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, 24 May 2010

Local Reservoirs

The last few weekends have been cricket overload so the birding has had a bit of a back seat. I have managed a few nice additions to the year list though with Temminck’s Stint being the most notable. It was a twitch! I had seen a Hobby flying close to the road earlier in the day whilst driving through Lincolnshire so had basically got the buzz. When I got home to find that a Temminck’s Stint had been found at Wombwell Ings I thought what the hell, and headed out. Certainly not a bird for photographing, it was a mere speck in the telescope, never mind the camera lens. If it didn’t move it could have easily been dismissed as a stone on the shoreline. Fortunately two guys were already there on my arrival, die hards who had been to Frampton Marsh in Lincolnshire in the morning for the Oriental Pratincole and Potteric Carr in the afternoon for the Iberian Chiffchaff. They were already on the Stint so basically I had it handed to me on a plate, easy! The only disappointment was dipping on four Yellow Wagtails, which had been feeding close to the hide moments before my arrival; I think they saw me coming!

Before the games I have been getting out for a few hours and scouring the local reservoirs, a Wood Warbler and Spotted Flycatcher were nice finds at Langsett, with the Wood Warbler showing far better than my previous record in Denby Dale. It didn’t come too close but close enough to admire its markings as it sang away on exposed branches.

Wood Warbler

House Mouse

Green Veined White

Small Copper

Speckled Wood

The Tawny Owls seem to be doing well too. One chick was still in the nest although it had nearly out grown it, while its sibling resided in a nearby bush. The same area had a very vocal Lesser Whitethroat too which oblivious to my presence came to within a couple of meters of me, as I raised my camera though it responded by disappearing into a thicket depriving me of what would have been a prime photo opportunity for quite an elusive bird.

A nice part of an already enjoyable walk around Ingbirchworth Reservoir was the sound of young Great Spotted Woodpeckers calling from a nest and it was only minutes of us being there when the female arrived, beak full, to quickly dive in and out of the nest. Even Miss Piggy enjoyed herself whilst we sat watching and listening!

Ingbirchworth had its alien invaders in the form of ornamental carp, which had come in to the shallows possibly to spawn? There were at least 5 or 6, which varied in markings; obviously re homed by the public when they possibly out grew their garden ponds. The two domesticated geese, which have recently made Ingbirchworth their new home, seem to be basking by the dam wall every time I go. Get too close though and you get hissed at.....bad goose. And still no Black Tern!

I’m probably not alone when I say that due to the recent rise in temperature I’ve been struggling to sleep, tossing, turning, kicking the cover off etc. The other night I was awake at around 3-30am when through the slightly opened bedroom window I heard a Cuckoo? It was quite distant and called on and off for around 20 minutes. What made it more interesting was a post on the Calderdale Bird Blog from someone reporting the exact same thing in the Halifax area. He’d checked it out and it’s correct that Cuckoo’s occasionally call through the night? You learn something new every day! Just wish I’d seen it, I haven’t seen a Cuckoo in Skelmanthorpe for years.

Monday, 10 May 2010

Cricket 1 - Birding 0

Telling Miss Piggy about my forth-coming cricket fixtures was never going to be easy. First round victories in two-cup competitions, added to the existing league programme had made the next three weekend’s double headers, playing games on both Saturday and Sunday. A punishing and potentially relationship-threatening schedule of matches to say the least! In hind sight I probably did broach the subject the wrong way, phrases like “it’s probably best if you sit down” and “there’s no easy way to say this” may have set her up for a family bereavement rather than my impending cricket fixtures. She took the news fairly well though and in just over an hour we were back speaking. The hour flew as I busied myself with boarding the front window up and taking out the stains my bloodied nose had left on my t-shirt. Removing the word “prick” etched into my car bonnet with a stone took the bulk of the time but all in all a productive morning.

Rother Valley was hosting a Red Rumped Swallow and as much as I fancied it, time just wasn’t on my side so I spent the remainder of the morning checking out a few of the local reservoirs and their adjoining fields. There was a good mix of farmland birds including Curlew, Skylark, Yellowhammer and Lapwing, with the dry stonewalls supporting Meadow Pipits, Pied Wagtails and Wheatear.


Brown Hare


The good news is that the Tawny Owls mentioned in an earlier post have at least one chick hatched and I’m fairly confident there was at least one more. It will be a week or so though till they are big enough to be seen, so I can get an exact count on the clutch.

I did have a walk along the River Calder for an hour and chanced upon a nice pair of Common Terns, but due to cold and gloomy conditions I only managed the following pictures. It was a shame too, as a nice blue sky would have lit their plumage up brilliantly; the grey cloud backdrop just doesn’t do them justice. They really are great birds to watch though, I just hope they stick around so I can try again on a better day.

