Thursday, 29 April 2010

Two Dry Birders Catch a Bus and a Black Headed Wagtail!

Busy at the nest.

Our walk to see the Wood Sandpiper and Garganey almost took us to the transporter bridge!

28th April. Up shortly after 6.00am, Tom and I were soon on the bus and arriving at Saltholme RSPB Reserve around 9.30am. Before the reserve opened I had thought, but it seemed it had opened today at 8.00am, although we appear to have still been almost the first to arrive. As it turned out, we had made a wise decision to visit today. We’d ticked Kittiwake as we crossed the Tyne and sighted a Kestrel on the journey. On arrival we were giving some very useful information by a volunteer on the reserve for which we owe thanks. It ought to be remembered that the RSPB would fail to exist in its present form without the work done by volunteers. Brown Hares were seen close by the entrance.

Tom and I decided to leave the reserve and return later, as we were keen to find some species which were reported ‘off’ the reserve. Many of our better sightings were found outside of the reserve today. We took the challenge of negotiating the roadway outside of the reserve and made for, what I think is Fleet pool. A ten minute walk I had been told. That must be in Teeside minutes time, as it was far longer on my watch! We did find Sedge Warblers on the way. We also found at least twenty Wheatears showing really well in one of the fields. When we got to the pool Greenshank, Ringed Plovers, Dunlin and Redshank were found right away. After some time, and not a little eye strain we did eventually find the Wood Sandpiper. There was a haze in the air which made viewing difficult and I’m sure we both have had better sightings, but never the less we did find it. We didn’t have so much luck with the Garganey until advised to walk even further down the roadway and thankfully this did bring very distant views of the birds feeding in a characteristic way. Then Tom got his eye on a gull which stood out from the rest. It seemed that it was one of the reported Little Gulls, but its markings were not as expected with only a small marking on the head and we found it difficult to judge size. When it appeared next to a Black Headed Gull, that seemed to clinch things. Once back at the reserve we were advised that the Little Gull had flown down to the pool whilst we were there and it did in fact have the peculiar marking we had found. I have to say well done to Tom for spotting this one at distance as I would have overlooked it had he not drawn my attention to the bird. We also found two Black-tailed Godwit at the edge of the pool. Risking our lives on this dangerous roadway had been worthwhile!

As we made off on our return to the reserve, eyes still a little blurred with strain, we found a flock of fifteen Black-tailed Godwit and a couple of Lesser Black Backed Gulls before taking another look at the Wheatears and accompanying Meadow Pipits. There was also plenty of Skylark song. We were treated to a demonstration of sideways throwing as a Mute Swan added additional material to a nest built near the roadway and notable findings along the way were a predated goose egg and a recently killed, presumably by traffic, drake Mallard. We began to pick up birds on the reserve pools which included Little Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, Pochard and Tufted Duck. There was also numbers of Greylag and Canada Geese about, and we later added Pink-footed Geese to the list.

I had become a little concerned that the reserve would be an anti-climax after the excitement of the surrounding area. The pools in the main were very quiet. There were few people about today which was no bad thing. We were soon to add Shelduck, Shoveller, Mallard, Wigeon and Teal to the list. Sand Martins certainly out numbered Swallows and we found the odd Reed Bunting. Finches seen were Goldfinch, Greenfinch and Linnet.

It was starting to get very warm and I began to flag a little, but before we stopped for lunch we did pick up a couple of Yellow Wagtails. We had decided to go to Holywell last week instead of making a visit to look at the Yellow Wagtails at Creswell so I was pleased Tom had got his Yellow Wagtails today. There was more to come! Butterflies seemed to be in the main Small Tortoiseshell, with the occasional Small White. Then we took a welcome break and a sit down in the fresh air for lunch. Lapwings had been around and calling most of the time.

We’d heard that both Black Headed and Blue Headed Wagtails had been reported on the reserve so as we approached back of Saltholme we were on the look out. There were certainly numbers of Yellow Wagtails flying to and fro and in the fields with the cattle. Tom did pick up the Blue Headed Wagtail at some point. We initially had no luck with the Black Headed so we made for the hide. We added Oystercatcher, Turnstone and one of the sightings of the day in Little Ringed Plover. A great sighting of this latter bird was had. Great Black Backed, Common and Herring Gull were added to the gulls seen today.

After spending some time in the hide we noticed some activity in the group of birders who had gathered where we had been watching the Yellow Wagtails and we guessed that the Black Headed Wagtail may have been found again, so off we went to find out. Once with the group I (and I’m sure a number of other people) found the directions such as ‘beside the brown cow’ very frustrating. A bit like someone saying, as they do, ‘it’s in the tree’ when standing in a wood! I guess it’s easier and more skillful to find the bird yourself and thankfully we did, although I have no doubt several visitors left without seeing the Black Headed Wagtail. It kept disappearing into clumps of grass and at times only its head was showing, but we did get excellent sightings. A partial pale supercillium was plain to see. I’ve read that if accepted this will be a first for the county. I also see that there is much doubt as to whether it will be accepted. To be honest I care not a lot, as it was a fine bird to see on the reserve in any event. I’ve looked at Ian Forest’s photos of the bird and I believe it was he who initially found it that morning.

So we both started and ended the day on a high, and also dry, with on a recount, and I hope we don’t have too many of them on May the 6th, sixty-one bird species on the list. I know Tom is looking on the bright side and counting it as sixty-two feeling that a split is coming soon in the wagtail department! :-) I’ve learnt quite a bit about Yellow Wagtails recently and I feel a book coming on. Buying one I mean, not writing one!
Now I see the weather forecast isn’t too good for Saturday. Let’s hope they have it wrong or I may be back to wet birder titles. Not that I’ll be too concerned, just as long as the day includes a Redstart.


  1. I feel worn out just reading about your busy day. Well done.

  2. Ha, I can assure you I was worn out when I got home around 7.00pm Dick. A special day though. Thanks. Brian.

  3. I have to join Dick and yourself in being exhausted. I've had to have a little lie down before typing this comment! A cracking account Brian.......mind it's always more exciting when you both get wet. I hope it pours down at the weekend and look forward to that account. You can add an extra 2 waders to your list then.
    A fleeting visit this morning to Killy found the Grebes settled nicely and the return of the Oystercatchers.

  4. Ha. I'm gonna blame you John, if we get wet on Saturday.;-)
    That pair of Oystercatchers seem to have moved in. Cheers. Brian.