The days have dropped cold and misty again in winter’s last icy breath. The atmosphere around Fairburn Ings is serene but charged like the calm before a storm. The storm in this case being the hustle and bustle of upcoming spring.
A visit to the reserve in this weather opens the opportunity for quiet reflection over the end of winter and new beginnings. As drizzly as it was, I had the chance for a personal tour with Aire Valley Site Manager Darren, a fantastic opportunity to learn more about how the reserve has progressed over the winter months and the preparations taking place for spring. Darren’s very helpful dog Monty came along the hunt to spot herons and willow tits.
The hide at Pickup Pool will soon be the new home for nesting birds
We set off in the rain and mud along Discovery Trail and up onto Coal Tips. Passing on the right Big Hole, where scrub clearance and digging around the edges is creating a nice muddy habitat for wading birds in spring. Spotted circling overhead here on Thursday was a glossy ibis, probably taking a closer look at the deconstruction work to see if any tasty insects are unearthed. It was later seen on Friday near Pickup Pool. The glossy ibis although very rarely seen in the UK appears to be travelling further north in the warmer weathers, to see one at this time of year is encouraging for nesting possibilities.
Glossy Ibis over Fairburn - copyright Keith Boyer (Twitter)
Heading up over Coal Tips Trail the Lagoons were glassy and grey, spotted with coots, shovelers and shelducks. I could see here the hard work that had been done over winter. Fish refuges, providing new hiding spots and food sources for invertebrates and small fish have been constructed. The posts, thrust into the waterbed and tied round with recently removed shrubbery, poke above the water to give island areas for the nesting birds in spring.
On the right hand slope the clearance of this area can be seen to be having a great effect for yellow meadow ants. The big piles of earth that suggest large colonies will hopefully entice more green woodpecker, sighted on Riverbank Trail this week, up Coal Tips for their favourite meal.
Green woodpecker Chris Gomersall (rspb-images.com)
Walking further along the trail overlooking Spoonbill Flash, I could see the giant heronry below. You may need binoculars to spot the herons hiding within the trees as I did, but the more you look, the more seem to emerge sat upon the branches. A great time to see the heronry and learn more about their preparations for nesting will be at our upcoming Heronfest guided trail starting from 10th February.
Further down Arrow Lane Trail at Lin Dyke Hide early this week were sightings of little egret, great white egret and a fair few goldeneye.
With myself, Darren and Monty getting quite soggy, we turned back along the Riverbank Trail to stop at Bob Dickens Hide. Throughout this week there have been sightings of a male scaup on Main Bay, currently on the RSPB red list as high conservation concern, this was very exciting to see as only a handful have been reported to breed in the UK.
Main Bay has also played host this week to glaucous gull, seen at the back end of the week.
Scaup - Steve knell (rspb-images.com)
Although a fairly cold and wet day it was a really great chance for good reminder of the hard work that goes into the upkeep and preparations at an RSPB reserve. Darren used a lovely phrase for why we put so much effort into what we do which is “Grow support for nature”. This can be seen in the support we give to the 190+ species that visit Fairnburn Ings throughout the year and the support we give our visitors that come to see these species. And as Darren also explained to me, he cant pick a favourite, as they are all amazing.
Other exciting goings on at Fairburn Ings in the upcoming excitement of spring are nest box cams. These are set up in the visitor centre to spy on the first nesting resident of the reserve.
Heronfest, from 10th Feb onwards we are celebrating the Fairburn heronry! Ask us on the day about informal ranger walks, take part in our discovery quiz trail, or follow the self guided trail up to the Coal Tips for a perfect view.
Birding for Beginners guided walks- https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/birding-for-beginners-at-fairburn-ings-tickets-42787635971
Dawn chorus walks: Get wrapped up for an early morning guide on bird song for the upcoming nesting season - https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/international-dawn-chorus-day-at-fairburn-ings-tickets-42627807921
For more on our events, openings and sightings visit