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Recent sightings

  • 30 January 2015

    Nesting and warbling: recent sightings

    The balcony feeding station came down on Monday as we bid goodbye to Big Garden Birdwatch for the year. Some of the regular birds returned for a few days and looked a little bereft that their dinner had gone missing, but they’ve grown used to the feeders being down in the Wildlife Garden again. There also appears to have been an explosion of finches, with at least seven bullfinches out there the other day.

    Don’t worry though, the wildlife spectacle continues as the nest box cameras were switched on this week. Tree sparrows have already begun nest building and blue tits are popping in and out while they make up their minds about this year’s real estate.  You’re very welcome to settle down with a coffee, it’s better than anything else on telly!

    The smew excitement continues. The female smew which caused a stir down on Village Bay last week was spotted down on Spoonbill Flash on Wednesday and Thursday, and flew past Lin Dike hide this morning.  Please let us know about any new sightings.

    Cetti's warbler, Mike Lane (

    Sunday was a busy day with 300 golden plover over the Newfield area, two whooper swans down at Charlie’s hide and a 12 snipe at big hole.  There were also eight dunlin at Big Hole on Monday and a curlew was seen in along the Lin Dike Link path.

    Grey wagtail,  Andrew Parkinson (

    The long-eared owls returned to the pool beyond the iron bridge at the weekend. There were two roosting on Sunday and they were being serenaded by a nearby Cetti’s warbler. The warbler was heard there again on Monday along with a guest appearance from a green woodpecker and a grey wagtail.

    If you've been recently you will have probably heard the woodpecker drumming in the Discovery Trail, well one has been heard on the Riverbank Trail now as well! Signs of spring indeed. 

    Posted by Sally G

  • 23 January 2015

    Smews and sparrows: recent sightings

    Another amazing week for birds of prey here at Fairburn.  Red kites and marsh harriers have been seen every day, a peregrine was over Hickson’s Pool on Tuesday and today five buzzards were seen together from Pick-up Hide.

    One of the most exciting sighting this week was a female smew out on main bay. It was reported on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, and there is still time today so hopefully it’s still around!

    Female smew, Ben Hall (

    Large groups of pink-footed geese flew over on Saturday, Sunday and again on Thursday.  18 pintail were seen heading west over the visitor centre on Monday and 19 skylark were over New Flash on Wednesday. 

    Lin Dike has been busy for non bird sightings with 4 roe deer and a weasel seen there on Sunday. And off along the Riverbank Trail today 7 whooper swans were visible from Bob Dicken’s hide while there were 16 snipe, 5 at Charlie’s and 11 at Big Hole on Thursday.

    Tree sparrow, Andy Hay (

    House sparrow, Ray Kennedy (

    Blue tits started prospecting nest boxes near the visitor centre this week and there have been record numbers of house sparrows to complement our blooming population of tree sparrows. If you’re used to seeing tree sparrows around the visitor centre and Discovery Trail, you can pick out house sparrows fairly easily. They’re slightly smaller, with a grey crown rather than brown, and are missing the distinctive black cheek spot.

    As ever, keep letting us know your sightings!

    Posted by Sally G

  • 17 January 2015

    Signs of spring?

    Snowdrops flowered in the Discovery Trail this week and catkins have started appearing on the alder trees. Cormorants and herons have begun nest building, and woodpeckers have started drumming. So while it may be grey, and it may or not be snowing, it’s time to start looking forward to spring!

    Discovery trail snowdrops, taken by Sally Granger

    Birds of prey have been spotted across the reserve with a sparrowhawk, marsh harrier and kestrel over the flashes and lagoons, and a peregrine not too far from the visitor centre.  Also down on the flashes were eight curlew, several stonechat, a bearded tit and 14 pink-footed geese.

    Two raven flew north-west over the visitor centre on Wednesday and a bank vole was spotted just a stone’s throw from the visitor centre, on the way to Pick-up hide. There have also been two reports of a yellow legged gull, once in the Main Bay gull roost and again on big hole. Both sightings were of a bird in its third year, could it be the same one?

    Female marsh harrier, Chris Gomersall (

    Very jealous of whichever lucky soul caught a glimpse of a brambling just beyond the Kingfisher Screen. While the Kingfisher screen itself has hosted a great variety this week, including a water rail and two goosander.

    Keep warm everyone, I definitely recommend a visit first thing when the reserve is still crisp with frost!

    Posted by Sally G

  • 9 January 2015

    Brimstone and fiery red-breasts: recent sightings

    Well, where to start, there are all sorts of exciting things happening on the reserve at the moment. The beautiful weather has enticed so many people out into the fresh winter wind, and the wildlife hasn’t disappointed either.

