Trip reports

Blacktoft Sands

Blacktoft Sands
Digiscope images by Paul Barrett

Saturday, 14 May 2016

Blacktoft Sands is situated on the south bank of the River Ouse, where it widens to become the Humber Estuary. Our group made a visit to this very special RSPB Reserve on Saturday 14 May 2016. The reserve boasts a wonderful variety of wildlife including birds, mammals, butterflies and dragonflies. The tidal reedbed is the largest in England and is important for its breeding bearded tits, bitterns and marsh harriers. Over 270 species of birds have been recorded on the reserve. One of the most breathtaking sights in summer is pairs of marsh harriers, which pass food from one to the other in mid-air during their acrobatic courtship display. Throughout the day, some of our group were lucky enough to watch these spectacular displays at very close quarters from Singleton Hide. They also caught glimpses of a Montagu's harrier - the rarest breeding bird of prey in the UK.
Close views could be had of nesting avocets on the artificial islands on the saline pools, with very young chicks already feeding for themselves at the water's edge. Sadly, very few of the chicks will grow to maturity, due to predators. The warden, Alex, explained that the colonies are not large enough to defend themselves from predators (such as the marsh harriers), and would do better if they could mix themselves amongst the black headed gull colonies because the gulls are much more aggressive in defending their young.
One disappointing feature of the visit was the almost complete lack of wading birds (avocets excepted). A solitary common sandpiper was spotted at the Ousefleet hide but nothing else was reported.
Two female bittern are known to be nesting on site and the male was briefly glimpsed at the Townend hide. Large numbers of warblers inhabit the area - many heard but few seen! Bearded tits were somewhat elusive - they are currently nesting deep in the reedbeds - but they afforded us the occasional glimpse.
Konik ponies have been introduced in order to graze the reserve. The Eastern European breed was chosen for their ability to adapt and thrive in a wetland environment and have been used to help manage nature reserves across Europe.
Birds seen: sedge warbler, avocet, swift, little grebe, greylag goose, coot, moorhen, mallard, black-headed gull, little egret, tree sparrow, house sparrow, tufted duck, marsh harrier, Montagu's harrier, crow, wood pigeon, reed bunting, heron, wren, house martin, Canada goose, pochard, blue tit, great crested grebe, mute swan, shelduck, robin, chaffinch, willow warbler, magpie, shoveller, gadwall, blackcap, pied wagtail, common sandpiper, blackbird, pheasant.