Little gems close to Leeds

It’s a crisp, sunny day in mid-January and I’m watching the birds in my garden. It’s been relatively mild over the winter months so far and there is still plenty of natural food available. This is quite unusual for January when food is usually scarce. Fewer siskin, redpoll and brambling are visiting feeders but, with luck I might be able to attract them on frosty days with niger seed and sunflower hearts.

I’ve not had as much time to get out birdwatching by myself recently but thankfully I’m out about three times a week delivering my birdwatching classes. With only six birdwatching classes completed in 2020 so far, my year list is at 81 species including great egret, water rail, kingfisher, barn owl and short-eared owl. I always encourage my birdwatching students to make lists, not to compete with each other but to improve their knowledge of each species and of what’s around during each month of the year.

Making a list doesn’t involve racing around the country, although it can do if you take the hobby to the dark side (to use a Star Wars analogy), but it can help you to appreciate just how many species can be found in your own county. I like to have a ‘closest to home’ category on my records. All the birds listed above were seen in the Leeds postcode and I try to hone that down to finding as many species as possible in Leeds 4 and Leeds 6. Leeds is full of special green spaces in and around the city. Here are a few for you to try if you’re in the area.

Using the Leeds and Liverpool Canal to mark a linear route, a good place to start is Cardigan Fields. Look behind the urban sprawl of leisure facilities and you’ll find a path where you can search the river for Kirkstall’s specialists, dipper, grey wagtail and kingfisher. The pools around Armley Mills are also good for little grebe and woodland birds. You can then walk along the canal to Redcote Lane where you’ll find the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust’s Kirkstall Valley Nature Reserve. This reserve is nestled between the Leeds Liverpool Canal and the River Aire. Around 65 species have been recorded there including lesser whitethroat and reed bunting. There are also footpaths on the other side of the river, off Commercial Road. Look for signs for Kirkstall Goit, a wooded overflow running from the Abbey.

These take you to Savin’s Mill Way. Cross here to Bridge Road and take a path along the beck towards the grounds of Kirkstall Abbey. Check for treecreeper, nuthatch and great-spotted woodpecker while walking through the woodland. A little way up Abbey Road towards Horsforth will bring you to the beautiful Hawksworth Wood where you may accidentally flush a resting woodcock from the dense undergrowth in winter. From here you can walk down Rein Road to Pollard Lane. Alternatively, walk south on Bridge Road from Kirkstall towards Hollybush Conservation Centre before setting off down the canal towards Bramley. Check for soaring red kite, buzzard and sparrowhawk above the valley. Both routes end up back at the canal where you can continue west to Rodley Nature Reserve. This amazing reserve is open on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday and is a haven for wildlife. Many species are seen here regularly including goosander, kingfisher, water rail, linnet, barn owl and little owl. Check the pylons for mistle thrush, kestrel and peregrine.

If you’d like to learn more about the birds of Leeds then do get in touch –

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