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Recent sightings

  • 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

  • 1 October 2014

    Out of the woodland and into the wetland


    As my switch of reserves drew closer a few weeks ago, I have to admit that there was a little part of me that was really reluctant to leave the comforting depths of the woods and come somewhere so flat, open and...watery.

    I take it back.

    It’s been a week since my arrival and the chilly misty mornings and balmy autumn afternoons have helped me settle in here.  Staring out across main bay with the sun on the water, lingering in Charlie’s hide and walking the trails has helped me to solidify things I already knew and set me off on a mission to identity anything and everything I don’t recognise.  In just a week I have spotted so much amazing wildlife, some for the first time ever.

    So, what has been seen?

    Raven in flight, Chris Gomersall (

    There was some excitement last week with multiple raven sightings around the visitor centre and a couple spotted up on the flashes on Friday. I find it incredibly difficult to recognise ravens in flight, their size is what gives them away but it’s hard without another bird to compare them to. Without hearing their distinctive ‘quorking’ noise I often find myself dismissing them as crows unless they’re pointed out to me.

    Spoonbill flash has had several exciting reports recently with migrants arriving or just passing through. Friday saw several black tailed godwits and even more excitingly, a garganey. This dabbling duck is not a common one in the UK, although there are a few breeding pairs in the summer, this one was on its way to warmer climes. Jealous!

    Black tailed godwits, Gordon Langsbury (

    On Saturday night our stargazing event went ahead with clear skies. While we were waiting for it to get dark we went on a short hunt for nocturnal creatures near the visitor centre. There were some awesome displays by noctule bats, one of the largest bats in the UK. They emerge early in the evening and hunt above the tree line, unlike the comparatively smaller common pipistrelle, which emerges slightly later and prefers to swoop between the trees looking for food. While we were out we also heard a female tawny owl as she defended her territory against young owls (possibly her own) out looking for their own hunting ground. It is a common sound at this time of the year, so keep your ears open.

    Fly agaric near Bob Dickens hide yesterday, Sally Granger

    Other interesting things to keep an eye out for include the green sandpiper and spotted redshank, seen near pick up hide yesterday, and the plethora of fungi and dragonflies that are visible across the reserve at the moment. If you’re out and about on the reserve this week, don’t forget to let us know what you’ve seen.

    Posted by Sally G

  • 12 September 2014

    Autumn rustles at Fairburn Ings!

    Autumn is definitely in the air at Fairburn Ings! Just a quick walk around the reserve and you can already see leaves starting to look tired and droopy compared the fresh, bright reds of the newly emerged berries. I love watching the gradual change in the leaves as they turn steadily more and more reddish as the season changes. Rose-hips, blackberries and hawthorn berries are great for so many of our small rodents on the reserve and though you might not always see them they are definitely there! Just keep an eye open for small burrows in amongst grass, on banks or along hedge/ fences and that’s a definite sign of the presence of a bank vole, field vole or common/ pigmy shrews. Below is a picture of a bank vole which has the definite rounded-nose of the vole and longer tail than the field vole. Field voles also leave lots of broken blades of grass outside their burrows which are cut at around 45 degree angles. Have a look under the hazel trees for signs of cracked hazelnuts signalling the presence of squirrels, birds and rodents quickly munching on a cheeky hazelnut. Squirrels tend to break the nut right in half leaving nice clean halves whereas rodents leave obvious gnawing holes on the nut. Take a look you’ll be amazed what you can identify from just a few field signs!

    Bank Vole – Guy Roberts (RSPB-images)

    Yesterday we had a first for the year at Fairburn Ings – a stonechat was spotted at Pickup hide! Male stonechats have lovely striking black heads with a orangey-red breast and brown back, females do still have the orangey-tinge to their chests but lack the obvious black heads of the males. The birds get their name for the sharp call which sounds like two stones being tapped together. They are usually seen on upland heaths and coastal areas the rest of the year where they usually breed but during the winter months they tend to move around more so that’s why we’ve got some visiting Fairburn Ings. We’ve also had a goldcrest this week at Lin Dike, which are quite rare visitors to the reserve and being so small very hard to spot! There tiny beaks are often used to pick out insects from between pine needles just to give you an idea of how small and delicate they are!


