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, 7 November 2011

Keeping Miss Piggy Up At Night!

Miss Piggy would pass out just looking at these photos!

House Spider

Motion Sensitive Camera

In light of the recent 'sightings' I thought it best to check the images from the motion sensitive camera I had placed at Shepley Train Station. The results were astounding!

Monday, 10 October 2011

Eurus Doesn't Come To The Party?

Filey's ringing week started this weekend so fingers were crossed, but Eurus the Greek God of the East wind just didn't want to play ball. To the degree where on Sunday they made the decision to postpone it for a few days. Not only were the westerlies not helping in the slightest, the wind was so strong the risk of the mist nets getting damaged was just too high. This handsome male Great Spotted Woodpecker was the bird of note during my time with the ringing team.

My thanks go to Chris the ringer, who's hand took a barrage of abuse whilst letting me take a photo! Apparently 'Pecker Rash' is the official term when a woodpecker's gone to town on your hand! Miss Piggy took some convincing though that I'd put a ring on a woodpecker's leg when I once got pecker rash on a stag do in Amsterdam?

Having enjoyed the previous Skua and Shearwater Cruise so much, mainly helped by a Sabine's Gull, I decided another trip, the last of the season, could easily be fitted in. It also looked like I wasn't going to miss much at Filey Country Park either? It was another superb trip. Three skua species were seen Arctic, Great and Pomarine with Little and Mediterranean being the pick of the gulls.

Gannets were never far away for the entire trip.

Pomarine Skua

Great Skua

A mixture of Herring Gull and Great Backed Gull of all age groups hung around for the fish bits being thrown overboard, to try and lure in an opportunistic skua

This juvenile Great Black Backed Gull actually looks dead! The photo captured it shaking excess water off after it had dived in for scraps!

A Kittewake trying to get in on the action whilst avoiding the bigger gulls.

A number of Redwing were on the move, migrating over the North Sea, with one poor individual getting picked off by a Herring Gull a mile or so from land. Spare a thought for these two though. A male Chaffich and Meadow Pipit flying perilously close to the waves and spray, avoiding the gulls, into a strong headwind. Sunday was probably the fist time I've wanted to shout at a bird! A 'go on're nearly there...keep going' was just what the moment needed. Having seen it first hand, miles from land in the wake of another bird being unfortunately killed, my admiration for these birds making the crossing has risen ten fold.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Pectoral Sandpiper

Given that this little beauty was first found nearly two weeks ago it's only now Ive been able to get these photos online! My computer has been to see the doctor, due to a virus? A virus from one of my subscription sites, so tomorrow morning the support staff at Birdguides and Big Black Naturals will be getting a piece of my mind.

In the past I have mocked phrases such as 'showing well but distant' so when I read that a Pectoral Sandpiper was 'showing well' on the main lake at Pugneys my first thought was 'how could this be'? A bird with any sense whatsoever stays well clear of the main lake at Pugneys as it's like Walthamstow dog track. Fair enough the birds that can swim out of the way do so, but anything feeding on the fringes surely can't stay for long? And surely can't be showing well? It will be a bag of nerves! The dogs will have scared it off long before I get there?

Showing well was an understatement! I honestly couldn't believe how confiding this bird was. It was feeding obliviously, at times 3 or 4 metres away. It was actually one of the best hours birding I can remember. Not only that, the weather was superb.

Given how it seemed to prefer the company of humans and it's reluctance to fly, I am not against the idea that due to the physicality's of being blown of it's migration course, it kept humans at an arms length to avoid predators while it recharged it's battery?

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

East Coast

I like my cricket but the last few games of this season just seem to have dragged? The birdwatching this summer seemed to have ground to a halt also? So as the first cricket free weekend arrived, a trip to the East coast seemed inevitable. An hour in, and the bug was well and truly back. It was just good to get the binoculars around the neck and head out to see what could be found. Living in Huddersfield the chance to watch seabirds is limited, so a favourite pastime on any weekend away is a good session scouring the sea.

