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”!

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Birdwatching - The Dangers

Well the plan this weekend was to be up and at em with an “early bird gets the worm” zest for life. That was the plan anyway? I was like the Tin Man on Saturday morning. My legs were so stiff I even had to be helped out of bed! The first team were a man short for squash, so being the good sport that I am I said I would stand in and help them out. Now anyone who has played any form of team sport knows that the step up from second to first team, standard wise, is a decent leap. End, deep and thrown were words bouncing back and forth in my head as my opponent, obviously used to playing higher calibre players, had beaten me in the warm up. What made it worse was the fact that after only a few minutes of hitting the ball to each other, warming it up, he knew he was going to kick my arse. The two scenarios available, were for him to have somewhere to go after the game therefore getting the game over and done with or thinking because it was Friday night and he didn’t have anything else on, he may as well have a good run? And run is what he made me do. The bastard had plenty of opportunities to win the rallies yet he kept the ball coming back and back and back making me run and run and run. Let’s be fair, my team mates weren’t holding out, I was doing them a favour, they knew I was the sacrificial lamb. He was clearly going to win so why not put me out of my misery. I felt like a young Elephant Seal being dragged from the shallows by a Killer Whale, only to be played with before the inevitable. As match ball was called and quickly won, I slid down the wall leaving a Snail like trail of sweat, only to look across to find he was hardly perspiring! I lay on the court floor waiting for the stewards to come and put the curtains around me to end it Grand National style, but unfortunately the stewards never came? Like a new born Wildebeest, I did eventually get back on my feet, but due to my lungs needing more air than I could fit in my mouth, words failed me, leaving me to mouth the words “well played” whilst shaking his hand.

With hamstrings so tight that I couldn’t even muster enough energy to push the clutch down, I was left to work the local patch. I took a walk along the railway embankment to search for any summer migrants that may have recently arrived.

Without even getting there I had chanced upon my first Swallow of the summer, seconds after leaving the door, so I couldn’t have got off to a better start and once I had reached the embankment a singing Chiffchaff alerted me to tick number two of the day. It wasn’t long before I had found the bird by the mouth of the tunnel. It flitted around the canopy but never really gave any noteworthy views, there will be plenty of time though this summer to try and get a reasonable photo.

Collared Dove

Apart from that, there weren’t really any other noteworthy sightings. There is still a 30 strong flock of Fieldfare in the area which seem to be feeding frantically. Building their fat reserves up for the return leg of their migration, which will no doubt be imminent? Now it has to be said that more often than not, birding your local patch can be fairly routine, the usual suspect’s week in week out, dependant on season. Unfortunately this weekends change in routine didn’t concern any birds whatsoever, common or rare.

The routine breaking event took place on a fence I have climbed over around a million times. There’s nothing dangerous about the fence nor is it hard to get over, it’s just a fence! As my right leg stood on the bottom rung, my left leg was nearly all the way over when what I can only put down to a moss or an algae of some sort, but my right leg lost its grip and slipped off. In the nano second I had to react for some subliminal reason I opted to save the camera. Probably the right decision but this left my knackers to take the full brunt of the impact. The next two or three seconds seemed to be in slow motion as I hyperventilated, eventually freeing myself from the fence and coming to a slow rest on the other side, laid in the foetal position in wet grass. Fortunately (or unfortunately) my accident hadn’t gone unnoticed as a lady out walking with her children had witnessed it all and rushed over to help. I think she thought I was temporarily disorientated as stagnant tears gave me blurred vision, making me reach out to grab things that weren’t even there, in attempt to get up off the floor. She even mentioned calling the emergency services but I reassured her in a gruff voice that I was fine, I just needed a minute. The poor lady became stuck in the middle as her children who had just seen a grown man broken into a million pieces, had started crying, probably scared? They had probably never witnessed this sort accident before at such close hand and didn’t know how to react? Back on my feet I praised her concern and sent her on her way, with head in my arms resting on the very fence that had so nearly ended such a pleasurable part of my life; I went through all the emotions associated with this sort of blow. Slowly the sense of sickness arrived, which worked its way down my body, morphing into an uncontrollable feeling of shitting my pants? I was experiencing the only known thing more painful than childbirth. I started to walk it off, following sharp intakes of breath with comments like “fuck that hurt”, shaking my legs out like a London marathon warm down. You know you’re hurt when you start talking to yourself! The whole experience showed just how dangerous bird watching is! A little knock like this won’t put me off though. Next weekend I’m going to wear my cricket box as you just never know?

