November, 2013

Aire Valley - Fairburn Ings and St Aidan's

Aire Valley - Fairburn Ings and St Aidan's
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Aire Valley - Fairburn Ings and St Aidan's

  • An eventful journey

    For today’s sightings blog, I may as well start with what I saw on my walk into work, which was very eventful indeed! On my way along the riverbank trail, I had a great view of a jay flying through the trees. This time of year is great for watching woodland birds, as most of the leaves have fallen so you can get a better view. Speaking of leaves, the leafy carpet covering the paths at the moment makes the walk very atmospheric. It’s great when the sun hits the ground and brings the autumn colours alive.


    View along the riverbank trail this morning


    On the way to Big Hole, I heard a high-pitched and creaky repetitive call to the right of the path – the laughing of the green woodpecker! I spun around just in time to see one fly off from the ground into the trees. Although green woodpeckers are spotted quite regularly on the reserve by visitors and rangers who are out and about, it’s only the third time I’ve ever seen one, so it was really exciting. They’re beautiful birds, with apple green backs, golden fronts and a crimson red cap – it definitely brightened up my morning!


    Green woodpecker image by John Bridges (


    Thinking it couldn’t get much better, I stopped by the Kingfisher screen on the off-chance that there would be a lovely flash of blue and orange to be seen on their usual perching stick over the stream – but no luck. I looked about a bit more, because you never know what you might see, and right in front of my eyes, much closer than they normally are, was the kingfisher! I didn’t really need my binoculars, but watching these beautiful little birds so close up is always spellbinding. I even got the extra treat of a little wren hopping through the undergrowth right by the kingfisher, before it took off, uttering its noisy call.


    Wren image by John Bridges (


    I eventually tore myself away before I was late for work, and just before I got to the visitor centre I had another treat in store – a female bullfinch in the trees around the boardwalk. Although they aren’t as eye-catching as the males with their peachy chests, they are still beautifully neat looking little birds, with a creamy fawn chest and a smart black cap.


    Kingfisher image by John Bridges (


    In other news, we’ve also had 24 goosanders and at least 17 goldeneyes seen on main bay this morning, as well as a nuthatch at Pickup and a great spotted woodpecker at the visitor centre.  This time of year is fantastic for spotting all kinds of wildlife - why not come for a wander on the reserve and see what you can spot!

  • A taste of Hope

    Today is a special day for RSPB Hope Farm. For the first time, reserve shops across the country are selling produce from the farm – quality extra-virgin rapeseed oil! To understand why this is such a fantastic occasion, a bit of background will come in handy...


    Hope Farm farmhouse - image by Andy Hay (


    The RSPB has owned Hope Farm in Cambridgeshire since 2000, and over the past 13 years, we’ve been trying out all sorts of ways to make the running of the farm more wildlife friendly. Over the past few decades, birds and lots of other wildlife associated with farmland have suffered serious declines due to intensification of farming practices, especially on arable farms where large and uniform swathes of crops are planted, thus destroying natural resources and habitats.

    Hope farm is an arable farm, and through our work here we aim to demonstrate that good crops can be grown hand-in-hand with successful management for wildlife. Providing important habitats around the farm such as skylark patches, flower rich grassy field margins and unharvested wild bird covers have all combined to allow butterflies, bees, birds and lots of other wildlife to flourish on the farm.


    Flower rich field at Hope Farm, 2012 - image by Andy Hay (


    All this hard work has meant that farmland bird species in serious decline have thrived here – skylarks have quadrupled in number, and linnet numbers have increased five-fold, while grey partridges and yellow wagtails have colonised the farm.

    It’s a very exciting day, as we here at Fairburn have taken our delivery of the oil to be sold in our shop. A lot of the vegetable oil you buy in supermarkets comes from rapeseed, which has generally been processed on a massive scale; purification, grading and extraction processes remove all the distinctive character and taste of the oil. Hope Farm’s Love Nature extra-virgin rapeseed oil has not been processed this way – instead it was crushed and bottled in the same county as the farm itself, and is as close to natural as you can get.


    Rape seeds from the 2012 Hope Farm crop - image by Andy Hay (


    Apparently it has a distinctively nutty flavour, and can be used in any way in the kitchen, from dressing and dipping to frying and roasting! We’ll be doing taste-tests in the shop here at Fairburn, so come down and see us over the next few days to enjoy a taste of Hope Farm!

    I’m definitely looking forward to trying some, not only because it’s supposed to be yummy, but because of what it symbolises – if we’re to save farmland wildlife in this country, something needs to change, and this might just be the beginning.

  • Chilly sightings

    We’ve had great sightings every day for the past few days, so here are the latest updates...

    I spotted a beautiful Jay flying along the riverbank trail near big hole on my walk into work on Saturday morning – early mornings are a great time of day to spot all kinds of wildlife, and the sunrises are lovely too! There was also a nuthatch spotted on the visitor centre feeders in the afternoon, which is always a treat to see.


    Sunrise over the cut on Saturday


    Sunday saw a green woodpecker flying over the visitor centre! They are being spotted more and more frequently around the area of the visitor centre, so keep your eyes peeled! We also had flocks of fieldfares and redwings seen over the flashes on Sunday, so winter is definitely on it’s way. One of our visitors had a lovely experience watching a kingfisher at the screen in the afternoon, and even saw it catching fish! Another great sighting for Sunday was a flock of 37 curlews flying west over Hickson’s flash.


    Green woodpecker image by Andy Hay (


    Both a goldeneye and a goosander were spotted from village bay viewpoint yesterday, which is always a great place to spot water birds. Today, we’ve had a pintail seen on new flash and a redpoll at the kingfisher screen!


    Goldeneye image by Ben Hall (


    Why not pop down to the reserve for a stroll and see what you can spot?