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”!

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Fairburn Ings

Firstly Happy Christmas, I hope everyone got what they wanted! I feel like I’ve put on about three stone over the last week. It’s just been eating, drinking, Ashes Cricket and World Championship Darts, with a few nature documentaries thrown in, but isn’t that what Christmas is all about? A few long walks are going to be on the menu, to burn off the effects of the festivities. Unfortunately, due to a hectic lead up to Christmas, birding has taken a slight back seat but the fire was rekindled on Christmas morning when a few bird books got unwrapped! Come January 1st I should be fully recharged and firing on all cylinders with the list reset at zero.

Just quickly going back to the nature documentaries, this may come across as a bit of a rant but whilst watching a re-run of Life, the BBC’s flagship series of nature programmes, I was amazed to discover a creature called the Fried Egg Jellyfish. The resemblance was uncanny, but Fried Egg! Come on. Surely there’s something more respectful than that? I actually feel sorry for the Jellyfish! And there’s something I thought I would never actually say! How is thousands of years evolution rewarded by the name Fried Egg? I can only think that the pinnacle of any Naturalist’s career is to discover a new species. And let’s be fair, Marine Biologists have a very high chance of doing this with such vast areas of ocean still to be discovered and the ground breaking technology to assist them. But as pulses race at the possibility of unearthing a world first, who then decides to call it Fried Egg! It’s as though they’ve had a party at Scarborough Sea Life Centre and done a guess the name of the Jellyfish competition for the kids.

I just hope these jokers don’t find anything else! For the animals sake! It’s a good job the majestic Orangutan has already been discovered. If these clowns had have found it, it could have been the Baked Bean Monkey or something?

Rant over.


The only birding I’ve done recently was a run out to Fairburn Ings, which saw me doubling up with my equally bored Dad. He was suicidal after Towns home defeat to Hartlepool so needed to get out of the house, so asked if I fancied a run out to Fairburn. Anyone who is familiar with Fairburn Ings will know the Village Bay area, and that’s where we started, we knew it would be frozen but felt the river may be worth checking out. Upon parking up we were met by two fire engines and two police cars. Why? You may be thinking, and so were we? The answer left us both in sheer disbelief. A family had decided to go for a walk on the ice! This was seen and reported to the emergency services by one of the residents whose garden looks out over the bay. We were just shaking our heads? Its one thing to do something that stupid, yet take a child with you is utter madness! Fortunately they made it back un-harmed, yet when confronted by the Police and Fire Crew’s, they couldn’t understand the “fuss” that was being made!


That aside, the birding remained to be as expected. Good numbers of Fieldfare and Redwing were overhead, with Song Thrush and Blackbird feeding in the bushes. Sadly, one of the Mute Swan’s, which were now confined to a small area of ice-free water, along with various other species, had succumbed to the conditions, and perished. A sad sight. Yet a visible reminder of the elements taking its toll, with even the largest of British birds suffering. The river held Tufted Duck, Goldeneye and Great Crested Grebe along with plenty of Cormorant and Gooseander which were all taking advantage of the ice free waters.



The feeders near the visitors centre were also busy, with Chaffinch and Goldfinch mingling with Great and Blue Tit. The pick of the birds had to be a brief visit from a Willow Tit and a flash of brilliant blue from a Kingfisher, stunning birds! Tree Sparrow’s were also plentiful with Dunnock and Pheasants doing the hoovering up on the floor.


I even made it into the shop and only purchased a drink, which for me is unbelievable! I can’t remember the last time I went to a reserve and didn’t come away with a magazine at least. Must be getting tight in my old age! That, or I’d got most of the books already?


Thursday, 2 December 2010

A Bit of Huddersfield Scenery

These are just a few locations around the Huddersfield area, taken over the last few days. I did a lap of Langsett Reservoir on Sunday in the hope of tracking down a Great Grey Shrike that had been reported, no luck on that front but to be fair it's one of my favourite places locally, so it was by no means a 'dip'. It was nice just to be out there in glorious sunshine, albeit with a very chilly breeze! There are a few felled areas now which look perfect for the shrike, the largest area though isn't viewable from the path so it could have been lurking anywhere, if it was even still present? These picture may be better clicked on to enlarge them slightly?