Common Toad - Give us a kiss!

Monday, 22 March 2010

Royd Moor

If Saturdays Sand Martins didn’t tell me that spring was well and truly upon us, Sunday’s cricket practise did! Rusty doesn’t even cover it; I had to check I wasn’t holding the bat upside down at one point! With that ordeal over and junior at back-to-back birthday parties I was free to roam. I had a great walk around Royd Moor reservoir.

There wasn’t anything out of the ordinary but a good mixture of birds all the same. Singing Yellowhammers, displaying Meadow Pipits, drumming Great Spotted Woodpeckers, it was a superb couple of hours.

Blue Tit

Whilst watching a flock of Fieldfare go over I hit on a very high bird of prey circling. I did my best to try and make it into a migrating Osprey but as it neared it was clearly a Buzzard, it had the pulse racing though for the minute or so I was undecided.

Meadow Pipit


Give it a few more weeks and this place will be buzzing with summer migrants, I thought I might get lucky with an early Swallow but will sadly have to wait. It seems funny getting exited about a bird you know in a month’s time you will see thousands of?

The walk certainly took my mind off this coming week’s courtroom battle as I’m trying to win a Trade Descriptions lawsuit. Holidays in the past have been a problem, we can never find suitable care for our pet 750kg bull European Elk – Kevin. Kevin is a handful at the best of times so finding the right people is essential. It seemed all our prayers had been answered when Moose Storage opened only a few miles from our home, by the Sovereign Inn in Shepley. It did seem too good to be true. As we packed our cases and departed for Manchester Airport, the only thing left was to get Kevin into the adapted horsebox and drop him off at Moose Storage on the way through. Imagine our despair as the manager shook his head and refused to take him. It’s fair to say that Kevin’s behaviour didn’t help; I can only think he was disgruntled from the bumpy ride. His antlers kept protruding the sides of the horsebox as he aggressively stomped around inside. Surely though as specialists in this field, the Moose Storage team see this sort of thing everyday? No pet likes being left for two weeks! Either way, they weren’t taking him? Holiday over! As we turned back home, the words “I’ll see you in court” rang out like an episode of Ally McBeal. Should we win? The win will be for Kev!

Dearne Valley

Had a run out to Old Moor RSPB reserve on Saturday morning. Probably spent more time perusing the books than I did in the hides, you can never have too many bird books! It was an awful day too, so I was literally scurrying between sheltered areas. I managed to get a couple of additions to the list too. It was all but seconds but I think this is the first year I have ever recorded Sand Martin before Snipe! Both species were there in good numbers too and it seemed to be particularly good for waders. I recorded Redshank, Oystercatcher, Green Sandpiper and another year tick, Ringed Plover. Unfortunately all the RSPB’s one million voices of nature seemed to be in the hide at the same time! I’m not convinced either that Shell Suits and trainers are ideal bird watching attire? It by no means annoyed me, people just need to realise there’s a reason it’s called a hide? As The Foundations – Build me up Buttercup ringtone sounded out I knew it was time for my exit. I was only one of two guys with a telescope too so I think I was giving off the RSPB volunteer vibes. The guy next to me who appeared to have Charles Darwin’s original binoculars, held together only by electrical tape, was starting to test me. “Excuse me what’s that?” “It’s a Tufted Duck”, “what’s that one?” “That’s a female Tufted Duck”, “is that a Tufted Duck?” “No that’s a Coot” etc. Everyone’s got to start somewhere though?

