Daphne Pleace 

I remember first visiting the stunning RSPB Blacktoft Sands as a newbie member, exploring as many nature reserves as I could. It was at Blacktoft I saw my first ever displaying marsh harriers… and what a display it turned out to be.  

Display as in birding terminology: all those wonderful courtship behaviours that birds do. But this was the display. The dancing take-away" I call it. The one where the male bird with a food item in his talons, flies above the nest, calling to the female who flies up to catch it when the male drops it to her from above. She’s flying upside down, by the way, at the crucial moment of the ‘pass’. No shuffling to the front door in your trackie bots and furry socks to get your take-away delivery here. 


Male marsh harrier (top) dropping food to female (bottom) - Ben Hall (rspb-images.com) 


My first ever bearded tits sighting was at Blacktoft Sands too: these moustache rascals took over from their long-tailed cousins in my Favourite Little Birds list (FLB for short). Or did they… how can I choose between two such endearing little birds? I have several other lists too: Favourite Big Bird (FBB)Favourite Garden Bird (FGB)Favourite – What The Heck – Bird (F-WTH-B). Not quite the ‘proper’ birder lists, but you might be able to work out what they are. 

It’s also the first time ever I had the shock of seeing a huge container ship, sailing through the reed bed. It’s not of course: the ship is beyond the extensive reed beds (England’s largest) at the confluence of the major waterways of the Rivers Humber, Ouse and Trent and on its way who knows where. But it’s all part of the strange magic of this fluid land-and-waterscape: it seems to me as if almost anything might appear here.  


RSPB Blacktoft Sands aerial view – David Wooten (rspb-images.com) 


Sadly, this visit was not recent. Blacktoft Sands, along with many other reserves, has been closed, or open only to locals, for months during our various lockdowns. The joys of experiencing the small and the local in nature during our allowed walks-from-home is close to my heart and something I am a strong advocate for but there’s nothing quite like a pack-the-rucksack day trip to a grander, wilder, place, protected for nature by the RSPB or similar conservation organisations. Such reserves are the nearest we can get to wild on this little island of ours. 

Happily, the situation of the last year is about to change. Soon, when Covid-19 restrictions are relaxed, RSPB Blacktoft Sands will be opening its doors - or rather its trails and hides - once again and I’ll be on my way to see those marsh harriers, bearded tits, avocets… maybe hear a cetti or a bittern?... and who knows what else. Bring on (bring back!) the magic. 


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For more on reserves, visit our Reserves A-Z and head over to our Bird A-Z for identification and behaviour information. Email: natureshome@rspb.org.uk