August, 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

  • Is it summer or autumn today?

    Its a funny time of year right now, we’ve still got some of our classic summer wildlife about including plenty of dragonflies and damselflies, I spotted these darters on the fence near the pond dipping platform, always a good spot to look for these insects as they bask in the sun to warm up.


    We’re also getting some more autumnal wildlife, with migrating birds like redstarts (seen in the hedges near Pickup hide), spotted flycatchers (by the pond dipping platform), whinchats (on the flashes) and an osprey (flying over the visitor centre) all seen this week.  Plus the reserve is cram jam full of berries, there are blackberries, elderberries, haws, rosehips and sloes hanging from nearly every hedgerow.  I love this time of year, picking blackberries is great fun, and its a great way to get the family out enjoying the best of British wildlife, the incentive of a blackberry and apple crumble at the end is surely enough to get most people out of the house.  I am always conscious of making sure I leave some berries for the birds, after all, the berries are a vital source of food for them.  There are always the ones you can’t quite reach, a bit too high, or too many nettles or thorns in the way, they are the ones the birds can have.



    Another common sight at Fairburn Ings at the moment is this peculiar looking thing., nearly always on dog rose branches.


    This is what is known as a robins pincushion, it doesn’t have anything to do with robins though, although the image of a robin doing a bit of sewing sounds like something out of a Beatrix Potter story.  This ball of fluff is a gall, created by a gall wasp called Dipoloepis rosae.  The adult wasp lays its eggs on the leaf bud of the dog rose in spring, the gall is created as the eggs hatch and the larvae emerge, in order to protect the larvae.  The larvae will emerge as adult wasps next spring.  The gall itself is a distorted leaf, the result of a chemical reaction in the emerging leaf or bud.  The galls start off green, but at this time of year they start to turn red.  The adult wasp is pretty small, females are about 4mm (0.2inches) long with red-yellow abdomen and legs, the rest of the body is black. The males are a bit smaller with yellow legs, but you are unlikely to see a male as they make up about 1% of the total population of this type of gall wasp.  This is one of over 1000 species of gall wasp world wide, with around 300 species present in Europe.  

  • Thinking about winter sun...already!

    Over the last few days we've had a few different birds listed in our recent sightings book including redstarts, spotted flycatchers, whinchats and wheatears.  These birds are all likely to be passing through Fairburn as they start to head south for the winter.  Yep, its that time already. They are all at the beginning of a long perilous journey, whinchats, wheatears and redstarts will spend the winter in the southern Mediterranean, or North Africa in countries such as Spain, Portugal, Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia,  whilst the spotted flycatchers will be travelling south of the equator, down to the Congo, Angola and some as far as South Africa.  These birds will be joined by millions of others heading south for some winter sun, including the sand martins, swallows and swifts which have spent the summer at Fairburn Ings.  The sand martins we’ve been watching fledge from the sand martin wall at Pickup Hide will soon be flying thousands of miles down to Africa, crossing the Sahara.

    (Spotted flycatcher image by Andy Hay rspb-images)

    Water levels have been quite high on the reserve with the recent the heavy rainfall, so there haven’t been as many waders about, but we’ve had big numbers of lapwings at Big Hole, with about over 100 there several times during the last few days.  We’ve also had several sightings of marsh harriers recently, including a report of a young marsh harrier over the Flashes.  Male and female marsh harriers look quite different to each other, the males has quite distinctive wings, brown, with grey along the edge and black wing tops.  The females are dark brown with a cream coloured head and some cream colour to the leading edge of their wings, young marsh harriers are similar in appearance to females but don’t have the lighter wing markings.  These birds look stunning as they fly low over the grassland and reedbeds of the reserve on the hunt for small birds and mammals.  Look out for them at Pickup Hide, along the path down to Lin Dike, and from Lin Dike hide.

    (Marsh harrier image by Chris Gomersall rspb-images)

    Other highlights this week include an osprey which flew over Village Bay on Friday, water rail sightings on New Flash and Pickup Pool and a black necked grebe on Main Bay.

    There are still plenty of damselflies and dragonflies about too, common blue and azure blue damselflies are often catching some sun on the footpaths of the Discovery Trail, along with plenty of common darters and ruddy darters. Plus some of the bigger dragonflies like the southern hawker

  • Mid-August madness...

    It’s nearly the weekend which means time to have a look at what’s been spotted around the reserve this week. Walking around the discovery trail it was obvious the sun had bought all the insects out! There were loads of common darter dragonflies about yesterday which are the larger red dragonflies and quite easy to notice zooming quickly about the paths. Ruddy darter damselflies have also been quite commonly seen about the discovery trail this week. Another clouded yellow butterfly was seen along the Riverbank trail on Wednesday, along with many meadow browns and a few more brown argus’s seen throughout the reserve. The lovely brown argus butterfly looks very similar to the common blue from the outer wing tips however with a good view you can clearly see the darker brown and orange wings with white frilled edges. Yorkshire is the edge of the brown argus’s northern boundary and is steadily moving in a northwards direction so it can sometimes be confused with the northern brown argus which doesn’t have the orange wing markings. Let’s hope for more sunshine next week so we can see more butterflies!


    Brown Argus


    Our lovely female mandarin duck has been seen again this week on the duck feeding platform. There have been reports of three redstarts along the River on Thursday. These are very easy to identify because of their bright red-orange breasts, which against all this greenery about at the moment is very easy to see. They are also very similar to robins with their characteristic bobbing up and down. Water levels have been very high this week due to all the heavy rain which has meant that waders are quite low on the ground. Although there have been a few sightings of green sandpipers and common sandpipers about at Bob dickens hide.


    Common sandpiper – Andy Hay (RSPB-images)

    One of my favourite woodland birds has to be the treecreeper so I am always happy when I see them in the book! One was seen along the boardwalk yesterday although a more common place to see them is along by Village Bay hide on the birch trees. Marsh harriers were spotted on Wednesday by Lin Dike hide, along with a few kestrels also seen by the Dike. Sparrow hawks are currently having a great time with all the many tree sparrows and juveniles about by the feeders! A stout was also seen around Lin Dike the other morning with the familiar black tail dashing into the hedge. There have also been sightings of roe deer around Bob Dickens hide this week.


    Tree creeper – Steve Round (RSPB-images)


    I was surprised at how long the chicory by the visitor centre has lasted! It’s still looking lovely despite all the wind and rain which has knocked it slightly. Purple loosestrife and hedge woundwort, the long purple flowers fill up the vegetation along the discovery trail paths. Hedge bedstraw which is the long spindly plant covered in white cloudy flowers is also looking great in our wildflower patch in front of the centre. Our wildlife garden is also booming at the moment, it’s also worth checking out where we are getting our new shelter by the garden!

    Hedge bedstraw –