A drenched Little Grebe

Reed Bunting

Unbelievably I got past the book shelves without making a purchase and headed to the car. In only five minutes I was in the hide at Broomhill Flash and suddenly you feel like you’re home, these are my people. Wax jacket wearing Barnsley birders who sit in the hide for 12 hours a day, constantly in touch with their mates with walkie talkies. These guys keep you captivated with tales of past “patch” rarities, using phrases like “fon it” and “tha noz”, cracking cans of Skol open to have with their sarnies. Guy’s who talk of birding like it’s an affair their wife has found out about, constantly looking at their watches as they know that their tea is served at 5pm on the dot, but they just don’t want to go home, what if something turns up? There’s something about a bird hide that offers refuge from the outside world. Sadly it’s this feeling of escape that the RSPB hides are lacking. Commercial it has to be though; they can’t raise the money they need to carry out their work by keeping it a secret. I’ll keep my membership all the same as it’s a great cause, junior has the RSPB Young Explorers membership and the newsletters, games and stickers she receives have really made her aware of what’s around her. I only have to look at her to realise the RSPB are getting the right messages across.

A gloomy Broomhill Flash

I was seconds away from leaving when the decision to have one last scan with the scope came up trumps, a cracking drake Ruddy Duck had emerged from an area where it had been previously concealed. This is a sighting to savour as Ruddy Ducks are currently being culled; they are native to North America and originally came to the UK as part of wildfowl collections. When a few escaped, they bred and began to colonise areas of Britain, such has been their expansion that they have now reached mainland Europe, in particularly Spain, where they are hybridising with the closely related and already endangered White Headed Duck. Measures are now in place to control the species, hence the cull.

Monday, 15 March 2010

Steam Trains and Frozen Tails

This weekend has seen no new additions to the list but a nice bit of patch birding around the various woods and fields that border Skelmanthorpe. I’m still frantically waiting to unearth that British first but unfortunately this weekend it wasn’t to be. I did stumble upon a Cockatiel a few years ago but my submission to the British Birds Rarities Committee was unbelievably rejected! Significant points proving this bird was a genuine vagrant seemed to get overlooked,

a) The Cockatiel was un-ringed!
b) The wind direction had been right all week!
c) I actually heard it say the word “Bonzer” in a distinct aussie accent!

What more do the BBRC want?

My usual walk basically takes in the Kirklees Light Railway area anywhere from Shelley to Clayton West and although there was nothing too out of the ordinary the birdlife was still very good. I had glimpses of a male Sparrowhawk, a chattering Green Woodpecker and a covey of Grey Partridge. The sighting that really pleased me though was a single Tree Sparrow, a few years ago you were very hard pressed to locate this bird in this area around Skelmanthorpe, slowly but surely they are starting to colonise it again. Other highlights were Siskin, Yellowhammer, Treecreeper, Nuthatch and Bullfinch.

Tree Sparrow



Black Headed Gull

The following picture is actually the steam of the train rising as it enters the mouth of Shelley Tunnel, quite eerie.

The Shat Kennel Club had planned a walk with a difference for Sunday morning, which was teeing off at 8-30am. How the challenge had arisen I don’t know but the sheer stubbornness of the idiots in question meant that no one was backing down. They had to walk our normal route, which runs from Blacker Wood in Skelmanthorpe to the Junction Inn at Clayton West, but this time in the river. It looked freezing. There was no way I was getting in. I have to say that elements of the river were actually deeper than I thought making the whole experience for me, very amusing.

A combination of approaching pneumonia and shrivelled scrotums meant the challenge was aborted just over half way. It made for a long and miserable walk home.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Nice Weather At Last!

Another week over and with little planned for the weekend we didn’t take any persuading at all to make the most of the forecasted good weather and head to Filey. It was a case of letting the Friday rush hour traffic go and setting off in our own time, alerting Filey Tandoori to our arrival in plenty of time to pick the tea up on the way through! Mine didn’t even touch the sides! A combination of Onion Bahji’s and Chicken Tarka, which is like Chicken Tikka but a little otter. Boom Boom! Love that joke, sadly its not as good written down so sorry about that.

Back to the birding – Saturday morning had my attention solely focused on what has been reported as a stunner of a male Black Redstart, which had been seen the three days previous by the sailing club. The knowledgeable local birders though had mentioned the weekend surge of people and dogs may force the bird elsewhere as it had been seen most days under the cliff feeding on the tide line. There experience proved bang on as the bird wasn’t located on either Saturday or Sunday so probably fell fowl of the crowds. I was fortunate enough though to be on the Brigg top when a car flushed 8 Brent Geese, I could only see them flying away but was later told by an individual who had seen them grazing on the Country Park that they were of the Pale Bellied Hrota race. Other than a few passing Red Throated Diver and a small raft of Common Scoter and Eider the bay was very quiet.