    Stonechat – Steve Round (RSPB-images)

    Fungi around the reserve are changing every week now so make sure you keep an eye! I’m definitely having fun trying to ID all the different species; some of the names are actually quite funny! Down Cut lane before Charlies hide there are quite a few shaggy inkcaps which are long, white and thin with shaggy white bits on the top. These prefer grass areas and recently disturbed soil in late summer to early autumn. Another common fungi visitor to Fairburn Ings is Birch polypore with a flat-bell like look to them as they grow on Birch trees along the Riverbank trail. They always remind me of shelves the way they sort of hand along the side of the tree! There are also quite a few fly algaric’s which are the classic, unmistakable red and white mushrooms and can be in amongst the birch trees along the riverbank path. Identifying mushrooms is a hard task but can be fun to see all the amazing types you can get... remember there are lots of the things on the reserve floor too!


    Shaggy inkcap

    Posted by Heather W

  • 5 September 2014

    Fairburn Ings - long journey stop off for birds and people

    There is a growing autumnal feel to the sightings at Fairburn Ings recently, the fungi are popping up everywhere, including fly agaric along the Riverbank Trail. Increasing numbers of birds like wigeon and teal, which will spend the winter here after breeding further east in countries like Russia, have been seen on the Flashes and Main Lake.  These birds create the soundscape of the reserve throughout winter with their distinctive whistling calls.  As well as early arrivals for winter, we have some birds which are passing through on their migration south for the winter, including green sandpipers, which have been seen at Pickup Hide throughout the week. These birds breed in Europe from the arctic circle down to Denmark, and also across Russia to Siberia and China.  These birds are calling in at Fairburn en route to Central Africa. Fairburn Ings has long been a popular place for migrating birds to stop of at, it has always been marshy land, ideal for wading birds, and its location, right next to the River Aire means it is almost like the Services on the M1, birds following the river can just pull off and grab some food and a bit of rest.  Much like some of our human visitors who stop off at Fairburn on their own journeys up, down and across the country.  This time of year is great for catching a glimpse of some of these passing visitors.  Keep an eye on the blog, our twitter account @fairburnings and our Facebook page for the latest sightings info.

    I got this photo of a fly agaric on the Riverbank Trail last autumn.

    On a more summery note, there are still plenty of insects about, lots of speckled wood butterflies, and dragonflies including common darters, ruddy darters and migrant hawkers.  It is likely some of these will be about for a few more weeks, maybe longer if the weather stays mild.

    We’ve had a number of sightings of marsh harriers this week, we blogged earlier in the week about the wing tagged marsh harriers, the bird seen at Fairburn was tagged in Norfolk on 1 July 2014, and was born on 11 June 2014. Marsh harriers are often seen flying over the Flashes and Pickup pool, they have a lovely lazy flight, with a shallow v-shape to their wings, as they quarter over the grassland and reedbeds looking for food.

    Other sightings of interest include a great white egret seen on the Flashes on Thursday and Friday. A spotted redshank at New Flash on Wednesday. A tree pipit seen flying south over the tips on Thursday, several little owl sightings on Wednesday around the Flashes and Newton Farm, plus blackcaps and a grey wagtail at Lin Dike.  The kingfishers have made a couple of appearances at the Kingfisher Screen this week, they are often spotted on Cut Lane too.

    Please let us know if you see anything interesting during your visit to Fairburn Ings, the sightings book is always in the visitor centre, and we love hearing about the cool stuff you see on the reserve.

    Posted by Beki

Your sightings

Grid reference: SE4527 (+2km)

Iceland Gull ()
25 Nov 2014
Goosander ()
23 Nov 2014
Marsh Harrier ()
23 Nov 2014
Kingfisher ()
23 Nov 2014
Water Rail (1)
23 Nov 2014
Caspian Gull ()
21 Nov 2014
Tree Sparrow ()
17 Nov 2014
Little Owl ()
16 Nov 2014
Short-eared Owl ()
16 Nov 2014
Grey Wagtail ()
16 Nov 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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