On Saturday I visited Potteric Carr, a nature reserve owned and operated by the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust and one of the largest nature reserves in the country. During the reign of Henry VIII, Potteric Carr was a part of Hatfield Chase which was the largest deer chase in the realm. The deer chase was used right up until the reign of Elizabeth I when it fell from royal favour due to it being permanently inundated with water.
During the next one hundred and fifty years, several attempts were made at draining the Carr and during this time a duck decoy was established. This is a method for catching ducks and the proceeds from this endeavour was donated to the poor people of Doncaster. After one hundred and thirty years as a duck decoy it closed after a successful and effective drainage scheme by civil engineer John Smeaton in 1760 turning the land into agricultural use.
In 1849 the Great Northern Railway was built across Potteric Carr destroying the decoy and many scarce plants in the process and over the next fifty to sixty years the railway lines were greatly expanded, much of which still exists today. In 1968 a small part of Potteric Carr was made into a nature reserve by the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust.
Since then the reserve has been greatly expanded to its current size with thirteen hides and two viewpoints. Some of the star species include Bittern, Marsh Harrier, Kingfisher and Cetti's Warbler with an estimated 65 bird species breeding there each year. In 2016 a new visitor centre was constructed at the site's entrance which includes a shop and cafe.
It was a cold but sunny morning when I arrived just before 10:30 and I set off on the Dragonfly Trail passing some bird feeders which were being visited by Goldfinches & Blue Tits. As I headed along the path a Blackbird and Robin made their way across from on side to the other as a Grey Heron flew overhead and as I reached the point where the path turns eastward I made a detour onto the Discovery Zone path which takes you through part of the Beeston Plantation.
Halfway round this path there is a view point which looks out over Loversall Carr from which you can sometimes see Deer. Today however there were no Deer but there was a single Little Egret flying low over the ground before landing on the far side. As I returned to the Dragonfly Trail more Robins and Blackbirds flew across my path, briefly landing on bushes and fence posts before flying off again. As I turned left towards the point where the trail splits to form a loop around Willow Marsh, a lone Robin landed on the ground in front of me.
I now headed up the left hand path to the Loversall Pool Hide which has a small pool in front of it. On the pool itself a few Coots were present and on a small island a lone Grey Heron was preening itself and in the trees beyond the reeds a pair of Jays were perched looking out over the water. In the far left corner amongst some reeds another Grey Heron was present and after watching it for a couple of minutes I left the hide and returned to the trail and this time took the right hand path of the Dragonfly Trail.
I continued down the path until it reached the railway line and turned north. Shortly after it turns north there is a path splitting off which takes you to the Cottage Drain Hide that looks out over Willow Marsh and which today was very quiet apart from the odd Wood Pigeon flying across. I continued along the path to the Mother Drain where it splits in two again, to the right is the Wetland Walk and the left heads towards Beeston and Willow Pool Hides.
I decided to visit the two hides and do the Wetland Walk after my lunch and I first went to the Willow Pool Hide. No sooner had I sat down in the hide when a Sparrowhawk flew from left to right in front of the hide scattering the birds away from the feeders in front. The Sparrowhawk perched high up in a tree behind the hide before disappearing a couple of minutes later after an unsuccessful hunt. Now that the Sparrowhawk had left the birds started returning to the feeders. Soon there were Blue Tits, Great Tits, Chaffinches and a single Coal Tit visiting the feeders with Moorhens and Dunnocks picking up the scraps dropped by the birds visiting the feeders.
Out on the water, which was hard to see as the sun was shining directly at the hide reflecting off the water, I was able to see quite a few Mallards and a couple more Moorhens. A single Robin and Marsh Tit now visited the feeders and over to the far left hand side a Treecreeper was slowly inching its way up a tree and flew off once it neared the top of the tree.
From here I moved to the Beeston Hide which overlooks a large reedbed and whilst I sat in this hide I had my lunch. In front of the hide it was quite quiet with just a single Reed Warbler and Wren flying between the gaps in the reeds, but to the right, just a few feet from the hide another Treecreeper was making its way up a tree. Once I had finished my lunch I headed back along the path and onto the Wetland Walk.
After a couple of hundred yards the path splits in two and I took the left hand path through Black Carr Field and as I approached the first hide of the afternoon a Robin was perched on a bench pecking at a small pile of seeds that had been left. As I walked past the bench the Robin flew off and I arrived at the Piper Marsh Hide which looks northwards over the afore mentioned Piper Marsh. The water in front of the hide was fairly quiet with just a few Coots in the middle and on the far side a lone Black Headed Gull. On the far bank there was another Grey Heron amongst some Mallards, whilst flying over head was a single Cormorant.
