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Mr Plover Lover

Recent news of a true UK Mega bird had me interested, but having seen the species well some years earlier I wasn’t about to rush off to see it. With several work days pencilled in I just relied on it still being present when I had time to travel. Knowing that in autumn most migrants will linger I thought that I had a pretty good chance that it would stay and I was right. So on the first day of September, in the morning of the first day of meteorological autumn, I was on the road in time to miss the rush hours on the M62 past Manchester and Leeds on my way to East Yorkshire. As I arrived at Blacktoft Sands RSPB reserve the car park wasn’t too busy, a good sign, and the reserve had not long since opened at 8am so my timings were spot on.

I headed up to the visitor centre and was told that the bird that I had come to see was showing, albeit a bit intermittently, from Xerox Hide. The hide wasn’t too full when I walked in with only a small handful of observers gathered so far in this spacious two-tier hide and there straight out at the back of the lagoon was my target: a stunning adult White-tailed Plover (as I knew it when I first twitched this species in Britain) or White-tailed Lapwing (as it is more often called now), take your pick!!

This wader species breeds in southern and central Asia and winters in northern Africa and northern India and has only been confirmed 6 times previously in the UK. As we watched this reasonable sized wader with its long yellow legs was picking around on the mud at the rear of the lagoon and showing very well in my scope, but just a bit too far for perfect photographs. Also being quite early in the day the light was still less than ideal for photography, especially as I would be digiscoping through my new Swarovski STS65 and would need better light for that. A few record pictures were rattled off, but my hopes were that the bird would come closer, and I had all day so I wasn’t in any hurry. Also showing well from this hide were 3 Green Sandpipers, another passage wader, but one much more common than the lapwing. Without any warning the lapwing suddenly took off and headed off the Xerox Lagoon heading low east, not looking like it was departing but just changing lagoons as it had done habitually throughout its stay.

All the birders headed out of Xerox Hide en masse and walked down the main path to the last hide to the east, Singleton Hide. This already had a few birders in it and was busier than the previous hide making it feel more uncomfortable in these days of COVID-19, but with all the windows open we were in a well ventilated space and it was almost like being outdoors. As it had done on the previous two days the lapwing had dropped down onto this lagoon before we had arrived and was closer to the hide than it had been when I first had seen it from Xerox Hide. Initially no seats were free but a few minutes wait and I got myself into a seated position and readied myself for photography. The bird then more than obliged walking towards the hide to the front edge of Singleton Lagoon and being as close as it was possible to be without actually joining us inside the hide! Digiscoping was still a challenge as the bird was constantly moving whilst feeding and often disappearing behind the vegetation at the front of the hide, but with the subject filling the frame this is what I’d come for.

Also on Singleton Lagoon were two very showy Spotted Redshanks which unusually were feeding by swimming in deeper water and catching very small fish. I had never seen this behaviour from this species before and so was fascinated to watch them do this and took the opportunity to photograph them at the same time.

A flock of Black-tailed Godwits were on the same lagoon but mainly roosting up rather than feeding. A couple of Little Egrets were also on the islands here, preening and generally just hanging around.

Soon the reserve was filling up and long time pal and reserve warden, as well as the finder of the White-tailed Lapwing, Stuart Taylor arrived at the hide and asked for those that had seen the bird well to let some of the queuing birders outside in. I was disappointed that only myself and two others left the hide to allow three new arrivals in. Everyone else ignored Stuart’s request and stayed put, even though all had been there as long as I had and some even longer.

I then decided to have an explore of the remaining hides to see what else was on this fabulous reserve. My next port of call was to pop back into Xerox Hide as I was passing. With plenty of room in here I took an upstairs berth and started to scan. The first new species was added when 2 Greenshanks were watched feeding halfway across the lagoon. These then flew giving their characteristic tyu-tyu-tyu call and settled behind vegetation, most inconsiderate for me taking pictures! By scanning the bases of the reeds I also picked up three passerines, a nice change from all these wading birds. First species was Sedge Warbler, several of which were seen from this and other hides. Next a couple of Reed Warblers were seen and finally my first Bearded Tits of the year were a male and female feeding on the mud by the reed edge. Later a visit to nearby Marshland Hide added 4 more Bearded Tits to my tally, always a lovely species to watch, the UKs only member of the Reedling Family rather than being a true tit (that kind of sounds wrong!!!). Also from Marshland hide was a feeding flock of waders, this was obviously the preferred feeding lagoon in comparison to the roosting preference of birds on Singleton Lagoon. The new species in this flock was Dunlin as well as Ruff, which had been seen from most hides previously. A few Black-tailed Godwits also fed on the lagoon until for no real obvious reason the whole flock took to the air and flew distantly off the reserve. The fact that they flew towards the adjoining River Ouse suggests that tidally it was now in a good state for feeding with lots of exposed mud and the warders had probably flown to the river to take advantage of that. Another good sighting whilst walking from hide to hide was a Cetti’s Warbler in the reeds by the path behind the hides. This species is notoriously hard to see so a sighting was a real bonus.

As I was walking the main path two other birds of note were both recognised on call alone, a flyover Golden Plover and Water Rails in the reedbeds. Both were good additions to my overall day-list. The path back to the car park rises up over a bund and from here you can watch a feeding station set up specially for one species: Tree Sparrow. This is obviously a success as it was teeming with this species. Both adult and young birds were constantly in and out feeding on the seed provided, a couple of record shots were achieved but the birds never settled and so made it difficult to frame a good picture.

After lunch I decided to concentrate on the non-avian inhabitants of the reserve primarily, and as the sun was now shining that meant invertebrates mainly. One Southern Hawker Dragonfly and several Migrant Hawkers were seen, but never settled for pictures. Three Vapourer Moths were similarly supercharged in the hot sun and shot by without settling. A Cross Orb-weaver Spider was photographed in her web in a path-side reedbed and a very early instar Drinker Moth caterpillar was in the long grass by another of the reserves paths.

Unexpectedly only a few butterflies were seen, a Small Tortoiseshell, a couple of Green-veined Whites and a couple of Speckled Woods.

Every bindweed flower seemed to have a Marmalade Hoverfly or two on it but this was eclipsed by every dandelion head which seemed to have at least 5 Common Nettle Tap moths feeding on it.

As time was getting on it was almost time to head home, but I had to make one more trip to see the White-tailed Lapwing. By now Marshland Hide was much less crowded and there was plenty of space for me to settle in and get some more shots of the bird as it fed close to the hide still.

distant Marsh Harrier proved to be the final bird species added to my day-list, one that I had expected all day. So the day ended, what a fantastic bird the White-tailed Lapwing had been, it gave me much better views than the one I saw in 2007, and this 2021 one has to date remained at Blacktoft Sands RSPB for almost 4 weeks, giving everyone a chance to catch up with this ‘Mega Bird’ for Britain.

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