I'm getting married in Yorkshire this October, so during our several weekend trips up to the Ilkley area to sort out flowers, meet the vicar, go to church, taste food etc, I've been slipping in birding opportunities. I've had a real fill of birds that are just scarce passage migrants in my home county of Cambridgeshire (or not found at all) including redstarts, pied flycatchers, wood warblers and dippers over the last few weeks, finding them in good numbers in a few places on their breeding grounds in various Yorkshire valleys.
I also managed to fit in a summer plumaged pair of red-necked phalaropes at Rutland Water on the way home down the A1 last Sunday. Great to see them 'spinning' around feeding on the water below the osprey nest, complete with three chicks and two proud parents.
However, one place I haven't been able to visit as of yet on these commutes has been the new RSPB reserve at St Aidan's. However, during a trip to leeds with some of my RSPB colleagues to watch some groups of RSPB members and non-mebers having a look at Birds magazine to tell us what they thought, we called in.
It was a grey day, but the birding certainly wasn't grey. Visitor Experience Manager Chris Woolner and his team made us feel very welcome and gave us a little trip round the reserve, which has a fascinating history. I'm not going to spoil it though by saying too much as we're planning to feature this great reserve in the magazine soon!
I learned that black-necked grebes breed here, which is somwething I didn't know and also that bitterns are doing jolly well too. We were down at one of the reedbeds on the reserve when I got onto the owl-like form of a bittern flying across and shouted it out so everyone had a chance of a sighting. It was such a textbook view as it passed right across in front of me and my colleagues - none of which had seen a bittern before, so their reaction was ace. It looked just like this actually!
Bittern by John Bridges (rspb-images.com)
My advice, get yourself along to St Aidan's near Leeds soon - the bitterns are busy feeding young as are the grebes and there are loads of other birds and wildlfie to see too - I also saw a passage Arctic tern during our visit and it's turning up all sorts of scarce and rare birds. I will definitely be back.