I retired from teaching in December 2009 after a career that spanned 34 years.  However I had a cunning plan…. Catch up on jobs, pick up old hobbies, catch up with friends, have a project, enjoy days out, volunteer and learn something new (photography!).

The plan to volunteer led me to Fairburn Ings for a chat and before I knew it I was signed up and in uniform!  I love it, and have now been volunteering for 7 years in the Aire Valley. Working with such a young and enthusiastic and positive team keeps me young at heart.  Meeting the visitors in the visitor centre has proved really interesting and I have made many new friends as a result.  I especially love my days as a ranger when I can lead a guided walk talking about Fairburn and showing off the fascinating nature that can be found during all seasons.

Today my husband Bob and I got here by 6am to start a day of breeding bird surveys.  This takes place from April to August when we record evidence of the birds breeding. We had been learning our bird song to aid us, and were amazed that just two weeks on from our last walk so many chicks had fledged and were flitting around the reserve.

Around the bird boxes and the paths near the visitor centre were dozens of baby tree sparrows chirping happily away and chasing after weary parents yelling ‘feed me!’ with fluttering wings and gapes wide open.  Further along, we heard the beautiful sound of a dunnock calling to its mate, then nearby perched on top of a hedge was a handsome whitethroat, its eye ring clear to see.

Common whitethroat, Ginny Sibley

 In another thicket we saw a male blackcap trilling a lovely warble from the top of a branch, chiffchaffs calling to one another, a green woodpecker mocking us for failing to spot him, blackbirds gathering grubs for their hungry young and a willow warbler whispering the gossip of the bush.

Male blackcap, Ginny Sibley

We continued on our way a journey that lasted three hours of sheer delight.  We watched a willow tit preening itself after a long session of feeding young as a song thrush serenaded us on our journey.

Song thrush, Ginny Sibley

Willow tit, Ginny Sibley

A flash of iridescent blue gave us the delight of watching a kingfisher as he quickly dispatched a stickleback from the dyke, followed by a sudden glimpse of green as the mocking woodpecker flew off to the woods yonder.  Clashing with the song thrush, the blackbird tried to outdo him with call. Then joined in a wren and chaffinch making a cacophony of magical sounds.

We walked on, delighting in the sight of baby coots and moorhens and also a large family of jackdaws who succeeded in drowning out the others with their loud ‘jacs.’  Along the way, we also had glimpses of a greater spotted woodpecker as it rested on the side of a tree, a family of bluetits tutting amongst the branches, a quick dart of a pair of bullfinches in a hurry, and a loud call from a family of great tits, babies still in their monotone colours.

Coot chick, Ginny Sibley

We reached Pickup hide and sat for a rest, when to my delight staring at us from the top of the sand martin wall was a fox cub, not afraid, but as fascinated with us as were with him. Although, a moorhen mother was not as enamoured as she cackled, warning her chicks to move to the safety of the water.   

Fox cub, Ginny Sibley

Three herons paddled in the water listening for fish and hoping for an early breakfast, such an elegant sight, but we needed to move on. 

Herons, Ginny Sibley


 Distracted by the emerald blue colour of the common blue damselfly, brimstone accompanied us too as we met a couple of speckled woods flitting along the way.

Common blue damselfly, Ginny Sibley

 Ladybirds like this seven spot glistened on the dewy leaves and grasshoppers jumped out of view. 

Seven-spot ladybird, Ginny Sibley 

The meadow’s flowers like the common centaury, the bugloss viper and the southern marsh orchid waved their beautiful colours at us in the breeze as the sun rose higher in the sky and we headed back for a well-earned coffee in the visitor centre.  What a morning ! We loved every minute of it. 

Common centaury, Ginny Sibley

Viper's-bugloss, Ginny Sibley

We would really recommend volunteering to anyone who loves nature, or at least to experience the Aire Valley in person for these beautiful experiences.
If you're interested in either, please drop into Fairburn Ings visitor centre, or St Aidan's down the road.

Southern marsh orchid, Ginny Sibley