With the next few weekends featuring cricket, cricket and more cricket, future posts may only feature ducks and golden ducks. I am only too familiar with the noise a cricket ball makes as it hits the stumps behind me! I’ll just have to leave it to the others!

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Bank Holiday Birding

Well it has been a quiet one in fairness; it was always going to be compared with the highlights of the previous weekend. That said, I have mustered another four names to the growing 2010 tally. With a few nice evenings in and amongst I had promised junior a night riding her bike around Pugneys. I set off on foot whilst she peddled ahead, occasionally stopping to see if I was still in sight. It gave me a good opportunity to scour the water, something that was rewarded with a pair of Common Tern’s resting on a wooden frame out on the boating lake. A few singing Whitethroat and Blackcap added a soundtrack and tick number two, Reed Warbler, belted its tune out from the reed bed by the hide, so all in all an enjoyable hour.

Male Reed Bunting

Female Reed Bunting

My Saturday morning was a strange one. Although I had fallen asleep the previous evening in the comfort of my home in Skelmanthorpe, it appeared I had woken up in Basra. Miss Piggy was pissed off, but for what? Had I cried out another woman’s name whilst asleep? She was answering me short and clearly flustered, her behaviour was begging me to ask what the problem was, and she would have been devastated if I had not asked. Turns out I had said something that really upset her… a dream! She was mad with me for something I had done in a dream!!! What the! You can’t carry it on into reality! She wouldn’t even say what I had said; just that it had upset her. I was like “but I haven’t actually said it? You can’t be mad with me for something I’ve done in a dream”? Unbelievable! She once busted me putting the bedside clock back a few hours when I had come home really late one night, so being mad with me for that is fine, caught red handed. Being mad with me for something I’ve done in a dream is just beyond my comprehension. She’s still funny about it now! For my own sanity I needed to head out and Ingbirchworth it was. The last few years around this time I have had a straggling Black Tern as it makes its way from the Gulf of Guinea, across the UK to its Eastern European/Russian breeding grounds. On this occasion there was no joy, I will keep trying though so watch this space. The Lesser Whitethroat was still singing in the hedge and the numbers of Swift had risen to around thirty so there was at least some compensation.

Great Tit

Sunday morning was freezing! A walk around Royd Moor Reservoir was cold, gloomy and miserable. This reflected in the bird life seen, the only birds of note were my first Garden Warbler of the year and a vocal male Whitethroat. Due to the stiff cold breeze a bird with any sense kept itself concealed, as did the Butterflies. Unfortunately there wasn’t much to write about from this outing.

It’s fair to say that should I get an hour to myself, I will quickly nip out, pick a local area and go birding. This attitude is reflected in the state of my garden, which I am trying to palm off as a Nature Reserve, just so I don’t have to cut the grass. It’s like Jurassic Park. Still being made to feel like I needed to make it up with Miss Piggy for something I hadn’t even done she “advised” me that I best do something about it. It did double up for some quality father daughter time though; junior brought out her Garden Wildlife book and wrote a list of what we found, ordering me take photos of them all, hence why there’s a few creepy crawlies thrown in.

Speckled Wood

Garden Snail

House Spider

With the grass under knee height, my work here was done, time for a quick run out somewhere. I ended up nipping to Harden Reservoir for a stroll, and I’m glad I did. Minutes after getting out of the car, my Dad who had come along for the walk, spotted what he thought, for the split second it was visible, was a Sparrowhawk, as we flushed it from the gorse. It flew out of view, and as we headed in its direction it became immediately apparent, as we rounded a small mound it was a male Cuckoo, which had now perched on the wall and begun calling. I slowly raised my camera, but it flew, like identical twins, the dejected sigh of ‘bastard’ emanated from our mouths. It was a great sighting though. A Snipe was drumming in the sky above us too, something you have to hear to believe, it is a vibration of sorts of its stiff outer tail feathers when it descends from its display flight. It’s like blowing a Kazoo, really strange.

Collared Dove

Dusk approached and my Dad was keen to get back to the Grove Inn back in Shat, a pub in the heart of the village and home to an array of interesting characters. A great pub if you are a local, but certainly an experience to the outsider! It’s probably not as bad as the Slaughtered Lamb in The American Werewolf in London but anyone in there (including myself!) who suffered from Tourettes Syndrome would probably never have their symptoms diagnosed. I’m probably painting a bad picture to be honest; there isn’t a guy in a flat cap playing a piano and a three legged Whippet asleep in front of an open fire, it is a bit more modern than that. That said, one of the locals once got hit by a caravan whilst on his push bike. He said later that it was obvious the car was going too fast but he thought he could beat the caravan!