Today was one of those really good days, as it worked out. We followed Plan A all the way through?
We got going early and packed the motorhome full of optical gear, reference books, notepads and food – the whole cahuna! The sun was out and the tide was coming in quickly – it was going to be a fairly high one with a good westerly behind it. So now down to ‘Biglands’ layby, a popular venue – the Big Names were there before us but the layby was big enough to cope with all of us. We had no sooner got the side window open than the birds started to arrive, forced on to the saltings by the rapidly rising waters. First were a good collection of Oystercatchers of which the Reserve has great numbers here on the Solway. Then, Oh Glory Be! At least 90, if not more, Black-tailed Godwits, the majority in full summer plumage, settling amongst the Oystercatchers - preening and having a good natter and then getting their heads tucked in for a well deserved rest as they had been feeding the incoming tide – a few Knot, still in winter plumage, amongst them.
Black-tailed Godwits and Oystercatchers resting at high tide
Judith now in full cry with her new Canon camera and Sigma lens – the range would probably be 200 metres, so we knew this would be on it’s outer limits. Suddenly the birds were off – they had been spooked! A few aerial manoeuvres, after which the Oystercatchers settled back but skittish as usual the Godwits were off. Old marsh hands that we are, we took a guess that they had gone to the Marsh pool, a mile west.
Godwits taking off
Heading for Marsh Pool
This was part of Plan A anyway, we took off in pursuit to the Marsh Pool layby (there by courtesy of our own RSPB) Incidently, an excellent place for rare visitors and casual vagrants – we are talking about birds, of course.
Marsh Pool from layby
Sure enough some of the Black-tailed Godwits had parked up there, a number of which were already feeding in the pool, the rest out on the very edge of the marsh grass with the incoming tide lapping at their feet. But hang on! – they seem to have collected a dozen very pale specimens. Two other birders came along in some doubt as to what they might be – out came the books. It wasn’t that easy – their heads were tucked in, very little movement, legs obscured by grass. They were pale, relatively smooth i.e. no speckles or stripes – ‘Collins’ seem to indicate Black-tails in winter plumage. Then got a view of a few beaks, pretty straight as far as could be seen and Godwit length. My money was on Black-tails still in winter plumage – but then, to our joy, a big maroon car rolls into the layby. It was our saviours in the form of Derek West and Marjorie and I knew our doubts would be resolved. Indicating this group of pale ghosts to the Grand Master saying where my money was going – but I crashed and burned, on being assured that in fact they were Bar-tailed Godwits in winter plumage still. I quickly changed horses! He then pointed out a lone White Wagtail that had previously gone unnoticed and resolved my query regarding the Wheatear nearby as probably being a female of the Greenland race. Later on a male Wheatear showed up but Derek had then gone so I could not, with any certainty, ascertain race. The tide was now receding quickly and the birds were following it out on to the freshly uncovered silts – feeding had commenced. So had ours in the form of chicken and salad sandwiches.
Oystercatchers and 'ghost' Godwits in the background
The part of Plan A that we had not followed through, owing to the excitement inshore, was that we had taken our eyes away from the main estuary and our intention of trying to spot any movement of Skua’s on their easterly migration. This has now started and of which there have been some good reports in the last few days – hence the presence up and down the Marsh of the Big Names who are massive authorities on this subject and rightly so, after many years of watching and recording of this annual cross country movement, in the many vagaries of weather that the Solway can throw at them.
So ends the Day! No just a minute – that’s a Lesser Whitethroat singing from the gorse next to the van!
Whimbrel photographed later on marsh
While checking how many wintering ducks were still present on the reserve (a couple of pintail and small numbers of shoveler, teal, wigeon and mallard) I noticed a broad white stripe poking out of the vegetation. Closer inspection revealed a cracking drake garganey in all his splendour accompanied by a much drabber looking female. A nice start to the day.
Willow warblers showing nicely on the loaning; Tree Sparrows http://www.flickr.com/photos/46441928@N07/4556272892/ and Goldfinches http://www.flickr.com/photos/46441928@N07/4556231856/ in the first arable field; wild plum in blossom; female orange tips – saw male yesterday.
Goldfinch 18 04 10
Sad to say ‘mighty’ Grebe has achieved his aims. He seems to be on the pool in solitary and triumphant splendour – no sign of pair of Tufted Duck. Who would have thought it?
Met two visitors from Loweswater who had come specifically to view Tree Sparrows on the Reserve. We were able to assure them that there was now a plenitude of them here owing to the success of the policy of installing nest boxes and the provision of winter seed crops. We ourselves were fortunate, in arriving at the hide pond, to be able to photograph a Tree Sparrow entering one of the nest boxes there.
From the hide we noted about 30 Black-tailed Godwit, plenty of Lapwing and Skylark, a good number of duck in the water by the wood.
Only have rubbish binoculars and also rubbish eyesight, so could not burn the duck with any accuracy - but wait for it folks - having had a look through Derek West’s brilliant Leica Ultravid 10 X 40 binoculars, have decided to invest….no gain without pain! And that’s not all! Owing to the fact that we are now assisting with this Blog, we have also decided to up our game and have taken delivery of a Canon 7D DSLR camera and 150-500mm Sigma lens. Our hopes are high, so watch this space!
For your delectation we include a photograph of the gorse in flower along the whole length of the marsh front – a splendid sight!
Walk down the loaning - weather a bit hazy with some rain about....not a good bird song day! Willow Warblers trying to get into voice but not succeeding very well. On getting to the 2nd pool events started to liven up. Arriving quietly at the screen we were pleased to observe a pair of Tufted duck - the female diving repeatedly with the male keeping watch. Also there were two pair of Wigeon at the other side of the pool with a coot and moorhen too. Suddenly a Little Grebe appeared moving quite rapidly towards the Tufties who began to swin away in some alarm. This surprised us a little and we were even more surprised when the Little Grebe submerged to periscope depth ...just head showing, but continuing pursuit, followed by total submerging. We waited with bated breath....Bang! Little Grebe resurfaced directly under the male Tufty. Lots of splashing and then started a hot pursuit across the top of the water - lots of spray etc. Finally both taking to the air. After a circuit of the pool both alighted and something of calm resumed. The dabchick definitely had appearance of self-satisfaction whereas the female Tufty looked as if she was wondering if she has a suitable male to protect her....sequel to follow tomorrow.
Male and female Tufted Duck peacefully swimming in pool
Little Grebe in pursuit
Both take to the air
The late afternoon sunshine highlighted the red colours of a flock of 70 black-tailed godwits as they pass through on route for Iceland.
No amount of ash is going to put them off the flight. Also present in front of the hide was a greenshank (our first of the spring).