Aire Valley - Fairburn Ings and St Aidan's

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

  • Watching spring, watching Springwatch (St Aidan's sightings blog)

    It's been quite a week at St Aidan's, what with Springwatch coming to visit, the sun coming out for a bit, kestrel chicks hatching.... I could go on. Well, I will, because this is a sightings blog.

    June has brought a real taste of summer. The site is a mass of flowers now, hosting red-tailed bumblebees, common blue and blue-tailed damselflies, common blue butterflies, painted ladies, and dingy skippers.

    A host of golden buttercups

    Around Bowers Lake, the sand martins are feeding, both over the water and over the surrounding flowers. Insects aplenty at the moment for that first brood of chicks. Skylarks and blackcaps are singing, and in the skies above little egrets, grey herons, buzzards and red kites have been spotted.

    Oddball and the Visitor Centre have been great viewpoints for little owls and kestrels, linnets, whitethroats, and even a red-legged partridge, have put in appearances.

    The Hillside has been popular with meadow pipits, stonechats and a jay, while swallows and swifts are zipping around overhead. Reed buntings are flitting around all across the park.

    Meadow pipit

    Bitterns are still booming in the reedbeds, when they can get a word in with the black-headed gull cacophony that fills the air. They are sharing this wonderful habitat with black-necked grebes, sedge and reed warblers, goldeneye, pochard, shelducks, gadwall, great crested grebes, and many coots with chicks. Greylag goose families are to be seen foraging in the grass beside the water.

    Special summer visitors

    Over on the ridge & furrow, the lapwings are raising chicks – but they need to be vigilant as peregrines and hobbys are keeping a close eye on the action. Black-tailed godwits, dunlins and oystercatchers share the area with the ever-present black-headed gulls.

    Tufted ducks can be seen on all the waters, while Astley Lake is the best place to see elegant common terns and their rarer cousins, the black terns. The black tern is likely to be a passage migrant in May, on its way to breed in contintental Europe, so our visitors could be just a little late. But black terns do occasionally breed in the UK and they would be most welcome at St Aidan's if they decided to stay. There are also avocets on Astley, dodging the stroppy coots, a mute swan, and great crested grebes.

    Great crested grebe looking coy

    The trees along the bottom of the site to Lowther Lake, are busy with songbirds. They might be difficult to see in the lush greenery, but the distinctive songs of Cetti's warbler and willow warbler, chiffchaff, wren and bullfinch can easily be heard.

    Female common blue butterfly in clover


    Wherever you look nature is bountiful at St Aidan's, from birds with babies to blooming wildflowers buzzing with insects. We'd like to keep it that way, and if you would like to help why not join us on Sunday 10th June at 10am for our Community Litter Pick, all welcome. Or how about the Behind the Scenes Warden Walk on Wednesday 13th June to find out more about how we look after the park? And if you'd like to get a closer look at the wildlife here, check out our Binocular & Telescope Hands On Day on 16th June, expert advice and the chance to try before you buy the right equipment for you.

  • Spoonbills and recent sightings at Fairburn Ings

    Well the news is out now, the exciting press release stating that we have a breeding pair of spoonbills for the second year running. The new viewing area will provide excellent views of these extraordinary looking birds, and don’t forget the coal tips which is the best place to see these majestic birds in flight. It’s quite something to witness the spoonbills graceful flight coming from such an ungamely looking bird, it looks so streamlined and the flight appears effortless.

    Spoonbill - credit Pete M

    The nest they build consists of twigs, sticks and other vegetation in which the female usually lays 3 to 4 eggs which are incubated for around 24 to 25 days before hatching. The prime time for the spoonbills to search for food is in the morning and evening, wading methodically through water whilst sweeping it’s huge bill from side to side to locate its prey. They hunt for small fish, shrimp and other invertebrates.

    Juvenile spoonbill affectionately known as teaspoon - credit Pete M

    Please enquire at the visitors centre for directions to the new viewing area.

    Coal Tips

    There is no doubt that this is the best location to see specials birds at the moment. If you are lucky you may catch the elusive bittern in flight around the lagoons at close quarters whilst feeding flights are taking place, a sight never to be forgotten. Bitterns spend the majority of their time hidden away in the reed beds camouflaged by their yellowish tawny-brown plumage, which is marked with black and brown all over making them appear invisible amongst the reeds.

    Bittern - credit Keith Boyer

    Not forgetting the beautiful black-necked grebes, there are around 7 present, and also the cuckoos which can be perched on fence posts or tree tops giving superb views. Add to that the chance of a spoonbill flying past, where else would you get the chance to see these stunning birds altogether, do you feel lucky?

    Other sightings over the last week have been of common terns, common sandpiper and 28 arctic terns flying over on the 28th May.

    Main Bay / Village Bay

    Avocets have had an excellent breeding season; so far up to 19 chicks have been counted with more still to be hatched. Let’s hope a large percentage survive as the avocets parenting skills are questionable to say the least, some will be lost to predation but we should have a healthy number survive this year.

    Avocet chick - credit Pete M

    A few waders have been stopping over on the islands in main bay, noted have been turnstone, redshank, little ringed plover, and green sandpiper.

    A pair of oystercatchers have also successfully bred with 3 chicks being reported. Other species noted have been yellow wagtail, white wagtail, hobby, black tern, little tern and common terns. A notable part albino swift was amongst the usual throng, having a white lower breast and belly, looking very much like a “mini” alpine swift!


    A quite time of year for the flashes, the most notable visitor being an out of season whooper swan which appeared on the 28th May and was around for a few days. Other sightings have been of a male wigeon, a welcome sighting of a peregrine and of course the spoonbills in flight, with 2 different birds being seen on one occasion.

    Whooper swan - credit Pete M

    Lin Dike

    Chiffchaff, willow warbler, blackcap, whitethroat, sedge and reed warbler, lesser whitethroat, garden warbler and cetti’s warbler can all be heard in this area, a little more patience required before they appear from cover at this time of year.


    Butterflies that have been noted around the reserve are small tortoiseshell, small white, large white, green-veined white, brimstone, orange tip, speckled wood, peacock, comma, small copper, common blue, dingy skipper, holly blue and brown argus. Moths that have been noted are silver y, sycamore and cinnabar.

    Small copper - credit Pete M

    Dragonflies recorded so far have been emperor, four-spotted chaser, and black-tailed skimmer.

    Black-tailed skimmer (female) - credit Pete M

    Damselflies recorded so far have been blue-tailed damselfly, large red damselfly, azure damselfly, common blue and banded demoiselle.

    Large red damselfly - credit Pete M

  • St Aidan's 'Thursday Team' Volunteers

    Today we are focusing on our Thursday Volunteer Reserve Assistants.

    This group of volunteers work across the reserve to support the wardens in maintaining the reserve for wildlife and visitors.


    Sam, who is one of our Thursday volunteers, says “In my working life I realised I wasn't spending any time outside and certainly wasn't getting enough exercise, which was soon to change. I joined RSPB St Aidan’s in October 2017. I wasn't sure exactly what I was getting into. Eight months in, I can honestly say it's been hard work but I really look forward to it and thoroughly enjoy myself. The crew is made up of some of the nicest people I have ever encountered and I have laughed more than I would ever have expected, while involved in such physical tasks! If you're thinking that you need to spend more time outside, contributing to nature and not pay for gym fees come along and be part of something that really makes a difference.”