April, 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

  • New spring wonders!

    It has turned into a lovely day here at Fairburn and with the sun shining we’ve nearly all forgotten about the rain of yesterday! Our sightings book has been overloaded with common and arctic terns once again as they use our numerous supply of fish for feeding up! I was surprised the other morning as I dropped in on Charlie’s hide to see a large gang of godwits! I was a bit confused as to what type of godwits these were, and after a thorough look through our trusty collins bird book i think we have confirmed them as black-tailed godwits, which have the longer legs compared to the bar-tailed godwits. They were all perfectly balanced on one very thin leg basking in the sunshine. They are very noticeable for their long-bills handy for catching worms and snails as they are busy wading. These birds are known to pass through the UK on their way north to the cooler climates of the arctic, so make the most of them as they visit Fairburn! I was also lucky to see my first pair of lapwings this week. This little peewit or lapwing (depending on your preference!) is mainly black and white but with a few flashes of green and orange thrown in. I just love how the long tips of their head feathers are thrown back as they make to dash across the grass! Declines of farmland habitat have meant this poor little fellow is quite rare now across the country but thankfully they are still quite common here!

     Lapwing – Chris Gomersall (RSPB-images)

    We have also had a few mentions of our warblers lately with sedge warblers being one of the newest visitors around Fairburn. They are incredibly pretty warblers with their yellowy-brown plumage and with a distinctive white flash across the top of the eye. Other migrating warblers found at Fairburn this week include reed warblers and grasshopper warblers. All of these birds look really similar with their mostly brown feathers; however their calls are very different so keep your ears ready to distinguish between all your warblers! Handily their names mostly reflect the type of habitat they prefer (i.e. willow warbler) so this should make them easier to spot.


     Sedge warbler – Chris Gomersall (RSPB-images)

    Walking on the paths it’s impossible not to notice all the colourful wildflowers still emerging here at Fairburn! I was so happy to discover bluebells the other day, with their tell-tale green grass-like leaves bowing to long stems its impossible not to spot these classic flowers. I’ll always remember my nana telling me how to spot our native bluebells from the Spanish invasive ones by looking for the native’s perfect curve of purple bells all on the same side and the Spanish version having purple bells facing in every direction. If I know one thing, grandparents are rarely wrong! Also much to the enjoyment of our orange-tip butterflies, we have lots of cuckooflowers or lady’s smock as they are sometimes called. These have a long thin stem topped off by a cluster of small lilac flowers and are very popular with butterflies as a good source of nectar.


     Spanish bluebells – Andy Hay (RSPB-images) 

  • Easter hops and terns!

    After a hectic Easter week here at Fairburn Ings I think its time for a sightings blog! Butterflies are once again in full flow this week with plenty of orange-tips as more and more wildflowers are brightening up our hedges. The big green leaves of the garlic mustard are definitely taking over hedgerows with their petite white cluster of flowers on the top, looking very disproportionate! When you crush the leaves apparently they smell of garlic so if you’re unsure of whether it is a garlic mustard try this tactic. Another pretty little plant I have seen this week is a common field speedwell, a very dainty little purple flower with darker purple veins leading to a white centre. They can be seen clinging to rocks up past the kingfisher screen and are certainly are a lovely little find in spring.

     Common field speedwell

    It’s the terns turn... there have been several sightings of common and arctic terns this week. These sea birds are what i’d call your ‘typical sea bird’ with a distinctive black cap, white and grey plumage, red beak and legs they are perfectly designed for sea life. If, like me, you struggle to tell your terns apart then the easiest way to tell is to look at the length of the legs and beak with the arctic tern being much smaller and shorter. The arctic tern has one of the longest migrations of any sea bird, choosing to spend its summers in the UK and winters in the Antarctic! So it gets the most summer daylight of any bird; what a little sun seeker! Many of these terns can be seen this time of year passing through Fairburn on their way to breeding sites along the coast so keep your eyes peeled.


    Arctic tern – Chris Gomersall (rspb-images)

    Redshanks have been seen this past week patrolling Charlie’s hide as they regularly peck for grubs and insects. They are real easy to spot with their spindly long red legs and long red beak. An interesting fact about redshanks is that they often return to the same site with the same partner for breeding, so it’s great they’ve chosen Fairburn! After joining in with the mini-beast safari’s and hearing all about damselflies I’ve been quite excited to see them emerging from our ponds on the discovery trail, so I was very excited when I read about our first damselfly of the year, the large red damselfly. Damselflies are amazing creatures; they spend most of their days underwater as a nymph before undergoing the dramatic change into a beautiful damselfly. So whilst you’re down at the platforms dipping for pond creatures spend a moment to have a look for these elegant gliders.


