25 people met at the Salt Lane car park this morning for our walk at Cliffe led by Malcolm and Sally. Before we had our boots and coats on a kestrel flew over our heads and landed on one of the overhead cables enabling great telescope views for all. The bird seemed to hunt ahead of us for the next couple of hours. Perhaps it was hoping to take advantage of any rodents we disturbed as we walked along. From the car park we could see tufted duck, magpie, oystercatcher, canada geese. Malcolm explained how the grass on the islands has been cut by the RSPB to encourage black-headed gulls to breed on the reserve. Their numbers used to be high but have slowly reduced over the years. Hopefully the fact that there are already some taking an interest means that they will return. We were also able to see the new tern raft and the landscaping of the pools in the car park where reeds and water plants are starting to grow.
Along the first part of our walk we saw dunnock, wood pigeon, jackdaw, lesser black-backed gull, pochard, long-tailed tit, collared dove, wren, shelduck, little grebe and great crested grebe. As we scanned the pool we heard the first of several chiffchaffs, and lapwing displayed giving their fantastic call. Shoveler, pintail and wigeon were seen before Ian spotted a male goldeneye and three females and as we scanned the pool a further male and female were also diving. Try as we might we couldn’t turn a rather odd looking tufted duck into the scaup that had been reported on the reserve recently, but it wasn’t without a lot of lively debate and plenty of patient gazing through telescopes and binoculars! Several large groups of redshank flew in as the tide rose on the river pushing the birds onto the reserve.
Cetti’s warbler gave us a burst of its lovely song before we moved off to get better views of the goldeneye and avocet. Malcolm offered the first person to see a mediterranean gull one of Sue’s (H) toffees (he’s so generous) and within minutes of that excellent carrot being offered Alan heard one calling above. In fact there were two med gulls mixed in with a group of black headed gulls circling overhead, with the sun shining it was relatively easy to spot the clean white – almost transparent – wings which made them stand out from the black-headed gulls.
Malcolm and Sally decided we would go as far as the creek and as we scanned along the edge of the nearby pool we could hear several skylark singing, a large flock of starling flew over, marsh harrier hunted over the far fields and a reed bunting was spotted in the nearby reeds. On our return journey we were able to add blue tit, great tit and robin to our day’s list.
Leaving Cliffe we moved on to Northward Hill, parking at Bromhey Farm car park where we took over not only the whole car park, but overflow facilities near the barns. After a break for lunch we started to gather at the feeding station just beyond the car park. Here we all got superb views of brambling, chaffinch, goldfinch and greenfinch. Great spotted woodpecker drummed nearby and a green woodpecker was heard ‘yaffling’. From the marsh viewpoint we had been told by Malcolm to look out for marsh harrier near their usual site and – once again – true to form we had excellent views of 5 marsh harriers and one (ring-tail) hen harrier. The marsh harriers circled high up over the river whilst the hen harrier appeared to prefer hunting low over the fields.
On the islands in the pool we watched shoveler, lapwing, greylag, teal, mute swan, wigeon, moorhen and coot. Ian spotted a common gull and Sue (G) found a rather secretive snipe hiding in the edge of the reeds. As we walked towards the heronry there were large numbers of grey heron and rook flying to and from the wood. A green woodpecker flew across the track in front of us and landed in a tree and as we moved to cross the fields in front of the wood a sparrowhawk put up all the gulls and waders on the pools. Standing in the field our feet squelched in the mud as we hunted for the best spot to view herons on the nest. Although there were several birds perched on branches, we were lucky to be able to watch one couple exchanging bits of wood and twig as they added to their nest and in another tree there were five herons with one pair copulating – a rather high risk strategy given the height of the tree.
A great tit was most insistent that we look at him singing for all he was worth in the top of a bush. On our return we spotted a pheasant across the marshes, more distant views of the marsh harrier and a pair of great spotted woodpeckers in a nearby tree. One last look at the feeders by the car park gave us another chance to see the brambling, plus greenfinch and an excellent siskin.
The weather certainly added to our enjoyment today, but it has to be said that the knowledge and expertise of Malcolm and Sally enabled us all to have an excellent visit to our two nearest RSPB reserves.
Total species seen today – 60
Total species seen YTD – 100