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”!

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.

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