     Redshank – Andy Hay (rspb-images)

    Last Wednesday night a group of us went out to discover the amphibian situation here at Fairburn and we were delighted to find a number of common frogs and toads out and about amongst the paths after nightfall. They are quite difficult to spot, especially the small juveniles and after an hour everything seemed to look like a frog! After waking up from hibernation, there are quite a few amphibians hopping around this time of year, just need to keep your eyes open for them! So if you’re feeling full up with chocolate after your holidays and looking to get outdoors and see what wildlife has to offer this time of year... come join us at Fairburn Ings!

    Common frog – Ben Andrew (rspb-images)

  • Somethings changing round here...

    It’s been a beautiful week here at Fairburn Ings with plenty of new sightings to talk about! I having been lucky this week to attend our first ‘meet the moths’ and ‘mini-beast safari’ session and despite the wind we still managed to see loads. You’ve all probably noticed the mass surge of butterflies on the reserve since the suns started shining; with peacocks, small tortoiseshells, orange-tips, green-veined whites, speckled wood and brimstone all delicately starting to flutter around. One of our warden team was actually lucky enough to spot a holly blue butterfly yesterday, which is quite rarely seen this far into the colder north! One butterfly that I saw the other day was a comma, which I have seen plenty of times in books but never the ‘real thing’. The comma butterfly looks beautifully rugged, looking almost like someone’s used one of those jagged edged scissors to cut out the edges on its wings! No matter who you are it is very hard not to appreciate all these delicate butterflies flurrying around the undergrowth and the children on the walk certainly loved discovering with their nets!


     Comma butterfly – Grahame Madge (RSPB-images)

    Another Spring migrant has made a few sightings this week, the whitethroat. Whilst out testing the mobility scooter (that’s another story!) with the assistant wardens they pointed one out making its short abrupt call from amongst the bushes. It spends its winter days in Africa and makes its journey to arrive here in time for mid-April so it’s bang on time! Another migrant I am always happy to see is the swallow. They are a common visitor to our garage back home so we always manage to get a good look at them as the perch on electric cables before swooping down to squeeze in through the doors. I love their classic ‘V’ wing shape and long tail sweepers decoratively pointing behind. Make sure you have your binoculars at the ready as they are pretty nifty!

     Whitethroat – John Bridges (RSPB-images)

    The blackthorn blossoms are still in full bloom brightening up the reserve with their pretty white petals just starting to confetti the paths. Pink campion is starting to slowly emerge amongst the hedgerows and white dead nettles on the path edges along cut lane. One lovely leafy violet wildflower we have plenty of around the discovery trail is ground-ivy. This is a member of the dead-nettle family and loves damp ground, so small wonder it loves it here at Fairburn! Its amazing how quickly things are changing around the reserve, every day walking you will notice something new! Just the other night I spotted another surprise – dog rose. This common shrub offers striking red rose hips during autumn and winter but this time of year their small pink buds are starting to open showing their pretty pinky-white flowers. Apparently the term ‘dog’ means worthless, presumably comparing them with garden roses, which I think is rather unfair! If you seen any other wildflowers or blossoming trees please feel free to add them to our sightings book.


     Dog rose buds and flowers.

    I know there are many of you who remember hearing a cuckoo as a child and sadly it’s becoming rarer and rarer, however our assistant warden was lucky enough to hear and see one earlier this morning! At first glance they can be mistaken for a kestrel or a pigeon with their grey backs, however if you look out for their stripy zebra-like belly and characteristic hooked beak. They are hard to hear so count yourself lucky if you do and make sure to add it to our sightings book! One very common caller we’ve had this past week is the willow warbler. It looks very similar to its fellow migrant the chiffchaff, so the best way is to keep your ears open and listen to the difference in calls. It has a very distinctive ‘warble’, which sounds to me like descending laughing as your walking along under the silver birch trees. There’s loads of them about with a regular singer just past the kingfisher screen so keep you’re ears tuned! There has also been a sighting of an osprey last week! These majestic fishing birds of prey are occasionally seen this time of year at Fairburn as they make their way up to Scotland to breed. They are very impressive birds and you’d definitely know if you’d seen one because of its striking white underneath. There is so much going on at Fairburn, why don’t you come and spend your Easter holidays exploring all the spring changes!


    Willow warbler - John Bridges (RSPB-images)