Fairburn Ings – 20 Jun 2019

After an absence of over four years, I decided that a trip to the RSPB’s Fairburn Ings reserve in West Yorkshire was long overdue.

I left home in beautiful sunshine, but arrived at Fairburn about an hour later during a shower of fine drizzle. Not to be daunted, I got out my camera and headed onto the reserve, hoping that the weather would soon improve. The BBC Weather app on my phone assured me that it would, or should, at least!

Passing along the tree-lined path on my way to my first port of call – Pickup Hide, I was completely immersed in a ‘tapestry’ of rich and varied birdsong surrounding me on all sides. During the Winter months, when the trees are bare, it is easy to spot any birds on their branches. Now, however, with the trees in full Summer foliage, which of course offers ample protection from potential predators, the birds are far more numerous but nearly impossible to spot! My first proper sighting of the day was a Robin, with a beakful of insects, which was perched on a branch a few feet in front of me. Seeing this bird made me wonder just how often a Robin has been the first bird I have seen on arrival at a nature reserve; it certainly must be a high proportion of all my birding trips.

Sand Martins in Nest

Three young Sand Martins eagerly waiting to be fed.

Moving on to the hide, I settled-down to scan the lake before me and the nearby trees and undergrowth for birds. A fabulous Sand Martin nesting-wall has been constructed just to the right of the hide, and as I watched, numerous martins would zoom past overhead, hawking for insects, and occasionally darting into the holes in the wall to feed ever-hungry chicks in their nests. I knew from experience that trying to photograph these blindingly-fast fliers is terribly frustrating, but I just couldn’t help myself! Time and again I tried my best to fire the shutter of my camera as a bird approached its nest hole, only to later find that at least 90% of the resulting images showed only the bare stone wall and no bird! (The remaining 10% mostly comprised blurry bits of birds at the edge of the frame, and the very rare ‘just-about-acceptable’ image of a Sand Martin flying towards or away from its nest-hole).

Flying Martins

Not a great photograph, I know, but these Sand Martins are really fast fliers!

Next I wanted to visit the Coal Tips Trail, which hadn’t yet been developed and opened-up to visitors on my previous visits to Fairburn. Over the intervening years I have been keeping up to date by periodically reading Fairburn’s blog, however, and was well-aware that many excellent sightings take place at this newest part of the reserve. As I turned the corner of the Riverbank Trail to begin climbing up the hill towards the Coal Tips Trail, I paused for a little while at the Kingfisher screen. Several years ago, in the early days of my ‘serious’ birding, and before I’d ever even seen a Kingfisher in the wild, I had stood at this screen on numerous occasions, hoping that that would be the day when I eventually got lucky and saw my first ‘Kingy’. Having seen and photographed them elsewhere on numerous occasions since then, I didn’t dwell long there today – and no, I didn’t see one there today either!

Grey Squirrel

This squirrel froze when it saw me approach. I wish the birds would do the same!!

At the top of the lane the path diverges: left to continue along the Riverbank Trail and right to the Coal Tips Trail. As I climbed the hill towards the panoramic viewpoint above the long-abandoned coal tips, I scoured the ‘Big Hole’ lake and the surrounding landscape for birds. Once again I could hear a good many, but saw very few – no surprises there then! A Mute Swan and some assorted waterfowl including Tufted Duck and mallard were swimming on the lake whilst a flock of around ten Carrion Crows flew circles overhead or foraged-around on the lake-shore. An unexpected bird made quite a noise as it flew overhead – a lone Avocet – the first one I’d ever seen at Fairburn.

On reaching the ‘summit’ I was afforded a view over the whole of the Coal Tips area which comprises three large lakes with reeds and low bushes along the margins. Unfortunately, although the drizzle had been replaced by warm sunshine by this point, I was now high-enough and exposed-enough for it to be quite breezy. A large number of birds were present some distance from my position – mostly ducks and gulls, but I could hear various small birds, including Reed Bunting and Sedge Warbler, that were ‘hunkered-down’ against the breeze and hence, out of sight. I watched the water for a while before deciding that it was too breezy to walk the full circumference of the trail today, and that I would have more success photographing birds if I returned back down the hill to the lower part of the reserve, where it was calmer.

As I came down the hill, I was once more sheltered from the breeze and soon was treated to an excellent close-up viewing of a flock of six or seven Long Tailed Tits in the trees by the path. I love these tiny birds which are relatively tame and tend not to be too bothered about humans nearby waving long camera-lenses about. It has always struck me as curious that it is larger birds such as Magpies, crows and raptors that are generally much-more wary of humans and take flight long before smaller ones, on being approached. Corvids, at least, are well-known for their high degree of intelligence, so perhaps the answer to the conundrum lies there somewhere…

Long Tailed Tit

A lovely shot of a Long Tailed Tit.

