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Recent sightings

  • 14 May 2016

    What a tern out! Recent sightings

    What a fantastic week of sightings we've had at Fairburn Ings this week! Personally, I've seen three new bird species this week; cuckoo (I've only ever heard them before but was treated to a calling fly over by a cuckoo as I stood on the balcony of the visitor centre), black tern and spoonbill (I kept missing the one that appeared last summer, but patience served me well and I saw it this time!)

    I had fantastic views of the black terns on Tuesday evening from Bob Dickens hide. Three were preening on the edge of one of the islands in Main Bay when I arrived, but after a few minutes, one of them took flight.  Wow. They are so graceful in flight, small, agile and delicate beside the more substantial black headed gulls they were flitting past. There have also been arctic and common terns this week!

    Common tern thanks to David Tipling (

    Our cuckoos went a bit quiet during the cold weather, but all the recent sunshine has rejuvenated them and we've had lots of visitors getting great sights and sounds of them! The Coal Tips Trail and the Lin Dike Link are the best spots to see them nip from tree to tree or to really hear the distinctive call.

    Cuckoo thanks to John Bridges (

    Our cutlery-faced friend, the spoonbill, has been giving us the run around a bit this week, mostly turning up in the moat, and visible from the coal tips trail as if you're looking into the heronry.  Which, whilst we're on the subject, the heronry is fantastic at the minute with great views of cormorant and heron chicks (almost too big for their nests now!) and also the little egret nests. I saw one snuggling down on to the nest in the rain on Wednesday, thanks to our ranger volunteer, John, who had spotted it with his telescope.  Our rangers, out nearly every day, are a mine of information, and really helpful in spotting wildlife. If you see them around the reserve, have a chat and they'll be more than happy to show you what's what!

    This illustration by Mike Langman ( shows the sweeping head movement of the spoonbill when it feeds.

    Also this week on the reserve there have been garganey, sanderling, turnstone and green sandpiper!

    Blue tits are nesting on camera on the screens in the visitor centre again this year too. The chicks are tiny at the minute but it still looks really uncomfortable for the parents when they sit on them to keep them warm!  

    Posted by KateSt

  • 4 May 2016

    A Dawn Chorus Experience

    Well well well! This May's Dawn chorus got off to a flying start with 56 different species seen and heard throughout the reserve. For those bold enough to brave the early start, the walk was a fantastic opportunity for people such as myself to brush up on their bird song!

    The walk began with some great sounds, including a very boisterous pheasant, wood pigeons, wrens, robins, skylark, and of course, the distinctive chiff-chaff.

    As we journeyed along, we were lucky enough to catch a quick glimpse of a common tern flying over the feeder station. This of course got me geared up and ready to hopefully see what would be my first Kingfisher at Fairburn.

    Kingfisher, John Bridges (

    The expectation was building as we reached Fairburn’s famous Kingfisher screen. As I peered expectantly through the cover, I was greeted with the familiar sight of the beautiful river scenery, but alas! No Kingfisher. Much to my distain, this particular bird had managed to elude me since my coming to Fairburn three weeks ago. Despite the constant photographs and sightings from our wonderful visitors, I had yet to experience this beautiful bird for myself. Indeed, I was starting to believe it had orchestrated a plot to avoid me!

    Reed bunting, Mike Richards (

    This minor disappointment was quickly overridden as we reached Big Hole, and were greeted with the scratchy sound of the reed warbler and reed bunting. The walk continued along the riverbank trail where we were met with a cacophony of sound including swifts, chaffinch, sand martin, red-poll, siskin, and swallows. As we passed Bob Dickens hide we scoped out some great sightings of avocets, tufted-duck, great-crested grebe and pochard, before heading back towards the visitor centre for some well earned tea and coffee.

    Reed warbler, John Bridges (

    Now the highlight for me was as we made our way back past the Kingfisher screen, with our once tired eyes now bright with excitement, what was it I spied sitting along the wire? But of course! My elusive Kingfisher had finally decided to say hello! What a great way to finish a wonderful morning, after weeks of waiting I finally managed to catch a glimpse of this colourful bird! I’m still sure he planned the whole thing. I suppose he had to make an entrance, right?

    A big thank you to everyone who joined us on the walk, it was great to meet you all and I hope to see you in the visitor centre soon! If anyone would like a full list of the species we saw on this walk, please e-mail

    Posted by Sally G

  • 27 April 2016

    Recent sightings: well that was swift!

    Snow? At the end of April! There has been every imaginable type of weather at Fairburn this week; rain, hail, sleet, snow, high winds, and a few rays of sunshine. There have also been some pretty nifty sightings, which is why we’re all here!

    Swift, Mike Langman (

    First off, because it’s the thing I am absolutely the most excited about, is the return of the swifts. I am yet to see one, but there have been plenty of reports in the book. The first one appeared on Saturday morning and by the end of the day the final count clocked in at eight. They have been seen on the Flashes, on Cut Lane, on the Riverbank Trail and up near Big Hole, so more or less everywhere.

    Swifts return to the UK on migration from Africa each year and only stay for a few short months. They scythe through the air on sharp, crescent wings, screaming as they go and catching insects up high. There aren’t many things better than lying back in the sunshine and watching swifts wheel in the air above.

