Birdwatch: Rare visitor makes exciting return but patience is required

The little bittern stayed at Old Moor most of last summer.  Picture: Andrew LeggettThe little bittern stayed at Old Moor most of last summer.  Picture: Andrew Leggett
The little bittern stayed at Old Moor most of last summer. Picture: Andrew Leggett
For those who missed it last year there is another chance to see a rare visitor.

A male little bittern is back at the RSPB’s Old Moor reserve near Barnsley. It was first seen early on Saturday morning and since then, true to form, in brief flights across the reedbeds. It has also been making its spring call, a muted dog-like barking.

Little bitterns, the smallest of Europe’s herons, are summer visitors to Europe from Africa including wetlands along the coasts of France, Belgium and the Netherlands.

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Last year the first sighting was on June 30 and the fact that this year the male is back about a month earlier raises hopes that he might be joined by a female. A pair has bred in South Yorkshire before, at the Potteric Carr reserve, Doncaster in 1984 and successfully reared three young.

Good numbers of birders are arriving at Old Moor in the hopes of seeing the little bittern from the Bittern Hide or the Bus Stop, with varied success and often after a lengthy wait.

There are more sightings and booming calls from its larger relative the Eurasian bittern with two nests located on the reserve this year.

Apart from these brief flights little bitterns are otherwise difficult to locate. They are so small, only about the size of a coot, that they can slip through the reeds without moving them and are so light that they can climb up a single stem.

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Apart from a weekend away at Swillington Ings, Leeds the little bittern stayed at Old Moor for much of last summer and is likely to do the same this year.

The warm sunny weather resulted in more rare birds arriving in the region from further south.

A great reed warbler was singing at the Water’s Edge Country Park at Barton-upon-Humber, a loud raucous sound full of croaking, whistling and warbling.

It is Europe’s largest warbler, thrush-sized but otherwise closely resembling the reed warbler.

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A Savi’s warbler is still reeling at the Blacktoft Sand reserve, best listened for in the early mornings from the First Hide. A female red-necked phalarope was first seen on the reserve on Tuesday, there were two spoonbills, and the female Montagu’s harrier is still present.

At Spurn a bee-eater was present for two days around the Warren and Triangle, while a golden oriole was in Beacon Lane and around the Kilnsea wetland, male red-footed falcon over Easington Lagoons and at Spurn and a male serin at the Warren. There were also at least two red-backed shrikes in the area.

Honey buzzards are back from Africa and the first of the year was seen from the Wykeham Forest raptor viewpoint near Scarborough on Saturday.

A Greenish warbler was seen behind the wall along the Marine Drive at Scarborough.

Also spotted along the coast was a huge arrival of Diamondback moths from Europe and also some Painted Lady butterflies that were on their way north from Africa. Both are also being reported inland.