Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Fairburn Ings

I had really been hoping that my ‘back in England’ bits would be able to start with my old local patch of Heaton and Northcliffe Woods. In a way they did, as I visited both straight away on my first jetlag-free day (Monday) back ‘home’. Not unexpectedly, though, I found myself entreated to some home-style weather (i.e. miserable, persistent drizzle), too, for the entire time I was out, and although I did manage to see one or two birds of interest, I came away with nothing more on my camera than a Common Blackbird Turdus merula!

The rain got even heavier on Tuesday, resulting in an enforced day in, and it took until Wednesday for the skies to clear, by which time I was ready to head out to somewhere further afield. Fairburn Ings used to be a ‘patch’ of sorts, and a ‘must-visit’ for me this trip (not least because it is easy to reach by public transport). There’ll doubtless be more visits to this place to come, but for my first one I had plenty of targets in mind and surprisingly would fail to connect with most of them (chiefly on account of the season). One I did connect with, though, was Willow Tit Poecile montanus, a bird I remember being (at least historically) rather thinly spread in this part of the world.

As these were coming onto feeders, there were, of course, other birds doing the same, but the light was weird and most of my shots turned out to be over-exposed. I did manage a Dunnock Prunella modularis and one or two Phylloscopus warblers in the trees. The fresh juvenile below is clearly a Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita (the only species I heard singing/calling all morning, with lots up in the canopy 'tail-pumping' in characteristic fashion), but I'm less sure about the moulting adult below it (which seems to have more of a look of Willow Warbler Phylloscopus trochilus about it, but is worn and has primaries missing, leaving little to go on).

Although not a target by any means, the best-looking bird of the day was the juvenile Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus that was siting in amongst all the swans on the main lake. There were plenty of others dotted around at various points along the reserve, but this one was close and confiding. I’d forgotten just how striking they are in this fresh juvenile plumage as this has all been lost by the time they arrive in Taiwan for the winter.

I was hoping for a few warblers in the afternoon when I relocated to the Lin Dyke Trail. There were both Greater Whitethroats Sylvia communis and Sedge Warblers Acrocephalus schoenobaenus around, but none that would deign to come especially close. I did get an unexpected bonus from the hide, though, in the form of a very fresh juvenile Northern Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe. These do not breed anywhere close to Fairburn, so it was a big surprise to come across an individual that looked like it had only very recently fledged!

Moving away from the hide on my yomp back to Castleford train station, I did finally manage to find a family party of Greater Whitethroats, with both adult and juvenile posing for photographs. I’m not sure what the juvenile has stuck in its bill, and hopefully it’s not something made of plastic.

There were a few odds and ends worth photographing during the day, with perhaps the strangest 'desired bird' for me being Eurasian Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto. As I’ve only managed to find escaped Barbary Doves Streptopelia 'risoria' in Taiwan, I was surprised to find that the primaries of Collared can also appear quite a washed-out pale brown (a Barbary characteristic), but at least their soft cooing calls were different from the deep growls I’ve heard from Barbary.

I did see a lot more than is suggested above, but didn't really manage the kind of photos I was hoping for this time. With plenty more days out to come, I'm sure there'll be plenty more birds (together with a lot more of the same) to come also! Above photos taken at Fairburn Ings RSPB Reserve, West Yorkshire 12/7/17.

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