Some days and some trips just don't go to plan. Twitching rare birds is a game of risk and reward but also, on occasion, partial or even ultimate failure. We were on a good run having added 3 new birds to our UK life list and no fewer than 11 to our year list in the last month. I had yet another slack day on Wednesday (that privilege is also coming to an end owing to my increased work load) so on Tuesday I had watched the bird news services all day to see what we could twitch. One bird stood out from the crowd, a Little Crake, that had been found at the RSPB's Blacktoft Sands reserve in East Yorkshire close to the Humber estuary. Blacktoft is around 160 miles from our house so would entail another long drive and my car would be sure to complain so I fed it some more diesel and oil, gave it a bit of water, checked the important bits and sped off north early in the morning.
It was a beautiful day as we weaved in and out of the HGV's that clogged up the motorway but we felt optimistic that it would be another really good days birding. In addition to the Little Crake, incidentally a bird that we've never seen, Blacktoft also had a Spotted Crake present on the reserve so with a bit of luck we could score with two Crake species on the same day! We parked up in the predictably full carpark at Blacktoft at 09:30 and togged up as quickly as we could. A Little Crake was bound to draw in quite a crowd and I remembered our visit here last August when we'd twitched and seen our first ever Buff-breasted Sandpiper, not such a rare bird but it had been standing room only for its admirers in the hide from where it could be seen.
|juvenile Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Blacktoft Sands, East Yorkshire, 08/08/2018|
For the next hour or so I craned my neck the wrong way and searched amongst the reed stems for any sign of the Little Crake but there was little to get excited about save for a Reed Warbler that momentarily lifted the spirits since the flash of beige got me all of a flutter! Eventually I was able to settle down close to my wife but we still had Mr Gallant sat between us so we were unable to interact and chat as we normally would. When I asked the chap if he'd swap places his retort was "no thanks, I'm happy here". Cheers mate. If it wasn't for the fact that I wanted to see the Little Crake, I'd have been quite happy if it didn't show so that he couldn't!
In the event, we left at midday and gave it up as a bad job. There had be no sign at all of the Little Crake and there wouldn't be all day as it turned out. Similarly the Spotted Crake had not been reported either. Blacktoft is a huge reserve with lots of reedbeds and hidden pools so both birds could have still been there somewhere and may well be found again.
There had of course been other birds, a flock of 11 Spotted Redshanks had been dozing on the scrape and there were also Ruff, Black-tailed Godwits, Lapwing, Dunlin and Snipe. We'd also seen a juvenile Water Rail nip in and out the reeds and 4 Little Egrets had been feeding in the shallows. In truth I'd paid little notice to all of those birds since my attention was almost entirely concentrated at the base of the reeds and I only took two photos, one of a Meadow Pipit that dropped in and the other of the Spot Shanks!
|Spotted Redshanks (with Lapwing, Ruff, Shoveler & Teal)|
As we drove out from Blacktoft and onto minor roads to gain the M62 motorway I spotted a Harrier quartering a recently cut hay field. A quick look confirmed my initial suspicion that it was a Marsh Harrier and not the more sought after Montagu's. The Harrier was flying along a ditch close to a side road so I pulled off and followed it, at times it was flying just a few metres ahead and it was fabulous to be able to watch it so closely. I passed the bird, pulled up in a lay-by and readied the camera to take some shots. I've never, despite years of trying, managed to get a clinching image of a Marsh Harrier and here at least I stood a chance. The Marsh harrier however had other ideas and had clearly been party to the "how to avoid Old Caley's camera lens" leaflet since it then endeavoured to avoid any good side on or front views instead keeping it's tail pointing at me. Ah well, there will be another Marsh Harrier on another day in the future when no doubt I'll fail again.
|American Golden Plovers (& Lapwings), Lunt Meadows, Lancashire, 19/09/2019|
|juvenile American Golden Plover, Davidstow Airfield, Cornwall, 18/10/2014|
After just 10 minutes the two birds suddenly took flight and flew off strongly to the west calling loudly and were lost to view. As is usual for me they chose exactly the time to fly as I was interchanging the 1.4 converter to my lens so I missed the chance to grab a flight shot! It really hadn't been the best day.
There didn't seem to much point in hanging around considering we still had nearly a 3 hour drive to look forward to so we walked away and left what appeared to be a superb reserve. Recently returned for the winter, skeins of Pink-footed Geese flew high overhead making much noise as they did so.