Thursday, 11 June 2015

Monty's in the marsh

If at all possible I try to combine long work trips with the opportunity to do some birding. A spotted sandpiper when I visited Masterfoods, a water pipit at Tilda rice and Speyside before our Scottish conference come to mind.
So, a long trip up to Leeds to present a customer segmentation  gave me the chance of bagging a lifer. There is a pair of Montagu's harriers at Blacktoft Sands near Hull. They are presumed to be nesting. They are also the biggest "tarts tick" on my UK list. Basically, they are the bird I haven't seen that most other people have.
I left early in the morning and blasted up the M1. On the way up I stopped at Welbeck near Nottingham. This is a good place for seeing honey buzzards, especially if they are nesting. This year however they are not nesting, and talking to a local birder there in only one female around and she seems to be a once every 3 or 4 days bird. Two hours of watching got me lots of common buzzards, yellow wagtails, a cuckoo, lesser whitethroat and a kestrel but no sign of honeys.
So, I gave up and moved up north to Blacktoft. In what is becoming a pattern I just plugged in the postcode and drove on in reverie. I got to the village of Blacktoft. Strangely for an RSPB reserve there were no signs and no evidence of a reserve of hides. I began to suspect my error and looked at a map. I was indeed near the reserve, it was on the other side of the river!! Not far away as the crow flies but 30 minutes drive to go back around.
So, 30 minutes later I to to a well signed and popular RSPB reserve. The guy in the centre pointed me to the best hide for Monty watching but said he'd been here regularly and only seen them twice.
The hide was pretty full and on asking the person I sat down next to if they were showing the news was good - the female had been seen about 20 minutes before.
The hide looked out on an open pool and beyond that marsh and reeds. It was close to feeling like Summer as well and there was a strong heat haze over the reeds. It was clear it was good for harriers. There was a constant presence of marsh harriers, drifting over the reeds, hovering over worried ducks and carrying off coots!

After only I suppose 20 minutes or so a much smaller harrier popped up. Still basically brown but on long slender wings and with a characteristic "ring tail" or white mark on her rump it was the female Monty's. Lifer!!! She was a long way off though, probably half a mile or more back and with the heat haze it meant photography came under the "record shot" category.

 She drifted over the reeds, occasionally disappearing. Finally she totally disappeared for half an hour or so before repeating the performance. These are VERY rare breeding birds in the UK and either it is not known if these are breeding or, more likely, the RSPB are being pretty cautious about releasing information. Anyway, what most people wanted to see was her mate. They look totally different, on light grey and black wings.
Finally he popped up out of the reeds and for about 3 or 4 minutes the two chased each other over the reeds.

You can just about make out how smart a bird he is. The general feeling in the hide was that she was on eggs (or chicks) and she was basically giving him a chivvy on to go and catch some food for her. Certainly he suddenly turned on his tail and went off with a purpose away from us, hopefully to get her some tea. Great birds and it will be a real coup for the reserve if they raise chicks.
To be honest there wasn't a lot else on the reserve. They did have nesting avocets but apparently they lost all their chicks to foxes and the marsh harriers,  leaving just a few adults mooching around. They also had bird feeders with tree sparrows which are pretty rare down south nowadays,  but commoner further north.

So, although I dipped on the honeys,  a lifer made my day -  and made the trek into Leeds for my presentation the next day a lot better!!