North Cave & Blacktoft Sands – 20 May 2016

Today I visited two of my favourite nature reserves: North Cave, a Yorkshire Wildlife Trust reserve, and Blacktoft Sands which is run by the RSPB. Weather-wise it was a fairly reasonable day for the time of year; warm, but a bit cloudy and breezy. It was one of those days, typical of this time of year, when I wasn’t quite sure how many layers to wear!

On arrival at North Cave I decided to walk down Dryham Lane to look principally for waders on Dryham Ings, which is a large area of wetland lying to my left as I walked along the lane from the car-parking area. Amongst other good birds, a Wood Sandpiper was reported here recently, and I’ve yet to see one of those.

I spent about twenty minutes in South Hide on my way down the lane, watching hundreds of nesting Black Headed Gulls sighting-tightly on their incubating eggs, whilst scores of fluffy, recently-hatched chicks scrambled around on the crowded islands of Main Lake exploring everything in their strange new world. A couple of Coots were dabbling in the water just in front of the hide, collecting nesting material and sorting-out the best bits for their nearby-nest. I also observed them sharing an…ahem…’romantic interlude.’ Breeding season, it would seem, is in full-swing!

After leaving the hide to resume my walk down the lane, I soon discovered that much of Dryham Ings had dried-up with the recent sunshine, and unfortunately, all I saw there today were a pair of Shelduck, a few Lapwings and several Avocets sitting on their nests. No exciting waders today!

Not to be daunted, however, I began scouring the trees on the other side of the path for warblers and other small birds. I could certainly hear plenty of birds singing all around me, but it has become ever-harder to spot them now that the trees are covered in mature leaves and blossoms. I did manage to glimpse several small birds, but the only reasonable photographs I managed to take were of a more-obliging Willow Warbler, singing loudly, and leaving me in no doubt of its identity; none of that ‘Chiffchaff rabble’ today!

As I rejoined the main path next to Main Lake, I inadvertently disturbed a large group of Greylag Geese and goslings. I hadn’t seen them as they had been well-camouflaged in the dense undergrowth on the bank right by the path prior to my blundering arrival. After apologising profusely to the birds, (yes, really!) I quickly snapped a few photos of the downy chicks learning to swim and feed themselves under the watchful eyes of their ever-alert parents. Thankfully, the goslings already seemed large-enough to be safe from the majority of would-be predators around the reserve, however.

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No fewer than eleven goslings…quite a challenge for the parents to keep safe!

After returning to the car, I made my way to Blacktoft Sands which is only two M18 junctions away and pretty-much on the way home for me from North Cave.

There have been numerous and regular sightings of Bearded Tits in the reeds by Singleton Hide at Blacktoft recently, so I made my way straight there. A number of other birders were already there, vigilantly watching the reeds for the slightest tell-tale movements. I settled myself down to wait my turn on ‘Beardie-Watch’ and managed to capture some good images of a pair of Marsh Harriers displaying over the reedbed in front of me. At one point a male Marsh Harrier was ‘shooed-away’ by both a Black Headed Gull and an Avocet. The harrier looked pretty-well ‘harried’ himself!

I overheard some other Birders discussing the lone, female Montagu’s Harrier which had returned to Blacktoft in the past week or so. The perceived wisdom was that, in the absence of a male, she had most likely left the area altogether.

When the other birders had departed and left me alone in the hide, I was able to reposition myself at the reedbed-end of the hide, which was where the best Beardie sightings had recently been reported. I did my best to keep a close eye on all that was happening before me; many times I caught fleeting glances of small ‘things’ moving in the reeds, and a persistent Chiffchaff was singing very loudly in a willow tree right by the hide. Over a period of about an hour I was able to capture some images of a Sedge Warbler, a pair of Reed Buntings and a somewhat-obscured Wren. No Bearded Tits, unfortunately, but that’s so often the way with Birding. It’s all about being in the right place at the right time – with the right equipment, the right settings on your camera, the right light, the right vantage-point…..I’m sure you get the point, right?

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A fabulous male Marsh Harrier by Singleton Hide

By this time it was nearly 5pm. I was beginning to feel hungry and was mindful of the Sheffield rush-hour on a Friday, so I decided to call it a day and head home. I’d enjoyed my two birding sessions of the day and look forward to my next sojourn, wherever and whenever that might be.

About Alan Gordon

I am a retired teacher and former RAF Musician. I live near Sheffield and enjoy taking photographs of wild birds throughout the UK.
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