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, 26 April 2010

Migrants Galore

Well what a weekend this has been, I know I harp on about how good the local bird life is but the last few days have just been class. I’ve managed to get out for a few hours on Friday, Saturday and Sunday and enjoyed every minute of it. It’s really been a weekend dedicated to migrants. Having dipped on the Ring Ouzels the previous weeknights it was third time lucky, and luck was with me, I hit on a male and female minutes from leaving the car as I headed along the track toward Cheesegate Nab. They are very timid birds, always keeping their distance. The rocky patches and gorse give them plenty of cover and the male was concealed the majority of the time I was there, the female did oblige, if only just to get a record shot. The same area held 3 Wheatear, which were the first sightings of the year for me.

Ring Ouzel

I went home via Ingbirchworth and had ten minutes stood by the wall scanning the water when a lone Swift sped past which then mingled amongst the growing number of Swallows. I watched them for a few minutes before a Lesser Whitethroat caught my attention, singing from the hedgerow. It skulked around, occasionally alighting from the hedge to snatch a fly before finding cover again. A female Whitethroat was also metres away in the same stretch of hedgerow offering a rare chance to study plumage differences with both species being in such close quarters. As a Friday evening went, it was a beauty. I didn’t think things could get much better over the weekend either but it just went from strength to strength.


Swift - Like trying to photograph a bullet!

Saturday morning was twitching time; a Wood Warbler had been reported on Friday evening in trees behind the In Focus shop in Denby Dale so I headed down there first thing to see if it was around, and luckily it was. Its distinct call is likened to a spinning coin coming to rest on a hard surface, an acceleration of clicks. Fortunately the bird was vocal which helped me immensely when locating it. It didn’t show particularly well, opting to stay in the canopy, but a cracking year tick only a couple of miles from home none the less. With the few hours I had spare before having to depart to Barkisland to play cricket, I opted for a quick walk around Langsett where the trees were simply alive. Good numbers of Goldcrest, Treecreeper and Siskin paved the way for two more additions to the list, Redstart and Tree Pipit. I had been reliably informed that morning of a singing Tree Pipit so knew just where to look. I am lucky enough to have the assistance of a superb local birders eyes and ears and his findings are duly texted. Sadly for him its one-way traffic, I never seem to find anything he doesn’t already know about!

Tree Pipit

On my way to the Tree Pipit site I took the long way round taking in the Little Don Valley with the hope of a Redstart. I could hear a male singing ahead of me but it was a female I actually saw first, perched on a fence post possibly being wooed by the song? As I neared though the male came into view, beating his tune out from a treetop, a stunning bird. With time against me and not wanting to leave Langsett without a piece of mars bar corn flake cake from the café (sheer class) I had to rush back. We got our opening day blip out of the way and recorded our first win of the season at cricket, so it rounded off a great day.

With no cricket on Sunday and Miss Piggy and Junior out for the afternoon, I headed out to check a few local sites taking in a range of habitats. Forgive me for being sketchy regarding the locations of the birds I saw but sadly for every 1000 birders out there who just want to enjoy the wildlife there is a minority who just want to take their eggs.

I had an hour of sheer bliss, sat on a fallen tree in the middle of a wood, watching a pair of Pied Flycatchers flitting around the branches. They even tried out a few nest boxes for size. The male is wearing a ring too, so it would be fascinating to find out where his journey started, who knows?

Pied Flycatcher

As much as I didn’t want to leave, I pulled myself away to drive to an area of moorland to basically just sit and wait. The heather was dry so it was remarkably comfy. Red Grouse were flighty and vocal along with displaying Meadow Pipits and an opportunist Buzzard was mobbed by Curlew and Lapwing as it scoured the moor. All good but not what I had come to see, after three quarters of an hour I had my first glimpse of the main event, a Short Eared Owl wing clapping as it displayed to it’s mate. Superb! I watched it meander along occasionally plunging into the heather until it drifted out of view. The whole thing only lasted ten minutes but what a ten minutes. Something I will never tire of seeing and the icing on the cake to a great weekend.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Out & About

Being trapped last weekend in cockney land meant I couldn’t get up to Cheesegate Nab to see the Ring Ouzels and Friday evening was my first chance all week. Sadly no Ring Ouzels but a cracking sunset coupled with glorious weather made it a very enjoyable hour. Willow Warblers seemed to be singing from every bush and Swallows weaved through the sky, on a nice night it really is a great place to be.

Willow Warbler

Birding in the summer months unfortunately gets reduced to just Saturday and Sunday mornings, due to playing cricket, so I tend to stay local and check out the local reservoirs. This Saturday morning saw a quick drive up to Ingbirchworth where a nice Common Sandpiper added tick number two for the weekend as it fed on the dam wall.

Common Sandpiper

I also took a walk up to Broadstones in the hope of bagging a Wheatear but true to form it wasn’t to be. With time on my hands I thought one last look at Cheesegate Nab may come up trumps for either Ring Ouzel or Wheatear, but I failed miserably. That’s birding for you! We got hammered at cricket too, so not a good day. To say that some forecasters were predicting snow, whether Iceland’s eruption played some part or not I don’t know? Weather and temperature wise though, this is the best start to a cricket season I can remember. This reflected in the scores too, Honley posted a massive 335 for 6 and we (Skelmanthorpe) fell 30 short finishing on 305 for 6. 640 runs scored on the opening day of the season is just unheard of. Let’s hope this weather is a sign of things to come.


