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Recent sightings

  • 8 April 2014

    More spring madness

    It’s a beautiful day here at Fairburn! I have just been enjoying my sandwiches outside basking in the warm sunshine watching two mallards search for grubs with ‘the friendly robin’ sitting on the seat next to me whilst listening to great tits and chiffchaffs chirp happily away in the trees. I definitely had one of those ‘this is what it’s all about’ feelings! I now feel perfectly inspired to write this week’s blog! So i’ll start today’s sightings blog with some nice impressive birds of prey. Firstly, we’ve had a few red kites spotted this week which are one of my all time favourite birds (sorry for the bias) purely for their magnificent nature and how they simply command the sky with their effortless displays. Their unmistakable forked tail and large reddish-brown body make them easy to spot, and now thanks to the reintroduction we don’t just see them in Wales! Common buzzards and Peregrines have also been visitors here at Fairburn this week. These swift agile predators are fascinating to watch as they soar and glide catching prey.

     Red Kite – Ben Hall (rspb-images)

    If you would prefer to watch something a little more soothing than these crazy hunting displays, then some of our great crested grebes have been busy performing their courtship displays this week, another sign of spring. I was actually lucky enough to see one of these over the weekend. It amazes me the elegance some birds display during spring, and with its ballet-style gliding and elegant head shaking the great crested grebe’s surely is one of the best. On the subject of grebes, our warden team were very excited to see a black-necked grebe a few days ago. Around the same build as a little grebe this bird has a largely black body with an obvious light brown tuft around its eye when in breeding season. A handful of blackcaps have also been seen throughout this past week, feeding on the centres feeders and steeling some of the kingfishers glory down at the kingfisher screen. Their distinctive black hats make them quite easy to recognise along with their song, which I am told can rival that of a nightingales.

      Great Crested Grebe – Chris Gomersall (rspb-images)

    I was also lucky enough to trod alongside Graham our heron man this week on one of our heron walks and what a display the herons put on for us! Not only did we see one but we saw eight nests, and even got the chance to see some new chicks being fed. I always seem to forget how impressive these birds are with there statue-like pose along river banks as they wait patiently to make their catch. They really are amazing birds and we are very lucky here at Fairburn to get to enjoy them all year round. If you are interested in joining one of our fascinating heron walks or would like to know a little bit more, please get in touch, they are great! Whilst on the walk we were also bombarded by a massive gang of cormorants! These are such prehistoric birds with their vast wings and long black bodies. They can be a little intimidating perched on top of a dead tree in a vulture-like stance. Daunting as though they may be, they are still impressive birds and have so many nests this year at Fairburn i am sure we are going to see plenty of them this next year.


     Cormonant – Andy hay (rspb-images)

    Just to give a mention to some of our four-legged friends which have been seen nibbling away under the feeders, the wood mouse. Although they are mostly nocturnal, the thought of all those nutritious seeds dropped by our hasty garden birds at the feeders must be too much for our rodents! These agile little creatures can often be confused with the house mouse, which has smaller eyes and more of a scent than a wood mouse. So keep your eyes peeled for the odd dash of a long tail scurrying for cover into a hedge or hovering up under the bird feeders ready to feed their young!




    Posted by Heather W

  • 4 April 2014

    'A great white?'

    With all this Sahara dust, it seems like a while since we have all seen the sky! However here at Fairburn there is still plenty to see. Down by the visitor centre our wildflower patch is showing its first visitor – cowslips. I love our native wildflowers so I always feel particularly excited when I notice the hedgerows and fields filling up with their delicate petals and splashes of colour amongst all the greenery. Cowslips are one of those understated flowers but are very beautiful with their lovely yellow bells and velvety leaves. Another sadly understated scrub always seen flowering is common gorse, which always reminds me of being on a long mountainous walk in the middle of no-where! Such a hardy plant and really important for bugs and birds, it has that kind of rugged beauty which I love and can be seen with its small yellow buds flowering here at Fairburn.

