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, 21 February 2010

A Run Around

With no game of golf planned and Huddersfield Town away, I said I would pick my dad up at 11-00am for a bit of a run around. As I was wide-awake at 7-00am I thought I would sneak a quick walk in at High Hoyland first. The finch numbers are somewhat down from last year with a complete absence of Lesser Redpoll, certainly on my visits this year anyway. A single female Brambling was the highlight along with Treecreeper and Great Spotted Woodpecker in the church grounds.

We had decided the day before to have a run down to Clumber Park, a place we try and visit once a year. It was very quiet though on the bird front. Hawfinch, which can be occasionally found there are chance sightings at best, but today, we were completely out of luck. A few Goldcrest flitting around the canopy at least got me a year tick so we didn’t come away empty handed, Marsh Tit were showing well around all the feeding stations too. It made for a good couple of hours but if anything it was too busy

We left with the intention of calling somewhere on the way back, I had fancied trying to catch up with the Red Necked Grebe, which had been present at Wintersett for the last couple of weeks. I think it was just one of those days though as when we arrived birders were struggling to relocate the bird as the sailing club had someone out smashing the ice with an oar, trying to free up the launching area. This had caused a handful of Great Crested Grebe to take off so whether the Red Necked was with them who knows? I came away with the consolation of Green Woodpecker to add to the list. We parked up to view an area known by the locals as the Lower Water, but a few scans with the telescope couldn’t produce the Red Necked Grebe, two redhead Smew’s were present though. At 4pm it then became mad dash time, a report of a Great White Egret at Bretton Lakes gave us enough incentive to try and find the bird before the gates closed at 5-30pm. The mission got completed after a power walk back to the car to find the security guard waiting for us so he could lock up. We found the Egret on the bank opposite the hide but could only really view it from a distance. The island that the hide looks onto completely concealed the bird. I thought about returning this morning to see if it was showing any better, which was until I pulled back the curtains to find yet more snow!

With the car safely on the drive and birding on hold, an invite for a mornings stroll with the Shat Kennel Club seemed the only way to beat the cabin fever. The walk through Blacker Wood was very pleasant once the snow had stopped falling and a nice flock of Siskin put the icing on the cake.

The view from the garden this afternoon looks ominous to say the least!

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

East Coast

This Valentines weekend of love was spent on the East Coast at Filey with Sunday blending into the other 364 days in which Miss Piggy is treated like a valentine. I bring her a bunch of fresh flowers home most days. It helps living near an accident black spot. We decided to go Friday night giving us the full weekend at the cottage, at that time the roads are dead so there’s no messing about crawling along the A64 . I was up and at’em Saturday morning and the conditions down on the Brigg were worlds apart from the last time we went when snowfall forced me back. The sun was rising, bouncing off Bempton Cliffs and the tide was out; it was a cracking morning, quite mild too. I was onto a couple of year ticks more or less straight away with Bar Tailed Godwit and Purple Sandpiper feeding around the rock pools. Plenty of Oystercatcher, Knot, Dunlin, Redshank and Turnstone were also present with single Grey Plover and Curlew making up the numbers. The surprise was the lack (on both visits so far this year) of Sanderling, a bird which in past years has been very abundant on the tide line.

Bar Tailed Godwit

Dunlin & Knot

Purple Sandpiper

I made my way straight to the sea watching hide and got settled for a couple of hours, a cold wind was blowing in which I’d so far been sheltered from by the Brigg, so it was nice to get indoors…ish. Small flocks of Guillemot would land on the water along with the odd Razorbill and a Great Northern Diver and two Velvet Scoters fed around the surf. Birds moving south were good numbers of Gannet, a flock of Common Scoter and three Red Throated Divers.

