Saturday, 14 January 2017

An otter education

Two weeks into the new year and site list wise the tally continues:
79. Collared dove subsequently picked up
80. Little owl appeared on Hallytreeholme Farm in more clement weather
81. Red kite pottered over the car park on the 10th
82. The red head smew reappeared at Watton NR on the 11th
83. Along with the long tailed duck back on its familiar haunt in front of the new hide (still there today).  Both these birds are thought to feed on the river and come back to the reservoirs to roost or refuge - much like the velvet scoter this time last year.
84. Goosander on the 12th

But it perhaps the gull roost on the D reservoir which has finally come good.  After a slow start this autumn things have finally come picked up and the northerly gales, storm surges, thundersnows etc, have at least pushed us in some specialities:

85. Roy Erich and Martin picked up this glaucous gull on the 5th (write up on Erich's page here) - Photo Martin Lonsdale:
Another glaucous gull arrived on the 12th picked up by Martin Hodges.  But in between on the 8th had been caspian gull as filmed by Martin Hodges - no doubt video to feature on his blog shortly. 

A cetti's warbler was calling on the 12th and the first shelduck has arrived back on the D reservoir taking us to 88 species so far.

From the 1st of January Roy Lyon has provided some pictures of the corn bunting flock at Easingwold which has been seen again since - 5 birds:
Along with the healthy numbers of reed buntings
And the WTW song thrush
But breaching from beneath the ice have been the main attraction for the last couple of weeks - Francis Bell:

No longer are field signs like a few fish scales the only way to find them:
North Marsh has been giving great views of otters for the likes of Steve Brimble:
Darren Smith:
And further pictures on Africa Gomez's page here.  Indeed they are so regular we suggest a real coup would be to try and photo the near ermine stoat running over the ice there this morning. 

Hopefully the otters will appreciate our final finishing flurries - we've done some more sealing of the new reception hide pond to bring the level up to its full potential:
And with this successfully completed, as ever with the help of the volunteers, we've tweaked a few other bits - namely the dyke at the back of the pond (A kind of mini north marsh for folk to enjoy on the new walk):
The little ringed plover island in front of South Marsh hide had been lost to vegetation and was too high when built 3 years ago.  This has been graded out with more wader edges for close in pictures:
 Already attracting the attentions of redshank within the day:
A subtle but important tweak to the bog oak in 'sandpiper bay';  Its been shunted up a bit so is now in clear view - as it was a favourite perch for kingfishers and sandpipers last year but just obscured behind the brow - now its perfectly aligned for cameras along with some more bog oak to compliment:
There are a few tweaks for Hempholme hide too for better photo ops to be finished shortly.  Lots of fine tuning which has been happily ticked off so we don't have to return with a digger in the near future anywhere.  One of the most crucial has been the clearance of a channel to north lagoon from the inlet sluice.  The complexities of lagoon management are enormous so really these pictures are for former Warden Peter Izzard whom can fully appreciate the beauty of a silt covered sluice...
Suffice to say it should improve both the wildlife and the operational capability of the lagoons going forward.  A great feat too given the 5t digger was working where I immediately sank to my thighs:
Finally as part of the on-going reception hide project we have a post going for a self employed Education Guide.  We have run school visits for many years to the reserve but with myself as guide rather than a dedicated 'educator.'
Yorkshire Water have a number of educational centres across the region and with the new improved facilities we intend to at last offer a key stage planned visit to reserve with a dedicated Education Guide.  It'll be a capped number of one day a week in term time (24 days a year) so should have little impact on the reserve and visitors, whilst offering water and environmentally themed education to local schools.  Closing date is the 20th January.  
For full details please visit the Yorkshire Water careers page here.  For any questions about the role please contact

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Year listing 2017!

An excellent start to 2017 on the reserve.  As ever it was our annual year listing day where we aim to bag the most species possible on the 1st of the 1st.  Last year was a mediocre 66 and 2015 a record 73.

