WONDROUS WHEATEAR @ RSPB ST AIDANS
I recently 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 BowersLake 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 cloudy day with some very dark clouds on the horizon when I arrived but thankfully during my visit it did not rain. I walked down the hill and onto the path leading out towards the reedbeds and over to my left, just the other side of a narrow water channel, were a pair of Shovelers busy preening themselves. About a hundred yards further along I spotted a Wheatear looking out over the water towards me. As I continued along the Wheatear kept following me, moving along the grass and pausing occasionally to have a look around. Eventually it flew off out of sight as I saw several Reed Buntings flying back and forth overhead and a Pheasant called from the hillside behind me. One of the Reed Buntings landed and clung onto a reed a few yards to my left and began singing loudly. As I approached the large reedbeds there was a Grey Heron standing in a shallow pool surrounded by tall grass. It had a small animal clasped between its beak and as it played around with it trying to get into the perfect angle to swallow it I could see it was a Great Crested Newt.
It finally managed to swallow it and then flew off as I continued along the path skirting along the Northern edge of the vast reedbeds. In a water channel near the edge of the reedbeds was a male Pochard swimming along as were a couple of Coots. Further along I could hear but not see Reed Warblers calling from the reeds and then there was the unmistakable boom of a Bittern coming from deeper amongst the reeds. It boomed several more times as I reached the north west corner of the reedbed where to my right I spotted a Grasshopper Warbler perched very briefly at the top of a small bush. It appeared a couple more times, but only for a second or two before it yet again disappeared from view. I waited a few minutes to see if it would reappear but without success and I continued on to look over at the lake on my right where I could see several Mute Swans and on the hillside to its right were several Greylag and Canada Geese. Also on the water were Tufted Ducks and Coots whilst there were more Reed Buntings perched on the reeds to my left. Before I turned and headed through the middle of the reedbeds I took a detour and walked across to Astley Lake where there were large numbers of Black Headed Gull as well as Gadwalls, Mallards, Great Crested Grebes and a pair of Common Terns. There were also a few Sand Martins flying low over the water as well as two male Pochards at the far side close to the edge of the water. I now headed along the path between the Eastern and Western Reedbeds where I saw a couple of Reed Warblers whilst there were at least thirty Swifts screeching overhead.
The water was fairly quiet either side of the path until I reached about eighty percent of the way through when I spotted a pair of Black Necked Grebes to my right with three chicks being fed. I continued on and as I reached the edge of the reedbeds I could see a large number of Black Headed Gulls along with a few Greylag Geese as well as a single Shelduck and Pied Wagtail and I turned and headed up the eastern edge of the reedbeds. I could see and hear several Reed Warblers in the reeds to my right as a Reed Bunting perched on a small bush a short distance in front of me just to the left of the path. As I neared the path taking me back to the visitor centre a Mute Swan walked up the bank from the left and slowly waddled across the path and down into the narrow water channel to my right. As I walked along the path towards the visitor centre a Meadow Pipit flew over the path and briefly perched on a wooden fence post to my left. There were several more Reed Buntings in the bushes to the left and the reeds to the right of the path and the pair of Shovelers were still in the same spot near the start of the path but there was no sign of the Wheatear. I followed the path back up the hill to the visitor centre and I had a quick look in the compound housing the excavator where the Little Owl was perched in its usual spot amongst a stack of thick wooden logs. I have attached below a full sightings list as well as a gallery of the photos I took on my visit to RSPB St Aidans. RSPB ST AIDANS - 13/05/2021
6 COOTS 6 MOORHENS 10+ LAPWINGS 10+ REED BUNTINGS 2 SKYLARKS 1 WHEATEAR 6 POCHARDS 10+ TUFTED DUCKS 4 MALLARDS 4 GREAT CRESTED GREBES 1 GRASSHOPPER WARBLER 8 MUTE SWANS 20+ GREYLAG GEESE 10+ CANADA GEESE 200+ BLACK HEADED GULLS 4 CORMORANTS 2 COMMON TERNS 4 GADWALLS 1 GREY HERON 2 LINNETS 10+ WOOD PIGEONS 5 BLACK NECKED GREBES 1 PIED WAGTAIL 5 REED WARBLERS 1 SHELDUCK 1 MEADOW PIPIT 2 PHEASANTS 1 KESTREL 1 LITTLE OWL 3 JACKDAWS 20+ SAND MARTINS 30+ SWIFTS 2 MAGPIES 6 SHOVELERS