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, 17 October 2010

Birding Gold

This weekend was to be a quiet one, with absolutely nothing planned. Birding would feature though but I decided with the few hours I had to get out I would stay local, or local ish? I actually ended up at Anglers Country Park. It was quiet on the bird front with the only tick for the morning being a female Scaup, a powerboat went out though which more or less cleared the top reservoir of bird life, so I headed back to the main hide.

Every once in a while it’s a pleasure to be in the presence of greatness, bird hides give you the opportunity to meet a wide variety of characters, some blend into the background as mere pleasantry’s are exchanged, others are immortalised in my mind as sheer one offs. Guy’s who are amusing, guy’s who are great storytellers, guy’s who are generally wrong or guys like I met this weekend, blinkered towards their own superior field skills.


By his own admission he was a top top birder. A couple who were also in the hide were beginners, eager to learn, but had asked for a few birds they were uncertain about confirming, nothing out of the ordinary, just birds that had differing plumages, particularly at this time of year, to the pictures in their book. Now if someone asked me in a hide to take a quick a look at a bird to see what my thoughts were it would be a pleasure. That’s to say I would know what it is! There’s a lot more I don’t know about birds than I do! Unfortunately they didn’t ask me though; they asked the guy to other side of them? His response naturally was positive “of course” he said, “it’s your lucky day, you’re probably sat next one of the best birdwatchers in Yorkshire” he meant it too! And who am I to disagree, I just thought it was quite a bold statement?

Blue Tit

To prove this, he not only identified the Tufted Duck in question, he gave a breakdown of its plumage in a manner to which I had to have a quick look around to see if I hadn’t somehow found myself in a zoology lecture. All of which was completely over the couple’s head. He was on a roll though, and I was privileged to be a part of it, I had a box seat for a birdwatching master class. Every bird was now being identified, along with comments like “what you find with the aythya's is…..”? Obviously they didn’t have a clue what he was talking about, the second they went to say something he went “sshhh” whilst holding his finger up towards them in a don’t interrupt manner, and after a short silence would say “Linnet”. The best though was yet to come. He then went on to point out to the couple what he said was a Meadow Pipit, perched on a wire. You could hardly see the pylon the wire was connected to, never mind call the speck on it a Meadow Pipit! It would have had to be the size of a Woodpigeon to be even seen at that range! I actually felt like the couple were getting duped? So I enquired politely “how the hell can you tell that’s a Meadow Pipit from here” to which he simply replied “jizz”. For my family and certainly my friends, “jizz” is a word used for the outline shape of a bird. Jodrell Bank wouldn’t have identified this fucker never mind the pair of RSPB branded 8x32’s he was using!

Great Tit

I was actually toying with the idea of going to Spurn Point today but decided in the end to go to Bretton Lakes instead, the main reason being I slept in! The weather was as good as it gets for this time of year, which seemed to bring the place to life. It was the usual suspect’s bird wise however a very brief highlight was a sighting of a Water Rail, which flew from the island straight towards the hide, once it landed though it was more or less invisible. The odd rustle kept giving away its location but it was never in view. A Cormorant put an appearance in, as did two drake Pochard’s, but the rest was pretty much what you would expect. A very peaceful and pleasant two hours.


Monday, 11 October 2010

Ringing Week

Miss Piggy had made it clear earlier in the week that I may as well not exist come the weekend. With ‘girly’ things planned on both days and the start of the shit factor live shows coupled with Strictly Come Dancing, I was neither going to see them nor get the TV at any point come 6:30pm. Filey then! I had already had my appetite whet earlier in the week by Ian Robinson, a Filey birder who was in town giving a talk on Sea Birds of the Southern Oceans for The Huddersfield Birdwatching Club, and thoroughly enjoyable it was too.

Filey’s ringing week was to start, heightening the chances of something rarer being found and a quick look on the Met Office website suggested the winds could conjure up a biggy? I set off late morning on Saturday, getting up to the ringing area around 2-00pm. Ian incidentally was the first person I bumped into, and he quickly alerted me to a Radde’s Warbler sighting from earlier in the day. It hadn’t been seen for a few hours, but plenty of birders had now congregated and were spread out around a 10m x 50m area of scrub just north of the caravan park. It was very dense in places giving the bird, if it wanted, plenty of cover. Now I don’t have a self found list and to be fair this wouldn’t get itself on there, but if I had a ‘re-found’ list this would be top of the pile. I was the lucky sole to find it again! I had wandered away from the building numbers of birders, just to have a look in another area, and guess what I found! A Radde’s Warbler! In a clump of nettles, fly catching from the stems! Some vigorous hand gestures and pointing alerted the only other person in view - a local Filey birder, to its location, which he duly put out on the walkie-talkies. As he approached it showed well for us both, for a matter of seconds, before alighting in front of another birder approaching from another direction, giving off three sharp “takk” notes, then ditching into some undergrowth. Excitement over though, as for the remainder of the weekend it showed in ten second bursts for the few lucky ones who happened to be in the right place at the right time. Many many birders were led a merry dance and from the general feeling it seemed more missed out than actually saw it, I was one of the lucky handful.

The ringers had been kept busy too, processing over 300 birds in the two days I was there. Goldcrest’s and Robin’s were everywhere! Redwing’s tumbled out of the sky and small flocks of Brambling's crashed into the trees. An awesome sight!


Garden Warbler


Meadow Pipit

A great sighting was a Jack Snipe coming in off the sea onto the country park, which was shouted out by a small group of guys who were still holding out for the Radde’s Warbler. My sincere thanks; as without the tip off it would have completely passed me by un-noticed?


Song Thrush



A feeding flock of Siskin which must have kept me captivated for the best part of an hour.

It wasn’t just the Radde’s Warbler though that was causing a stir, the ringers had trapped and rung a Yellow Browed Warbler which never got relocated after its release and a Pallas’s Warbler had also been found in the area known as Church Ravine. Both birds evaded myself and many more in the hunt, I couldn’t get too down heartened though given the sightings that I’d had of the other birds this weekend.