As I was passing near to the Pickup Hide once more, I heard what I took to be a very brief ‘waffle’ which alerted me to the possibility that a Green Woodpecker was somewhere amongst the dense vegetation nearby. I stood still for a few hopeful moments, scanning the nearest trees, but heard no more from the Woodpecker, and eventually carried-on along the path. And so the Green Woodpecker remains near the top of my list of most desirable birds to photograph. Helen and I had a brief sighting of one last year at Middleton Lakes RSPB, but neither of us had time to snatch a photograph before the elusive bird was gone. One day…

Back in the Pickup Hide, I spent a few more minutes watching the Sand Martins darting in and out of their nest holes. In the far distance I could see the heronry, over near Spoonbill Flash, which is spread over a couple of very large trees that host multiple nests between them. No herons there today that I could see, but I could make out about a dozen Cormorants and at least three Little Egrets all perched near to, or on nests in the trees.

Heronry

No Herons in the Heronry, but lots of Cormorants and Little Egrets!

As I watched the bird feeders positioned just a few feet to the right of the Pick-Up Hide, which were mainly being visited by Tree Sparrows and Great Tits, I suddenly noticed a Great Spotted Woodpecker feeding on fat balls on one of the feeders tucked partially out of sight to my extreme right. Great Spotted Woodpeckers make daily visits to the feeders located at the bottom of our garden at home, but this one was very close to my position, and so although the bird was semi-obscured by nearby foliage, I enjoyed taking some photographs of this always-exciting and exotic-looking bird. Not the much-more elusive Green Woodpecker that I had hoped to photograph a few minutes previously, but a good bird to see nonetheless.

Feeling somewhat in need of refreshment after a couple of hours of walking around the reserve, I made my way back to the car park, pleased with my visit to Fairburn. In its entirity it is a huge reserve, spread over quite a large area, and could easily take a couple of full days to explore properly. I’ll be back here again, hopefully in much less than four years’ time!

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Bempton Cliffs – 06 Jun 2019

My first visit to Bempton Cliffs of 2019 saw me arriving on a sunny morning. Lots of small birds were chirping from their perches in the trees surrounding the car park and I was eager to get down to the cliffs for some serious Gannet photography!

Bempton Cliffs is a unique kind of RSPB reserve in that it doesn’t have any hides – just a series of five viewpoint along the cliff-edge. These viewpoints are rather grand affairs made out of garden decking and are quite substantial. They would really need to be, given the huge numbers of people that cram onto them at any one time!

I visited three of the viewpoints today: Grandstand, Bartlett Nab and Jubilee Corner. From each location it is great fun to stand and watch literally tens of thousands of assorted seabirds. Bempton’s cliffs are some 330 feet tall, and as such, are tall-enough to support a huge Northern Gannet colony – infact Bempton Cliffs is the UK’s only mainland Gannet Colony. Bass Rock, which is a huge island in the Firth of Forth off the Scottish coast, is home to the UK’s largest Gannet colony with some 150,000 birds at the peak of the breeding season. Bempton may not have quite as many Gannets as Bass Rock, but at times the skies are simply full of these magnificent birds with their huge bodies and wingspan of almost six feet!

Flying Gannet

A fabulous Gannet does a fly-past.

Other seabirds easily found at Bempton Cliffs include: Kittiwake, Razorbill, Guillemot, Fulmar, Herring Gull and the occasional Puffin. Regular-occurring, non-seabirds include large numbers of Jackdaws and Rock Doves. Today, however, I was lucky-enough to include a brief sighting of a Peregrine as well!

I spent a couple of hours trying my best to photograph some of the birds in flight. It is relatively easy to photograph the Gannets due to their sheer size, (that’s not to say, of course, that every shot is by any means a winner!), but the challenge I always set myself at Bempton is to capture a good shot of a Fulmar. There’s just something special about these strange ‘tube-nose’ members of the petrel family that I really like.

However, Fulmars are far less-common than the huge numbers of similar-sized Kittiwakes and it is necessary to carefully-study the masses of birds swirling-around the cliff-top to pick-out the occasional Fulmar. By the time I’ve spotted one, it has usually zipped past me before I can get my lens to bear on the bird, let-alone focus on it and fire the shutter of my camera! However, perseverance pays off, and I occasionally capture a Fulmar shot that I’m really pleased with. As I always say about bird photography – if it was easy nobody would do it – it’s the challenge that makes it so exciting!

Fulmar

A beautiful Fulmar soars above Bempton Cliffs.

