Strips of Sky

strips of sky

cloud in pen and wash

“It’s a shame that I can’t turn my chair around and look out of the window.” says Betty when we visit her in her first floor ward in the old building at Pinderfields. Sitting at the end of the bed all I can see is a strip of sky framed by one end of the vertical blinds. Inevitably the sky changes continuously as I paint and having such a limited field of view means that I can’t follow a particular cloud as it moves – morphing as it goes – from west to east.

clouds, brown inkWith the tail end of a cold I’m not in the alert responsive mode that you need to keep track of changing colour and changing forms simultaneously, so I go for my ArtPen loaded with brown ArtPen ink, blotting the lines with my waterbrush for a rudimentary pen and wash effect.

Spring Mill

Spring Mill DamIt’s surprising to find so much open space between suburban Ossett , one of its industrial estates and junction 40 of the M1. From Spring Mill Lane, now closed to traffic, there are views across the playing fields and the 9 hole Springmill Municipal Golf Course south across the Calder Valley to Woolley Edge and east to the scrubby scarp slope of Lupset. Most of the wildlife interest here lies in the narrow valley of Spring Mill Beck, landscaped in the 1970s or 1980s as a public open space and now popular with dog walkers.

Spring Mill

moorhensOn the pond – which I guess is what remains of the old mill dam – there were fifty Mallards, mainly drakes with a pair of Moorhens skulking along the bank.

Squirrel's dreyI wouldn’t have guessed that this bundle of twigs was a squirrel’s drey if I hadn’t seen one Grey Squirrel follow another into it. It must be a snug fit for them.

The male – often several males – pursue the female during courtship, which takes place in December and again in May.

long-tailed titIn the plantation beyond the dam Long-tailed Tits made their way through the branches while Blackbirds foraged in the leaf litter below. A flock of Goldfinches flitted about in bushes close to adjacent back gardens, perhaps attracted to bird-feeders there.

Cutting Back

backgardenIt’s a good time of year to cut back hedges and shrubs in the garden so that we’ll have a light, airy space ready to plant the veg beds in the spring.

shedOur garden shed has for years been so overgrown with Ivy and so overhung by Hawthorn that visually it’s become an extension of the hedge. It’s now looking more like a shed again, shedthe Ivy cut back to the level of the gutters so that they won’t get blocked with leaves again so easily. Cutting back the hedge reveals that the roofing felt has rotted away in places so I want to re-felt it before the spring.

Golden HornetWe chose the Golden Hornet crab apple as the ideal wildlife/decorative tree for a small garden. It is briefly covered with blossoms in the spring then in the late summer their are masses of golden apples, each half the size of a golf ball but these turn brown with the first frosts. pruned crab appleThis is usually when Blackbirds and other thrushes really start to take an interest in them. It’s now about twice the size that I’d originally imagined that it would grow to when I planted it about 20 years ago so today we’ve lopped off some of the branches to give it a more symmetrical goblet shape.

frost in the gardenEven in our small, sheltered garden there are differences in microclimate from one side to another. In the beds on the south-west side in the shade and shelter of a tall hedge, much of the soil remains frozen while on the sunnier north-east side, it has thawed out.

Seckar Heath

Ivy at Seckar HeathLush, evergreen and a mistily mysterious; there’s a jungly feel to the hollow around the ponds below Seckar Heath.  Shaggy columns of Ivy-covered Silver Birches rise from an understorey of Rhododendrons. One of the birch boughs has fallen by the path, perhaps brought down by the extra weight of snow gathering on the Ivy.

The ponds were once formal pools in the garden of photographer Warner Gothard who left Seckar Heath to the people of Wakefield and Barnsley when he died in 1960. Seckar Heath, mid-way between the two cities, is a Local Nature Reserve and a Site of Special Scientific Interest.

Seckar HeathFrom the ponds we walk through woodland of oaks and occasional pines (Corsican, I guess) on the steep path up to the heath which lies on an outcrop of gritty sandstone.

Heather shootsOn a patch of heath that appears to have been deliberately burnt or cut, fresh green shoots of Heather are now beginning to regenerate. Oak and birch saplings have been cut back to keep the heath open. Blocks of the heath are cut every 20 years, preventing the trees shading out the Heather which predominates along with Gorse, Bracken and the glossy leaves of Wavy Hair-grass at the top (western) end of the heath.

RedwingsIn the belt of Sessile Oaks and Silver Birches at this end of the reserve, a flock of twenty Redwings are turning over the leaf litter. I always picture Redwings flocking to Hawthorn hedges to feast on the berries so it’s interesting to see them foraging for invertebrates in the same way that Blackbirds and other thrushes would.

Also seen: Long-tailed tit, Woodpigeons, Magpie, Robin, Chaffinch, Jay, Scaly Earthball, Scleroderma verrucosum.

Redpolls in Birches

witches' broomredpollsI was looking up at the Witch’s Broom on the branches of a birch when a flock of about 30 redpolls circled above the trees here in Stoneycliffe Wood nature reserve for a minute or so before settling in the top branches of another birch some distance away. On this dull drizzly morning all that I could make out was their grey-brown rounded silhouettes and a slight v-shaped notch at the end of the tail.

redpollMy hearing doesn’t make the grade when it comes to birdwatching but Barbara could hear the chittering of the flock, usually the first sign of redpolls for those who don’t happen to be looking up at Witches’ Broom as they fly by.

birch bracketThe Witches’ Broom that grows on silver birch in the form of a mass of twigs that you might at first take to be a nest or squirrel’s drey is caused by the fungus Taphrina turgida. Another, unrelated, fungus on a birch stump nearby was birch bracket, Piptoporus betulinus.

honey fungusVelvet Shank, Flammulina velutipes (left), growing here on an oak log, is a winter fungus with the ability to survive freezing.

Turkey TailTurkeytail, Trametes versicolor, is another bracket fungus which grows on birch stumps and on other deciduous timber.

male fernThe shuttlecock tufts of male fern, Dryopteris filis-mas, have been flattened by the snow but the fronds are still green. The lower stems of male fern are covered with scales on male fernbrown scales (right).

Waxwings in Ossett

Waxwing in rowan, the Market Place, Ossett.

THAT’S HANDY; the town hall clock records the time of day. I’d popped into the travel agent’s on Monday morning and asked for a holiday destination where Barbara and I can go to see wildlife and when I came out, in what seemed like a lucky omen re. our planned trip,

Waxwing with rowan berry

three waxwings flew down into a small tree right in front of me. I had time to get out my little camera and take three photographs. Terrible as wildlife photographs but at least it’s a record. It must be at least 10 years since I saw waxwings.

More: see Wild West Yorkshire 20 December 2010