Blog

Wed 26th October 2011

Posted on November 2, 2011 at 5:00 PM

TRIP TO YORKSHIRE - DAY ONE

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So, half-term holiday and I have taken Abigail for a trip to the land of her forefathers. A few days in Yorkshire with the family and maybe a spot of birding also. The only bird of interest in Guernsey before I set off was a high-flying Swift that went over the house yesterday as I was getting ready to leave. Very late swifts are always of interest but I only saw it for a second or so in the bins. It looked pretty dark and there was nothing to suggest it wasn't Common.

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So late-afternoon we had a super, "tail-wind" of a flight and got to Manchester airport in about an hour. A slight shock on leaving though, when the plane started up the runway and then suddenly made a sharp turn left. After an initial mild panic, I thought that we had broken down and we'd have to trudge back in, but luckily it was just to clear the runway for another plane. I had hired a car on this trip home which would give me a bit more freedom than usual, but this meant a drive across the Pennines on the M62, in the dark, and it had now started to rain. When you haven't driven on a motorway for a while, or travelled above 35 mph for a few months, it can be surprisingly scary suddenly overtaking lorries in the gloom, with spray bouncing off the windscreen, and racers up your arse. I was bricking it a couple of times during the journey but managed to get safely into Garforth and my old home.

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This morning was clear and bright and Skylarks and a few Siskins were passing overhead. After a morning catching up with an old schoolmate, we headed off down the M1 to get the obligatory shopping out of the way. Just outside the town a Red Kite appeared low suddenly over the motorway. These birds appear to have colonised the Garforth area since I last came - Dad now regularly has them over the golf course. The White Rose shopping centre was just about bearable for an hour - the lowlight being the "Food" Court, where Kentucky Fried Donalds, MacChicken, Burger Hut, and Pizza King, compete for the arteries of the masses. A "walk-through" MacD's was a new one on me - I felt like a cow being marshalled into the slaughterhouse. Whilst Abigail scoffed her burger, my cheese and onion pastie made me pleased I am vegetarian.

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I managed to break free from this consumer nightmare and had a couple of hours to myself to go birding in my old haunts in the Lower Aire Valley. I headed straight down to Swillington Ings - my old local patch that between the ages of 16 and 26 I visited literally hundreds of times. During my previous visits home I have never got round to popping down, so I had not been for about ten years. I felt strangely emotional as I drove down Fleet Lane - passing all the spots that were so familiar, yet so unfamiliar. As I climbed the riverbank and looked over Astley Lake though, it was as if I'd never been away.

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The River Aire at Swillington Ings - This unremarkable section of riverbank is a very special spot for me - where I changed from a birdwatcher into a birdfinder. My first ever self-found rarity was just here - a Water Pipit walking around a sandbank. Fair enough, not really, really rare but it was the first record for the site and for me. 

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The hide - When I first started going here this hide had not been built and we had to stretch to peer over the river bank from the ground.

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The view from the hide - looking out of the flaps it reminded me just how far away all the birds were. Those hours and hours sat in the hide gave me a lot of practise at distant ID.

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The species on view were mainly the expected species of common wader and duck, with two male and a female Pintail being the highlight. Over Astley hillside two distant Buzzards soared and a late Swallow flicked eastwards. Then, appearing from behind an island, out strode a Little Egret - only a patch tick!  

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Little Egret - number 178 for my Swilly list, and my first patch tick for 13 years. Obviously, since I left the area, this species has marched northwards at some rate.

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After a short while listening to the discussions in the hide about stringy Ravens, Shrikes and Sakers, I headed further down the valley towards Fairburn Ings, where I used to visit when I was even younger. In fact my first ever birdwatching trip was to here with my dad when I was probably about 9 or 10, and we had a Curlew Sandpiper pointed out to us on the flashes. I took a walk down Lin Dyke, my favourite part of the reserve.

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The hide and ings at Lin Dyke, Fairburn.

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There was a nice selection of ducks on the flashes, with a close Greenshank and a few Dunlins around. A Red Kite was soaring over the trees in the distance and quite a few Fieldfare and Redwing were coming in.

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Fieldfare, Fairburn Ings

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It was starting to get a bit late so I headed back into Garforth. I decided to drive through the estate where I grew up and see how it had changed, and judging from the "End Shops", where we used to pass twice a day, to and from school, the answer was "not much".

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My local row of shops near where I grew up. I was amazed that after 30 years "Roy's Off License" is still there, "Martin's Newsagent" is still there, and the Chemist is still a Chemist. Roy looked pretty old to us when we used to pile in there to buy our Wham bars and Panini football stickers. I hope the poor chap has retired and passed on the business.

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And this is the house that I grew up in, where I lived from the age of 2 to 21. I was the suburban birder. Quite frankly I am quite disappointed that there is not a blue plaque there already. It disappointingly looked quite unfamiliar. We had no wall, no porch and no burglar alarm, and the privet hedge next door wasn't that big. But you can just see the tarmac of the road where I spent hours perfecting my football skills, and winning the FA Cup numerous times for Leeds United.

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Categories: 2011 Autumn