Missing out on new birds can send you off the (water) rails


On Wednesday I took a break from working hard on my college assignments  to do a spot of birding (I say working hard I mean staring blankly at my work not knowing what to do for a few days straight). I was due to meet up with Jess of pinkcuckoos fame and one half of the birding tag team I’ve Never Killed a Pipit and my gripper nemesis Rob before heading off to North Cave Wetlands. I caught the bus in Beverley which already contained Jess. I didn’t see Jess on the bus due to sprinting upstairs like a big kid. In front of me sat two people working on a chemistry project for Hull university. I really should be doing my chemistry work and not birding I thought at this point. I did see a pheasant on Figham Common as the bus went past. So if nothing else of note happened all day I had a new year bird.

On arriving in Hull I found Jess, easily recognisable because she was carrying a telescope. We then had to wait for Rob to show up, then when he did we did a bit more waiting for our bus whilst Robert entertained us wonderfully with tales about the time he watched a male dunnock remove a rivals sperm from his mate.

One the bus we talked birds, mammals, pets and stuff, an old woman kept on pulling a funny face every time Rob spoke. She had a carry bag full of Heinz Sausages in Beans though so who is she to judge?

Arriving in North Cave we walked through the village to the reserve. We walked across a bridge over a little stream, this stream contained two mallards two feet away, Jess at this point for some strange reason decided to get out her binoculars to get a better look at them. Feeling sorry for her we all got our bins out and the days birding was about to begin.

Upon arriving at North Cave I was set upon by Yorkshire Wildlife Trust membership collector person. I really should join them seen as North Cave is an excellent free reserve. I foolishly told the man I was planning on joining and had to listen to what membership options are available before trying to get him to just let me take a form home rather than compleing one there. 

We went into a refurbished looking Village lake hide (I think that’s what it’s called) and scanned around for birds. I got a few nice easy birds for the year list such as Teal, Lapwing and Pochard. On the way to the turret hide we saw a mixed flock of Goldfinch and Siskin in the bushes. In the turret hide I was setting up my hide clamp when Jess shouts out “Is that a Water Rail?!” it was as well! Except I didn’t see it. Rob stuck to his habit of seeing birds I don’t see and confirmed it was a water rail. After a while Rob’s friend and co-writer of their blog popped along and we became a birding gang. We soon left the hide, I don’t know what other birds were on the lake as I just stared longingly at the spot where the water rail had popped out hoping for a reappearance. No luck. I also missed out on a sparrowhawk flying across the lake which obviously Robert saw.

Walking around the reserve we added a few ducks and little grebe to our list and I finally managed to see; Robin, Mute Swan, Blue Tit and Great Tit which have been shockingly missing from my year list. We all decided that James was going to drive us to RSPB Blacktoft Sands. On the way to his car a sparrowhawk shot out in front of us. Was good to get last years bogey bird early in the year.

During the journey to Blacktoft we all chatted about birds and stuff. I managed to get revenge on Robert over the Water Rail gripping by telling him about the time a MERLIN got trapped in my garden and I got to see one up close before it was released. We also saw a dead badger roadside. We got out to look at it closer. Like school boys we prodded it with our feet. Sadly that’s the first time I’ve ever seen a badger.

At Blacktoft we checked out a few hides but there wasn’t much about. We settled in a hide that I can’t remember the name of and started to watch the raptor roost come in. It was quite epic! I got year first Marsh Harrier and a lifer with Peregrine Falcon!!! We counted 9 marsh harriers at one point. There was also a male Hen Harrier. I’d already seen a female hen harrier on 1st January. Which was a life tick and one of the best birding moments I’ve ever had as it fought with two Short-earred Owls that were also hunting at the time. You would have read all about this if I had the ability to update blogs… This male Hen Harrier was very sexy, it was such a good bird to see it felt like I was getting another lifer. Which I soon did! A flock of small birds shot over the hide and we all decided to go out side and see if we could see them. They had landed on the tree right outside the hide. We managed to ID them as Twite.

Back inside the hide however James and Robert took to arguing about if it was a Linnet or a Twite. James wasn’t sure of it. I think it’s now been decided it was Twite. I was on Robs side mainly because of the fact Robert has a beard and James doesn’t. You can’t really trust a naturalist that doesn’t have a beard.

We hung around for a bit longer, talked about the controversial Ruddy Duck cull which ended up with me sounding a bit xenophobic to Spanish waterfowl. When the raptors started to thin out we decided to head off home. On the way back to the car park Robert reckoned to see another water rail. All I could see was a Moorhen. Gripped again or Robert can’t see that well in the fading light…

I went home with two new lifers and a year list increased to 54, not bad. I didn’t manage to get my assignment done, however I did see a peregrine and male hen harrier. I’d call that a worthy sacrifice.

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