January, 2014

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

  • A mice surprise!

    The reserve team had a fantastic surprise last week whilst clearing out the nest boxes around the reserve ready for the next breeding season – two tiny wood mice nestled at the bottom of one of the boxes! They had obviously made a cosy little bolt hole for themselves in amongst the hawthorn leaves, and were taking shelter from the cold using the wooden box as insulation.

    Wood mice in a nest box! Image by Chris Mountain


    Wood mice inhabit forests, grasslands, and cultivated fields – they burrow extensively, making nests for themselves out of plant material, and moving into buildings (and empty nestboxes apparently!) to escape the cold in the harsher months.

    Although wood mice are quite common, being found across most of Europe in good numbers, it’s great to know that these lovely little creatures have a home at Fairburn Ings. We’ve repeatedly caught glimpses of them on the camera trap around the visitor centre, but thought that this close encounter was definitely worth sharing!

  • Recent sightings: wonderful wildfowl and restless wrens

    I’m happy to report that after a few weeks of not seeing many wildfowl around the reserve, they seem to be back with a vengeance!! Large flocks of wigeon have been spotted on the flashes from Lin Dyke hide and the Lin Dyke link trail – wigeon are definitely one of my favourites because the males have such beautiful colours. The soft colours of their buff peachy chests, grey wings and white rump patch contrast perfectly with their rusty reddish-brown heads and mustard-yellow forehead stripe! We have small numbers of breeding wigeon in the UK in the summer, in northern and central Scotland and northern England, but most of the birds we see in the winter are visiting from the chilly climes of Iceland, Scandinavia and Russia.


    Wigeon image by Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)


    Another lovely duck which we’ve been seeing lately is the gadwall – I think it’s fair to say that these birds are a little underappreciated, because they are, in no uncertain terms, very grey. From a distance, you can identify these birds by their leaden-grey plumage and an obvious black rump patch, but see them a little closer and you will appreciate how beautiful they really are. Their smoky grey plumage is not in fact just a solid colour, instead it’s made up of exquisitely fine barring and speckling, which blends into a soft nut-brown head.

    Gadwall artwork by Mike Langman (rspb-images.com)


    The goldeneyes which have been seen so frequently on Main Bay  seem to have decamped to the River Aire, just the other side of the riverbank trail, with as many as 15 being seen at once! Keep an eye out for them as you walk through the woods – the startling white breast, flanks and cheek patches of the males make them easy to spot through the branches, you just have to be quick to get your binoculars on them before they dive!

    Last but not least for today’s blog, we have the ever-present but always lovely wren. One of our smallest UK birds, wrens are widespread across the nation in an amazing variety of habitats, from woodland to moorland, and most gardens.


    Wren image by John Bridges (rspb-images.com)


    We all know good things come in small packages, and wrens are no exception – their remarkably loud voices and cheeky personalities mean that these tiny brown birds have bags of character, and we’ve seen loads bustling around in the undergrowth over the past couple of days in the icy weather. Watch them at the sides of our trails, industriously hopping about in search of insects and spiders – they never keep still, and are a pleasure to watch.

    Why not come for a visit and enjoy the wildlife that Fairnurn Ings has to offer this winter - you'll be guaranteed a lovely walk!

  • Oh what a beautiful morning!

    I couldn’t resist taking advantage of the widespread frost this Monday morning to walk into work through the reserve from Fairburn village and spot some amazing wildlife in the cold. And I’m very glad I did!

    At eight o’clock Monday morning everything was cloaked in a thick layer of sparkling frost. The sky was bathed in muted pastel colours of pink and purple, and the moon was reflected off the surface of the water of Village bay. It was anything but silent though, as dozens of birds called from the bushes; great tits, robins and blackbirds set up a riotous morning chorus as I walked across Village Bay field.

    The view from Charlie’s hide was spectacular as the sun began to rise, giving a soft orange glow to the birds on the water. A heron took off as I sat down with my binoculars, spreading its huge grey wings and soaring low over the water of The Cut, where ruddy-headed pochards and sleek goosanders were swimming.


    Pochard image by Ben Hall (rspb-images.com)


    Continuing my walk along the riverbank trail, I looked left towards the river Aire, and through the trees caught the merest glimpse of a beautiful male goldeneye before he ducked under the water. When I reached Bob Dickens hide, I was looking for the roe deer that are spotted so frequently around that spot, and I was in luck! Just left of the hide in a grassy field were two beautiful does – one of them was facing towards me, her large ears pricked up, whilst the other munched grass – her distinctive white rump patch clearly visible above the misty grass line.


    Roe deer image by Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)


    Carrying on towards Big Hole, I though my luck couldn’t get any better when all of a sudden something burst into the air out of the grass ahead of me. The strengthening sunlight illuminated the apple green back and golden yellow rump of a green woodpecker! Instead of flying out of sight though, he landed on the nearest tree, so I was able to admire the ruby red crown and jet black eye mask of this stunning bird.

    My final treat of the morning came in the form of a flock of tiny brown birds – I wasn’t sure what they were at first – there were six of them fluttering from tree to tree and foraging amongst the branches. I finally managed to find one of them through my binoculars, and saw streaky brown plumage, a very yellow beak and a black chin patch under the beak. After hearing so many people talking about lesser redpolls in the visitor centre, I was reasonably sure that these were what I was looking at, mainly because they didn’t look like anything else I knew. But a quick check back at the visitor centre confirmed my suspicions – these tiny finches love their seeds, and can often be seen, especially in winter, dangling from slender twigs in birch and alder trees, looking for their next meal. If you catch a good glimpse of one, look for the distinctive red patch on their heads.

    Lesser Redpoll artwork by Mike Langman (rspb-images.com)


    The morning really is the best time to spot wildlife, especially in the cold weather – it’s a great excuse to arrive bright and early and enjoy a spectacular walk through the reserve. We hope to see you soon!