May, 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

  • But red campions are pink!

    Wildflowers are looking more and more beautiful this time of year with forget-me-nots, cow parsley, herb robert, daisies and buttercups popping up all over the reserve. Hawthorn is now everywhere, if you were unsure of whether it was hawthorn before, now you’ll definitely be certain with their lovely snowy blossoms giving them all away! Horse chestnut or ‘conker trees’ are now also holding their distinctive white candy like flower spikes, these can be seen down the bank just before Village Bay hide. Red campion is perhaps the most common wildflower now dotted round the reserve. I have forever known these as pink campion (probably because of their pink petals!) so had quite a revelation this week to find out the proper name for them! With its pretty five pink petals, hairy green leaves and purple stems they are lovely additions to our wildflower family!


    Red Campion – Andy Hay (RSPB-images)

    Little gulls have been making a steady appearance this last week mainly on the Moat. These are the smallest of the gull family which have black heads during the winter but are white with a black stripe on their back this time of year. Speaking of gulls, kittiwakes have also been seen over village bay view point this week which will stay until the end of August once they finish breeding. We have had lots of exciting waders again this week with common sandpipers regularly seen ‘teetering’ over Main Bay with their short beaks and legs compared to other waders such as the long-legged godwit. Other small waders such as dunlins have also been spotted on Main Bay.

    Common sandpiper – Andy Hay (RSPB-images)

    I have been enjoying more common terns this week, especially over main bay looking from cut lane way. Watching them fish is a fantastic past time especially if you’re delaying getting back to do uni work at home cough cough! Their elegance whilst on the wing and their sharp precision when they dive into the water makes them stand out from similar sea birds. There have been so many new arrivals here at Fairburn especially mallard ducklings, goslings and coot chicks! It is such an exciting time to come to Fairburn with all the chicks out and in nests!

    Reed warbler can be heard twittering in the reeds opposite the car park, so if you’re on your way to feed the ducks stop for a quick listen and maybe even you’ll get to see one. It’s quite hard to tell the difference between a sedge and reed warbler call, the wardens seem to have mastered it! The sedge warbler can be described as having a ‘scratchier’ sort of tinge to its call compared to a reed warbler which is slightly mellower in comparison. There are plenty of both warblers scattered around the reed-beds here at Fairburn and we are hoping for lots of nests too!


    Reed warbler – John Bridges (RSPB-images)

    Out on the water... a pair of garganeys were seen at Pylon pool over at Lin Dyke. These are really secretive birds so quite hard to spot, between a teal and a mallard in size, with a white stripe over the eye and pale blue forewing which is most easily seen when they fly. They arrived here in March and prefer the shallow water, flooded meadows and the quieter atmosphere over at Lin Dyke! Gadwall and pochard call still be seen around the reserve, mainly at Charlie’s hide which have been hanging on since winter. The pair of avocets are also still quite common over at Charlie’s hide too (it wasn’t me just being lucky!) We had a small copper added to the sightings book yesterday, so our butterflies are still most definitely out and about! Small coppers are fairly common and have brown/ grey wings with a very straight pointed top wing. Look out for these butterflies and others around the discovery trail!

    Garganey – Mike Lagman (RSPB-images)

  • Damselflies and dragonflies are here!

    The last few mornings here at Fairburn have been beautiful, with lots of fresh wildlife sightings to report! There have loads of damselflies emerging lately, with large reds being the first to appear a few weeks ago. Some of our newest editions are the blue-tailed damselfly and azure damselfly, with the azure having a blue and black striped abdomen and the blue-tailed with the striking blue tip on the end of its abdomen. Damselflies interestingly don’t fly as strong as dragonflies so you can often see them lazing on leaves waiting for their insect prey to come to them... why waste the energy! Four spotted chaser dragonflies have also been spotted this week, these are not your typical dragonflies as they are much more broad-bodied but do have the classic four black spots on the edge of there wings which give them their name. I find the life cycle of dragonflies and damselflies amazing, if you’ve been pond dipping you may have come across their nymphs which come out of the water and make the tremendous change from underwater larva to winged adult within just a few hours. The time when they emerge from the water is mainly reliant on what they can find to eat in the water and the temperature of the water, so we might see them coming out a bit sooner than usual in the next few years. Keep an eye out for them when you’re round the ponds on the discovery trail!

