This week I have been treated to regular shows of performing House Sparrows outside the visitor centre – something I had never expected to see at Fairburn Ings! I love watching the Tree Sparrows we regularly see around here, and I never, ever, get used to the rich chestnut colour of their caps. But it’s fantastic to see House Sparrows here, as they are really struggling in the UK (a recent estimate suggested a decline of 71 per cent between 1977 and 2008), in both rural and urban areas. It’s such a shame that a bird so common a few years ago has been struggling so much.
I was made aware of the struggle of House Sparrows by the RSPB’s Step up for Nature campaign, which is an amazing campaign aimed at increasing the biodiversity of the UK by 2020. Small steps really can make a huge difference – if lots of people take part. One way to help nature is to put a Good Natured Gift on your Christmas list (I know I will) – create a habitat for bumblebees, plant native saplings, or restore an area of heathland; it’s so easy to help.
I have also been seeing rather more of our sparrows than I normally would, having spent time with our Rangers cleaning and disinfecting our feeder areas. Greenfinch disease can easily spread between birds through unhygienic feeding areas, and we’ve been having a real push at getting all our feeding areas cleaned (one to go, but this will be cleaned next week). If you have feeders at home, please remember that contaminated seed shouldn’t then be put back into cleaned feeders, so it’s best to wait until your feeders are running low before giving them a clean. I’ve enjoyed seeing the birds flock in to feed as soon as the feeders are hung up again! One pheasant this morning was almost prodding me in the leg to speed me up. It’s fantastic to get involved in looking after our birds, as I spend so much time watching them and they really brighten up the day, so it’s nice to feel you’re returning the favour. I had a wonderful break the other day, when I managed to watch a Great Spotted Woodpecker devouring a bird cake for around fifteen minutes within an arm’s reach. So I’m incredibly grateful to all the garden birds this week, and please don’t let me forget it!
After last week’s post about the delights of winter, I think that the weatherman has decided to test me! The overcast and damp weather we’ve been having has not been brilliant, but it is, however, perfect for testing our binoculars and telescopes, which has got me well and truly in the mood for our upcoming Optics Day on the 27th of this month.
Our friendly staff will be available to offer you any advice you need about buying the perfect set of optics for you. RSPB Puffin binoculars are currently being offered with a free RSPB Pocket Guide to Birds book (normally £4.99), which is a great starter kit for the older kids or for adults who would like to start getting closer to nature.
One thing we have been needing binoculars for in the last week, is all the geese which have been both flying over and visiting here. Today and yesterday I have seen great flocks of Pink-footed Geese flying over the reserve, sounding like so many yelping puppies! Over towards Lin Dyke, we’ve had a few conflicting reports about what geese have been seen there. We think that there have been four Bean Geese, one Pink-footed Goose, and two White-fronted Geese but we’ve had various combinations of one, two and all three of these kind of geese being reported by our visitors.
An unmistakeable Red Kite was seen from the Visitor Centre on Saturday morning, allowing everyone to watch it for quite a while and coming rather close above us – fantastic. I cannot fail to be impressed by a raptor in flight, and the colours of a red kite are so beautiful I literally couldn’t tear my eyes away from it.
So the excitement this week is about all of the wonderful geese that are around and about! Another reason to get really excited about winter (it’s like my very own Nature advent calendar) as more and more things come to stay with us. It would, of course, be great to see a huge flock of visitors around the reserve too as there are so many different things to see here at the moment. I also have a small request for when you do come to Fairburn Ings – come and talk to us! We love to hear about your visit, what you’ve seen, and any questions you have. I hope to see you soon.
After last week’s fantastic introduction from Jenni, I’d like to introduce myself as Fairburn’s new Trainee Visitor Officer. I’ll be working with Jenni to make your visit to RSPB Fairburn Ings so enjoyable that you’ll want to come and see us as often as possible, by delivering an exciting programme of events and activities for everyone.
My love of nature comes from my love of walking. I grew up tramping the Pennine moors, and the Curlews, Meadow Pipits and Red Grouse I see in the hills really do feel like old friends (although I don’t talk to them - much). In my opinion, Meadow Pipits are one of the most beautiful birds to watch, however much of a Little Brown Bird they may be!
The moors can seem pretty quiet in the winter, apart from the grouse telling me to ‘go back’ when I accidentally disturb them; and being here at Fairburn Ings I’m getting excited about winter for the first time in my life. I do love the moors in the winter, but the sightings of migrants here over the past month has really got me looking forward to seeing some of the birds which visit us for a while over the cold months. I’ve managed to catch a glimpse of a Redwing, lots of Long-Tailed Tits – which I can’t get enough of; some Wigeon, and also a few Whooper Swans. At the moment I can’t wait to see some Waxwings – being new to birdwatching, I’ve got a lot of birds to meet. I'm hearing about all sorts of birds I've only ever seen in books - Pink Footed Geese, Bramblings, Mistle Thrushes, for example - and I am absolutely loving reading up about them, just in case.
Two Long-eared Owls were seen yesterday, between Lin Dyke and Hickson’s Flash, which I personally am incredibly excited about. I’d love to see a pair of dark orange eyes signalling one's prescence, and I intend to get down there as soon as I can. Seen from the Lin Dyke hide were some Shovelers, Pochards, Wigeon, Tufted Ducks, and Teals. Wigeon are one of my favourite ducks, partly due to their wonderful colouring of chestnut, yellow, pink, white and grey; and also because they were one of the first ducks (after Mallards) that I identified correctly!
Over the weekend, a Sparrowhawk was seen from Pickup (Saturday), as well as a Marsh Harrier (Sunday); and, from the Kingfisher Screen, we’ve had groups of Fieldfares and Redwings (Sunday), as well as our fantastic Kingfisher.
All these sightings are really cheering me up about the prospect of winter – and there are so many more things I’m looking forward to seeing. From the Visitor Centre, I can watch the cutest weasel scurrying about below (thankfully weasels do not hibernate); I can go to Lin Dyke to see all the wildfowl noted on Monday; and there are plenty of things to see going all the way along the Riverbank Trail, from the tiny Kingfisher to the not-so-tiny Whooper Swans. Winter does not seem so quiet, anymore.