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Recent sightings

  • 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 Dyke 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

  • 31 August 2014

    Is it summer or autumn today?

    Its a funny time of year right now, we’ve still got some of our classic summer wildlife about including plenty of dragonflies and damselflies, I spotted these darters on the fence near the pond dipping platform, always a good spot to look for these insects as they bask in the sun to warm up.


    We’re also getting some more autumnal wildlife, with migrating birds like redstarts (seen in the hedges near Pickup hide), spotted flycatchers (by the pond dipping platform), whinchats (on the flashes) and an osprey (flying over the visitor centre) all seen this week.  Plus the reserve is cram jam full of berries, there are blackberries, elderberries, haws, rosehips and sloes hanging from nearly every hedgerow.  I love this time of year, picking blackberries is great fun, and its a great way to get the family out enjoying the best of British wildlife, the incentive of a blackberry and apple crumble at the end is surely enough to get most people out of the house.  I am always conscious of making sure I leave some berries for the birds, after all, the berries are a vital source of food for them.  There are always the ones you can’t quite reach, a bit too high, or too many nettles or thorns in the way, they are the ones the birds can have.



    Another common sight at Fairburn Ings at the moment is this peculiar looking thing., nearly always on dog rose branches.


    This is what is known as a robins pincushion, it doesn’t have anything to do with robins though, although the image of a robin doing a bit of sewing sounds like something out of a Beatrix Potter story.  This ball of fluff is a gall, created by a gall wasp called Dipoloepis rosae.  The adult wasp lays its eggs on the leaf bud of the dog rose in spring, the gall is created as the eggs hatch and the larvae emerge, in order to protect the larvae.  The larvae will emerge as adult wasps next spring.  The gall itself is a distorted leaf, the result of a chemical reaction in the emerging leaf or bud.  The galls start off green, but at this time of year they start to turn red.  The adult wasp is pretty small, females are about 4mm (0.2inches) long with red-yellow abdomen and legs, the rest of the body is black. The males are a bit smaller with yellow legs, but you are unlikely to see a male as they make up about 1% of the total population of this type of gall wasp.  This is one of over 1000 species of gall wasp world wide, with around 300 species present in Europe.  

    Posted by Beki

  • 25 August 2014

    Thinking about winter sun...already!

    Over the last few days we've had a few different birds listed in our recent sightings book including redstarts, spotted flycatchers, whinchats and wheatears.  These birds are all likely to be passing through Fairburn as they start to head south for the winter.  Yep, its that time already. They are all at the beginning of a long perilous journey, whinchats, wheatears and redstarts will spend the winter in the southern Mediterranean, or North Africa in countries such as Spain, Portugal, Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia,  whilst the spotted flycatchers will be travelling south of the equator, down to the Congo, Angola and some as far as South Africa.  These birds will be joined by millions of others heading south for some winter sun, including the sand martins, swallows and swifts which have spent the summer at Fairburn Ings.  The sand martins we’ve been watching fledge from the sand martin wall at Pickup Hide will soon be flying thousands of miles down to Africa, crossing the Sahara.

    (Spotted flycatcher image by Andy Hay rspb-images)

    Water levels have been quite high on the reserve with the recent the heavy rainfall, so there haven’t been as many waders about, but we’ve had big numbers of lapwings at Big Hole, with about over 100 there several times during the last few days.  We’ve also had several sightings of marsh harriers recently, including a report of a young marsh harrier over the Flashes.  Male and female marsh harriers look quite different to each other, the males has quite distinctive wings, brown, with grey along the edge and black wing tops.  The females are dark brown with a cream coloured head and some cream colour to the leading edge of their wings, young marsh harriers are similar in appearance to females but don’t have the lighter wing markings.  These birds look stunning as they fly low over the grassland and reedbeds of the reserve on the hunt for small birds and mammals.  Look out for them at Pickup Hide, along the path down to Lin Dike, and from Lin Dike hide.

    (Marsh harrier image by Chris Gomersall rspb-images)

    Other highlights this week include an osprey which flew over Village Bay on Friday, water rail sightings on New Flash and Pickup Pool and a black necked grebe on Main Bay.

    There are still plenty of damselflies and dragonflies about too, common blue and azure blue damselflies are often catching some sun on the footpaths of the Discovery Trail, along with plenty of common darters and ruddy darters. Plus some of the bigger dragonflies like the southern hawker

    Posted by Beki

Your sightings

Grid reference: SE4527 (+2km)

Tree Sparrow (20)
24 Oct 2014
Red-throated Diver (1)
20 Oct 2014
Marsh Harrier ()
19 Oct 2014
Black-tailed Godwit ()
19 Oct 2014
Kingfisher ()
19 Oct 2014
Spotted Redshank (1)
11 Oct 2014
Jack Snipe (1)
10 Oct 2014
Marsh Tit (1)
24 Oct 2014
Bullfinch (4)
24 Oct 2014
Wigeon (30)
23 Oct 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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