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”!

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Outer Hebrides

It has been an eventful week or so on the birding front, kicking off with a trip to Old Moor last Friday night (28th) for the organised walk to try and get a glimpse of the elusive Savi’s Warbler which had been heard singing from one of the hides. 150+ birders arrived at 8pm as planned for a chance to go within the reserve to the area where the Savi’s Warbler had been singing. The RSPB had taken a large group out the night before but sadly the bird didn’t show. It could be heard clearly, but never came out into view. On Friday we were lucky, at about 9-30pm the bird started to get more active and after an hour and half of staring into a bramble thicket, it eventually came into view. Nothing more than short flitting flights low down from reed to reed, but for mere second glimpses it was clear to see. By his own admission of pure luck, the guy next to me got it clearly in his scope as it sang from the base of a reed and unselfishly gave everyone in his proximity the chance to have a look before it moved on. As dusk approached more reeds moved as a Grasshopper Warbler came out to sing, which at times were yards apart, giving a very rare chance, in the UK at least, to hear and compare these two birds side by side. I had a great night so my sincere thanks go to the RSPB for the opportunity they provided.

A few months ago when I asked Miss Piggy if she wanted to do anything over the half term I wasn’t really expecting the answer I got. She asked if I fancied the Outer Hebrides! A few years ago we took the then four year old junior on a pilgrimage to Tobermory on the Isle of Mull, the setting for the CBeebies programme Balamory which at the time was her life. They both loved it, and so did I, as the wildlife was superb. With that in mind I didn’t need asking twice to head up there again. Without boring everyone with the details, this last week has seen us take a ferry out from Oban to South Uist then drive (assisted with one more ferry crossing) all the way up to the Butt of Lewis, the most northerly point in the Outer Hebrides, staying in a different bed and breakfast every night over the course of the week. The weather and scenery has simply been amazing. Clear blue skies, white beaches and great wildlife have made it a superb holiday. The ferry crossings have also given a chance to see birds such as Great and Arctic Skuas, Manx Shearwater and Arctic Terns. The real highlights though were a pod of dolphins feeding amongst plunge diving Gannets and a pulse racing sighting of an adult White Tailed Eagle flying over the Sound of Mull. I was lucky enough to get talking to another birder on the ferry who unbelievably watched areas such as Langsett and Midhope Moors. He was a great guy, superb company and another pair of eyes as we scanned the sea, making the 6 hour crossing fly by.

The pick of the trip without doubt in my eyes was the White Tailed Eagle, a real close second though was a summer plumaged Black Throated Diver, a stunning bird. We had stopped at Loch Awe just east of Oban to stretch our legs when it swam into view, quite distant but a real treat none the less. Even Miss Piggy marvelled at its markings! Huddersfield had been lucky enough to host one last year and as good as the sighting was, a summer plumaged bird is really something to behold.

A poor record shot that doesn't do it justice!

Black Guillemot's

Common Gull

Lesser Black Backed Gull

Corn Bunting

Rock Pipit



Meadow Pipit


Arctic Tern

Ringed Plover

Common Seals


There certainly hasn’t been any disappointment but if I could have changed just one thing it would have been to get a glimpse of a Corncrake. On three occasions I narrowed singing birds, nestled in Iris beds and nettles, down to areas of only one square metre, but I just couldn’t see them! The second you got close they stopped calling. I had my binoculars poised at the area where the sound was coming from, taking small steps to edge closer and closer but nothing, it was so frustrating. One bird was in someone’s garden too so what they must have thought of me as they looked out of their window I don’t know?

Miss Piggy and Junior taking advantage of entire beaches to themselves

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