Yesterday, with a well earned day off work, I decided to take a trip to RSPB Fairburn Ings.
This is a reserve just near Castleford, and despite being half-an-hour from York, it’s a site I’ve never got round to visiting before. Fortunately, it was a lovely day and there was plenty going on.
We started out by walking East from the RSPB shop, along the South edge of the big lake, parallel with the river.
The scrub before the lake opened out was full of smaller birds, including Blue, Great and Coal Tits, Goldfinches, Robins, Goldcrests, and Greenfinches. There were also good sized flocks of Long-tailed Tits roaming the place.
The lake itself had a wide range of waterbirds present. The first thing that leapt out were the sheer numbers of Coot, with hundreds of adults and juveniles spread across the body of water.
Most of the waterfowl you’d expect from this sort of location in winter were about, and Goldeneye, Pochard, Teal, and Wigeon were all spotted. There were also significant numbers of Great-crested Grebe.
I’m always happy to see Tufted Ducks, and they were another bird in significant numbers on the lake. At this time of year, many are moulting into winter plumage and can look grey, and often be mistaken for Scaup.
Also, for the first time this Autumn/Winter, a small group of 15-20 Fieldfare passed overhead, but they weren’t stopping anywhere nearby.
The other bird that was moving about was a lone female Goosander. Sadly, she just wouldn’t come into decent light. Or rather, she was in bright sun, but backlit. Meaning all the photos look like this:
If you are curious, you can tell this is a female as she has an orange head. The male’s head is irridescent green. In winter you are far more likely to see females than males, as the males tend to migrate while the females stay on site with this years young. So the ratio of female to male can be 2:1.
In that bottom picture, she’s doing something called ‘snorkelling’. This is how they find fish, swimming around spotting prey, then diving and catching it underwater. This female caught a perch just after this, but it escaped her before I could get a photo. Or before she could get the meal.
Back at the shop/cafe for lunch, we had a stroll around the feeders and saw Tree Sparrows and a Willow Tit.
There were also plenty of ‘Mugger Robins’ around the reserve. By which I mean those Robins that have learned that birdwatchers tend to have snacks and are kindly disposed towards a friendly and photogenic bird. Quid pro quo, I shared a bit of flapjack from the hand, and several Robins posed for this years calendar and christmas cards!
I have mixed emotions about both these species. On the one hand, they are attractive and charismatic (well, the squirrels are). But on the other, as introduced non-native species they can cause quite a bit of damage. That’s not their fault, we introduced them. But it still raises a question.
We finally moved down to the flashes on the West of the site in the hope of seeing a Short-Eared Owl. No such luck, in fact barring a single Kestrel and Sparrowhawk, there were no birds of prey seen. But there were Curlew, more waterfowl, and lapwings. Also, the kestrel at one point flushed a Snipe from the reedbeds.
I still find it weird that just ten years ago this would be a rarity and the source of much excitement, whereas now it would seem more unusual not to see one. Unlike the Pheasants, the Egrets have made this move of their own accord.
Later today there will be one more picture from Fairburn Ings, and it will be the basis of a caption competition with an actual prize. So tell your friends!