A stroll through Blacktoft Sands near Goole in Yorkshire

I spent a long weekend trying to avoid the election madness in Yorkshire. I voted, then had a job interview and then drove across the country so I was a bit stressed! I’d also stayed late at work the day before to get everything done.

As ever, the countryside is the perfect antidote to everything so as soon as I got to Blacktoft Sands I was desperate to see everything before it closed at 5.

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This is the approach to the reserve, as it had rained everything looked wonderful and green. The fledglings were also in full force!

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Blacktoft certainly shows the power of putting up communal nesting boxes as they have a great population of tree sparrows and lots seem to have fledged! You can see this nestbox is well used.

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What a beautiful sight! Not bad for a ‘little brown job’. The parents had certainly done well, feeding them all.

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Magnificent male Konik ponies manage the reserve. They are very hardy ponies who don’t mind adverse weather conditions! They originate from Poland and they are intelligent foragers so they can adapt to the food available and they halt their own growth if food is scarce.

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One of the islands at BS, you can see the black headed gulls, mallards and avocets enjoying the pool.

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A shelduck flying just above the water. They are present all year round but there are much more in the winter. It likes to lay its eggs in the disused holes such as the burrows of rabbits or other mammals and even tree holes.

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This is an owl box containing barn owls and their chicks! One fell out a week ago and the RSPB workers found it put it back in – success!

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A view of the estuary.

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Two baby little grebes! The parents were at the other side of the pool but they didn’t seem too distressed. These waterfowl parents like to live on the edge!

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The best thing about the BS was the marsh harriers! It was the best views I’ve ever had of them so of course I got my camera out and started snapping away. Even the heron looks a bit worried and is keeping a low profile.

This is, of course, a female. You can see the landscape in the background, I like to see animals and humans living together side-by-side.

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What a beauty, they fly so low that you can get incredible views of them. They eat frogs, small mammals and birds such as waterfowl.

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Here is a male and a female. You can see the huge difference in size between the two. Female raptors as a rule tend to be bigger and browner than their male counterparts.

This is a food pass – I didn’t think I would get to see one, let alone photograph it! Admittedly you can’t see the food but the male is passing it to the female. Males have greyer wings and tail and are paler than the female.

One day I will be able to afford a bigger lens! But for now these pictures tell a story. I’ve definitely fallen in love with the marsh harrier now – I can’t wait to see more!

There are quite a few nesting marsh harriers at BS so it will be a sight when all those young fledge and there will be food passes galore.

My next trip is to Saltholme near Middlesbrough – watch this space.

The beauty of Burton Mere and Parkgate in Cheshire

On bank holiday weekend I decided to visit the Dee Estuary for the very first time. I’ve wanted to go for a long while and I was so pleased that I did.

Nature is the place to collect your thoughts and find solace and thats exactly what we did.

I got a bee tattoo as a tribute after the Manchester concert attack and I’m so glad I did. It reminds me of my love of nature as well as my love for Manchester and the solidarity that I feel.

My boyfriend was very hungover but I was determined to visit, so I picked him up and off we went.

The word ‘estuary’ conjures up quite industrial images in my mind but I was blown away by how beautiful it was. I never realised it was such a rich area in terms of both wildlife and money! It looks like an incredible place to live.

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The staff at the reception hide (a very cosy and well-funded hide) couldn’t have been more helpful and were obviously passionate about what they do. They gave us a good overview of all the birds that were currently on the reserve.

There were some great views of these two black tailed godwits having a scrap.

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This is the biggest island in the scrape. You can see the black headed gulls, mallards, coot, a shoveler and an avocet on its nest. There were a few breeding avocets, 71 fledged last year from BM, lets hope for even more this year! What a success story.

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Here is a small island with a common tern nesting, there are also black headed gull chicks on this island. Apparently there were shoveler chicks but we didn’t see them. I did see some mallard ducklings sheltering from the rain under their mum which was a treat.

I also saw a fledgling pied wagtail and there was a small gang of sanderling, the first time I’ve ever seen them.

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If you look closely you can see four great tits in this photo! The whole family descended on the feeder and the poor parent was busy feeding them. These fledgling will soon be independent and they are lucky to have such a great food source.

