March, 2014

Aire Valley - Fairburn Ings and St Aidan's

Aire Valley - Fairburn Ings and St Aidan's
Do you love Fairburn Ings and St Aidan's? Share your thoughts with the community. Or if you're thinking about visiting and would like to find out more, ask away!

Aire Valley - Fairburn Ings and St Aidan's

  • 'Stoataly different!'

    With all this mild weather at Fairburn, our sightings book has been filling up nicely this past week! I have been lucky enough to attend a course in Edinburgh this week where the sounds of woodpeckers tapping on wood were heard everywhere throughout the enchanting oak woodlands next to our wee Scottish house. I was very happy to return to Fairburn to find yet more of this distinctive tapping on wood. I often wondered as a child why woodpeckers decide to hammer on trees, picturing them as angry beasts looking to take their anger out on unsuspecting trees! No. There are different reasons for this depending on the species. The green woodpecker, which has been making a regular appearance in the sightings book lately pecks on deadwood to create breeding holes in time for their chicks.


     Green woodpecker – John Bridges (

    Several stoats have also been spotted this week. This time of year they are getting ready for the arrivals of their kits, with litters of around 6-12 they are quite good multipliers! They are quite shy preferring to hunt along ditches and hedgerows rather than open spaces. The exception of course when they used to dart across our country lanes back home! I am sure all of us have had the confused disagreement in the car or alongside a hedgerow of whether it was in fact a stoat or a weasel. The size of the animal usually is a good way of distinguishing; stoats being larger than weasels, but if that fails look out for the black tip on the end of the stoat’s tail. This is far more informative than the joke we used to have in school: ‘what’s the difference between a stoat and a weasel’ ‘A weasel is weasily wecognised and a stoat is stoataly different’. I was clearly not one the cool kids.

    Buff-tailed bumblebee - Grahame Madge (

    We have had a fair few bumblebees round the reserve this week, especially buff-tailed bumblebees. The steady stream of humming from these beautifully delicate creatures for me, truly are the ultimate signs of spring. Butterflies such as the small tortoiseshell are also starting to emerge after hibernating in houses, sheds, garages wherever they can find a warm spot! I know all of you are probably accustomed to the odd butterfly hanging from the curtains. One of my exciting finds for this week included a brimstone butterfly. These are very well camouflaged and can easily be confused as a leaf when perched, with their yellowy-green wings.

    Small tortoiseshell - Grahame Madge (

    The warden team and other watchers were treated this week to a spoonbill sighting over the visitor centre, well named I think for their wooden-spoon-like bills. Spoonbills are considerably rare in the UK and can commonly be mistaken for little egrets with their angelic white feathers and elegant long black legs. I have seen a fair few little egrets around village bay over the weekend, one of which perched in a tree. It did take me a while to recognise this white blob in a tree, its one of those birds that always looks out place anywhere out of water!


    Little Egret – Paul Chesterfield (





  • New sightings at Fairburn!

    Our new intern, Heather, has written the recent sightings blog.  Enjoy

    I think it is safe to say Spring is definitely in full flow here at Fairburn Ings! We’ve had some (largely) sunny weather bringing classic lesser celandines flowering on the reserve. These simple buttercup-like wild flowers with their waxy yellow petals are some of the first to emerge in Spring, preferring damper, shadier patches so are easily spotted from the boardwalk and along the path-edges around Fairburn. The petite white blossoms of the blackthorn are slowly starting to emerge which for me, always bring fond memories of hectic lambing! These charming blackthorn blossoms appear the same time as the leaves of the hawthorn, which will flower later in the season- this is how I identify between the two! The furry catkins of the goat willow are also highly recognisable this time of year. These have a high value for nature as they provide an important source of early pollen and nectar for our bees and other insects, which are also starting to wake-up and kick start the rest of the chain into action ready for the full awakening of spring!


