October 1998

Thursday 1st October – Barnsley Canal – The rain is torrential. Is it the tail of one of the four named hurricanes which have been in the Atlantic Ocean? By the entrance to the tow path a frog hops away towards the canal. Despite the downpour, Magpies are still squabbling and screeching. By the bridge another frog is on the path. Dill the Dog sniffs it suspiciously and is unimpressed when it suddenly hops away. The small rill that brings water drained off the hillside down to the canal is a torrent and has burst out to form a large pond at the bottom of the field. A Grey Heron and a pair of Mallard seek food forced out of the ground by the flood. There is a drain from the canal on the opposite side from the rill. It is not clear where it is on the canal side, just a general drift of water towards the side. On the other side of the tow path there is a rush of water. There is a well marked on the map and it easily found under a Hawthorn as gallons of water per second pour into a hole in the ground. Suddenly the rain stops. At the bottom of Willowbank stand the white heads of Shaggy Inkcaps, also called Lawyer’s Wigs. A couple have already autodigested into black slime.

Saturday 3rd October – Edderthorpe – The recent rains and tractors have turned the track to Edderthorpe into a quagmire. The new road from Grimethorpe to the M1 link road is nearing completion. A Green Woodpecker flies over from the waste tip to a dead tree, calling loudly. Waders are limited to Dunlin, Snipe, Redshank and a lone Greenshank. Duck numbers seem down too. There are still good numbers of Little Grebe and over a dozen Grey Herons.

Sunday 4th October – Flamborough Head – A powerful north-easterly is whipping the North Sea. First check is the stubble field where a Rustic Bunting has been reported on the pagers. Lots of finches, buntings and Sky Larks are flitting around but identification is difficult. I then wander down to the northern cliff path. Small birds are zipping around the brambles and nettles, but again are being seen for fractions of a second. A man walking his dog shows me the fresh corpse of a poor little Goldcrest that made it to landfall but could not feed in time. More Goldcrests feed rapidly on a piece of waste ground between the road and a golf tee, ignoring the golfers totally. A Redwing is feeding with a Blackbird on the golf course. Checking the bushes beside the road reveals a Yellowhammer and a Whitethroat. Up the road near the old Lighthouse, a tall, thin white brick building, is a small area of grass and some wind blasted trees. Robins are flicking around and a couple of Chaffinches and a splendid Brambling rise from the scrubby grass into the low branches. The Brambling has most of its summer plumage intact.

South Landing – Several Swallows are feeding overhead. The ravine is very quiet, which is surprising as the strong winds and rain are still sweeping the more exposed areas. As the rain pours down I wander around the perimeter of the woods rise from another ravine at right-angles to the main one. Here Goldcrests and Willow Warblers are feeding frantically. A Treecreeper’s white underparts gleam from a trunk far below. On the beach a rocky patch in the sand, covered with seaweed has attracted Oystercatchers, Redshank, Dunlin, Turnstones and Curlew Sandpipers. Up in a patch of gorse at the edge of the cliff a rufous flash signals a Redstart, which then flies up the ravine. I head back to the Head and check the sea but only a few Northern Gannets and Cormorants are passing. The rain returns even heavier and that’s enough – home.

Wednesday 7th October – Barnsley Canal – A fat, near full moon shines in the dawn sky. Equally fat are the deep crimson Haws on the Hawthorns. They look abundant now but will soon be depleted when the winter thrushes arrive. There is plenty to hear, Blackbirds and Magpies both scolding, Bullfinches meeping, Robins singing and Moorhens warning. Yellows and browns are beginning to become more prevalent, although not yet dominating green. The Mute Swan family are bathing and preening. White feathers are now appearing in the muddy brown plumage of the cygnets.

Old Haigh – Two Common Pheasants walk towards a patch of newly sown grass on the field below the Birthwaite Hall. One is melanistic, dark blue bronze.

Sunday 11th October – Edderthorpe – A twitch! And a dip. A Red-necked Phalarope has been present all week, but I had thought it gone on Friday. It transpired it was present yesterday, but left last night. There are still good numbers of duck on the flash including a pair of Pintails. Waders include Dunlin, Spotted Redshank, Ruff, Greenshank, Snipe and Little Stint. A pair of winter plumaged Great Crested Grebe cruise, whilst Grey Herons are squabbling in their prehistoric croaks and snarls.

Silkstone Fall – Just inside the woods Sweet Chestnuts have covered the ground with emerald coloured balls of spikes. As usual, the chestnuts inside are small, divided specimens, useless for eating. There are few specimens of fungi in the woods, just a few of the Russula group. Long-tailed Tits and Goldcrests are in the conifers, their high pitched calls loud against the wind.

