On a fabulous and sunny day I knew I had to get out somewhere. It is always difficult to choose where to go when there are so many brilliant reserves within an hour’s drive of home. In the end I decided to go to Blacktoft Sands; I knew a Montagu’s Harrier had returned to the site and I wanted to try to get an improved image of it, if possible.
As I left the car and walked up the path to the Reception Hide, I could hear a good many garden birds chirruping and singing in the trees. On reaching the reedbed I could hear Sedge Warbler, Cetti’s Warbler and a Chiffchaff – all singing their hearts out in the glorious sunshine.
I stood a while by the two pools visitors have to pass just before reaching the hide and was soon rewarded with a brief view of a Cetti’s Warbler down near the water’s edge. I managed a few frames of the bird before it flew across the water and disappeared into the reeds just near me; a good start to the day.
I turned right at reception and visited each of: First Hide, Townend and then Singleton. At each of these hides in turn I watched numerous Marsh Harriers patrolling the reedbed. They were showing very well with the sunshine on them. Some of the birds came quite close to the hides and there was a noisy chorus of shutter-clicks from the assembled photographers each time this happened. Sadly, there was no sign of the Montagu’s Harrier even though one of the birders in the hide announced that he had seen it earlier in the day.
Not to be daunted, I returned along the path past Reception Hide and visited Marshlands Hide next. Here there were a number of Greylag goslings pecking away at the grass just in front of the hide. They provided a good photographic subject for me for the next few minutes until suddenly, all the Avocets and Black Headed Gulls on one of the islands flew up into the air in an en-masse panic. This usually means that a bird of prey has come close-by, and sure enough, a Marsh Harrier promptly swept low over the lagoon in search of prey.
As I watched the bird, it flew low over the reeds at the far-side of the lagoon from me and suddenly plunged into the reeds and out of sight. After about fifteen seconds, it took off again and was clearly carrying something in its talons, which it had caught in the reeds. As it flew close to the hide I snapped a few frames which I reviewed on the screen on the back of my camera once the bird had passed beyond view. Zooming in on the clearest one I realised that the Harrier had captured a Bearded Tit. Bother! My first confirmed Beardie photograph at Blacktoft and it was a (hopefully by now!) dead one destined to be a Marsh Harrier’s dinner!
The final hide I visited today was Xerox Hide where I watched a Grey Heron preening itself in the sun before lazily flying off. I’ve never felt the same about herons after a previous visit to Blacktoft, last Summer, when Helen and I watched (possibly the very same bird!) plucking a Little Grebe chick from its nest and swallowing it whole – all whilst the poor parent bird looked on helplessly. Gruesome, I know, but that’s nature at work, red in tooth and claw!
As I walked back along the path past the reedbed towards the car park, I was treated to more warblers singing deep in the undergrowth. I did manage, however, to capture some good shots of a Sedge Warbler perched at the top of some weeds. I couldn’t help thinking about the poor ‘Beardie’ I had just seen being despatched up at Marshlands. I was almost tempted to shout to the ‘Sedgie’ to keep its head down!