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, 30 January 2011


Although icy at first, Saturday shaped up to be a cracking day. I headed out mid morning and racked up a healthy 6 miles around Langsett Reservoir and its surrounding areas, albeit at a very leisurely pace. The bird life was pretty much what you would expect for this time of year with nothing seen that I would class as out of the ordinary. One thing that did surprise me though was the number of Goldcrests seen, flitting around the canopy. They appeared to be thriving given the recent cold snap, you somehow think that the smallest birds would be the first hit by the harsh conditions but this just didn’t seem the case. Siskins were also numerous but never really showed that well, constantly calling but generally always out of view.

One bird that did give itself away was a Treecreeper and not by its call, its claws were grating on the bark as it moved, but the volume of the noise didn’t fit the size of the bird? If I hadn’t of seen it, I would have dismissed it as an evasive Squirrel! Talking of bird calls though, I was alerted to a bird that simply had me scratching my head, I couldn’t see it either. There’s an old bird watching saying that if you don’t know what it is, it’s a Great Tit and after stalking the source of the sound for five minutes in bemusement, it finally showed itself. A Great Tit. So technically I did know what it was!!!

Partly iced over, the reservoir itself looked very inhospitable. Only three Canada Geese and a handful of Mallard were present favouring the fringes of the water with the moorland area having good numbers of Red Grouse but little else. Serious amounts of tree felling have taken place, which are part of long terms plans to make the area more suitable for a variety of woodland birds, so watch this space?

Given that this is just a personal diary of basically just being out doors, I decided to use a Global Positioning System to record the walk. As a trial run I found it quite interesting so will probably us it for future posts? Even if it’s just to look back on in a couple of years time? To view the walk, just click on the link below.


The calories burnt got vanquished in the cafe with a nice slab of Cornflake Cake! Absolute class!

Sunday, 23 January 2011

A Bit of Local Stuff

With nothing planned for the afternoon I decided to head off for a few hours and visit a few differing habitats around the Huddersfield area. The first stop was Holmfirth, Last of the Summer Wine country. I had only been out of the car for a minute or so when the distinctive call alerted me to two Dippers powering down the river. Although they kept their distance they really were great birds to watch, flitting from stone to stone before submerging for a few seconds then flying off again. Very entertaining….if you’re into that sort of thing!

The other highlights were three Goosander and further up the river a pair of Mandarin's mingling with the Mallards.

Male and female Mandarin's

Stunning little ducks, which captivated the children who had stopped to throw bread? I’m always dubious though regarding these birds as although they are not ringed, they just seem too comfortable around people. Whether that’s the influence of the Mallards which have now become accustomed to the hand outs, I’m not sure? But they don’t seem ‘flighty’ in the slightest. I don’t have a vast experience of Mandarin’s but others I have seen seem to avoid humans very much in the same way as other species such as Smew and Goldeneye? That said, given the recent conditions I’m not surprised they are taking advantage of a free meal.

Mallard - Fair enough, the oriental Mandarin has the colour, but the Mallard can be equally as exquisite.

From Holmfirth I headed out towards the moors and was soon parked up at Harden Reservoir for a walk along the tops. Other than a few overhead gulls I think Red Grouse was the only other bird species I saw? This gave me time though to concentrate on my new interest in tracking! I did find a couple of interesting things along the way; I may need some expert advice though to nail identification?

This pellet was next to the remains of what appeared to be a pigeon. The breast areas had been eaten and given the feathered content of the pellet it may have come from a Peregrine?

I will take any offers on this one? Haven't a clue what it could have come from? It looks like mould but it was actually full of white hairs. I wondered if Mountain Hares produce hair balls in a similar way cats do from grooming? Or is that just nonsense!

Red Grouse droppings

Lichen on a memorial stone - not sure why I've put this photo on given it has no relevance to anything mentioned! Just quite liked it?

The final stop on my mini adventure was High Hoyland. A dogleg walk from the church down to Jebb Lane produced a nice little flock of Brambling’s, which were perched in a tree along with Chaffinch, Yellowhammer and Reed Bunting. A light shower though put an end to a nice afternoon of local birding and I retreated back to the car before it could get heavier. Wimp!

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Lords of the Ring...Bill?

Its funny how the turn of the year reignites that little spark when it comes to getting back out there birding. Eagerly looking for birds you know you will see hundreds of throughout the year but getting that little buzz all the same, as another year tick gets added. Seen as its only Yorkshire’s second twitchable record, its no surprise that for many a local lister, Mirfield’s Ring Billed Gull was one of the better birds to bag early. A county crowd puller and easily the best bird on offer regionally at the dawn of 2011. I headed down this weekend like many others and after sifting through the comings and goings of small numbers of Black Headed and Common Gulls, I finally locked on the main event. My own error probably got me in the wrong place as the birds were front on, and with a number of them sleeping, I may have gone past the gull in question once or twice before getting on it for definite. A change of angle proved fruitful, offering much better views, as the now ‘awake’ Ring Billed Gull had un-tucked its head and become more active. A great bird.