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Its not often that you see a moorhen off the ground but this one loved patrolling the fence line! We saw this along the burton mere trail and the pools were full of tufted ducks and a mallard with ducklings also.

On the way back we saw a brown rat with a short tail near the pools, it quickly ran into the banking when it saw us.

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A stunning reed warbler in its rightful place – the reeds! I’ve never seen one before so this was another first for me. Burton Mere is a great place to see warblers as we saw quite a few, more than in Leighton Moss. I think this is because the reedbeds are so big which gives them many places to hide.

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In the water on the way to farm area, we saw a wigeon. My very first! I was amazed by his beautiful colours. It was like a parrot in duck form, especially against the monochrome looking gulls in the background.

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From the hide near the farm we saw these two beautiful oystercatcher chicks, with both parents doing a good job of feeding them.

There were some other young birds that we were worried about.

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These five ducklings left this island – but where was their mother?

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We watched them swimming in the open water, calling for their mum. There was nothing we could do but watch when they went from island to island and then disappeared into the reeds.

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We were about to give up and then the mother flew back in and they sprinted towards her. Here they are happily reunited. I think the mother left them on the island but they decided to go for a swim but she managed to find them. I’m not sure how often mother ducks leave their young as I have not seen it before, it seems pretty risky to me!

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Another warbler, a beautiful and inquisitive sedge warbler who flitted from perch to perch looking at us. They are not shy birds at all!

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We saw this dunnock up by the farm and I managed to get a nice view from through the trees. I hoped it was a linnet but no, I’ll have to tick that off my list at a later date.

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We saw this lovely common whitethroat, I’ve only seen one before in my local patch so I was pleased to see this one collecting for its nest.

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A view from the marsh covert hide. Not quite as busy as the reception hide but I saw some redshank and lapwings busy in the outskirts.

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There is an area that is cordoned off where you can see this cattle egret nest! I could only see its head but there was a little egret next to it and a heron’s nest behind it so it was a hive of activity!

Cattle egrets have only been breeding in the UK for the past ten years, so this is quite an exciting and Northerly location for them. All three species of egrets are now making their mark on the UK and I saw all three, two in Burton Mere (little and cattle) and one in Parkgate (great white).

So what did I see altogether?

  • Common tern
  • Black headed gull
  • Common gull
  • Mallard
  • Teal
  • Grey wagtail
  • Black tailed godwit
  • Oystercatcher
  • Grey heron
  • Avocet
  • Sanderling
  • Coot
  • Moorhen
  • Magpie
  • Blackbird
  • Wigeon
  • Shoveler
  • Shelduck
  • Little egret
  • Cattle egret
  • Gadwall
  • Canada goose
  • Reed warbler
  • Great tit
  • Blue tit
  • Dunnock
  • Chaffinch
  • Goldfinch
  • Sedge warbler
  • Common whitethroat
  • Woodpigeon
  • Lapwing
  • Little grebe
  • Mute swan
  • Tufted duck
  • Chiffchaff
  • Jackdaw
  • Robin
  • Redshank
  • Kestrel
  • Great white egret
  • Pheasant
  • Starling
  • Swallow
  • Brown rat

So 44 species of birds in one day! These include Parkgate as well which we visited after Burton Mere, where I got fantastic views of a beautiful kestrel.

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I’ve never seen a kestrel so close up so this was a great thing for me. I was looking for a hide, not realising it was a car park. I imagine if you sat there all day you’d see a lot of raptors.

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We had some chips whilst looking out on to the marsh and it was great day in all. And only 45 minutes from Manchester. Both reserves are absolutely beautiful and I can’t believe its taken me so long to discover them!

I will most definitely be back, hopefully next time in the sunshine!

A wildlife walk around RSPB Ynys hir in Wales

This is actually my second visit to Ynys Hir, I also visited in October 2016 but I know more about birds now and I was excited to see it at a different time of year!

I visited on the 1st April so springtime was not in full swing as yet but there were migrants about. I actually got to the centre before the RSPB people so I must have looked very keen sitting there! Luckily I had the birdfeeder to watch, you can see a chaffinch and two pheasants enjoying their breakfast here.

I headed to the causeway hides first of all as I didn’t spend that much time there the first time I came.

