I was in two minds as to whether or not I should publish anything here from our visit to RSPB Old Moor. Not because we didn’t see much, far from it in fact, but rather down to the lack of decent photos I managed to take. I’m probably my own worst critic however and in the end decided that publicising this excellent reserve was more important than any self doubt about my own work. And when I say excellent I really do mean excellent. If the name rings a bell it may have something to do with the Little Bittern that turned up there a few weeks ago. At the time Twitter was awash with images and accounts but since then the bird seems to have gone into hiding. It is still about judging from the occasional sighting reported over on Bird Guides but has taken the Bittern’s famed knack at staying hidden to a completely different level. To save any further suspense we also drew a complete blank despite watching the reedbed in question for much of the day, a task made all the easier due to the way in which the reserve is set out. Its hides are arranged in a semi-circle around the main lagoons meaning that we always had line of sight across to the hallowed ground so if any Little Bittern had been showing, I’m sure we’d have seen it. Still didn’t stop us feeling just a pang of disappointment though. At least there were plenty of consolation prizes to be enjoyed including this rather smart Feral Pigeon at the entrance. For such an overlooked and disparaged species they can be quite handsome things when viewed at close quarters.
We took the left hand branch of the reserve first and almost immediately picked up a female Marsh Harrier over towards the reservoir. It was only visible for a few moments before drifting out of sight and that was the last we saw of it for the rest of the day. Thankfully the gathered waterfowl were much more settled and included a selection of Little Grebes, Great Crested Grebes, Pochard, Tufted Duck and Shoveller. More interesting (in my opinion at least) were the waders which included at least fifty Lapwing and a lone Common Snipe which waddled into view following one of the numerous movements by the former. Each time they took flight I couldn’t spot any perceived threat other than a distant Kestrel and occasional passing flock of Stock Doves. No harm in being too careful I suppose.
There was also at least one juvenile Common Tern up and about, occasionally perching out on the mud but spending most of its time fishing out on the pools. Every now and again one of these sorties would bring it very close to the path allowing superb views of the bird in action. Either the same or a different bird was also over at the Family Hide from which we added Oystercatcher, Common Sandpiper and Dunlin. It was also nice to see a few Sand Martins on the wing. Further wader species came in the form of Ruff, Redshank, Black-tailed Godwit and Green Sandpiper before excellent flight views of a Kingfisher pretty much stole the show. Even that was then challenged though by a couple of Lapwings which were sat right outside the suitably named Wader Scrape hide. I settled in as quietly as possible fully expecting them to take flight but was left suitably gob-smacked as they actually started to walk closer. Not often that you get frame filling Lapwings, especially with my equipment.
Away from the water there was an equally good selection of smaller birds including Linnet, Blackcap and Long-tailed Tit. Then of course there were the Tree Sparrows which kept up the tradition of northern RSPB reserves in holding numbers which in my local area we can only dream about. There was somewhere in the region of twenty birds present spread throughout the hedgerows so another colony at good strength. What I hadn’t expected to see was a Wasps nest having taken over one of their nest boxes however. Think this one might be out of action for a while lads.
Whilst on the subject of insects I should also mention the sheer abundance of butterflies, dragonflies and even moths. Brown Hawkers were particularly numerous having just emerged and there was also a good possibility of seeing Dingy Skipper if the signs were anything to go by. This would have been a new species for me but despite staking out their favoured sunning spot all we came up with was a Little Skipper and Six-spot Burnet. Not that I’m complaining of course as both are up there at the top of my favourite insects list.
So no Little Bittern but what we had found was another jewel in the RSPB’s crown. Given the high standard of reserves we’ve visited this month we must make more of an effort to visit a few more before the year is out. After all I’m a fully paid up member and who knows what else we might discover. Any suggestions?