Langsett Reservoir

Red Grouse

Castle Hill with a distant Holme Moss

A view down to Bretton Lakes

The view from the garden - now you see it!

Now you don't!

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Pied Bill to Parakeet's

The last few weekends have produced some nice birding but very limited opportunities to photograph anything, I'm a birder foremost, that said, it's always nice to show off some of the sightings. Last Saturday morning I made the trip over the border to Hollingworth Country Park to see the Pied Billed Grebe. Over 100 people were present but the bird wasn’t half as obliging as it had been reported and photographed the previous days. It kept its distance, favouring the far side of the sheltered bay in which it had taken up residence, maybe due to the swelling numbers of visitors? I stayed for around an hour and a half but it never came anywhere near as close as some of the locals were saying it had done previously. Having seen some of the photos taken on other days, I would be embarrassed to post the record shots I took, which merely show it as a speck! They are up there with my King Eider photo!!!

I am normally chained to my desk at work, very rarely getting the chance to get out. This week was different though, I had to meet someone in London. To save the hassle of the Monday morning rat race I made the trip down on the Sunday night and stayed at my sisters. To cut a long story short, I had a meeting in the centre but then had to head out to Kingston Upon Thames. It was this drive that got me another sighting for the year, Ring Necked Parakeet. A few small flocks flew over parklands as I made my way out and I also saw a few perched in a dead tree quite close to the M25. It was a bonus year tick really.

Castle Hill

When two tectonic plates collide big things happen, so when I got invited out with two stalwarts of the local birding scene I was expecting a feast. With combined experience of 130 years, I am merely Daniel to their Mr Miyagi. They mentored me and chauffeured me as boy, passing on identification tips and local knowledge. They still do to this day. There isn’t a stone unturned by these two in Clayton West, Emley and Bretton. Both ex gang leaders, their paths met whilst sharing a cell in the big house, it was this chance meeting that would later fuse the foundations for a local birding super power. Whilst inside, the pair found the Christian faith, which would in time, carve the way for a premature release. Years on and they are still known in some circles by their gang names and bare visual reminders in the form of tattoos of the underworld life they have since left. Mick ‘the machete’ Sellars was arrested in the late eighties when his human trafficking ring was infiltrated by undercover agents and brought to the fore. For years he had made a tidy sum smuggling people from Flockton into Emley and was seen by some as a martyr, a modern day Robin Hood who risked it all to try and give these people from Flockton a better life.

Ian ‘Gonzales’ Rank, a Gambian bird expert, fell foul of his own fear as minutes before boarding a plane to Banjul, ‘Gonzales’ reacted badly to a patrolling sniffer dog in his close proximity. His phobia of dogs caused unease and his fidgeting behaviour was picked up by airport security. He was later found with three tins of snuff taped to the inside of his leg.

My mentors

The Machete and Gonzales are old school and that’s what I like about them, they are still phoning Birdline North East, I’ve tried my best to get them into the internet side of birding but to no avail. To be fair though, it was only a year ago that I thought a blog was an online diary for an American family to chronicle the trials and tribulations of their three sons Chad, Buck and Randy. I actually saw pro bull riding recently on ESPN and one guy was called Pistol! How tough is that! I best not upset anyone over the pond though as my brother in law is American. Luckily he’s one of the cool ones. He doesn’t clap and cheer when a plane touches down.

Great Tit trying to dislodge a nut

I tagged along with Mick and Ian to Bretton Lakes, taking in the High Hoyland church area, where finch numbers appear to be building again. Bramblings were amongst Chaffinch and Greenfinch, and small numbers of Reed Bunting and Yellowhammer were also present.

It was all the ‘usuals’ on the lakes, however three Gadwalls were present, not a species I have come across at all regularly in this area.

The aptly named Turkey Tail fungus

Monday, 1 November 2010

Back to the Patch

With a recent report of a Yellow Browed Warbler on my very road! It was clear I probably wasn't giving the surrounding area my closest attention. That said, a 9 to 5 job makes sure that many slip the net! So a few walks locally have been the weekend's agenda, mainly for Junior, who's autumnal school topic has fortunately prized her away from Tom and Jerry and got her out there, looking, listening and collecting.