I love these ponies but I didn’t think they were tame so I gave them a wide berth.

My view on the way to the hides.

The view of the Saltings hide from the Marain Mawr hide 🙂

An oystercatcher takes off at the Domen Las hide looking over the River Dovey.

A little egret taking in the view.

A lovely primrose on the way to the other side of the reserve.

Ponies on the track!

I thought the ponies would be wary of humans but clearly not as this one befriended me and I love it! What a gorgeous young pony!

These ponies seemed wilder as they grazed away and ignored the people wandering past.

The Covert Du and Breakwater hides are closed due to flooding but here you can the view. Last time I was here I saw Barnacle geese as it was autumn.

I sat here looking for water rails, kingfishers or bitterns and I had no luck but I did see a little grebe.

The view from the Ynys Hir hide over the reserve. Close by I saw a warbler building a nest, I think it was a willow warbler.

Here are all the wonderful species you can see, both in English and in Welsh.

This is my full list of sightings:

  • Redshank
  • Canada goose
  • Lapwing
  • Teal
  • Great egret
  • Little egret
  • Little grebe
  • Pied wagtail
  • Shelduck
  • Mallard
  • Dunnock
  • Treecreepers
  • Shoveler
  • Curlew
  • Pheasant
  • Chaffinch
  • Stonechat

A very fancy hotel for bugs.

I had some hot chocolate and cake and looked out at these swans.

Another lovely day at Ynys Hir, the place where last year I saw my first hen harrier (a female) and my first reed buntings. I combined this trip with my visit to South Stack and RSPB Conwy and no doubt I’ll be back as Wales is great for birding.

See you soon Wales! 🙂

A Day Out at Leighton Moss

I love Leighton Moss! I’ve wanted to go ever since I saw it on Springwatch and on the May Day bank holiday I seized the chance. Its a one and a half hour drive from Manchester and it was worth it. I only wish I had an electric car but there is a train station nearby in Silverdale.

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There were lots of pheasants around as it is that season where those things happen. This beautiful male appears to have lost his tail!

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We walked to the causeway first, we saw some waterfowl from the public hide and bumped into this very photogenic robin, its easy to see why they are one of our most photographed British birds.

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Here I am, desperately searching the reeds for a bearded tit. I didn’t see one, unless of course you count my boyfriend. I did however spy a sedge warbler and I could hear a beautiful cacophony of sound coming from the reeds. It really is an incredible reedbed and you can see why so many of our rare species like the bittern, bearded tit and the waterrail choose to live here.

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On our way to the boringly named lower hide we saw these beauties in a field. Gorgeous baby greylag geese. Twelve to be exact and these weren’t the only ones on the reserve.

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This stunning peacock butterfly put in an appearance on the way to the hide. It was a gorgeous sunny day and it showed off the wildlife in its full glory!

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Despite its unexciting name, the Lower Hide was my absolute favourite hide, there was a mother duck and her ducklings foraging in the undergrowth and we saw two little grebes. One of the marsh harrier also put in a brief appearance! I liked it as the hide was tucked away but you still got great views of nature.

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On the way back we saw this fellow building a nest, I’m not absolutely sure which warbler it is – perhaps a chiffchaff? Answers on a postcard please.

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On the garden route we saw some lovely and surprisingly tame garden birds. This slightly bedraggled blue tit was using the nest box near this bench and came out to snack on some grain.

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This great tit posed in front of the viewing tower, where you can look over the reserve.

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This nuthatch showed no fear when posing on a branch.

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From the Grisedale hide I could see this lapwing on its nest.

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I also spotted the garganey, as well as this gadwall swimming about next to the log.

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In the little pool near the visitors centre, we watched these delightful moorhen chicks! The parent swam off and some of the chicks joined her and some stayed in the nest, they had only recently hatched as you could see the eggshell in the water. It was like watching a live fledging! They all hunkered down together in the end though as you can see here.

In the bush nearby was a male blackcap and the feeders were busy with chaffinch, greenfinch, goldfinch, pheasant, woodpigeon and a very wily grey squirrel.

We went to the visitor centre for a scone and cake. I also picked up a second hand Hamlyn guide to the blackcap for £3.50 so I was pleased with that.

