Dipper Down the Dearne

The river Dearne rushes, meanders and struggles its way for 20 miles or so through West and South Yorkshire, eventually meeting the river Don as it leaves the city of Sheffield. Something good is happening to the water in this once polluted river – salmon have returned after 150 years.

Although only a short stretch of water it has a strong personality and needs respect – just ask folk who got caught up in the flooding of 2007. Much of it is managed but there are quieter, wilder spots where thick willow and reed and inaccessible banks mean less hassle for wildlife.

It’s here, in the shallower, stony stretches that you’ll find the dipper (Cinclus cinclus), an excellent small bird the size of a song thrush. With dark brown plumage and a white bib the dipper isn’t that conspicuous; what gives it away is its behaviour : there’s tail twitching and lots of head bobs as it busies itself preparing to plunge into the water from a small rock or stone.

Dipper_(_Merlo_Acquaiolo_)_-_Val_d'Aosta_-_Italy_S4E3931_(17109770786)
Francesco Veronesi

Once under it searches for insect larvae amongst the weed and silt, using its wings to fight against the currents. It also searches for insects on land but more often than not you’ll see it on a rock or flitting around above water. It spends most of its life near water and is sometimes known to next under small waterfalls and close to rushing tumbling water on a bankside.

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Effortless Solo

sparrowhawk, birds of prey, hawk, flight, nature,natural world
Tony Hisgett

A murder of crows, a murmuration of starlings, a gaggle of geese – some birds just love to gather together in a show of collective force, they’re naturally tuned in to the group, the larger family. And very impressive they can be, especially the starlings who seem to have this uncanny intuition when flocking. Some of the shapes they create and maintain are truly magical.

starlings800px-Flock_of_birds_-Roma,_Italia-23Nov2008
Paolo

Today on the walk I did see starlings, crows, fieldfare all in small flocks, busy out in the fields. But what really caught my eye was the sparrowhawk way up hundreds of feet soaring on the wind.

It was so high at first I mistook it for a buzzard. As it slid across the sky towards me it’s smaller size became apparent and I could make out the characteristic outstretched rounded wings and longish tail.

Sparrowhawks sometimes do this. They love to climb high and wheel around, especially in summer when the thermals are strong.

The wind must have been a challenge up there! With barely a flap of the wing it sped across my view from west to east, covering miles in a few seconds, an effortless solo that had me in a partial trance.

 

Restless World

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Kenneth Allen

I stood and watched the moving grey cloud part to let the rays of morning sun through. It was a begrudging act but the light took full advantage and came streaming down to turn a few previously dull fields into gleaming greens of all shades.

Cows were on the move at Junkyard farm (so called due to the scattering of ancient, dead machines in what used to be the stackyard and paddocks adjacent the farmhouse), one or two horses had hot blood and were galloping over soft earth, skidding in towards the fences just for the heck of it.

And a huge mixed flock of seagulls and jackdaws decided on an aerial party above the wooded gorge the beck runs through.

Noisy and playful this was a salt and pepper display as gangs of birds folded in and out of the main flock. It was chaos up there.

Meanwhile the pied wagtails that love to run about in the horse turds gathering up insects were in their element as the sunshine reached the sloping near field. Tails were twitching, heads bobbing, legs running, wings blurring.

One of the most restless creatures on earth.

The Rapture

yellowhammer800px-Emberiza_citrinella_vogelartinfo_chris_romeiks_CHR1540
Chris Romeiks/vogelart.info

Walking again, as always, down the track that leads to Copridings Farm and beyond. This is an ancient footpath once used by the shepherds, drovers and packhorse traders and heaven knows who before them. The heavy, worn stone slabs that surface every now and then are a tell-tale sign of regular past usage. Countless hobnail boots, cart wheels and cloppity hooves have gone before me, criss-crossing these undulating hills and ridges between Huddersfield and what’s left of Emley Moor.

Either side of the hedgerows and dry stone walls are pastures and stubble fields, some with grazing sheep. Today the sun has crept out from behind a herring bone cumulus and added delicious shadow and texture to what must be a centuries old hedgerow. I see field maple, holly, elder, dog rose, oak, hazel, hawthorn, bramble, all mingling and inter-connected, a seam of beauty really, despite it looking rusty and half-wrecked in places.

With low, warm sun comes a myriad of tiny flies and naturally a sprinkling of finches, tits and other denizens of the hedgerow to follow: wren, robin, blackbird.

Walking due east into the source you see the birds only as flecks of crystal when they fly, their wings a silvery golden flash against green and brown, a blurry pattern briefly so alive you think the stones could catch fire or sparks crackle into the undergrowth.

When I enter the shadow there are two yellowhammers flitting in and out of the ivy smothering an old oak further along the track. I can see the yellow head of the male for a second or two as he rests on a dead branch, and the female close by, less conspicuous.

Are these the son and daughter of the older pair that live near Knotty Lane? Perhaps. In summer the male sings his famous song ‘Little bit of bread and no cheese’ hanging on to the last syllable for all he’s worth.

Magpie on Sheep

bird, nature, avian, one for sorrow, two for joy
Pica pica always up to something

 

I have an image in my head which is tickling me. Picture three or four magpies going about their business in a field, the business being eating insects and bugs caught up in sheep’s wool.

I’ve just returned from a 3 hour walk out into the fresh English countryside and witnessed this phenomena: magpie on sheep. Not only were the sheep happy with this situation but when I stopped to study what was going on, the sheep turned their gaze towards me which got the magpies a little agitated. They wanted the full attention of their hosts.

This was a new level of relationship. The magpies got their food, the sheep got a massage and clean up.

I watched one magpie come flying in from the nearby wood to join in the fun. It made directly for a sheep and landed straight on it’s back, no problem.

Another magpie showed great skill by clambering down the shank of a sheep to get some grub, yet another hopped onto a sheep’s head and started cleaning out the ears.

Not one member of that flock seemed to mind the presence of this mischievous, opportunistic bird, in fact I would say the majority of sheep were a bit miffed when a bunch of crows upset the magpies and they all flew off, leaving the flock looking a bit sheepish.

You can read about magpies in this great rhythmic poem by Denis Glover, but remember these are New Zealand magpies he’s writing about and they have the most wonderful melodic song. Unlike our British magpies!!

Image: jans canon

 

Unholy Peregrine

bird of prey, falcon, bird, nature
Stewart Black

The falcon was flying around the cathedral spire, calling loudly as if in distress. Workmen on their way up to the roof were wary. The large, sharp winged raptor above their heads seemed intent on disturbing their morning ladder and scaffold climb up to the workplace.

It was early morning in Wakefield, an ancient mining town in West Yorkshire, and I couldn’t help but be transfixed by this impressive scene. Such a noise that disturbed falcon was making as it broke out of its dizzying circles to fly up suddenly at a tangent then make a swift return towards the stone spire.

There were a handful of shoppers and passers-by crossing the damp greasy slabs, on their way here and there, but none had their heads turned upwards. Could they not see the rare beauty in the shape of that aerial maestro? Were they unaware of its secrets?

I confess to feeling a bit sad for that magnificent bird who had decided for whatever reason to build a nest in a niche way up high above the precinct. How come it hadn’t chosen a more remote site for a home? Say on a cliff side or on an inaccessible crag up in the hills?

But nature doesn’t give a fig for logic or idealism. This bird had somehow weighed up the situation : high stony tower instead of a cliff, a ready made fast food supply of pigeon and dove, no competition whatsoever!