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, 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.