The mist was thick but the leaves broke through, with the only noise other than bird song being the miniature steam train, as it passed below a few times. We didn't hit on anything rare, but the resident Little Owl certainly livened things up for Junior! With her response being "it can't be an owl, it's too little"? Too much Harry Potter I think?

King of all he surveys!

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Birding Gold

This weekend was to be a quiet one, with absolutely nothing planned. Birding would feature though but I decided with the few hours I had to get out I would stay local, or local ish? I actually ended up at Anglers Country Park. It was quiet on the bird front with the only tick for the morning being a female Scaup, a powerboat went out though which more or less cleared the top reservoir of bird life, so I headed back to the main hide.

Every once in a while it’s a pleasure to be in the presence of greatness, bird hides give you the opportunity to meet a wide variety of characters, some blend into the background as mere pleasantry’s are exchanged, others are immortalised in my mind as sheer one offs. Guy’s who are amusing, guy’s who are great storytellers, guy’s who are generally wrong or guys like I met this weekend, blinkered towards their own superior field skills.


By his own admission he was a top top birder. A couple who were also in the hide were beginners, eager to learn, but had asked for a few birds they were uncertain about confirming, nothing out of the ordinary, just birds that had differing plumages, particularly at this time of year, to the pictures in their book. Now if someone asked me in a hide to take a quick a look at a bird to see what my thoughts were it would be a pleasure. That’s to say I would know what it is! There’s a lot more I don’t know about birds than I do! Unfortunately they didn’t ask me though; they asked the guy to other side of them? His response naturally was positive “of course” he said, “it’s your lucky day, you’re probably sat next one of the best birdwatchers in Yorkshire” he meant it too! And who am I to disagree, I just thought it was quite a bold statement?

Blue Tit

To prove this, he not only identified the Tufted Duck in question, he gave a breakdown of its plumage in a manner to which I had to have a quick look around to see if I hadn’t somehow found myself in a zoology lecture. All of which was completely over the couple’s head. He was on a roll though, and I was privileged to be a part of it, I had a box seat for a birdwatching master class. Every bird was now being identified, along with comments like “what you find with the aythya's is…..”? Obviously they didn’t have a clue what he was talking about, the second they went to say something he went “sshhh” whilst holding his finger up towards them in a don’t interrupt manner, and after a short silence would say “Linnet”. The best though was yet to come. He then went on to point out to the couple what he said was a Meadow Pipit, perched on a wire. You could hardly see the pylon the wire was connected to, never mind call the speck on it a Meadow Pipit! It would have had to be the size of a Woodpigeon to be even seen at that range! I actually felt like the couple were getting duped? So I enquired politely “how the hell can you tell that’s a Meadow Pipit from here” to which he simply replied “jizz”. For my family and certainly my friends, “jizz” is a word used for the outline shape of a bird. Jodrell Bank wouldn’t have identified this fucker never mind the pair of RSPB branded 8x32’s he was using!

Great Tit

I was actually toying with the idea of going to Spurn Point today but decided in the end to go to Bretton Lakes instead, the main reason being I slept in! The weather was as good as it gets for this time of year, which seemed to bring the place to life. It was the usual suspect’s bird wise however a very brief highlight was a sighting of a Water Rail, which flew from the island straight towards the hide, once it landed though it was more or less invisible. The odd rustle kept giving away its location but it was never in view. A Cormorant put an appearance in, as did two drake Pochard’s, but the rest was pretty much what you would expect. A very peaceful and pleasant two hours.


Monday, 11 October 2010

Ringing Week

Miss Piggy had made it clear earlier in the week that I may as well not exist come the weekend. With ‘girly’ things planned on both days and the start of the shit factor live shows coupled with Strictly Come Dancing, I was neither going to see them nor get the TV at any point come 6:30pm. Filey then! I had already had my appetite whet earlier in the week by Ian Robinson, a Filey birder who was in town giving a talk on Sea Birds of the Southern Oceans for The Huddersfield Birdwatching Club, and thoroughly enjoyable it was too.

