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, 20 January 2010

Fairburn Ings & Blacktoft Sands

Sunday was really a tale of two halves in terms of habitats, with raptors being the constant theme throughout the day. The golf course was STILL closed so the father son birding tag team hit the RSPB reserves. Not only is he good company but my dad has a knack of seeing the slightest flourish of feather and has alerted me to a birds presence many times when I’ve had my eye to the telescope looking completely the wrong way. The old two pairs of eyes are better than one clichĂ© it certainly is.
We didn’t set of till mid morning. The plan was to spend an hour or two at Fairburn Ings before nipping down the M62 to get the last few hours in at Blacktoft Sands. Surprisingly even though the weather had been milder and the bulk of the snow gone, large areas of water were still frozen. This was reflected in the number of birds seen. The highlight of many a trip to Fairburn is the Long Eared Owl roost and it didn’t disappoint today either, only one bird was present although the number at any one time does fluctuate. I’ve been before and seen five birds at the same roost site, but whether its one, five or fifteen, you can never get bored of seeing owls in the wild.
Due to the recent conditions Blacktoft Sands had been closed for long periods as the access paths had become hazardous. Rather than trek out there to turn back we used the facilities and got the helpdesk at the visitors centre to phone up and check it was open before setting off, is that abusing the membership? A quick walk around the path before leaving produced 5 Willow Tit, all using the feeders along with good numbers of Tree Sparrow. Willow Tit are very localised birds never seen in any great quantities so a trip to Fairburn is worth it just for this alone. I’ve had singles in the past few years around a few local reservoirs in Huddersfield, none of these areas are a dead cert though. This may be even more so after the recent cold spell? Let’s hope not.



A nice male Chaffinch which frequented the feeding station



In terms of bird numbers, Blacktoft was quiet too but it’s the quality here that makes the place luring. Within seconds we had Marsh Harrier quartering the vast reedbeds, occasionally plunging down on unfortunate prey.



Merlin’s were active too but the real buzz was watching the ghost like aura of a hunting Barn Owl sweeping across the horizon pausing to hover before drifting away. That for me is birdwatching!

As dusk approached, small skeins of Greylag Geese came in, giving company to the franticly feeding lone Shelduck.



A Kestrel had an altercation with the Barn Owl who seemed to be hunting on “his” patch and before we knew it, it was coming dark. Engrossed in the surroundings we had lost track of time. On leaving the reserve, the surrounding fields had feeding Roe Deer and Brown Hare which put the icing on the cake for a superb afternoon.

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