Aire Valley - Fairburn Ings and St Aidan's

Aire Valley - Fairburn Ings and St Aidan's

Aire Valley - Fairburn Ings and St Aidan's
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Aire Valley - Fairburn Ings and St Aidan's

  • Fairburn Sightings - 10th Nov

    A quick guide to what’s about at Fairburn Ings this week! A very diverse bunch but well worth exploring the coal tips and flashes. What better on a sunny and crisp autumn day?


    The Flashes

    Whooper swans started the week on a high of 8 individuals which have lessened a little down to 5 on New Flash. They’ve been joined by my favourite – 12 curlews. The RSPB’s Curlew Recovery Programme is a great read for those interested!

    Curlew - Andy Hay (

    Marsh harriers have been doing their daily rounds – we’re now up to one adult male and 2 juveniles at present. You might get some good views up on the Coal Tips trail too!

    We’re still getting daily reports of about 12 pintail on the moat. The drakes look lovely, with their rich chocolate heads and extravagant tail.

    Male and female pintail, Ben Hall (

    And last but definitely not least – yesterday a well trained eye spotted a great white egret from the Coal Tips.


    Image: Joe Seymour


    Pink footed geese reached a high of 600 birds on the 4th and 6th, forming huge skeins in the sky.

    Thrushes coming through: fieldfare and redwing in numbers up to 500

    and an unlikely wonder, 1200 wood pigeons spied flying southerly on the 8th: their migration in full swing!


    Coal Tips

    Bearded tits are a little trickier than September but they’re still being sighted! 3 there on the 5th. Seeing as 'good things come in 3s', we’ve had up to 3 peregrines daily. Look on the pylons for your best chance!

    Also, you may have heard... starling murmerations are forming up on the Coal Tips. They’re a spectacular sight – worth walking up late afternoon for seeing them (around 3pm.) We’re estimating 15,000-20,000 birds so far!


    Murmeration at Fairburn Ings - James Hardisty


    Big Hole

    Remember the blog on the rafts the wardens have been putting in? We’ve had a snipe roosting on the one in Big Hole this week! He’s been spotted daily. They’re masters of camouflage so be patient!


    Discovery trail, feeders and kingfisher screen

    A tearaway ring necked parakeet made an appearance early in the week. This species has colonised southern England and are pretty common in London and certain parts of other cities. We had one on our feeding station on Monday – trust us – if you see it you won’t miss it!

    Parakeet on the feeders at Fairburn - Darren Starkey

    Even if you only reach the kingfisher screen this week, it’s worth waiting around and keeping your eyes peeled. One lucky visitor saw kingfisher, little grebe and buzzards all at the same time this morning. The kingfishers are still easy to see (every day for over a fortnight!)


    Keep an eye out too for upcoming dusk walks at Fairburn Ings, tickets will be available at the end of November! The best way to see starling murmerations, hopefully owls, and learn a little about what happens as the night draws in.


  • St Aidan’s Sightings Blog – 8th November

    Although the clocks were only turned back just over a week ago, those long summer evenings seem a distant memory. At St Aidan’s winter is really beginning to show its face. The first frost of the year made an appearance yesterday and the numbers of birds don’t seem to slow.  This morning we've had sightings of woodcock and water pipits! 

    Although not as frequent, St Aidan’s Nature Park is still a pit stop for migratory pink footed geese. More skeins have been flying over giving their distinctive ‘wink wink’ sound. There has also been large numbers of greylag and canada geese using the ridge and furrow and hillside fields.

    When the flocks of geese are not demonstrating their fabulous formations, a range of birds of prey can be spotted across the skyline. Kestrels continue to use the hillside and meadows surrounding the visitor centre to hunt, giving spectacular displays to our visitors enjoying a coffee and a scone.

    Kestrel at St. Aidan's - Iain Sterland

    The site also remains a great spot to watch buzzards and red kites circling high above the centre.

    A star bird of prey species is the marsh harrier. This week two marsh harriers have been spied hunting every day either on the ridge and furrow or the reedbeds. Furthermore, a sparrowhawk was spotted earlier in the week hunting around main lake and Lowther.