Filey’s ringing week was to start, heightening the chances of something rarer being found and a quick look on the Met Office website suggested the winds could conjure up a biggy? I set off late morning on Saturday, getting up to the ringing area around 2-00pm. Ian incidentally was the first person I bumped into, and he quickly alerted me to a Radde’s Warbler sighting from earlier in the day. It hadn’t been seen for a few hours, but plenty of birders had now congregated and were spread out around a 10m x 50m area of scrub just north of the caravan park. It was very dense in places giving the bird, if it wanted, plenty of cover. Now I don’t have a self found list and to be fair this wouldn’t get itself on there, but if I had a ‘re-found’ list this would be top of the pile. I was the lucky sole to find it again! I had wandered away from the building numbers of birders, just to have a look in another area, and guess what I found! A Radde’s Warbler! In a clump of nettles, fly catching from the stems! Some vigorous hand gestures and pointing alerted the only other person in view - a local Filey birder, to its location, which he duly put out on the walkie-talkies. As he approached it showed well for us both, for a matter of seconds, before alighting in front of another birder approaching from another direction, giving off three sharp “takk” notes, then ditching into some undergrowth. Excitement over though, as for the remainder of the weekend it showed in ten second bursts for the few lucky ones who happened to be in the right place at the right time. Many many birders were led a merry dance and from the general feeling it seemed more missed out than actually saw it, I was one of the lucky handful.

The ringers had been kept busy too, processing over 300 birds in the two days I was there. Goldcrest’s and Robin’s were everywhere! Redwing’s tumbled out of the sky and small flocks of Brambling's crashed into the trees. An awesome sight!


Garden Warbler


Meadow Pipit

A great sighting was a Jack Snipe coming in off the sea onto the country park, which was shouted out by a small group of guys who were still holding out for the Radde’s Warbler. My sincere thanks; as without the tip off it would have completely passed me by un-noticed?


Song Thrush



A feeding flock of Siskin which must have kept me captivated for the best part of an hour.

It wasn’t just the Radde’s Warbler though that was causing a stir, the ringers had trapped and rung a Yellow Browed Warbler which never got relocated after its release and a Pallas’s Warbler had also been found in the area known as Church Ravine. Both birds evaded myself and many more in the hunt, I couldn’t get too down heartened though given the sightings that I’d had of the other birds this weekend.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Black Redstarts

With a failed attempt already under my belt it only seemed right that part of this weekend should be spent trying to locate one of the Black Redstarts at Langsett. A quality bird anyway! Never mind one in the Huddersfield area. I’d given it my best shot previously but wasn’t helped in the slightest by the weather so I was hoping for something a bit better and this morning was, clear blue skies just a bit chilly. I just headed to the right area and waited. It’s a strange one. Is the track leading up to and through the farm buildings where the birds have been seen private? Should I be there? Am I trespassing? I went for it anyway and strolled straight up. After twenty minutes though, my questions were answered. A 4x4 slowed to a halt beside me and the interrogation as to my reasons for being there begun. He was the typical old farmer, flat cap, bedraggled wirey grey hair, side burns like steel wool. I explained the rambler’s right to roam but he wasn’t having it. The exchange of words soured and he got out of the Land Rover. Luckily I got the first punch in which stunned him somewhat but he came back well catching me twice with a couple of beauties. He was one of the toughest seventy year olds I’ve ever fought, the hardest though being an extra on The Last of the Summer Wine a few years ago in Holmfirth, he was like a Kelly Doll, he just kept getting back up?

If I was to have any chance though against this enraged septuagenarian landowner, I had to fight my way, and get him to ground. Once we were grappling in the mud I just had to bide my time and let all the things I’d learnt as a teenager watching countless Royal Rumbles and Smackdowns come to fruition. It wasn’t long either before I had the old boy in a Figure Four, gradually forcing him into a submission. He soon tapped out and the whole thing was ended amicably, I dusted off and returned his flat cap before offering him my lens cleaner in a bid to stop the blood. He went on his way, leaving me free to bird watch.