    Common gorse – David Tipling (rspb-images)

    I have been very confused this week, with all the calls of ‘have you seen the great white?’ ‘There’s a great white in the sightings book!’ ‘What time was the great white seen?’ If you’re like me and thought immediately of a great white shark at Fairburn then don’t fear there isn’t! A great white egret was sighted yesterday and again earlier today, much to the excitement of our visitors. Almost like our common grey heron, in stance and fishing pattern but with the same white feathers as a little egret. In case you are lacking a little egret nearby for comparison you can also look out for the great whites yellow instead of black beak. We mentioned the arrival of sand martins a few weeks ago, well now they have been seen using the nesting wall near pick up hide which is also very exciting news! Sand martins always nest in groups or ‘colonies’ in banks or gaps in walls usually close to water so our nesting walls are the perfect place for these birds to nest.

    Sand martin and nest – Ben Hall (rspb-images)

    One regular visitor to our sightings book this week has been the wheatear. I have yet to see this little bird as it skips and run’s along the ground, apparently its looks quite close to a nuthatch but with a very different posture. A wheatear is much more ‘laid back’ than a nuthatch which crawls forward with a hunched over kind of back usually perched on a tree. Wheatears are also a spring migrant unlike nuthatches which can be seen here nearly all year round.





     Nuthatch – David Bridges (rspb-images)


    Going for a stroll round Village bay hide the other day I managed to glance across and spot a small bird swooping down to the base of a birch tree to slowly work its way up. I eventually managed to focus to discover it was my first sighting of a little tree creeper! They can be identified by their curved beak, speckled brown back and white front, and most uniquely the fact that they can only crawl up a tree and not back down! There have been a few other sightings of this active little bird as it searches endlessly for beetles, bugs and woodlice to pull out of the bark. Now I know where to find them I am determined to find another! I am also eager to see one of the avocets which have been sighted this past week. As one of the RSPBs most iconic birds I feel that to not see one whilst here would be a crime... maybe you will be luckier than me!


    Avocet – Chris Gomersall (rspb-images)


    Posted by Heather W

  • 31 March 2014

    'Stoataly different!'

    With all this mild weather at Fairburn, our sightings book has been filling up nicely this past week! I have been lucky enough to attend a course in Edinburgh this week where the sounds of woodpeckers tapping on wood were heard everywhere throughout the enchanting oak woodlands next to our wee Scottish house. I was very happy to return to Fairburn to find yet more of this distinctive tapping on wood. I often wondered as a child why woodpeckers decide to hammer on trees, picturing them as angry beasts looking to take their anger out on unsuspecting trees! No. There are different reasons for this depending on the species. The green woodpecker, which has been making a regular appearance in the sightings book lately pecks on deadwood to create breeding holes in time for their chicks.


     Green woodpecker – John Bridges (

    Several stoats have also been spotted this week. This time of year they are getting ready for the arrivals of their kits, with litters of around 6-12 they are quite good multipliers! They are quite shy preferring to hunt along ditches and hedgerows rather than open spaces. The exception of course when they used to dart across our country lanes back home! I am sure all of us have had the confused disagreement in the car or alongside a hedgerow of whether it was in fact a stoat or a weasel. The size of the animal usually is a good way of distinguishing; stoats being larger than weasels, but if that fails look out for the black tip on the end of the stoat’s tail. This is far more informative than the joke we used to have in school: ‘what’s the difference between a stoat and a weasel’ ‘A weasel is weasily wecognised and a stoat is stoataly different’. I was clearly not one the cool kids.

    Buff-tailed bumblebee - Grahame Madge (

    We have had a fair few bumblebees round the reserve this week, especially buff-tailed bumblebees. The steady stream of humming from these beautifully delicate creatures for me, truly are the ultimate signs of spring. Butterflies such as the small tortoiseshell are also starting to emerge after hibernating in houses, sheds, garages wherever they can find a warm spot! I know all of you are probably accustomed to the odd butterfly hanging from the curtains. One of my exciting finds for this week included a brimstone butterfly. These are very well camouflaged and can easily be confused as a leaf when perched, with their yellowy-green wings.

