Today I made a return visit to Alkborough Flats in Lincolnshire. I first visited here about a year ago and have meant to come back ever since. The reserve is only about one and a half kilometers away from Blacktoft Sands, as the crow flies (well, any bird really!), but as it’s on the opposite bank of the Ouse/Trent/Humber confluence it’s over twenty-two miles away by car and takes around 50 minutes driving according to Google Maps.
I arrived at the reserve around 12.30pm and parked in the car park at the bottom of Prospect Lane, which comes down the hill from the village church. As soon as I stepped out of the car I could hear lots of different birds singing in the trees around me. One of the most distinctive I heard was that of my first Chiffchaff of the year, with its eponymous ‘chiff-chaff-chiff-chaff’ sound.
Almost as soon as I started up the path towards Prospect Hide, I heard a distant Bittern booming in the reeds. As it turned out, I was to hear this bird booming throughout my visit to the reserve today – usually in a pattern of three booms on each occasion. It would have been wonderful to have seen the bird too, of course, but it’s nonetheless enthralling to experience its deep, throaty booming call, which is very reminiscent of the sound you get when you blow across the top of an old-fashioned milkbottle.
I was immediately a bit disappointed when I entered Prospect Hide and looked out of the windows. For one thing, the water level was much higher than on my previous visit, which inevitably reduces the chances of lots of waders being present. Also, the reeds which had been quite close to the hide itself on my previous visit, had been radically cut back. Whilst that meant that a much wider field of view was now possible, it cut-down the prospect of seeing Bearded Tits flitting across the front of the hide, which I was thrilled to see at least twice last time I visited.
However, within a few seconds of this minor disappointment, I noted that a lone Spoonbill was snoozing out on the water about two hundred yards from me. Also, on closer inspection, I realised that it had an attendant collection of waders standing nearby. Most of the waders were Spotted Redshanks, but a single Greenshank promptly flew in and joined them. A number of Avocet were also sprinkled around the lake.
Over the course of the next hour and a half, whilst I was in the hide, the Spoonbill periodically untucked its long bill from under its feathers and briefly took note of its surroundings. However, its feet didn’t budge at all from where they were firmly planted in the mud during the entire time I was in the hide.
I struck-up conversation with another birder who told me that he had relocated to this hide from another part of the reserve because he had seen a pair of Common Crane drop down into the reeds at the far side of the lake from the hide, and so we both waited patiently in the hope of catching a sighting of these massive birds. Apparently, a large number of Cranes have arrived in this general area in recent days and numerous sightings have been recorded throughout the region.
Alas, it was not to be. After about 90 minutes my rear end was quite numb and I needed to stretch my legs, so I left the hide and walked further up the path. Alongside the path is an extensive reedbed on one side, and an arable field on the other. I heard several Sedge Warblers whch were close to where I was passing, but had no sightings today!
As I walked further along the path, I came upon a group of birders, with their binoculars trained on the arable field. As I approached them, I asked what it was that they had found, and was delighted to have my attention directed to where a beautiful Wheatear was grazing in the field. The bird was about 80-90 yards away and was beautifully camouflaged. One of those birders must have had extraordinarily good eyesight to spot it in the first place! I took a few rather distant photographs of the bird before I lost sight of it in the distance.
It was becoming slightly breezy now, so I decided to head back to the car. As I walked back down the path, I continued to hear the booming of the Bittern and the melodious, rambling singing of Sedge Warblers; this is definitely my favourite time in the birding calendar!