    Perhaps the biggest excitement of the week was the brimstone butterfly sighting near Phalarope Pool on Monday.  We have since found out that this was the first sighting in the UK this year! Brimstones are one of a handful of British butterflies which hibernate in cold weather, so this fellow will be from last year, out taking advantage of a warm day.  They’re known for being one of the first butterflies to emerge each year and carry the common myth that the name ‘butterfly’ derives from their buttery coloured wings.

    Stonechat, Ben Hall (

    There have been several barn owl sightings this week, including one over the flashes and another between Cedric’s and Phalarope. Other excitement in that area includes several stonechats and a few reports of bearded tits.  A peregrine was also spotted flying over the flashes, and of course, the long-eared owls have returned to their roost.

    Reed bunting, Andy Hay (

    Some lovely non-bird sightings include a fox on the trails near to Pick-up Hide, and a close encounter with a couple of roe deer on the Riverbank Trail. 

    Also on the Riverbank Trail there have been several pairs of goldeneye and an Iceland gull on the main bay roost. It takes a sharp pair of eyes to pick out these individuals, Iceland gulls are smaller than most herring gulls and they have very pale plumage. A small number overwinter here and they are usually alone among the roost.

    The balcony feeding station which serves the Big Garden Birdwatch lounge has been a great success and is covered with tits and finches, including several pairs of bullfinches. The tree sparrows have made themselves at home and several robins have been keeping onlookers entertained as they attempt to stake claim to the food. There have also been a few willow tit sightings, several reports of reed buntings and even a couple of redpoll! That, and a cheeky male pheasant stealing a sneaky snack now and then. The Birdwatch Lounge is a lovely spot for lunch, while you’re there don’t forget to take a #selfieonthesofa.

    Posted by Sally G

  • 4 January 2015

    Winter Wonderland at Fairburn

    Just a quick update from Fairburn Ings today.  

    Its a gorgeous crispy day here with the reserve covered in a frosty blanket. The icy weather is encouraging lots of birds to visit our feeders with willow tits, bullfinches, tree sparrows, reed buntings and even a water rail spotted outside the visitor centre today. The long-eared owls are still roosting in their usual spot and several sightings of kingfishers have been reported in the last few days. Birds of prey have been spotted by several lucky visitors with red kite, peregrine, buzzard and marsh harrier all reported.

    Other birds of interest include goosander, goldeneye, treecreeper, siskin, redpoll, stonechat, golden plover and flock of 200 pink-footed geese that flew over the reserve yesterday.

    Large numbers of gulls are coming in to roost on the Main Lake. Among the commoner species have been Iceland and glaucous gulls. 

    It's not long now until Big Garden Birdwatch. In preparation we have set up our own lounge here in the visitor centre where you can brush up your ID skills, make a bird feeder and learn more about how you can contribute to the UK's largest wildlife survey. 

    Posted by Beki

  • 19 December 2014

    Beardies, gulls and a cheeky weasel!

    It’s been a busy old week for birds of prey here at Fairburn.  Buzzards have been spotted nearly every day with sightings at Newfield, Pick-up and from Lin Dike hide. Two red kites were also seen over Newfield at the weekend and another two flew over the visitor centre on Thursday.

    On Monday there was a peregrine over Lin Dike, and another over Cedric’s pool on Tuesday. Down at Cedric’s there was also a water rail and a Cetti’s warbler calling. However, the main excitement there this week were the bearded tits! Two males and a female were reported as well as several other sightings of individuals and plenty of people who heard them calling.

    Red kite, Ben Hall (

    Zooming to the other end of the reserve and out onto the Main Bay gull roost. On Monday evening there was one Caspian gull, but the bumper sighting came on Tuesday night when there were four spotted amongst the crowd.

    There have been regular sightings of Caspian gulls in the roost over the past few weeks. Very similar to the more common herring gulls and yellow-legged gulls, in the past they have been quite a rarity in the UK but the sightings are becoming more common. The identifying features are quite subtle; in the shape of the head, the slightly drooping tip of the bill and distinctive primary feathers.

    Bearded tit, Mike Richards (

    Tuesday’s excitement continued with a bellowing of 12 bullfinches seen between Lin Dike and Hickson’s. There were nine males and three females with a trixy siskin hiding amongst them.

    And finally, in the main car park a weasel put on a little show as it gave chase to a rabbit, an awesome wildlife moment for everyone that was down there.

    Posted by Sally G

  • 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

Your sightings

Grid reference: SE4527 (+2km)

Tree Sparrow (15)
30 Jan 2015
Smew (1)
30 Jan 2015
Glaucous Gull ()
30 Jan 2015
Goosander ()
25 Jan 2015
Whooper Swan (2)
24 Jan 2015
Pink-footed Goose (1)
24 Jan 2015
Iceland Gull ()
24 Jan 2015
Kingfisher ()
23 Jan 2015
Marsh Harrier (1)
23 Jan 2015
Water Rail ()
23 Jan 2015

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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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