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, 2 August 2010

Blacktoft & Pugney's

I’d put my first cricket free Sunday away for a run out to Blacktoft Sands, somewhere I like to visit at this time of year, if only to try and see Bearded Tit. This Sunday didn’t disappoint either as I had five minutes watching a female feed a juvenile at the base of the reeds by the waters edge. Add to that, ten Spotted Redshank from the same hide, and as you can imagine I had a great morning.

Green Sandpiper

As birders were packed in along benches like battery hens silently peering out of the windows, in came Alan. I didn’t know him, I just picked up after twenty minutes of hell that that was his name. Everyone squeezed along to make room for him and his mate, Don. If it wasn’t a tight fit already, it was now, as the eighteen stone Alan took some sneaking in, I say eighteen stone? His beard probably accounted for two stone of that. Is it just me or are the loudest people in the hide generally wrong? I don’t know if it was the sheer stillness of the hide and all its occupants prior to the larger than life Alan’s grand entrance, that just made him seem extra loud, but the guy wouldn’t shut up. He kept referring to birds by shortened knicknames too which started to niggle.

Small Skipper

I got the impression that Don wasn’t as birder either as Alan pointed out even the most common of birds. It wasn’t long though before Alan was in full swing, “I’m on a beardy Don…..told you I’d get you one”. He spoke with a posh, Port drinking, Quails egg eating, North Yorkshire landowners twang, the kind you hear every year in Harrogate at the Yorkshire Show. He was barking directions out at Don to get him on the bird, “bottom of the reeds going right…..come down from the pylon Don…that pylon…now come down to the waters edge……still going right…..see the lapwing Don….no the one in the water, the one with the black head, the one with the tuft on its head….got it?.....right look in the reeds behind it……it’s coming ….it’s coming….now! It’s straight behind the Lapwing”. The bad thing is you just can’t help yourself looking either. Alan was still bellowing though, “are you on it Don…..are you on it?” Don confirmed it then Alan took it up a notch, “did I not tell you I’d get you a beardy…did I not tell you”. Now as a witness to all this I was stuck between a rock and a hard place, do I point out to Alan that the ‘beardy’ he has just tracked is in fact a Sedge Warbler or keep quiet, thus gifting Don a lifer that never really was. No need to worry, someone else piped up, “It’s a Sedge Warbler”. Alan back tracked. He was adamant it was a different bird. Alan was quick to re find it, barking its whereabouts once more only to have it confirmed again “yep….its a Sedge Warbler”.

Common Tern

With my eye to the telescope I couldn’t help but smile, it was sheer comedy. Much to the pleasure of the entire hide, the mighty Alan had been silenced. Naturally I’m perfect, the last time I was wrong was 1985 when I thought I’d made a mistake.

A bit of birding luck was on my side today too. Firstly, a Spoonbill had been present at Blacktoft for the last few days, and it had been seen that morning, but had decided to come to rest behind an island out of view. It had not been seen for a few hours, but within ten minutes of me being in the hide, a Marsh Harrier came in close over the reedbed, alighting everything underneath it including the Spoonbill. It circled for no more than 30 seconds before returning to the very same place, out of view again, once the Harrier had passed through. It was such a brief showing that birders looking through their scopes in other directions completely missed it. Some of which were well into the third hour of their Spoonbill vigil. Fortunately I was one of the lucky ones, as I’m sure that if it stayed in the same place for most of the day that plenty of birders would come away empty handed. There can’t be anything more demoralising than being one of those birders who have sat for hours, only to miss it when it briefly shows, then watch all the ones who did see it stand up and piss off…job done!

Common Blue Damselfly

The second element of luck that day was a promise to Junior that I would take her round Pugneys on her bike later that afternoon when I got back. I followed her on foot, taking a few photos of the Common Tern, which was on the boating lake and anything else really of interest. It was a bit gloomy for anything decent but after 10mins in the hide all was well when I landed a Black Necked Grebe, and the afternoon was well and truly brightened up. Was it too much to think I had found this scarce bird? Yes it was. Apparently it had been posted on Birdguides a few hours before so obviously other people had already seen it. For the walk back to the car park though until being told by other birders about the Birdguides post, I was happy to think I’d found it!

Sandal Castle

Got home to find this little fella on the lawn too.


  1. Very entertaining blog, Shat. I think I've met Alan on my travels many times.
    Have you ever visited Far Ings NR, south of the Humber Bridge? Very good for getting close to Beardy if you stand in the right place.

  2. Hey BB, never been but I'll certainly give it a go. Always up for visiting new places. Bearded Tits are distant glimpses at best at Blacktoft so it would be nice to get a bit nearer.

  3. Its well worth a visit. I went in November and got shots of BT's and my first Bittern. A local gave me a few tips -

    "If you park at the new visitor's centre (not the old one at Ness Hide) and stand facing it, there's a gravel path off to the right (I think it's called the Reed Bed Path). Follow this until you come to a wooden walkway (it's actually plastic I think!). Stop just before the walkway and you will be stood at a corner, the gravel path behind you (where you've just walked) is where the birds come to. You'll need to stand there and listen for them (you could be lucky like me and they'll come in 5 minutes but when my partner went he had to wait 1.5 hours!). Good Luck. There are a lot of hides at Far Ings so give yourself plenty of time to look around them, if you're lucky you might see a Bittern and the best chance you have is from Ness Hide. There are often reports of the latest sightings at the reserve here"