    Cuckoo, John Bridges (

    The other big sighting over the past week has been the arrival of the cuckoos. There have been lots of sightings, both seen and heard, up on the Coal Tips trail, at least four birds on Friday. These gorgeous birds have suffered massive declines in recent years and they will be busy hunting for nests to lay their eggs in; they favour the nests of dunnocks, reed warblers and meadow pipits.

    Whitethroat, John Bridges (

    Otherwise, the warblers are here in full force! Sedge warblers are singing, Cetti’s warbler numbers have increased, we have had reports of whitethroats and lesser whitethroats. You can’t walk 10 paces through the reserve without being accosted by the sound of a singing chiffchaff or willow warbler! And up on the Coal Tips on Thursday our site manager, Darren, heard the first grasshopper warbler of the year.

    Keep letting us know your sightings!

    Posted by Sally G

  • 9 April 2016

    Recent sightings: Ouzel a pretty boy then?

    More migrants have been arriving this week and the air is beginning to fill with a greater variety of song. Up on the Coal Tips trail it is impossible to miss the erratic ascent of skylarks and their high, trilling song.

    Willow warbler, John Bridges (

    Across the reserve there are blackcap and willow warblers singing, and chiffchaffs seem to be all over the place. There are smart male Reed buntings all over the Coal Tips trail and do keep an ear out for the booming of the bittern.

    A big sighting this week was the report of a male ring ouzel in the field near the Moat. It passed through briefly and this picture was snapped:

    Ring ouzel - taken by Peter Maugham

    Elsewhere on the reserve a female Wheatear was spotted on the path near Big Hole, and a little-ringed plover was seen on The Cut yesterday.  There have been a number of curlew sightings around the reserve, particularly down at Lin Dike. And out on Main Bay there have been 3 Sandwich terns and a little gull out on the islands.

    Posted by Sally G

  • 1 April 2016

    Recent sightings: what joy an osprey can bring!

    Well, we may as well begin with the big sighting of the week; the osprey!  Our Assistant Warden, John, claims that he has spent the past two years giving every gull over Fairburn a shrewd assessment during the spring and summer. His diligence paid off on Wednesday when he spotted an osprey flying West over the visitor centre up towards the flashes.

    Osprey, Chris Gomersall (

    Ospreys are beautiful, fish-eating birds of prey which migrate from West Africa for the summer every year. They were extinct in the UK for a good chunk of the early 20th century but returned to nest in Scotland at Loch Garten in the 1950’s. Since then their numbers have steadily increased and in the late 90’s they began slowly spreading into England and Wales. There are now roughly 250 pairs in the UK, and each year we get a few sightings as they pass over the reserve on their migration, its always lovely to see them.

    Grey heron, John Bridges (

    Another bird of prey spotted on the reserve this week was a Marsh Harrier. Many of the sightings reported so far this year have been of an immature male, but this week he seems to have departed and this bird was actually an immature female.

    The avocets are visible most days on Main Bay and up at Hickson’s pool, there are roughly 20 birds out on the reserve in total. Fingers crossed for a successful nesting season for them this year.

    Little ringed plover, Ben Hall (

    The heronry is looking fantastic, this year we have a record number of nests, nearly double our previous highest number. Most of them now have young on them too, you can see the heronry from the Coal Tips trail out on the Moat.

    A couple of other notable sightings include the first house martin on Tuesday, and a couple of little ringed plover on Monday and Thursday.

    Posted by Sally G

  • 28 March 2016

    Recent sightings: many, many migrant sightings

    What a busy week for sightings, spring is well and truly here. We have the migrants to prove it!

    Sand martins are now becoming quite prolific in the sightings book, going from one or two, to twelve, to sixty, to around two hundred in the past couple of days. Keep an eye out for them over Main bay and Village bay.

    Swallow, Chris Gomersall (

    There was a wheatear and our first swallow spotted down at Lin Dike at the weekend, these beautiful birds are beginning to arrive from Africa ready for the breeding season.

    Out on the Moat the heronry is bursting with spring life, not only do we have cormorant chicks, but some of the heron eggs have also now hatched. Standing on the Coal Tips trail looking down over trees heavy with nests, it’s almost pre-historic.

    Comma butterfly, Grahame Madge (

    Lots of butterflies about too, more peacocks have been spotted but there have now been comma butterflies and small tortoishell seen out on the reserve as well.

    You may have seen them out on Main bay but the avocets are back! These gorgeous, delicate birds are the symbol of the RSPB as they are one of the first birds the organisation helped bring back from the brink of extinction in the UK. They have bred successfully here for the past two years, so fingers crossed for 2016.

    Avocet, Chris Gomersall (

    The stars of the show this weekend were undoubtedly the frogs and toads, head down to the pond dipping platform and the air is filled with the sound of mating, bellowing amphibians. Somehow toads are making it up onto the visitor centre balcony and we have to regularly remove them and put them safely back in the pond.

