Following my talk at Bangor Bird Club ‘Cornell – The American Dream’, I did plan to head straight back up to Carlisle for Uni. However, as the trains where offline I had to re-book for the evening which meant I had a day to kill, and where else better than my old patch – RSPB Burton Mere Wetlands.
The day previously on the reserve had been fairly productive as a pair of Jack Snipe showed well from both Marsh Covert and Inner Marsh Farm, whilst a Water Pipit had been seen earlier in the day with a 1cy Hen Harrier bombing it right past Marsh Covert in the afternoon. However, today wasn’t quite the same. Walking into Reception there was no masses of gulls like there was yesterday, of which I picked four Med Gull, but a single adult Med Gull was still present. Having bumped into Tony on route to Marsh Covert we had our usual chat which concluded in that it seemed like a quiet day on the reserve…never judge a book by its cover.
Having departed from Marsh Covert where only a pair of Ruff where present, which was when I saw a rather excited Keith Duckers and it soon transpired that there was one flipping good reason for him to be as excited as he was…BEARDED REEDLING!!! A pair had been heard and seen briefly at the Reed Bed Screen, but when I legged it up the trail to see them there they where, right out in the open, both male and female. Just simply one of the most remarkable birds I’ve seen this year and on the reserve its self!
Bearded Reedling are as you can tell not something we get that often in Wirral and Cheshire. They’re a scarce irruptive visitor to the county (92 records to date), which have bred on two occasions, both at Neston Reedbed. Given that this pair have remained at the reserve for over a week, who’s to say that they won’t stay the winter and you never know, might breed. For a good ten minutes the pair performed superbly well for the crowd on site before departing to another part of the reserve out of view. After that, they were only seen once briefly in flight.
Arriving back at the visitor centre to meet local Birder Andrea Thomas, bombed it down soon as I messaged her about the Reedlings, I was then stunned by something that just blew the Bearded Reedlings right out the water! Now, having been birding the Dee estuary for the last 4 years I’m used to seeing Hen Harrier, I’d safely call it the best place in the country to see them. But, in all that time the closest you’d get would be no more than 20 or 30 meters, if your lucky then might get them less than that! But out of nowhere a ringtail came in off the back of the scrapes and went in for the kill…Common Snipe was its choice. That in its self is enough to make anyone’s day, but when the harrier continued to head towards the hide having made the kill, not head to back of the scrapes to eat like the harriers usually do. That was when things began to hot up. Because it just coming closer, closer and closer until it no more than five meters in front of the hide and that was it landed in the vegetation on the Reception Pool. For me and the other observers who’d seen the Bearded Reedlings, despite them being a MEGA, a site first, showing brilliantly amongest other things.
At this point Andrea’s son George arrived on site only to find out he’d just missed this incredible experience, gutted as you can imagine and well the day didn’t get much better either. There was no sign of the Water Pipit or Jack Snipes at either Marsh Covert or Inner Marsh Farm and despite giving it a good go, no more sign of the Bearded Reedlings. Despite all this every cloud has its silver lining and in this case it was when the day became a hat-trick. As not only did I have my best views of Hen Harrier and Bearded Reedling, but rounding it all was my best ever views yet of Merlin, Europe’s smallest Falcon.
The female/immature bird popped up in a tree whilst I wasn’t looking which observers called, ‘HOBBY’! But being November I took a look myself through George’s scope and sure enough, pretty nice views of Merlin. Which moments after I set eyes on it through the scope, the bird departed and flew straight over our heads. HAT-TRICK! I’ve been visiting RSPB Burton Mere Wetlands ever since it first opened back in 2014 and there’s been some special days: Red-necked Phalarope, Pectoral Sandpiper and Western Cattle Egret all from the same hide. Self finding the sites first record of Ring-billed Gull, my first visit to the reserve and spending an evening with Joel Tragen watching the egrets fly in to roost to then be bolting down the boardwalk in pursuit of a Great Egret.
But, out of all the times I’ve been to this flagship reserve, I’ve never had a day quite like this with the birds, the views and the people to make it one day I’ll never forget.
Thanks for reading,