Jackdaw

A Jackdaw near the edge of the cliff.

After a couple of house on the cliff-top my legs were aching a bit and so I began to walk back towards the car park. In the hedgerows on the way back I spotted a couple of Whitethroat to add to my day’s tally.

Razorbill

A lovely shot of a Razorbill in the sunshine.

I love a trip to Bempton Cliffs – it’s always such a special place to visit – so long as you don’t mind the smell of guano!

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Blacktoft Sands – 22 May 2019

Today saw my first visit to Blacktoft Sands in about six months. I’ve been keen to pay a return visit here for ages as it’s one of my favourite reserves and has provided me with lots of great bird sightings in the past.

I arrived at about 9.30am to find that, so far,  mine was the only car in the car park. It was a lovely, sunny morning with very little breeze as I checked-in at the Visitors’ Centre before making my way down towards Singleton Hide at the Eastern end of the reserve. Outside the VC, a Robin was perched in the trees at roughly my eye-level. The bird was singing away and the sun was shining on it showing its plumage to great effect, thus making a very attractive image. I took some photographs of the bird before moving-on down the trail; a great start to my day’s birding!

Robin

Today’s greeter outside the Visitors’ Centre was this beautiful Robin

One of my favourite birds of all-time is the Sedge Warbler. At this time of year, Blacktoft is usually ‘alive’ with them, singing their wonderfully erratic and rambling song from their favoured location – perched at or near the the top of a clump of reeds. Today was no exception; in the few hundred yards between the Visitors’ Centre and Singleton Hide, I stopped several times to photograph ‘Sedgies’. They truly are beautiful-looking birds with the very distinctive supercilium ‘eye-stripe’ making identification easy. I must have taken about fifty photographs, always trying to get that perfect shot!

Sedge Warbler

A Sedge Warbler amongst the shrubbery along the main trail

Two great birds in the ‘bag’ before I’d even entered my first hide of the day, and all the way down the path birds were singing all around me. This visit was shaping-up very well so far!

I took-up my position in (the empty) Singleton Hide and settled-down to watch the lake in front of me, the skies above it, and the reedbed to the East of the hide. All three locations can yield very exciting bird-sightings at Blacktoft. In over thirty previous visits to the reserve, I have only failed to see a Marsh Harrier on one occasion. Singleton Hide generally provides the best views of the many harriers that live and breed at Blacktoft. I didn’t have to wait long for the first of many sightings I had today; a pair of Marsh Harriers ‘cruised’ back and forth over the reedbeds in search of prey. As I watched, one of the pair flew high above the other and dropped some food which its companion deftly-caught in mid-air. Such ‘food-passes’ are commonly seen amongst Blacktoft’s Marsh Harriers.

Marsh Harrier

A Marsh Harrier hunting for prey amongst the reedbeds

As I surveyed the lake outside Singleton, I mentally ticked-off all the bird species I could see: Greylag Geese, Mallard, Shelduck, Tufted Duck, Black-Headed Gull, Mute Swan, Coot and Moorhen were all present on the water, whilst other birds such as Magpie, Woodpigeon and Carrion Crow were visible nearby. In the reedbed to the East of the hide I was lucky-enough to capture some photographs of a Reed Warbler singing amongst the reeds. (Reed Warblers are generally less-easy to spot than Sedge Warblers as they tend to perch lower down in the reeds for safety). A Cetti’s Warbler suddenly burst-forth with its very distinctive, syncopated and ‘jazzy’ song in the trees just outside the hide, but didn’t show itself – no surprise there given how shy Cetti’s usually are!

After about an hour in Singleton, (the duration of which I spent in the hide entirely alone!), I decided to move back along the path to visit some of the other hides. More Sedge Warblers ‘serenaded’ me as I walked back along the path in the sunshine. I kept a close-watch on the trees on my right as I went along, looking for small birds such as Blackcap and Whitethroat which are commonly-seen in these trees.

Dunnock

A Dunnock perched on one of the trees alongside the path near Singleton Hide

Two great sightings in quick succession occurred just as I reached the path leading to Townend Hide. The first was a very tame Dunnock which alighted in the shrubbery to my right just as I was passing. I quickly grabbed a number of close-up images which captured the detail in the bird’s plumage very well. Almost immediately afterwards, a Wren with a beakful of insects landed near my feet to the left of the path. Once again I rattled-off a number of frames before the bird disappeared from view. This was really becoming a great day’s birding!

