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, 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!

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