     Marsh harrier, Andy Hay (

    The kingfishers are still being their lively selves as they are observed flitting between the reedbeds. A particular favourite perch of theirs are the ‘no fishing signs’ placed on the eastern and western reedbeds.

    A regular wader visitor which is always enjoyable to see dabbling through the wet grassland is the curlew. Both small and large flocks are being seen on the ridge and furrow and main lake for the past week. Other waders that have been viewed in small numbers include dunlin, ruff and snipe.

    Snipe - Chris Gomersall (

    In the past week the site has also seen a rise in the number of roe deer sightings. Just yesterday there was a group of four individuals in the fields on the hillside whilst another group were spotted in the same place just a few days before.

    The wintering wildfowl are just as spectacular as ever with a lovely number of male pintail gracing the Main and Lemonroyd Lakes. Other ducks sighted include goosander, goldeneye, pochard, shoveler, gadwall, teal and wigeon.

    One of my favourites of the site which continues to be seen in abundance are the stonechats. Their plump body and rosy plumage is still being sighted around the hillside path, the reedbeds and pastures.

    Male stonechat, Ben Hall

    The final species that prefers to be heard rather than seen is the elusive water rail. Our rangers Steph and Steve were lucky to catch a glimpse of one emerging from the eastern reedbed on the 3rd November.

    Water rail - Mike Richards (

    As for short-eared owls, they've been here but haven't been seen for around a fortnight. We'll be updating you when they start being sighted regularly!

    More information:

    St Aidan’s visitor centre and car park have now switched to winter hours therefore, both the carpark and visitor centre will shut at 4pm until the end of January 2018.

    Bowers lake path is still CLOSED as the predator fence work continues, and the Ridge and Furrow is dug for more habitat creation/exposed muddy edges.

  • Fairburn Sightings Blog - 2nd Nov

    Earlier in the week I got one of the best jobs at Fairburn - usually reserved for volunteer rangers but on Saturday morning it was down to me to get my layers on and fill the feeders. 

    Perhaps it was the blue fleece and three buckets of suet, seed and fatballs - but the Discovery Trail came alive! Huge flocks of long tailed tits passed over in waves, robins were demanding their fill and chaffinches were flitting above my head. Now is the time when the lack of leaves mean the woodland around Fairburn Ings is visibly magical again. We've had all the usual suspects and the feeders are running out in a matter of hours.

    Confident robin up close! Lorraine Willis (twitter)

    You'll see great, blue, long tailed, coal and of course willow tits. Did we mention special willow tit badge? Plus your goldfinches, robins, chaffinches, tree sparrows, dunnocks, greater spotted woodpeckers and the beautiful bullfinches are all flitting around the centre and discovery trail.

    Limited edition badge

    The sightings book is starting to mention the arrival of goldcrests - a tiny (the tiniest!) bird at Fairburn, arrive in Autumn in larger numbers. You're most likely to spot one within flocks of other species. They eat tiny morsels like spiders, moth eggs and other small insect food.

    Goldcrest with it's striking yellow stripe - Graham Breeze (twitter)

    Other arrivals include the duck influx mentioned last week - goosander, pintail, goldeneye, wigeon at Village Bay.

    Keep your eyes on the sky for hundreds of redwing and fieldfare (450 at once on Mon!) - and not to forget skeins of thousands of pink footed geese travelling the stretch of the River Aire.

    Redwing, Chris Gomersall (

    Many a whisper have been heard over the past week or so - lots of hawfinches sighted nearby. Many a visitor and volunteer have been on the lookout.

    Yesterday morning one did fly over Big Hole - spotted by ranger John G. This is Fairburn's first record since 2001. Hawfinches are an exciting and beautiful bird, with a humongous and powerful beak - fingers crossed we catch a proper glimpse! There seems to have been a bit of an influx this year - although some are resident in the UK.

    Male hawfinch, Ben Andrew (

    Starling murmerations are starting at Fairburn - not as big as they get yet! But in a few weeks keep your eyes on the Coal Tips trail late afternoon.

    Plus with a little patience, the kingfishers have been sighted every day for a couple of weeks now at the kingfisher screen. Happy visitors!

    "Two fish in one dive!" - Graham Breeze - twitter