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Recent sightings

  • 14 December 2014

    A Collective of Christmas Sightings

    You’ll know about our charms of goldfinches and parliament of long-eared owls, but has anyone ever turned to you and said ‘oh just look at that mutation of thrushes’? – no, me neither...

    What other weird and wonderful collectives can you see around the reserve?

    Pheasant, Ben Hall (

    Head off around the Discovery Trail where the tame robin has caused quite a stir with visitors this week, he is certainly well fed! Careful though because at any point you could disturb some undergrowth and set flight to a bouquet of pheasants.

    When you sit yourself down at Pick-up hide you are almost guaranteed to see a plump of moorhens pecking around, likely beneath the feeders where a host of tree sparrows are eating their lunch, where a willow tit was also seen this week.

    Mallard, Ben Hall (

    On a good day you might look out upon a brightly coloured spring of teal, and if you’re lucky, a wisp of snipe may have stopped off for a rest. If you carry on around to the Feeder Screen there is always a jolly puddle of mallards splashing and nibbling on fallen seed, and on occasion a bellowing of bullfinches will make an appearance.

    Onwards to the Kingfisher Screen where you might be accosted by a herd of wrens, or a party of jays may ‘skwaaaark!’ overhead. Always stop and have a look because the kingfisher has been spotted a good many times this week.

    Lapwing, Andy Hay (

    When you reach Big Hole you’ll see a deceit of lapwings lining the shore while a covert of coots drift and a bevy of swans swim. Off along the Riverbank Trail and a descent of green woodpeckers might take flight into the trees, although only one was reported this week.

    Green woodpecker, Andy Hay (

    A little grebe was seen at main bay earlier in the week, along with the usual gulp of cormorants and a dopping of goosander floating regally by.

    Why not bring your delight of grandchildren, get in a round of hot chocolate and while away a handful of hours?

    Posted by Sally G

  • 6 December 2014

    Red, gold and green, like my dreams: Recent sightings

    Remember back in October when I suggested we could have heard the last chiffchaff song of the year? Well not quite... December 1st a chiffchaff was heard singing at the far end of the reserve near Hickson’s pool!  If you hear any more this year, please do let us know.

    Chiffchaff, John Bridges (

    There have been several goldeneye spotted on the reserve this week.  They’re not a particularly uncommon winter sighting in the UK but they are a weird and wonderful duck.  Probably the most notable thing is that they nest in trees in the large cavities made by broken limbs, and on the continent, black woodpeckers. The majority of those that flock to our shores in winter breed in coniferous forests of Northern Europe, there is however, a small breeding population in the pine forests of northern Scotland where nest boxes have been a successful substitute for natural nest sites.  Look out for that domed head, white cheek and piercing golden eye, it could well be that you’re looking at one of those rare Scottish goldeneye off on its winter holidays.

    Goldeneye, Ben Hall (

    Lesser redpoll sightings have been gaining momentum and this week a flock of around 40 was reported on the riverbank trail near to main bay. A small finch, lesser redpoll can be seen in the UK all year round but they are easier to spot in bare winter trees, and they particularly love to munch on the seeds of birch and alder trees.  

    Shelduck, Ben Hall (

    If you’re out and about also keep an eye out for shelduck on main bay and village bay. Those cheeky snipe have been showing up again at Pick-up, and at Lin Dike there are countless wigeon and few pintail slinking between them.

    Posted by Sally G

  • 28 November 2014

    A couple of commoners...and a barn owl!

    The recent sightings book in the visitor centre is full of wonderful sightings, but alas, I have already written about many of the new and exciting arrivals! So, I thought it was probably about time we took a moment to appreciate some of the more common birds that are in the book on a regular basis.

    Treecreepers are a little mouse-like in appearance and are never still, constantly moving up trees in search of food. They never move downwards and once they get too high up one tree they fly down to the base of another before beginning the process again. They're fascinating little birds that can be seen all year round across the reserve.

