Despite the impending examinations the lure of the adult summer long-tailed skua was just too much to handle, so after checking that the bird was still on Hatfield Moor this morning I headed out to try and get it.
The site was a trek. I left the house at around half 8 and made it on site at half eleven. The connections were pretty smooth given my luck but there was plenty else to enjoy. Hatfield is a small town surrounded by farmland. The train station is no more than a pair of platforms and about 20 mins walk from the bus stop I needed. I also needed to use the loo at this point so on my walk to the bus stop I decided to call in at the Co-op to see if they had a loo.
For some reason, at this point I looked up. I dunno why, the sky was pretty standard-grey, but overhead there flew at that moment a Cuckoo. I could not believe it. When I saw the bird it had already gone over me but there was no mistaking its form as it flew away. Because of this I have no shots of it, but its quite a record, and quite an odd place to pick it up. I must have looked an odd sight wandering round the co-op celebrating.
I made it to the reserve, but once there succeeded in getting lost multiple times, and finding myself in surprise places but not where I wanted to be. I flushed a good 50 Four-Spot Chasers along the walk, but on the bird front it quiet. There was also a Roe Deer and Weasel, so overall quite a good turnout. The highlight birdwise were a few Shelducks and 3 Common Terns that flew over.
I made it to the site where the bird was supposed to be, but there was nobody there, and the pools were void of birdlife. I was gutted, so after a short stop to see if I was missing anything I began to weary trudge back. I may stress at this point that the reserve is huge, as in its massive, so the trudge back was a long trudge. On the way I did not really pick up any species. The Swifts had been showing well the whole time and they continued to do so, but that was about all.
I did however find some birders at long last, and found out why I had gotten lost. I also found out that the bird had gone at around 12. Apparently it had circled high until it was a mere speck before heading south, alas such is my rotten luck.
I wandered back by the main paths this time to avoid getting lost again. This took me through some smaller pools rather than round the more extensive marsh. Some peculiar calls, probably alarm, led me to a pair of Little Grebes, but they dived as soon as I had eyes on them, and I also found a Southern Marsh Orchid next to the path, so I was able to get some more photos of this species.
-Southern Marsh Orchid
I arrived at the main car park, and finally positioned myself on my map, ideal now that I was going. In the car park there were more birders who helped piece together where the skua had gone. There was also a very vocal garden warbler, which was obviously very close but just not visible. I stayed as long as I dare trying to find it, but it decided to stop calling, or move off as another or the same started singing a way away, so that species still continues to elude me.
In all honesty is was looking like the day could have been better spent revising, as I'm not sure a brief cuckoo along warranted the extortion that was Northern Rail. However, on the way out that all changed. I was wandering out by the road through the farmland when I heard a call that I could not recall ever hearing before, and it sounded like the kind of call that I would have remembered. So I stopped beside a hawthorn tree to try and track down the maker. There was a family party of Blue Tits in the tree by the sounds of it too, but when the bird sang again I was able to locate it on the very top of the tree, meaning I would struggle to get a complete photo. From what I could tell from my obscured view was that it was a large passerine, somewhere between skylark and starling, and that its beak was short and stumpy.
During my research into the site prior to my visit I had seen the occasional report of corn bunting in the area, but I had not really considered it, as the same thing is said of Bempton and I have never seen one there. However, here I had an enigma and my thoughts quickly jumped to the conclusion that it might just be one, finally. I grabbed some shots but the light was against me and I could make out no distinguishable features. However, I could tell that it was streaky, but that it had a stumpy beak, finch or bunting, but I can not recall ever seeing a finch or a bunting as big as this bird. I decided to take a chance and get a better view, by entering the verge of the field. From here I managed some more shots and convinced myself in my head from the evidence I had that it was, but after taking some photos from my new position I raised my binoculars to have a look, and the bird decided it wanted to go.
I had convinced myself that I had finally settled my score but having never seen one before I wanted to check. As such I waited until I could get my photos into photoshop and lighten them up before I would celebrate. Turns out I was right, and it is indeed a Corn Bunting, my first ever.
So what is my beef with corn buntings? Not with corn buntings themselves, but my interest in birds stemmed from I-spy. In I-spy birds corn bunting is somehow warranted 5 points, the same as blue tit, and great tit, but less than dunnock. So I have this ridiculous gap in my pride and glory because of their ridiculous scoring system and the fact that I could not seem to find a corn bunting.
So, finally, having sorted that out I can finally appreciate what I have seen. I was surprised by just how big it was. I had always expected something sparrow sized, but not at all. That was its most defining impression, the rest can really be said from my record shots. What a bird, finally...
Having finally ticked one of Britain's most threatened species I headed back happy. And just to make this bunting day (there was reed on the marsh) I spotted a Yellowhammer feeding on grass seeds on the main road on my walk back.
So in the end the day was rescued from the fire and probably made up for the fact that the skua had done a runner...
Hatfield: Collard Dove, Woodpigeon, Goldfinch, House Sparrow, Starling, Cuckoo, Swift, Magpie
Hatfield Moor NNR: Swift, Magpie, Woodpigeon, Goldfinch, Canada Goose, Swallow, House Martin, Whitethroat, Great-Crested Grebe, Mallard, Moorhen, Blackbird, Blackcap, Wren, Graylag Goose, Lapwing, Lesser Black-Backed Gull, Black-Headed Gull, Great Tit, Common Tern, Reed Bunting, Little Grebe, Carrion Crow, Oystercatcher, Linnet, Tree Pipit, Kestrel, Shellduck, Pied Wagtail, Common Buzzard, Skylark, Feral Pigeon
Other Species: Rabbit, Roe Deer, Weasel, Four-Spot Chaser, Blue-Tailed Damselfly, Common Blue Damselfly, Large Red Damselfly,