Starting at the road in this proved to be a crucial series of additions:

1. Feral pigeon on the wires of Angram Farm (the start of the Yorkshire Water access road)
2. Carrion crow
3. Blue tit (Christine Watts from yesterday pic)
4. Blackbird
5. Wood pigeon
6. Pheasant
7. House Sparrow (only place to reliably get on the site)
8. Tree Sparrow
9. Great tit
10. Chaffinch
11. Rook
12. Robin
13. Dunnock
14. Magpie
15. Brambling - a fine find that was at the farm at lunch time
16. A turn onto the access road proper revealed kestrel
17. Common buzzard
18. Great black backed gull
19. Common gull
20. Black headed gull
21. Herring gull
22. Jackdaw
23. The sunflower game cover crops of Easingwold Farm were a treasure trove with redwing
24. Fieldfare
25. Starling
26. Reed bunting
27. Yellowhammer
28. Greenfinch
29. Corn bunting - 5 of
30. Goldfinch
31. Grey Partridge
32. A fly over little egret
33. With peregrine falcon watching from the pylons
34. Barmston Drain held a moorhen
35. Arriving in the car park the very showy siskins were evident everywhere
36. Long tailed tit amongst the trees
37. Treecreeper with them
38. Wren around the toilets
39. Goldcrest in the larches
40. Starting off around the southern end of the site was shoveler on North Lagoon
41. The sometimes erratic two thrushes were picked up in the WTW compound with song
42. And mistle thrush
43. Heading straight to Watton were a few lapwings
44. And arriving there wildfowl built up with pochard
45. Gadwall
46. Mallard
47. Wigeon
48. Teal
49. Goldeneye
50. Tufted duck
51. Coot
52. Mute swan (Christine Watts from yesterday pic)
53. Cormorant
54. Little grebe
55. Redshank - being annoyed by
56. Sparrowhawk
57. A stroll back via the marshes revealed pintail on O reservoir
58. Great crested grebe
59. Pied wagtail (Christine Watts from yesterday pic)
60. Canada goose further down the river Hull (with a farmyard goose)
61. Bullfinch in south scrub
62. A break for lunch followed with a trip north around D res.  Greylag goose being the next
63. Amongst them a white fronted goose spiced things up but no sign of the pink foot
64. Coal tit was on the feeders
65. Great spotted woodpecker on some standing deadwood
66. Marsh tit on the feeders but no sign of willow
67. A walker on the river bank flushed a woodcock which circled the feeder pond and dropped into cover.
68. North Marsh had earlier shown water rail - along with some excellent views of otters through the day.
69. Kingfisher had also been here earlier and we found later on the river (Christine Watts from yesterday pic)
70. Leaving the woods and entering north hide a quick look yielded nothing new so about to set off to search the decoy fields for the rest of the greylag flock (Christine Watts from yesterday pic)
they instead came to us - and with them the pink footed goose (which noisily left to the NE straight after)
71. Leaving the hide a marsh harrier flew SE down the river Hull
72. Three grey herons were in Standingholme Meadow
73. A fruitless search of D res gull roost yielded nothing new though a lesser black backed gull had been seen earlier
74. A couple of lone observers reported in with late records of stock dove in O wood
75. Curlew coming into roost on Watton
76. Tawny owl in O wood
77. And finally one of the residents had willow tit on their feeders all day

So a cracking result - the finest year listing day yet beating the record by 4 species with nothing of great rarity required. 

As ever to critique the score:
No collared dove - again a Tophill rarity after a peak of 48 a few years ago.
No barn owl - poor weather all day.  Luckily the camera battery for the nest we had forgotten to turn off so couldn't be viewed remotely, saving ourselves a mire of debate on this topic (I had one driving out at Watton village but too far out for site)
No linnet, snipe (common or jack), grey wag, bittern, the smew, long tailed duck, great white egret and black necked grebe all hidden. No med gull (or other exotica), no goosander, little owl absent from Hallytreeholme which had been present on Wednesday.  So all in all plenty of room for manoeuvre in future...

Stop press!.. very late addition of barn owl on Starberry Bridge takes us to 78. 

In addition fox, roe deer, and otters x 2

Best of all we also undertook a fund raiser for Jean Thorpe who has helped us out with numerous injured animals over the years (details here).  The grand total being £87.45 - many thanks for everyone's generosity and help through the day.

Hopefully the start of many more for the year...

Saturday, 24 December 2016

Communications at Christmas

We appear to have bypassed autumn to a large extent this year - and by my classification we're now in spring with the foxes scenting, snowdrops coming up and tawny owls calling raucously.  So what have we been up to (clearly not blogging!!).  Whilst the Water Treatment Works have been busy laying on the winter wonderland illuminations:
We've been trying to untangle ours...
As is the way of the 21st century Warden;  We've been deep into the world of fibre optic communications (multi and single mode), media converters, Cat 6 networks, baluns and wireless wildlife cameras.  At least life is varied! 
Obviously all this is part of the reception hide project at Tophill Low.  It's a case of speak now or forever on many elements so all energies have been expended upon this since Autumn.  We're pleased to say work is very nearly complete and we're delighted with the result:
All the major noise and construction is at an end and the site compound down - so back to tranquillity.  That said its not quite ready for public consumption.  Partly because we still need to tie up a few loose ends and finishing touches, but also because of our own pride in it.  We'd sooner unveil the finished project in its complete form rather than a stilted roll out.  The current timescale is;