Through the gaps in the trees beyond Piper Marsh I could see trains as they passed along the East Coast Mainline and after the fourth train had passed a couple of crows flew out from the trees and landed on an island over to the right. I left the hide and followed the path until it turns south over the Mother Drain and in between the West and East Scrape. Before I reached the next hide I took a slight detour along a path to a viewpoint looking out over the East Scrape.
Over on the other side of the East Scrape, sat at the top of a tree a Buzzard was perched looking out for food. After a few minutes I left and headed to the next hide which is the West Scrape Hide. On the water over to the left of the hide there were a few Lapwings, Teals, Gadwalls and a single Pochard. On the far side of the water there was a very large group of Lapwings with a couple of Lesser Black Backed Gulls dotted amongst them.
I now moved on to the next hide which was about a 100 metres further on and is slightly different to the other hides in that it is octagonal in shape where as the rest are the traditional rectangular. It is called the Roger Mitchell Hide and it gives you an almost three hundred and sixty degree view of Huxter Well Marsh. To the right it was fairly quiet with just a few Coots and Mute Swans present, but looking north west it was a lot busier.
Out on the water were several Lesser Black Backed Gulls, Shovelers and Tufted Ducks along with a couple of Pochards and Gadwalls. On the far side of the water there were two small islands, with the first one being occupied by several Cormorants and the one further back by three Grey Herons, two Shelducks and a lone Little Egret. One by one the Mute Swans round to the left took off and moved over to the water at north west of the hide.
I rejoined the path and followed it as it turned south and after approximately fifty metres it turns westward again. I had only gone about twenty to thirty metres further on when just a few feet to my right a Bittern was flying along the edge of the water before dropping down in reeds at the bottom right hand corner of Huxter Well Marsh. After waiting a few minutes to see if the Bittern would re-appear from the reeds I continued on to the Tofield Hide.
The water in front of the Tofield Hide was fairly quiet with just a few Tufted Ducks and Black Headed Gulls present and I had apparently just missed a pair of Bitterns moving along the edge of the reeds just to the left of the hide. As I was looking out over the reeds a Marsh Harrier flew in over the water, making several sharp turns over the reeds and water looking for food before disappearing northwards and out of sight.
I left the hide and followed the path around a field until it reached the railway line and turned north up the bank to St Catherine's Hide which looks east over the southern end of Huxter Well Marsh. On the water to the left there were several Pochards and Tufted Ducks, but over to the right hiding behind a bush was a lone Roe Deer and the Marsh Harrier was still flying low over the reeds. As I wanted to get back to the visitor centre in time for the Starling Murmuration I moved on after a few minutes.
The next hide, just fifty or so metres further along, is the Hawthorn Bank Hide and from here the group of Pochards were now on the right. Further out on the water there were Mallards, Gadwalls, Teals and a single Shoveler with Little Grebe at the edge of the reeds in the back left hand corner. I now moved on to the final hide that looks out over Huxter Well Marsh, the Duchess Hide, but as it was very quiet I which decided to start making my way back to the visitor centre via the Willow Pool Hide and the Railway Route Trail.
As I arrived back at the Willow Pool Hide it was still awash with Blue Tits, Great Tits and Chaffinches with Moorhens & Dunnocks still on the ground below the feeders. Over to the left however there was a group of about four or five Long Tailed Tits hopping between and hanging from the branches. Before I went back to the visitor centre I walked round the Railway Route which takes you round the Old Eaa Marsh where a Whooper Swan had been spotted in recent days.
As I arrived at the first of two Hides that overlooks the Old Eaa Marsh, the Old Eaa Hide, a group of Shovelers took off and flew eastwards out of sight. The reason for their quick exit soon became clear as a pair of Marsh Harriers flew in from the south of the Marsh looking for food. Sadly there was no sign of the Whooper Swan on this part of the Old Eaa Marsh, nor was there when I visited the final hide, the Decoy Marsh Hide.
I now returned to the Visitor Centre and after a quick snack purchased from the Cafe I went outside and waited for the Starlings to start flying in for their Murmuration. Just before four o'clock the Starlings started to roll in from both the North and the South gradually building up until there were around three or four thousand in number. They started Murmurating over trees north of the Visitor Centre as more Starlings continued to arrive but eventually disappeared and settled down in reeds north of the reserve.
In previous evenings there had been between twenty and forty thousand in number but tonight there were only five to six thousand before they disappeared. As it was now dark I left the reserve and headed home. I have attached my full sightings list and a few photos from my visit to Potteric Carr Nature Reserve.