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”!

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Black Redstarts

With a failed attempt already under my belt it only seemed right that part of this weekend should be spent trying to locate one of the Black Redstarts at Langsett. A quality bird anyway! Never mind one in the Huddersfield area. I’d given it my best shot previously but wasn’t helped in the slightest by the weather so I was hoping for something a bit better and this morning was, clear blue skies just a bit chilly. I just headed to the right area and waited. It’s a strange one. Is the track leading up to and through the farm buildings where the birds have been seen private? Should I be there? Am I trespassing? I went for it anyway and strolled straight up. After twenty minutes though, my questions were answered. A 4x4 slowed to a halt beside me and the interrogation as to my reasons for being there begun. He was the typical old farmer, flat cap, bedraggled wirey grey hair, side burns like steel wool. I explained the rambler’s right to roam but he wasn’t having it. The exchange of words soured and he got out of the Land Rover. Luckily I got the first punch in which stunned him somewhat but he came back well catching me twice with a couple of beauties. He was one of the toughest seventy year olds I’ve ever fought, the hardest though being an extra on The Last of the Summer Wine a few years ago in Holmfirth, he was like a Kelly Doll, he just kept getting back up?

If I was to have any chance though against this enraged septuagenarian landowner, I had to fight my way, and get him to ground. Once we were grappling in the mud I just had to bide my time and let all the things I’d learnt as a teenager watching countless Royal Rumbles and Smackdowns come to fruition. It wasn’t long either before I had the old boy in a Figure Four, gradually forcing him into a submission. He soon tapped out and the whole thing was ended amicably, I dusted off and returned his flat cap before offering him my lens cleaner in a bid to stop the blood. He went on his way, leaving me free to bird watch.

Shortly after, I got my first glimpse of the Black Redstarts, two females flitting from dry stone wall to field and back, gradually working their way around the perimeter of the field, just sadly always out of range. I decided to have a slow walk back to the car and hopefully catch up with them again further round as it was that direction they were heading. A female Merlin came into view though, which diverted my attention for a good few minutes as it whizzed through the area. As I neared the opposite end of the field to which I’d started, the Black Redstarts kept gradually edging closer, so it was sit and wait time and after 10 minutes or so they were close enough to get some nice record shots. Lovely birds, and a nice Huddersfield tick too.

Monday, 20 September 2010

Sooty and Snow

Well it’s been a good weekend on the birding front with a nice few additions to add to this years sightings. A couple of Black Terns at Pugneys got the ball rolling before heading over to Filey for the weekend which had been planned months ago by Miss Piggy as a celebration of the cricket season coming to an end!

I was out of the house on Saturday morning before Miss Piggy and Junior awoke, in the hope I could get a few hours birding in before the start of Miss Piggy’s weekend of fun. I headed straight to the Brigg. Over the next few hours clouds gave way to sunshine and it turned out to be a cracking morning, the waves crashing into the Brigg making it spectacularly so. I enjoyed the company of two other sea watchers during my stay, although one guy was more into the photography side than the actual birding so I will be keen to see his images from the morning.

Check out his website @ which I have added a link to.

It started well with a good movement of Red Throated Diver and I had a Great Skua within minutes of setting my scope up, but as the clouds parted it seemed the more scarce sea birds just dried up. Gannets were constant and the odd Sandwich Tern put in an appearance but the single skua already mentioned was it, and no sightings of any shearwaters? Lapland Buntings had been seen further up along the cliff top and as much as fancied scouring the area it was time to head back. I did walk the long way back which took in part of the area they had been seen within, but to no avail. The numbers that have been recorded in the Western Isles though recently makes me think there will be other opportunities to catch up with this species in the coming months as they gradually disperse.

The bonus sighting of the weekend came when I wasn’t actually meant to be bird watching. The last time we went to Hornsea Mere we were literally just stopping off but Junior had fancied a go in the rowing boats, always the peacemaker, a ride was promised the next time we came to the east coast, hence our visit this time around. Steve Redgrave can sleep easy in the knowledge that I won’t be a threat to his record anyway. It was knackering. Junior loved it though so I suppose that was the main thing. As we headed back to the car though, a few birders looked poised, and not one to miss out I got my binoculars and headed straight over. They were on a Snow Bunting, it was a cracker too, the local Pied Wagtails wouldn’t let it settle though and it eventually took to the air flew out of view. It was one of those ‘right place at the right time’ sightings.

Sunday I was off early to meet a friend of mine, Mick, in Bridlington for the RSPB Skua and Shearwater cruise which heads out on the Yorkshire Belle. The weather was awful; anyone who saw us queuing up at 8-30am in Bridlington Harbour in the pouring rain must have thought we were out of our minds.

Sooty Shearwater

Arctic Skua

A Great Skua (bottom right) harassing gulls

As we got out beyond Flamborough Head the rain did start to bait but it remained very overcast the entire trip. The birding was good though, with 3 Sooty Shearwaters, 2 Great Skua’s and 1 Arctic Skua being the birds of note with Pink Footed Goose, Red Throated Diver, Sandwich Tern and Common Scoter also being seen. Gannet’s were plentiful and Great backed Black Gulls were constant, hanging around for fish scraps, which were being thrown in to draw the birds closer.


Waiting to plunge in!

Great Black Backed Gull - Adult


One bird of interest, which followed the boat for a short while, was an adult Herring Gull, this bird though showed characteristics of the Scandinavian race Argentatus, which are a slightly darker tone of grey (albeit on a very dull day) and show less black to the tip of the wings in contrast to larger white patches on the finger tips? The hardcore gull enthusiasts out there might disagree though? A few of the photos hopefully capture some of the characteristics mentioned so it’s out there for debate!

Possible Scandinavian Herring Gull?

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Back Out And About

Well it has been a month or so but this weekend I finally laid the cricket season to rest and finally got back out there. Thought I’d ease myself back in with a run out to Old Moor. I had a good couple of hours too. I managed to pick out 4 Curlew Sandpiper, feeding in a fairly secluded area, and 2 Spotted Redshanks resting on a spit. The big challenge though was to sift through numbers of Teal to find a juvenile Garganey. I had to wave the white flag in the end and admit defeat. I’m fairly confident if it was still there it was one of the birds asleep by the waters edge. I must have checked every bird on the water ten times, it became like a magic eye picture, and the more I stared the more I started to see things! Just not a Garganey!

If I’ve learnt one thing though this weekend, it’s that I need to brush up on Dragonflies and Damselflies. They were buzzing around the paths to the hides and in most cases offering good photo opportunities, but a book is needed I think? When it comes to nature I am always up for broadening my horizons so will get swatting and hopefully strengthen this chink in my armoury! Like a fool I walked obliviously past the bookshelves on my way out where I’m sure there would have been a book to answer all my questions? I will post the photos anyway but will welcome any identification advice. Think one of them is a Common Darter but that’s as far as I’m prepared to stick my neck out?

Not sure what this is either?

Red Admiral

After that I headed to the area of Langsett where the pair of Black Redstarts had been seen a few days before, I hung around for an hour or so but the windy conditions made sure I was always against it so I came away windswept and empty handed, anything with a brain would have been out of the way sheltering. Plenty of Meadow Pipits and Swallows went over but other than that it was fairly quiet.



Time was still on my hands and apart from the wind it was a very nice day so I decided upon a lap of Scout Dike before returning home. Again, not a vast amount of birds but a pair of Greenshank and a Yellow Wagtail made up the quality where the quantity was lacking.

A juvenile Pied Wagtail

A record shot of the Yellow Wagtail which was loosely associating with its pied cousins.

Scout Dike