On Sunday 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 a 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 warm sunny day when I arrived at St Aidans and perched on dragline wires was a Kestrel and a pair of Wood Pigeons. I headed off down the hill to the Reedbed Ramble trail where in the bushes to the right was a Reed Bunting. Over to my left on the Ridge & Furrow I could see Lapwings, Greylag Geese and a Hare which raced off along the grass at the edge of the Ridge & Furrow. There were a couple of Coots swimming along a water channel just to the left of the path and a little further along a Meadow Pipit flew across the path and landed near the top of a bush to my right.
As the path reached the reedbeds I could see and hear Skylarks singing overhead and more Meadow Pipits in the bushes to my right as well as a couple of Linnets. I continued on along the northern edge of the Eastern Reedbed and in the fields to my right were several Greylag Geese. Back over on the reedbeds a single male Pochard swam along the edge of the reeds before turning and disappearing into the reeds. I took a slight detour from the main trail to look at Fleakingley Reservoir where there were several Black Headed Gulls, a few Tufted Ducks and a couple of Mallards.
I returned to the Reedbed Ramble trail and arrived at a crossroad in the path and took the right hand path which leads you between Astley and Lemonroyd Lakes. On Lemonroyd Lake there were Tufted Ducks, Mallards, Coots, Mute Swans and a single Great Crested Grebe. At the other side of the path on Astley Lake there were several more Black Headed Gulls, Avocets, a few Tufted Ducks and another Great Crested Grebe. There were also a pair of Common Terns sat on a wooden bar supported by two posts out on the water as well as a Cormorant flying overhead.
Retracing my steps to the crossroads I went straight on and along the path separating the Eastern and Western Reedbeds. After only a few yards I heard a Bittern booming to my right and a little further along another Bittern boomed, but this time to my left. In the water channels to my left were several Tufted Ducks and over to my right a lone male Pochard. After a few hundred yards I arrived at the other side of the reedbeds where in the water to my right were several Tufted Ducks and Pochards and on the large islands in front of me were more than a hundred Black Headed Gulls.
Moving along the edge of the water in front of me was a Pied Wagtail and I now turned to my right and headed along the path round the southern edge of the Western Reedbed. On my right a male Pochard was flying low over the water before landing at the far side of the water. A little further along a group of Linnets were briefly perched on a gorse bush before flying off over the reedbeds. On my right a Great Crested Grebe resurfaced from under the water before diving back under a few seconds later.
As I neared the far side of the reedbeds a Grey Heron flew overhead as a group of Greylag Geese were swimming along next to the path. I reached the far side of the reedbeds and turned to my right and made my second trip along the path along the centre of the reedbeds. As I walked through the reedbeds I saw several Tufted Ducks and a couple of Pochards and as I reached the end I saw a single Redshank at the edge of the water.
I turned and headed along the eastern edge of the reedbeds and as I neared the end I saw a Reed Bunting moving through the bushes. I now turned to the right and followed the path back towards the visitor centre. I had not gone very far when I spotted a Meadow Pipit perched on a wooden post to my left. It flew off and landed in a field beyond the post before returning a short time later and landing on a post further along the fence.
I walked a little further and the Meadow Pipit flew along parallel to me and it was soon joined by another and they landed on the wire between two posts before flying off. As I neared the visitor centre the Hare was sat on the Ridge & Furrow to my right and flying overhead were several Sand Martins and a pair of Stock Doves. I had a quick look for the Little Owl in the Dragline compound before I went home but there was no sign of it.
I have attached a few photos and a full sightings list from my visit to RSPB St Aidans.