We then drove to the second part of the reserve for some avocet action, I’ve only ever seen avocets in the RSPB Minsmere reserve so I was excited.

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The area near Morecambe Bay was a hive of activity as you can see from the black-headed gull action above. There were a few nesting but no chicks as yet. There were also some shelduck lurking around.

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We saw some avocet’s mating as well – great news for the future of this bird! These two were too busy eating to be involved in any of that.

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There were a few oystercatchers knocking about, didn’t see any steamy romance from them though.

Here is my full list from the day:

  • Sedge warbler
  • Chaffinch
  • Robin
  • Blackbird
  • Greenfinch
  • Mute Swan
  • Coot
  • Moorhen
  • Swallow
  • Gadwall
  • Tufted duck
  • Mallard
  • Pochard
  • Greylag goose and goslings
  • Shoveler
  • Lapwing
  • Teal
  • Marsh harrier
  • Oystercatcher
  • Common gull
  • Great crested gull
  • Little grebe
  • Wren
  • Moorhen and chicks
  • Blackcap
  • Pheasants
  • Magpie
  • Blue tit
  • Shelduck
  • Woodpigeon
  • Nuthatch
  • Bullfinch
  • Goldfinch
  • Black tailed godwit
  • Garganey
  • Avocet
  • Black headed gull
  • Lesser black backed gull
  • Little egret
  • Grey heron
  • Great egret
  • Willow warbler

And finally…

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And last but not least we saw this fellow, singing away with its whole body vibrating…and it sounded just like a grasshopper! Thats right, it was a grasshopper warbler. A lifer for me and a great way to end an amazing day.

On the drive home we saw a kestrel by the motorway as an added bonus. Thank you Leighton Moss, I’ll be back.

Birding at RSPB Old Moor in Yorkshire

The Dearne Valley RSPB reserves are near Barnsley, just over an hour from where I live in Manchester. This the entrance, it isn’t one of the biggest reserves but I was excited as I had wanted to visit for a while.

SPOILER ALERT: I saw not one, but two lifers!

I checked the board for latest sightings:

In the garden bit near the entrance, loads of birds are attracted to the feeders. There were loads of pairs of bullfinches, you can just about see one below plus a woodpigeon feeding on the ground.

From the family hide I could see loads of noisy black headed gulls gearing up for mating season.

It was only a short walk to the Wader Scrape hide and Wath Ings hides. I didn’t see any avocets but I did see lots of other birds and there were still quite a few ducks around.

This is my full list from these hides:

  • Black headed gull
  • Mallard
  • Cormorant
  • Coot
  • Moorhen
  • Canada goose
  • Gadwall
  • Tufted duck
  • Great crested grebe
  • Oystercatcher
  • Blackbird
  • Teal
  • Mute Swan
  • Magpie
  • Woodpigeon
  • Pochard
  • Lapwing
  • Common sandpiper
  • Shoveler
  • Pheasant
  • Greylag goose
  • Little grebe

Here you can see a gadwall at the front.

And here is an oystercatcher wandering about.

After the green route through the wetlands, we headed to the reedbed. Unfortunately this was the closest we got to seeing a bittern as they were nesting at this point.

After a look around the reedbed, we headed to the tree sparrow farm and I’m so glad we did as it was a hive of bird activity.

I took these pictures before I got my new camera so apologies for the quality, I still thought it was a day worth sharing! I only had my phone with me.

You can see the goldfinches on this feeder, its an unclear photograph but there is a reed bunting hiding in the tree and it actually came to the feeder. Its such a large bird that it made the garden birds look tiny in comparison.

This the hide where you can see all the beautiful birds, and after waiting for a few minutes I did see a tree sparrow! My very first official one. A big tick right there.

Here is my full list from this hide:

  • Bullfinch
  • Dunnock
  • Blue tit
  • Yellowhammer
  • Reed bunting
  • Collared dove
  • Tree sparrow
  • Goldfinch
  • Chaffinch
  • Robin

But the day wasn’t over yet! Just as I was about the leave this fellow appeared. A beautiful yellowhammer eating food that had fallen from the feeders. A first for me and a bird I’ve wanted to see for a long time. Thank you Old Moor!

