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, 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

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