SUPER STONECHATS @ RSPB ST AIDANS
On Thursday I visited RSPB St Aidans which is located south east of Leeds and only a 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 a nice sunny day when I arrived and a after a quick look around the dragline compound to see if the Little Owl was about I headed along the path down the hill towards the reedbeds. On the ridge and furrow to the left there were a few Canada Geese and about three quarters of the way to the reedbeds I saw a Stonechat sat on top of a bush. After a couple of minutes it flew off to a bush further away from the path. I now reached the reedbed and headed along the path round the top of the reedbeds and in the field to my right were several Greylag Geese.
A little further along I saw another Stonechat sat on a fence post over to my right and just a short distance along the path I spotted a Meadow Pipit sat on another fence post. As I reached the western end of the reedbeds there were a pair of Stonechats sat on the fence whilst over on the reedbeds to my left it was very quiet with just a couple of Black Headed Gulls flying overhead. I now left the path and took a closer look at Fleakingley Reservoir where I could see Gadwalls, Wigeon, Tufted Ducks, Mallards and a couple of Mute Swans.
Over in a field to the right of the reservoir there were several more Greylag Geese and Canada Geese. At the far side of the reservoir, amongst some Black Headed Gulls, I saw a single Pintail and as I moved back towards the path a large flock of Greylag Geese flew overhead and landed on the water. I now took the path down to Astley Lake where I could see Shovelers, Gadwalls and a pair of Pintails just through the reeds. A little further out I could see a large group of Lapwings on an island and hidden amongst them was a single Golden Plover.
Out on the water near the island there were Little Grebes, Great Crested Grebes, Pochards, Mute Swans and flying overhead a trio of Cormorants. I returned to the path round the reedbed and now followed the path between the Eastern & Western reedbed. As I walked past some bushes a pair of Linnets flew into a bush and in the water near the path I saw a pair of Gadwalls as well as a trio of Pochards and three Mute Swans. I continued along the path and about half way along I spotted a Grey Heron hiding amongst the reeds about one hundred yards away.
As I reached the other side of the reedbed I could see Coots, Tufted Ducks, Mallards, Moorhens and a Great Crested Grebe in the water as well as a few Mute Swans. Whilst in the water just to my left a female Goldeneye was diving under the surface of the water. I turned and headed up the eastern side of the reedbeds where off to the left I could see another Grey Heron and hovering over to the right was a Kestrel. I followed the path all the way back to the visitor centre where I had another look for the Little Owl. I couldn't see it so I headed back towards my car and in the bushes nearby I saw a Blackbird and a Robin.
I have attached a few photos and a full sightings list from my visit to RSPB St Aidans.