We left the warm and friendly Visitor Centre at Anglers Country Park – the perfect winter walk location for its 28 Rochdale visitors.
We walked down the short lane, amidst calling Tits, Chaffinches and Tree Sparrows, admiring the Male ferns in adjacent damp ditches and a lovely, perfect specimen of Golden Scaly Male fern, as we made our way towards the meadows alongside the waters of Wintersett and Cold Hiendley reservoirs.
A flock of cautious Pink-footed geese peeked over the skyline of the meadow, carefully observing the gaggle of humans progressing towards Wintersett. We climbed the embankment to gain expansive views over the vast waters holding numerous and varied collections of waterfowl who seek winter refuge here – Goldeneye, Gadwall, Pochard, Wigeon, Mallard, Grebes, and Tufted ducks as well as the ubiquitous Mute Swans and Coots. Of course, there were many gulls, the commonest by far, as usual, being Black Headed.
Adjacent, and stretching away below us, lay the foot of the narrow, wooded Cold Hiendley reservoir holding similar but fewer duck species plus a wary female Goosander and a solitary Heron. We descended to follow the narrow footpath skirting the length of this reservoir with tantalising views through the curtain-like winter branches of birch and willow of the ducks cruising the waters beyond – with glimpses of Swans with well-grown cygnets, elegant Gadwalls, showy plumaged male Goldeneyes and a diving group of Tufted ducks. Beside the path a fully-flowering (somewhat confused?) Angelica plant was surviving well.
The wet woodlands here were very productive of fungi: the birches held their usual Birch Polypore, but also a puzzling pale species of Oyster fungus, and the somewhat rarer, Hoof fungus which seemed to be thriving in this damp habitat. There were many Blushing Bracket fungi in various shades of reddening as well as Turkey Tail, Hairy Curtain Crust and Velvet Shank. We also encountered the black jelly blobs of Witches Butter, Candle Snuff and the purply Silver Leaf fungus. *
Lunch was taken on the embankment at the far end which had fine views across the water, but which was decidedly chilly: we didn’t stay too long!
Our route now joined the leafy corridor of a defunct section of the once-thriving Barnsley canal which had brought much-needed coal into the area. Now, in its decaying years it has become a sheltering haven for summer wildlife – and for a winter-foraging squirrel.
The woodland of Haw Park stretched up from the canal banks into the distance, and we eventually left the canal to take the footpath skirting the western woodland edge giving us views over the adjacent farmland. In the distant, sheltered, field-corner we were pleased to find a few Redwings with a surprising eighteen Blackbirds searching and poking the grassland amongst companionable sheep. We turned to walk beside an arable field, where we pondered for a while upon the interesting galls found on an oak tree: ‘Spangle’, ‘Silk button’, ‘Cherry’ and ‘Artichoke’.
Eventually we reached the ancient wall which formed the boundary constructed by Charles Waterton in the early 1820’s around his huge estate. A man well before his time, Waterton was a well-travelled, important naturalist/author who eventually walled his entire estate, making him the first man ever known to make a ‘nature reserve’. He was the first to construct ‘bird boxes’, and to erect several small circular stone huts or ‘hides’ in which he observed the wildlife within his park. The lovely old sandstone boundary wall is still very tall, but amazingly eroded, leaving a hollowed curvy-patterned creamy-golden surface, full of cavities and deep holes, only held together in parts by its stronger cement. We observed a small nest hidden away in a hole – which would have thrilled Waterton. He could never have imagined that he had constructed a perfect habitat for countless creatures which now use these safe, warm wall cavities – now a treasured home for wildlife.
We turned and followed Waterton’s high wall with the pinewoods marching beside us. It was winter-quiet, the silence barely broken by the sighing breeze in the tops of the conifers. We were suddenly aware of an explosion of quiet movement: a flock of small birds – travelling together for safety – whirled through the trees, using contact calls, moving steadily, exploring all possibilities for food. Most were tit species: Coal, Blue and Great tits, but they were also accompanied by Chaffinches and a Nuthatch. In five minutes they were gone and the silence fell again. We once had Crossbills in these woods, but we were disappointed on this occasion.
Shortly after leaving the woodlands our route took us over fields where a flowering Hogweed took us by surprise – then back to Anglers Visitor Centre where some headed for the cafe, but others made their way over to the large, comfortable wooden hide overlooking a quiet bay. Here, at the near edge, were small islets and lagoons where birds sheltered: many Lapwings had taken possession of one linear islet, whilst Cormorants held another. Shovellers enjoyed feeding in this shallow area, but further out a group of four Little Grebes were diving – possibly a family group. In the next bay, Wigeon cruised around – but would normally be found grazing upon the grassy embankments of this reservoir. Out in the main waters, the mixed gull population loafed about; their numbers would gradually swell as dusk approached, as this water with Wintersett, are important gull roosts.
As the day drew to a close, it became quieter, and we took a last look at the birdfeeders. This time we all had good views of Tree Sparrows, Robins and numerous Tits busily feeding up for the night. Amongst the Chaffinches, we finally saw a beautiful Brambling – a winter visitor from northern climates with its lovely russet shoulder-mantles. A perfect end to the day.
We had a total bird species of 59, of which 26 were waterfowl or associated with the waters including Kingfisher, 20 associated with woodland or hedges and 13 associated with farmland or were generalist species such as corvids, pigeons/doves, Kestrel and Buzzards.
As we left the estate a Roe deer bounded across our path.
Sonia Allen 15.1.18
* Fungi ‘proper’ Latin names:
Birch Polypore, Piptoporus betulinus
Oyster fungus, Pleurotus ostreatus
Hoof fungus, Fomes-fomentarius
Blushing Bracket, Daedaleopsis-confragosa
Turkey Tail, Trametes-versicolor
Hairy Curtain Crust Stereum-hirsutum
Velvet Shank, Flammulina-velutipes
Witches Butter, Exidia-glandulosa
Candle Snuff, Xylaria-hypoxylon
Silver Leaf fungus, Chondrostereum purpureum