Squirrels in the Sycamores

Stripped bark

Against a clear blue sky, the winter sun picks out slashes of creamy white on the top branches of a tall sycamore, which I suspect are the result of grey squirrels stripping the bark. There’s no sign of damage on the adjacent oak but its bark, loaded with tannins, is probably not as nutritious as that of the sycamore.

The sycamore is probably the nearest that the squirrels can get to the tastier-sounding sugar maple, which, like the grey squirrel, is a native of North America.

In the topmost branches of another sycamore, a squirrel leans out to pick off buds from slender twigs which it eats, one after the other: a healthy snack.

Hornets’ Nest

Hornets at the nest hole, 13 August, 2017.
New shoots springing from the old ash stump: a natural equivalent of a coppice stool.

In the summer and early autumn, hornets nested in an old ash trunk in the parkland near the Pleasure Grounds. By mid-autumn the trunk had rotted through at the base and come adrift from its roots but it was prevented from falling towards the path by the surrounding stout stems, which had sprung up around it: a natural equivalent of coppice shoots.

Frass in old cavities in ash.

Now it has fallen back in the other direction and it lies on the ground. I can’t see the cavity that contained the hornets’ nest – it’s probably hidden on the underside – but all the timber is riddled with tunnels, some of them stuffed with frass, which has set hard like fine-textured chipboard.

Parkland Birds

Fieldfares and starlings

The fine cold morning has brought in fieldfares, twenty-five of them. We’ve been expecting them to turn up here on the grassy slopes of the Obelisk Park.

Also back this morning, on a small, partly iced over pool in the corner of a grassy field just beyond the park boundary, are fifty wigeon, which often graze on the short turf here.

Joining the regular great tits, blue tits, coal tits and robins in the lakeside woods is a goldcrest, which, thanks to its size – along with the firecrest, it’s our joint smallest British bird – can inspect the slenderest of twigs.

A jay flies up into a sapling and we notice that it seems to be keeping an eye on a kestrel, a falcon of open spaces which seems a bit incongruous in this woodland setting.

It settles for a while, looking out over the lake. We rarely get such a good view of a kestrel and I make a mental note of its yellow beak, tipped in black; the tear-drop shaped dark patch beneath its eye; and the russet tan plumage of its back, speckled with dark brown.

As it flies to another perch, it shows pale grey tail feathers, banded with dark brown, almost black, at the tips.

Mallards and Mute Swans

Midwinter is hardly over but already, on the ice-fringed Lower Lake, the mallards have mating in mind. A drake head-bobs as he swims around the duck prior to mating.

As we round a corner by a lakeside bench, we disturb a heron. It must be getting tired of seeing us as we disturbed it here, same time, same place, yesterday morning.

One of the two cygnets of the mute swan family on the Middle Lake has now lost the last of its grey feathers. It’s now almost an adult, except for its bill which gives it away as a juvenile: this looks as if that has been given a coat of grey undercoat prior to the final coat of orange, which looks so striking on the adults.

The other cygnet still has a some grey on its back, as do the four cygnets of the swan family on the Lower Lake. They seem to be spending more time away from the adults, this morning at the far end of the side arm of the lake.

At the lakeside, a cigar-shaped seed-head of reedmace disperses a couple of wisps of its downy seeds. It has been calculated that one stalk can produce 200,000 seeds.

Roadside Buzzard


On the lane between Notton and Woolley, a kestrel sits, hunched and huddled, in a roadside tree.

At Woolley Edge, there’s a flash of colour as a jay gets up from a roadside verge. Oak trees grow along the sandstone ridge here, so perhaps it was burying, or retrieving, an acorn.

As we reach the open higher ground at Bretton roundabout, we pass a buzzard sitting on a fence-post at the edge of the road.

As we get nearer to Flockton, we see a second kestrel, hovering over the field by the road.

Notton in the 1800s

Notton from the original Ordnance Survey map, 3D view created in Memory Map.

Looking at our route on the original Ordnance Survey map from the 1800s, I’m surprised to see what a busy landscape this was, with its sandstone quarries, gravel pits and a brick kiln where George Lane meets the Wakefield to Barnsley road.

Just north of the gravel pit there are kennels and, more exotically, three-quarters of a mile to the northeast, there’s a Menagerie, which was part of the Chevet Hall estate.

An osier bed, near the top right corner of my map, would have produced the flexible whips of willow needed for basketmaking.

Song Thrush

song thrushsong thrushThe song thrushes are now running a shuttle service feeding their young in the beech hedge behind the wheelie bins in our front garden. While one parent watches warily with a beak-full of food before flying down to the back of hedge the other is foraging for the next feed in the back garden, dealing with a small slug on the patio, leaving a sticky mess on the paving slab.

kestrelThe meadow, no longer grazed by a pony, is now a regular hunting ground for a kestrel, which hovers at forty or fifty feet and occasionally plunges down among the grasses.

Thornhill Hall Moat

thornhill lake2 p.m., cloudy with spots of rain: Two kestrels are perching in the treetops, including in a tall lime, in Thornhill Park on the slope above the moat of the old hall, destroyed during a Civil War seige One of the kestrels sees off a wood pigeon but going down onto the ground it’s the kestrel that gets pestered, by a pair of magpies.

kestrel soarsIn the hedgerows ground-ivy, red dead-nettle, chickweed, dandelion, dogs mercury and lesser celandine are in flower, magpiealthough on this cool afternoon the celandine flowers are closed.


Kestrel perched in the a tree in Coxley near a couple of Wood Pigeons; it was instantly distinguishable from them, even in at a distance, by its distinctive silhouette; a cross between a juggler's club and banana-shaped.

WE ENJOYED dipping into a couple of hampers that friends and family had bought us for Christmas and although it was a welcome treat to indulge in the selection of pork pies, patés and home-made chocolates, the result was that we ended up a few pounds over our target weight by the time the new year arrived. And we can’t just blame the hampers; we’d been slipping a bit in our healthy eating ever since our holiday in Switzerland last summer. Whatever the reason, new year seems like the right time to make a fresh start.

We’ve been going for food with fewer calories, for instance soups and a kind of rustic stew of seasonal vegetables made with a dash of Worcestershire Sauce but we’re also determined to get out a bit more and burn up a few calories in the process.

Hazel catkins had opened where the path from Thornhill comes down to Mill Bank lock on the canal.

Walking can burn somewhere between 100 and 175 calories per hours so on our 1 hour 40 minute walk to Thornhill Park and back this morning we burnt a good 150 calories or more – which I guess was about equivalent to the muesli etc that we ate for breakfast!

However, if we’d sat around all morning, we wouldn’t even have burnt off our breakfast.

A View of the Wood

SINCE I moved my computer to the window end of my studio, I’ve seen the heron flying along by the wood a couple of times. This morning I was surprised to see a Kestrel hovering above the hawthorn hedge at the end of the garden. It might have been on the look-out (with its left eye) for voles in our rough patch of meadow or it might have had its (right) eye on the field beyond the hedge.

All the work involved in reorganising my studio has meant that I’ve done very little drawing during the past week, except, at the weekend, a design for this year’s Christmas card so this hand, chair and cast iron pillar in a mill are all that I’ve drawn in odd free moments.