiest month for me. Although the days are shortening and buds popping through, the greyness and cold is all pervasive. There is an icy north wind blowing across the hillside. A couple of Blackbirds are squabbling over territorial rights in the pre-dawn shadow. Mallard call from far below. There are a few patches of frozen path and a bit of ice crunches underfoot, but mainly it is thick cloying mud.
Sunday 20th February – The Waggon Road – The north-easterly wind is biting, so despite the bright sunshine it is cold. Snow has been forecast but there seems little sign of it. A Chaffinch pinks loudly from a tree in the hedgerow beside the road. Blue Tits flit around the branches seeking sustenance. A flock of Lapwings moves slowly across the horizon.
Tuesday 22nd February – Willowbank – After fleeting snow showers yesterday, it snows overnight leaving a layer a couple of inches thick. It has silenced the dawn chorus. Tracks of an even earlier dog walker head down the hillside. Their owner’s dog crisscrosses the open space as does Dill the Dog. A few rabbit tracks have been made even as the snow fell as they are partly obscured. There is also an old track of a small canine, or maybe a lupine. It starts to snow again, small specks rather than flakes.
Wednesday 23rd February – Fleets Dam – It snowed briefly overnight and flurries continue throughout the day. There has been some thawing, but much more snow is forecast. A Grey Wagtail bobs around the snow covered car park. There are no other cars here and a flock of Black-headed Gulls flies up and descends onto the water. Some heads are darkening; one gull already has its dark chocolate hood. A Common Gull stands on the water purification apparatus.
Thursday 24th February – Willowbank – It has snowed heavily overnight. The main roads have been cleared and salted but side roads are much more treacherous. Fortunately, most of the way to Willowbank is on the route taken by the gritters from their depot. Willowbank has a deep covering of snow. Across the valley, it has drifted in the wind leaving areas with a light dusting only. Dill the Dog takes it all in her stride and trots around sniffing everywhere and everything as usual. A Fox has trotted over the south side of the long drift of slag down the hillside. It has crisscrossed the ground, but it would have been some hours ago as the footprints are degraded.
Saturday 26th February – Fleets Dam – The snow thawed mercifully quickly, leaving everywhere sodden. A white flash is all I see of a Bullfinch as it slips away through the ornamental rose hedge by the end of the car park. A jaunty Great Tit stays and watches. A Blue Tit squeaks from the top of the tangled briars. Gallons of water a second roars over the weir on the River Dearne. A few areas of ice remain on the pools in the willow carr. There is little on the lake itself, just the young Mute Swan gliding around. A Song Thrush can be clearly heard from right across the expanse of water. Alders and Silver Birches are crowded around the carr and, thus grow tall and spindly. They sway and creak in the wind.
Sunday 27th February – Dearne Valley Park – A few flakes of snow float down but are immediately extinguished on the verdant grass. Daffodils are in bud. The River Dearne is running fast. On one of the bends in the river, there are large lumps of bank which have subsided under erosion and form ledges down the steep bank side. However, I recall these ledges have been there for a couple of years now. Blue and Great Tits are calling. A Goldfinch flashes across the path. A pile of rubble consisting of substantial lumps of worked sandstone has been covered with undergrowth, and regrettably rather a lot of rubbish. A pair of eroded stone gateposts looks like prehistoric standing stones. They seem to have little relationship with the surrounding area of bracken and brambles. Wood Pigeons fly out of the wooded hillside. The lake still has a very thin veneer of ice.