Trip reports

RSPB Cliffe Pools (Leader Warren Mann)

RSPB Cliffe Pools (Leader Warren Mann)
Jackdaw [Nigel Blake]

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Plan A was simple enough: as the start was at 9.30 and high tide was at 13.20 we would walk round the whole reserve in a clockwise direction and arrive at the top of the Saxon Shore Way about 11.30, by which time the birds would be moving off the mud flats and on to Flamingo pool for our viewing delectation. However, that was scuppered when the low temperatures and very strong winds made a walk around the exposed top of the reserve an extremely unpleasant prospect. Plan B was to linger around Crystal Pool and the sheltered part of the reserve, perhaps getting as far as Alan's Pond or may be the Black Barn, before retracing our steps and reaching Flamingo from the bottom end of the Saxon Shore Way. But at Crystal Pool we were greeted by not by the sound of bird song but of brush cutters, as today was the day when all the islands were to get the horticultural equivalent of a number one haircut. Not surprisingly, most of the birds had flown but our quick scan showed a few individuals, comprising gadwall, pochard, mallard and tufted ducks plus a little grebe and the inevitable coot.

We moved on and as we made our way down the track we picked up a herring gull, blackbird and numerous jackdaws. We decided to go up the Pinnacle to get an overview of the reserve to see where the birds were. The bright sunshine gave us a clear view of the reserve and well beyond, which showed that much of the reserve was almost empty, but there very good numbers of birds on the far side of Radar Pool towards Pickles Way. Most of the birds were using the islands to provide some shelter from the biting wind. We were able to identify distant waders (lapwings, redshanks, curlew and avocet) plus shovelers, shelducks, greylags and cormorants.

At the well sheltered viewpoint over Radar Pool, Pete, who had gone ahead, reported sightings of wigeons, pintails, great crested grebes, black-tailed godwits and golden eyes, plus many of the species seen earlier. We caught up with the additional birds except for golden eyes, but we persisted and eventually we were all rewarded with good views of both male and female birds.

We made our way down the track to Alan's Pond but saw very little. In the shelter of the scrub the wind did not seem too bad so we decided to go on the Black Barn viewing mound. This was a mistake, as after a hundred yards or so we reached open ground and the wind was unpleasantly cold, and so strong that we could not hold either bins or telescopes steady. We retraced our steps to the bottom end of the Saxon Shore Way adding only reed bunting. We made our way up the track, but carefully scanning Radar Pool added nothing of significance. Three of our number very sensibly decided enough was enough, but the remaining four of us carried on to Flaming pool. The only excitement being a group of chaffinches on the path.

At Flamingo we added great black-backed gull to the lesser-blacked and surprisingly few black-headed gulls seen earlier. A quick check of Cliffe Creek showed that the tide had covered the mud flats, but as we scanned the top of Flamingo there still did not seem to be that much about, and it was gone 11.30 pm by now. Then slowly large distant flocks of birds, mainly lapwings, were seen. Suddenly, four or five flocks of dunlins appeared over the sea wall and flew low over the pool, sometimes a snow-white cloud and at other times turning together and almost becoming invisible. They were joined by over-flying flocks of black-tailed godwits and golden plovers. The dunlins were restless and flew up and down looking for somewhere to settle, and provided a grand spectacle. Plan B was working!

We decided to retrace our steps back to the carpark but slowly, checking the pools and scrub on the way. We added teal, goldfinch and linnet, found several grey plovers amongst the small flocks of black-backs and curlews, saw more pintails and other wildfowl, and got further terrific views of male and female goldeneyes. When we got back to our cars we saw the only raptors of the day - two kestrels, which brought up the total number of species seen to 44. This wasn't bad considering there was a lot of common stuff we did not find. A good day out...eventually.

Warren Mann