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”!

Thursday, 8 November 2012


With birding being limited this year, the annual list has never really taken off. An October weekend in Filey added a couple more, but sadly it was totally devoid of rarities. The ringing team were also quiet, with many collections not even netting one single bird. A Red Breasted Flycatcher led me a merry dance, as I failed to connect with it on two occasions….story of the year!

Laughing Dove

After a great week on the Isle of Skye earlier in the year, this half term saw us head out to Egypt for two weeks. Although getting a few lifers was high on the agenda, so too was the enjoyment for the kids. Miss Piggy had booked us in a holiday village in Sharm El Sheikh that purely catered for just that, the enjoyment of kids. And given it was the school holiday there were kids everywhere.

Western Reef Egret

It was hard for me at the start as I stuck out like a sore thumb. Miss Piggy failed to tell me after booking it that the men had to have the names of their kids tattooed on their neck and don a football shirt to the evening meal. That ostracised me from the word go, so I had to while away the time looking to the skies and scanning the sea and beaches for birds. And not just the feathered type.

Marsh Sandpiper

The neighbouring hotel was an 18-30 style resort full of Russian’s, and more accurately Russian women. Pretending to read a book on the beach took up quite a bit of time. They weren’t all sheer class, some of them were howlers, but I’d say the percentage favoured the better ones. Beach surveillance killed a couple of hours in the afternoons….until Miss Piggy busted me? Letting my guard down, I was rumbled four days in. I thought she’d seen the true direction of my eyes through the dark sunglasses but it later transpired it was the erection that gave me away? You live and learn.

Green Heron

The birding around the hotel was steady to be fair. Laughing Dove and House Sparrow were common and a pair of Western Reef Heron were obliging on the beach, and that was basically it. A flock of migrating White Storks livened up one morning as did a pass through Osprey and Caspian Tern. As the water receded Ringed Plover, Greenshank and Marsh Sandpiper were recorded, as was a Green Heron that I flushed when I almost stood on it.

A charismatic Fiddler Crab

Caspian Tern

The gecko that lived in our hotel room

One of the many lizzard's darting across the hotel paths and rockeries.

The best birding was a trip inland, when I went to St Catherines Monastry in the heart on Sinai, home of Moses’s ‘Burning Bush’, to hike up Mount Sinai. The trip takes place during the night, to avoid climbing in the midday heat and also to be at the summit to watch the sunrise, which was quite spectacular. It was also quite busy. Around 300 people in various group sizes made their way up the mountain, led by Bedouin guides, with camels on hand (naturally at a cost) to ride should the going get tough.

Only half of our group made it up on foot without the assistance of a Bedouin and his trusty camel. Many of them were simply ill equipped. The footwear and clothing worn by some, given we were hiking up a 2285m mountain, through the night, didn’t really reflect the magnitude of the task ahead.

Many of the stragglers were not prepared either for the drop in temperature as we racked up the altitude. The walking was slow going but manageable. That’s until the final 300m. The last climb is a 750 step stone-carved staircase, leading to the summit, named the ‘Steps of Repentance’. Again manageable, but very energy and morale sapping. My legs were screaming by the time I reached the top. The effort made me sweat considerably which had negative effects. You find yourself pushing yourself to the top, only to reach the summit and stop moving. The perspiration quickly cools in the near freezing oxygen starved air, making the short wait for the sunrise quite uncomfortable.

For many there though, the toughness of the last section and determination to reach the summit was purely religion driven. The plateau we now congregated on awaiting the sunrise, was the very place Moses was said to have been handed the Ten Commandments.

The wait for the sunrise.

The break of dawn.

The summit was a surreal experience. Given this mountain is revered by Christians, Muslims and Jews, the cross section of pilgrims varied considerably in both nationality and religious background. Many of which reading passages and praying, with some even crying at the realisation they had reached, for them, potentially a once in a lifetime place. I personally have more science based beliefs, but I could certainly appreciate what the place meant for those who were there for religious reasons. I was quite happy to sit back and watch the sunrise, taking it all in.

A rare photo of myself.

The beauty of this trip meant that come first light, I was literally up with the birds, and now had the meandering walk back down, binoculars at the ready! Sinai Rosefinch was my target bird and it wasn’t long till a tick was next to its name, with the Mt Sinai and St Catherine’s Monastery area being a stronghold. Other notable sightings included Tristram’s Starling, Isabelline and White Crowned Wheatear, Desert Lark and Rock Martin so all in all a great couple of hours.

Bedouin's on hand to take you back down the mountain path on their camel's

Sinai Rosefinch

White Crowned Wheatear

Desert Lark

The hike back down finished with a tour of the monastery which sits at the base of the mountain. The monastery feature’s Moses’ Well, and a descendant of the ‘Burning Bush’, as clippings from the original are said to have been re-grown by the monks within the monastery walls.

St Catherine's Monastery, at the foot of Mount Sinai in the heart of the Sinai Desert.

As an all-round nature lover, another string to the holiday’s bow was the delight’s that the Red Sea had to offer. The marine life was breathtaking. The snorkelling turned out to be very addictive and a highlight for me of the holiday. Watching a Manta Ray drift by was an unforgettable experience.

Me and Junior snorkelling.

Animal mad Junior got hooked too and was inspired to complete the first stages of her PADI certification. Given she’s only 8 years old she is limited to the depth she could dive to, but with her first 2m open sea dive in the bag, she’s now ticking off the days till she can progress and go deeper.

Junior Cousteau


A few Autumn images I never seemed to get round to posting.

A male Migrant Hawker

A female Migrant Hawker

A mating pair of Common Darter's

A basking Common Darter