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.
Today, instead of taking my usual walk along the Reedbed ramble, I started by walking along the Hillside hike up the hill into the trees. On my journey through the trees I didn't see any wildlife but in the gaps between the trees I was afforded great views right across the reserve. About a quarter of the way along the route the path turns northwards away from the main part of the reserve. I however decided to take the path that heads downhill and south west across a field to the edge of the reedbeds.
At the start of the path, to the left, you can see Ferrybridge Power Station and to the right the foothills of the Pennines. During my walk through the field three Wheatears popped up and flew across in front of me and continued to the fence at the top of the field. Although there is a stile at the top of the field, when I reached the bottom of the field I had to climb over a fence.
From here I turned west along the Reedbed path and I had only gone about a hundred and fifty yards when I noticed a bird perched on a fence post to my right. I took a closer look and it was a Wheatear, so I crept closer and closer trying to get a picture and as it moved along the fence from post to post I managed to get a few good ones. It then briefly sat on a hay bale wrapped in black plastic before flying away up the hill.
Continuing along the path I turned south west arriving at a quiet Fleakingley Reservoir which just had a few Coots & Gadwalls as well as a lone Mute Swan. I then took the path which runs between Astley & Lemonroyd lakes and like the reservoir there were Coots & Gadwalls, but this time in considerable more number. There were also more than fifty Black Headed Gulls and a lone Cormorant as well as a few Tufted Ducks. Turning one hundred and eighty degrees to face Lemonroyd Lake there were again quite a few Gadwalls & Coots, a couple of Mallards swimming along the near shore line and in the far left corner the two resident Great Crested Grebes were asleep.
I retraced my steps to the reedbed and took the path that takes you between the Western & Eastern reedbeds. My walk through the reedbeds was fairly quiet with just a couple of Coots and a Mute Swan which was holding one of its webbed feet out of the water as it swam along. There was also a pair of Kestrels hovering over the reedbeds with a Little Egret flying from one pool to the next in the distance. As I approached the edge of the reedbed several Sand Martins were flying about and I also spotted a trio of male Shovelers in amongst yet more Gadwalls.
At the southern end of Lemonroyd Lake there were several more Gadwalls & Coots with a few juvenile Mute Swans. I had a quick look out over the Main Lake but could not see much so turned north along the eastern edge of the reedbeds and started my journey back to the visitor centre. To the right of the path, on the Ridge & Furrow, a group of about twenty Goldfinches were flying from bush to bush before turning towards me and flying over my head and over the reedbeds. To my left a Grey Heron was patrolling the shallow water for food and to my right another Wheatear flew across and headed for the hillside.
I turned right and made my way along the path at the bottom of the hill, there were a few birds on the path but I couldn't get close enough to identify them. When I arrived back at the visitor centre I had a look for the Little Owls at the excavator but there was no sign of them. After a quick visit to the visitor centre I had another look but again there was no sign of them, but there was a Green Woodpecker on the ground which then flew to the back of the enclosure and out of sight.
I have attached a few photos and my full list of sightings.