November, 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

  • St Aidan's Sightings: Secrets Revealed by Low Sun and Leafless Foliage

    As autumn marches towards winter, there are weather benefits for the wildlife seeker despite the cold. The magic of iridescence reveals usually invisible colours if sunlight falls on a subject in the right way. These colours are visible in a summer sun but now the sun is lower and softer, it brightens anyone’s day. Even the visible colours are more vibrant and shiny.

    This is especially noticeable among the current wildfowl of pintail, goldeneye (the male’s head usually dark head reflects green in the right light), shoveler, teal, wigeon, pochard, tufted duck and goosander. Hopefully the web can convey the following two examples:

    Black & white tufted duck reveals deep blue/purple colour around the eye

    Just behind the pintails’ eye you might be able to discern a small patch of green

    What the gadwall.lacks in colour it makes up for in personality:

    Disgruntled gadwall tramples another underfoot

    Waders about the site’s lakes/reedbeds include redshank, dunlin, 20 curlew, 200 plus lapwing, golden plover, snipe and woodcock. The woodcock are being seen between the reedbeds and the hillside pastures. 

    Reedbed sightings are bittern, water rail, water pipit, fieldfare, kingfisher, meadow pipit, grey partridge, pied and grey wagtail along with the usual suspects; grey heron, little egret and great-crested grebe. Fleakingley reservoir is the place to find little grebes. A great white egret has visited again and this can probably be expected all winter on and off. Similar in size to a grey heron, it is the same brilliant white as a little egret but unlike the black-billed little egret, has a yellow bill (outside the breeding season).

    At Fairburn; great white egret with not a stain in sight

    Flocks of whooper swan and pink-footed geese flocks are flying over the site. Around the car park, visitor centre and hillside pastures are occasional little owl in the dragline compound area, both green and great-spotted woodpeckers, stonechat, yellowhammer and red kite.

    The languid red kite who appears to have all the time in the world

    Other regular predators are marsh harrier (male and female) hunting low over the water bodies, peregrine, sparrowhawk, kestrels and a barn owl at the back of Astley lake.

    The wooded areas behind the reedbeds/main lake - now with far fewer leaves - is revealing lots of the smaller birds; treecreeper, blackcap, bullfinch, chiffchaff, reed bunting, dunnock, chaffinch, wren, robin, nuthatch, lesser redpoll, goldcrest, siskin, green and great-spotted woodpeckers. Plus tits: marsh x2, willow, great, blue and long-tailed.

    Keep an eye out for long-tailed tit flocks for the ‘hangers on’

    Long-tailed tit flocks usually number double figures as they are made up of extended family including offspring, aunts, uncles, cousins and there is probably one nobody knows or invited. They endlessly fly round their feeding places calling to one another with their high-pitched ‘surwur-surwur-surwur-sur-wurrrrr’ as they keep in touch and when they pause, they sound like they are blowing raspberries. This attracts ‘groupies’ from the other smaller species, who may be assuming ‘if there is enough food for this busload, there must be enough for me.’

    From the bridges that cross the river, kingfisher can be seen and at Lowther a cettis’ warbler continues to be heard more than seen letting loose its distinctive bugle call.

    And remember during the tail-end of the migratory months rarities are not impossible; recently there were brief visits from a dartford warbler (11th November) and a common scoter (17th- 18th November). The former likes lowland heath with heather/gorse and is more usually associated with southern England and the latter with coastal areas. Both were likely to be migrating across the UK (perhaps held up by unfavourable winds) and landed at St Aidan’s for respite.

    However, to finish here are examples of the often not mentioned but generally present:

    With a very, very shiny green head; a male mallard

    Prehistoric-looking cormorants; the one in the middle is saying “give over, it was never that big” and the one on the right “what-everrrr”


    Coming soon:  

    Dusk walk Monday 11th December & Friday 22nd December from 2pm; for info & tickets see –

    Next community litter pick Sunday 10th December 11am- 3pm             

    Visitor centre and car park are on winter hours and close at 4pm until the end of January.

    Bowers lake path is closed for predator fence work and ridge & furrow digging to expose more habitat creating muddy edges. Perfect for those waders!

