For most people on the trip, going to Saltholme RSPB reserve was a new experience, as this new, wetland reserve only opened earlier in the year. The RSPB has developed the existing habitat of pools, marshland and wet grazing to add scrapes, more pools & reedbeds, some very substantial hides and an eco-friendly visitor centre.

We started our visit with Great-crested Grebe, Cormorant, large numbers of Coot, Mallard, Pintail, Shoveler and Wigeon, together with Lapwing and Redshank feeding around the edges of the pools, and a large flock of resting Golden Plover.

A number of pools and scrapes have been created in the vicinity of the centre, and the first of these held a female Hooded Merganser, an American duck, whose origin will no doubt be considered by the national rarities committee. It shared the lake with one or two Tufted Ducks, but one of the surprises of the day seen from there was a late Sand Martin which was resting on a bank, above rows of artificial nest holes. Linnets and Meadow Pipits were also feeding on the water margins and weedy areas on the islands.

The feeding station was a good place to catch up with some of the smaller birds, and a flock of Goldfinch were accompanied by Greenfinch and Bullfinch. A short walk through the car park took us to a muddy pool where, viewing through a screen, close views of Teal and Gadwall could be had, with Dunlin and Black-tailed Godwit feeding in the shallow water and Snipe and Pied Wagtails on the edges.

Paths have been developed to the different parts of the reserve, and the first one I went on took us to a really palatial hide. Little Grebes (Dabchicks) gave excellent views as they scuttled across the water, Mute Swans fed quietly in the shallows, and a few Pink-footed Geese could be picked out from the much larger numbers of Canada and Greylag Geese. There was a Ruff in the short grass and Curlew in the damper areas, and, looking out across the marsh, both Little Egret and Grey Heron were exploring the ditches, while Greater Black-backed, Lesser Black-backed, Herring, Common and Black-headed were in a large flock of resting Gulls.

Moving on to the western part of the reserve there were more pools with a viewpoint overlooking them. A drake Blue-winged Teal had been reported from here, so we joined a small group who had telescopes set up and scanned through the Teal to try to find it. It was certainly not obvious but it eventually gave really good views. Looking around the pool, Ruddy Duck were in the far corner and Moorhens were busy feeding. A Water Rail was seen by other members of our group at a neighbouring pool.

Returning to another hide near the visitor centre that overlooked a small reedbed, there were excellent views of Greenshank, a drake Pochard was diving in some of the bays, Reed Bunting flew between clumps of reeds, and Grey Partridge was seen here earlier in the day. There are not many trees on the reserve, but a stretch of hedge added Great Tit and Blackbird to the list of birds for the day.

A final stop, off the reserve, to try to see a Red-backed Shrike which had been reported in the area for the previous few days, was extremely frustrating, as the bird was seen by a lucky few, perched on top of a bush, but it soon dropped into cover. Other birds seen during the course of the day included Kestrel, Sparrowhawk, Pheasant, Woodpigeon, Swallow, Magpie, Jackdaw, Rook, Carrion Crow and Starling. It had been a successful day, and I will certainly look forward to visiting the reserve again to see how it develops

Footnote regarding the Hooded Merganser.
The British Birds Rarities Committee accepted 1 record (a female in Fife from the end of October into November for 2008) only the 5th record to have ever been accepted as occurring in the wild for Great Britain. They commented as follows:-

The simple fact is that the majority of Hooded Mergansers seen in an apparently wild state in Britain and Europe will have escaped from captivity. However, some may be completely innocent of this charge, but deciding which individuals deserve recognition as being the genuine article and which should be damned will never please everyone. Being a relatively short-stayer on a loch in Scotland, the Fife female escaped severe condemnation, but a long-staying drake at Weymouth, Dorset, did itself no favours by outstaying its welcome and appears only in the list of records where identification was accepted, but which is considered a likely escape. That said, birders are free to make up their own minds as to whether the Dorset bird deserved the benefit of the doubt. It certainly would not have been the first wild bird, finding itself lost and alone, to adapt to an opportunistic lifestyle, and it could certainly be argued that arriving as an immature, finding itself a suitable haven, and then simply staying put is far from a hanging offence…

It will be interesting to see what opinion they will have on the Saltholme bird!

In the same report, it was interesting to note that a male Blue-winged Teal had been recorded on the reserve for six weeks in September/October 2007 and also in November 2008. It does happen from time to time that where American species are blown across the Atlantic, they are unable to return, and start a migration pattern here similar to the one that they might have followed “back home”. They can reappear in successive years at stop-over sites and in wintering quarters, so it is possible that the bird that we saw had spent the intervening summers further north, calling in at Saltholme in autumn before moving on to warmer climes for the winter.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License