    Small tortoiseshell - Grahame Madge (

    The warden team and other watchers were treated this week to a spoonbill sighting over the visitor centre, well named I think for their wooden-spoon-like bills. Spoonbills are considerably rare in the UK and can commonly be mistaken for little egrets with their angelic white feathers and elegant long black legs. I have seen a fair few little egrets around village bay over the weekend, one of which perched in a tree. It did take me a while to recognise this white blob in a tree, its one of those birds that always looks out place anywhere out of water!


    Little Egret – Paul Chesterfield (





    Posted by Heather W

  • 23 March 2014

    New sightings at Fairburn!

    Our new intern, Heather, has written the recent sightings blog.  Enjoy

    I think it is safe to say Spring is definitely in full flow here at Fairburn Ings! We’ve had some (largely) sunny weather bringing classic lesser celandines flowering on the reserve. These simple buttercup-like wild flowers with their waxy yellow petals are some of the first to emerge in Spring, preferring damper, shadier patches so are easily spotted from the boardwalk and along the path-edges around Fairburn. The petite white blossoms of the blackthorn are slowly starting to emerge which for me, always bring fond memories of hectic lambing! These charming blackthorn blossoms appear the same time as the leaves of the hawthorn, which will flower later in the season- this is how I identify between the two! The furry catkins of the goat willow are also highly recognisable this time of year. These have a high value for nature as they provide an important source of early pollen and nectar for our bees and other insects, which are also starting to wake-up and kick start the rest of the chain into action ready for the full awakening of spring!


    Our sightings book is filling up with regular sightings of sand martins. These are one of the first spring migrants to appear and will stay until late July- early September time where they will start their incredible journey back to the Sahara in Africa. Its dark wings and white belly crossed with a distinctive dark chest bar is easily identifiable as they soar overhead with their paper-plane shaped wingspan. The cheery array of bird song is in full flow during these fresh spring mornings as you wonder through the reserve, with noisy great tits taking centre stage. One notable song includes the delicate chiffchaff. It always amazes me how the smallest birds manage to make the most distinctive calls. Even if you aren’t lucky enough to spot these tiny brown wren-like birds, their playful, repetitive ‘chifchaff chiffchaff’ call will leave you in no doubt of their presence.

    Chiffchaff - David Kjear (

    Whilst I was out with the one of our rangers we managed to get a view of a smew, which I was very excited about as it was my first ever sighting of a smew. They are very elusive with their constant dipping and ability to stay under water for long periods you can spend quite a significant amount of time at our hides playing ‘now it’s there, now it’s not’ with this duck! If you are lucky enough to see a male smew, you will notice its black mask and black tuft against the striking white of its plumage. The females are less exciting, with a grey body and dark red head.  Our kingfishers have also been showing off lately, I spent quite an exciting afternoon hooked to the Kingfisher screen with both the male and female kingfishers displaying annoyingly photogenic poses whilst I watched camera-less! The female is recognised by its orangey- pink tip on the edge of its beak compared to the solid black beak of the male. So feel free to bring your cameras to Fairburn and get a shot of these dashing birds whilst they are in a showy mood. Our cameras at the visitor centre are showing tree sparrows and blue tits checking out the nest boxes and prepping them for new arrivals! If you are keen to see what goes on ‘inside the box’ then please feel free to come have a look over some cake and tea at the centre.

