+ + Bird Life + +
Welcome to this section, which we hope will add to your enjoyment as you walk this part of the Trail. At present it is not meant as a definitive record of all the birds ever seen along the Trail, but rather as a general guide to encourage people to do more than just walk by, appreciating the nature around them. If you feel you have seen anything that you consider important relating to birds, please get in touch through the contact us facility, as it will help us build up more information about the Trail.
For most of the 10k this section of the Trail is a long, thin, linear strip of woodland consisting predominantly of deciduous trees, although there are some conifers mixed in, and a conifer plantation adjoining the Trail. Either side of the Trail the land is used for both arable and pastoral farming, but there is a lot of heather moorland towards Dunford Bridge. The Trail is not a nature reserve, and as such is not managed for birds - although we hope that as we gain more knowledge, we may be able to provide nest boxes for certain birds where we think they are needed. Many of the trees have grown since the Trail stopped being a railway in 1985, and large numbers of ash and birch have grown along each side. You will notice that in some locations trees have been cut down; great care is taken to do this in the winter months so as not to disturb birds in the nesting season. We hope that removing some of the trees will encourage more wildlife, and will also allow walkers and birdwatchers to see beyond the walls of trees that, in places, line the Trail.
Like any area where you go and hope to see birds, what you see depends upon you, the weather, the time of day and the season. No-one can be sure what they will see, even major bird reserves can sometimes have 'off days', so if you come and don't see many birds don't be disappointed: come again.
From Penistone the Trail runs due west; beyond Dunford Bridge, heather moorland takes over for a short distance, before the Trail runs down into the Longdendale valley. Birds, especially those migrating, often use routes like this to cross from one side of the country to the other, so in autumn and spring when birds are on the move, don't forget to look up; who knows, you might see an osprey!
More realistically, common birds can be seen all along the Trail. Some of the better locations are near houses, where residents put out feeders. All you need to enjoy birdwatching are a pair of lightweight binoculars, a simple pictorial bird guide, and some patience. If you get fed up, sit down on one of the many seats and benches, and let the birds come to you. If you are new to birdwatching or you hear, but don't see, a bird, look on the internet for a bird identification site: the BBC has a good one with pictures, calls and descriptions for common British birds. As you grow more proficient at bird identification, you will learn birdsong and calls which will allow you to get even more enjoyment from your walks on the wildside!
What and Where?
If you are a regular birdwatcher you know that nothing is impossible, and that the strangest of birds can turn up in the strangest of places. The information that follows is of a general nature, and we know that you might well see a bird that is not mentioned. Please remember you can contact us with genuine, sensible information, which we will use to build up the bigger picture - no emus or vultures please!
This basic description of the route gives locations where certain birds are seen on a regular basis. We are assuming you are walking from Penistone towards Dunford bridge, which is 10k (6 miles) in total, and we will use the terms left and right to describe either side of the Trail. You should always have a map; the Ordnance Survey outdoor leisure map OL1 Dark Peak is recommended. A smart phone with Google Maps on will also help, until you have to ask someone with a proper map to tell you where you are!
The short section from Penistone Station to the Skateboard Park runs through housing, yet still seems very rural. Here you might see many of the common birds to be seen all along the trail: greenfinch, chaffinch, bullfinch, goldfinch, great tit, blue tit, long-tail tit, sparrows, dunnock, wren, blackbird, song thrush, mistle thrush, jackdaw, rook, magpie, wood pigeon, collared dove; you may even see a sparrowhawk chasing its dinner. Beyond the skate park is an area of trees to the right; this is Stottercliffe Wood, where in spring you will hear great spotted woodpeckers drumming. These birds are fairly common along the Trail, but difficult to see once the trees are in leaf. Through a short cutting, a path crosses the trail; on the left you have a view across fields. The walls and trees by the Trail here are often the haunt of yellowhammers; on the right there is a small group of larch which attract siskin. Close by is the village of Thurlstone, where there is a small rookery; if you have not heard or seen a rook, you may well see several here. This is also an area where you might hear and see jays.
Continuing under Hornthwaite Bridge, there are some rock faces on your left, where you might see small birds using the cracks for nesting sites. A track crosses the Trail here, and there is an information board here about Thurlstone, with some mature trees to the right of the Trail; this area is favoured by tawny owls. Ahead of you now is a long straight section of Trail, with views to the right across fields to some woods on the hillside, and the village of Millhouse Green. These fields are often damp in places and can be good for pied wagtails. Also, you might look carefully at any stone walls, as you might see a little owl - but don't be disappointed as they blend in exceptionally well with the stone. At the end of the straight section, you will reach a seat, an information board about flowers, and a white house next to the old crossing at Shore Hall Lane. This is one of those places where, if you hang around patiently, you may see a great variety of birds, as the owners put out copious quantities of bird seed. In winter and spring you can see fieldfare, redwing and brambling here, as well as much of what has already been mentioned. Do not be alarmed if you hear a very odd, loud bird call, as a local resident nearby has a peacock (2013). If you have not seen one yet, another frequent visitor to the feeders are pheasants.
