On Wednesday I visited RSPB St Aidans which is located south east of Leeds and only couple of miles west of another RSPB reserve, Fairburn Ings. St Aidans is a former opencast coal mine which operated right up until 2002 and there is still a Dragline Excavator next to the visitor centre which was imported from the US in 1946, weighing in at whopping 1,220 tons and is nicknamed Oddball.
In March of 1988 part of the banks of the River Aire failed and the 3 opencast mines at the site were flooded. RAF Chinook Helicopters were brought in to ferry sandbags into the breach to try and stem the flow of water without success. Opencast mining obviously had to be stopped and work costing £20 million to drain the site and re-route the river was undertaken
St Aidans is made up of woodland, grassland, reedbeds, lakes, reservoirs and the River Aire along the reserve's southern border. There are four trails as well as other footpaths and bridleways that you can follow and they are Bowers Bimble, Lowther Loop, Hillside Hike and Reedbed Ramble. The Bowers Bimble trail starts from the car park and takes you round Bowers Lake and is 1.1 miles in length. Lowther Loop trail takes you in to the south eastern corner of the reserve round Lowther & Oxbow Lakes and along the banks of the River Aire, this trail is 1.7 miles long and again starts from the car park.
The Hillside Hike takes you up the hill at the northern end of the reserve through woodland and grassland, this is good spot for seeing Short Eared Owls in winter and is 2 miles in length. The longest trail is the Reedbed Ramble, which is 3 miles in length and starts from the visitor centre. The trail heads along the bottom of the hillside until you reach the reedbeds and then goes round in a big loop around the edge of the reedbeds returning to the path back to the visitor centre.
Before heading off on the Reedbed Ramble trail I went over to the fenced enclosure containing the dragline excavator as there had been Little Owls nesting there and they had been seen in the last few days. After a few minutes of scanning the enclosure I was able to locate one of the Little Owls perched on steel fence post at the back. Unfortunately it was out of decent photo range and after a few minutes of waiting to see if would move I decided to head off on the Reedbed Ramble trail.
On the path out to the reedbeds I've seen Sedge Warblers, Stonechats and lots of Reed Buntings in the past but today there was just a small group of Goldfinches moving from bush to bush. Near the end of the path approaching the loop I spotted a Red Kite gliding overhead before it disappeared over the trees. Along the top section of the loop a few Coots and a lone Great Crested Grebe were swimming about at the edge of the reeds.
The top section of the loop turns south west when it reaches Fleakingley Reservoir, but before I continued on the path I went to see what I could see on the reservoir. On the reservoir were several more Coots, a Great Crested Grebe and in the far distance a lone Little Egret was wading along the edge. Just in front of me though, were several Reed Warblers flying in out of the reeds and one of them even landed near the base of a reed just in front of me before quickly moving deeper into the reeds once it had seen me.
From here I made a small detour on to a footpath that goes between Astley Lake and Lemonroyd Lake. As I arrived a cacophony of noise erupted from Astley Lake as more than 400 Lapwings rose up from the lake swirling round like a murmuration of Starlings. This was caused by a Kestrel flying in over the lake looking for a snack and after a minute or two the Lapwings settled back down on the islands out on Astley Lake. Also out on the lake were hundreds of Coot, several Canada Geese, a single Ruff and a few Sand Martins hunting for insects.
I moved a bit further along the footpath to get a better view of the western half of Astley Lake which afforded me views of Cormorants, Black Headed Gulls and more Canada Geese. Turning to face the other way and look out over the top end of the long and thin Lemonroyd Lake I saw several more Coots a lone Great Crested Grebe and a couple of female Tufted Ducks. I then retraced my steps back to the Reedbed Ramble trail and continued for about a 100 yards before the path turned south east with the reedbeds to the left and Lemonroyd Lake to the right.
Approaching the southern tip there were a group of about 20 Gadwalls on the lake to the right and a Mute Swan at the edge of the reeds to the left. Up ahead was a Great Crested Grebe close to the path on the left hand side, but every time I got close enough to take a good photo it dived and re-appeared 30 feet away. After a few attempts at getting the picture I gave up and continued on till the path turned eastward towards the Main Lake.
At the bottom end of Lemonroyd Lake it opens out and there were several Coots and Sand Martins as well as a few Mute Swans and a couple of Great Crested Grebes. Just before the trail turns northwards I had a look at the grasslands which now border the right hand side of the path and where they meet the shores of the Main Lake there were a couple of Pied Wagtails and a Linnet.
Moving along the trail northwards it was very blustery and the only birds I managed to spot were yet again more Coots and a few Sand Martins flying fast over the path. Reaching the end of the loop I headed back along the path to the visitor centre seeing the group of Goldfinches still moving from bush to bush pausing for a few seconds before moving on. Arriving back at the visitor centre the Little Owl was still in the exact same spot it was when I set off on the Reedbed Ramble trail.
After a brief visit to the visitor centre I went back out to see if the Little Owl would move to a nearer perch. After a few minutes it flew to a small bush slightly nearer and to the left so I started to sneak round to the left hand side of the compound to try and get a better view. Thankfully as I reached the spot where I could get a better view and a better picture the Owl was still there.
After managing to get a few really good pictures the Little Owl raised its head up, had a quick look to its left and flew back to the right and landed in a small tree near where it had been perched earlier. I moved round to the right side of the enclosure to see if I could get a better view, but although I could still see the Little Owl It was not within range for a good photo.
When I visited later in the week there were 3 Little Owls moving about within the enclosure. There have in fact been a total of 4 Little Owls spotted within this enclosure (2 adults, 2 juveniles) and this time the Little Owls mostly perched on the back of the large wood stacks holding up part of the Dragline Excavator. I did managed to get another picture of the Little Owl on these wood stacks, although not as good as Wednesday's.
I have attached my full sightings and a few photos from Wednesday's visit as well as one from when I popped in on Friday.