So why the Shat Birder?

I got a bit of stick for calling my blog The Shat Birder and contrary to the jibes it is not a description! Shat is actually (believe it or not) the local name for the village in which I have lived all my life, Skelmanthorpe.
Skelmanthorpe is on the outskirts of Huddersfield and in the 1870’s during the construction of the railway line (which is now Kirklees Light Railway), local unskilled labourers were drafted in to chip away at the rock that would later carve out Shelley Tunnel. These local lads were nicknamed stone “Shatterers” by the Irish navvies who had been employed to lay the line. The taunting from these “foreigners” actually ended in a 200 man mass brawl, which saw one of the Irish workers getting part of his ear bitten off! It was this incident that coined the phrase “Shat lug oyl biter” which when translated from broad Yorkshire is basically “Skelmanthorpe Ear Hole Nibbler”. Since then though, nearly 140 years on, Skelmanthorpe is still known as Shat! And all its inhabitants by the abbreviated “Shatters”!

Sunday, 23 December 2012


Given that 2012 has been a good year for this iruptive species, the sightings have been numerous. The day's my camera was to hand though were doom and gloom! Rather than show them in all their glory, this is the best of a bad bunch...of photos that is, not Waxwing's!

They still make an unmistakable silhouette.

Thursday, 8 November 2012


With birding being limited this year, the annual list has never really taken off. An October weekend in Filey added a couple more, but sadly it was totally devoid of rarities. The ringing team were also quiet, with many collections not even netting one single bird. A Red Breasted Flycatcher led me a merry dance, as I failed to connect with it on two occasions….story of the year!

Laughing Dove

After a great week on the Isle of Skye earlier in the year, this half term saw us head out to Egypt for two weeks. Although getting a few lifers was high on the agenda, so too was the enjoyment for the kids. Miss Piggy had booked us in a holiday village in Sharm El Sheikh that purely catered for just that, the enjoyment of kids. And given it was the school holiday there were kids everywhere.

Western Reef Egret

It was hard for me at the start as I stuck out like a sore thumb. Miss Piggy failed to tell me after booking it that the men had to have the names of their kids tattooed on their neck and don a football shirt to the evening meal. That ostracised me from the word go, so I had to while away the time looking to the skies and scanning the sea and beaches for birds. And not just the feathered type.

Marsh Sandpiper

The neighbouring hotel was an 18-30 style resort full of Russian’s, and more accurately Russian women. Pretending to read a book on the beach took up quite a bit of time. They weren’t all sheer class, some of them were howlers, but I’d say the percentage favoured the better ones. Beach surveillance killed a couple of hours in the afternoons….until Miss Piggy busted me? Letting my guard down, I was rumbled four days in. I thought she’d seen the true direction of my eyes through the dark sunglasses but it later transpired it was the erection that gave me away? You live and learn.

Green Heron

The birding around the hotel was steady to be fair. Laughing Dove and House Sparrow were common and a pair of Western Reef Heron were obliging on the beach, and that was basically it. A flock of migrating White Storks livened up one morning as did a pass through Osprey and Caspian Tern. As the water receded Ringed Plover, Greenshank and Marsh Sandpiper were recorded, as was a Green Heron that I flushed when I almost stood on it.

A charismatic Fiddler Crab

Caspian Tern

The gecko that lived in our hotel room

One of the many lizzard's darting across the hotel paths and rockeries.

The best birding was a trip inland, when I went to St Catherines Monastry in the heart on Sinai, home of Moses’s ‘Burning Bush’, to hike up Mount Sinai. The trip takes place during the night, to avoid climbing in the midday heat and also to be at the summit to watch the sunrise, which was quite spectacular. It was also quite busy. Around 300 people in various group sizes made their way up the mountain, led by Bedouin guides, with camels on hand (naturally at a cost) to ride should the going get tough.

Only half of our group made it up on foot without the assistance of a Bedouin and his trusty camel. Many of them were simply ill equipped. The footwear and clothing worn by some, given we were hiking up a 2285m mountain, through the night, didn’t really reflect the magnitude of the task ahead.