Filey Brigg

The only way to hone those ID skills is practice, and practice with skilled observers is like birdwatching in a classroom. Small bits of advice and knowledge as birds are located and shared, are absorbed like a sponge in a learning curve that will never end. As I took my seat in the Filey seawatching hide though, the immortal birding phrase was uttered….’you should have been here five minutes earlier’. Why is it always me? And why am I always five minutes late? I should have learnt by now that over the years if I had set off five minutes earlier I would have seen a hell of a lot more birds! I had missed a Balearic Shearwater, a bird I would have loved to have seen, and birds aside, the few lucky sea-watchers, albeit a week earlier, had witnessed a breaching Minke Whale, which was likened to a canon as it crashed down! That would have been something to see…and hear! In the two hours I was there though a number of great birds were picked up, most notably Manx and Sooty Shearwaters, Sandwich Tern and Arctic Skua.

Although the official ringing week starts in early October, two ringers were in the country park and had processed a Pied Flycatcher and Whinchat before I arrived. A Garden Warbler was the pick of the birds in the nets, which was duly photographed.

Garden Warbler

Birding time sadly is (and some will say rightly so) compromised with family time. Miss Piggy dishes birding hours out like coupons, coupons I have to redeem in the afternoons of any weekend away. Fortunately Bridlington Leisure Centre isn’t a million miles from Hornsea Mere so naturally a ‘stop off’ was factored in! A worthwhile stop it was too as Little Gull, Red Crested Pochard and Egyptian Goose were soon notched up before Junior could even finish her Cornetto!

I actually didn’t want to go back, as I knew what was coming. Miss Piggy, Junior and new addition ‘Boss Man’ have passes to Reighton Sands Holiday Park, as they use the facilities when they come to Filey in the summer holidays. Junior wanted to go to the kids disco? I personally would rather trap my cock in a door but Miss Piggy had birding hours in the bank and she was determined to cash them in. Kids tear-arsing around with glow in the dark wands and guns that blow bubbles was made even worse by a pint of Guinness that was closer to Worcester Sauce than Irish nectar. The ‘Fun Team’ entertainers worked the kids into a frenzy whilst the bar area was how I’d envisaged the Jeremy Kyle show green room. As I’d coo cooed Boss Man into a deep slumber, Junior returned dripping with sweat and blue tongued from a Slush Puppy that’s E numbers were starting to take effect like mind bending drugs. The scene was far from illegal rave though, and as the Fun Team crecendo’d into the final throws of ‘I am the music man, I come from far away’ I really couldn’t give a shit what they could play. The stage was cleared for more fun and at precisely 9:37pm, as Gary the Gorilla called number 34, and ‘house’ was subsequently called on a distant table, I really can’t say what was worse? Leaving the Fun Works Mega Prize Bingo empty handed? Or the sinking realisation that at 31 years old, this was actually my Saturday night?

Sunday morning couldn’t come quick enough, I awoke early and with Miss Piggy & co wanting a lie in, I sloped away and chanced a seat on the Yorkshire Belle Skua & Shearwater Cruise departing from Bridlington Harbour. I didn’t have a ticket so was prepared for a ‘no room at the inn’ scenario, but dropped lucky as the cruise wasn’t fully booked. I also dropped lucky by bumping into a fellow Huddersfield birder so had good company for the 3 hour foray into the North Sea. My experience of ocean going vessels is limited so there’s always an element of apprehension with the unknown and that apprehension was cemented when a guy got on with a Violin? All I could think of was Titanic? It seemed a random item to take on a boat trip solely for birdwatching?

Common Tern

Given the style of the cruise, birds can easily be missed. Should they appear on the opposite side of the boat, its pure luck if you get a glimpse? 20mins in and we were questioning whether we had selected the correct side, as everything seemed to be behind us? An Arctic Skua was picked up fairly quickly, as too were feeding groups of Common Terns but if anything the weather conditions were just too good. The sun was beating down and the sea was very calm. Only Great Black Backed Gulls responded to the fish bits that were being thrown overboard, and they were in dwindling numbers. After an hour and a half the only excitement had been from the RNLI using the cruise as part of their practise routine.

With little wind, the trip was completely devoid of shearwaters and it looked like we may have a quiet cruise on the bird front. All was not lost though! Out of the blue, a superb adult Sabine’s Gull was picked up in full summer plumage, a stunning bird. It fed in the chum line for about twenty minutes giving both sides of the boat excellent views. Due to abnormal weather systems, 2011 has been a great year for this species and it was the third of the season seen from the cruise, an adult in this condition was a real highlight though.