Dragging yourself away from Keepers Cottage, the Trail bends right and left before passing under another stone arched bridge. There are more rock faces on the left before the Trail emerges at the picnic site at the Millennium Bridge, near Bullhouse - here the Trail crosses over the A628 to the Woodhead Pass and Manchester; to the right you can see the wind turbines on Royd Moor.
The Bridge marks the beginning of a change of land use. There is a choice of progressing either along the trail, or more adventurously, via Bullhouse Hall to a path that runs to the right of the Trail. The path passes beneath the Trail, giving a good sight of the 'orange lake', and then runs alongside the Trail, which is now to the right. About 500 metres beyond this, you can rejoin the trail by crossing the bridge to Hazlehead Hall, and going down the steps. If you choose the path through Bullhouse Hall, you will drop down to the River Don and you could see grey wagtail, heron, dipper and if you're really lucky, kingfisher.
If you choose to stay on the Trail after the bridge, you will soon enter a cutting with few trees on the right, which leads to another information board which will tell you all about the Minewater Project and the orange lake which, despite its uninviting appearance, often has several ducks on it.The coniferous plantation to the left of the Trail, and the small area of mature woods to the right, sometimes contain calling tawny owls as well as nuthatches - although these are common all along the trail in areas of more mature trees. Green woodpeckers are also common in the fields to the right of the Trail in this area. You will probably hear their distinctive call, rather than see them.
There is a seat on the Trail in the coniferous area, and just beyond - if you are patient - you might encounter a small bird flying from a few metres up one tree, down to the base of the next, where it will begin to walk up the tree looking for insects to winkle out from the bark. These are tree creepers and, they are surprisingly common along the Trail but can easily be missed.
Once again, the Trail passes through a cutting before emerging on a wide embankment, which leads to the last road-crossing before Dunford Bridge. You have reached Hazlehead, and the residents of the few houses here often put out seed, so this is a good place for all the common birds.
Without realising it you have steadily been walking uphill, and you are now just over 200 feet higher than you were at Penistone!
The Trail passes over the A616, and arrives into an open area with few trees, with the old Hazlehead Bridge Station buildings to the left. The Trail continues to climb gradually, all the way to Dunford Bridge. To the left is now typical heather moorland, which although you can't see it, stretches away in a southerly direction towards Bleaklow, the Derwent Valley, and Kinder Scout. To the right, the fields are used for rough pasture; now there is a change in the birds you can expect to see. The moors contain golden plover, red grouse, woodcock, snipe, lapwing, meadow pipit, wheatear, curlew and stonechat. Some of these in turn will attract raptors, so look out for buzzard, kestrel, peregrine falcon, red kite and possibly, hen harrier.You may be lucky and see a merlin or a short eared owl. In spring and early summer you should also hear cuckoos.
The land to the right of the Trail, which used to be a goods yard, has become Wogden Foot nature reserve. There is a board at either end explaining why this narrow strip of land is important. You can walk through the reserve - you will never be much more than 100 metres from the Trail, which you will eventually rejoin about 1k further on. In summer you might be surprised at what turns up there.
Finally, as you approach Dunford Bridge you might begin to see gulls and geese overhead. They will be from Winscar Reservoir, which is situated directly above the end of this section of the Trail. You may wish to walk up to the top of the dam to see what other aquatic delights there are.
Now you have the problem of how to get back to Penistone! It's only six miles back along the Trail and remember it is downhill all the way. The number 25 bus runs between Dunford Bridge and Penistone (make sure you get on a bus to Barnsley and not Holmfirth); click here for a timetable - or if you had two cars, you could have left one here so you could drive back to pick the other one up.
When is the best time for birds?
If you are a seasoned, regular birdwatcher, you know that you can see birds at any time during the year, but they are easier to see when there are no leaves on the trees. So, any time from late autumn to early spring is ideal, but the latter is often best as from late February to late April the birds are in breeding plumage, and look their best. Also, you will get the first influx of migrants such as chiffchaff, willow warbler, flycatchers, house martin, swallows and swifts.
Please remember to check the weather before you start your walk as there is often deep snow on the Trail in winter.