Friday, 28 April 2017

Wealthy Landowners Speak Out

It's a fair assumption that anything that comes from the Countryside Alliance will be anti-wildlife and  designed to further the interests of wealthy landowners and the shooting fraternity.

Peace Declared

The scrapping between Robins continued throughout the winter and, as far as could be seen, went on irrespective of gender. This morning a rather heavy calm prevailed between the two.

The male was later seen feeding the female in a typical courtship ritual.

Meanwhile birds were active elsewhere, warblers  ...

... and Stonechats.

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Dry Spring

When drawing attention to dry weather it's time to check out waterproofs and galoshes. No significant rain for weeks and the additional effect of recent low temperatures makes a difference to anyone's walk. Footpaths are rarely like this in spring.

Suburban streets benefit from a longer period of cherry blossom. On Blacka the paths are easier underfoot. This morning low shrubs and birch scrub are beautifully fringed with frost.

In the woods the crushed leaves and windfall twigs are about the pleasantest surface to walk on you could find anywhere.

And even the muddiest sections are temporarily easy walking.

Tuesday, 25 April 2017


At no other time of year and no other time of day do we get this spectacle quite as now. We're looking into the light shortly after sunrise with the new leaves illuminated from behind. In many ways this backlit yellow-green sums up the atmosphere of spring especially when there is an accompanying musical effect provided by warblers all around and Blackbirds at intervals below in the lower woodland.

There the tops of Larch have seen the sun before the Pine while snow on the west facing slopes has just caught its first daylight. A bitter wind from the north and earlier snow flurries have encouraged the young deer to seek the best shelter while still benefitting from the warmth of the sun.

Sunday, 23 April 2017

High and Low

Still no cuckoo. Maybe tomorrow. But plenty of others.


Classy entertainment for early diners at the Wall Caff, rapidly moving upmarket these days. Again all three warblers were around though the undoubted star is again the Blackcap.

For a while the Robin, while waiting to be served, made a contribution of his own as if to show the newcomers that the residents are not so easily eclipsed.

Perched higher up the Blackcap politely paused then started again.

It's easy to tell Blackcap from Garden Warbler when you're lucky enough to see them. As the days go on trees become less open and more leafy so there's less chance of that. The songs of these two virtuoso warblers are remarkably similar. My own rule of thumb for identifictaion is simply that the Blackcap's phrases tend to be shorter - most of the time.

Saturday, 22 April 2017


On the exposed hills native growth comes through more slowly but more surely. A few feet of altitude is enough to underline the difference; reliable old friends refuse to be rushed and are more respected for it.

A little shelter helps a lot. Slightly down the eastern slope birch in leaf is vibrant in morning sun but higher up the leaves are hardly showing at all.

All may change in a day or two. Oak will not join in the dash to Spring until well and truly persuaded.

Low down and sheltered is a young Oak fortunately spared the chain saw for now. It has begun to show red leaves, more brave than the older neighbour.

By this time last year I had heard the cuckoo, surprisingly perhaps in that this year, in other ways, things are more advanced. April 2016 was cold on Blacka with frosts and snow, cuckoo and all.

Residents and Guests

 These days are among the very best of the year.

For those of us who see and hear the same place day by day throughout the seasons the sudden transformations are little short of a miracle. Go back a week and we felt privileged to hear the songs of Chaffinch and Chiffchaff, names confusingly similar for completely different birds with completely different songs. Now the sheer beauty of the songs of Willow Warblers and Blackcaps provides a lovely backing to the home-grown Blackbirds, territorially spaced out across the woods and open land.

Our little residents who've been with us through winter months now feed at the Caff to the astonishingly rich accompaniment of three different warblers. Dining in style. There seems no competition between the regulars and the newcomers who don't feed at the bird table, quite unlike the winter warfare, mainly restricted to Robins, of which we now have just a pair. We must remember that the summer visitors qualify for UK passports, blue of course, having been born here, unlike the winter visiting robins who are Europeans currently persona non grata and the source of all evil for readers of certain newspapers.

Deer are currently enjoying the new leaves of Bilberry, plus young Rowan and Birch saplings, a welcome change from their  restricted winter diet mainly consisting of bramble leaves.

This small herd is doing, unmanaged, wild and without subsidy, what SRWT would have us believe makes the introduction of cattle necessary. And doing it better and less intrusively in today's vivid Spring sunlight.  And soon, too soon, the wretched cows will be dumped on us, and, forgive the reminder, dumping on us, just that. But you can understand the managers' view. We can't have the unmanaged doing a decent job. That's surely the preserve of managers! If we're not careful it will get about that nature can manage without human guidance.

Looking just a little unsure of himself a yearling stag sports his new velvets.

Friday, 21 April 2017


Just so.

And wandering across moorland kept artificially treeless is what?  ...   alien and dispossessed??

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Philloscopus trochilus

Those who are thrilled by the sudden invasion of Willow Warblers filling the woods with a song that says so much about the meaning of Spring, should be out early any sunny morning now, even frosty ones like today. Now they have a better chance than ever to see the birds before they remain hidden behind leaves.