    Blue-tailed damselfly – Stephen Burch (

    We had a lot of confusion the other day when I bought in a picture of a yellow cabbage-like wildflower that we struggled to identify! Half an hour and many wildflower books later we managed to identify it as ball mustard (we think...if anyone has any advancements on this feel free to drop suggestions in!) There are plenty of these flowers on the bank of the river Aire before you start cut lane. It’s all been yellow flowers this week with common laburnum flowering, ball mustard, gorse, broom and yellow flag flowering at Charlie’s hide, although I think team white may just be winning still with all the majestic white hawthorn blossoms breaking up the greenery. The goat willow or pussy willow down by the kingfisher screen has also been snowing this week! You may have noticed the male catkins appearing in February, gradually these become full up with pollen which fertilises the female catkins, now in May the female catkins are fluffy with seeds which get blown off by the wind and look like snow as they fall to the ground ...or right into your face.

    Ball mustard

    Garden warblers and grasshopper warblers have been seen and heard this week along riverbank trail. We were stopped by one keen man with a camera just last night as he was pointing enthusiastically up into one of the bushes at a lovely view of a garden warbler singing. The call is very similar to a blackcap but with a scratchier warbler twinge to it. Whitethroats have also been busy singing away near the far end of the car park in their preferred patch of hawthorn. You may also be able to hear the random sound of the song thrush if you wonder to the south end of cut lane. I always imagine the song thrush’s call to be a beautiful mix-match of all other bird calls, it seems to just be a random mash of whatever it feels like singing but I’m sure they know what they’re doing!


    Song thrush – Chris Gomersall (RSPB-Images)

  • Sun is out... whats about?

    Fairburn Ings is definitely at its best when the suns shining! We’ve had ample sightings of ice creams, shorts, sandals, sun hats, shades... and if that’s not enough to prove that the May sunshine has joined us then maybe this weeks wildlife sightings will! Red campion is definitely in full bloom and there’s an impressive patch of greater stitchwort still blossoming just before the kissing gate by Bob Dickens hide. Bluebells are sadly starting to go over now but are quickly being replaced with loads of fresh buttercups and daisies. One new addition I noticed the other day on Village Bay field is doves-foot cranes bill, burrowed in amongst the long grass. These look very similar to herb robert but without the purple stem, and windy nature. They prefer to grow in grassy fields rather than hedgerows and can been seen until September generally so keep your eyes peeled!

     Doves-foot cranes bill - Aphotoflora

    We’ve had an exciting sighting this weekend over Main Bay of a Slavonian grebe! These look very much like black-necked grebes with their golden ear tufts and trill calls, you can tell them apart by the Slavonian grebe’s long burned-orange neck. They are usually found breeding in Scotland so this one is probably using us as a stop off before travelling further upwards. Even so get on to Main Bay to get a glimpse of this grebe! Speaking of grebe’s I noticed some great-crested grebe chicks over at Charlie’s hide on Friday. After watching the parents attentively looking after the nest for the past few weeks its very rewarding to see some chicks successfully hatched and bobbing happily on their parents back!


     Slavonian grebe – Chris Gomersall (RSPB-Images)

    Another great find this week includes a pair of brown argus butterflies on the river bank trail near big hole. There has been some debate amongst some of our butterfly experts of whether a new sub-species of brown argus exists which feeds on germander. It’s thought that the ones seen at Fairburn could possibly be one of these new sub-species! Exciting times! Commas, speckled wood, small copper and meadow brown are just some of the butterflies we’ve had this weekend alongside the ever numerous orange-tips and green-veined whites! Damselfly and dragonfly numbers are steadily growing. It’s such a great time of year for mini-beast safaris and bug hunts as there is just so much out there to find!

     Brown argus – Richard Boon

    We’ve had quite an exciting morning with Slavonian grebes and red kites. We’ve also had a dog otter spotted on the duck feeding platform near main bay. Otters are not that regularly seen here at Fairburn so they’re clearly making the most of the good stock of fish we have at the moment! It is worth noting the amount of fish that can still be seen from the bridge on cut lane near Charlie’s hide. There were two carps at Charlie’s hide that I ended up watching for quite a while the other day, you could quite clearly see the find over the top of the water and the circular ripples in the water. Every now and again a little owl will crop up in our sightings book and I’m quite annoyed I keep missing to see it! Newton Farm is the area to see this little owl so keep an eye out, it may have some chicks.


     Dog otter – Chris Gomersall (RSPB-images)