Saturday, 18 April 2015

RSPB Middleton Lakes

As mentioned previously, whilst at Orgreave it had come to my attention that a couple of Black-Winged Stilts had turned up at RSPB Middleton Lakes in Staffordshire. This was a realistic twitch for the afternoon as it would only take an hour to get there by train, and then another hour walking. On the bus back I exploited the free WiFi and concluded it was possible, but could not decide if I was really going to pull it off. Both trains meant I had time to go home first, and whilst at home I continued my research and found, to my joy, that it would only cost £20 by train, not the £40 that I had seen on the app. With that in mind I bought the ticket and set off...
I arrived at the site 2 and a half hours later. The trains had been very organised and true to the schedule. I had then power walked the 2 and a half miles from the station to the reserve. My face must have been one of fierce determination. I heard a cettis warbler as I entered the reserve, but marched on, a small crowd were watching something (Garganey as it happened) but I kept going and made it to the Stilts in fine time.
As I approached the stilts I came round from the trees obscuring the path so I could see the small mob of twitchers. At the back of the pack I could see one of the twitchers checking me out with his bins, but even without bins I could see who it was; Matt Bruce, the now ex-chairman of the NGBs. Its crazy that of my 4 major twitches this year we have met up at half of them completely by chance. Haha, what were the odds.
Anyway, back to the stilts. I set up the scope and picked them out straight away with Matt's help. They were rather distant unfortunately but I did manage some record shots both with the SLR and with digiscoping. None of them are exceptional but they are clear enough and show exactly what you want them to. Despite their distance, the two stilts were fantastic. They were feeding regularly, as well as preening and even washing, as well as sleeping. But since there were two, when one was sleeping the other was usually doing something. They were so leggy, the way they strutted round. At one point one was even chased by a black-headed gull which allowed me to see it in flight. Sadly we were looking straight into the sun, and as the afternoon drew on the glare became very strong, until the stilts could not be made out in it, and hence many of my photos have been tortured by photoshop to try and bring the stilts out more. At one point they were joined by a pair of avocets, which were a yeartick, so I also got some photos of these two closely related birds together.
-Black-Winged Stilts
-Black-Winged Stilt and Avocet
After watching the stilts for about 2 and a half hours, with a brief intermission to the hide for a look, I decided to head off to pick up some of the other things on the reserve, Matt had already left with his girlfriend, and my train was not until 8.00 so I had about an hour to run round and see some of the other stuff.
On the yeartick front I got a bumper crop. Whilst watching the Stilts a distant Marsh Harrier had flown over, and a Common Tern dropped in briefly onto the marsh before flying off to the scrape overlooked by the hide. The yeartick of the moment from this spot was a Green Sandpiper feeding along the edge of the scrape, but it was very distant. Once I left though I stumbled across 2 more which were a little closer and allowed me to get a record shot for the year. They were an unexpected addition to the yearlist make no mistake. Also notice the Little Ringed Plover photobombing the record shot in the bottom right corner!
-Green Sandpipers
I mentioned the Garganey earlier and that's where I headed. It did not take me long to pick it out but it was distant and was keeping very close to the reeds, often drifting in and remaining hidden for long periods of time. But when it was showing it showed well, dabbling along the edge of the reeds before getting out and having a preen. I tried to take a few shots but they were no more than record standard so I only included one. 
Thats how I finished off the day. I got a very enjoyable and relaxed walk back to the train station along the canal in lovely evening sunshine whilst being assaulted by midges. Along the way I had views of Blackcap and Chiffchaff as well as a host of commoner species.
In the end I made it back to Sheffield for just after 9.00, so what had started as a fairly relaxed day out at Orgreave had turned into a mad one and ended up with a lovely rarity, my first lifer since Lady A and my 249th species. And the fact that they were such lovely birds.
BOOM! What a days birding!!

Species List:
RSPB Middleton Lakes: Black-Winged Stilt, Avocet, Green Sandpiper, Shoveler, Little Ringed Plover, Shelduck, Marsh Harrier, Common Tern, Gargany, Lapwing, Long-Tailed Tit, Oystercatcher, Black-Headed Gull, Mute Swan, Canada Goose, Graylag Goose, Common Teal, Woodpigeon, Blackbird, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Coot, Moorhen, Mallard, Kestrel, Dunnock, Robin, Cormorant, Great Crested Grebe, Tufted Duck, Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Feral Pigeon, Lesser Black-Backed Gull, Grey Heron, Magpie, Carrion Crow, Gadwall, Common Buzzard,


  1. Great story Dan and a nice post on the NGB blog too.

  2. Great story Dan and a nice post on the NGB blog too.

  3. Cheers Nick
    They were asking what NGB had done for people, and I owe more to it than most so I wrote the piece. I'm glad you liked it, I wasn't sure if I'd nailed it or not.