1978 January to March

January 2nd
Today from the back garden wall I saw flocks of Starlings, with occasional Fieldfares, hunting for worms on Thistle Pasture. They kept landing and then flying off to circle round the farm. It is marvellous to see how they fly together and they all turn in flight exactly together.

January 18th
It has been a bitterly cold day. Snow has fallen but has not been able to stick because it is wet on the ground. I hope it will freeze tonight, so that if it snows again it will stay.

January 19th
This morning I woke to find the land covered in snow. The drifts are as deep as two feet in places and I am allowed to stay off school for the day.

I cleared the bird table of snow and put some bread and crumbled biscuits on it. A Great Tit, Robin and several Blue Tits came to get food, besides some unwanted Starlings. Later on some Sparrows joined the squabble for food.

January 21st
Today it rained nearly all day and most of the snow has gone.

January 22nd
Today I saw a pair of Pochard Ducks and a pair of Tufted Ducks on the lodge. I watched them through my binoculars on the side of the bank. Cindy was with me but they did not move. Yesterday was the end of the shooting season. It was as if they knew it.

January 27th
Two men from the RSPB (of which I am a member) came up. They were wanting to put a box up in the barn to encourage the Barn Owl to come and nest. The Barn Owl is becoming rare, and they want to encourage its numbers. We used to see them quite frequently, but now it is very rare to see one in the barns.

A possible explanation is that we no longer keep pigs. Therefore there are hardly any Mice, and to see a Rat is like seeing the sphinx. These tiny rodents made up the vast amount of the Barn Owl’s diet. Without them it can not survive.

January 29th
On the moors there is snow. Winter Hill lives up to its name: it looks very bleak. Scientists say the reason why we are having such extreme whether is because there are too many sun spots. This only happens every few years.

In Pipe Valley where the huge stone covers the spring, the water has bubbled up and made a water course down into the main stream. On top of the stone I found some fresh Owl pellets. On the hillside by the Rabbit warren in Pipe Valley, some Lichen cups have opened up. On the left hand side of the gate into the Main Meadow from Hill Sixty there are some fresh Mole hills.

February 4th
Today is bitterly cold and grim. There is fog on the moors. I saw ten ducks down at the lodge. I think they were Mallard and Teal. The streams have turned into rivers and the water level at the lodge is the highest I have ever seen. The old wooden posts are just showing above water. The water has come under the fence – in some places it is a foot deep.

February 5th
I saw a Snipe on the lodge side. Last night I saw a glimpse of an Owl that was perched on the lane fence. It flew of into the darkness. Today I thought it must still be in the area, so I went looking for it. I went to the Face Barn and then to the Pump House, but with no luck. Then I went up into the loft of the Old Barn. There was quite a large Tawny Owl sitting on one of the rafters. Daddy gave me a Pigeon for the ferret, but I have left it in the middle of the barn floor for the Owl.

On the top of the well I found a tiny little Frog. I disturbed it from underneath a rag. I was frightened it would get stood upon, so I got a cup and card, and moved it to the Blackcurrant bushes because it will be safer there. There is more cover.

February 10th
I heard a Blackbird making a raucous across at the Old Barn so I guessed there was an owl in the loft. I was right: it was a Tawny Owl, probably the same one as last time. It has eaten the Pigeon and did not fly away when I approached it.

I saw two Rabbits in the Tip Field. Luckily Cindy did not chase the first one, and she didn’t see the second. Most of the Rabbits seem to like living on the fell behind the Tip in winter. It is usually crowded out with Rabbits playing in the snow. I have also noticed that the Rabbits prefer to come out at night in winter. Probably because they will be safer from Foxes, men and dogs; as the Rabbits and their tracks tend to show up more in snow.

February 12th
Snow has fallen in the night and it is quite deep in places. All the ground is covered and I went sledging. It was great fun! Cindy thought so to. It started snowing again at about half past six. It is now ten to eleven and it hasn’t yet stopped. I am delighted: sledging tomorrow should be great fun. However Jack and Daddy won’t be so pleased. If it carries on much longer they won’t be going to work tomorrow.

The reservoir has frozen over. It and the other two smaller ponds are now covered with a layer of snow. I can never remember the lake freezing over before. The snow should be about a foot deep by morning with any luck.

 February 13th
Today England has had the heaviest snow showers yet this Winter. Sheep farmers are having to pay up to £80 a day for hay for their sheep and cattle. In England and Wales and Scotland if the snow continues farmers’ will be bankrupt by the time the thaw comes.

February 18th
At Holy Island 2000 sea birds have been killed by an oil slick. The biggest number ever killed yet. This great tragedy may bring some species near to extinction.

On February the 17th in the morning there was a beautiful orange sun. A complete circle of orange just rising above The Goyht. I saw seven Pigeons by the Tree Barn whilst walking to school. Most days in the morning now there is an orange sun.

