Ur­ban bird­ing

With a higher ra­tio of trees to peo­ple than in any other Euro­pean city, Sh­effield is a won­der­ful bird­watch­ing des­ti­na­tion

Bird Watching (UK) - - Contents - WORDS: DAVID LINDO

The city of Sh­effield is a won­der­ful des­ti­na­tion for some ur­ban bird­watch­ing

SH­EFFIELD STEEL: TWO words that in days gone by went together like bird and watch­ing. Sh­effield’s his­tory was built on its in­dus­trial past, with its steel pro­duc­tion play­ing a huge role. Through­out the 19th Cen­tury, sewage and in­dus­trial pol­lu­tion took their dev­as­tat­ing toll on the city’s ur­ban land­scape. To­day, de­spite steel still be­ing a ma­jor in­dus­try in Sh­effield, the en­vi­ron­ment has been cleaned up tremen­dously, re­sult­ing in a great re­coloni­sa­tion of birds and other wildlife.

City tour

At a ca­sual glance, Sh­effield doesn’t look the type of place that would har­bour in­ter­est­ing birds. How­ever, an in­di­ca­tor of its prom­ise of good bird­ing is the fact that the city con­tains more than 250 parks, wood­lands and gar­dens, with an es­ti­mated two mil­lion trees. Sh­effield now has the high­est ra­tio of trees to peo­ple in a Euro­pean city. The rivers that were once bar­ren are now the venue for breed­ing King­fisher, Grey Wag­tail and even Dip­per. The city cen­tre also boasts the oblig­a­tory pair of Pere­grines, that are usu­ally to be found sur­vey­ing their king­dom from a lofty perch on St Ge­orge’s Church, or the nearby BT Tower. They fledged three young this sum­mer. There are sev­eral lo­ca­tions within, and on the edge of, the city bound­aries that have been beau­ti­fied and made good for wildlife, hav­ing pre­vi­ously been pu­trid dis­used col­liery pits, de­void of life. Amaz­ingly, de­spite fan­tas­tic work and ef­fort that has gone into nat­u­ral­is­ing th­ese ar­eas, the threat of de­vel­op­ment looms. Pit House West at the north­ern edge of the Rother Val­ley Coun­try Park is cur­rently ear­marked for trans­for­ma­tion into a theme park. It is a nat­u­ral enough look­ing mix of scrub­land and ri­par­ian habi­tats, but is, in fact, a re­de­vel­oped mine. If you visit the area dur­ing the sum­mer, your ears would be ring­ing to the jit­tery vo­cal­i­sa­tions of Reed War­blers. In­deed, it is prob­a­bly the best place in the city for this com­mon reed dweller. The oc­ca­sional Grasshop­per War­bler stops to raise its young and Cetti’s War­blers sing, but it is prob­a­bly the Wil­low Tits that most lo­cal bird­ers come here to find. Our cozy un­der­stand­ing of the plumage dif­fer­ences be­tween Marsh and Wil­low Tits has re­cently been thrown into

con­fu­sion, with some ex­perts now say­ing the only sure­fire way of sep­a­rat­ing the two is by call only. Here, Marsh Tits are un­known. Over at Or­g­reave Lakes, a rel­a­tively new ad­di­tion to the lo­cal bird­ing map, part of the land has al­ready been given over for a new hous­ing es­tate de­vel­op­ment. More than 600 new homes and the re­sul­tant in­crease in dog-walk­ers and other hu­man ac­tiv­ity are start­ing to have an ef­fect on the birds that use the patch. The lakes them­selves com­prise a main body of wa­ter ac­com­pa­nied by a smaller satel­lite lake and have only been in ex­is­tence for a few years. The plan­ta­tion, mere saplings when the lakes were cre­ated, are now ma­tur­ing, draw­ing in wood­land birds. Or­g­reave Lakes makes for a per­fect lo­cal patch. De­spite the hu­man dis­tur­bance, Lap­wings and Sky Larks still man­age to find places to breed. And Sky Lark num­bers, es­pe­cially dur­ing the spring, are still good. There has even been fam­ily of Grey Par­tridge seen dur­ing this sum­mer. Win­ter is a great time to catch up with wa­ter­fowl. Wi­geon and Gad­wall are a given with Teal, Tufted Duck, Gold­en­eye and a few Goosander present there and on the nearby River Rother. Win­ter is also the time to brush up on your gull iden­ti­fi­ca­tion, as Caspian Gull is an an­nual find among the gath­ered larid throngs. The site has not been without its share of un­usual birds. Snow and La­p­land Bunt­ings have been brought in by the in­clement weather sys­tems in re­cent years. Great White Egret and Arc­tic Skua

are on the site list that now holds more than 180 species. Per­haps the most sur­pris­ing ad­di­tion to the list was the Leach’s Pe­trel dis­cov­ered flap­ping around the lake in 2010. It was watched gain­ing height when, out of nowhere, a Spar­rowhawk zoomed in. Thwack! The site tick was no more. Bow­den Housteads Woods are Sh­effield’s old­est Beech woods and have been in ex­is­tence since the 17th Cen­tury. Lesser Spot­ted Wood­peck­ers have been re­ported in the past, but are now an ex­treme city rar­ity. A Yel­low-browed War­bler was found a few years ago, but the woods are woe­fully un­der­watched. The same can be said for Sh­effield Botan­i­cal Gar­dens on the edge of the in­ner city. Dur­ing sum­mer, tit flocks pro­lif­er­ate, with a sup­port­ing cast of Chaffinches, Nuthatch, Treecreeper and Great Spot­ted Wood­pecker. Arc­tic Red­poll and a Yel­low-browed War­bler have turned up in the past, but the gar­den’s true claim to fame was the 1987 Black-throated Thrush.

KING­FISHER Rivers which were once bar­ren, now hold King­fisher © mike lane / Alamy GREY WAG­TAIL Another bird ben­e­fit­ting from a new, cleaner Sh­effield © Don Hooper / Alamy GREY PAR­TRIDGE A fam­ily has been seen re­cently in the Or­g­reave area © Andrew Dar­ring­ton / Alamy WI­GEON One of sev­eral duck species which can eas­ily be found on the River Rother © Rus­sell F Spencer   

High Brad­field in the Sh­effield coun­try­side

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