Wren

This Wren landed just by my feet near Townend Hide

The sightings kept coming as, within five minutes of sitting-down in Townend Hide, I was treated to sightings of a male Blackcap and a Lesser Whitethroat, both of which landed in the tall weeds just in front of the hide. Out on the lake in front of me, a group of around twenty-five Avocet were nesting on the island nearest to the hide. As I watched, I noticed one pair of Avocet were becoming quite agitated. I soon realised it was because they were nervously-escorting their two young on a foray out into the shallow water near the island. The parents were relentless in ‘seeing-off’ whatever threats they perceived to their young; a low-passing Marsh Harrier was one target, as was a Mute Swan which had the temerity to venture too-close to the chicks for the Avocet’s comfort.

Blackcap

This lovely male Blackcap posed briefly outside Singleton Hide

Now, clearly a Marsh Harrier poses a very significant threat to young birds such as Avocet chicks, but a Mute Swan? Really? Visions of a giant oil tanker inadvertantly mowing-down a lone sailor in a tiny, one-man yacht aside, I can’t really imagine a Mute Swan being much interested in an Avocet chick. However, one thing is clear: Avocet parents know no fear!

Over the next forty minutes or so, I had numerous Marsh Harrier sightings, as they systematically quartered the reedbed searching for prey. A Little Egret landing near the front of the hide provided an additional bird to add to today’s rapidly-growing list of sightings.

Moving along to Xerox Hide I watched more Marsh Harriers – this time being harried by a Lapwing. An Oystercatcher on the grass in front of the hide, a Blue Tit in the weeds below the hide and several noisy Greylag Geese flying past completed the sightings from here.

The next hide I wanted to visit was Marshlands. As I approached the door, I was again startled when a Cetti’s Warbler burst into song just to my right. From the volume it was ‘putting out’, I knew the bird was really close to where I was standing. I stood quite still and scanned the bushes intently. After a minute or so the bird appeared on a low branch right in front of me. I quickly raised my camera, but the bird darted away before I was able to bring my lens to bear on it. Bother! I only have one confirmed Cetti’s Warbler image, which I took several years ago, and would dearly love to update with a better one. One day….

I spent a while in Marshlands Hide during which time I watched a group of Black Headed Gulls on one of the islands. Periodically, I could see at least two chicks amongst the adult birds.  Other than that, the only other bird I saw was a lone Gadwall, swimming near the hide.

Black Headed Gulls

Black Headed Gulls with their chicks at Marshlands Hide

Back outside the hide, and once again I had a great view of a Sedge Warbler singing just near the path. More Cetti’s Warbler singing teased-me as I walked back down the path towards the car park.

What a fabulous day of sightings I had had at Blacktoft today! 33 birds in total. I’ll be back at Blacktoft Sands before long.

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Old Moor – 15 May 2019

Only four days since my previous visit, and I was back at Old Moor again today. It was a beautiful sunny day in the Dearne Valley when I arrived late morning, and quite a contrast from four days ago when it had been damp and showery.

I decided to try my luck in the Bittern Hide again and made my way straight there from the Visitors’ Centre. Various small birds were singing in the trees along the path towards the hide, and I heard at least one Reed Warbler singing in the reeds as I passed. At this time of year, of course, with so much foliage on the trees, it is infinitely easier to hear small birds than to see them, so I didn’t spend too much time trying to spot the elusive little blighters today.

Cormorant

A Cormorant landing in front of the Bittern Hide

I spent over an hour in the Bittern Hide today, during which time I witnessed a viscious-looking scrap between a pair of Moorhens and a Coot (which took place right at the water’s edge just near the hide), photographed a Cormorant gliding in to land on the lake to commence fishing, and observed a pair of Great Crested Grebes dabbling-about in the water with two chicks in tow. At no point, however, did I see any Bitterns! At one point, a lady seated along the bench from where I was, announced that in the far distance she could see a pair of Bittern flying low over the reedbeds in the direction of the Observation Hide,  (which is very near to where the birds usually nest at Old Moor). I immediately focussed my binoculars on the general area she was describing, but couldn’t see and birds at all, much less a pair of Bittern! Wishful thinking perhaps??

Afterwards, I decided to walk up Green Lane to visit the hides along the Main Mere. There wasn’t much to report from the Family Hide or either of the Field Pool hides, (Black Headed Gulls dominate the mere outside the Family Hide and the Wader Scrape at this time of year and pretty-much keep all other birds away), so I spent much of the rest of my visit today between Wath Ings and the trees along Green Lane itself.

Great Crested Grebe

This Great Crested Grebe was displaying its head tufts to great effect.

Wath Ings hosted a number of Pochard today, the males looking resplendent with their red heads gleaming in the sunshine. Also present were several Oystercatcher, Tufted Duck, a single Shoveler and, of course, the ubiquitous Black Headed Gulls. My highlight at Wath Ings today, however, was a lone Great Crested Grebe which was fishing fairly close to the hide. Between dives below the surface in search of food, the sun shone beautifully on the bird’s plumage and the Grebe’s head tufts, (which aren’t always raised), were showing particularly-well on this occasion.