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Eyesores Update

The view from Blacka, at its best, and from certain vantages, can be as fine as anything in the district. When taking photographs or even painting landscapes we tend to choose the best outlooks if we can and ignore those that, for various reasons, offend our senses.

But when we are simply walking and casually scanning the surrounding view our eyes take in more than the limited selection framed by an artist and there are a few eyesores that force themselves on the attention, by virtue of disproportionate scale or poor design or just being the wrong thing in the wrong place; sometimes it's a combination of any or all of these. A number of these have reduced the appeal over recent years. By recent I mean the last 30 years or so; after all the landscape has been here for many thousands of years and for much of that time remained largely the same to any observer looking down from the western hills. Because Blacka's view looks east as it slopes up to higher ground to the west, the best middle distance views are in the area around Dore, Totley, Bradway and Holmesfield. Inevitably the least attactive aspects are also in those parts and mainly in the Dore vicinity.

The most offensive buildings are usually the largest. The retirement flats at Fairthorn have been the subject of controversy since they first went up. The building's prominent position should have made it only suitable for an example of the most distinguished architecture. Instead it was designed by a jobsworth firm to a brief that was changed partway through to allow for an extra floor, hence extra profit for the owners. Aesthetically it's a scandal and the worst of that is the ease with which it sailed through Sheffield's planning system, upvc windows and all. Each time my eyes turn that way I still find it hard to believe it's there; but then Sheffield's Town Hall is not noted for good taste and professional enlightenment. The sun still catches the roof tiles in early hours of the day making it impossible to ignore.

This view combines the blot in Dore with one of SWT's latest blots. The heather might as well have been burned for grouse production. It beats me that some people enthuse about 'open' heather moorland yet don't seem to make the connection - that this too is an industrial site prone to being scarred for industrial purposes.

Whatever King Ecgbert's School's internal values are from the hills around the unrelenting straight lines are ablot on the landscape almost as irritating as Fairthorn.

Not long ago Old Whitelow Farm at the head of Whitelow Lane looked to be a positive story. After many years of storing caravans intrusively all the caravans disappeared, seemingly coinciding with sales of the land. The stone buildings seen from Blacka are not unattractive in themselves and compatible with similar local properties that blend well with a district that visible from a national park. For several months we've been able to think the previous incompatibility had been removed. Now suddenly all has changed and things are back to what caused the initial problem. But instead of 30 or so caravans there have now appeared many more cars obviously stored for some industrial purpose.


Oilseed rape crops have recently been appearing in May. They are not favoured by those with a sensitive eye for the landscape of 50 years ago and earlier. Should any more of the green fields seen from these hills take on a yellow look in early spring it will take the edge off the enjoyment of many.


There's not much wrong with a morning in Spring like this. It bids to be one of the best in the year in fact. The air is full of new arrivals amazingly singing with energy after that remarkable journey from the other side of the Sahara.

Flowers are blooming in the moss over dead wood. The light is perfect and our fellow mammals are loving it too.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Wood Sorrel, Birch and Oak

Spring slowly penetrates on higher ground and the wood floor is one of the first places to find it. There's not a better and more perfect example than the Wood Sorrel with its triple leaves and its opening and closing white flower.

But some parts look little different to March. Here the Birch is well behind those in the valleys while bilberry leaves are showing green leaves and flowers too.

The real test that seasons have changed is on the native oak. Having clung on to its dead leaves through much of winter the tough outer layers of the leaf buds remain protecting the tender growth inside. It's often not till late May or even early June that it finally commits itself. On one youngish oak I've watched the weekly progress of Spring through many years.

This is what it looks like now:

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

More Legs

But only two each.

Yesterday morning there were two Willow Warblers. Today was more like a hundred and two. Not that the other birds were silent; they were simply eclipsed.

Easier to see at this time before branches become heavy with leaves, and legs also possibly to see as paler.

That should be an end of this obsession with legs.

Monday, 10 April 2017

Show a Leg

With the greening over comes the Willow Warbler, now joining the Blackcap and his near-identical relative the Chiffchaff. Telling the difference is a problem unless you actually see them singing. The other way is to get a good look at their legs, the Chiffchaff's being black and the Willow Warbler's paler. So all you have to do is persuade your bird to come close enough and stay still while you stare.

Turning Green

Despite the spectacle of orange at dawn, it's green that captures the attention for the rest of the day. Always in Spring we feel we've had to wait long enough.

These days when things are on the change it's interesting looking at the differences as the eye tracks from lower lands to higher. These more exposed birch are well behind those in the sheltered valleys.

Variations are also between species, with Sycamore making the pace while others hold back.

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Gothic Awakenings

Others may have been yearning for Spring to arrive hoping to view the first bluebells or to get a kick out of hosts of daffodils.

But some have been waiting to greet a more menacing spectacle.

Arrival of Coloratura

Operatic sounds in the woods at 6.30 this morning.

