November, 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

  • A couple of commoners...and a barn owl!

    The recent sightings book in the visitor centre is full of wonderful sightings, but alas, I have already written about many of the new and exciting arrivals! So, I thought it was probably about time we took a moment to appreciate some of the more common birds that are in the book on a regular basis.

    Treecreepers are a little mouse-like in appearance and are never still, constantly moving up trees in search of food. They never move downwards and once they get too high up one tree they fly down to the base of another before beginning the process again. They're fascinating little birds that can be seen all year round across the reserve.

    Goldcrest, Ben Andrew (

    At the moment Goldcrests are seen almost daily filling up on small insects, although they will eat small seeds, keep an eye out for them along the Riverbank Trail and Cut Lane. Goldcrests, and their rarer cousin firecrests, are the UK’s smallest bird and they have a voice to match! The call and song are both thin, high pitched sounds and are among the first bird songs to become inaudible as we age and our hearing in the higher register goes. Get out and listen to them while you can!

    Long-tailed tit, John Bridges (

    Lovely long-tailed tits are everywhere it seems, wherever I turn a flock appears and flits between the trees. Unmistakable for their long tails, which account for an incredible 9cm of their 14cm bodies, these tiny pink and black balls of fur are always a beautiful flurry of activity.

    Barn owl, John Bridges (

    Finally, I’ve snuck in an really exciting sighting...I won’t tell anyone if you don’t. On Tuesday evening a barn owl was seen flying near The Moat. After a particularly difficult year last year with all the wet weather, it’s great to have a sighting so close!

    As always, keep letting us know what you’ve seen out on the reserve.

  • Recent sightings: vibrant colours and aerial displays

    How beautiful are redwings!? It was weeks ago that I wrote about the first sightings in the book and since then there has been a huge influx. This week I got my first real opportunity to stand and stare at one up-close. They are so vibrant, though I don’t know why I was surprised; photos never really prepare you for the real thing. I saw a pair of bullfinches this morning on my way along the Riverbank Trail and I think I will always be flawed by that neon orange breast no matter how many times I see it.

    Bullfinch, John Bridges (

    Also this week, I saw my first siskin! It was being trixy and hiding amongst a goldfinch flock but I spotted it with a little help from a group of lovely birders.  If you’re partial to a goldfinch it should be said that the ‘charm’ has taken up residence in the larder that is the discovery trail, and they’re great to watch with a pasty in one hand and a cuppa in the other.  I’m desperate to see a redpoll and a brambling next, so if you see me skulking around the reserve come and say hello.

    Peregrine falcon, Ben Hall (

    One to look out for is a pair of peregrines which have been reported across the reserve several times this week. Yesterday they treated everyone to a display just outside the visitor centre and all our staff and volunteers downed tools for the spectacle. They’ve also been see over the flashes and Newfield, keep your eyes peeled if you’re out and about over the next few days.

    Long-eared owl, photo © Bob Kothenbeutel accessed

    Finally, the long-eared owls in the Lin Dike area. Beautiful birds with distinctive ‘ear tufts’, they hunt at night and spend the day roosting in a tree catching their forty winks.  They’ve been written in the book several times in the last few days, and while exciting, it’s a very real probability that if they are disturbed by too many enthusiastic spectators they’ll be put off their roost. If you do go down to see them please keep their well being in mind and stay at a distance, we love having them in the area and it’s important they stay safe and undisturbed.

    As ever, keep letting us know what you see!

  • What do ducklings, beards and mice have in common?

    Together they make up this week's recent sightings!

    Snipe, Andy Hay (

    After a water rail seen at Pickup Hide in last week’s blog, the showmanship was taken to the next level yesterday when a water rail was spotted behind the kingfisher screen eating a ‘massive fish’, as described in the recent sightings book. Water rails have and incredibly varied diet and will eat everything from berries and roots to fish and snails, they’ll even eat small birds and carrion. If you’re down at Pickup, also keep an eye out for green sandpipers and snipe.

    Bearded tit, Andy Hay (

    Ten bearded tits were reported down on Parker’s pond at the weekend, I dashed down with a couple of the other volunteers to catch a glimpse of my first ever ‘beardie’ but alas, no such luck. We definitely heard them pinging in the reeds though and they were likely sheltering from the heavy winds.  If, like me, you’ve never heard a bearded tit, their call is a very distinctive metallic ‘ping, ping’ noise. I look forward to seeing that impressive mustache on another occasion.

    Lin Dyke ducklings, taken by Elliott

    Perhaps the biggest surprise of the week was spotted on Sunday by our young ranger, Elliott.  Down at Lin Dike he took this photo of ten ducklings! It appears that the mild weather has been confusing some of our wildlife, have you seen any usual sightings for the time of year?

    Harvest mouse, Ben Andrew (

    Finally, not a sighting but exciting non-the-less, on Friday the warden team will be taking to the reed-beds and grassy areas of the reserve for a harvest mouse survey. They’ll be looking for the small, tightly woven balls of grass they build as nests to get a rough idea of the population. Active climbers, harvest mice spend much of their life off the ground and build their nests between 30cm -100cm high to stay safe from predators. Declining numbers in recent years mean there is now an active effort to conserve them...I’ll let you know what they find next week.