May, 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

  • Firsts for Fairburn!

    Firstly sorry for the delay since our last sightings blog! Although on a plus it’s great to come back to Fairburn Ings and notice all the new things about. Everything’s just looking greener and greener here on the reserve, with lush green hedgerows still teaming with new wildflowers and the trees swiftly filling up with leaves even if they are all sadly covered in rain droplets! The silver birch trees are drooping with their small triangular shaped leaves lightly dancing in the wind, with new bright green female catkins dangling like lambs-tails. The hawthorn blossoms have now mostly fallen creating a lovely white carpet along the paths. One flowering tree I have noticed a lot of around the discovery trail and up past Village Bay hide is Elder, with their heads full of small white flowers all beautifully scented. Oxeye daisies have started to come out in our wildflower patch by the centre, and lovely dog rose is flowering along the discovery trail. Its great watching the steady change of vegetation here at Fairburn, especially just coming back from a woodland plants course it’s amazing what you notice!


    The reserve is teaming with young at the minute and if you can’t see them yet you can definitely see parents busying back and forward from nest sites with caterpillars and other tasty morsels for their young to feed on! I was lucky the other day to walk past a group of 4-5 young great tits which had just fledged and were busy chirping round a willow tree down cut lane. I have heard loads of stories of young fledging from nest boxes or other random sites from visitors over the past few days which are so great to hear. One of my favourites came from a neighbour telling me about blue tits nesting inside the green traffic light before Allerton Bywater, and now every time I drive past and see the half green light and I’m reminded of the blue tits inside! The three juvenile great crested grebes are still at Charlie’s hide and a few more have been spotted over at Big Hole. I was completely surprised by their amazing colour; they have the typical downy feathers along their hind, but their head and necks are white and black striped! Amazing little things! Black-headed gulls are getting extremely territorial when looking out from Bob Dickens hide its quite clear they don’t want carrion crows or other birds interfering with their nests (if you’ve been watching Springwatch I’m sure many of you wont blame them!)

    Black-headed gull (Andy Hay – RSPB images)

    Our Slavonian grebe is still about over Main Bay, you will need a good pair of binoculars/ scope to see it as it is proving a bit elusive, but definitely worth a spot. We’ve also had a few water rails in our sightings book this past week mainly over Cedric’s Pool and Phalarope Pool. These waders can sometimes be compared to moorhens in character, but with a large grey-front and black and white feathers on the underside of their brown wings. Apparently they have a pig-like squealing call so should be quite easy to identify overtop other birds on the reserve! We were lucky to see two little grebes with chicks on North Flashes yesterday morning alongside hearing many sedge warblers, reed warblers and even the odd grasshopper warbler. I love the sound of the grasshopper warbler ‘reeling’; their high-pitched insect-like reel definitely defines well how they got their name!

    Grasshopper warbler – Mike Richards (RSPB images)

    We’ve had a FIRST for Fairburn Ings this week! Our first ever dingy skipper butterfly was spotted on the riverbank trail on Tuesday! This declining butterfly can be easily confused with a moth particularly the day-flying mother shipton moth because of its similar wing shape and brown wing pattern. They are quite recognisable for their whitish frills along the hind and fore wings, and also for their long antennae with a distinct curved black tip. The species is quite localised and has suffered habitat declines over recent years, so we are thrilled to have at least the one here at Fairburn! Keep a look out for your butterflies here at Fairburn you never know when you might see a rare one!

    Dingy skipper – (

  • 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)

  • 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)