BH Gulls

A pair of very noisy Black Headed Gulls at the Wader Scrape Hide

On the way back down Green Lane I managed to capture a couple of images of a Long Tailed Tit in the hawthorn trees that line the path. They are always a joy to see, and are generally much less timid than most other small bird species that flit around the branches of the trees on Green Lane. I was very pleased with the image shown below which shows the bird nicely-framed within the hawthorn.

Long Tailed Tit

Who, me? A lovely image of a Long Tailed Tit in a hawthorn tree on Green Lane

No particularly-exciting birds on show today, perhaps, but it was enjoyable to walk around the reserve in the lovely sunshine. I stand by what I have said several times before: Old Moor never disappoints!

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Old Moor – 11 May 2019

Helen and I paid a visit to Old Moor today. A number of good Bittern sightings have been made there recently, as their breeding season gets underway again, and we thought we’d have a go at spotting one.

The weather was a bit changeable when we arrived in the Dearne Valley, not cold, but it was threatening rain, so we had raincoats with us as a precaution.

For the vast majority of my visits to Old Moor (almost a hundred now), I’ve favoured the Green Lane Trail which has several great hides and has produced scores of excellent sightings for me over the years. However, today we chose the Reedbed Trail in order to maximise our chances of spotting a Bittern.

Our first stop was at the Bird Garden, which is just outside the Visitors’ Centre and must be passed before getting onto the reserve proper. I usually use the opportunity of starting a visit to Old Moor in the Bird Garden Hide to ensure all my camera settings are correct for that day’s shooting, and that my memory cards are cleared and ready for whatever birds may soon be on the other end of my lens. On this occasion three beautiful male Bullfinches were feeding just infront of the hide and I couldn’t resist taking a few shots of those before moving-on.

Bullfinch

This male Bullfinch was willing to pose for my camera as it fed on seeds in the Bird Garden

About five minutes walk from the Visitors’ Centre is the Bittern Hide. This is a fairly recently-built hide, on a raised piece of land, which provides a commanding view over a medium-sized lake and the extensive reedbeds beyond. Also visible from here are the Reedbed Screen and Reedbed Hide. Although the Reedbed Screen and Hides are much closer to the Bittern nesting sites, a more-panoramic view is provided from the Bittern Hide (the clue’s in the name really!) and hence most of Old Moor’s Bittern sightings are made from here. (The real prize location, however, is to be allocated a session in the Bittern Monitoring Hide during the breeding season, which is by application only and not open to casual visitors).

Great Crested Grebe

A male Great Crested Grebe fishing near the Bittern Hide

Settling-down on the benches in the Bittern Hide reminded Helen and me of our last time watching for Bitterns from this hide, almost three years previously, when I photographed a Bittern flying towards us without realising what the bird was! It was gone in a flash and only then did I cotton-on that it was a Bittern that I’d photographed. Poor Helen missed it completely! Hopefully, today we’d both see one, and properly.

A number of birds were on the lake before us: Great Crested Grebe, Tufted Duck, Canada Geese, Greylag Geese (complete with young), Moorhen and Coot. We continuously scoured the far reedbed for anything that might be ‘Bittern-sized’ whilst simultaneously keeping an eye on the Kingfisher perches from which we have had several really good Kingfisher sightings in the past. After about forty minutes, during which there had been a brief, heavy shower of rain, but no Bitterns (or Kingfishers!) we decided to leave the hide and continue-on around the Reedbed trail to see what else we might find.

The path took us alongside a reedbed which borders the lake, and at several points we stopped to listen to the beautiful singing of one or more Reed Warblers. The birds are generally very difficult to spot, perched as they commonly-are midway up the reeds and usually in the most dense patches, for extra safety. However, today we managed to catch some tantalising glimpses of one of the birds within the reeds, and we managed to capture photographs that were good-enough to confirm the bird’s identification.

Reed Warbler

I can see you! – A Reed Warbler in the reeds near the Reedbed Screen

A brief stop at the Reedbed Screen provided us with a sighting of a lovely male Reed Bunting in one of the trees, whilst dozens of Swifts, Swallows and Sand Martins whizzed-by overhead catching airborne insects.

We completed the tour of the Reedbed Trail by spending some time in the Reedbed Hide. Helen and I both love this hide as it is right up-against the water of a large lake and is an excellent spot for watching waterfowl, in particular. Today, a pair of Tufted Duck were dabbling-about in the water just a few feet from us, with beautiful sunshine showing off their plumage to great effect.

