Friday, 5 May 2017

A matter of taste

It's been a few days since the last blog posting so thought we'd better have a quick update...
Star of the show and admired by many has undoubtedly been... the cracking grey plover in full breeding plumage here over the weekend.  Certainly in the opinion of the author at any rate given its a comparatively rare species for site and a personal reserve tick.  May sees the spring passage for waders moving north, often very rapidly so its not often we are treated to such showstoppers - Pictures Roy Vincent:
But taste is a personal thing.  Others took great delight in Monday's drop in brent goose - also a rare occurrence with the last confirmed bird 9 years ago.  A brief visit graced us on D reservoir - Roy Vincent:
And certain gull connoisseurs find great pleasure in today's courting pair of Mediterranean gulls - Karen Williams. 
And up to 240 black headed gulls at a time on the marshes at present - Maurice Dowson:
But breeding bird wise these have got to be up there - sand martins exploring the wall by Francis Bell:
We've yet to have a successful breeding attempt in this wall despite being a well researched design based upon many other successful walls.  Given my prowess I was somewhat dubious about being called in to oversee constructing a duplicate to the same specification three years back, up at Gouthwaite Reservoir in the Dales.  Suffice to say that has been near full annually since.  We put it down to general bird finickiness.  Some walls don't go so well; some do.  One of our more rapidly successful attempts was the kingfisher wall built back in January - and home to what in reality is the biggest crowd pleaser on site - Bill Eggleton:
There's undoubtedly thousands of pictures of these showy birds present at Hempholme Meadow at the northern end of the reserve.  Now that the chicks have hatched we feel a lot better admitting their presence. Don Davis:
Steve Smith:
Mark Holmes - apparently a nice pike here:

We've had salmonids, rudd and today a flat fish brought in as offerings.  The suggestion is that the chicks hatched around the 24th of April.  According to the stats this would suggest that the emergence date will be approximately the 18th / 19th of May - feel free to organise sweep stake as to exactly when the ceremonial assemblage will occur on the stick.  Please be courteous when viewing and photographing the birds and allow others a chance to view.

Its likely the first brood will decamp to north marsh as is tradition, followed by a strong likelihood of a second brood so we'll have this all over again!  We'll put the caveat on though that remember they are wild and subject to the rules of the wild - we'll not count our chicks just yet as there some shady characters about - egg rustling stoat - Bill Eggleton:
And egg rustling fox - Don Davis:
The woodland herons are a bit more of an enigma in their breeding.  Still ferrying sticks about we reckon there are 2 maybe more nests in this burgeoning colony - but we can't see in the tree tops - Don Davis:
Unfortunately not breeding in the reserve - but undoubtedly raiding it frequently are the marsh harriers - Brian Colley:
 Maurice Dowson:
We've been asked many times why the harriers haven't returned after their 2013 success.  The answer is a simple one; that spring was a terrible one (which incidentally put paid to the last sand martin breeding attempt) and as such the oilseed rape crops were stunted and barely out the ground by late April.  This year they were flowering at the beginning of April - its a perfect habitat for them and a great substitute reed bed. 

Undoubtedly appreciating the better weather rather than the snow last April are the little ringed plovers - currently scrapping it out in pint sized fashion on the southern marshes - Francis Bell:
 Martin Hodges:
And good numbers of common terns through - Karen Williams:
Hopefully a better year for breeding than last.  However an early dip was achieving the distinction of being the only water body in East Yorkshire to not bag a black tern last weekend.  Time yet...

