L.O.S. Fieldtrip to Marshside RSPB and Lunt Meadows - Sunday 12th January 2020

Our first fieldtrip of 2020 took us firstly to Marshside RSPB and then on to Lunt Meadows. 14 members met up at 9am on the car park at Marshside. The weather was inclement at first but improving as the morning moved on. 
Our first bird of the day was a Marsh Harrier as we gathered our thoughts and belongings. We decided to head off to Sandgrounder's Hide until the rain moved on. Here a distant Peregrine perched along the fence line before moving on. A distant Kestrel was recorded, along with two Great Black-Backed Gulls, Teal, Pintail, Moorhen and the obligatory Mallard. 
From Sandgrounder's we crossed the road and stood by the sand works looking out across Crossen's Outer Marsh. Here Little Egret and Great White Egret were observed at distance. At even more distance, a male Hen Harrier hawked the tideline before coming to rest on a prominence, giving the scope men time to confirm its ID. There was also a solitary Raven. 
By this time the rain had ceased to be, which made for a great birding day to come, so the next port of call was Nel's Hide. Here a flotilla of Tufted Duck, happily mixed with a few Pochard, Pintails, Gadwall and a stunning female Scaup giving good views. On leaving the hide two Goldcrest gave us some real close up viewing. 
Returning to the car park, we headed out towards the incoming tide and out onto the saltmarsh. Here hundreds of Dunlin took to flight forced from their feeding grounds by the incoming tide, also good flocks of Redshank, Oystercatcher mixed with Grey Plover. A single Snipe crossed over head also to note Pink-footed Geese and good numbers of Skylarks disturbed by the incoming tide trying to find dryer ground. Then along the tideline moving from right to left a small raptor, which came to rest on a small dead shrub. With the aid of binoculars and scopes a female Merlin made for some marvellous birdwatching. Eventually after some 20 minutes it moved on at speed along the tideline taking a Dunlin before going to ground. 
Returning to the cars for a spot of lunch, we decided to head over to Crossen's Inner Marsh to look for the recently reported Long-billed Dowitcher. We were not to be disappointed. Some 25 meters away, it gave great views and an opportunity for the odd photograph. Also on the inner marsh, there were good numbers of Black-tailed Godwits, Wigeon, and Golden Plover. 
Next a quick reccy to Gravel Lane for the Cattle Egrets that had been reported and a chance to see the Little Owl - but this time we came up short. 
Lastly we headed off to Lunt Meadows. On arrival we made our way to the wooden footbridge which crosses the River Alt. A single female Stonechat and many a Linnet flitted to and fro. As the sun started to set, two Barn Owls gave reasonable views for a short period. 
On a sad note three men appeared in the distance, crossing the middle of the vast arable fields with Lurchers. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I thought Hare Coursing was illegal. Inevitably it wasn't long before a Brown Hare was flushed and the dogs were unleashed. We watched in full view, the dogs running the Hare down. The chase went on for some 10 minutes. Unfortunately, two Short-eared Owl were flushed in the process. This would be our only view at distance of the birds we had come especially to see. 
Meanwhile the Hare was heading our way, still with the dogs hot on its tail, only a metre or so behind. Then the Hare made its last throw of the dice - it headed straight in the a large patch of dense reeds and brambles by the river bank. Fortunately here it completely lost the dogs in the dense undergrowth, eventually heading out the other side, and up the embankment. It then headed straight towards us at full tilt, before shooting back down the embankment and across the vast fields to safety. One nil for the Hare, and a very happy ending to the day, but sadly it may not be so fortunate next time.
Thank you all who attended and your great company, another fantastic trip, with some fantastic birding. 
On a final note: If your binoculars steam up, keep them close to your chest, and be careful what you wish to see through your scope. 
Until next time.
Paul Pennington
L.O.S. Fieldtrips Officer