30th January. The Age of The Train......

During the early 1980's the late multiple sex offender Jimmy Savile would pop up on our screens during the Corrie ad break with the phrase "this is the age of the Train" encouraging us all to 'let the train take the strain' - though at the time I suspect the only thing straining on Savile's train were the fifteen year old girls making for the emergency cord!  As it happened (sorry) it certainly wasn't the age of the train, shortly after they were privatised and the whole network fell into terminal decline. 

Fast forward 30 years and Jimmy is rotting in Hell and the age of the train is eventually upon us. I got a whiff of the proposed HS2 route a week or so before it was announced and didn't really appreciate the impact that it would have.  On the face of it it's route through South Yorkshire isn't too drastic, though it looks as though we'll lose some mature woodland in North Sheffield. The route passes through the whole of the Rother Valley skirting the edge of  Rother Valley Country Park then passing through Woodhouse Mill, Orgreave, Treeton and Catcliffe on a massive viaduct at speeds of up to 360kmph and around 8 times an hour each way!!  Of course this is a long way off and by the time it's completed (assuming it's done on time) I'll be 60! The route looks a pretty done deal, though there could be some minor amendments, and on the whole I reckon South Yorkshire will come out of it relatively unscathed - though the affect of the ancillary works could prove more disruptive.

Looking at the both routes from Birmingham i.e. Manchester and Leeds there's an awful lot of birding sites that it speeds through e.g. Rostherne Mere, Swillington and Wintersett.  The potential economic benefits to the North are apparently massive, but at what cost to the environment?

The route through Orgreave, Treeton and Catcliffe

Penultimate Foot It

Typical Northern Tundra.

I was struggling today with a feeling of general apathy. My fortnightly Friday off and I really couldn't be bothered with any kind of birding so sat trying to write a Foot It article for Bird Watching Mag whilst keeping an eye on the garden feeders. Not a thing landed on the feeders - the cat staring at them out of the window didn't help and the article was waffle, which is where this post is heading! The offer of going shopping was the final straw and I reached for the boots, bins, scope and tripod and set off on the four miles to Orgreave. My best chance of picking new birds up was most likely ducks or gulls as the lakes at Orgreave, unlike the adjacent waters, are not frozen. However despite being more Pochard and Wigeon there was nowt else. Whilst scanning one of the plantations a the Starlings erupted as a Merlin shot through them scattering them all over the place, presumably the bird I saw on a in the car visit a couple of weeks back. Walking around the now muddy edges of the small lake I flushed a dozen or so snipe then bird of the day (month) a Jack Snipe. Not a Foot It tick but a patch tick and only the second recorded here, the first being just last weekend. I can't see there being many other foot It attempts this weekend and I certainly won't make my personal goal of 100 birds and 100 miles, but you never know. Mark
Essential supplies have been key to Foot It survival.

13th January. Another 8 Miles

I didn't have time for any Foot it attempts this morning so opted for an hour or so on the patch, I'm also taking part in the Patch Birding challenge and can't afford to miss out on some of the key January species, particularly as the weather turns colder. Unfortunately I spent most of the time pursuing another group of Hare coursers.  However mt reward was a fem/imm Merlin as it pursued a couple of Meadow Pipits before settling on a post on the 'Plains' exactly the spot where I'd had one last January.

Back to the Foot It challenge and Jo and I spent the afternoon walking to Pit-house West and RV.  A full 8 mile round trip which was more notable for the shear dearth of birds, though I did see the duck whose name we shall not speak taking me up to 86 and 102.4% Annoyingly Pete and Roy had an Oystercatcher, Caspian Gull and Grey Partridge at Orgreave, all of which would have been very useful indeed.

Nice to see a Buzzard feeding on worms in a field next to the busy A57. Twenty years ago I'd have given it more than just a passing glance, and probably taken some better photos!

Having passed my target with relative ease (though I have been lucky) I'm  now thinking that with continued luck I could hit 100 by the end of the month and having now clocked up around 48 miles I'm also aiming for 100 miles.

6th January. Leg It...

My third Foot It venture yesterday and I decided to make it a big one, a great big 15.59 mile (that's what the GPS said when I got back) round trip taking in a variety of habitat from mature woodland, farmland, heath (well the nearest thing that we have to it) a reservoir, reclaimed mining areas and a couple of subsidence flashes.

Leaving the house I struck Foot It gold, just 100m from the front door, with a species that I've never seen in the Rother Valley during 30 years of birding the area - Nuthatch!  Obviously this wasn't on my target list, they just don't occur around here, even in the most mature woodlands.  A great start and exactly what this challenge is about, finding out what's on your doorstep.

I'd actually added another doorstep species earlier in the day with a Tawny Owl calling at 2am starting the day on 58 species.  Given the saturated ground this was going to be a walk in wellies, so I had a plentiful supply of blister plasters.

The first few miles was fairly sterile soggy arable farmland. I picked up a few easy species namely; Skylark, Fieldfare, Stock Dove and the target species here Red-legged Partridge.  I failed to pick up Grey Partridge here and everywhere else today.  Walking through to Ulley I got Bullfinch, Goldcrest and Green Woodpecker. The target species here was Tree Sparrow and tweeting the semi-resident ranger the afternoon ensured that the feeding station was stocked up and I duly connected albeit with just one.  A text to a former Ulley birder gave me a tip off for Long-eared Owl, it just so happened that I was stood in the exact spot when he rang me and some one of the harder target species was on the list.

Dropping down towards the River Rother and Blue Man's Bower I crossed a field with three sheep, well two sheep and a very inquisitive ram.  After an initial sniff at my bag, presumably drawn to my delicious pie, his inquisitiveness turned to aggression and a couple of firm strikes to my side had me legging it across the field! I only picked up a Lesser Redpoll between Ulley and Blue Man's Bower but added Water Rail at Bolehill and Little Grebe at Catcliffe Flash before having the last few hours of daylight at Orgreave.

I knew the patch wouldn't let me down and I was right. The Red-crested Pochard that I'd found on a non-Foot It visit the day before was still present and a Short-eared Owl posed for me on a post, unfortunately I'd left the camera at home so had to settle for a woeful phone through bins shot. A few big gaps in the list were filled namely; Common Gull, GBB Gull, Linnet, Meadow Pipit and a conscience easing Shelduck - the RV bird although wild is too fond of the plastic ducks.

I could have gone to another nearby site for Snipe and Jack Snipe but decided to leave them for next weekend.  The journey from Orgreave to home is 3 miles and usually takes a few minutes in the car, however this time I would have to do it on foot to validate the whole day.  It's not only 3 miles it's also uphill all the way. By the time I got home I was hurting but Jo had the bath run and the tally at 77 species was well worth it.

I only had an hour to spare this morning so had a short walk around the woods behind the house succesfully picking up Treecreeper and Buzzard.  Unfortunately the two Caspian Gulls on the patch this evening were car assisted so it looks like next weekend will involve carting the scope/tripod around.