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”!

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?

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