12th Sept. As the RSPB Local Crew advanced down the A1 towards the prize of Blacktoft Sands, the dark leaden clouds gradually dissipated, the heavy rains eased and light spread from the south adding a warming glow. As a wise sage (me as it happens) once said, there is no such thing as bad weather, only differing lighting conditions. The crew were there in numbers and the transport almost full and the sun spread over Blacktoft Sands, and I’d half expected Bilbo Baggins to stealthily emerge from the bushes as we marched in and took over the reserve without a contest. Even the town of Goole had seemed almost deserted as Sam and I discussed English Literature in the shape of An Inspector Calls. If I ever knew, I hadn’t remembered that the Inspector goes by the name of Goole. The conversation was of such high standard I reluctantly decided not to ponder too much over whether or not folk from Goole were ever referred to as Goolies. I can’t help feeling they will be, as some folk have such a childish sense of humour! Anyway, clearly the locals had heard of the advance and moved out of the area of Blacktoft Sands as there were so few of them about, not even a token resistance could be found. It does always surprise me as to how few visitors there generally are at this reserve.
I have always liked Blacktoft and the flat, but interesting and atmospheric expanse that surrounds it. I have found that being tidal the pools on the reserve can vary very much as to what is about and I have been there on an occasion when the whole area had been very dry. Dryness was not to be a problem today, with much of Ousefleet under water. Our decision to join the crew today had been a late one, as we balanced the cost of so much travel time against the actual time we would spend at the reserve, and also the fact that the Montague’s Harriers had now left. As you can see we decided to make the journey.
After checking out the regular Tree Sparrows and a calling Chiffchaff, and as some minds wandered back to a time when Turtle Doves were a regular sight here, Sam and I made towards the Ousefleet end of the reserve calling in at both the hides on the way. A stop at the hides was a good decision on our part as they hadn’t been taken over yet and were still very quiet, thus allowing us to easily pick up the call of the Cetti’s Warbler which I believe Sam briefly saw. Other birds seen from the hides here included Little Grebe, Grey Heron. Water Rail, a single Avocet, Ringed Plover, Lapwing, Dunlin, Spotted Redshanks, Redshank, Ruff, Black-tailed Godwit, Sedge Warbler, Sparrowhawk and Kestrel. I spotted a Little Egret flying down at the other end of the reserve and disappearing in a channel and there was a sizable flock of Long-tailed Tits flying through the area nearby. A flock of Golden Plover had been seen earlier. Waterfowl were abundant, much of which were parties of Teal but a small number of Pintail stood out here.
Once we reached Ousefleet we were soon watching wildfowl in their hundreds (perhaps thousands). There were large flocks of Teal here along with Wigeon, Shoveller, Mallard, Gadwall and Pintail. This area can often be very quiet and lacking in water but this wasn’t a problem today. We spent a good bit of time here before returning to the hides where on this occasion we found a female Garganey, not easily picked out from all of the surrounding Teal. Numerous Common Hawker Dragonflies were active in this area throughout the day as were Speckled Wood Butterflies.
I was beginning to doubt that we were ever going to sea Marsh Harriers until someone mentioned that they were being watched at the other end of the reserve to which we were nor heading. I was feeling extremely hot as the grey clouds returned from the west and thunder was heard. Thankfully we were comfortable sat in the hide when the storm hit us as lightening flashed overhead. We were able to find our first very distant Marsh Harriers before the torrential rain came. We counted twelve Little Egrets and thirteen Spotted Redshank from this particular hide.
Spotted Redshank. Courtesy of Samuel Hood.
Then the storm was at its height and I’m pleased I was under cover as the rain was really torrential. Most of the waterfowl and waders took to flight during the worst of the weather. I have to say however that the storm was an enjoyable experience giving some wonderful lighting conditions especially as it petered out and in the immediate aftermath. Enjoyable too was the cooler air conditions. It was in the aftermath of the storm that the Spotted Redshanks, Black-tailed Godwits, and Little Egrets looked at their best and the white supercilium on the Spotted Redshanks almost appeared to shine like lights when the emerging sunlight hit them. I have to say however none were close to matching the beautifully plumaged juvenile Spotted Redshank that we had found in August at Holywell. Everyone benefitted form being able to compare Common and Spotted Redshanks and Ruff too.
Someone thought they saw an Otter in the corner of the pool and all eyes focused attention to that area. I have to say I’m not convinced that there was an Otter there at all, but if it was a mistake it was one easily made such were the conditions and the look of some of the waterfowl low on the water. I made my own error when I had everyone watching for a distant Hobby flying towards us which miraculously changed into a Kestrel! Thankfully I hadn’t been the only one fooled by the distant bird. Hobby had been seen but not by any of the crew as far as I’m aware. The error just goes to show how easily the mind is swayed when you know something is about.
A couple of Marsh Harriers gave a better and closer sighting and then we had three Marsh Harriers fly in front of us and across the reed bed giving even better sightings. A Common Buzzard flew over next and even closer than the harriers and a sizable flock of Goldfinch flew nearby.
The storm meant that we spent the time in the one hide and we didn’t get to visit two others. I doubt if we would have seen anything new, but I do feel we could have done with another half or even full hour at the reserve. Still, it had been a very pleasant visit to a very good reserve. The crew had never had anything other than peaceful intentions and so left for home smiling and contented.