July, 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

  • Summer sightings at Fairburn Ings

    a busy week here again at Fairburn Ings! With the start of the summer holidays the reserve is looking on top form as ever with beautiful purple loosestrife growing around the discovery trail next to lots of rosebay willowherb and hedge woundwort. It amazes me how far reaching rosebay willowherb always seem to spread. Apparently ground clearing as a result of the world wars provided perfect conditions for this plant to spread from being a scarce woodland plant to ‘bombweed’ as it’s sometimes referred to! There is also plenty of honeysuckle to be found (and smelt!) along the riverbank. Also keep an eye out for great willowherb along cut lane and the Lin Dike route. Great willowherb does look very similar to rosebay willowherb but without the ring of flowers and with just a single flower-head. Black medick has been living up to it’s name recently also with its black seed pods coiled and ready to plant themselves in the ground to appear next year. Wild carrot is also quite established around the entrance to the playground by the centre. This looks very similar to cow parsley but with a larger head and with long green spindly bracts underneath as an identifying feature. If you notice any new wildflowers, why not pop them in the sightings book?

    Rosebay willowherb – Andy Hay (RSPB-images)

    I was amazed this week whilst walking around the visitor centre in the hot afternoon I came across a whole swarm of peacock butterflies! After getting used to seeing so many small gatekeepers this week it was a shock to 4 or 5 of these large butterflies fluttering round! The markings on the peacock I always think are very stereotypical for a butterfly with four large red and blue eye-like patterns on the wing ends. There are still loads of different dragonflies and damselflies to spot around the reserve. From ruddy darters to large emperor dragonflies you’re sure to see plenty especially by the riverpath on the way to Lin Dike. Brown and southern hawkers which are some of the larger dragonflies and are in fact the fastest flying dragonflies found in the UK giving them the ability to catch their prey in mid-air.

    Male southern hawker dragonfly – Dragonfly days


    There were a host of waders to been seen from Pickup hide yesterday with greenshank, common sandpipers, little ringed plovers, snipe, water rail and fifteen green sandpipers! These green sandpipers have spent the week around Pickup hide with their characteristic head-bobbing when standing still. Oystercatchers can also be heard with their playful calls around Big hole and four spotted by Pickup hide on Monday. A tawny owl was seen close to the kingfisher screen this week, bobbing along the path before taking flight! The tawny owls large white framed eyes is the most defining feature for me, giving them a soft look. One of our volunteers has brought some little owl pellets in to put on the nature shelves in the visitor centre so if you’d like a closer look at owl pellets come and have a look!

     Tawny owl – Hootsowls.co.uk

    Lovely lapwings are everywhere on the reserve this time of year after a very successful year of breeding. There were roughly 270 counted at Big Hole last Wednesday and there are still loads to be seen elsewhere on the reserve, especially from Lin Dike hide. A marsh harrier was also spotted over by Spoonbill flash last Wednesday, females are quite easily recognised by their yellow heads and darker brown plumage compared to the lighter plumage of the males. These are such impressive birds and the largest of the harrier family... always a treat to spot! Garganey can still be sighted at New Flash alongside black-tailed godwits which are now quite commonly seen over towards the flashes. It is also worth noticing the large amounts of small rodents around the reserve at the moment with lots of little legs scurrying across paths around the discovery trail in the evenings. With their large litters there are lots of shrews and wood mice scampering around looking to find seeds and berries to eat, and lots of birds keeping an eye out for them too...

    Female marsh harrier – Ben Hall (RSPB-images)

  • We love our nettles!

    Well the sun has stopped shining but that doesn’t mean the wildlife here at Fairburn Ings has! We’ve had a spectacular morning for moths again this morning after last nights warm evening, perfect for our ‘meet the moths’ session. We could barely catch them there were so many! One of our favourite moths we caught today was a swallowtail moth which has such an awesome shape, amazingly very similar to a swallow with its pointed bottom wings. In total we had 142 moths and that is just a typical day of moth trapping here at Fairburn Ings at the minute with the warm weather. We’ve still have loads of gatekeeper butterflies on the reserve this week, with lots of green veined whites arriving too, especially around the visitor centre. The sound of grasshoppers will be keeping you company now in July. Did you know that the ‘stridulation’ (posh word for the noise they make when they rub two body parts together to make a noise!) is mainly made by the males to attract a female? One other very common insect which has been about this last week is the red soldier beetle. These are red-brown and can often be seen mating on hogweed and other open flowers like cow parsley.

    Red soldier beetle – English Country Garden

    This morning we’ve had lots of green sandpipers with 12 counted at Pickup hide and some over on Main bay alongside common sandpipers. We’ve had a great white egret spotted once again here on the reserve, seen from Lin Dike hide alongside all the many little egrets which are still about and in quite clear view. Some of you might have seen the great video of the two spoonbills which came to visit us on Wednesday afternoon! They were still flying between the Moat and Pickup hide, presuming that they were the same two which came to visit us a few weeks ago!

