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

  • Black terns, ospreys and other sightings at Fairburn Ings

    More star turns make a brief appearance on main bay, two juvenile black terns to be precise. They appeared on the morning of the 27th August and stayed until mid-afternoon, a great start to the week for the observers who were lucky enough to see them. The black tern is a scarce spring and autumn migrant to the UK coast and inland waters, they occur in North America and Europe, our visitors are migrating from Europe to the coastline of West Africa and also along the Nile in Egypt and Sudan. They mostly eat insects when breeding; they will take small fish, tadpoles, frogs and snails.

    Juvenile black tern - Jon Buxton

    Another arrival to the reserve has been the great white egret, which is significant with the cattle egret and spoonbills still being present. If you venture up on to the coal tips and look down over the flashes you may be lucky enough to see all three species in one view, not forgetting the little egrets of course. Who would have thought that possible a few years ago?

    Coal Tips

    A barnacle goose was seen on big hole on the 28th august, with common gulls also being seen amongst the more familiar black-headed gulls. Wheatears have been seen around the trail, with a single on 30th august and two on 1st September. Hobbys have been seen frequently and bearded tits continue to make appearances on the lagoons, adults and juveniles.

    Hobby - Pete M

    Flashes / Lin Dike

    A good variety of birds can be seen around the flashes at the moment, an osprey made a brief visit on 4th September, seen perched in the dead tree on spoonbill flash. The cattle egret is still here on vacation, as well as the wood sandpiper which keeps appearing at different locations. Other sightings have been the resident whooper swan, four green sandpipers, four greenshank, nine snipe, ruff, water rail, nine black-tailed godwits, four dunlin, great white egret and nineteen little egrets on spoonbill flash on 1st September.

    Spoonbills can still be seen feeding anywhere around the flashes or can also be seen in flight as they venture further afield for food.

    Juvenile spoonbill - Keith Boyer

    Garganey and pintail have also been noted, as well as a nice variety of raptors including marsh harrier, peregrine, hobby, sparrowhawk, red kite and buzzard.

    A tree pipit passed overhead on 3rd September, also up to ten yellow wagtail and four whinchats around the flashes, spotted flycatcher on 3rd September at spoonbill flash, and a cetti’s warbler seen moving around the phalarope pool.

    Wood sandpiper - Pete M

    Visitor centre area

    A spotted flycatcher gave good views moving between the kingfisher screen and duck feeding platform on the 28th and 29th August. A kingfisher was seen from the duck feeding platform and a cetti’s warbler was seen from pick up hide on 29th august.

    Main Bay / Village bay

    The most notable visitors to this part of the reserve were the aforementioned juvenile black terns and also an osprey flew overhead on the 3rd September. A juvenile red-crested pochard has been seen from Charlies hide and also occasionally on village bay. Three spotted flycatchers also seen in the cut area and along the riverbank, as well as two lingering whitethroats. Also up to six wigeon, nine common tern and two snipe have been recorded. Two Egyptian geese made a short visit on the 2nd September also.

    Spotted flycatcher - Pete M

    Newton / Newfield area

    Raptors noted over the ridge on single occasions were five red kites, six common buzzards and a single marsh harrier.


    Butterflies noted were small white, green-veined white, speckled wood, large white, gatekeeper, comma, meadow brown, brown argus, small copper, holly blue, common blue, red admiral, small tortoiseshell, painted lady.


    Dragonflies noted have been brown hawker, southern hawker, migrant hawker, ruddy darter, common darter.

  • Fake News of Yore - Plus St Aidan’s Sightings

    Autumn bird migration has rolled around again and our summer visitors are starting to depart as those who pause or winter here are arriving. Without today’s facilities or technologies, migration was a mystery to be explained and by, did some imaginations run riot.

    Catching insects yellow wagtail style on the eastern reedbed.

    In 1745, in “Inquiry into the physical and literal sense of the scriptures” the unknown author said because birds fly so high and not discernible, their flight cannot be horizontal. Ignoring that we do and did see them, he concluded their flight must be vertical and the only logical stopping place was the moon. This had been a popular medieval belief but now there was data to support it; two months to get there, three to rest and refresh, followed by two to return. As this coincided with birds absences (more or less) - job done!

