After our success at Blacktoft the day before we decided to head to another RSPB reserve on Tuesday. Although there were no repeat prospects of anything quite as dramatic as a Montagu’s Harrier, Fairburn Ings has in the past supplied a wide array of species and so hopes were high for another day of high quality birding. Before that though I had to get reacquainted with a site which initially appeared entirely unfamiliar, viewed as it was beneath a blue sky and bustling with visitors. All my previous visits here have been in the midst of winter which, without fail, also coincided with an almost impenetrable fog. Sunshine therefore was something of a novelty and it allowed much better viewing of the entrance feeders which were packed with Tree Sparrows. As I remarked in my last entry Tree Sparrows seem to be doing particularly well in this area and there were once again large numbers of young birds scattered throughout nearby trees and vegetation. I really wanted to try and get a few more photos of the species but in the end only came away with a single image. The birds were keeping themselves well out of the open which when combined with a strong breeze did not particularly lend itself to clear viewing.
Slightly easier to spot were the Goldfinches which have also been a virtually constant presence no matter where we’ve travelled in recent months. Numerous seed heads were again attracting them though that wind proved an equally challenging foe when it came to photography.
We could at this point have headed out into the reserve proper but conscious that our walks have been lacking a little in length of late we instead decided to head out on a four mile diversion up to the village of Ledsham. Much of the initial stretch took us along the periphery of a woodland giving a great contrast of closely packed trees on one side and wide, open corn fields on the other. Our local farms at home are put over predominantly to sheep farming so this was a welcome change and it was nice to hear a couple of Yellowhammers calling from somewhere out in the midst of it all.
Not to be outdone the woodland also offered up the goods with another mixed flock including Nuthatch and Long-tailed Tit as well as the occasional Willowchiff which managed to remain resolutely hidden. I couldn’t shake the feeling however that this kind of landscape really should have had more to offer. Where for instance were the Skylarks? At least Poppies seemed to be doing well with plenty seen along various field borders whilst a bank of Nettles held several clumps of Small Tortoiseshell caterpillars (or armies to use the correct collective noun).
In Ledsham we had a little wander around the church yard at whose centre sits a late seventh-century Anglo Saxon church. Not only is this the oldest parish church in Yorkshire still in use, it’s also the oldest building of any kind in West Yorkshire. What struck me most was the distinctive tower which clearly shows two phases of building. The lower section is believed to be part of a porch belonging to possibly a monastery or other important Christian building and is one of the earliest parts of the present day building. It was only during Norman times (twelfth century) that the tower was extended upwards and the differing construction styles are clear to see. Also of interest is that until recently the village pub only had a six-day license preventing alcohol from being served on a Sunday. Legend has it that the Lady of Ledsham Hall encountered a group of drunken labourers one Sunday and was determined that the day should be kept sacrosanct in the future.
Swallows, Kestrels (another Yorkshire species which seems to be prospering) and Buzzard accompanied our return leg back to the reserve where the serious business of birding could finally begin. The main lake held a good collection of waterfowl given the time of year including at least two pairs of Great Crested Grebe plus several Tufted Duck and Pochard. Mute Swans were probably the most numerous species with over 240 individuals present and it was great to see a couple of Common Terns about as well. Best sighting though was the all too brief flash of blue heralding the arrival of a Kingfisher which alas we didn’t manage to see again, not even from the appropriately named Kingfisher screen.
What we did see well were a couple of Willow Tits, one on the feeders and one from the Pickup Hide. I must admit my identification comes more from site precedence rather than a definitive observation as I still struggle with telling the difference between Marsh and Willow Tits. Either way it was my first of the year and we also got to enjoy three Green Sandpipers and a single Common Sandpiper. It seems that this year these two species are hunting in packs.
Normally this would be where we ended a visit to Fairburn Ings but that was before I knew about another part of the reserve just down the road. Here two more scrapes delivered Oystercatcher, Dunlin, Ruff and perhaps best of all a flock of seven Little Ringed Plovers. There was even talk of at least a couple of Garganey being present but with them in eclipse plumage I couldn’t pick any out from the gathered Gadwalls, Teal and Mallards. Needless to say this is clearly one of, if not the best location on the reserve to see wading species and I will definitely be including it as part of any future visit.