After a few hours I headed back along the top as I had promised Junior Shat Birder an afternoon pumping 2p’s into the Scarborough arcades. As I stopped to admire a singing Skylark I was met by Tony and Joan, day-trippers from Middlesborough whom I am told make the journey at this time every year to see Filey Briggs iconic wader, the Purple Sandpiper. I was stood with my scope poised out towards Scandinavia when they approached muttering those two words synonymous with birders “owt about”. They stayed for a while and we had a good chat. I would guess they were both late sixties, Tony looked like he could be the face of Fishermen’s Friend, should they ever have an ad campaign? His crooked nose suggested he was probably more at home in a Teeside working men’s club bar brawl than out birding with his wife. He had more tattoos than skin. I knew he was tough by the way he sported a short sleeved shirt and flimsy cotton body warmer. The wind howled in off the February North Sea and this guy was stood chatting away in a short sleeve shirt! He was either incredibly tough or clinically insane? Joan looked like the old lady who lives alone at the end of your road with sixteen cats and an overgrown garden. She was a lovely lady. It was just a shame that the teeth she had remaining left her with a smile that would spook a police horse. She wasn’t too dissimilar to Susan Boyle in a way, just a tad more facial hair?

As we recounted tales of past Filey rarities it started. Tony and Joan started having an argument about what year they saw a Pallas’s Warbler in Filey. Tony was adamant it was 2008 but Joan was standing her ground on 2007. I had actually seen a Pallas’s Warbler in Filey in late November 2007 but kept quiet. I wasn’t fuelling the fire. Everything suddenly became awkward. It was like chatting to a stranger with a lazy eye; do you look at the good one or the lazy one? In the end you just keep looking at your shoes occasionally lifting your head to look past them. I knew if I made eye contact, Tony would drag me in to try and back him up. I put my right eye to the telescope and stared out to sea, if I ignore them they might go away? But Tony wouldn’t let it go. Joan couldn’t get a word in, he kept cutting her short with “what year did we go to Benidorm….no no no what year did we go to Benidorm….answer me that first….what year did we go to Benidorm”. The argument never really got settled. Judging by the way it just fizzled out, minor confrontations of that nature must be fairly regular occurrences in the lives of Tony and Joan. They did keep me entertained for ten minutes though!

The promise of arcades was on the proviso we could call in at Holbeck car park on the way through to Scarborough to have a look at the Mediterranean Gulls. On arrival it was fairly quiet bird wise. That was until I ripped a piece off junior’s doughnut, much to her distress, but soon they were flocking in. Plenty of Black Headed Gulls arrived with the occasional flutter of a white wing. There were two second winter birds present and a nice adult, so the detour was worth it.

Back in Filey for tea time and it was time to quickly nip down to the sailing club to scan the bay for the roost. 20mins passed before I finally got on my target bird, Slavonian Grebe, anything between 2and 4 had been using the bay to roost in recent nights and tonight didn’t disappoint. Four were present along with four Great Crested Grebes which can only be described by my all time favourite birding contradiction…showing well but distant? A couple of spots of rain confirmed my fate; it was time to head back to endure a night of Soapstar to Opera Star. Painful.

Miss Piggy’s ideal Valentines Day had a lie in at the top of the list. So with her needs in mind I said I would make myself scarce for a few hours. My exact instruction was to come back at 12pm where we would then set off home going the long way round taking in Whitby. Get in!!! Cupid must have known the Black throated Thrush was still nearby. The conundrum was how I shoehorned this Siberian vagrant into the day’s itinerary. Either way, I had a few hours of birding bliss to get in before I had to think of a reason to visit a random garden in Newholm. As I made my way to Filey Dams I hit the jackpot by bagging ten Waxwings feeding close to the entrance, stunning birds. The only thing that tainted the experience was that the birds were very close to a garden, I didn’t think the residents would appreciate pulling back their curtains early in the morning to find someone with binoculars and a camera. A friend of mine once had the police called for doing something similar! I don’t think the balaclava he was wearing though did him any favours?

