Saltfleetby-Theddlethorpe NNR Bird Sightings May – June 2021

Cliff Morrison

Join Natural England volunteer and regular Dynamic Dunescapes blogger Cliff Morrison, for an update on the birds that he's spotted at Saltfleetby-Theddlethorpe NNR.

After such a cold, if sunny April, expectations for improved conditions in May were dimmed by the storms during the first week, then unfortunately the whole month continued to be wet, with temperatures 2-3oC below average. Fortunately, however, conditions have returned to be more typical.

The inclement weather delayed arrivals of many spring breeding migrants, with swallows and house martins being particularly scarce over the dunes until the end of May. Whitethroats, the most numerous summer breeding migrant, eventually arrived in good numbers, as did blackcap, lesser whitethroat, and chiffchaff. However, only 4-5 willow warblers are occupying territories along the whole 8km of coastal scrub areas of the reserve; a 60% decline over recent years. This species has been responding negatively to increasing summer temperatures across England, gradually moving further north and continuing to be very common in Scotland.

A small brown bird sits at the very tip of a small branch

Juvenile stonechat. Image: Owen Beaumont

The most interesting breeding success has been a pair of stonechats raising four young along the outer dunes. A new breeding species for the reserve, which according to ‘Birds of Lincolnshire’ is an occasional breeder in the county.

One, maybe two, pairs of garden warblers have occupied territories; the first recorded for several years now. Singing male Cetti’s warblers have also been recorded at Rimac and at the southern end of the reserve.

The first arrival of turtle doves on 6th May with two males, with further arrivals staggered throughout the month, with seven being recorded together on 27th. There are probably four pairs present now but delayed and accelerated breeding has reduced display and purring (calling), making it difficult to determine exact territories.

By contrast, the cuckoos have been particularly vociferous this year, with at least four pairs along the reserve. This has been another rapidly declining species, but the coastal scrub habitat and plentiful food supply proves to be attractive to them.

Migrant birds passing through the reserve included a wood warbler on 8th May, wheatears peaking at 25 on 9th, with singles of tree pipit, redstart, and spotted flycatcher by 12th May. A singing marsh warbler was present, and sound recorded in outer dune scrub at Rimac on 16th June, the first noted for some years.

A brown bid with a long neck and long yellow beak can be seen in amongst the vegetation
A a grey bird with a long yellow beak has its head is poking out of the reeds in a river. In the background a brown goose sits on a nest on the grassy bank

Purple Heron found by Tony and Tim Foster at Rimac on 9th May with Grey Heron in same location for comparison. Images: Tony Foster and Cliff Morrison.

A purple heron was photographed in the freshwater marsh at Rimac on the 7th May by Tony and Tim Foster, who located presumably the same bird again on the 20th with the bird favouring the vegetated edges of the Great Eau. A purple heron was in the Spurn area a few days after each of the sightings here which was most likely the same bird. The last recorded purple heron on the reserve was in 1977, although a bird was in the local area in 2017.

Other impressive wading birds included two spoonbills on 9th and 12th May and a relatively long-staying great white egret, still present on 15th June. A stone curlew flushed from outer dune shingle on 29th May was a new record for the reserve with just 20 having been recorded in the county over the past 20 years.

A brown bird with its long neck curved under its body is flying with wings outstretched

Purple Heron found by Tony and Tim Foster at Rimac on 9th May with Grey Heron in same location for comparison. Images: Tony Foster and Cliff Morrison.

On the 15th June, a long-eared owl was disturbed from tall scrub. This species has bred on the reserve in the past, the last time about 5 years ago, when a recently fledged bird was seen next to tall scrub, and again about 20 years ago. Up to two short-eared owls have frequently been seen over the saltmarsh over the period while barn owls are also hunting on the reserve but will be breeding off-site.

Other birds of note have included a quail along the fore dunes on 19th May, which flew into the buckthorn, a red kite on the 5th June and an osprey flew south over Rimac on 17th June. Hobby has been frequently recorded, particularly in the evenings, when it/they come to feed on fox moths and late flying dragonflies.



Cliff Morrison 17th June 2021