    Goldcrest, Ben Andrew (

    At the moment Goldcrests are seen almost daily filling up on small insects, although they will eat small seeds, keep an eye out for them along the Riverbank Trail and Cut Lane. Goldcrests, and their rarer cousin firecrests, are the UK’s smallest bird and they have a voice to match! The call and song are both thin, high pitched sounds and are among the first bird songs to become inaudible as we age and our hearing in the higher register goes. Get out and listen to them while you can!

    Long-tailed tit, John Bridges (

    Lovely long-tailed tits are everywhere it seems, wherever I turn a flock appears and flits between the trees. Unmistakable for their long tails, which account for an incredible 9cm of their 14cm bodies, these tiny pink and black balls of fur are always a beautiful flurry of activity.

    Barn owl, John Bridges (

    Finally, I’ve snuck in an really exciting sighting...I won’t tell anyone if you don’t. On Tuesday evening a barn owl was seen flying near The Moat. After a particularly difficult year last year with all the wet weather, it’s great to have a sighting so close!

    As always, keep letting us know what you’ve seen out on the reserve.

    Posted by Sally G

  • 13 November 2014

    Recent sightings: vibrant colours and aerial displays

    How beautiful are redwings!? It was weeks ago that I wrote about the first sightings in the book and since then there has been a huge influx. This week I got my first real opportunity to stand and stare at one up-close. They are so vibrant, though I don’t know why I was surprised; photos never really prepare you for the real thing. I saw a pair of bullfinches this morning on my way along the Riverbank Trail and I think I will always be flawed by that neon orange breast no matter how many times I see it.

    Bullfinch, John Bridges (

    Also this week, I saw my first siskin! It was being trixy and hiding amongst a goldfinch flock but I spotted it with a little help from a group of lovely birders.  If you’re partial to a goldfinch it should be said that the ‘charm’ has taken up residence in the larder that is the discovery trail, and they’re great to watch with a pasty in one hand and a cuppa in the other.  I’m desperate to see a redpoll and a brambling next, so if you see me skulking around the reserve come and say hello.

    Peregrine falcon, Ben Hall (

    One to look out for is a pair of peregrines which have been reported across the reserve several times this week. Yesterday they treated everyone to a display just outside the visitor centre and all our staff and volunteers downed tools for the spectacle. They’ve also been see over the flashes and Newfield, keep your eyes peeled if you’re out and about over the next few days.

    Long-eared owl, photo © Bob Kothenbeutel accessed

    Finally, the long-eared owls in the Lin Dike area. Beautiful birds with distinctive ‘ear tufts’, they hunt at night and spend the day roosting in a tree catching their forty winks.  They’ve been written in the book several times in the last few days, and while exciting, it’s a very real probability that if they are disturbed by too many enthusiastic spectators they’ll be put off their roost. If you do go down to see them please keep their well being in mind and stay at a distance, we love having them in the area and it’s important they stay safe and undisturbed.

    As ever, keep letting us know what you see!

    Posted by Sally G

  • 6 November 2014

    What do ducklings, beards and mice have in common?

    Together they make up this week's recent sightings!

    Snipe, Andy Hay (

    After a water rail seen at Pickup Hide in last week’s blog, the showmanship was taken to the next level yesterday when a water rail was spotted behind the kingfisher screen eating a ‘massive fish’, as described in the recent sightings book. Water rails have and incredibly varied diet and will eat everything from berries and roots to fish and snails, they’ll even eat small birds and carrion. If you’re down at Pickup, also keep an eye out for green sandpipers and snipe.

    Bearded tit, Andy Hay (

    Ten bearded tits were reported down on Parker’s pond at the weekend, I dashed down with a couple of the other volunteers to catch a glimpse of my first ever ‘beardie’ but alas, no such luck. We definitely heard them pinging in the reeds though and they were likely sheltering from the heavy winds.  If, like me, you’ve never heard a bearded tit, their call is a very distinctive metallic ‘ping, ping’ noise. I look forward to seeing that impressive mustache on another occasion.

    Lin Dyke ducklings, taken by Elliott

    Perhaps the biggest surprise of the week was spotted on Sunday by our young ranger, Elliott.  Down at Lin Dike he took this photo of ten ducklings! It appears that the mild weather has been confusing some of our wildlife, have you seen any usual sightings for the time of year?

