Wildlife Column with Prof Ian Rotherham
With darkness falling, a female kestrel hovered over the damp pasture in Sheffield’s Mayfield Valley; an area which remains one of Sheffield’s least damaged landscapes.
The countryside here is popular with visitors and yet has a depth that resonates back to before the Norman Conquest and with more than a tinge of romantic nostalgia. The site of Fulwood Hall for example, has been linked (though not historically proven), to the estate of Earl Waltheof one of the last great Saxon earls. Whatever the truth is, the area is rich in history and in associated ecology too as evidenced by the kestrel that drops momentarily to the ground. The bird of prey rises seconds later with its catch, perhaps a mouse or vole, tightly gripped in its talons. Silently the bird drifts off into a clump of mature trees where it will make short work of its late afternoon snack.
As the sun sets beyond the moor west of the valley, the tawny owls become more vocal
with several birds calling from pockets of woodland all along the Porter Brook, which runs west to east, and down into Sheffield centre. I wonder how many pairs of owls there are in this wonderful green corridor. Smaller birds, in flocks and groups, are going to roost in areas of scrub such as the rhododendron and laurel bushes on the valley slopes, their excited chattering and contact calls give away the different species with blue tits, great tits, and long-tailed tits in good numbers. Siskins and redpolls are joining with greenfinches and chaffinches too. A solitary bullfinch, silhouetted against the blue sky, calls softly from a tall hawthorn bush whilst a dipper bobs amongst the tumbling cascade of water below the Forge Dam. This is an uncommon bird but they do like fast-flowing rivers and stony rapids and in winter, they tend to range around new areas in search of suitable territories. As we walk through darkened woods amongst tall trees, occasional blackbirds flit onto the footpath, perhaps catching a last worm or other tasty morsel before nightfall.