With the weather forecast set to be on the variable side it wasn’t going to deter us from showing the best that Lincolnshire and beyond had to offer our prebooked guests on this trip.
With the return of two guests from a previous guided experience it was also good to welcome some new visitors. We had a rough idea of the locations to be visited but one eye on the weather ascertained a fluid approach to the itinerary.
With an evening meeting setting the agenda the following morning would see us start the tour with a visit to RSPB Langford Lowfields just over the border in Nottinghamshire, it is a rapidly maturing reedbed in a former gravel pit complex that in my eyes deserves to be included in Lincolnshire. Wow! What a start to the trip as we walked down the access footpath to the reserve at 6-30am it was a wall of sound with the warbler family very much in evidence – ChiffChaff, Willow Warbler, Cettis, Blackcap, Garden Warbler, Whitethroat, Robin, Wren, Song Thrush it truly was the best of alarm calls.
Once on the reserve our target species were soon seen with two Bitterns in flight, a low Hobby, a female Cuckoo all interspersed with the guttural and frenetic call of several Sedge Warblers from the scrubby waters edge. A few waterbirds Pochard, Great Crested Grebes with the ubiquitous Mallards gave a comprehensive list for the morning as we set off back for our breakfast with smiles on our faces.
Following a hearty and relaxing breakfast we headed back to Langford to have an easy paced walk in what was now warm spring sunshine. A mix of butterflies – Small Tortoishell, Brimstone, Orange Tip, Speckled Wood and Peacock were seen along with a vast array of wild plants. Sadly, proving a point, the waders which had been seen on passage just a couple of days earlier had now moved on but a pair of nesting Oystercatchers, yes, the black and white bird with a carrot for a bill brought a twist of humour to the morning.
By now in early afternoon a picnic lunch al fresco gave some much needed hydration, a decision to visit the nearby Notts Wildlife Trust reserve at Besthorpe was made to round the day off.
This proved to be a sound decision from a birding point of view but not a meteorological one. Up to 10 Avocets there appreciating the excellent habitat management that had been carried out since my last visit. A few Common Terns fishing nearby and their fellow fishers in the form of Grey Herons, Little Egrets and Cormorants were also seen with the site being an important breeding site for the latter.
A mix of butterflies – Small Tortoishell, Brimstone, Orange Tip, Speckled Wood and Peacock were seen along with a vast array of wild plants.
The weather forecast had indicated heavy localised showers for late afternoon but settling in the recently refurbished viewing screen we were not prepared for the ultrasonic thunderclaps and the monsoon type rain that occurred for 30 minutes thus forcing us to stay put, one almighty bang finished the watery proceedings as quickly as it had started. It was so amazing to see the geese that just sat out in it all, from the rainy deluge to the rather ball bearing like hail that hammered down at one point. We did eventually manage to escape to the vehicle having had a rather splendid day.
So, to the second day of the tour, hopefully we would avoid the deluges of the previous day, we were heading to the south eastern corner of Lincolnshire at RSPB Frampton, but first we had a rendezvous with some four legged friends. It proved successful as we caught up with many Brown Hares out on their favoured range of Blankney heath much to the delight of our guests. The weather proved to be breezy, but a wide range of ducks were seen, with many of the dabblers frequenting the muddy margins of the recently recultivated scrapes. A highlight of the day for many of the group were two Black Winged Stilts whilst the sight of four Golden Plovers making a transitional stop in their full breeding plumage made my day. With seventy species being seen at a leisurely pace it proved to be a day to remember, but why be surprised as Frampton always delivers a great day whatever time of year you visit the location.
A change in itinerary took us to Sherwood Forest now under the stewardship of the RSPB for the third day. It is a truly unique habitat one that the guests were looking forward to. As you would expect woodland birds were to the fore with many species of Tits and Warblers being seen. An overhead gronk of a Raven alerted our eyes skyward, whilst a Tree Creeper was seen but sadly no Redstarts could be found as the heavy rain set in, it eventually curtailed our foray onto Budby Heath. As we set off on our return walk the sky cleared a little, enough to give some encouragement to a Tree Pipit to perform its vocal parachute display, this was a first for some of the group, whilst behind us we were constantly laughed at by the constant yaffle of a Green Woodpecker.
The sky continued to clear as we sought a parking place close to the Dukeries lake complex and partook of our lunch. The lunch stop proved to be a birding experience, with Mandarin Ducks, Nuthatches, Common Terns in the locality. Post lunch we continued down to the Welbeck raptor watchpoint where a varied selection was added to our list including Kestrel, Red Kite, Buzzard and many Swallows hawking low over the fields which are always a pleasing sight. It was great that the weather had improved as the day continued and that guests had also seen the major Oak, a tree that had lived through a staggering amount of both British and World history.
The final day necessitated an early start to get up to the seabird mecca that is RSPB Bempton on the East Yorkshire Coast. It has become a place of pilgrimage for me over many years, it continues to inspire, amaze and educate in equal proportions. Our day was really in the lap of the gods with the weather, as a constant sea fret kept washing over us like an ethereal shroud. The Gannets were the stars of the show just showing what masters of the air they were, as constant updraughts continually called for aerodynamic adjustments. The Auks - Guillemots, Razorbills and Puffins were there in good numbers with the omnipresent call of the Kittiwakes reverberating from the chasms cut deep into the Limestone cliffs. Good views of a Corn Bunting which are quite a common bird at this location, Linnets, Reed Buntings and many of the star passerine Tree Sparrow were also seen. But the bird of the day was the local Barn Owl out hunting on the rough grassy sward of the clifftops, most of the group had stunning views whilst I captured some footage on video for future use. With the post weather lunch closing in a decision was taken to abandon the site, venturing inland to Tophill Low a site managed by Yorkshire water, this was to be an excellent alternative. Some renovation work had recently been completed to the hides and footways but nothing prepared me for the sight that greeted us from the lookout over D reservoir, it was almost as if the complete Sand Martin and Swift migration for the entire UK was happening right in front of our very eyes. It was truly spectacular, a massive reservoir with its rather choppy surface now the hunting space for literally thousands of our scythe winged wonders, it was a world of wildlife that I had never witnessed before and never likely to ever witness again. As we made our way along the boardwalk a rather strange call greeted us it certainly was not of an avian creation but close inspection of the nearby pool showed it to be coming from the resident Marsh Frogs which were very territorial as they emitted this call whilst inflating their cheek bubbles, this in a pool which had the most stunning show of Water Violet I had ever witnessed. A further wander along the paths to O reservoir revealed more Sand Martins interspersed with a few of the House variety, whilst the scrape’s showed breeding was well advanced with young Mallards, Greylags, Canadas and a solitary Oystercatcher chick.
It had certainly been a challenging week from a weather perspective but with a range of habitats being visited it gave a final species score of 102 most had been seen but some only identified on their call, all this at a leisurely pace at a variety of stunning locations and in good company.
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