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

  • Stars of Fairburn Ings... George's watercolour inspiration

    Nature has always inspired creativity for me. From my first school poetry attempts describing seasonal changes, to university studies into natural plant dyes. I have always returned to wildlife for guidance and influence.
    In my growing connectivity to the RSPB and a beloved interest in the animals they protect, I have rekindled a joy for observational drawing and painting. Looking for details in different species to create a better likeness, is expanding my awareness and knowledge of the birds i see everyday and some i have yet to discover.

    Watercolours can be hard to master, but anyone with a little time and a paintbrush can create (however abstract) some resemblance of a tree, a feather, an insect.

    In the process of creating something that has come from the environment around us, we can hope to understand more the importance that they have in our lives and our connection to nature as a whole.

    As I want to improve my skills more I will be continuing to study and spend more time around some of the ‘characters’ at the RSPB reserves, but for now I wanted to share with you a few of our star visitors, and then maybe can create some nature inspired art of your own.

    kingfisher - alcedo atthis
    One of the most recognisable British birds you’ll spot at Fairburn Ings, or if you’re me, you’ll see a very striking flash of blue as it shoots past your vision and then disappears.
    Most often it can be seen when peeping through the kingfisher screen along Riverbank trail

    willow tit - poecile montanus

    This easily overlooked bird is on the RSPB red list after a decline of 95% in 20 years but at Fairburn Ings it can be spotted at the feeders right outside the visitors centre

    Features - white/grey body, black head with light brown feathers



    green woodpecker - picus viridis

    Mostly sighted around Riverbank trail and Coal Tips trail, hunting for its favourite yellow meadow ants.



    spoonbill - platalea leucorodia

    Recently a more regular visitor, last year spoonbills bred at Fairburn Ings, the first successful breeding on an RSPB reserve and a first for Yorkshire. There was excitement all round to see the 3 baby ‘teaspoons’
    Hopefully this year we may spot them again, especially after last year's success on the Moat and aptly named Spoonbill flash



    magpie - pica pica

    A usually common British bird with an intelligent and sometimes arrogant personality. I couldn't create the stars of Fairburn Ings without including the resident magpie Max, whom is well known for strutting freely around the visitor centre trying to steal everyone's lunch


    We’d love to hear from you if you’ve had any artistic creations inspired from the reserves and the wildlife at home there.

    Coming soon will be my collection of equally exciting stars from St Aidan’s reserve and more news and sightings from the Aire valley as a whole.

  • St Aidan's sightings - and hearings! Gael's visit

    The sun shone for my visit to St Aidan’s this week. The place just sparkled!

    I started my walk with a stroll along the Hillside. Great tits, blue tits and long tailed tits accompanied me as I crunched through the icy puddles, warming their voices ready for spring. The great tits are already practising their ‘teacher, teacher’ calls. Emerging from the still-bare trees I found a flock of greylag geese grazing in the field, but in between honks, the air was sprinkled with skylark song. Other reported Hillside & Pasture birds this week include pink-footed geese and fieldfares.

    Unusually, this fieldfare was alone in a tree, behind the dragline

    Carrying on down towards the reedbeds, I watched a carrion crow chasing a female marsh harrier away. She flew off towards Bowers lake for a bit of peaceful hunting. A male marsh harrier has been spotted this week too – along with red kites, a sparrowhawk and buzzards over Ridge & Furrow and the Visitor centre. Bowers currently features wigeon, teal and great crested grebes – and an occasional visit from a great white egret that has been sharing its time with Fairburn.

    Female marsh harrier – RSPB Images: Ben Hall

    Walking down towards the crossroads gave me views of reed buntings and stonechats. They didn’t seem to mind the work going on behind them to build a predator fence along the edge of the Ridge & Furrow. To my right the coots were starting to get noisy and territorial. They have quite spectacular fights at breeding time! A great crested grebe, developing breeding plumage, kept out of the way. I looked out for the kingfisher at the crossroads, but no luck for me today.

    Great crested grebe, all dressed up and nowhere to go.

    Continuing on along the Causeway, I noticed the male goldeneye is still single and showing off on Main lake. I hope he manages to find a mate soon, what with Valentine’s Day rapidly approaching!  

    Male goldeneye looking coy

    On Lemonroyd, goosanders, shovelers, gadwalls and mute swans politely shared the water. Great crested grebes have been seen pairing off there, so it’s worth having a look to see if you can spot them doing their mating dance. 


    These mute swans on Main lake looked like love’s young dream – although an almighty clatter of wings alerted me to another swan who certainly didn’t want to share the space, as he chased off a potential rival. Other sightings on Main lake this week include curlew - listen out for them calling their own names, ringed and golden plover, pochard, pintail, shelduck, wigeon and teal, as well as oystercatchers and dunlin which are more commonly seen on the coast.

    Down by Shan House Bridge and along the path towards Astley, siskins, redpolls, goldfinches and a variety of tits flitted through the trees, making the most of what seed there is left. Astley is currently home to coots and moorhens, gadwall and pochard and lapwings.

    And so I headed back for a welcome cuppa at the Visitor centre. Spring is starting to push its way through. I noticed the very beginnings of the coming season’s pussy willow alongside the path.

    A peep of pussy willow 

  • Fairburn Ings Sightings - George & Darren (6th Feb)

    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 (

    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 (

    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-

    Dawn chorus walks: Get wrapped up for an early morning guide on bird song for the upcoming nesting season -

    For more on our events, openings and sightings visit