Highland Diary

A Return to Gibraltar Point

August can be a quiet time for wildlife photography in the Highlands. With the breeding season over many birds are already on their way south and many insects and plants have had their day. With the weather forecast predicting a succession of Atlantic fronts moving through the north of Scotland for much of August we decided to head south to find better weather. The East of England looked to be a good bet for waders on early passage migration. The prospect of catching up with some Spoonbills was perhaps the main attraction. Following a number of sporadic breeding attempts in the 1990’s in 2010 four pairs bred successfully in Norfolk. Since then they have increased in number and are breeding as far north as West Yorkshire.

Our first port of call was at Blacktoft Sands on the south side of the river Ouse. Plenty of migrant waders to see on the lagoons plus a dozen or so spoonbills. With a few Spoonbill and wader pictures in the bag we headed on south to Gibraltar Point, a place where I spent a couple of summers in the late 1950’s helping out at the bird observatory. In the intervening sixty years much has changed. On the seaward side of the observatory the dune system and saltings have extended out into the Wash by a hundred metres or more and Sea Buckthorn now covers large parts of the mature dune system. Perhaps the biggest change, apart from all the trappings of a modern nature reserve, a visitor centre, car parks and a maze of waymarked paths, is the amount of open water now present. A number of pools and lagoons have been dug on either side of the road leading down to the old coastguard station. On the west side of the road where there were once arable fields a large shallow lagoon now attracts large numbers of waterbirds. Sixty years ago birds such as Avocet, Little Egret, Mediterranean Gull and Spoonbill would have been considered rarities and other than Avocet none of them bred in the UK. In the last thirty years or so all have expanded their range and their presence is now regarded by most birders as the norm. The pools and lagoons on the seaward side of the road held mainly dragonfly interest. Here again were species that have only recently appeared in the UK and others that are moving north. Most notable was the Willow Emerald Damselfly which we saw but failed to photograph. Away from the pools butterflies and other insects proved to be something of a challenge. On all three days of our visit the wind was strong enough to make macro work near impossible. I even managed to photograph an Essex Skipper without realising its true identity until I was going through my pictures later at home, yet another species that has moved its range northwards in recent years.