23rd April. The day had come and thankfully the sun was almost shining as my mate Tom and I left for Holywell on a mission. Still with memories of our last ‘wet’ trip and thorough drenching, we were geared up for the walk from Holywell to St Mary’s Island, and it has to be said the conditions couldn’t have been more different from our previous trip. We had set ourselves a target of seventy bird species on the walk. We saw little but gulls, corvids and pigeons as we made for Holywell village and when I found the village area very quiet and with no sign of hirundines, I began to wonder if we were on mission impossible. We did manage to begin our list with the likes of Collared Dove, House Sparrow and Blues Tit. When one of the locals said he had just watched a Common Buzzard being mobbed by crows over the pond we could have kicked ourselves for spending too much time watching the House Sparrows!
As it turned out the Common Buzzard, we are almost certain, was the far more impressive female Marsh Harrier we found flying over the reeds and being mobbed by crows. This good sighting was surpassed only by the later close sighting we had of the bird perched in the reeds. Certainly one of my better sightings of this species, and a year tick for both Tom and me. A great way to start the day and I’d have happily given up on the list for this sighting alone.
I’d thought the House Martins had been very late in arriving as there were none at all near the nesting area, but we soon found a small number feeding over the pond along with a greater number of Sand Matins, a few Swallows and eventually my first Swift of the year, although Tom had ticked Swift in Yorkshire a few days before. The pond provided a few birds for the list and these were Little Grebe, Cormorant, Grey Heron, Mute Swan, Canada Geese, Mallard, Wigeon, Teal, Pochard, Tufted Duck, a lone female Goosander, Moorhen and Coot. After a little while we had a good sighting of Green Sandpiper and the feeding station provided the likes of Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Reed Bunting and Great Spotted Woodpecker, the latter bird entertaining us with some drumming after it had flown back across the pond. The air was full of the song of Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff and these songs were with us until we reached the coast and we had several good sightings of both species.
On the way to the public hide we heard Grasshopper Warbler quite close by, and began to hear and sight our first Skylarks of the day. We found a few Lapwings on the mud near the hide, but no other waders here.
We checked out the area for Whitethroat but found none, only numbers of Linnet in the hedges. I seem to remember it was around here we had our first Kestrel of several seen today. The small pool in the dip of the field held three or four Greylag Geese. We were now beginning to feel at least a little more hopeful of reaching our target.
The avenue was very quiet, but we did tick Song Thrush near a piece of wet and muddy ground just before entering the dene. We spent some time in the dene with two or three short stops which proved productive. I hadn’t seen Nuthatch in the dene since last autumn, but today brought us one. Other species included another Great Spotted Woodpecker, Wren, Robin, Dunnock, Blackbird, two or three Blackcap, Great Tit, Blue tit, Long Tailed Tit, Treecreeper, Chaffinch and a pair of Yellowhammer. We had no luck with Kingfisher, Dipper or Grey Wagtail, the latter having been one of my bankers. I’d had Tom down as a Kingfisher magnet after our last visit, but the magnetism wasn’t working today (I'm thinking it may only be effective when it rains). It was in the dene where I seem to remember we had our best sightings of the Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs.
The saltmarsh area on our way to the lunch stop was very quiet, but by now the list was mounting and we were feeling confident and even beginning to wonder if we had set the target too low!
We did spend a little time checking the sea out off the cliff at Seaton Sluice and this brought us Common Scoter in some numbers and distant Gannets seen despite mist out at sea. The mist gradually moved in towards the coastline and by late afternoon the heat of mid day had gone and it was looking quite stormy. Anyway we did get closer views of Gannet ‘fishing’ later. Fulmars were numerous, and Tom ticked his first Sandwich Terns of the year as we watched their spectacular dives into the sea. Greater Black Backed Gull was also quickly added to the list, and there were lots of Eider Duck about. We did check the Cormorants really well but were unable to turn even one into a Shag .
Now, things began to get a little more testing as there seemed to be very few waders about and we knew we would need a few on our list if we were to get to the sought after seventy. Oystercatcher was an easy one of course, but even Redshank was initially proving hard to find. We did get it eventually and also added a small flock of Sanderling as they flew past. Turnstones were next on the list.
I’d had Rock Pipit down as a banker, but we found none, although there were many Meadow Pipits. What did surprise me were the large numbers of Reed Bunting. I just haven’t seen such numbers in the area before. Almost as exciting as the Marsh Harrier where the great views of Wheatear we had today. We reckon about a dozen birds, everyone giving a great sighting. This species has to be in my top ten. We also added Dunlin.
Did we get to our target of seventy species then? Well after feeling so confident at times, it seemed to be touch and go at one point and we found ourselves stuck on sixty-nine for some time. I even attempted to make a Reed Bunting develop into a Stonechat at one point s o as to ease the stress! We found none of the latter species by the way! We did get there eventually when we found a couple of Common Terns. Then we added Stock Doves found amongst the Wood Pigeons, Curlew, the latter having proven unusually elusive. As we were leaving the wetland area which provided noting new for us we did add Pied Wagtail to put us onto seventy-three species found on the walk. As well as the birds we had found two Seals, at least one of them definitely a Grey Seal (not sure about the other one), Peacock Butterflies, Small Tortoiseshell Butterflies and a number of White species Butterflies.
A great day, spent with someone with a similar outlook to bird watching as myself. We reckon we made life to easy for ourselves and think that eighty species is very do-able on this walk, given a ‘good day’. Watch this space. Star birds definitely the Marsh Harrier and the Wheatears! We can definitely get used to this sun and being dry birders!
Fingers crossed again for dry weather next weekend, as Redstarts are to be on the menu!