    Smew – Danny Green (

    Posted by Beki

  • 8 March 2014

    Spring has sprung

    It's that magical time of year again as spring arrives at Fairburn Ings. The past week has seen a number of signs that warmer days are on the way. The first Celendines (a small yellow woodland flower) are in bloom. We have had our first sightings of queen Bumblebees and Peacock and Small Tortoiseshell Butterflies and a Chiffchaff burst into song down Cut Lane. Many birds have started nest building and all of the new camera boxes around the Visitor Centre have Tree Sparrows or Blue Tits busily fetching in nesting material. Its great fun to watch their industrious endeavours on the fantastic new big screen televisions in the Visitor Centre. The most exciting sign of spring though has been the eerie Booming of the elusive Bittern. The Aire Valley has rapidly established itself as the stronghold for this endangered resident of reed beds in the north of England. We have now heard booming (the call the male makes to attrract a mate) in four different locations on the reserve which makes the first ever breeding on the reserve a real possibility this year. Also looking likely to make their first entry onto our list of breeding birds are Cetti's Warbler and Little Egret with pairs of both exhibiting signs of breeding behaviour this week. Things to look out for in the next week or two are Sand Martins and Avocets which shoud be with us very soon and the first Brimstone butteflies.

    Posted by Darren Starkey

  • 28 February 2014

    Thank you Fairburn Ings!

    I’m starting today’s sightings blog on a little bit of a sad note, as it’s my last day here at Fairburn. So I’d just like to say a massive thank you to everyone who reads the blog, as well as to the entire Fairburn team for making my stay here so brilliant – I’ve loved every moment.

    I was lucky enough this morning to see our new live nest box camera feed switched on in the visitor centre, and we were treated to a close-up glimpse of two tree sparrows in the midst of their nest building! Despite a tough few decades, which have seen massive declines in the UK population of these charismatic little birds, thankfully they now appear to be making a slow but sure comeback.


    Tree sparrow image by Andy Hay (


    Spring is most definitely in the air, not just because of these busy nest builders, but also because the reserve is alive with birdsong. I can hear the great tits twittering noisily in the sunshine, and the territorial drumming of the greater spotted woodpeckers reverberates through the air. Secretive water rails have been emitting their pig-like squeals around the boardwalks and reedbeds recently, not to mention the promising amount of booming that’s been heard from our male bitterns. Fingers crossed that this will be their first successful breeding year at Fairburn!

    There was a barn owl seen over by Hickson’s flash on Wednesday – these beautiful owls have got to be one of the nation’s favourite and most recognisable birds, and no wonder! Their distinctive heart-shaped faces, large eyes and delicately speckled pale plumage make them perfectly adapted for quartering fields for prey at dusk, gliding as silently as ghosts over the grass.


    Barn owl image by John Bridges (


    The ever-present but always lovely Kingfishers have been making plentiful appearances over the past week, and our ranger Jane has just seen three on one branch down at Charlie’s hide! The kingfishers have definitely been one of my favourite things about Fairburn – no matter how many times you see these beautiful birds, it’s always an exciting experience you immediately want to share.


    Kingfisher image by John Bridges (


    We’ve just had a stoat spotted at Bob Dicken's Hide as well, carrying a freshly killed rabbit! Although for the more squeamish amongst us such a sight can be a little startling, it’s quite a privilege to be able to get a glimpse into the rarely seen world of predator and prey. These amazing little mammals are fierce predators, and can be distinguished from weasels by their larger size and black-tipped tail.

    If you’re planning a visit to Fairburn, don’t forget to come in and say hello, and pop your wildlife sightings in the book. The place is already teeming with life, and it’s set to be a very exciting year for this amazing reserve. I’m already looking forward to coming back for a visit in a few months time to see how the place has changed – bye for now!

    Posted by Lizzie

  • 24 February 2014

    Siskins, Skylarks and Spring!

    We had loads of great sightings last week over half term, along with some much-needed sunshine!  The feeders around the visitor centre are seeing plenty of action as ever, with relatively rarely-seen birds such as lesser redpolls, willow tits and siskins dropping by for a spot of lunch, along with our ever-present tits, finches and tree sparrows. 