Black Headed Gull

It was time though to move on. The Machete and Gonzales who I’d picked up en route were getting restless. As much as they like their birding, they also like a good walk, and as good as Sands Lane Gravel Pits has been for pulling in the rarity, it unfortunately lacks on the walking front. Going for a walk though with Gonzales is very much a blank canvas. Signs, walls and fences simply don’t faze him. His past adventures have seen him toe to toe with a farmer who claimed he’d looked into his bedroom with binoculars, going through a hole in a fence only pop out dodging machinery in a Biffa refuse site, and birding his way through danger signs into the middle of a paintballing game at the Bullcliffes outdoor adventure Delta Force camp.


Incidentally I once got taken out at a game of paintballing on my mates stag do, as I momentarily stopped because I thought I’d seen a Spotted Flycatcher! We were mixed up with other groups, put into teams, and packed off to storm our opponent’s base with a William Wallace style send off from the marshal, claiming that this would be the closest simulation available to modern day warfare. 20 minutes in to the game it got stopped, only to be then told that you couldn’t take hostages? Isn’t that modern warfare? And for the kids dad to then say we had ruined his sons birthday was a little over the top. Granted the swearing and pistol whipping was probably excessive, but he simply wouldn’t tell us where their base was? And who takes 12 year olds paintballing anyway?


Like Huddersfield’s answer to Ray Mears, Gonzales had us off along the river at Horbury. It was good too. The definite stand outs were a cracking male Red Breasted Merganser and a pair of Willow Tits in the Navigation Pub beer garden. I tried my best to get the drake Red Breasted Merganser, Goosander and Goldeneye all in one shot, but sadly that meant getting all the crap in view that’s stuck to all the riverside foliage.

Certainly not the best photo I’ve ever taken but the hope and vision was there. It’s just a shame that the tanks in the adjoining sewerage farm seem cleaner than the river? That said, there must be something in there? It attracts the sawbills every year.

I'm currently half way through a field guide to animals tracks and signs, so was hoping for some footprints to photograph so I could try and identify them later, sadly nothing. Not even an area of felled trees leading to a Beaver lodge! I seem to be swatting up on things I may not encounter in Huddersfield? The book features every little thing, but if anything sways more towards continental mammals. The following should be invaluable advice if venturing out in North America.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

New Year

Well I can’t believe it has been a year since my first post! And judging by the hit counter, someone must be reading it? With just over 3000 hits to date, my Mum has admitted to 2995 of them, so I would like to personally thank the five or so other people who have taken time out to have a quick read. Hopefully I can count on your support in 2011! This year will hopefully see much of the same, birding both local and afar, tongue in cheek reports and a fresh year list.

A foggy start to the year

The only thing I will be changing for the coming year will be the actual bird’s names on the list i.e Gannet to Northern Gannet etc. I don’t know how, but my shit jokes and deranged imagination have attracted followers from abroad, hence the bird names going international!! Hopefully I can get one or two new names on it too. In 2008 I wiped the slate clean and started a Yorkshire and UK list from scratch, mainly due to taking a few years out to concentrate on women, drinking and sport, and losing all my previous records! I did find a scribbled year list from when I was about 10 years old but entries such as Bar Headed Goose at Newmiller Dam and Black Swan at Fairburn Ings may not have referred to genuine vagrants? So at least my current lists leave me plenty of room for improvement in 2011 and the forthcoming years.

Ruddy Turnstone


Juvenile Greater Black Backed Gull

After a great Christmas we spent the New Year in Filey, I got to go birding, Miss Piggy got a lie in and Junior had the run of the sea front on her new bike, so all in all everyone was a winner. I got one or two nice birds on the list too. It seems strange but due to returning home after dark on the Monday and two subsequent days at work, I haven’t actually seen a Great Tit! Yet I’ve managed to see Red Necked Grebe, Velvet Scoter and two diver species?

Black Headed Gull

Herring Gull

Those certainly were the highs from the last few days, but the lows were flushing a Woodcock on the 31st but failing miserably the next day and missing the Iceland Gull in Scarborough Harbour completely. Sanderling’s charging around the car park by the Lifeboat Station and Holbeck’s wintering Mediterranean Gulls were a little compensation though.

Mediterranean Gull

An afternoon in Scarborough was the only time we left Filey out of the four days, so other than that, all my birding so far this year has been in the Sea Watching Hide, on the Brigg and Country Park or at the Dams. It’s been great too. Overcast quite a lot of the time and at points very cold by the sea but all in all very pleasant.

Purple Sandpiper

Great Northern Diver

I had to feel sorry for one poor photographer whom along with his partner, slightly mistimed their return from the Brigg and unfortunately got cleaned up to the knees with an incoming wave. It’s a trudge back to the car park anyway, nevermind with wet shoes and jeans. They appeared to see the funny side though.

Mallards - Waiting for the thaw at Filey Dams