Whilst out on Saturday I chanced upon a Tawny Owl nest at one of the sites so I will do my best to visit fairly regularly and keep posting updates as to how they get on. There is a slight incline too which gives a bit of a vantage point so I may be able to get some decent pictures once the chicks start to emerge? This photo at least shows how well their markings keep them concealed; if it weren’t for the white stripes on the crown this bird would be virtually invisible.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Rainham Marshes

I try and avoid London to the best of my abilities, but having a sister that out grew the confines of Skelmanthorpe more or less straight after leaving school, it was obvious she would move down there as soon as it was feasible. It is fair to say that we are polar opposites when it comes to rural and city life, she got bored in the village and I hate the city. I don’t mind the odd weekend down there though if it’s a must? Times are changing though and for the worse. I remember getting exited as a kid at the mere mention of a trip to the Natural History Museum, when I asked Miss Piggy and Junior where they would like to go I found myself trudging around London trying to find Pineapple Dance Studio, embarrassing. I did a deal that if we went to Pineapple Dance Studio on the Friday I got to go to Rainham Marshes on Saturday!

Visitors Centre

I’d never been there before and I really enjoyed it. I had kept my eye on the reports from that area during the week and with sightings of Hoopoe and Black Winged Stilt, I was pleading for them to hang around until Saturday. Unfortunately they didn’t, but I did at least add a few migrants to the list in the few hours I was there. The reserve was alive with Cetti’s Warbler too, they were singing at various points on the circular trail. I tried my hardest to photograph one but it’s like taking a picture of a mouse, the second you see it, it’s flitted out of view. If they didn’t sing you would be very hard pushed to find them. They say that if a person entered bushes wearing illuminous clothing and you could still see them, the bushes are not dense enough for Cetti’s Warblers? Rainham Marshes is a combination of pools, reed beds and disused World War bunkers and buildings that were used to train soldiers to spot submarines invading London up the Thames. There is a large refuse tip nearby too, which in the winter attracts huge numbers of gulls, which occasionally draw in a few of the rarer species. The Eurostar is constantly flying past too giving the reserve quite an industrial feel, with the surrounding pylons playing host to a pair of Peregrines.


New birds for the year, apart from the Cetti’s Warbler, included a pair of Little Ringed Plovers and singing male Blackcap, Whitethroat and Sedge Warbler.



Reed Bunting

If you want to view the Thames River element you have to leave the reserve through a one-way turnstile. After two minutes of being on the “outside” I wanted to get straight back in! I was met by a skinhead who was the typical cockney geezer, bare chested with t-shirt tucked in jeans, he quenched his thirst with a nice can of Stella while being pulled along by his straining Pit Bull Terrier which was aptly named Blade. He actually asked if I’d seen anything decent which broke the ice and suddenly I didn’t feel as vulnerable. The concern being that Blade was desperately trying to sniff my groin and was constantly being pulled back which seemed to rile him? If talking to a stranger with no shirt on isn’t awkward enough, having a Pit Bull Terrier stretching on its hind legs inches from your cock certainly gets the heart beating. We must have bonded though, as Deano departed he offered me an out stretched fist and as I touched my knuckles on his, he muttered the word “safe”. He then reached into his carrier bag and offered me a Stella. I declined but the generosity was very much there, God bless you Deano and

Monday, 5 April 2010

Easter East Coast

This Easter weekend was spent on the east coast with the nature theme running through it like a stick of rock. If we weren’t walking we were trawling rock pools and if we weren’t rock pooling, we were bird watching. If we weren’t doing any of the aforementioned, we were carrying junior back to dry her off after falling in a rock pool! It’s amazing how the medicinal qualities of a Doughnut from Coble Landing’s “Suga Shack” perk a shivering 6 year old up?

Seawatching this weekend had been on the quiet side with no migrating sea birds recorded. A Common Tern which had slipped the net, turned up in Scarborough and birders at Flamborough Head had an early Manx Shearwater. Those two ‘misses’ I can live with, what does grate though is spending Saturday afternoon at Bempton Cliffs, only to find out that a White Tailed Eagle had been seen a few miles further south at Flamborough! What a tick that would have been! I can’t let it taint a great afternoon though, more so for Junior than me.

The RSPB had put on an Easter Egg hunt and combined it with a sea bird quiz, which the kids were loving. Along the cliff top paths were things to collect along with facts about the birds, which answered the questions on the sheets that had been handed out in the visitors centre. During the summer months Bempton is home to some 200,000 sea birds which return from the open sea’s to nest on the cliffs so there is something to see at every vantage point. We were too early in the year to see any chicks but later in the year the sights and smells will be overwhelming. You don’t have to be interested in birds or nature to enjoy this place either.

Start em young!





Puffin & Razorbill

Herring Gull

10 minutes after this was taken she was soaking! One day she will realise that kneeling down next to a rock pool and reaching out with her net only ends in tears!

Friday, 2 April 2010