    Our sightings book is filling up with regular sightings of sand martins. These are one of the first spring migrants to appear and will stay until late July- early September time where they will start their incredible journey back to the Sahara in Africa. Its dark wings and white belly crossed with a distinctive dark chest bar is easily identifiable as they soar overhead with their paper-plane shaped wingspan. The cheery array of bird song is in full flow during these fresh spring mornings as you wonder through the reserve, with noisy great tits taking centre stage. One notable song includes the delicate chiffchaff. It always amazes me how the smallest birds manage to make the most distinctive calls. Even if you aren’t lucky enough to spot these tiny brown wren-like birds, their playful, repetitive ‘chifchaff chiffchaff’ call will leave you in no doubt of their presence.

    Chiffchaff - David Kjear (

    Whilst I was out with the one of our rangers we managed to get a view of a smew, which I was very excited about as it was my first ever sighting of a smew. They are very elusive with their constant dipping and ability to stay under water for long periods you can spend quite a significant amount of time at our hides playing ‘now it’s there, now it’s not’ with this duck! If you are lucky enough to see a male smew, you will notice its black mask and black tuft against the striking white of its plumage. The females are less exciting, with a grey body and dark red head.  Our kingfishers have also been showing off lately, I spent quite an exciting afternoon hooked to the Kingfisher screen with both the male and female kingfishers displaying annoyingly photogenic poses whilst I watched camera-less! The female is recognised by its orangey- pink tip on the edge of its beak compared to the solid black beak of the male. So feel free to bring your cameras to Fairburn and get a shot of these dashing birds whilst they are in a showy mood. Our cameras at the visitor centre are showing tree sparrows and blue tits checking out the nest boxes and prepping them for new arrivals! If you are keen to see what goes on ‘inside the box’ then please feel free to come have a look over some cake and tea at the centre.

    Smew – Danny Green (

  • Hello to our new intern... Heather

    Hello all! I am Heather the new Visitor and Promotions Intern for Fairburn Ings, seeing as though I will be with you for the next 6 months I thought I’d better introduce myself.  I am from a dairy farm in Mid-Wales so have always had a passion for getting outside and enjoying the countryside. Moving ‘Upppt north’ is wonderful as it means I get to enjoy so many new and exciting habitats such as the extensive wetlands at Fairburn Ings and improve my identification abilities to keep you updated on all the recent sightings! There are so many species I am eager to see whilst here including the elusive (or not so elusive at Fairburn) kingfisher.

    To some of you my face may be vaguely familiar as I spent two marvellous weeks residential volunteering at Fairburn last December. During this time, I got to know the lovely Fairburn family and I quickly decided the RSPB was where I wanted to be. I spent three brilliant years in Aberystwyth completing an undergraduate degree in Physical Geography two years ago and I am currently studying a distance-learning Masters in Countryside Management with aspirations to move into a conservation-based career at some point in the future. However, the annoying stumbling block of all applications, the dreaded ...experience section. I have been working at Clarks shoe shop, but it isn’t really the sort of experience that helps to get a job with the RSPB.

    I got the volunteering bug when I had a go at Wwoofing (it sounds odd, but it’s volunteering on organic farms with WWOOF, the World Wide Organisation for Organic Farming). I enjoyed 16 glorious weeks travelling around Scotland and Ireland, and had a go at loads of different activities from milking goats to putting up curtains.  But that, along with various days spent volunteering still don’t really seem to be enough to get the elusive job, I felt I needed a good period of time working within conservation. So after spending 12 gloriously boring months selling shoes and pretending to care about bunions at Clarks shoe shop I am finally starting to gain this experience here at Fairburn Ings with the RSPB.

    The RSPB Visitor and Promotions Internship was rather unknown to me until I volunteered at Fairburn. I never really considered all the hard work that goes into planning events, keeping people updated on the goings on of the reserve, organising the visitor centre, school events etc. After my two weeks here, I quickly came to realise how important the ‘inside’ jobs are to making a reserve click. I am now 2 days into this Internship and my calendar is swiftly filling up... I feel these 6 months are going to go very quickly! From the Big Wild Sleepout, Heron guided walks, membership weekend, family volunteering, the Big Hand Plant, pond dipping, birthday parties, mini-beast safaris and still so many projects yet to be organised there is so much to get excited about at Fairburn already and I have barely started!