March, 2017

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

  • To a sublime springtime!

    With Spring just around the corner and the migrants booking their flights, we have seen some strangely familiar sights here at Fairburn Ings this week.. 

    The tree sparrows have been hard at work gathering nesting materials for renovating their new homes. This wonderful work is being captured by our live nest box cameras in the visitor centre. We hope to have some hungry chicks settled in before too long. It’s always lovely to see them hatch and mature into fledglings.

    Another exciting mark of springtime was seen along Lin Dyke this week, with a brimstone butterfly making its first appearance. 

    The snipe are active down at Big hole and Charlie’s hide, they were amazingly well hidden. Luckily I had the help of our eagle eyed volunteer ranger to help spot them! 

    The great crested grebe have been courting along the riverbank trail and along cut lane, look out for their ‘bowing’ motion. This is a particularly lovely spot to visit in the evenings when the sun is setting over the water. Very romantic lighting! 

    Pond dipping season is now back in full swing. The team at Fairburn are looking forward to the return of our expert fishers! We have lots of frogs and frogspawn forming down there so it’s always worth a visit no matter how old you are. Make sure you watch your step on the paths and be careful not to fish out the spawn! 

  • Welcome to our new warden intern, Andy

    Hello! I have just started as a volunteer intern warden at Fairburn Ings where I shall be until early September. I am very happy to learn from knowledgeable folks here and to live in a house overlooking the reserve, brilliantly placed to enjoy the great wildlife and the social aspect of working with other nature enthusiasts.

    I expect that I shall be writing more over the coming weeks but it is customary on a welcome blog to tell you about my background. 

    I shall begin with a short extract from a field guide:

    Large waterside humans

    Name: Andrew Francis, Homo cacophonus

    BTO Code: AF, Little Tern.

    Conservation Status: Vulnerable

    Height: 178 cm,

    Wingspan: 185cm,

    Moderately tall and lanky human with an often-bristly face contrasting with a shiny hairless scalp. Eye rings present most of the time. Variable plumage morph but usually in muted colours.  Typically solitary and not known to have bred successfully. Frequents bookshops and nature reserves, often carrying a telescope and tripod on its back. Wide variety of vocalisations including rarely heard impersonations of black grouse and various pigeons/doves. On occasion, widdlesome and dissonant rock-guitar player.  


    Now that you know how to identify me, if you see me about the reserve stop for a chat, this place is my home now and I’m keen to make friends.

    I was gifted my first pair of binoculars at the age of 11 and at 18 I moved to Aberdeen, where I have spent most of my adult life, to study Ecology. 

    In the last 5 or so years since I passed my driving test, I have spent most of the time working for consultancies doing bird survey work for environmental impact assessment, particularly for wind turbines.  Highlights include searching for hen harrier and red-throated divers under licence from Scottish Natural Heritage, discovering a singing wood sandpiper in suitable breeding habitat, finding blue and white phase snow geese whilst counting Greenland white-fronted geese and amazing views of golden and white-tailed eagles.  

    Most of the thousands of hours I have spent surveying have been spent sitting for 2 or 3 hours at a time watching out over empty moorland to map the very occasional flights of protected species. This work tended to be very isolated and, coupled with the frequent scheduling collisions between early morning and late evening work on short summer nights and enormous clouds of biting midges, work could be psychologically and physically challenging. 

    I am now very happy to be developing new skills in a more sociable role where communication with the public is encouraged and to be working with a clearer conservation agenda.  I enjoy chatting with people about wildlife and showing them the wildlife through my scope or from the videos and still I take with my camera or by phone-scoping. I look forward to meeting you.

  • Is it shorts weather already?

    Singing skylarks, dancing grebes, daffodils, snowdrops, hogweed shoots, bumblebees and even the odd butterfly. Could it be nearly spring? The anticipation is building! It may have been windy and the water is very high across the reserve – it’s all the way up to Pickup hide – but the sun is starting to have some heat in it and at least one person in the office has cracked their shorts out.

    This week we switched to the spring challenge in the playground

    That said, we haven’t finished with winter yet. 20+ waxwings flew over the visitor centre on Wednesday.  This is one of only a few sightings on the reserve all winter, a couple of weeks ago there were two birds in the bushes directly opposite the centre, they stayed and ate berries for around fifteen minutes, giving a big crowd some incredible views, before flying off to strip berries elsewhere.

    Waxwing, Andy Hay (

    The male smew and red headed smew are still around, generally seen on Village Bay from Cut Lane, I had a report this week that suggests the red head is actually a male as his adult plumage appears to be coming through.

    The great white egret is also still around, less reliably on Cedric’s pool now though, instead it is regularly seen flying around.

    Curlew, Andy Hay (

    Out on Main Bay, and across the flashes there are still large numbers of shelduck, shoveler,  teal, wigeon, goosander and black-headed gulls, with the odd pintail and goldeneye thrown in for good measure.  33 curlew were also reported out on spoonbill flash this week, along with  three white fronted geese and a single barnacle goose in amongst the Canada geese.

    Stoat, Ben Andrew (

    There have also been lots of interesting mammal reports recently.  Lots of exciting weasel sightings, one was even carrying a vole. There are still plenty of bank vole sightings near Pickup hide and even an ermine stoat seen on the Riverbank Trail.

    It’s binocular and telescope weekend coming up so if you would like to chat to anyone about optical equipment we’ll have extra staff and volunteers ready to welcome you this weekend.

    Hope you all enjoy the sun!