Many of the stragglers were not prepared either for the drop in temperature as we racked up the altitude. The walking was slow going but manageable. That’s until the final 300m. The last climb is a 750 step stone-carved staircase, leading to the summit, named the ‘Steps of Repentance’. Again manageable, but very energy and morale sapping. My legs were screaming by the time I reached the top. The effort made me sweat considerably which had negative effects. You find yourself pushing yourself to the top, only to reach the summit and stop moving. The perspiration quickly cools in the near freezing oxygen starved air, making the short wait for the sunrise quite uncomfortable.

For many there though, the toughness of the last section and determination to reach the summit was purely religion driven. The plateau we now congregated on awaiting the sunrise, was the very place Moses was said to have been handed the Ten Commandments.

The wait for the sunrise.

The break of dawn.

The summit was a surreal experience. Given this mountain is revered by Christians, Muslims and Jews, the cross section of pilgrims varied considerably in both nationality and religious background. Many of which reading passages and praying, with some even crying at the realisation they had reached, for them, potentially a once in a lifetime place. I personally have more science based beliefs, but I could certainly appreciate what the place meant for those who were there for religious reasons. I was quite happy to sit back and watch the sunrise, taking it all in.

A rare photo of myself.

The beauty of this trip meant that come first light, I was literally up with the birds, and now had the meandering walk back down, binoculars at the ready! Sinai Rosefinch was my target bird and it wasn’t long till a tick was next to its name, with the Mt Sinai and St Catherine’s Monastery area being a stronghold. Other notable sightings included Tristram’s Starling, Isabelline and White Crowned Wheatear, Desert Lark and Rock Martin so all in all a great couple of hours.

Bedouin's on hand to take you back down the mountain path on their camel's

Sinai Rosefinch

White Crowned Wheatear

Desert Lark

The hike back down finished with a tour of the monastery which sits at the base of the mountain. The monastery feature’s Moses’ Well, and a descendant of the ‘Burning Bush’, as clippings from the original are said to have been re-grown by the monks within the monastery walls.

St Catherine's Monastery, at the foot of Mount Sinai in the heart of the Sinai Desert.

As an all-round nature lover, another string to the holiday’s bow was the delight’s that the Red Sea had to offer. The marine life was breathtaking. The snorkelling turned out to be very addictive and a highlight for me of the holiday. Watching a Manta Ray drift by was an unforgettable experience.

Me and Junior snorkelling.

Animal mad Junior got hooked too and was inspired to complete the first stages of her PADI certification. Given she’s only 8 years old she is limited to the depth she could dive to, but with her first 2m open sea dive in the bag, she’s now ticking off the days till she can progress and go deeper.

Junior Cousteau


A few Autumn images I never seemed to get round to posting.

A male Migrant Hawker

A female Migrant Hawker

A mating pair of Common Darter's

A basking Common Darter

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Isle of Skye

Our home for a week on the Isle of Skye. It was a week of peace and quiet, or as much peace and quiet you can get with two kids! We just used the cottage as a base to explore the Isle and luckily we got the weather!

Junior loved the jetty, and had her breakfast on it most mornings. More so because the small trout would swim up to her feet.

I opened the curtains one morning to a stunning summer plumaged Red Throated Diver and the tree next the cottage had a Cuckoo that called all day and ALL night! Both though were very hard to approach in regards a decent photo. It wasn't for lack of trying though.

The cottage was just north of Portree under the back drop of the Old Man of Storr, a prominent pinnacle and rock formation in the area.

Jumior on the Sunset Walk. A nature walk run by locals from a small community centre. Ironically it was about 11:30pm till the sun actually set.

The Last Month Or So?

A Curlew on Broomhead Moor, set against some menacing clouds.

Shag - This bird was perched on a marker just off Flamborough Head.

A Great Skua that has made the East Coast its home for the summer, much to the resident's disgust.

Gannet returning to Bempton Cliffs with nesting material.

Common Guillemot's

Atlantic Puffin

A Rock Pipit returning to feed chicks at Dunvegan's coral beaches on the Isle of Skye.

Young Moorhen at Old Moor RSPB

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Raptor Feast

Given Saturday was so clear and crisp, a few texts in the morning to Gonzales and Machete and we were M62 bound, on our way to Blacktoft Sands for what we thought would be a good raptor day. The early signs were good. Nearly every bush on the way there had a Kestrel, poised for anything that moved.

