Ramblings

September 1997


Saturday 6th September – Fairburn Ings – An early start and up to Fairburn Ings. The first thing noticeable are the hundreds of Swallows and House Martins swooping through the farm yard, over the tracks and low across the bays. Surprisingly, there are also a number of Swifts – I have not seen more than singletons since the second week of August. A chirping flock of the sadly much diminished Tree Sparrow flits down the hedgerow. A lone Willow Warbler, resplendent in its bright new feathers has joined a Long-tailed Tit flock which scurries from bush to bush. There is little on the Village Bay, a few great Crested Grebe and a tatty looking Gadwall, gently quacking. On the End Bay is large flock of Mute Swans and more Gadwall. On the Main Bay is the usual motley crew of Mute Swans, Mallard, Black-headed Gulls, Greylags and Canada Geese all milling around and arguing by the car pull-in, awaiting the visitors with bread. It soon becomes clear I am not the bearer of such bounty and they return to their preening and squabbling. I wander up the muddy path to the hide overlooking the end of the Flashes. Moorhens watch nervously. On the End Flash are a small number of waders, mainly Common Snipe with a couple of Common Sandpipers and Greenshank. I then get one of the delights of the year – a Kingfisher hovers in front of the hide whilst fishing. Its turquoise wings are a blur as its head moves side to side and then it suddenly plunges, but is unsuccessful. This beautiful performance is repeated several times before it decides this is possibly not the best fishing and moves on across the flash.

Blacktoft Sands. – The first hide I visit is fairly quiet, a few Redshank, lots of Greenshank, a couple of Spotted Redshank and a Green Sandpiper I unsuccessfully try to turn into a Wood Sandpiper. However, the next hide is completely different – the mud and shallow pool has dozens of Sandpipers. More Redshanks, Greenshanks and Spotted Redshank, also Dunlin, Curlew Sandpipers (helpfully standing in among the Dunlin allowing excellent comparisons of plumage and size), Ruff, Black-tailed Godwit and this time a genuine Wood Sandpiper. One Ruff is fooling the beginner birders with its completely white head. Suddenly a Water Rail pops out of the reed bed and then back in again. It is a frustrating few minutes but it eventually makes a long enough appearance for everyone to have a view. Sand Martins slice through the air just in front of us. Then I spot a large dark shape rising above the reed bed some distance away – a Marsh Harrier. As the binos pick it up two more are found behind it. A little later another cry of Harrier and this time a pair of Hen Harriers, the male magnificent in his grey uniform, are floating easily above the reed bed. Eventually I move off to the other end of the reserve where there are large numbers of Teal and Shoveler feeding in the muddy shallows. At the back of the pool is a large flock of Lapwings containing a couple each of Grey and Golden Plover.

Sunday 14th September – Wombwell Ings – An early wander around the ings and a quick one as I have work to do. A large female Sparrowhawk soars overhead (refusing to be turned into a much wanted Hobby!) Birders in the hide inform me the Ring-necked Duck is still present so I search it out. I stare at every possible for some time and am almost on the point of giving up when there it is – in eclipse but clear as day. I am somewhat bemused by the fact I did not locate it earlier, given there are only about half a dozen Tufted Duck on the water. Heading back to the car I find several Giant Puffballs like huge golf balls in the grass. At Broomhill Flash I spend some time yet again before I can locate the reported rarity, a juvenile Garganey. Admittedly, this one was difficult, only the darkish markings on the head distinguish it from the large group of Teal. There are several dozen Yellow Wagtails chasing around the feet of the cattle in the meadow.

Thursday 18th September – Barnsley Canal – The canal is verdant under a dull tin sky. From every group of bushes comes the song of a Robin, all setting their marks on a territory. A Long-tailed Tit flock dashes from bush to bush, each squeaking out their keep in touch calls. As I cross the canal the water shivers as Common Pond Skaters scuttle across the surface. Five Grey Herons sit motionless on the limbs of a dead tree in the old river loop. Wood Pigeons fly apparently purposefully in all different directions across the valley. Occasionally, one changes direction to follow another – so have they any destination in mind at all? In the meadow there are the delicate blue Harebells and Red Clover, but the Knapweed has been reduced to brown mace heads. Wrens are ticking and shooting like brown bullets from the base of one bush to another. A Blackcap slips through a briar, urgently seeking food. Further down Whitethroats are also feeding voraciously. Magpies chatter incessantly to one another. In a boggy part of the canal stands an old rotting stump with a bright yellow fungus growing on it.