    Two spoonbills – John Ingham (assistant warden)

    There are a number of warblers making a noise this week including grasshopper warblers over by Pickup on Wednesday and a garden warbler was also heard at Lin Dike on Wednesday. I still love the sound of the grasshopper warbler’s insect-like call! There are still plenty of reed warblers singing over on Lin Dike and around the reserve up from the kingfisher screen. A fox was spotted by Big Hole on Wednesday. Now is the time when foxes will most likely have young so they will be busy looking for food for their young cubs.


    Fox – Grahame Madge (RSPB images)

    Our wardens are on a never-ending task at the moment in trying to manage all the vegetation on the reserve! The warm weather, sunshine and rain have meant that everything on the reserve is growing wildly and looking extremely healthy! Our beautiful rosebay willowherb is still growing alongside hedge roundwort along the discovery trail path. We also have loads of honeysuckle growing around Redshale road leaving a lovely scent as you walk through the reserve. One very understated ‘weed’ which is seen as a nuisance to most but is extremely useful for our wildlife is our lovely nettle! Yes I’m not going to pretend I have been stung on numerous occasions and hated the plant but after seeing how useful it is I think my appreciation for nettles has greatly increased! The stinging defence of the nettle provides such a good defence for the plants and also for insects. Firstly they encourage over 40 species of butterflies including peacock and tortoiseshell larvae. Nettle patches swarm with aphids which provide such a valuable food source for newly-emerged ladybirds, blue tits and other woodland birds. Nettles do tend to take-over your garden and sting you but before you start hating them too much just take into account how many insects they provide a home for and how useful that food source is for all of our birds!

    Nettle – Andy Hay (RSPB images)

  • A fledgling first for Fairburn, plus lots of dragonflies and damselflies

    The glossy ibis stuck around at Fairburn until mid-week, the last sighting on Wednesday afternoon. It was great that it stayed for a few days, plenty of visitors got some great views of the bird feeding very close to the path at Lin Dike. Alongside the glossy ibis, there were plenty of other birds keeping it company, including a number of little egrets.  During the week there were ringed plovers plus little ringed plovers, black tailed godwits and snipe all on the flashes.

    We’re all really chuffed that we’ve had our first ever successfully fledged avocets at Fairburn Ings. Avocets have nested at the reserve in the past, but never got to the point where they have raised their young past the ‘tiny ball of fluff’ stage, so the fact we’ve got a pair of adults with two young on Pickup pool at the moment is fantastic, and a first for Fairburn Ings.  If you haven’t already caught a glimpse then get down here to have a look, if you don’t have any binoculars then you can borrow some from the visitor centre.  If you don’t know what you are looking for then join one of our ranger walks, they are free guided walks lead by one of our volunteer rangers. The times vary each day, give us a call (01977 62819) or pop into the visitor centre for more details.

    Thanks to Joe Seymour for this picture of the young avocets

    July is a brilliant time for insects, particularly the magnificent dragonflies and elegant damselflies.  They love the shallow pools at Fairburn Ings, where the young live as nymphs, sometimes for several years, if you’re lucky you might find a nymph when pond dipping at the reserve. As adults they buzz around the pools looking for a mate and food.  You are likely to see azure and common blue damselflies at Fairburn, they are very similar apart from a marking on the thorax, the thick part of their body. A common blue damselfly has a mushroom shape on its thorax and an azure damselfly has a horseshoe shape.  We also have lots of blue tailed damselflies, which are mostly black with a blue bit on the tail and emerald damselflies, which are a stunning metallic green.  Dragonflies you are likely to come across include the brown hawker, 4 spotted chaser, ruddy darter and black tailed skimmer. I’d love to describe them all, but we’ll be here all day, the best thing to do is get yourself down here and have a look. Or come along to our minibeast safari, (adults are welcome as well as children!), we will be happy to point all the different species of damselfly, dragonfly, butterfly and any other type of minibeast we stumble across.

    This is a picture of an emerald damselfly which was on the door to the visitor centre this morning!

    Other noteable sightings at Fairburn Ings this week include a black tern which made a brief appearance on Wednesday over Main Bay, there were a few green sandpipers at Pickup Hide for a few days and a family of treecreepers on the Riverbank Trail on Sunday.  The sand martin wall is still a hive of activity at Pickup Hide, and we’ve still got tree sparrows nesting in the boxes at the visitor centre, they should be fledging any day.

    Don’t forget to let us know your wildlife sightings when you visit the reserve, pop them into the sightings book in the visitor centre.