Montagu's Harriers at Blacktoft Sands!

Yesterday, we headed across the Humber estuary, to RSPB Blacktoft Sands, and spent a fantastic evening birdwatching. The reserve is right next to the Humber Estuary and is home to approximately 270 species of bird, so it seemed like the perfect place to spend the evening.

We started out at the closest hide, where we saw herons, and plenty of ducks, but we quickly moved on to hide number 2. At the second hide, we were told that there had been sightings of the rare Montagu's Harrier earlier on, and that the pair were expected to show themselves again soon, so we settled down to wait for a bit, and see of we could catch a glimpse of them.

Whilst waiting for the harriers, we saw plenty of other amazing species. Not far from the hide, there was a small island on the scrape, that was covered in nesting avocets and black-headed gulls. The vegetation-free scrapes provide perfect areas for birds like these to nest, and there were a lot of birds making the most of the available space at the reserve.

Nesting Avocets and Black-Headed Gulls

The Avocets were great to see, as they have quite an interesting history. The species disappeared from Britain as a breeding bird 1842, and it wasn't until 1947 that they returned, with 4 breeding pairs in Suffolk. This return sparked a conservation effort that returned them to the UK properly, where there are now approximately 1,500 breeding pairs. They are a bird that I don't usually see, so it was brilliant to be able to sit and watch them properly for a bit.


As well as all these birds on the scrape, there were also a few beautiful Marsh Harriers flying and hunting over the reeds in the background. They came a lot closer than expected, hunting right in front of us, showing off their aerial agility and wonderful colours. The Marsh Harrier is the largest of the harriers, and is distinguishable from others by their size, heavier build, and broad wings. They are always fantastic birds to watch as they fly over the reed beds and marshes.

Then, after around 30 minutes, a man in the hide with us had spotted a distant pair of Montagu's Harriers. I was instantly excited. You could tell it was a Montagu's, and not a Marsh Harrier, quite clearly. It had much thinner and more delicate wings than the Marsh Harrier, and was much lighter as well. Unfortunately, due to the distance, I could only grab a few seconds of film, but you can see the harrier, and the colour difference.

The Montagu's Harrier

The pair that we watched were one of only 12-16 pairs in the UK, so this was a pretty special moment. They would have also travelled all the way from Africa to spend the summer here, before returning to their African wintering grounds again later on in the year.

It was a brilliant evening at a brilliant nature reserve. If you are ever in the area, be sure to pop in, and you may see one of these magnificent harriers for yourself.

Thank you for reading.


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