Sunday 21st September – Silkstone Fall – A bright day, heavy dew but little wind. I decide that there is no point to heading for the coast, so fungi hunting looks a better bet. So firstly off to Silkstone Fall woods. I find a few Boletus and some possible Russula species. The latter turn out to be Russula ochroleuca, not poisonous but not recommended eating. The woods are quiet, the occasional Robin song, a few cheeps from a Blue Tit and distant squawkings from Magpies. I find a crab apple tree loaded down with fruit along the old Waggon Road. I pick a couple of pounds without even stretching. There are also plum trees with little red and yellow fruits, but the windfalls are too far gone and the fresh fruit far too high for me to crop. I check out a few other woodlands but they are all managed woods, even though some like Bagger Woods are clearly quite ancient. These woods are designed so that trees grow straight and tall and leave spaces between them. In these spaces bracken and brambles grow in profusion – not particularly conducive to fungi.

Hood Green – I wander down the old roadway to the abandoned pit. On the waste heap there are small Willows established and ceps galore. I gather about three pounds of them that are later dried. A Grey Heron flies overhead croaking every now and again. In an old Oak Long-tailed, Blue, Coal and Great Tits are feeding along with a singing Chiffchaff and chirping Chaffinches. A Bullfinch meeps from a high shrub.

Saturday 27th September – Bretton Woods – A visit to the ponds to the north of West Bretton. As soon as I get to the main pond, Dill the Dog manages to scare a Mallard with her surprisingly young duckling. Dill the Dog watches them from the bank as they scuttle off into the reeds with a warning quack. In the mixed woodlands Chaffinches pink and stand on the top of tall firs to survey the area. On another tall Larch, a Kestrel sits, similarly surveying the ground below but with a different intent. Yellowing rushes stand in the ponds brightened by the presence of mauve Water Mint. Lots of fungi stand under the trees, mainly Panther Caps, one of the lethal Amanita family.

Calder Grove – The Amanita family is widely represented by the classic fairy tale toadstool, Fly Agaric. There are also enough young Ceps to make them worth gathering. A Jay slips quietly from the trees but the local Magpies are far from so retiring. A Snipe flies over calling. On the way back a herd of heifers block the path. Dill the Dog is clearly worried by these relatively huge creatures, but I just snarl at them and they move at the last moment. Just as we pass, Dill the Dog lets out a triumphant bark – I sorted them out, eh? Yes, OK Dilly!

Sunday 28th September – East Coast – Scarborough – Twitching again! Firstly off to the coast; Scarborough! This is a real holiday resort that still retains some of its Victorian dignity. I drive down to the beach road and park. The charge is £3:00 – a lot! I decide to just check the bay and leave immediately. There is only one bird visible on the sea but a quick scoping reveals it is the one I want – a Surf Scoter. In splendid isolation it preens and flaps its wings, showing off all its distinguishing marks.

Filey – There are reports of a Barred Warbler here and (at least yesterday) four Yellow-browed Warblers. I sit at the top of the cliffs overlooking the Arndale Ravine. A Blackcap scurries through the bushes. A Sparrowhawk sweeps like a guided missile low through bushes, scaring Blackbirds, Song Thrushes and Collared Doves in every direction. A charm of over thirty Goldfinches twitters around the bushes and cliff top. A Common Whitethroat slips into a bush. Birders are congregating on the other side of the ravine, so I join them. They had found the Barred Warbler but it was extremely elusive. Eventually, most folk drift off. I wandered up the area of ornamental rose shrubbery. A Greenfinch stands on top on the bushes, its bill covered with bits of rose hip. Eventually I notice a stalk of rose shaking vigorously and suddenly a bird looking like a large, grey Garden Warbler appears – the Barred Warbler. Of course, by the time I tell other birders it had vanished again. I now head over to the other ravine, down which runs the road to the beach. Dill the Dog is pleased to be moving again – the constant sitting around was all too boring. There is supposed to be at least one Yellow-browed Warbler in these woods, but again it keeps its title as my major bogey bird! At one point I am excited to find some Goldcrests – usually if there is a Yellow-browed around it will join a Goldcrest flock, but no joy. However, there are at least three Pied Flycatchers busily feeding and chasing each other through the treetops.

Flamborough – The headland is quiet for birds but deafening as the foghorn booming beside me. Small family groups of Gannets soar past at sea and a Northern Wheatear hops around the Bull Field filling its belly before heading south again.