Monday 12th October – Barnsley Canal – A strong wind has been blowing from the north-west all night. The canal is glowing gold in the rising sun. A Hawthorn hedge leads off at right angles from the tow-path across the meadow. High in the hedge sits a Short-eared Owl, its yellow eyes watching every movement and seeking the source of any noise. A Jay flies down the edge of the canal. The adult Mute Swans and one of the cygnets appear to have flown, leaving a two rather lonely looking pair of young. Two Carrion Crows fly downwind at a considerable speed.

Tuesday 13th October – Barnsley Canal – The Redwings have arrived. They are very flighty though. Instead of their usual behaviour of sitting at the top of bushes and trees and watching the area, they shoot from the interior of one Hawthorn to another, sometimes rising as a ragged flock and heading off high before dropping into another bush. Occasionally an individual watches me, its cream eye-stripe gleaming in the undergrowth. There are also large numbers of mainly juvenile Blackbirds in the area. A Great Spotted Woodpecker flies across the canal near the bridge. The two cygnets are on the nursery mound, alone. The dead Hawthorn mentioned some time ago as having a surprising number of species around it is still popular – Bullfinch, Chaffinch, Blackbird, Dunnock, Reed Bunting and Redwing are all present.

Wednesday 14th October – Barnsley Canal – Two Swallows zigzag overhead moving southwards. Willow Tits are buzzing in the bushes, Robins singing and Blackbirds chucking. The browning Duckweed looks like it has blossomed with tiny white flowers, but closer examination reveals these to be rain drops sitting on the mass of weed. The two remaining Mute cygnets are feeding and preening. Redwings fly up and down the valley in small flocks or even singly. There is activity around the bridge. A Great Spotted Woodpecker disappears into some Hawthorn trees. Whilst looking for it I catch sight of a Treecreeper climbing the trunk. Then across the canal a Green Woodpecker makes a noisy entrance and disappears into the Hawthorn hedge along the tow-path. Near the entrance to the tow-path, the sun lights up hundreds of dancing midges and flies.

Wakefield – A small number of Fieldfare alight on a tree to the east of the M1 near Wakefield.

M621, Leeds – A large flock of Lapwings has returned to the roof of an industrial unit beside the motorway. The black roof must absorb heat which attracts the Lapwings.

Elland – The River Calder is in spate and boils brown as it passes the mills and off towards Brighouse. Most the flowering plants are at the end of their cycle. The tops of the Great Willowherb are bare curls, the white, fluffy seed long gone. Dock stands tall, red-brown and brittle. A Bindweed is still growing and curls up the Willowherb and dead grass stems.

Saturday 17th October –Sturminster Newton, Dorset – Despite the heavy rain yesterday the River Stour is slowly flowing. Cows bellow across the morning fields. A Bullfinch meeps gently from the hedgerow.

On the way to Nunney in Somerset, the hedgerows are adorned with necklaces of the red berries of White Bryony. Roads are lined with rows of golden leaved Beeches. The hills are ridged with Iron Age fortifications.

Tedbury and Great Elm – Through woods and then suddenly there is a quarry. The floor is a fossilised sea bed, ancient ripples remain. Peter’s father tells me that when he first saw it 35 years ago the whole area was covered in fossilised oyster shells, but they have all been removed now. From the quarry a path drops down to the bubbling river. The woods are damp, trees covered in mosses and Ivy with Wood Mushrooms and Hart’s Tongue Ferns in the deep leaf litter. Deep in the greenery is a large house. From the extensive gardens, steps lead down to the river. The river is narrow and turbulent, so it unclear what use could be made of these steps – a boat would hardly be a safe prospect. Further upstream there is more of the fossilised sea bed, tilted near vertical. At the edge of the village of Greater Elm an oddly quaint wooden shed, looking like a sort of wattle stands out over river. The path leads along side the river as the village rises above it. An old Lime kiln is on the opposite bank, with a tree growing out the top of it. On through the woods until it suddenly becomes gardens with neatly mown grass, then back into woods. Then a tall limestone wall is on one side of the path, with a high bank of limestone on the other side. Eventually as path leads into the area between the wall and the river and there are the extensive remains of Fussells’ Iron Works. They were abandoned before the First World War but a warren of offices, passages and other constructions lay in the dense undergrowth and trees. In one large ruin, there is some huge piping and in a deeper section the remains of a water wheel. By the river are broken wooden sluice gates, the river rushing and boiling through the constriction. Deep brick-lined channels appear beneath ones feet . Further on there are the huge blast furnaces. Everywhere there are trees, brambles and thick undergrowth. Eventually, we drag ourselves away and return to the car. On the way home the south western sky blazes with the setting sun, casting a golden hue to the numerous hil