Saturday, 16 May 2015

Montagu's Harriers, Blacktoft Sands

We set out today to see the pair of Montagu's harriers which have made their home this spring at the RSPB reserve of Blacktoft Sands near Goole. However, when we received news early doors that there was a Temminck's stint at nearby North Cave Wetlands, we decided to call in there first, the logic being that the harriers seem to get reported around lunch time most days, so we had plenty of time to call in for the stint.

It took a while, but eventually we found the stint, not from the hide but from a viewing screen along the track where the bright sunlight worked in our favour rather than obliterating everything on the scrapes as it did from the hide. It was a nice bird with a few specks of dark feathering on its back.

When we arrived at Blacktoft the harriers had been seen, but not for about three hours. There were loads of marsh harriers in the area, with the males at times looking very slim compared to the females, but when eventually the Monty's appeared there was no comparison. Montagu's harriers look very slim, long tailed and falcon like compared to hen and marsh harriers. The male appeared first, closely followed by the female, they quartered the reedbed distantly but unmistakably, and at times mobbed the passing marsh harriers and buzzards. A tremendous sight, the photos below of the Montys were taken at 24x and are heavily cropped, but hopefully they do at least capture some of the atmosphere of the morning.

This is the female. Look how falcon like it looks, slim winged and long tailed.


The male mobbing a buzzard. Again look how falcon like it looks.

Marsh harrier.

Next it was onto another RSPB reserve, Fairburn Ings in West Yorkshire. You wouldn't believe it could be so difficult to find a spoonbill on a marsh, but struggle we did until evetually we found it roosting in a tree in amongst the cormorant colony on the moat. While we were watching, a lesser whitethroat rattled nearby.

It was still not mid afternoon, so next we carried on to Anglers Country Park near Wakefield, where there has been a drake lesser scaup reported for the the past few weeks.This is a species which has gone from mega rarity a few years ago, to expected annual tick on the year list. It's been a bad year if you don't see a lesser scaup these days, and this was my second of the year already. The interesting thing about this bird is that it sports an impressive looking Portuguese nasal ring, something I've never seen on a bird before and something which I'm not too keen on seeing again. Still, it didn't seem to worry the bird too much.

Is this really necessary?

Still only 4pm and now only an hour from home, we decided to extend the day by heading for Carr Lane Pools at Hale, near Liverpool. There was a truely impressive array of waders here, many in summer plumage. In amongst the 100 or so black-tailed godwits and 50 dunlin, there was a spectaular summer plumage curlew sandpiper, little stint, at least 6 knot and one of the best looking red ruffs I've ever seen.

Five year ticks today bringing my total so far for 2015 to: 218 (Montagu's harrier, Temminck's stint, spoonbill, curlew sandpiper, little stint)


  1. Hi Colin,

    Is this...

    the same bird that you saw - looks like the same code?

    Cheers, Damian

  2. Looks like it. I hadn't taken too much notice of the letters on the saddle but if you zoom in you can read them, VH. I'm not sure what to think about it. The blog post you refer to implies that the this proves the bird is a transatlantic vagrant, but as far as I can see it only proves it's come from Portugal, which is perhaps interesting in itself but I'm not sure it justifies the saddle on a bird which is at best a lost vagrant from North America or at worst an escape. Dunno what to think.


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