    Balcony toad, taken by Sally Granger

    A couple of sightings I don’t want to miss from the blog are the hen harrier over Hickson’s flash last weekend. What a spot! Top that off with a goshawk and two ravens over the visitor centre, and I think we can safely say it has been an excellent week for wildlife at Fairburn Ings.

    Posted by Sally G

  • 18 March 2016

    Recent sightings, in the sunshine!

    I thought last week’s blog would be difficult to follow given the incredible sightings across the reserve.  However, there has been a lot to see and while it may be not as unusual, it is definitely as exciting.

    There have been a few firsts for the year including the first cormorant chick seen in a nest, the first peacock butterfly, first bumblebee AND the first sand martin.  Amazing what a bit of sunshine can do!

    Sand martin thanks to Ben Hall (

    It’s been a few weeks since there have been any marsh harrier sightings reported, but this week there have been a few appearances by an immature male again, so it could very well be the same one as before.

    Out on the feeders there are a lot of male reed buntings looking very smart in their summer plumage, and there have been several appearances by the resident willow tits.

    Reed bunting thanks to Mike Richards (

    Pond dipping season is well underway and there have been a lot of frogs in the pond dipping area, as well as out on the paths.  A bit out of character for a water rail, but one was photographed out beside the duck feeding platform at the weekend too!

    Common frog thanks to Eleanor Bentall (

    Also notable are the two ravens and four red kites seen over the visitor centre on Monday, the jack snipe seen out by Pickup pool on Tuesday, and a woodcock on the Discovery Trail.

    Posted by KateSt

  • 11 March 2016

    Recent Sightings: What a week!

    What a week at Fairburn! All the usual suspects are about, the feeders around the visitor centre have been heavy with tree sparrows, goldfinches, long-tailed tits and reed buntings. There is more birdsong in the air, willow tits are singings and woodpeckers are drumming.

    The high winds across the country this week have also blown in a variety of interesting birds. Wednesday saw a raft of 30 male common scoter out on Main Bay, these are typically sea ducks but they obviously stopped for a bit of shelter.

    Common scoter, Andy Hay (

    There was also another kittiwake sighting on Main Bay on Thursday, as well as a red-breasted merganser.  The male smew and two red-headed smew are also still around on the reserve and can often be seen on Village Bay.

    This morning there was a brief pit stop made by 10 whooper swans at Big Hole.  They were only around for a short period before they took off again, but a few lucky folk got a good look.

    Goldcrest, Mike Langman (

    Firecrest, Mike Langman (

    Finally, this morning up on the Coal Tips trail two very lucky visitors spotted a firecrest! Firecrests can be distinguished from the much more common goldcrest by their brighter colours. Their upperparts are much greener with darker, more defined stripes on the top of their head, and very obvious black and white stripes around the eyes.

    Posted by Sally G

  • 4 March 2016

    Recent Sightings: Its a white-out

    Well the sighting of the week, it has to be said, was the snow. I love it when it snows at Fairburn, it’s like the reserve holds its breath. The hustle and bustle slows and looking out across main bay, or taking a stroll down to Pickup feels more indulgent , like it’s somehow more precious.  I have to stop and let myself be in awe for a moment, because all too soon I know it will turn to drizzle and slush.

    Snowy Fairburn, Sally Granger

    The four smew are still here, one male and three red-heads. They have continued to shift around the reserve on a daily basis and have been seen at Lin Dike, Main Bay, Village bay, the Moat and the Coal Tips.  If I didn’t know better I would say there was mischief afoot!

    Notable sightings this week include two flocks of pink-footed geese flying over the reserve.  Roughly 150 over the Visitor Centre on Monday, and 60 odd on Sunday. Sunday also saw 14 whooper swans over the flashes.

    Adult kittiwake, Grahame Madge (

    A couple of star sightings go to a green sandpiper on the Riverside trail at the weekend, and an adult kittiwake on Main Bay late Wednesday afternoon. It’s not unusual to see the odd kittiwake at Fairburn this time of year, particularly given the strong winds we have had. Do let us know if you spot one!

    Otherwise, breeding season seems to be well underway, despite the fact we are barely into March. The warden team have been hard at work cleaning, repairing and replacing nearly 100 nest boxes across the reserve and there is a already a great deal of activity. If you have nest boxes in your garden, it seems the window for cleaning them out is rapidly closing. Bring on the spring!

    Posted by Sally G

Your sightings

Grid reference: SE4527 (+2km)

Black Tern ()
28 May 2016
Avocet ()
27 May 2016
Adult at occupied nest/incubating
Cuckoo ()
27 May 2016
Singing/breeding calls heard
Kingfisher ()
27 May 2016
Territoriality over 1 week
Tree Sparrow ()
27 May 2016
Territoriality over 1 week
Goosander (1)
27 May 2016
Little Ringed Plover ()
27 May 2016
Territoriality over 1 week
Cetti's Warbler ()
22 May 2016
Grey Wagtail ()
22 May 2016
Grasshopper Warbler ()
18 May 2016

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  • Lat/lng: 53.74373,-1.31765
  • Postcode: WF10 2BH
  • Grid reference: SE451277
  • Nearest town: Castleford, West Yorkshire
  • County: West Yorkshire
  • Country: England

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