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Full of Eastern Promise - a Tale of Two Megas!

On the first day of Spring it was time for the ProBirder Tours to kick back into action so I began to plan a first excursion that would be worthy of my starting point for 2022. Looking at the interesting birds on offer within an easy day trip of home I came up with a cunning plan, as Baldrick would say! With a couple of UK Mega Birds over to the east the advantage of them being in adjacent counties meant that they would be possible to combine in this tour. An early start was needed but with dawn being relatively late at this time of year and the destination being only two and a bit hours away it wasn’t as bad as it first seemed. So up at 5.30am and away by 6.30am was the plan, and then the pretty easy run east across the M62 with the first destination being East Yorkshire.

My first destination was reached with ease with the help of my ‘iPhone Satnav’ which I’ve just started to use and which is proving to be invaluable! This was a small side road on the outskirts of Beverley north of Hull. I headed out southwards along the towpath by the side of the River Hull with the floods of Swine Moor, the area where my first bird quarry had been, soon becoming evident as I passed though the first kissing gate on the path.

A first stop had myself and another birder scoping large flocks of Teal and Wigeon but no sign of the bird that we had come to see, so we moved on to join another group of birders further along the towpath. Here our target was soon picked up, albeit fast asleep with its head tucked away and not exactly giving the best views ever! A long vigil followed with the bird lifting its head a few times to show itself in all its glory: a Mega rare Baikal Teal. After 2.5hrs it woke up and started to feed giving the chance for digiscoped shots, showing its gaudy head colouration and making it stand out from the other ducks like a sore thumb. Behaviourally the Baikal Teal seemed to have ‘small duck syndrome’ (!!) attacking all and sundry, especially the larger Wigeon when they ventured too close.

The floods and surrounds held lots of other species of interest, including Little Egret, drake Pintail, Golden Plover, Redshank and Siskin to name but a few. As I departed I was treated to an aerial dogfight between a Sparrowhawk and a Carrion Crow, the former species being much more manoeuvrable and looking like it was toying with its corvid tormentor.

Just 30 or so miles to the south another UK Mega bird had been seen for the last couple of weeks, but the mighty River Humber was in the way. No problem, that iconic feat of engineering, the Humber Bridge, would make the journey easy and quick. This fantastic structure at 2.22km long was the longest single-span suspension bridge in the world when built and is still the most spectacular bridge in the UK. Passage was simplicity itself with a contactless card payment making for a quick and easy crossing.

Once over I again followed my satnav, this time to arrive at the strangely named East Halton Skitter in Lincolnshire.

Parking up I walked a short distance down the track towards the seawall and kept scanning the marsh to my left. As the only birder on site I would have to find the bird that I was after for myself. At the first major gap in the hawthorn hedge my scanning soon located the White-tailed Lapwing (alternatively called White-tailed Plover) feeding not too far out from where I was viewing. This was the same individual that I twitched last year at Blacktoft Sands RSPB a few miles to the west of its current location, but being such a mega bird it was nice to see it again. Always partially obscured by reeds, grasses and with a barbed wire fence between myself and it made photography difficult but as always a few digiscoped shots were fired off to record my sighting for posterity.

The only other bird seen in the same area of marsh was a Common Snipe, always nice to see too. I headed back to the car, after directing another birder onto the plover, and checked out the large pool by the car park. On here a few good birds were added to my growing bird-list including Little Grebe, Great Crested Grebe and Oystercatcher.

The hedges adjacent to the car park were teeming with birds with healthy numbers of Yellowhammers, Tree Sparrows and Reed Buntings as well as singing Skylarks and Dunnocks.

The day was still young and my two Mega birds had been ‘ticked off’ so where to go next? My decision was to use the trip to visit a reserve that was new to me but one that had had many good reviews. Again only a few miles away I drove to Alkborough Flats NR, a huge wetlands reserve with vast phragmites reedbeds adjacent to where the Rivers Ouse and Trent join to form the River Humber. A steep rough track led to a small car park but there was plenty of room so I parked up and ate my lunch before heading out to explore.

First, I headed straight on down what looked like the main track which was lined with reedbeds on either side, very promising. As I reached the first gap in the reeds leading out onto a shallow lagoon I was amazed to find a Spoonbill feeding on the reed edge. What a result! Rushing to set up my scope for digiscoping the Spoonbill did what Spoonbills do best and went to sleep!! I took a few shots of it at roost and waited and eventually it did lift its head for a short while allowing a few more interesting shots showing its spatulate bill and spectacular head plumes. As it went back to roost I moved on and came to a flooded path ahead. Having donned my wellies I decided to plough on and see it it was passable, which it was..... just!

With the water a couple of inches short of the top of my wellies I picked my way carefully along the path to emerge at the other end on the bank of the river. From here a better view over the reedbeds was possible but I have to admit that it wasn’t teeming with birds. On the river mud a Little Egret was easily picked out along with lots of Curlew and several Black-tailed Godwits. Turning my attention back to the reedbeds I then had a mini raptor-fest. First I watched 3 Marsh Harriers coursing back and forth low over the reedbeds and interacting with each other as well as trying to avoid the attentions of corvids. Next a Merlin flashed through, skimming the reed tops as it sped as straight as an arrow alongside the banking that I was on. As that disappeared a bird higher up caught my attention and I was thrilled to see a Red Kite drift slowly through the reserve its russet tail twisting back and forth as it caught the gentle thermals up high. A Sparrowhawk was the next raptor to appear, ‘flap-flap gliding’ its way past me. Later on in my walk a hovering Kestrel and a mewing Buzzard on the ridge completed my six raptors for the reserve that day. As the riverside pth ended I turned to return the same way as I had come and paid special attention to the reedbeds below me. This paid dividends when a female Bearded Tit popped up and fluttered over the reeds before dropping back out of sight. Having waded back through the flood a bird moving to my right proved to be a Cetti’s Warbler and unusually it showed really well in my binoculars before melting back in to caver, as they do.

Next I took the top path out towards a tower hide that I could see out to the east end of the reserve. On the walk I could hear hidden Water Rails squealing and actually see the extent of the vast reedbeds, this was a spectacular reserve indeed. Scanning lagoons on the way added Gadwall to my day list with several Pintail here as well, while Stock Doves flew over me towards the farm fields adjacent to the reserve. Management work, including reed cutting and burning, was evident from the tower hide, giving a smoky view from the windows but little in the way of birds.

With the time left I walked beyond the hide and checked the final pools beyond the reedbeds and was really pleased to find 2 Avocets feeding on there. A small group of c.12 Redshanks also fed on the same pools but all the waders were jumpy and this made it impossible to get pictures. Chatting to a warden on my way back revealed that I had just found the first returning Avocets for the reserve in 2022, another good result.

Returning to my car I just had time for a brief chat with a couple of local birders before packing up and getting ready to hit the road. Overall I had recorded 70 species in the day at three locations, seen 4 new species for my yearlist and photographed two Mega birds to boot. All this in glorious sunshine over on the east coast, a fabulous day out and proof, if proof was needed, that wildlife watching can be a fantastic hobby.

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