Trip reports

Field Trip - Fairburn Ings

Field Trip - Fairburn Ings
Steve Martin - Treecreeper at Fairburn Ings

Sunday, 17 November 2019

For the twenty-five hardy souls gathered in the rain on Paternoster Row, the chance of a fine day's birding seemed remote, inured as we had become to the damp and miserable weather over the previous couple of weeks. Fairburn Ings, an RSPB wetland reserve in the Aire Valley, had been shut for a week after heavy rain and flooding and it was only on the day before our visit that we were able to confirm that the reserve was open and the trip could go ahead. But fortune sometimes favours the brave and the weather stayed fine, if a little chilly and overcast, for the whole day.

On arrival, some of the group got off at Cut Road to walk along the Riverbank Trail from the east while the coach carried on to the visitor centre. Here, on the feeders outside the centre, a few lucky members had willow tit as one of their first species of the day, together with goldfinch, greenfinch, chaffinch, tree sparrow and other members of the tit family, while parties of redwing flew overhead.

Most members stuck to the Riverbank Trail in the morning. Although not present in large numbers, the majority of common duck species were recorded - with goldeneye, goosander and pintail among the more unusual. Cormorant, great crested grebe and little grebe added to the range of water birds seen and many of the group were lucky enough to glimpse a kingfisher; piping through the flooded willow like a turquoise and vermillion rocket.

A companionable lunch was spent by the visitor centre where people were again treated to excellent views from more than one confiding willow tit, and coffee and cake helped to warm us up.

In the afternoon, many people headed west on the Coal Tips Trail. This raised area is bleaker than the Riverbank Trail but three lakes grace the top - mirrors set in a brown reed frame, with only a black scar on the bank revealing their industrial past. Sombre hues were everywhere - with the exception of silver birch, its leaves like flecks of gold paint on a subdued canvas. Birds brightened the scene too, green woodpeckers in particular being numerous with the verdant greens and sulphur yellows of their plumage visible in flight. Seen from our lofty vantage point, an adult male marsh harrier drifted gently down to the waterlogged meadows below and a whooper swan preened itself in the flooded groves.

Although the Lin Dike hide tempted us from the hilltop, most of us resisted the long trek to this, especially as the high water levels meant an absence of islands and therefore of waders, with lapwing and a solitary snipe being the only species seen, although Neil recounted happy memories of seeing his first pectoral sandpiper there with his father.

As the day drew to a close, the chimneys of nearby Ferrybridge power station loomed large, flashing red lights into the growing gloom. As if this was a signal, squadrons of starlings started to appear, slowly at first but then in growing numbers. The restless swarms settled and resettled on nearby pylons like flies on a dung heap, building to thousands before performing their mesmerising dance over the reeds. Then, as birds peeled off from the formation and dropped into the reeds it was over, leaving only the white noise of their electronic chatter as evidence of the murmuration.

Bird species: 70
Attendees: 25