    Yours, K Sp-8

  • Fairburn Ings Sightings - 18th Nov

    It’s a busy busy Saturday here at Fairburn today – so here’s a speedy low-down on the wildlife we’ve been treated to this week!

    On the Riverbank Trail end of the reserve (Main Bay and beyond) we have lots of wildfowl, such as shoveller (with their ridiculous bills!) in numbers reaching 250+, shelduck, pintail (with their ridiculous tails!), goosander every day, about 10 goldeneye, and an immature male scaup which has usually been spotted fast asleep by Village Bay island.


    Shoveler, Andy Hay (


    Up on the Coal Tips, the starling murmerations aren’t disappointing anyone! We’re hearing reports of around 20,000 nearly every night now. I’ll be heading up tonight! A marsh harrier has been roosting by the Coal Tips too, and decided to ‘have a go’ at the straggling starlings. A bed time snack? The marsh harriers around at the moment are one male, a female and two juveniles- and are seen most days.


    If you’re up on the Coal Tips but not quite at the right time for the murmerations, worry not. We’re having some lovely sightings of green woodpeckers with their easy-to-ID ‘bouncing’ flight, plus lots of stonechats and a woodcock or two!


    Green woodpecker - Chris Gomersall (

    Around the visitor centre and Discovery Trail we’ve been treated to some gorgeous woodland species. Goldcrests and yellowhammers are flashing about in the trees, tagging on to flocks of tits. Plus treecreepers, nuthatches and greater-spotted woodpeckers are adorning the tree trunks.  At least one water rail has been showing well at Pickup Hide too – he was seen on the 15th of the month but not in the sightings book since. 

    Treecreeper - John Cook 

    As we all know, wildlife doesn't always follow human rules - we heard that on Friday, a sparrowhawk took one of our kingfishers from the screen. This must have been an amazing sight - nature is nature after all, and all species have to eat! This sparrowhawk has been seen for the last year practicing this move, so it's been a long time coming!

    Sparrowhawk vs. Kingfisher - Peter Bembridge… 

  • St Aidan's Sightings - 16th November

    You may have heard or seen on our social media pages - we had quite a surprise visitor over the weekend! Rob Hunton (Swillington Ings Bird Group) spotted a Dartford warbler on the hillside on Saturday morning. I had to have stroll up and catch a glimpse - I spent hours over summer scanning every gorse bush in Dunwich Heath but without any luck!

    - Why are they so exciting? Well, Dartford warblers' numbers crashed to about 10 pairs in the 60s, and since then it has recovered in the UK to about 3200 pairs. These birds however very rarely come up north - they are resident on the very south coast and the east (Norfolk & Suffolk). Only 6 have ever been sighted in Yorkshire - and 2 at St Aidan's. The last one in 2005 stayed for quite a while I hear!

    They are striking in appearance, red and grey colours with a bright red ring around the eye and tell-tale crest. It will perch on top of a gorse stem to sing, but is often seen as a small flying shape bobbing between bushes.

    Dartford warbler, St Aidan's (Rob Hunton)

    A little bigger (but not much!) we've had water pipits around Lemonroyd lake - (a winter visitor, mainly to southern and eastern England)

    Bigger than that - Andrew our assistant warden spotted a jack snipe from the digger yesterday! These are smaller than common snipe and It will fly low and rapidly drop down again, unlike snipe which zig-zags and then flies off high.

    Jack snipe, J Lethbridge (

    Veering off the size order and on to the waders, we've seen golden plover in the last few days reach up to about 20, lapwings and dunlin on Astley Lake along with redshank, and snipe on the ridge and furrow (but the waders can be anywhere!)

    In terms of birds of prey, we've had daily kestrels hovering over the centre, joined by a sparrowhawk on Monday too! Maybe it's heard the news we'll be getting feeders in January... Marsh harriers a plenty around the Ridge and Furrow, and a peregrine exploring Astley Lake on the far side of the park.

    Sparrowhawk - Mick Noble - Swillington Ings Bird Group (


    Jumping straight up to the biggest, we've had 9 whooper swans flying over and a great white egret has been spotted over the weekend on the Ridge and Furrow - but these have been known to swap and chance between Fairburn & St Aidan's!

    Great white egret, Dave Hunter - Swillington Ings Bird Group (


    For more in depth info pop in to the visitor centre on your next visit :)