Christmas / New Year - Building closed - rest of reserve open as normal
Early Jan - Finish works and tweaks to new pond
Late Jan - Feb - Open birders hide, 'in and out' ramps, pond edge, new picnic area and new northern walk to D woods.
Spring - Trial opening of new viewing gallery, wildlife cameras, tea counter
June 17th - 18th - Water Works for Wildlife Weekend - fee admission open weekend with building and reserve on show with assistance and displays from local conservation groups.
When ground conditions improve - southern walk to north lagoon, family walk inc swamp causeway, butterfly border and bird seed crop.

That said the very sedentary long tailed duck which has been loitering beneath the window since the 2nd of December is unlikely to still be on view by then - though was still here today on Christmas Eve (speck in centre of shot):
A little closer by Roy Lyon:
So a few more pictures of the interior.  Alas not!  Until we get sorted out we'd rather folk see the finished job.  So its admiring from afar for the time being:
The path construction to the north lagoon may be a little more involved as now the weather has turned our works have become too soggy for the time being - so that may run to the summer:
And likewise the many different camera rigs to get working in situ - still revealing interesting behaviour on South Marsh East:
As a result it also means out with the old.  Alas D reservoir car park hide is no more;
Clearly a shame in some ways as its been on the reserve 25 years or so and witness to some great birds - indeed the amur falcon was first seen from it.  A close inspection revealed some interesting rot which meant it was not before time to come down.  The area will be replanted with trees and returned back to nature. 
So with all the complexity and work it was pleasing to go back to some straight forward practical conservation work.  We've had a go at hedge laying around the reserve previously with our volunteers to better improve the structure for nesting birds and screening, but brought in professional John Hulbert to show some correct technique.  I was looking forward to this as a nice simple distraction from the complexities of building work:

Certainly a great skill - in some ways fibre optic networking appears more comprehensible!
An excellent few days and good inspiring stuff for the team
In order to ready materials for the course we needed some stakes - so with help from Hull University we re-coppiced some of the sycamore in the woods. 
Whilst initially seemingly destructive this will all grow back soon enough;  The intention is that this is much more the future of Tophill.  Having undertaken a lot of big re-landscaping and construction works in recent years we intend to move to a more passive and ongoing rotation of pollards, coppice and hedges to create the best structure for nesting birds.  We've also done a limited amount of thinning and ride management in the woodlands.  The intention here is to give room for the oaks and broadleaves to grow and become some real veterans in future, and also get a gradient of canopy and more light into the rides for better invertebrates, plants and birds:
We've ring barked some standing trees as these will provide great opportunities for woodpeckers in future.  Many stumps we've left standing high for our willow tits.  They nest in rotten stumps and whilst former Warden Peter Izzard did many which are in a perfect state of decay now - we need to ensure the nesting opportunity is still there in another few years.
Hopefully in time the developing scrub margins will be perfect for birds like lesser whitethroat (Roy Vincent)
Yes it is that long since the last posting!! The wader season more or less closed out with a final pectoral sandpiper on south marsh east rounding off the passage from the 12th to the 14th of September.  That said the late selection included the last (very late and uncommon) greenshank on the 14th of December (Brian Colley),
Jack snipe on the 31 Oct, ringed plover on the 2nd November, black tailed godwit on the 16th Oct, green sandpiper on the 30th October, dunlin on the 6th.  A nice comparison picture by Pat Hogarth at the tail end of the North Lagoon season - dunlin, ruff and greenshank:
A few passerines went through with wheatear on the wall
A redstart at Angram farm by Karen and 3 stonechat were a nice find on the 11th of November by Martin Hodges - as ever check out his blog for more info:
And a green woodpecker that hung around a good chunk of early autumn was a nice addition - Roy Lyon
But perhaps the best bird was this grey phalarope present from the 8th of November to the 13th - Pat Hogarth: 
Perhaps most welcome for me was a smew - again present for the first time in any meaningful way since 2014 - Erich Hediger (more write up on Erich's page):
A black necked grebe was picked up on O reservoir on the 22nd of November and appears to have remained until the 19th of December - Roy Lyon:
Quickly replaced by another good bird - Great white egret at the north end of the reserve - Found and photo'd by Karen Williams:
As is typical early November saw a procession of whooper swan groups moving through the reserve - Martin:
A smattering of white fronted geese (the latest present today) - Roy Lyon
Some beans and pink feet - Roy
A pair of wintering marsh harrier have been very active over the southern marshes - not helping the teal settle particularly - Roy:
To be fair autumn always sees a reduction in kingfisher activity on the north marsh - a last few from Brian Colley

