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 a 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.
It was ten degrees cooler than my last visit when the temperature had reached an unseasonable warm 27 degrees. I headed down the hill from the visitor centre and onto the Reedbed Ramble trail along the edge of the Ridge & Furrow. To my right there were several Reed Buntings singing from the bushes and to the left Skylarks were singing high above.
As I reached the north east corner of the reedbeds I saw a female Mallard swimming along with a few chicks just to the left of the path. I continued on along the northern edge of the reedbeds spotting a few Coots in the water to the left and as I neared the north west corner I saw a Black Headed Gull sat on top of a "no fishing" sign. Over to the right, sat on top of a wooden fence post, was a Meadow Pipit and as I walked along it moved from post to post before disappearing into a hedge.
I started walking down the western side of the reedbed and turned left onto a path taking you through the middle of the reedbeds. In the water to my right a Great Crested Grebe was diving for food and overhead Sand Martins and Swifts were zooming through the air. As I continued on through the reedbeds I saw several Tufted Ducks and they kept chasing after a group of male Pochards. A little further on there was a male and female Pochard at the edge of the reeds but as the group of male Pochards reached them, they started to disappear one by one into the reeds.
A little further on a flock of Black Headed Gulls were massed on the path between the gorse bushes and as soon as they saw me walking towards them they took off. I now reached the other side of the reedbed and on the islands in the middle of the Main Lake I could see large numbers of Black Headed Gulls as well as a couple of Common Terns and a few Cormorants. I turned and made my way along the path taking you round the southern side of the reedbeds.
Amongst the bushes to the left of the path there were Reed Buntings and Linnets with the Linnets landing briefly on the bright yellow flowering gorse bush before moving back into the trees. On the water to the right there were Coots, Greylag Geese, Mallards and Tufted Ducks. The Swifts and Sand Martins were still zooming over the reedbeds as I reached the western end and over in the water to the left of the path there were several Black Headed Gulls and a single Great Crested Grebe.
I turned down the path through the middle of the reedbeds again, hoping that this time I might see the resident Black Necked Grebes again. I did not see any but the Tufted Ducks and Pochards were swimming quite close to the path and the Black Headed Gulls were massing on the path again. I re-emerged from the path through the reedbeds and re-joined the trail heading along the eastern edge.
To my right there were several Greylag Geese on the Ridge & Furrow and a little further on there was a pair of Canada Geese with a few chicks. The chicks kept sneaking through the wire fence where the parents could not follow and every time they did the parents would honk at them. A little further on a Skylark kept rising up and then dropping down amongst the tall grass and as I reached the point where the path takes you back to the visitor centre a pair of Meadow Pipits flew across the path and dropped down behind a wire fence.
I had only gone a few yards when one of the Meadow Pipits popped up and landed on the top of a slightly damaged wooden post. It perched there for a few minutes before dropping back down into the tall grass in the field. As I continued on there were still a few Reed Buntings in the tops of the bushes and flying across the path and onto a dried mud bank were a pair of Linnets.
I had a look at the enclosure housing the excavatour called "Oddball" which has Kestrels and Little Owls nesting in it but I was unable to see either of them. As I was taking off my walking boots back at the car a lone Red Kite soared high overhead as a Chiffchaff sang from the bushes behind the car park.
I have attached a few photos and a full sightings list from my visit to St Aidans Nature Reserve.