    Lesser redpolls are easiest to see in winter after the trees have lost their leaves.  These are tiny little finches which tend to stick together in small flocks over winter, and they can often be seen in gardens on feeders.  You'd be forgiven for thinking they were a bit boring-looking if you saw one at a distance, as they appear rather dull and brown.  See them a little closer however, and you can't fail to be charmed; their soft, streaky plumage is a subtle blend of browns from dark chocolate through to rich russet, and a surprising splash of colour from their crimson red crowns make the lesser redpoll a very attractive little bird. 

    One bird which I managed to get a proper look at for the first time at the weekend is the siskin - and it was well worth the wait!  The handsome male I saw on the feeders was eye catching to say the least, his plumage a stunning sunshine-yellow streaked with bold black and greenish-yellow patches, topped off with an inky black cap.  These are agile little finches, slightly smaller than green finches, and are known for their acrobatic habit of dangling upside-down from tree branches to get at the seeds. 

    Siskin artwork by Mike Langman (

    A bird which seems to be thriving on the reserve at the moment is the skylark, with several seen over on the grassland near big hole this week.  Like the lesser redpoll, these birds can appear to be a little dull and boring at first sight,  but nothing could be further from the truth!  These streaky brown birds, which are slightly smaller than starlings, are renowned for their dramatic vertical display flights, as well as having one of the most distinctive and charming songs of any songbird. 

    Skylark image by Andy Hay (

    Their lively and bubbling trill of a song is recognised by many as a true sign of spring, as skylarks are one of the earliest songbirds to breed in the year.   Sadly, these beautiful harbingers of spring have suffered dramatic declines in recent years, thought to be due to changes in farming practice throughout the open countryside habitat where they breed.  The RSPB are working to understand the causes of these declines through projects including  our nature-friendly Hope Farm, so that we can work to reverse them.

    Let us know what you've seen whilst you're out and about on the reserve by recording your sightings in the visitor centre sightings book!

    Posted by Lizzie

  • 20 February 2014

    Booming Brilliant!

    We've started monitoring for booming Bitterns this week ahead of the coming breeding season, and lo and behold, we've had some fantastic sightings!  These highly secretive and shy birds are notoriously difficult to spot, but visitors have been getting great views of one from the roadside on Phalarope pool - we've even got a great photo to share which was taken by one of our wonderful visitors just yesterday!


    Bittern image by Paul Green

    If you've never had the experience of hearing their amazingly loud (and slightly eerie) 'booms', it sounds a lot like someone blowing over an empty bottle - the booming males are what we're listening for at the moment, as this means they are trying to attract mates.  Booming has been heard a number of times over the past few days, as the sound is able to carry an incredible distance through the air - if you hear or see any bitterns whilst you're out on the reserve, please let us know!  These rare birds have never been known to breed on the reserve before, so it would be an incredible event if we have even one breeding pair this year, and at the moment, the signs are looking good! 

    Bitterns aren't the only great sighting we've had over on the flashes either - a Peregrine falcon was spotted yesterday, perched on a nearby pylon.  These large and powerful falcons are renowned for their speed, reaching an incredible 200mph or more in their characteristic hunting dives.  Although they are naturally a cliff nesting species, they have been making use of tall buildings in many towns and cities in recent decades, where there are plenty of feral pigeons to predate. 


    Peregrine falcon image by Ben Hall (


    Their beautiful smoky blue-gray plumage, white and speckled underparts and bold black 'moustache' marks make them very distinctive.  In flight they can be distinguished by their relatively long, broad and pointed wings, and if you're lucky enough to see one chasing prey, you'll be able to appreciate just how amazingly swift and agile they are in the air.

    Another unusual sighting comes in the form of a water pipit - if you, like me, wouldn't know a water pipit if you saw one, you'd be forgiven as they aren't a resident species in the UK.  They are winter visitors, mainly to Southern and Eastern England, from the mountains of central and southern Europe where they breed.  The water pipit is a fairly indistinct little bird, with muddy greyish-brown upperparts and a pale, streaky underside.  They also have a distinctive pale stripe over their eyes, delicate thin beaks, and dark legs.  Despite their nondescript and unassuming looks, it's quite a priveledge to see one, as we get just under 200 over-wintering birds per year in the UK. 


