October, 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

  • RSPB St. Aidan’s Litter Pick - Sunday 29th October

    After the weekend's successful litter pick, Gavin - St. Aidan's Community Engagament Officer has shared a blog with us!

    This was our second Community Litter pick at St. Aidan’s and once again we were well supported by local folk. It’s fantastic to meet so many people who care about the site. It is this support that helps keep St. Aidan’s looking wonderful. It’s also vital work to help protect the habitats for wildlife. We all know the problems that plastic can cause.

    I must admit I was a bit nervous the night before the pick. The wind was howling, the trees were swaying and my polythene greenhouse sounded like it was ready to take off and fly to Oz. However, there was no need to worry. Sunday morning, the sun was shining, the air was crisp, all was well. (And I remembered the clocks had gone back, an extra hour in bed!)

    Off we went along The Lines at the back of the arable fields above Lowther Lake.

    Time for a bag change….

    One of our fantastic families, thank you so much for helping out. They picked along the Old Haul Road, up to Shan House Bridge, across the Causeway and all the way back to the visitor centre. That was a long walk and a job well done.

    30 bags of rubbish!

    Thirty people joined the pick so that was a full bag for each person! Thanks again everyone for a great day’s litter-picking.

    Hoping for the next litter pick to be this December, stay tuned!

  • St Aidan's Sightings: Squeals, Pings and Other Sounds

    For some weeks now, visitors have heard calls from the ‘scarlet pimpernel’ that is the water rail around the eastern reedbed. Its repertoire called ‘sharming’ is varied and includes a piglet-in-pain squeal and a weary-I-am-totally-past-it choking moan. So, charming it isn’t.

    On Monday several were heard calling from the path that dissects the reedbeds and are probably declaring their territories to each other. The one pictured below came out when a magpie landed nearby and seemed to think about challenging it but then just hung around for a while – perhaps to keep kept an eye on it.

    We also get the phrase ‘as thin as a rail’ from them because of their ability to squeeze between dense and thick stems. Must be more agile than they look.

    More heard than seen; water rail and its reflection

    Sounds from the reedbeds have also produced sightings of other shy birds; the metallic ping of the bearded tit and the very high pitched ‘shreeee’ of a kingfisher. The bearded tit was in the western reedbed and travelling along the edge of the dissecting path from the Astley lake end. The kingfisher seen favours the ‘no fishing’ signs at the hillside end of the eastern reedbed. At the dissecting path there are also some sticks for them to use as fishing perches.

    Female (lower bill is red) kingfisher captured last winter

    In the western reedbed, a bittern took a short flight across a patch of open water, visible from the crossroads near the causeway.

    In the lakes duck diversity continues; goosander on Lemonroyd, goldeneye on the Main lake and in various locations, pintail, shoveler, widgeon, teal, pochard, tufted duck, gadwall, mallard with roving little egrets, cormorants, grey herons and occasionally, great white egret, one of which stayed all winter last year at Fairburn.

    Usual suspects? A coot, preening pintail, 2 male shoveler and a female scratching her head

    About a dozen stonechats, whose call sounds like pebbles being rubbed or hit together have colonised the pastures below the hillside, ridge & furrow ditch and now, the reedbed edges. Showing well are the twittering flocks of goldfinch, linnet, and redwing. In addition there are siskin, fieldfare, pipits (meadow, rock, water), song thrush and starlings.

    Waders continue to be seen about the site and include redshank, snipe, ruff, dunlin, little stint, sanderling, ringed plover, 30 plus curlew, the ubiquitous lapwing and golden plover circling the site.

    Part of a golden plover flock; known as a congregation or wing

    Watch for the lapwings going up into the air calling ‘peewit’, usually with the screeching black-headed gulls as it may be because a hunter is among them because birds of prey are frequent and include kestrel, marsh harrier, peregrine, buzzard, sparrowhawk and a single short-eared owl was seen on the ridge and furrow.

     “Ready for your close up Mr Kestrel?”

    The tree-lined Lowther lake hosts a variety of birds including jay, great-spotted woodpecker, goldcrest, bullfinch, chiffchaff and a cetti’s warbler. Still seen regularly are marsh & willow tit, great spotted and green woodpecker in the warren area (at the back of the Causeway and to the left of Shan House bridge) and little owls in the dragline compound.

    Skeins of pink-footed geese continue to fly over the site, whose calls include ‘wink-wink’. However, do check the noisy flocks of canada and greylags for any interlopers among them. 

    To finish; a composite shot to convey the atmosphere on Monday 16th October:


    The day it looked like Mars was on a collision course

    Yours, K Sp-8 (17/10/26)

    For information: Bowers lake path is closed as the predator fence work continues, and the Ridge and Furrow is dug for more habitat creation/exposed muddy edges.

    Our Hallowe'en Treasure Hunt continues (despite disappearance of Mrs Crackle's eight-legged friend) until the 5th November.

    We'll see you there!

  • Fairburn Ings Warden Work: Rafts on the Lagoons

    Over the past couple of weeks, the wardens at Fairburn have been making wildlife rafts! Here’s an update from warden Karen:

    The rafts are a great way of increasing wetland features on lakes and ponds quickly – creating a great habitat for birds, fish, invertebrates, amphibians or even small mammals.  Creating fish refuge is really important, obviously for the fish themselves, but also as lots of fish means well fed bitterns!


    Feeding bittern, Chris Gomersall (rspb-images.com)


    We made the four basic raft structures in our workshop, and then tied them together and put the plants/reed coir mats on them up by the lagoons. 



     We also made a couple of smaller “Granny Flat” rafts which we tied to the sides, and then popped on some bundles of cut reed. These should hopefully be ideal for grebes in spring. 



    We then attached the anchors and floated them out into the lagoon – we used the boat to tow them into position (it was hard work rowing and towing, thankfully it wasn’t a windy day or I doubt we’d have got anywhere!) 



    These are a prototype raft that we’re trialling – if they are successful then we’ll definitely make some more. They’re cost effective and have known to be really successful elsewhere.  We’re hopefully going to pop another one into Big Hole in the next wee while which should be really easy for everyone to see from the path leading up.  (Update: as from yesterday, this one is now in!)