The dams were quiet so I thought a walk along the beach at Reighton Sands may produce a Sanderling or Ringed Plover but again it was quiet. The tide line had washed up three Ray’s Bream, which had sent the gulls into a feeding frenzy. Back to the car, and with time to spare I got my phone out for a quick look on Birdguides. Bingo! Four Tundra Bean Geese were 10 minutes away at Cayton Carr. The directions posted were spot on and I had found the geese, which were with five Pink Footed Geese straight away. I had cracking views through my telescope but sadly they were too far away to get any decent photo’s. Again, showing well but distant!!!

We hit the road to Whitby with the repetitive sound of “are we there yet” emanating from the back seat. The walk around the shops and harbour was nice but with the thought of a nearby Black Throated Thrush in the back of my mind I never got settled. When it was time to go, I played the “we’ll try this way” card and it worked. Soon we were lost in Newholm! So I stopped to ask directions from some locals who unbelievably all had tripods! Miss Piggy knew she had been had, on the day of love of all days! Luckily the bird was showing well and near. I had ten great minutes watching it around the feeders, even managing some record shots. The bonus came in the form of a Marsh Tit, which came to the feeder in the adjoining garden. My enthusiastic shout of “Marsh Tit” alerting the other “twitchers” to its presence didn’t even cause a hint of excitement, their loss!

Black Throated Thrush

Monday, 8 February 2010

Martin Mere & Marshside

With the fog still covering the area, albeit with much better visibility, I decided on a trip to the dark side…Lancashire. As Scammonden tailed off behind me I was soon at border control, it was then I started pulling my pockets to pieces as it dawned on me I had forgotten my passport? The only thing left was to wind my window down and talk to the customs and excise officer in a broad Lancastrian accent to hopefully fool him into thinking I was one of them. Quick interrogations followed and touch wood my skills of mimicry held their own, a nod to the guys manning the barrier and they dropped their guns, pulled back the Alsatians and let me through. I had blagged my way inside the poor mans Yorkshire. I think the clincher was referring to my teacake as an oven bottom muffin, they knew then I was for real.

An hour later I was at Martin Mere, an annual stronghold for wintering Whooper Swans and Pink Footed Geese. The bulk of the west coasts Whooper Swans are of Icelandic origin, arriving as Britain’s heaviest regular migrant.

The Pinkfeet also make the journey from Iceland with some starting off as far north as Greenland’s east coast. Other birds that winter at the mere are good numbers of Shelduck and Pintail and around thirty Ruff were present too. Two active Peregrines kept the Teal and Wigeon on their toes throughout the morning, with neither though taking any prey in the time I was there.


Pink Footed Goose (this was a captive bird at the centre)

After a good few hours it was a toss up between heading home to watch Chelsea v Arsenal or nip round the corner to spend the last few hours at Marshside? Marshside it was and a good decision too. A Bittern showed really well (through the telescope) and uncharacteristically left cover to stalk the brackish marsh like the habits of a Grey Heron? Around six Little Egrets waded through the smaller pools along with Black Tailed Godwits, Redshank and a few Golden Plover. Pink footed Geese came in from the mud flats to feed with grazing Wigeon giving superb over head views.

The birds of prey sighted were a male Merlin, Kestrel and a hunting Short Eared Owl as I returned to the car. There is actually a Short Eared Owl on this photo...somewhere! The picture does give some perspective as to the size of Marshside though.

The beauty of bird watching at the side of a busy road is you get so many nice comments from the passing motorists. One car even slowed and turned the dance music down just enough for me to hear his Burberry baseball cap adorned co pilot shout “sad banker”. He must have mistaken me for someone else? I’m not even a Banker? If I was though he was probably right, in the current economic climate I would be sad? Only ten minutes had passed when I was alerted to their return in the opposite direction by the dampened bass riff of Dutch hard trance. Out of the distant mist floated the modified Citroen Saxo complete with carbon fibre whale tail spoiler and day glow “on a mission” sticker emblazoned across the front windscreen. This time it was the twenty something driver who offered his observation by shouting what I thought was “sad country”? He may have thought I was looking at Ireland through my telescope?

