St Aidans & Fairburn Ings RSPB Reserves – Sunday 11th December

Some fabulous birding on a day that turned out to be not as cold and much sunnier than we thought it might be. We spent the morning at St Aidan’s (aka Swillington Ings) and then after a lunch break which included Arctic Skua, GW Egret and Stonechat, we headed to Fairburn Ings. Lots of good birds which were bookended by a Little Owl at St Aidan’s and a Tawny Owl at Fairburn.

St Aidan’s

The Little Owl at the car park was swiftly followed by a young Peregrine and 2 Great White Egrets. A short walk took us to good views of a most unseasonal Arctic Skua which posed nicely before giving us some good flight views, including twice chasing gulls for no apparent reward. A single Barnacle Goose was with the Canadas and 50 Pink-footed Geese flew over. A Black-necked Grebe showed well and a Marsh Harrier showed briefly. Probably the most enjoyable bird was a Bittern which stood out in full view and gave a full threat display to a Grey Heron which tried to displace it. The Bittern then returned to a more relaxed pose and definitely seemed to be enjoying the midday sunshine. All the expected ducks were seen and Water Rails and Cetti’s Warblers were heard at several places.

Fairburn Ings

Our main aim here was to see the roosts of Goosander and Starling, the latter apparently being somewhat unpredictable. The walk up to the top lagoons produced both Green and Gt Spotted Woodpeckers, plus various passerines. We had distant views of four Whooper Swans on the western end of the reserve. About 2000 Starlings zoomed around at dusk and a male Marsh Harrier settled into the reeds relatively close to us. Earlier we were lucky enough to see our second Bittern of the day flying across the lagoon. We headed back in the gloom having seen about 100 Goosander and heard later from one of the Fairburn regulars that the final count was 107.

My thanks to Jillie, John, Sue and Neil for their very enjoyable company. Definitely a trip to repeat after a suitable interval, though next time we may not be as lucky with the perfect viewing conditions provided by today’s winter sunshine. Although we weren’t focused on a species list and missed a few which could have been seen we managed a very respectable 76 species.

Paul Doherty