My name’s Abbie and I’m the new Visitor Experience Officer for the Aire Valley – Fairburn Ings and St Aidan’s. I’m responsible for making sure visitors get the most out of their visit, hold lots of events, plus get the message out about what amazing wildlife we have on the reserves and what we, the RSPB, are doing to help it thrive.
St Aidan's, David Botham
My first lone walk took place last week at St Aidan’s. Binoculars in hand, coat zipped up to my nose, I decided to face the gale force winds and take a trip around the ‘Reedbed ramble’ walk. I had heard sightings and reports of bitterns calling every day around the reedbed, so knew I had to get there for my first ‘booming’ experience. I headed down the hill from the visitor centre and immediately felt immersed in the vast habitat that is St Aidan’s. This is the reason St Aidan’s is one of my favourite nature spots, you never feel like you’re just observing the wildlife, you feel within it.
Walking toward the reedbed, my full concentration was on the sounds of St Aidan’s. Although I was listening for the booming sound of the male bittern in particular, I was distracted by an unforgettable song coming from the ridge and furrow on my left. I followed the sound, tuning in my ears until I clocked it, a skylark was hovering high above the ground before it parachuted into the grassland below. I’d never seen such a close and long lasting skylark display before, so I paused for a few minutes to take in the extravagant songflight.
Skylark, Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)
I continued away from Oddball, although this time my ears were tuning in to an array of sounds. Lapwings were making their old fashioned radio call, geese were honking and the distant black headed gull colony filled the air with their laughing and quarrelling. I concentrated and cupped my hands around my ears to tune out the wind to maybe pick up a grasshopper warbler. I had grasped where it may be through lots of chats with visitors (far more experienced than my couple of years birding!), and I was eager to find where it may be hidden. After what felt like a lifetime I managed to pick out a bizarre sound, what I cannot describe as anything but that of a grasshopper. I was overjoyed! The ‘sights and sounds part two’ blog will follow when I am a warbler expert, but until then, the grasshopper warbler was the best I could ask for.
House martin, Tom Marshall (rspb-images.com)
Grasshopper warbler, Mike Richards (rspb-images.com) The wind and hail stone was threatening, but I refused to give up before the first boom. I heard a distant ice-cream van in Swillington, reminding me just how tucked away the nature paradise that is St Aidan’s is. Admiring the swallows, sand martins and house martins spiralling around me as I cornered the reed bed, I took a moment to sit on the bank and watch them tumble and dart around the edge of Fleakingley Reservoir. It was then I heard it! My first bittern at St Aidan’s. The low fog-horn-milk-bottle sound sent shivers, knowing the struggles of this iconic bird in the UK. Before I began this role at the Aire Valley I was membership development officer in Manchester. I spent many days in urban areas telling the story of the bittern and all the work the RSPB have done to bring this bird back, and finally I was able to witness it. I scanned over the reedbed for as long as the rain cloud would allow until I continued along the path, more alert to sound than I had ever been before