Blue Tit

Once there, as with most people, the plan was to start at the top end and work our way down, finishing at the best hide for the harrier roost. The hide was packed though, at one point totalling 30 birders. We couldn't even get a seat by a window. Instead birding from a bench at the back, through the back of peoples heads. Hence no pictures! The roost itself was good though. Around 15 Marsh Harriers came in whilst a very distant Barn Owl quartered the reeds, often out of view. The definite highlight though and the main reason for the journey, was both male and female Hen Harrier drifting in at dusk, at times in the same field of view through the binoculars. The female was picked out first and when the cry of 'ringtail' rang out, you could feel the buzz around the hide. Unfortunately due to persecution they are getting harder and harder to see, so it was a moment savoured.

Tree Sparrow

Second time lucky for the Great Grey Shrike wasn't to be, although it was a fleeting visit rather than a detailed search of the area. A skein of Pink Footed Geese were a nice sight though.

A shrike free zone, for me anyway!

Castle Hill shrouded by low cloud

A setting sun from Langsett Reservoir dam wall.

A short afternoon stroll yeilded Crossbill, Siskin and Coal Tit in the treetops and Red Grouse on the adjacent moor.

Sadly the places visited and birds seen haven't been too camera friendly to be fair. Distant harriers in the Blacktoft twilight, flushed partridges that were away like lightning and finch flocks in the highest pines! Ah well.

Monday, 9 January 2012

European Greenland From Tundra?

As per recent Christmas breaks, we headed over to Filey on the 28th to see the New Year in over there, before returning on the 2nd. Partly due to my return to work but more importantly to watch the World Championship Darts Final! Much to Miss Piggy's disgust.

A late afternoon visit to Bempton Cliffs on the 30th was the only pre New Year birding done. I was rewarded though with a stunning male Desert Wheatear, hence the visit. A bird that has been present now for some weeks. The only disappointment was the time it took for the bird to show, by the time I had locked eyes on it the light had faded fast. It ended up showing down to a few metres but it was simply too gloomy to take any reasonable photos. If it hangs around I may have another go?

The New Year came and I spent a small amount of time on the Brigg, at the Dams, and with the kids in Scarborough. Filey Bay was actually very quiet on the bird front and the tide times weren't favourable either. I nearly ended up on my arse twice trying to negotiate the mud slide down to the seawatching hide, in the end to see fuck all. The wind was howling in making the sea far too choppy for the sea ducks and divers, so it was a cold and empty handed trudge back compared to recent years.

Although I wasn't technically 'birdwatching' the binoculars came to Scarborough along with a quick stop off at Holbeck car park for the Mediterranean Gulls.

A nice adult Mediterranean Gull coming in for the bread

A first winter bird

The lobster pots dotted around the harbour seem alive with House Sparrows, a great place to hide from the gulls! A male on the lookout.

Herring Gull

A first winter Shag...ironically seen the day after my first winter shag. Which as always, ended in stale mate. Neither of us could think of anyone?

Once back from the East coast and sadly back to work, the following weekend saw me round the reservoirs. Huddersfield is in a purple patch at the minute thanks to some eagle eye local observers. Great Grey Shrike, Tundra Bean Goose, European White Fronted Goose and Whooper Swan were to name a few, not to mention the high possibility of the returning Ring Billed Gull still being in the recording area? So all in all some real quality. I have so far dipped on the Great Grey Shrike and the Bean Geese were second time of asking, so hopefully the Butcher Bird will come good?

Record shot from Ingbirchworth Reservoir, one of two Whooper Swans

The resident flock of Greylag Greese have played their part in what's turning out to be a great 'goose' winter by pulling in European White Fronted Geese. The remaining bird being present for a few weeks now at Royd Moor Reservoir.

A first winter European White Fronted Goose in with the Greylags

Pugney's and Angler's Country Parks, both in the Wakefield area have also done well with wildfowl this winter, but the best sighting of the day came in the form of a Red Kite drifting over Pugney's Nature Reserve. Angler's Country Park is currently sporting a nice male American Wigeon and Smew along with this White Fronted Goose of the Greenland variety.

Greenland White Fronted Goose

It's been an educational weekend comparing two differing varieties of the same species in fairly close quarters.

Welcome to the life of a sad bastard! I can hear my friends now.