Sabine's Gull

This picture isn't particularly a great one but shows clearly the size comparison between the dainty Sabine's Gull and a Great Black Backed Gull, along with it's striking wing markings.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Garden Wildlife

Despite visiting Blacktoft Sands last Sunday, these photos are my latest outing with the camera..the garden being the outing! The weather was poor as I parked up at Blacktoft, so I opted to go armed with binoculars and telescope instead, and left the camera behind. Sure enough the sun eventually broke, but with hides packed to the rafters I decided a trudge back to the car would only loose the seat I had waited for? The birding was class! Marsh Sandpiper, Spotted Redshank, Wood Sandpiper, Spoonbill, Bearded Tit..the list goes on! A superb afternoon.

As the weather and temperature has improved these last few days, I could spend the evening hunting wildlife in the garden. Not sure if this is a young Wood Mouse or House Mouse? It gave a good hours entertainment though, in and out of the logs.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Hamstead Heath

Well…. apologies to the few who keep checking! The posts have really dried up! The addition to the family and hectic cricket fixtures have meant birding has taken a back seat and the year list has suffered immensely. Hopefully come September I may be able to catch up with a few species I’ve missed on the East Coast. There has been a few ‘local’ goodies too which have caught my eye, but I simply haven’t had the time, most notably, what would have been an after work twitch straight to Old Moor RSPB for the Stone Curlew.

Common Tern

I have however added three new birds to my list when I recently took a ‘non birding’ stroll around Hamstead Heath in London, as part of a long weekend in the big smoke. I say non birding…I mean we went for a walk but I didn’t have my binoculars….not that I was ‘dog walking’ at 4am and accidentally bumped into a few guys, like one or two ‘married’ celebrities have claimed in the past?

It’s a shame that Hampstead Heath is more famous for other stuff than it is the scenery, as it was really nice. Given it was a scorcher, there were plenty if families picnicking, yoga classes etc and people swimming in the designated pools. Once you get off the beaten track though the nature was superb. Plenty of woodpeckers, swallows and swifts and one of the lakes hosted Mandarin with ducklings and a pair of Common Terns which were very confiding, probably used to the vast numbers of carp fishermen lining the banks.

A bonus tick for the year was catching up with a female Ring Necked Parakeet, certainly not a bird I see annually, and it’s normally fleeting views from the car should work ever take me to west side of the M25. Incidentally my first ever record was a flock of 20 or so heading over the motorway near to the Twickenham area which nearly caused a pile up as I hunched on the steering wheel as far forward as possible to look at them go over the car!

Ring Necked Parakeet - a poor record shot!

The weather stayed fine for the entire weekend, which made the weekend in actual fact as the main reason for the visit was two outdoor concerts in Hyde Park. Thursday saw me head nodding away to Mumford and Sons and Arcade Fire whilst Sundays gig was the eagerly awaited comeback for Jarvis Cocker’s, Pulp. It was two hours of solid jumping, finger pointing and singing! Absolute class……naturally, they’re from Yorkshire! At least they let you sing along! You should have seen the looks I got a few years back when I took my Mum to see Pavarotti! Wouldn’t mind, but I know nearly all the words to Nessun Dorma…in a fashion?

Sunday, 1 May 2011


I was sad to hear this week that fellow Huddersfield birder Melvyn Collinson unfortunately passed away. Not only was Melvyn a genuinely nice guy, we also shared interest's in cricket as well as birdwatching. Melvyn had played for Skelmanthorpe Cricket Club and since his retirement, supported us both home and away. Our boundary edge chats about all things birds will be sadly missed. My sincere condolences go out to all his friends and family.

A few from the week off

The various walls, fences and fields surrounding the local reservoirs provide a great opportunity to see some of the commoner farmland species.


One of the many Bee's visiting the bushes at Broadstones Reservoir

Meadow Pipit


During the Easter break we managed to fit in a couple of days on the east coast. Although I didn't do much birding, I did manage to sneak in a quick twitch to get the Woodchat Shrike which had been found. And a cracker it was too, just too far for any acceptable photo. All these were taken either at Scarborough, whilst flitting from Dodgems to arcades or during a quick clifftop walk at Bempton Cliffs.