    There was also a transformation theory; in winter redstarts turn into robins, garden warblers into blackcaps, quail into water rail and in spring, sparrow hawks become cuckoos. Presumably no-one ever observed a transformed rubbing shoulders with an un-transformed in the same space.

    Whoops; common tern juvenile not expecting fish that heavy.

    In 1878, a German Adolph Ebeling was in Egypt and surprised to see wagtails. A Bedouin was equally surprised that he did not know how small birds deliberately wait in Europe for a passing stork or crane to a hitch lift on its back. The larger bird obliges because the smaller bird(s) twittering whiles away the long journey. Cranes were also supposed to swallow a large stone as ballast to cope with wind direction changes. It’s a wonder they anywhere with all those passengers and luggage but a least they had a form of radio for company.

    Aristotle believed some birds migrated to warmer climes and cited the cranes that flew to the Egyptian marshes where the Nile originates, to continue their long running war with the resident pygmies. The Roman, Pliny the Elder found out more; the pygmies were armed with arrows and rode on the backs of goats or rams.

    Juvenile sibling spoonbill rivals; fighting for possession of a stick and when lost, bill-jousting.

    Up until the nineteenth century it was believed most birds hibernated. Aristotle said they go into a state of torpor when they hide in hollows, caves, mud and reported of swallows found denuded of all their feathers. Maybe not actually alive then? In 1555, the Swedish Archbishop Olaus Magnus in “Description of Northern Peoples” included that in autumn swallows congregated to sink and pack together like sardines below the mud in lakes. Inexperienced fishermen who netted the birds tried to warm and revive them, whereas experienced fisherman let them be. Hibernation persisted as the most popular theory because serious ornithologists were caught in a catch-22; insufficient evidence to refute but also couldn’t find anyone credible who had seen it.

    But the prize for ingenuity goes to the middle ages belief that barnacle geese burst as fully fledged goslings from either apple-like fruits dropped from willow-type trees near the sea or from barnacles attached to beached timber or driftwood. This phenomenon was only noticed when the geese were returning. In 1187, an Italian arch-deacon saw Irish priests eating goose during meat-free lent as they confidently believed it was a fish dish. However, when it suited they also ate that other fish, the brent goose. It took a papal decree in 1215 to end the practice.


    Recent Sightings:

    As the long hot summer collides with the autumn migration, lots of young birds are becoming more independent and as they are less wary, also more obvious so it’s a good time to get out and see them, especially as some visits may be brief.


            After barking out a cough to call its young, this great-crested grebe went passed juvenile 1 to feed juvenile 2.

    Wader representation has been good of late around the lakes, mostly at Astley and in the reedbeds; ruff, greenshank, black-tailed godwit, ringed plover, little ringed plover, snipe, redshank, dunlin, lapwing, turnstone, little stint, curlew/common/green & wood sandpiper, curlew, the odd whimbrel flyover and on the 2nd Sept a golden plover flew through.

    Two ruff with Frankenstein boots of mud. 

    Of the smaller birds being seen are grey/pied wagtail, yellow wagtail (with 50+ roosting), whitethroat, lesser whitethroat, cetti’s warbler, whinchat, stonechat, chiffchaff, willow warbler, reed bunting, meadow pipit, reed warbler, sedge warbler, blackcap, linnet, bearded tit, willow tit and goldfinch in flocks. Up to 9 spotted flycatchers dropped in for a few days. Still a few swifts, swallows, house and sand martins are zooming around.

    A young reed warbler tries on a beret at a jaunty angle (it’s something on the reed behind).


    There are increasing numbers grey heron, little egret, cormorant, still the odd bittern flights and a great white egret dropped by on the 2nd Sept. On the water are many great-crested grebe with juveniles and both black-necked & little grebe with young are being seen more. There are also more mute swan cygnets. Among the other wildfowl and gaining their post moulting plumage are teal, gadwall, shoveler, wigeon, pintail (up to 5), and the odd garganey, a drake common scoter (2nd Sept), female goldeneye, two goosander and a barnacle goose has been spotted with the greylags.

    With ‘past its sell buy date’ breeding plumage; a little egret.

    Other sightings on the increase are kingfisher, spotted & green woodpecker. A few common tern and their juveniles remain. Two juvenile black tern stayed for a few days at the end of August. In the reedbeds water rail and their juveniles are showing more. Plus their piercing screams are becoming more frequent as they jostle up against each other.

