Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Wader spectacular at Blacktoft Sands

I thought I’d missed out on this. For a couple of weeks there have been reports of a fanatsic array of waders at Blacktoft Sands RSPB (near Goole, East Yorkshire). Not in terms of quantity – the big numbers are further down the Humber estuary – but in terms of quality. Several Spotted Redshank among the Common versions; double figures of Green Sandpiper; Curlew Sandpiper; Avocet, dozens of Black-tailed Godwit; and the jewel in the crown: Yorkshire’s sixth Marsh Sandpiper.

But two weeks is not long enough for me to get my act together and travel the hour-and-a-bit it takes to get to the reserve. Work, kids, the Airedale Otters, and the creaky old house we’ve just moved into have all got in the way. But the birds have hung around patiently, and were still there earlier today. And working from home has it’s benefits: I can leave a bit earlier and go birding (and then start again when I get back and end up working until midnight...). There are worse situations in the World at the moment, so I'm not complaining about "being busy".

My journey there was through early rush-hour traffic, and I'd not brought any CDs. In the glove compartment was a CD of a 1959 recording of Tchaikovsky’s Ballet Suites, performed by L'Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, conducted by Ernest Ansermet. A great recording with lots of bass. I think these older recordings sound so much natural than the modern digital ones. I drove back to the excellent Jamie Cullum Jazz Show on Radio 2, featuring an article about Gary Bartz. Great stuff, really fascinating. That was followed by that total chancer Jo Whiley. She has absolutely no critical faculties when it comes to music. But she did play some Sugercubes, so I’ll let her off.

The Marsh Sandpiper had been flushed by an Avocet before I’d arrived, and while combing the reserve for it I saw some of the other great birds here. A lone Curlew Sandpiper was sleeping all the time I watched, but it’s blotchy red breast was easy to pick out. I saw a total  of 12 Green Sandpiper, plus there were eight Spotted Redshank form the Marshland Hide. Dunlin, Redshank, Lapwing, Avocet, and Greenshank were the other waders. Marsh Harriers (including close views of a beautiful cream-crowned female), five Little Egret, two Little Grebe, plenty of Common Whitethroat... Plus this little youngster, who simply would not stay still to be photographed.

A shy Common Toad, Blacktoft Sands RSPB, East Yorkshire - 26th July 2011

I eventually found the Marsh Sandpiper from the Ousefleet screen, feeding alone near some active Dunlin and inactive Lapwing. A couple of Redshank helped give a size comparison. The bill is so fine, like a phalarope’s, and the front of the face was almost pure white. The bird’s gait was striking too, being very elegant and long-legged. The feeding technique was obviously to pick food from the surface of the water, rather than probe. I managed a poor record shot…

Marsh Sandpiper, Blacktoft Sands RSPB, East Yorkshire - 26th July 2011

It soon went from view. But by the time I’d walked to the Singleton Hide at the other end of the reserve, it was there, much closer this time and with a Greenshank for comparison. What a lovely, dainty bird.

A while back I promised I’d improve my note taking, and spend less time trying to take bad photos. And here I had a such a good opportunity to compare the Marsh Sandpiper with a Greenshank stood next to it.

Marsh Sandpiper, Blacktoft Sands RSPB, East Yorkshire - 26th July 2011

The difference in bulk really only becomes clear when they're next to each other. The Marshy being more dainty and graceful, with such a fine bill. There was also a suggestion of a crown stripe. The head and neck colouring on the Greenshank wass much darker, covering the whole face and lores and extending further down the breast. The Marshy also had more colour variation in the wing, which had a dark leading edge and some brown in the primaries. The spotting on the uppers was larger on the Marshy; the Greenshank's uppers are more of a uniform speckling. All very educational.

A great afternoon/evening, and a new lifer for me. And I highly recommend Blacktoft, at any time of year.

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