Saturday, 8 April 2017

The Polish Touch

The Polish government has amended a tree protection law, setting in motion a logging operation that has already caused damage to woodland and doubtless great delight to obsessive chain-saw lovers. SWT might consider sending its own staff to Poland to join in the massacre thus sparing some of our much loved trees. Unfortunately even that would be too late for one view.

This picture, from this morning is the view as it is now:

This was taken a few years ago.

Something is missing and a closer look reveals ..

Nobody from SWT has seen fit to tell us why the Larch was felled, so we have to make do with our own explanation which is that the tree was cut down simply to provide work for someone. Reports from visitors who have asked staff why say that different SWT people give contradictory explanations; and that suggests it was probably a whim of the moment: man with chain saw was there, what do we tell him to do next?

There are those who have hinted that criticism of SWT/SRWT here is over-the-top. And I do have a bit of a guilty conscience that swells up inside me from time to time. Are we expecting too much? Isn't it a bit like giving in to a 4 year old and letting him play with your power tools then getting cross when you find holes have been drilled all over the dining table? We ourselves must take blame for letting things happen. Maybe we could say it is our council and our councillors who are responsible. They, as we've said before, have been next to useless have they not? But there again we elected them didn't we? You may respond: no I didn't,  my vote went to someone else so my vote didn't count. So what can we do about that?  ...... Well we could do worse than attend a meeting of Sheffield for Democracy and the Make Votes Matter campaign on Monday evening at the Quaker Meeting House James St Sheffield at 7 pm.

See you there!

Push and Pull?

Not often seen on Blacka but Dr Dolittle may be interested.

Friday, 7 April 2017

Shooting Wildlife for Fun and Profit

Not being able to see myself ever wanting to shoot wildlife for pleasure makes it less easy to understand or empathise with those who do. I think at times I’ve been guilty of underestimating just how deeply ingrained shooting is among those who see themselves as country people (including those who work in the Square Mile). Shooting can be within the law and outside the law. Both happen on National Trust land as well as private land. That makes it even more an issue of real public concern, much more so, I would say, than whether NT always uses the word Easter when it maybe should.

It’s been mainly bird watchers who’ve been active in petitioning the NT against grouse shooting on their land principally in the region of NT’s estates in the High Peak. They have, inevitably, been lobbied also from the other side by shooters  themselves. The big problem of course is that those who manage moors to provide grouse shooting for wealthy bankers etc. from the city, don’t like the fact that some of the grouse get to become food for other wildlife. Inevitably many birds of prey and other predators get killed: for the culprits it's hard to think you need to look further than those who gain by the absence of predators, and some gamekeepers have been successfully prosecuted. The whole business of managing moors for grouse tends towards the eradication of anything that is the grouse’s enemy – except man-with-gun who somehow survives to kill again. In parts of the country even mountain hares are being shockingly killed in large numbers because they are deemed incompatible with management of grouse moors. For some us we only need to look at a grouse moor to know there's something deeply wrong, even corrupt about it.

I have tried to keep this blog to matters that directly relate to Blacka Moor, and I don’t think I’ve strayed from that very often.  But it would be wrong to ignore some of what goes on elsewhere because it sets much of the management here in a context; especially when some of it is not very far away and involves some of the people and organisations that have a direct link with this local landscape. It's possible that some shooting has happened on Blacka and there’s no doubt that wildlife gets shot for fun on adjoining land. The nature of the activity means it's hard to know how much; those who partake are not keen on being observed, but every so often evidence comes to light.

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Daffodils: Love, Hate or Tolerate?

Feelings run quite high on this subject and not many are neutral. But you don't have to loathe daffodils to disapprove of people planting the bulbs almost everywhere.

A recent debate online aired various views but mostly strong reservations.

That was followed up by an article in The Guardian expressing a different opinion.

There is of course a native Wild Daffodil that grows in certain parts of Britain with no help from man; that's the variety Wordsworth came across when wandering like a cloud. But what is being referred to here is any one of the many hybrid varieties that have increasingly been planted by people who simply like to see them wherever they go. A line of them has appeared along the side of the road at the dangerous bend by Piper House, planted, presumably, by council employees. There are also planted bulbs at various places on Blacka.

Patrick Barkham speaks up for the daffodils saying we should  concentrate on the invasive species which do significant damage. But there has to be a case for saying where should this stop? Some people like to use wilder parts of the countryside to scatter the ashes of their relatives and even their dogs, accompanied by one or more bulbs. How far should that go? It may be true that they do no harm that can be measured by the usual ecological criteria. The more serious charge against them is that they can overwhelm some of the attractive  but less showy wild flowers, in much the same way as loud amplified sound may drown out quieter music.

The humble but much loved Lesser Celandine is growing here, just coming as an early spring flower, but what most people will see is the imported daff above it:

Two questions demand some thought:
How does this debate fit alongside attitudes to the rhododendron?
Would one's view be the same if people began to plant native daffodil bulbs?

And yet another. Did even Wordsworth really not think ten thousand was more than enough?