As we continued to watch the skies, a lone Buzzard described lazy circles in the sky above us, a large flock of Black Headed Gulls were making their usual, raucous din on a spit of land around three hundred yards from us, and the Swifts, Swallows and Sand Martins continued to flash past just a few inches above the water’s surface hawking for insects. In short, it was just fabulous and very relaxing to be here watching so much nature ‘doing its thing’.

Bittern

An utterly dreadful shot, but a photograph of a flying Bittern just the same!

As I watched, I noticed a fairly large, ‘orangey-looking’ bird flying past, a good way off in the distance, I raised my camera and managed to fire-off four frames before the bird disappeared from sight. I wasn’t at all sure what I’d seen, so I reviewed the shots on my camera’s LCD screen and zoomed-in to see if that helped. Imagine my surprise when I realised that once again I’d photographed a Bittern whilst Helen had missed the whole thing! (She was not amused, I can tell you!) The photographs I had managed to capture were quite poor, given the distance the bird was from me when I spotted it, so that didn’t really constitute a ‘good sighting’ in my book. (This information didn’t really do much to mitigate Helen’s sense of frustration, however!).

We eventually made our way back to the car having enjoyed our short visit to Old Moor, as we always do. One day we’ll be sitting in the Bittern Hide and a six Bitterns will come and perform a dance right in front of our cameras – we just have to be patient!

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Rutland Water – 28 Apr 2019

On a somewhat chilly and breezy day, Helen and I concluded our Birding Weekend by visiting Rutland Water today. I didn’t discover until sometime later that it was exactly three years to the day since our last visit here.  Rutland is a massive inland body of water and the Bird Watching Center, which is split between two visitor centres, has around thirty-five hides in total, covering a rich variety of habitats.

The stand-out species for which Rutland is famous is its Ospreys. Each year a number of Ospreys return from their over-Winter homes in Africa to breed at Rutland and therefore provide a wonderful wildlife spectacle for visitors to enjoy. Helen and I were aware that at least one nesting Osprey was sitting on eggs today, from a perusal of the online live webcams prior to our arrival, and so we were hoping for some good viewing.

On arrival at the Anglian Water Bird Watching Centre near Egleton Village, we decided to make straight for Lagoon 4 where three hides, Sandpiper, Dunlin and Plover all provide unrestricted views over to the Osprey nesting site atop a tall post strategically placed in the middle of the lagoon. We chose to go into Sandpiper Hide for our first stop to see what we could find.

Osprey nest

Hard to make-out, but there is just the top of an Osprey’s head visible in the nest… honestly!

Very soon we could see through our binoculars that an Osprey was indeed sitting on the nest. However, because of the height of the nest we could only see the top of the bird’s head when it occasionally shifted position. For the rest of our time in the hide today we kept a keen eye on the skies for any sign of other Ospreys. As we watched the lagoon in front of us we saw some Common Terns screeching-noisily as they flew around above one of the islands. A Great Crested Grebe looked to be sitting tight on a nest along to our left, and a Ringed Plover was darting about on a spit of land that jutted out into the lagoon. A variety of distant waterfowl completed the list of birds we could see from our current vantage point.

After about half an hour or so, we decided to relocate and walked further up the reserve in the direction of Bittern Hide. As we walked along the path we began to hear some very distinct birdsong coming from the hedgerow we were approaching. Another couple of birdwatchers were also there, watching for any signs of movement, binoculars poised and ready. After striking-up conversation, we quickly learned that the bird in question was a Nightingale. Fantastic! – Neither Helen nor I had never seen or heard a Nightingale before and we quickly understood why such a fairly drab-looking bird has such a marvellous reputation. The singing was amazing, in terms of its richness, variety and clarity. The bird could only have been about fifteen to twenty feet from us, and its song was very clear and loud.

Common Tern

The unmistakable silhouette of a Common tern flying over Lagoon 4.

We stood, spellbound for around twenty minutes hoping to catch a glimpse of the elusive bird, during which time other birders duly-arrived, stood watching (and listening!) for a while before eventually moving-on without having seen the bird. Sadly, the Nightingale eventually stopped singing and Helen and I decided we weren’t going to be lucky either, so we dragged ourselves away and carried-on up to Bittern Hide near the top of the reserve.

Bittern Hide looks out onto a small lagoon and is surrounded by reeds. It would indeed be the perfect location from which to see a Bittern, but alas, that didn’t happen today (not whilst we were present at any rate). As we watched the reeds to our right, we were treated to a close-up demonstration of stealthy-hunting by a Grey Heron. The bird very patiently made its way slowly across the shallows in front of the hide, studying the water intently, watching for any tell-tale movement below the surface. After a few minutes, without success, the bird suddenly launched itself into the air with a loud screech and Helen and I scrambled to capture some images of the bird as it flew past us.