Miss Piggy had promised Junior an afternoon swimming in Bridlington so I was on chauffeuring duty. Something that didn’t bother me in the slightest as I knew my afternoon of killing time could be spent at Flamborough Head.

By this time the clouds had drifted inland revealing bright blue skies, which made sea watching even better. Kittiwakes were staring to collect into two big rafts offshore but the highlight was a pod of Porpoise feeding which even had the Gannets plunge diving in. Not as extravagant as footage shown on the Attenborough documentaries where bait balls are consumed by tuna, whales, dolphins and birds but the principles are still the same.

I did have the pleasure of at least an hour where I could sit and admire a pair of Kestrels hunting around me. None of their attempts resulted in a catch whilst I was there but breathtaking none the less. Kestrels are one of a few birds that can see ultra violet light; the clever part in all this is that Voles mark their territories with urine, which to a Kestrel stands out like a neon bulb. A hovering Kestrel is merely biding its time, hanging above a clearly marked (to the Kestrel) patch of grass, so should the Vole at that point leave its cover, down the Kestrel goes. Sometimes the Vole makes it and sometimes it’s sadly goodnight. Should nothing appear, the Kestrel merely moves on to the next territory and waits again, it really is fascinating to watch.

Whilst I’m on it I may as well mention another bird that was constantly whizzing past, the Fulmar.

Fulmars are part of the petrel family known as tubenoses due to the tunnel effect they have above their bill. Now not many birds have a sense of smell but it has been proven that Turkey Vultures can smell rotting flesh, thus leading them to the carrion they feed on. Tubenoses are thought to have a similar ability. Without sounding too scientific, when copepods (zooplankton) feed on phytoplankton, the phytoplankton release a chemical called dimethylsulphide. It is this chemical that researches think the smaller tubenoses such as Storm Petrels can smell? The petrels have an uncanny knack of locating concentrations of the plankton they feed on in what is fair to say, a very large and featureless ocean. Interesting or what! To all my mates reading this who think I’m a sad bastard, even they’ve got to be impressed by that and surely proving that bird watching in their words is not “shit”?

I have also waited, like previous years, to add Feral Pigeon to my list when I at least see one of it’s now distant relatives that looks like something of a Rock Dove. A couple of birds there had markings and resemblances of the real deal but sadly you have to travel to the extremes of North West Scotland if you want to see a true thoroughbred.

As we got back into Filey we headed up to the Country Park to watch a group of guy’s paragliding. Junior loved it, especially when they returned a wave.

With the weather forecast looking even better for Sunday and Miss Piggy wanting a lie in, a displaying Meadow Pipit confirmed my movements. Clear blue skies in early March means only one thing, Goshawk watching at the raptor viewpoint in Wykeham Forest. Turns out a few people had the same idea. There were eight people already there when I arrived and an hour and a half later the number had risen to fifteen. The raptor viewpoint is a purpose built area for just that, watching birds of prey. A couple of benches and an information board lie in a felled area of forest, which provides views out over the Derwent Valley.

We all had great views of Goshawks throughout the morning, albeit at range through the telescope. The minute you took your eye away though the soaring birds got lost in the sky and were a struggle to pick up again certainly with the naked eye. I did try taking a photo but the bird was just a tiny speck in the distance. For anyone at a loose end though wanting a trip out, it is well worth a visit and should you wait till May or June, you may even get treated to a sighting of Honey Buzzard?

Back for eleven, and the tide on its way out, junior and me hit the rock pools. I took the telescope and tried to educate her the best I could, we did get a Grey Seal fending off marauding gulls as it fed on a fish just off the Brigg but my efforts to lift her up to the eyepiece to show her two Velvet Scoters which were in with the Common Scoters didn’t seem to excite her as much as myself. My quick talk on how you pick them out fell on deaf ears; she was more taken up with poking a dead fish with the toe of her welly!

Monday, 1 March 2010

The Skelmanthorpe Killer Trout Cam

After some weird goings on in the Shat Birder household I began to suspect the Rainbow Trout in the fridge? After fitting it with a camera my worst fears were confirmed. Sadly it was too late to save Miss Piggy and Junior Shat Birder who took the brunt of the attack!

