On Saturday afternoon I received a message from Zac asking if I wanted to come with him for the monties harriers at Blacktoft, and that we would then move over to Spurn to see if we could find anything good. Of course I agreed and due to the weather we set off slightly later with Jonnie Fisk and arrived at Blacktoft for 11 to see what we could get.
As soon as we arrived I year-ticked Sedge Warbler from one of the individuals that singing and song-flighting along the path to the hide where we would wait for the harriers. Once we were in the hide we learned that the male had been around. I was impressed by the high numbers of Marsh Harriers, at least 6 in the sky at any one time. Sadly the Montagu's Harriers where less showy. Zac picked out a female which we got views of but once again I made a terrible mistake and went for the camera, when will I learn not to do that when watching a lifer. The harrier flew over the reedbed for around 30 seconds before dropping down and that was the last we saw of it, and the male did not show during our stay.
There were other birds around, including a very aggressive Great Crested Grebe which attacked a family of Graylag Geese right in front of the hide. It was a fairly vicious attack too, not holding back at all as it clipping and nipped the geese until they got out of the water. On the Island in the middle of the lake Jonnie picked out a pair of sleeping Gargany too. Again, they were a little distant sadly and I could not a decent shot of them but they were great to see, even though they hardly lifted their heads up. I also had my first swift of the year, as they hunted over the reedbeds with the hirundines.
We had intended to stay longer but news broke of a Red-throated pipit near Manchester and Zac said we were going for it. Personally I would have waited given that these birds don't tend to stick around from what I understand but it seemed to be doing a reasonable job, and as you will see later, Zac made the right call as per.
Despite the monties, the real highlight of Blacktoft came just as we were leaving. As we were walking out of the hide a young Spoonbill came towards us from the direction of the other hides. Zac and Jonnie left to go to the next hide along to see if they could catch it there but I stayed and could see it flying low across the scrape in front of us. Then, it decided to land on the island in the middle of the pond, with that fantastic beak out in all its glory. It had a quick bark at some mallards, stayed for about a minuet before flying off again. It was possibly the highlight of my day, but maybe not quite, and was the best view of the species I have ever had. Not only that but I got some reasonable photos from it, please excuse the excessive number of photos about to be shown...
We raced off for the pipit after that. My phone was down, so I had no idea whether the bird would have stuck or not. The weather was lifting as drove, with the rain easing off until it had almost stopped. We drove over the snake pass, which was, surprisingly, a first time for me. It truly is a beautiful road make no mistake, and I was impressed. On the way over we saw Red Grouse, Common Buzzard and I spotted a Raven, though it took me a while to work out it was not a bird of prey.
Eventually we arrived at the pipit. It had taken a little longer than we had anticipated but we still made it for early afternoon and to our delight the bird was still showing. It took us a while to work out the directions as it was so close to the wall, when we expected it to be feeding out in the field with the other mipits.
Sadly it did not stay there long and then flew off into the field. It was re-found but was further away. making it harder to get record shots though the view was still fantastic. In the end we had about half an hour-40 mins with the bird before a thunderstorm came in and the bird was flushed by the lightening, moving it into the middle of the field. We left when the storm hit but the bird was refound in the afternoon.
So about the bird. For a bird that's usually seen flying overhead calling we were very lucky to see this bird. It was stunning adult, complete with red-breast, something I never thought I would see but here it is and fantastic it was too. When the sun caught it fully it stood out in the field even without bins, almost like a carrot or something. It looked extraordinary and yet fantastic. The stripes on the back were also pretty cool to see, those white marks which distinguish it from other pipits when it lacks its breast. And when it flew we even heard it call, so we call a full house on the bird. Fantastic!
-The Twitch with incoming storm clouds
Absolutely buzzing from that, with now 2 lifers under my belt, we contemplated what to do next. We decided to go to Pennington Flash to see a Black Tern that had dropped in. Again, I expected it to have left but I had already been wrong once today and would happily be proven wrong again. By this point the storm had stopped and the sun was now out, though it was a little blustery.
We arrived on site to find the sky filled with Swifts but to news that the tern had been lost. Nevertheless we settled down to try and scout it out. I picked it out among the common terns but it had been roosting well down which is why no one had found it. I then spotted a Common Sandpiper and a White Wagtail, so this reserve obviously is where I was most at home.
The tern, my first inland and first landed, then flew on to a branch at the end of the rocks where it stood out much better. Sadly it was too distant for any great attempt at a photo but I had a stab through the scope and they will serve Ok as a record shot. On the deck it was surprising how much smaller it was than the Common Terns it was with, despite having seen them in the tern roosts at Spurn.
We continued on our way, next stop being the wirral to have a look at some dotterel that were supposed to be chilling on the beach. We did not see the dotterel but we did see a fantastic summer plumage Curlew Sandpiper which was feeding among the dunlin. Sadly we lost it multiple times before we eventually got it settled. It was a fantastic bird, almost as good as the one at beacon ponds last year, but probably not quite...
And the final year-tick of the day was something of a surprise when Jonnie spotted a summer plumaged Grey Plover flying down towards us. It then flew straight over our heads allowing us to see its black belly before it continued on its way south. A fantastic end to the day.
And that's how we finished. Zac dropped me off at Liverpool station and I was soon on my way home after a fantastic day out birding, with 2 lifers. I have not had a day with 2 lifers since February, what an excellent day. Big thanks to Jonnie and Zac.
Blacktoft Sands RSPB: Marsh Harrier, Sedge Warbler, Gadwall, Shoveler, Avocet, Montagu's Harrier, Gargany, Great Crested Grebe, Graylag Goose, Mute Swan, Canada Goose, Woodpigeon, Swallow, Sand Martin, House Martin, Swift, Spoonbill, Carrion Crow, Rook, Chaffinch,
Ludworth Moor: Red-Throated Pipit, Meadow Pipit, Lapwing, Carrion Crow, Jackdaw,
Pennington Flash: Black Tern, Common Redshank. Common Sandpiper, Common Tern, White Wagtail, Herring Gull, Lesser Black-Backed Gull, Black-Headed Gull, Woodpigeon, Stock Dove, Mallard, Mute Swan, Canada Goose, Graylag Goose, Swift, Swallow, Cormorant, Starling,
Meols: Dunlin, Curlew Sandpiper, Ringed Plover, Grey Plover, Herring Gull, Greater Black-Backed Gull, Oystercatcher, Shelduck, Starling,