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”!

Saturday, 9 January 2010


A few Friday night beers in The Grove laid the foundations for an afternoon walk the next day around Langsett Reservoir. This suited me down to the bone as not only is it a great walk, the scenery and wildlife can be top notch too. The rarity was the fact it was a “family” walk, something I can’t remember doing for a very long time. The family being Myself, Mum, Dad and Sister, Miss Piggy had swollen glands giving her a Sophie Ellis Bextor moon face look, so naturally couldn’t face the public and junior Shat Birder was glued to the TV praying that Atreyou and Falcor could combine to stop The Nothing taking over Fantasia in the Never Ending Story!

The plan was to park up and just keep walking until we felt the paths were not suitable and turn back. This never happened, as although the snowfall had been heavy, the paths particularly on the moorland section of the circuit were still clearly visible and well trodden. The opposite hillside was hosting the men’s downhill championships with sledges, bin bags, snowboards and rubber dinghy’s all been used to race down. Part of me wanted to be over there! I can handle the hurtling down it’s the trudging back up that I loose interest with.

A cracking male Bullfinch was probably the only bird we had seen for the first half hour but anybody with some decent tracking skills would have had a field day as the woodland floor and adjoining fields were littered with footprints in the snow. I can only think that Rabbit, Fox and possibly Hare were some of the culprits, maybe even Squirrel? A short stop at the bridge was prolonged by the hypnotic effect running water has. It had us all leaning over the bridge, following the flow of the river into the reservoir. Something made even better by the snow covered stepping-stones and hanging branches.

Once out on the moorland, small parties of Red Grouse could be seen scratching away at the snow to get to the Heather. Although prolonged periods of snow such as this are fairly uncommon, the grouse are ideally suited with feathered feet and unusual feathered nostrils.

The feeding parties would occasionally take flight, forming flocks of 100 or more birds, circling a few times before dispersing back into the Heather.

Whilst out on the most open part of the walk a cloud appeared which was clearly heading our way and before long we could see that snow was on the way. This sent my Mum into a gibbering frenzy who was demanding we up the pace. It was as though she had had a premonition of some sort of hiking disaster. I understood her concern that we had snowfall fast approaching and we were out on a moor but the panic she had worked up was falling on deaf ears. I think my Mum could see in her minds eye a mountain rescue team getting the dogs and heat seeking helicopter ready to search the Langsett area for the “missing” family. The next person onto Langsett Moor would be Michael Burke filming a reconstruction for 999! The following actors would need hiring though to make it anywhere near believable,

My Dad - John Goodman (who’s possibly dead? Sorry John if you’re not)
My Mum – Mo from Eastenders
Myself – Jean Claude Van Damme
My Sister – Kerry Katona

As predicted by myself, the blizzard Armageddon my Mum was expecting had blown over in seconds revealing clear blue skies and dazzling scenery. As the path neared the tree line we came across two belters, a pair of Crossbills perched in the treetop. Unfortunately from a photo point of view they were just out of range but at least I managed some sort of record shot. It’s a shame too as the way they were perched really showed off their colours in the sunlight. Crossbills as the name suggests have an adapted beak enabling them to prise open pinecones to extract the seeds, stunning birds in close proximity.

The other birds seen were Blue, Great and Coal Tits with a Great Spotted Woodpecker putting in an appearance as it flew across a clearing. On the water were Mallard, Teal, Wigeon and a pair of Canada Geese, all resting on the ice, which probably covered 85% of the reservoir. It’s hard times for the birds at the minute.

A Hot Chocolate and piece of Parkin from the cafe were just rewards for an enjoyable few hours in an area that could be on appearance alone deepest darkest Scotland or Scandinavia, not somewhere 20 minutes from Shat!

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