    Juvenile black tern.

    At the dragline little owl continues to make appearances, especially if it’s warm and not too breezy. Around the site raptors include marsh harrier, red kite, sparrowhawk, peregrine, hobby, buzzard and kestrel. A few flyovers of osprey as well lately.  

    With Oddball in the background, a kestrel hovers.

    Around the site, there are still plenty of insects; damsel and dragonflies race against time to ovi-posit (e.g. darters and hawkers) and also butterflies/moths (e.g. common blue, small copper, speckled wood).

    Ovi-positing common darters at the east end of the main lake.

    And finally:

    This begs the question; where’s the rider and motorcycle that should be below this acrobat team?


    Yours, K Sp-8 (18/09)





  • Cattle egret and recent sightings at Fairburn Ings

    As we move ever closer to autumn birds are starting to move from their breeding grounds in preparation for migration. This is the time to keep your eyes open for birds passing through the reserve which you wouldn’t expect to see as they drop into fuel up for their long journey. A surprise find on the 24th August on the path through Lin Dike was a Tree Pipit. Tree pipits can usually be found in sparsely timbered heaths and commons, or lower lying areas with scrub or in woodland glades and is a species which usually warrants a visit to a specific site to view in the present day. They are usually given away delivering their song as they rise from a perch in a tree to gently parachute down, an event all to scarce these days but a captivating sight if you are lucky enough to witness it.

    Tree pipit - Trevor Walton

    For the second successive year we have a cattle egret visiting, first seen on 20th August on spoonbill flash and still present on the reserve. These birds are scarce visitors to the UK although the odd pair has bred, the first recorded pair breeding in the UK was in 2008 and the second time was in 2017 so who knows, we may get a breeding pair in the near future in the heronry. As the name suggests they do like to associate with grazing cattle, picking up the insects that they dislodge, especially grasshoppers.

    Cattle egret - Jon Buxton

    Cattle egret - Joe Seymour

    Coal Tips

    Black-necked grebes have been seen regularly on the west lagoon, one adult and one juvenile being noted recently. Bearded tits continue to be seen with up to four birds being seen together and five grey partridges being noted on 13th August. Other sightings have been red kite, kestrel, sparrowhawk, sedge warblers, blackcap and common gulls on big hole.

    Flashes / Lin Dike

    This is the busiest part of the site presently with the water levels being ideal for waders. Visiting recently have been three greenshank, four green sandpiper, seven ringed plover, common sandpiper, six dunlin, 15 black-tailed godwit, two ruff and a cattle egret.

    Common sandpiper - Pete M

    Up to seven whinchats have been seen, with four seen regularly on spoonbill flash. Yellow wagtails have also been seen around with up to ten being seen on one occasion, and a wheatear also seen on 12th and 24th august. Other species seen have been hobby, peregrine, marsh harrier, garganey, pintail, spoonbill (maximum of seven individuals), whooper swan, water rail, common tern, and snipe. A kingfisher was seen on spoonbill flash on 20th august and a bittern was reported on the moat on 17th august

    Spoonbills can be seen feeding anywhere around the flashes or can also be seen in flight as they venture further afield for food.

    There have also been redstart sightings on hicksons flash on 20th august and a male was seen in a field adjacent to phalarope pool on 25th august.

    Newton / Newfield area

    Four red kites and six buzzards were seen over the Newfield area on 16th august, and on the same day fve ravens were seen in a stubble field above newton farm.

    Red Kite - Pete M

    Main Bay / Village bay

    Not much to report from this part of the reserve apart from around three hundred gadwall being present and over a hundred mute swans also. The red-crested pochard hybrid was still present and seen on the 22nd august; also three snipe have been seen as well as oystercatcher, common tern, two egyptian geese and a kingfisher.


    Butterflies noted were small white, green-veined white, speckled wood, large white, gatekeeper, comma, meadow brown, brown argus, small copper, holly blue, common blue, red admiral, small tortoiseshell, painted lady.

    A hummingbird hawk moth was behind the visitors centre on the 18th august.

    Hummingbird hawkmoth - Darren Starkey


    Dragonflies noted have been brown hawker, southern hawker, ruddy darter, common darter.

    Fox - Keith Boyer