24th July. Up with the larks today and on the bus to Saltholme at 8.00am. Sadly I had found out that the bus from the ‘Boro’ to Saltholme has been taken off completely on Sundays. Something to do with removal of subsidies, I believe. Seems sad to me that with what is supposed to be a prestige reserve on the doorstep, the buses to get there are removed! I rang up the day before to check out taxi fares and sad again I found that none of the three firms I rang initially could give me a quote. Two didn’t know where Saltholme RSPB Reserve was (hard to believe I know) and the third just couldn’t give me a quote until the evening! Eventually I was quoted £8.
On arrival at Middlesbrough things did not start well. I realised I’d left my lunch at home in the fridge, it was very cold, the bird that Tom and I had most hoped for had seemingly vanished over night (White-rumped Sandpiper) and I was asked for £16 for the taxi even though we got off before reaching the reserve. Two words come to mind the first being cheating and the second I’ll keep to myself! Anyway on me saying that I had been quoted £8 the day before I got the fare down to £10 which I reckon was still too much. All I can say is beware if you use a taxi in Middlesbrough! The day improved from then on.:-)
Having taken sometime to search for the White-rumped Sandpiper we were repeatedly told it hadn’t been seen since the previous evening. Whilst looking for it we did sight both Peregrine Falcon and Kestrel, although missed the earlier flyover Hobby. We decided to move on and try again later in the day.
The reserve was far quieter than I had expected for a Sunday. At one point we were in the main hide back of Saltholme by ourselves. Usually this hide is too noisy and busy for my taste. The vegetation on the reserve was high and very different from a previous visit. There weren’t that many birds around, but having said that we managed to see 6/8 Little Egrets (difficult to know exact number as they were moving around the site although there were three together at the Teesmouth hide), 2 Little Ringed Plover, Lapwing, Dunlin, Ruff, 2 Black-tailed Godwit and Common Sandpiper. The light and atmosphere was never good for bird watching at distance. Sedge Warblers were seen and Goldfinch seemed to be following us around the reserve. Other birds seen included Little Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, Greylag and Canada Geese. Butterflies were flying in some numbers, mostly Whites but also Small Tortoiseshell, Red Admiral and Meadow Brown.
After a bite to eat in the café (the busiest part of the reserve :-)) we took a walk back onto the road to take another look for the White-rumped Sandpiper. Such was all the comments that it hadn’t been seen all day, we weren’t in confident mood that we would find it and intended to walk back into the reserve.
After a while Tom found the Dunlin (we’d seen these in the morning) and a bird amongst them which he thought could be the one we were after. I have to confess that the viewing conditions were so poor in the sunlight that I doubt if I would have found it, so my congratulations to Tom. I took a look and agreed the bill was not right for Dunlin and neither was the plumage. We eventually managed to see it against the Dunlin and it was obviously a smaller bird. There was no way in the conditions that we were going to make out a white supercilium, but we were certain the primary projection past the tail was noticeable, as were some white markings on the mantle. We spent the rest of the afternoon considering this bird. The fact that everyone had said it wasn’t being seen threw us I reckon. The few people who turned up whilst we were there were not picking the bird up and the one or two who we got onto it just weren’t really aware of species type. After much thought and consideration Tom and I are in no doubt we had a White-rumped Sandpiper out there and having seen photographs taken within the last couple of days we feel supported in that decision. We also were made aware of one other reliable sighting at around mid-day. It has to be said it wasn’t one of our best sightings of a bird, such were the conditions, but I confidently say that the bird was still there during the afternoon. A lifer for both Tom and I. We spent a good deal of time finding it and once we did, lots of time studying it.
We never did get back into the reserve. In contrast to the cheat who had taxied us to nearby the reserve in the morning, a very friendly local guy drove us back to the bus station in Middlesbrough and we were very grateful to him for that. It had turned into another great days birding. Looking forward to getting out again soon.