IT’S A PERFECT crisply frosty morning and we get out early enough to enjoy the sparkle of the low morning sun on the hoar frost at Fairburn Ings RSPB reserve. I’m pleased to see that they’ve tried building a Sand Martin wall (on the far right in my panorama above) on the south-facing side of the lagoon in front of the Pickup Hide as this is a form of nest box which was invented by local naturalist Charles Waterton, who set up a sand martin wall in the kitchen garden at Walton Hall over 150 years ago.
The original wall was dug out by a JCB, presumably to the recycle the stone, about 30 years ago by the farmer (who used to tell me that he was a Waterton fan!). Brian Edgington, who was writing his Waterton biography at the time happened to turn up on the day of the demolition and had to watch helplessly as this cornerstone of conservation was destroyed.
But look, you can build one again, it’s easy. Waterton would have approved and I think that he’d concede that the RSPB have sited it more appropriately than his, which was abandoned by the martins after a few years. A few Starlings were nesting in it when I photographed it (probably the only photographic record we have of it) in the 1970s.
It’s such a pleasure to walk around the reserve which has been transformed by the frost and snow.
It’s good to see dozens of Tree Sparrows at the bird-feeding stations.
They’re joined by other species, notably Goldfinches, which, thanks to the simple fence with slots cut into it, I’m able to attempt to photograph with my little Olympus Tough, a camera that was never designed for this kind of subject.
It might be a bit limited but that wasn’t going to stop me having a go at capturing the aggressive behaviour of these Coots on one of the frozen ponds. The body language of the pair on the right was quite enough to send the single bird scurrying away. Despite the magical backdrop, you couldn’t describe Coot choreography as Swan Lake on Ice.
By the way, this photograph had to be stitched together from two taken in quick succession. With a delay of what seems like a whole second, but probably isn’t, the Tough can’t instantly catch fast-paced action of Coots.
We make our way across what I remember a decade or two as grey open colliery spoil heap, later an open space with thousands of newly planted ‘whips’ of trees. It’s now grown into mixed woodland, although one of the volunteer wardens tells us that it isn’t yet mature enough to attract Nuthatches, although they do see Treecreepers.
We continue on this path to take a look at the main lake, which isn’t frozen over like the smaller pools. I sketch a greyish/brownish duck. It has the shape of a Goldeneye but I decide to check it out by making a field sketch (colour added later).
Checking it out with the bird guide at home the key feature that identifies this bird as a female rather than a juvenile or a drake in eclipse, is the white ring around its neck. But I also noted that it has light-coloured eyes, and the book points out that the juvenile has darker eyes.
That was the limit of my drawing on this cold day. We decided not to take a flask of coffee to drink in the hide (which with no door and no window flaps is a rather chilly one today) and instead we headed back for a Fair Trade coffee from the machine in the Visitor Centre with a view of the bird feeders.
Barbara put together a do-it-yourself bird-feeder log, stuffing the larger holes drilled in it with fat-ball mix and the smaller ones with peanuts.
Here’s one last photograph; the view from the side window of the Bob Dickens hide by the main lake.
Link: RSPB Fairburn Ings