February 18th
The wind was strong, wiping the snow against my knees as I trudged through the snow clutching Cindy’s lead. I saw three poachers where the bridge is no more. They had caught two Rabbits, and looked to have a Polecat/Ferret with them. They also had a dog which looked like a smaller version of a greyhound or a lurcher.

Today I saw a set of Fox’s tracks by the Tip and a set of Hare’s tracks in the Hay Meadow. It is terribly cold. The water coming under the fence from the lodge has frozen so hard you can’t rake it with a hammer. The sheep have been walking across it.

February 19th
The wind must be gale force 9, 10 or 11. The snow is been whipped across the land, and on the stone wall in the Croft the snow is as high as the wall. It is blowing through the wall, and flying snow stings your hands, face and legs terribly. Outside it is like waves of stinging snow.

Yesterday huge grey snow clouds passed over at a pace faster than I can walk. I remember there were no Rabbits about as there usually are. I thought they could sense the snow coming but it didn’t snow – instead today this terrible blizzard which is far worse.

February 20th
As I walked to school today the wind was blowing so hard the only way I could look was down. There was three feet of snow by the Pump House Well, and the drifts had nearly covered the wall. The ponds were just slabs of ice.

Scientists say this has been the worst Winter for three decades, and could be the worst of the century. At least the snow is crisp and dry and packed well together. Therefore it is possible to walk over the drifts. As I walked home I saw it was impossible to see the stream, because a cover of slush, snow and ice cover it up. However I could still hear water running underneath.

February 22nd
This morning I could here the drip drip of water everywhere. It was beginning to thaw. Dense fog covered the fields and it was calm and still again, but a few odd birds were singing. When I went to Kelly’s house I noticed there was no ice on the street. On the 20th it had been covered with ice, just like a skating rink. At twelve o’clock it began to rain in sheer torrents. The first rain I had seen for ages.

When I arrived home, the snow and fog had almost completely vanished. Snow was still to be seen in a few odd places, in drifts still upto three feet deep. The ditch by the lane is full of slush and water. Most fields are like marshes with the excess water, upto eight inches deep. At the ford, ice slush and water still cover the stream. I managed to walk across it by daring myself but it was a foolish thing to do. The well is only trickling so a pipe must be blocked by ice or slush.

Today I baked my first scones at school. Daddy said they were delicious. I have just heard on the news that in Devon flood conditions are terrible. The streets are flooded and schools are being used as emergency hostels. Farmers who live out from towns are been dropped food for their sheep and themselves by helicopter. Most farmers have lost a third of their sheep in heavy snow drifts.

February 23rd
Today as I walked home I saw four Pigeons in Pump House Wood and a Blackbird. However the loveliest bird I saw was a Reed Bunting. I came across it on the bridge just before the Pump House. It is very rarely I see one of these birds. I recognized it from other birds by its dark black head.

February 26th
This morning as I walked down the lane I saw three Tufted Duck on the lodge and a flock of Lapwings. The Lapwing are the first I have seen this year. When they were flying about I recognized them by their black backs and white rumps. Then I went Birdwatching by the side of the reservoir. I have never seen so many Ducks on the reservoir in my life. There were about six Tufted, loads of Mallard, and quite a few Teal.

The sky had been grey and overcast with rain clouds, and then it began to rain. It wouldn’t have been too bad if the darn ducks hadn’t kept swimming behind the back of the island, or keep flying over the road back into the lodge. So I decided to go up Hill Sixty instead. The only interesting thing I saw on the Hill was some new young Thistles beginning to grow.

Before I climbed the Hill I found some Fox dung on a Molehill by the wall next to Hill Sixty. When I came back down again I found - sorry Cindy found - a sheep bone that had been chewed by a Fox. I would have let her keep it, but Foxes can pass on germs to dogs through bones they have chewed. So I tuck it home to dispose of it.

As I went across the Croft I saw four Crows flying up through the Mountain Ash Valley. Owls or an Owl have been around lately because I found fresh pellets by the Rabbit burrows near the Tip and at the back of the barns. Counted 22 Starlings on phone wires

Then I went to Pump House Wood. The Alder catkins are hanging down but are still hard, they haven’t opened up yet. Old Rose-bay Willow Herb stalks are standing about in the garden, leafless and bare. There is still a large covering of snow against My Place Hill and by the Hill Sixty wall, where it is three feet deep. Nearly everywhere else it has disappeared. So has the ice and slush. At the Pump House I saw a Kestrel. The first one I have seen for ages. It was chasing some Starlings.

When I went out later on, I saw between 200 and 300 Seagulls. They were stood in the Lane Field by the lodge fence. Mostly Black Headed Seagulls and Herring Gulls. I have never seen so many Seagulls on the farm. The Skylarks have been singing and I saw about seven of them in Radcliffe’s field.

Continued March