Grey Heron 01

This Grey heron was on the lookout for something to eat.

Grey Heron 02

A very pleasing flight shot of the Grey heron as it flew off.

Next we visited Shoveler and Buzzard hides, both of which have provided us with great bird sightings in the past. Indeed, Shoveler Hide was where I was lucky-enough to photograph a Long Billed Dowitcher on a previous visit to Rutland Water.

Today it was mostly Black Headed Gulls and Common Terns that were present. A pair of Cormorant were sunning their wings on one of the islands and an assortment of waterfowl including Tufted Duck and Gadwall were dabbling-about on the water.

Osprey with Fish

An Osprey returning to the nest with a large trout.

Turning back along the path in the direction we had just come, we couldn’t resist going back to have another listen to/look for the Nightingale. The bird was singing once again but still not showing itself. I overheard a lady bird-enthusiast, who was present, saying that the bird had been in exactly the same location last year at the same time. I made a mental note of that detail!

Tufted Duck

A somewhat ‘punk-looking’ Tufted Duck on Lagoon 4.

Just as we left the Nightingale location and began to walk back down the path towards the Visitors’ Centre, Helen spotted an Osprey flying right over our heads in the direction of the nesting site on Lagoon 4. The bird was carrying a large trout and so we snapped-away with our cameras trying to get the best shots we could of the bird and its unwilling cargo. Unfortunately, the bird (and trout!) were somewhat-silhouetted against the bright sky, but we were nonetheless happy to have had such a close-encounter with the Osprey.

Another couple of hours visiting an exciting birding location had left us with some great memories. A Nightingale has now climbed much higher on my ‘desirables’ list of birds to see!

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Titchwell Marsh – 26 Apr 2019

For my 61st birthday, Helen and I decided to pay another visit to what is probably our favourite of all the RSPB reserves we commonly visit – Titchwell Marsh on the North Norfolk coast.

This is an amazing reserve that we have visited a number of times previously, which benefits from having a variety of different habitats, including: sea-shore, salt marsh, fresh marsh, tidal marsh, woodland and hedgerow. Consequently, Titchwell has tremendous potential for excellent birding and never fails to deliver. Over the dozen or so visits Helen and I have made here we have had some very exciting sightings of some not-so-commonly-seen species such as Bearded Tit, Cuckoo, Red Crested Pochard, Bar tailed Godwit – and the star of them all – A Lesser Yellowlegs – our first-ever Mega!

Today was quite a calm day, and much better than the BBC had been forecasting in the previous few days; there was very little breeze and it was quite sunny without being too warm for comfort – pretty-much perfect birding conditions!

Gadwall

A lovely male Gadwall on a pond near the Visitors’ center

After passing-through the Visitors’ Center and out onto the reserve we faced our first dilemma – where first? The choice was between the West Bank Path which leads eventually to the beach after passing the freshwater, ‘volunteer’ and tidal marshes and runs alongside the salt-marsh, or East Trail which is brilliant for small birds such as Warblers, Blackcap, Bearded Tit and Whitethroat and leads to Patsy’s Reedbed where we’ve seen Red Crested Pochards on several occasions. Also, Marsh Harriers are very common over the reedbeds here.

After a bit of debate, I was allowed to decide (it was my birthday after all!), and I chose the West Bank Path first. After passing through a wooded area where lots of ‘littlies’ sing at us from the trees, the path opens-out onto reedbeds which are almost-continuously resounding to the song of Sedge and Reed Warblers at this time of year. Today was no different, and Helen and I were soon scouring the reedbeds from our elevated position on the path, looking for the source of warbler song coming from the reeds quite near to where we stood.

Sedge Warbler

This Sedge warbler gave great value for money!

We didn’t have to wait too long for our first sighting – a beautiful Sedge Warbler, which allowed us some good views before it flew-off. We could also occasionally hear the tantalising ‘pinging’ of one or more Bearded Tit from our vantage point.

Buoyed-up by our good Sedge Warbler sighting, Helen and I continued along the path and entered one of our favourite RSPB hides – the Island Hide which juts-out onto the Freshwater Marsh. Here we watched several Avocet sifting through the water for the crustaceans they love to eat, and a pair of Teal dabbling about in the water just in front of the hide. Further over the marsh we could see large flocks of birds on the various islands. Most were gulls, but there were also good numbers of other birds including various waterfowl species, Redshank, Ruff and Terns – both Common and Sandwich. Several flocks of Brent Geese passed silently overhead, along with occasional loudly-honking Greylag Geese.