    Water pipit artwork by Mike Langman (

    We seem to have had an influx of smews in the past week, with as many as four being seen at a time!  They have been spotted over on the flashes, as well as at the other end of the reserve from Village Bay viewpoint and Charlie's hide.  Keep an eye out on the water close to the edges of the islands, as these handsome diving ducks like to be near cover. 

    Remember to come and write your wildlife sightings in the book after a walk round the reserve - now that spring's on it's way, we're bound to be seeing a lot more wildlife action!

    Posted by Lizzie

  • 12 February 2014

    Wild Wednesday sightings

    Even though it’s only Wednesday, we’ve had plenty of great sightings already this week.  All of our fantastic wildfowl are in fine form ready for the breeding season, and several have been noticed in pairs just this morning, including shovelers, teals and shelducks.  This really is the best time of year to appreciate the rainbow of colours on display from those marvellous drakes, and just yesterday our volunteer ranger Ray commented on how beautiful the teal were looking.  With their rich rusty-coloured heads, iridescent emerald eye patches and wing flashes and sunshine-yellow rump patches, drake teals are certainly one of our most attractive ducks, despite being the smallest in the pond!

    Teal image by Andy Hay (

    On the subject of beautiful ducks, a pintail was spotted this morning on New Flash.  The best word to describe these ducks is simply ‘elegant’; with their long, slender necks, tapering tails and muted but bold colours, pintails are one of the most dapper ducks around!

    Pintail image by Ben Hall (

    A huge female sparrowhawk was spotted around the visitor centre this morning by several excited visitors, staff and volunteers.  As usual with birds of prey, female sparrowhawks tend to be a fair bit larger than the males, and their bright yellow legs and talons, along with piercing yellow eyes and steely grey and barred plumage make them a sight to behold!  It’s likely that this female will be hunting on overtime at the moment to feed up ready for the breeding season – her large size means that she will be capable of catching pigeon-sized birds!   Pigeons and collared doves are favoured items of prey for female sparrowhawks in the run-up to breeding season because of the high nutritional value they offer with their large and iron-rich breast muscles. 

    Female Sparrowhawk image by Mike Langman (

    Moving on to St. Aidan’s, I went for a visit at the end of last week to see if I could spot some rather special birds that I hadn’t seen before – short-eared owls.  I was lucky enough to see two of them hunting over the grassy hillside at dusk, and I watched them for over an hour!  These birds are absolutely captivating to watch – their huge wings and heavy-looking round heads seem to dwarf their bodies in flight as they fly low over the grass, scanning for small mammals with their sharp eyes.  They are arguably the UK’s most colourful owls, and although it was getting dark, it was easy to pick them out against the background.  Their undersides were a beautifully rich creamy-gold colour against the drab background, and it was easy to make out their fierce-looking yellow eyes which are rimmed with black, standing out starkly from bold white faces.   If you’ve got an hour to spare, I really recommend going to see them – it’ll definitely be going down as one of my best wildlife moments! 

    Short-eared owl image by Mike Langman (

    Posted by Lizzie

Your sightings

Grid reference: SE4527 (+2km)

Tree Sparrow ()
12 Apr 2014
Avocet (2)
10 Apr 2014
Pair present
Little Gull ()
9 Apr 2014
Kingfisher (1)
6 Apr 2014
Territoriality over 1 week
Goosander (10)
6 Apr 2014
Cetti's Warbler ()
1 Apr 2014
Singing/breeding calls heard
Little Owl ()
1 Apr 2014
Seen in suitable nesting habitat
Lesser Whitethroat ()
13 Apr 2014
Shelduck ()
12 Apr 2014
Gadwall ()
12 Apr 2014

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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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