The cafe looked nice but we didn’t stay as we had to get back to Manchester, I would love to return and visit the satellite sites of Wombwell Ings, Broomhill Flash, Adwick and Gypsy Marsh but I will return with a better camera and see them all!

Until next time Old Moor!

 

 

 

 

Birding at RSPB Conwy

I’ve wanted to visit this wildlife reserve in Wales for a while as it has great facilities and is really not very far from Manchester.

I stayed in Criccieth for the weekend so I bobbed in after visiting South Stack on my way home.

The reserve is well signposted but there is only one entrance by road off a roundabout, you can also get there by walking along the coastal path.

It costs £5 for a adult if you’re not a member which sounds expensive but it has really good facilities including good hides like this one and a park for children, the paths are accessible so good for a family day out.

The good thing about the glass is that sounds are less likely to travel to the birds but they can see you through the glass! You won’t get wet but equally its annoying to take photos behind glass, there are plenty of places you can stand outside to take photographs though.

There is a boardwalk where you can look for reed dwelling birds if they don’t hear you coming first!

Here are all the birds that you are likely to see, I saw 19 birds in total:

  • Shelducks (many, some mating)
  • Oystercatchers (being very noisy)
  • Black-headed gulls
  • Common gulls
  • Little grebe
  • Redshank
  • Curlew
  • Coot
  • Moorhen
  • Grey heron
  • Little egret
  • Tufted ducks
  • Teal
  • Gadwall
  • Mallard
  • Canada goose
  • Cormorant
  • Herring gull
  • House sparrow

On the other side of the lake you can see the sea, which was full of shelduck, curlew and redshank but it is of course tide dependent!

As a bonus there was a great view of Conwy castle.

Here is a poor shot of the ponies that graze the land to make it more habitable for birds.

Here is the mudbanks that the birds love to feed on!

As you walk around the pool some hides reveal better views than others and you never know what you may see. Here is a coot, I was hoping for a water rail or a bittern but beggars can’t be choosers!

I took this of a heron along with some Canada geese and a bunch of horny shelducks!

And finally, I had an apple and chocolate cake as well as a cappuccino. This is a poor photograph of what was actually quite an enjoyable moment!

I have to say I was very sad to go back as I had such beautiful weather and saw such lovely birds!

I’ll be back soon Wales.

A wild trip to South Stack in Anglesey

So I’ve been wanting to visit South Stack for a while and I stayed in Criccieth for the weekend so I could visit a few bird reserves in North Wales.

You get to South Stack through Holyhead and it does feel like you’re in Land’s End in terms of ruggedness. It reminded me a lot of Ramsey Island in South Wales.

I parked up in the bottom car park and walked to Ellins Tower below.

The tower has scopes and RSPB volunteers so you can look closely at the birds on the cliffs.

You can also take boat trips around the lighthouse, I decided not to as it is only the beginning of the breeding season and there are still many birds still to return.

I went for a walk instead, I could hear many birds but they were covered by the heathland. As the weather was quite warm the birds were feeding earlier in the day and I got there around 10am.

I would come earlier as the crowds arrive about 10.30am and you stand more chance of seeing small birds and photographs without people in them.

I headed up to the visitor centre to see what was going on, I’d seen on Twitter that choughs visit the birdfeeders there and I was really keen to see a chough.

When I arrived there were only greenfinch and this dunnock sitting on the wall, singing away.

The cliffs are very steep so its really important to stay safe!

I found a prime position in the cafe so that I could see the birdfeeder and I enjoyed a hot chocolate. I’d finished my drink and given up on the idea when they appeared!

I was so chuffed (pardon the pun) as I hadn’t been able to find them on Ramsey Island and I was finally able to check them off my list!

Look how red their bills and legs are!

There is a small children’s play area next to the centre.

You can’t tell by this picture but there are hundreds of seabirds on these cliffs.

They were mostly razorbills, as well as guillemots, fulmar, kittiwakes and two puffins! The puffins were the first of the season and I was very excited to see them.

This dog wasn’t quite as thrilled as I was to see the puffins.

I was in such a remote bit of Wales that my phone thought I was in Ireland and sent me this text message!

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I will definitely return to South Stack during peak season as I would love to see the peak seabird population complete with chicks! I also loved the ruggedness of the landscape and the fact that is felt so far away even though it isn’t really.