Last time we were in this hide, Helen and I had great views of a group of juvenile Bearded Tits flitting-about at the bottom of the reeds to the right of the hide. I scoured the same area today with my binoculars, but there was no sign of movement other than a Coot which was lazily weaving its way in and out of the reeds and a pair of fine Gadwall preening themselves in the sunshine. Rule one of birding – never expect to repeat a previous experience – birds don’t follow the rulebook on that score!

After leaving the Island Hide, Helen and I carried-on out towards the beach. To the left of the path lies a vast salt marsh which used to be an RAF bombing range. Nowadays it is the sole preserve of enormous amounts of wildlife. As we passed along the path, alternatively watching the salt marsh whilst simultaneously scanning the Freshwater Marsh, Volunteer Marsh and Tidal Marsh, we saw lots of activity: flocks of Brent Geese assembled on the salt marsh, a Little Egret looking angelic with its pure white plumage reflecting the sunlight, terns flying circles around the Freshwater Marsh, a flock of Turnstone flying-over which landed on a distant island next to a pair of Grey Plover, a Buzzard describing lazy circles high in the sky overhead, and a lone Red Crested Pochard swimming along on the Volunteer Marsh. There’s always so much to see at Titchwell!

On reaching the beach it felt exhilarating to breath-in the fresh, salty air. A flock of Oystercatcher with at least one smaller wader that I couldn’t quite identify were some considerable distance further along the shore towards Wells-on-Sea. There didn’t appear to be many other birds present on the shoreline today, however. I used my binoculars to scan the sea for any sign of Scoter or other sea-ducks, but came-up empty, alas.

Linnet

This Linnet posed briefly on a gorse bush near Parinder Hide

Our next stop, back down the West Bank Path, after pausing briefly to photograph some Linnets in the gorse bushes along the path, was the fantastic Parinder Hide which looks out over both the Volunteer Marsh and the Freshwater Marsh. From here today the dominant species visible were those very loud Black Headed Gulls. Scanning through my binoculars, I was able to pick-out several Mediterranean Gulls mixed-in amongst them, along with a flock of about twenty Sandwich Terns. They were something of a surprise find, as I’ve only ever seen Sandwich Terns at the seashore or on Inner Farne up in Northumberland. Following a discussion with a fellow birder in the hide, we concluded that the terns were probably just having a rest-stop enroute to somewhere else for their breeding season.

Sandwich Terns

Two of a much larger flock of Sandwich Terns on the Freshwater Marsh today.

Also spotted on the islands of the Freshwater Marsh today were: Egyptian Geese, Canada Geese, Avocet, Oystercatcher, Shelduck, Black tailed Godwit and a pair of Greylag Geese teaching a brood of goslings how to swim in a single file between their parents.

By now Helen and I were in need of some refreshments, so we walked back down to the Visistors’ Center for a much-needed cup of tea and some food. As we sat at an outside table near the bird feeders, we watched a variety of common birds picking over the offerings: Chaffinch, Robin, Great Tit, Blackbird, Goldfinch, Woodpigeon, Collared Dove, and a rather unlikely Jackdaw!

Marsh Harrier

This fabulous Marsh Harrier was on the lookout for some prey.

Next it was East Trail. As we walked along the boardwalk, we first heard, and later saw a Chiffchaff in one of the trees. Other small birds were flitting-about overhead and singing away, but had decided not to show themselves. From the Fen Hide we watched a Marsh Harrier quarter the reedbed in search of prey. A sudden commotion made me look to the left where I saw a Grey Heron fly up from the reeds, chased by an angry Greylag Goose. I managed to capture several frames of the incident, which shows the Greylag pecking at the Heron’s feet. Clearly, the Heron must have been trying to make a meal of one of the Greylag’s goslings.

Walking-on as far as the observation point looking down onto Patsy’s Reedbed, we watched some Little Grebe, Tufted Duck and Mallard dabbling-about in the water nearby. More Marsh Harriers were flying around, always on the hunt for prey.

Feeling tired after about five hours walking up and down at Titchwell, we reluctantly made our way back towards the car park at the Visitors’ Center. As we walked from the VC to the car park our final bird-sighting of the day was a male Blackcap in the trees directly over our heads.

Blackcap

Our ‘farewell bird’ today was this beautiful male Blackcap in the trees near the car park.

A tally of the different bird species we had seen today came in at a very respectable 58. Very good going indeed, and a measure of the remarkable work done by the staff and volunteers at Titchwell to make it so appealing to so many different bird species.

Well done Titchers, we very much hope to be back again soon!

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