    Harvest mouse, Ben Andrew (

    Finally, not a sighting but exciting non-the-less, on Friday the warden team will be taking to the reed-beds and grassy areas of the reserve for a harvest mouse survey. They’ll be looking for the small, tightly woven balls of grass they build as nests to get a rough idea of the population. Active climbers, harvest mice spend much of their life off the ground and build their nests between 30cm -100cm high to stay safe from predators. Declining numbers in recent years mean there is now an active effort to conserve them...I’ll let you know what they find next week.

    Posted by Sally G

  • 24 October 2014

    Recent Sightings: Chatting, diving and faring well

    Bigger than a song thrush but smaller than a mistle thrush, fieldfares are striking winter visitors. Several flocks have been spotted at Fairburn this week, distinctive for their leisurely flight and, if you’re close enough, their beautiful plumage.  Quite heavyset compared to other thrushes, hundreds of thousands arrive each winter to take advantage of our berry stocks and flocks of them travel the countryside in search of food, forming large roosts each evening at dusk. Their arrival is a true sign of winter’s approach.

    Fieldfare, Mike Langman (

    There have been several stonechat sightings, and some stunning photos sent to us by visitor Barry Nield, head over to our Facebook page, RSPB West Yorks to take a look!  Keep an eye out all over the reserve; they’ve been spotted at both Lin Dike and on the Riverbank Trail.

    Female stonechat, Andy Hay (

    Following on from last week’s blog, more goosander have been seen on the top ponds and plenty of redwings are about. Also, if you are on the Riverbank Trail, pop in to Bob Dickens and the viewpoint to see if you can spot any goldeneye out on the water.  Their short bills and large, almost bulbous, heads are distinctive features to look out for, and of course those bright, piercing eyes.

    Red-throated diver, Chris Gomersall ( 

    Otherwise, there has been a whole host of exciting wildlife seen around the reserve. A red-throated diver flew south over stacks on Monday, a male pintail was spotted up on the moat and two lesser redpoll were heard calling and they flew over the visitor centre. If you come to visit this week make sure to pop in for a chat and a coffee, and to write any of your own sightings in the book.

    Posted by Sally G

  • 18 October 2014

    Who's going on a winter holiday?

    The influx of overwintering birds is picking up steam now that the weather has turned chillier, lots has been spotted this week.

    If you head down the Riverbank Trail keep an eye out for whooper swans. They’re slightly smaller than the commonly spotted mute swan with a distinctive yellow and black bill. Also down there, you’re likely to come across a brambling or two, similar looking to a chaffinch but can be picked out for its white belly and rump, and orange breast and shoulder patches. A winter visitor from northern Europe, they come in particularly big droves when the beech nut crop is plentiful.

    Whooper swans, Ben Hall (

    As always, Lin Dyke hide and the flashes are a great place to spot some beauties.  A few sand martins were sighted flying over as they head south to Africa for the winter months, and another garganey was seen headed in the same direction.  Also, excitingly, another bittern has been spotted flying across the reedbed!

    Golden plover, Paul Chesterfield (

    There have been a couple of sightings of golden plover too, a medium sized wader which can be seen throughout the year in the UK. In summer the plumage is much more dramatic and they pass their time breeding in upland areas of the UK. Come winter they move into lowland sites, avoiding areas higher than around 200 metres, and are joined by more over-wintering birds from Iceland and northern Europe.

    Siskin, Chris Gomersall (

    There have been more flocks of redwings and a flock of siskins reported. Siskins are small finches, but resemble tits in that they often hang upside down on twigs and branches to eat. Although they eat and breed in coniferous forests, in winter they are frequently seen amongst birch and alder trees, often near water – hence the sightings here at Fairburn. There are plenty of breeding pairs in the UK but they also arrive from Europe to overwinter.

    Goosander,  Mike Langman (

    Finally, several goodsanders have been up on New Flash this week.  Outside of the breeding season they’re often seen in small group like this, and can even form large flocks in the winter.  Larger than a mallard, it swims very low in the water and has a distinctively shaped head and hooked bill. Keep your eyes out over the coming weeks as they head to lowlands for winter.