Shortly after, I got my first glimpse of the Black Redstarts, two females flitting from dry stone wall to field and back, gradually working their way around the perimeter of the field, just sadly always out of range. I decided to have a slow walk back to the car and hopefully catch up with them again further round as it was that direction they were heading. A female Merlin came into view though, which diverted my attention for a good few minutes as it whizzed through the area. As I neared the opposite end of the field to which I’d started, the Black Redstarts kept gradually edging closer, so it was sit and wait time and after 10 minutes or so they were close enough to get some nice record shots. Lovely birds, and a nice Huddersfield tick too.

Monday, 20 September 2010

Sooty and Snow

Well it’s been a good weekend on the birding front with a nice few additions to add to this years sightings. A couple of Black Terns at Pugneys got the ball rolling before heading over to Filey for the weekend which had been planned months ago by Miss Piggy as a celebration of the cricket season coming to an end!

I was out of the house on Saturday morning before Miss Piggy and Junior awoke, in the hope I could get a few hours birding in before the start of Miss Piggy’s weekend of fun. I headed straight to the Brigg. Over the next few hours clouds gave way to sunshine and it turned out to be a cracking morning, the waves crashing into the Brigg making it spectacularly so. I enjoyed the company of two other sea watchers during my stay, although one guy was more into the photography side than the actual birding so I will be keen to see his images from the morning.

Check out his website @ which I have added a link to.

It started well with a good movement of Red Throated Diver and I had a Great Skua within minutes of setting my scope up, but as the clouds parted it seemed the more scarce sea birds just dried up. Gannets were constant and the odd Sandwich Tern put in an appearance but the single skua already mentioned was it, and no sightings of any shearwaters? Lapland Buntings had been seen further up along the cliff top and as much as fancied scouring the area it was time to head back. I did walk the long way back which took in part of the area they had been seen within, but to no avail. The numbers that have been recorded in the Western Isles though recently makes me think there will be other opportunities to catch up with this species in the coming months as they gradually disperse.

The bonus sighting of the weekend came when I wasn’t actually meant to be bird watching. The last time we went to Hornsea Mere we were literally just stopping off but Junior had fancied a go in the rowing boats, always the peacemaker, a ride was promised the next time we came to the east coast, hence our visit this time around. Steve Redgrave can sleep easy in the knowledge that I won’t be a threat to his record anyway. It was knackering. Junior loved it though so I suppose that was the main thing. As we headed back to the car though, a few birders looked poised, and not one to miss out I got my binoculars and headed straight over. They were on a Snow Bunting, it was a cracker too, the local Pied Wagtails wouldn’t let it settle though and it eventually took to the air flew out of view. It was one of those ‘right place at the right time’ sightings.

Sunday I was off early to meet a friend of mine, Mick, in Bridlington for the RSPB Skua and Shearwater cruise which heads out on the Yorkshire Belle. The weather was awful; anyone who saw us queuing up at 8-30am in Bridlington Harbour in the pouring rain must have thought we were out of our minds.

Sooty Shearwater

Arctic Skua

A Great Skua (bottom right) harassing gulls

As we got out beyond Flamborough Head the rain did start to bait but it remained very overcast the entire trip. The birding was good though, with 3 Sooty Shearwaters, 2 Great Skua’s and 1 Arctic Skua being the birds of note with Pink Footed Goose, Red Throated Diver, Sandwich Tern and Common Scoter also being seen. Gannet’s were plentiful and Great backed Black Gulls were constant, hanging around for fish scraps, which were being thrown in to draw the birds closer.


Waiting to plunge in!

Great Black Backed Gull - Adult


One bird of interest, which followed the boat for a short while, was an adult Herring Gull, this bird though showed characteristics of the Scandinavian race Argentatus, which are a slightly darker tone of grey (albeit on a very dull day) and show less black to the tip of the wings in contrast to larger white patches on the finger tips? The hardcore gull enthusiasts out there might disagree though? A few of the photos hopefully capture some of the characteristics mentioned so it’s out there for debate!

Possible Scandinavian Herring Gull?