The following footage is not for the faint hearted and shows scenes of a graphic nature.

Ring Bill's & Red Neck's

With Miss Piggy away Friday night and all Saturday morning, me and junior shat birder were fending for ourselves. We were meant to get up and go for a walk but the conditions were a mixture of rain and sleet so that got put on hold. The only walking we did was to the co-op and back for supplies which kept us going until Miss Piggy returned at dinnertime. Fresh from a night out on the lash she had the glazed look of Amy Winehouse with the hair of Russell Brand. Apparently she had consumed enough alcohol to tranquilize a Rhino, this was confirmed by a quick kiss which actually stung my eyes as the vapour was so strong. It was like snogging and onion, an onion pickled in Vodka! Afraid to drive as I presumed I was now way over the limit, I put the footy on just in time for the most eagerly awaited handshake or no handshake in recent years. As time passed and the weather seemed to improve I decide on a quick check to see if anything was around. With reports of a Ring billed Gull at Mirfield, and the Red Necked Grebe I had dipped on the previous weekend at Wintersett now seemed to have relocated to Pugneys, it was on, two hours of twitching before it got too dark.

Having never been to Sands Lane Gravel Pits before, I was unsure where to go, I knew roughly where it was but in the end I need not have worried, around twenty people stood at the roadside with telescopes poised, confirming I was in the right place. I was ten minutes too late, the Ring Billed Gull which has been present for a few days now had just been seen flying off north, this wasn’t unusual behaviour though, so it was a case of sitting tight and waiting for it to return, and return it did, around half an hour later. Now this has to rank as a very very good bird, not only is it native to North America and it has been found in Mirfield, the fact is, it has been found! Bearing close resemblances to our very own Common Gull, this bird could have been so easily overlooked. When you actually see it for the first time and study it, you pick the slight differences out, but that’s only because you know it’s there. The finder of the bird couldn’t have possibly known that on that particular day he would stumble upon a North American vagrant on a pool of water behind the Ship Inn in Mirfield. That’s what makes the find so special, rather than scanning a group of gulls and dismissing them as the commoner species which are regularly found, the smallest detail down to the colour of the bird’s iris has been noted, determining a different species all together. Superb birding, and just rewards for what could potentially be years of fruitless visits to the same place. Seek and he shall find, inspiration to all birdwatchers that work a local patch.

With light fading it was time to warm back up in the car and head to Pugney’s, as the Red Necked Grebe had been reported there on the boating lake. This was easy birding, drive in, park up, extend tripod legs, attach telescope, scan water, find grebe! Unbelievably it did happen in that sequence too! Found it almost straight away, it favoured the area just off the sluice gate and congregated with three other Great Crested Grebes, it was a lovely bird. It was a shame that both birds today were in most cases too far away for any sort of decent picture and not only that, it was just so dull!

Sunday morning was better though; it was as if spring was in the air. I spent the whole morning at Bretton lakes, it was cold but very fresh and in some ways very refreshing from the poor weather we have had of late. Grey Herons were busy rebuilding nests and pairs of Canada Geese were staking claims to the best nest sites, one pair even lining an area on the island with downy feathers. I spent a good hour in the hide snapping away at the Nuthatch’s, Blue Tits and Great Tits, which have become very confiding. Birds on the water were Pochard, Tufted Duck, Teal, Goosander, Mallard, Canada Goose, Mute Swan and a very nice summer plumaged Great Crested Grebe.

During my time in the hide I came across a fellow blogger whom I now know as the Bungling Birder, check his site out at the following address or click on the link.

His 500mm lens put mine to shame! It was like showering with the West Indian cricket team.


Blue Tit

Great Tit

The one that got away!

As I completed my figure of eight around the lakes I came across a cracking Willow Tit, a bird you can never guarantee seeing locally so it was a real bonus to the morning along with a striking male Green Woodpecker.

As February closes, the quality of birds, which I have so far recorded this year in a radius of say 10 miles from my home, has been phenomenal,

Ring Billed Gull
Great White Egret
Ferruginous Duck
Ring Necked Duck
Red Necked Grebe
Red Breasted Merganser

Long may it continue!!!