    Posted by Sally G

  • 10 October 2014

    Recent feet and red wings

    Main Bay and Village Bay are full of the usual suspects, but look amongst them and you might spot a dunlin or two. There have also been a couple of great black-backed gulls and pink-footed geese in the mix.  Pink-footed geese don’t breed in the UK but hundreds of thousands are arriving from their breeding grounds in Iceland and Greenland. From a distance they look very similar to greylag geese, but one of the easiest ways to tell them apart is the bill. While the greylag has an orange bill, the pink-footed is mainly black with a pink section in the middle.

    Pink-footed goose, Chris Gomersall (

    One of the most exciting sightings this week was over the flashes, where a bittern was seen flying across the reserve.  We’ve had a few sightings of bitterns at Fairburn in recent years, but they’re incredibly secretive birds and very difficult to spot due to their amazing camouflage.  They move silently through reed beds, looking for fish on the water’s edge, but are known for the males’ loud booming calls during mating season. There are relatively few breeding pairs in the UK and are one of our most threatened species.

    Bittern, Andy Hay (

    Once again we’ve had a couple of ravens onsite, they were spotted flying over the trees on the riverbank trail.  When there was some excitement over them a couple of weeks ago I wrote on here about my trouble identifying them in flight. Well, this week after spending some time studying their silhouettes in comparison to other corvids, I succeeded. Gleefully yelling, ‘raven’ before it let out a glorious ‘QUORK’ in confirmation.

    Redwing, Chris Gomersall (

    Finally, if there was any remaining doubt about it being autumn (I don’t think there really is), this year’s first redwings have made their way into the recent sightings book. Four of them were seen over the visitor centre this week. Redwings are the UK’s smallest thrush and migrate here to spend the winter out feeding in our hedgerows. They’re distinctive for their red flanks and pale stripe over the eye. Keep your eyes peeled!

    Posted by Sally G

  • 4 October 2014

    Chiff or chaff? Make up your mind!

    It might be October but don’t shout, the chiffchaffs might hear!  Although generally considered a summer migrant, there are many chiffchaffs that overwinter in the UK. I’ve seen a couple while out and about this week but one was actually heard singing just a couple of days ago. It’s been suggested that this mild weather and number of daylight hours may have confused them with springtime.  The weather has taken a chilly turn in the last few days though so it may have been one of the last chiffchaff songs this year.

    Chiffchaff, John Bridges (

    The flashes have been busy this week, if you head down there keep an eye out for snipe, spotted redshank and whimbrel. We’ve also had sightings of pintail, curlew and even a couple of whinchat passing through on route to Africa.

    Pintail, Ben Hall (

    As ever there have been several kingfisher sightings down on the cut this week, one of Fairburn’s most sought after birds. If you’ve never seen one before and are on the lookout, expect to spend a fair time watching and waiting, and it will almost certainly take a few trips. Definitely worth the wait though.

    Roe deer, Ben Hall (

    One of my favourite wildlife encounters this week was early in the morning when I came face to face with a couple of roe deer on the riverside walk, an excellent way to start the day. Roe are the only type of deer we have at Fairburn and their breeding season takes place in July and August. Females typically give birth in June, and males will be shedding their antlers around now ready for next year’s growth. While shy, they are possible to see on the reserve, often early in the morning.

    Remember to keep letting us know your sightings.

    Posted by Sally G

Your sightings

Grid reference: SE4527 (+2km)

Tree Sparrow ()
17 Dec 2014
Goosander (2)
16 Dec 2014
Bearded Tit (3)
16 Dec 2014
Caspian Gull (1)
15 Dec 2014
Water Rail ()
14 Dec 2014
Marsh Harrier (1)
9 Dec 2014
Pink-footed Goose (450)
8 Dec 2014
Iceland Gull ()
6 Dec 2014
Kingfisher (1)
6 Dec 2014
Shelduck ()
17 Dec 2014

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Where is it?

  • 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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