Water rail vocal around site BC:
Undoubtedly the rails will appreciate the recent work on the river Hull bank.  Yorkshire Water have been working with the Trust for Conservation Volunteers over the last few months to clear willow regen from the important reedbeds on the berm of the river.  A fairly mammoth task, if left they'd return back to willow carr, which although valuable to an extent smothers and excludes the important reed beds which we are hoping to expand:
A huge amount of work was undertaken - Rich clearing the last few at Wilfholme having worked top to bottom:
It doesn't seem long since the EA cleared some of the big trees out - but the speed and volume of willow that had returned was fairly mind blowing.  Without the interjection of the TCV and Yorkshire Water's funding its unlikely the Tophill vols could ever have taken this task on in addition to everything else:
To prevent it returning all stumps treated off:
We hope this work helps with flood risk by preventing damage to flood defences and reduces shading of the important binding turf.  It'll also negate the need to come back in with heavy machinery and all the disturbance that entails. 
With a few choice willows left we hope the habitat will be better for snipe (a jack disturbed out this hollow prior to pic), reed bunting, reed warbler, cuckoo, egrets, herons, bitterns (one kicking around somewhere presently), possibly tempt those bearded tits to hang around, and marsh harriers:
Work's finishing out with pollarding the willows on the rear of South Marsh East - preventing them from collapsing and falling into the water and taking root - probably irreparably.  There'll be some disturbance undoubtedly from walkers this season - but we need to grasp the opportunity to do this now whilst present.

Likewise hopefully water voles will enjoy the more luscious vegetation - still plenty of droppings about - perhaps credit to the removal of 3 mink this autumn:
As ever a lot of otter activity on North Marsh of late - Neil Murray:
Brian Colley:
A fine Noctule bat - with East Yorkshire Bat Group on their recent audit:
A rough legged buzzard was at the south of site in early autumn - but since has just been the commons about:
A fine autumn moth - convolvulus; All the info is best digested on Martin's page both for this subject and that of gulls... 
Marsh Frog - still about on the 1st of December:
One less alien species on site - the terrapin is no more (on Tophill at any rate) - A final shot by Brian:
A feature of inaccessible South Lagoon for several years this autumn it was recently discovered by one of our volunteers wandering around on dry land round the O reservoir.  We're not sure whether this was a foray or an annual journey to a hibernation site.  Whichever the opportunity was too good to pass up and the terrapin was seized and taken into captivity and now spends its days in a comfortable retirement setting. 

A few have greeted it with dismay - but in evaluation it is for the best.  Terrapins are omnivorous and will basically take whatever they can seize - and this can include invertebrates, fish, amphibians, eggs and chicks.  We never observed this on Tophill and the little grebes bred successfully there this year - but we don't know its full impact.  Whilst it could never breed as the water temperatures are too cool for too long for incubation we equally didn't want a reputation and more being dumped and joining it - potentially causing us a bigger problem.  Keeping it in captivity may seem cruel for an animal living in the wild - however it was in captivity previously and its stint in Tophill is but an interlude from which it can have fond memories.   An interesting talking point - but the best outcome. 

Recently disappeared too are the Belted Galloways - gone back to the barn for another winter:
Thanks as ever to Edward and Nicola Duggleby at Beswick Hall Farms for the loan of them this season. 

Another departee too - Many of you will have come across one of our Volunteer Wardens Dave Ware over the last few years.  Unfortunately he's relocating 'down south' (for missionary work one of the gang reckons!) - a great asset to the reserve he'll be missed and big thanks for all his help:

And so another year ends on the reserve - and a fairly momentous one.  A huge thanks to everyone who's helped over the year in many ways.  Hopefully we can enjoy the fruits in 2017

A final note... As ever we'll be having the annual year listing event on the 1st of January.  Two walks at 10am and 1pm with the aim being to bag the most species possible on the day - generally circa 70.  The walks are free with standard admission and we'll be keeping a running tally on twitter through the day.  This year we'll be having an added twist (entirely optional for anyone attending or not) - a fund raiser for Ryedale Wildlife Rescue run by Jean Thorpe.  Jean's been excellent to us readily accepting otters, owls and buzzards for veterinary treatment and care at various unsociable hours.  If anyone wishes to sponsor us send an e-mail to the tophill pics account - we reckon on around 10p a bird...

Happy Christmas and New Year to all.