Blacktoft Sands – 23 May 2017

I made a welcome return to Blacktoft Sands today – my first visit there in over six months – how time flies!

On arrival at Blacktoft, I decided to go West from the Reception Hide first of all, and along to Marshland Hide. I’ve had some excellent sightings from there in the past, and it’s definitely a favourite location of mine. However, my real reason for making a bee-line for Marshland first today was that, only yesterday a Spoonbill spent much of the day on the island near the hide. The chap who does the daily blog for Blacktoft’s website had posted some incredible close-up images of the bird. Might it just possibly still be there?

Sadly, no! Oh well, such is the nature of birding, and besides, there’s always something else to see. That ‘something else’ for today was a rather dapper-looking Avocet which was at the front of the lagoon, close-in to the hide. The sun was shining beautifully on the bird and I enjoyed excellent views of this rather super wader. I was very pleased with some of the images I took as the bird sifted its long curved bill back and forth through the shallow water as it searched for its food. A number of Shelduck were also on Marshlands Lagoon, including a pair that had a brief, yet fairly violent-looking altercation!

Leaving Marshland Hide behind, I next walked to Xerox Hide. Whilst in here today, I watched a female Marsh Harrier carrying what looked like nesting materials to a particular spot in the reeds. I made a mental note to check that area again on my next visit.

Between Xerox Hide and my next stop – First Hide, I heard many small birds, (including at least three different Warblers) singing in the reeds and trees along the path. Sadly, however, very few wanted to pose for a photograph today! I did manage a couple of frames of a heavily-obscured Reed Warbler, but the Cettis and Sedge Warblers I could hear in several spots remained steadfastly out-of-view today!

Next, I parked myself upstairs in First Hide, where once again I enjoyed watching a Marsh Harrier patrolling the reeds in front of me. This one seemed to be hunting rather than nest-building though. I also had a few tantalising views of ‘little brown jobs’ flitting between the reeds. I had excitedly rattled-off several frames before I realised they were ‘only’ Tree Sparrows! Now, I know Sparrows generally are on the decline, and I shouldn’t be ungrateful, but Blacktoft Sands is reknowned for its large numbers of Bearded Tits – surely one sighting on a glorious day like today isn’t asking too much, is it?

What was to be my biggest photographic success of the day, however, was to come when I visited Townend Hide. As I sat down and peered out of the window-hatch, I immediately realised a glorious-looking Whitethroat was sitting atop the tall weeds just in front of the hide. Some frantic focussing and shutter-clicking later, and I had several photographs that I was pretty pleased with. The bird was a real beauty! After the Whitethroat had flown-off, I settled-down to watch a Little Egret fishing in the shallows before me.


A beautiful Whitethroat outside Townend Hide

I couldn’t possibly visit Blacktoft without spending some time in Singleton Hide, at the Eastern end of the reserve. This is usually the most-visited hide on the reserve, and certainly the one to visit for the most frequent (and most exciting!) Harrier sightings, in my humble opinion. As well as the near-ubiquitous Marsh Harriers at Blacktoft, a lone, female Montagu’s Harrier is currently present on the reserve once again – I think this makes the third year in a row. Large groups of grizzled-old birders (am I one of those too now?) can often be found in Singleton Hide, scouring the skies for any glimpse of these fabulous birds.

Today, I was lucky-enough to be able to position myself at the far right (Eastern end) of the hide. This allows views over the reeds lying to the North of the hide, but also the reeds to the East as well. The advantage here is obvious – being able to look-out in two different directions without having to move. The other advantage here is that the large area of reeds lying to the East (beyong the end of the boundary path marking the edge of the reserve) is quite often a great spot for seeing little brown jobs, and in particular, Bearded Tits.

Well, I didn’t see (or hear!) any Beardies today, but I did see lots of other small birds – not all of which I was quick-enough to identify before they had flitted-off back into the undergrowth from whence they had come! Once again I spied a Whitethroat here – my third sighting of the day – along with several Reed Buntings and one or two other Warbler-type LBJs. A Cettis Warbler was very close to the hide, singing its distinctive, syncopated song, very loudly indeed. I scoured the bushes and reeds before me, but the Cettis Warbler really is the master of being ‘heard but not seen’.

As I walked back towards the car park a (somewhat tattered) Peacock butterfly was sitting on the path in front of me. What a nice way to finish my first visit to Blacktoft Sands in much too long!

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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