As dusk loomed over Skelmanthorpe I had just given Junior Shat Birder a whipping on her Wii when a Tawny Owl called from the tree in the garden, the first time I had heard it this year. As we opened the window it flew to a neighbouring rooftop before disappearing into the night. This winter has seen a refurbishment to its nest box in the garden so watch this space. Unfortunately we had squatters in the form of Squirrel’s, which thwarted breeding for the last couple of years. Let’s hope they take to there newly improved home?


Saturday unfortunately wasn’t a day for bird watching, not around here anyway. The fog was too thick to make out anything beyond twenty meters. I put the miles in with a good walk around Langsett Reservoir. In some places you couldn’t even make out where the water line ended and the fog began. Needless to say my sightings for the day were somewhat limited. The only birds of note were Treecreeper, Great Spotted Woodpecker and good numbers still of Red Grouse on the moor. An encouraging sign was a fresh Peregrine kill, which could have only been hours old at the most, the victim being an unfortunate pigeon. It had been plucked and stripped yards from the moorland path. The pigeon wouldn’t have had a chance of evading a Peregrine in these conditions; it would have been hit a split second after it burst from the fog.

Monday, 1 February 2010

Holme Valley

I should have been out Birding for most of the day on Saturday but unfortunately spent the whole morning with Miss Piggy in A&E getting her mouth reopened. Naturally like all things that go wrong in our house it was my fault and until a time machine is invented we will probably never find out the truth. She’s adamant she asked for her Lipstick passing, whereas I’m more than 100% confident she asked for Prit Stick? The drive to the hospital was bliss though, every cloud…………..

I decided in the end on a walk along the river through Holmfirth, having not seen a Dipper this year it seemed a good way to get another name on the 2010 list. It wasn’t long either before I got my first glimpse when three individuals sped past up the river closely followed by a female Grey Wagtail. They naturally seemed to favour areas that were out of reach to the public so I always seemed to be watching them from a distance, except for the odd fly by. Three drake Mandarins mingled with Mallards on the stretch of river by the Co-op in the centre. Although they are un-ringed, I am always dubious about the origins of these birds so I won’t be adding them to the list. They seemed very confiding, suggesting they may be escapes? Maybe not? It’s actually a sad fact that there are now more Mandarin’s in Britain than in their native Japan! Escapes or not though, there is no detracting away from how stunning they are.

I had provisionally thought I might have a trip out on Sunday and check out somewhere a bit further a field. That was until I actually woke up on Sunday morning! Miss Piggy and me had hit Shat cricket club for a birthday party on Saturday night which unfortunately turned into a 4am lager frenzy. I was going well up until 1am but sadly my condition deteriorated as I slumped to an all time low when I found myself dancing to Hey Macarena with an unbuttoned shirt. You know you’re pissed when you say hi to your reflection in the mirror in the toilets? Miss Piggy was on red alert too as I have been known in the past to wet the bed once inebriated! Fortunately I had a dry night, which was a relief, as a week after my last accident the bedroom smelt like a Hamster cage. I was awoken by a phone call to go out for a stroll with the Shat Kennel Club – a few of my mates who take their dogs out every weekend. Even though I don’t have a dog I may get kicked out if they read this, as the first rule of Kennel Club is you do not talk about Kennel Club? I actually went on the walk as I thought the fresh air might perk me up. I could feel every heart beat in my head and my mouth was like a tray of cat litter, I dug deep and like John Rambo, ignored the pain. We walked from Skelmanthorpe to Stocksmoor, eventually meeting the “better halves” at the Clothiers Arms to tuck into a well-deserved Sunday dinner.

The highlight of the walk on the birding front was the addition of Little Owl to the list, which takes me to 102. Skelmanthorpe hosts a Little Owl family which has used the same site for decades and I have watched them there from being a boy so it’s almost checking up on them. They seem to be doing well. You can’t do much bird watching though with three rampaging dogs and three dog owners who all think they are Ceasar Millan! I did see Helmeted Guinea Fowl!