Trip reports

Field Trip - Blacktoft Sands

Male bearded tit perching on Phragmites

Sunday, 22 September 2019

We arrived at Blacktoft Sands, an RSPB reserve on the south bank of the river Ouse, shortly after 9am. A little off the beaten track, the reserve was quiet this Sunday morning; certainly much quieter than in the preceding week when a little crake had made a fleeting visit; the first Yorkshire record since 1946. This was the star among several excellent birds that week which also included spotted crake, little stint and curlew sandpiper.

While we were to see no rarities, the reserve is a special place; easy to get around but a place of expansive reed beds and big skies.

We saw some special birds too. Water rails were particularly confiding and several gave stunning views as they made erratic progress along the front of the reeds. Bearded tits, another reserve speciality, were also showing well from several hides feeding on seeds on the mud at the edge of the reeds and this species was 'a first' for several members of the group.

Blacktoft in September is a place for waders and we saw a good number including little ringed plover, dunlin, snipe, black-tailed godwit, redshank, spotted redshank, greenshank, lapwing, green sandpiper and curlew. The trickiest wader of the day was ruff, whose variety of size and plumage had at least a few people baffled. Among the ducks, pintail and garganey were the stars.

For the photographers in the group, snipe fed right in front of the Marshland hide and a little egret was also very obliging - with the lighting just right. Two roe deer, a female and a youngster, ventured across in front of the Xerox hide. Their senses seemingly alive to every sound and movement, they grazed on the rich green lawn leading down to the scrape.

The compact nature of the reserve gave ample time to sit and watch familiar birds. A dabchick provided entertainment as it seemed to play with a fish, attempting to eat it before dropping it back into the water. This carried on for a couple of minutes before the fish was finally swallowed. Was it trying to remove something from the fish before eating it?

At the western end of the reserve, konik ponies roamed the pasture. Leaning on the gate with a yellow wagtail and skylarks for company, it was easy to slip away from the cares and pressures of everyday life.

No visit to this reserve would be complete without seeing a marsh harrier and we were not disappointed, with clear views of these graceful birds quartering the reeds. Also in the reeds, a pair of stonechat could be seen catching flies above a clump of elder, the male sitting proud; a black and orange flame on his high perch.

As evening drew near, skeins of pink-footed geese flew south, forming and reforming into their characteristic V shape; their low, constant, soothing lullaby beckoning us back to the coach at the end of a great day's birding.