Some other nice birds we did get included wood sandpiper and a smart little gull - Roy Vincent:
Otherwise a good array of the usual arrivals - easiest is to transcribe the list compiled on the facebook page:

Wood Sandpiper May 1st
Swift May 1st
Whimbrel April 30th...
Greenshank April 30th
Cuckoo April 30th (now 3 - 4 calling males on site)
Arctic Tern April 29th
Garden Warbler April 23rd.
Common Tern April 23rd
Grasshopper Warbler April 20th
Whitethroat April 19th
Reed Warbler April 15th
Sedge Warbler April - Martin Hodges:

 Lesser Whitethroat April 10th
Common Sandpiper April 10th - Roy Vincent

 House Martin April 10th
Wheatear April 10th
Yellow Wagtail April 9th 

Garganey April 2nd
Swallow April 1st
Willow Warbler March 30th
Blackcap March 30th
Little Ringed Plover - March 24th
Osprey - March 21st
Sand Martin - March 17th
Green sadnpiper - Bill Eggleton:
Other resident breeders doing well - grey wagtail gathering up food on D res wall:
And barn owls sat on the nest at present - Maurice Dowson:
Carol Toohie:
Nice to see this ugly duckling too - this rather scruffy little egret was re-habilitated last year after being found exhausted over the river and nursed back to health by staff at Peel Veterinary clinic Hornsea.  The ringing team happened to be present at the time so it was tagged and released - though never really looked too good for the following month until it disappeared:
A year later and this smart beast has reappeared - Martin Hodges:
It can't be fully read as yet - but certainly many digits match of those seen on the ring which is on the correct leg so it is more than likely the bird survived and has returned to the reserve.  They just need to get breeding in that heronry now...
This is as much as I have time to undertake at the moment - as ever there's so much to see, record and photograph at this time of year.  Lots more info on the blog, facebook and flickr - but far better get yourself out and find it for yourself!  

Friday, 31 March 2017

From snow to go

A lot's changed in 6 weeks; Not so long ago it looked like a trip to find the northwest passage:
The volunteers at Tophill bravely voyaging to hand weed breeding islands ready for the return of breeding birds back in February.  Perhaps the snowiest snow of winter was briefly captured on the paths around the new reception hide:
And this made it all worthwhile for the reserve's ermine stoats who got a good half hour of camouflage this winter - Steve Hines:
Now largely reverted to standard colour scheme - Brian Colley:
There is a strong suggestion that they may have a den under one of the root piles near the new pond - time will tell...

Their bigger cousins have been glimpsed regularly - Richard Willison:
And Josh Harrison:
But its the very showy kingfishers that have been the show stealers of late - spoilt for choice with cracking pictures - Brian Colley:
Johnny Pang:
Roy Lyon:
Richard Willison:
Tony Simpson:
And Colin Powell:
Likewise amorous barn owls cavorting in the undergrowth - Darren Smith:
Keep an eye out too for the short-eared owls - still on the go this morning on the approach road.

A sneak peak of the new barn owl nest camera - currently under trial operation:
Some visitors have had chance to have a peek in the new reception hide at the reserve.  Whilst we're not officially open until the weekend of the 17th and 18th of June we have been putting it through its paces to see how it works and what tweaks we need to make.  This will continue during this commissioning period - but please don't bank on it being open until this point whilst we are fitting out and prepping - some great night shots by Rob Worsfold (remember you do need to be a member to visit the reserve between 6pm and 9am):
We've also trialled the first educational visit to the reserve:
Aimed at key stage 2 junior school groups it gives children the chance for environmental education on Wednesdays in term time, including looking at birdlife and its adaptations, invertebrates, pond dwellers and plant-life all in dedicated new facilities:
It's already proved very popular and for enquiries and bookings please see the full details here.

A great seal of approval for many hours spent constructing the new pond dipping platform:
Part of this commissioning work also included greening the earthen banks for the disability access ramps.  As such 900 trees have been planted with great thanks to the William Jackson food group whom donated and planted them:
We've put an eclectic mix of species in to attract nesting and feeding birds and insects - it'll take around five years or so until they start to look something like but a great start.  A variation in species is very timely, as just yesterday we seemingly discovered the first ash dieback on the reserve.  Not unexpected - and in many ways long overdue given its been logged within eyeshot of the reserve for the last two years.  Unfortunately the first showing of distinctive diamond shaped lesions around branch unions on young ash saplings, untimely death and brittle deceased twigs:
Given these were in an unwanted position below the L hide we were intending to clear anyway, they all ended up on the bonfire:
A futile gesture given it'll already be embedded on site.  We shall just have to see how it unfolds and changes what is a very ash dominated site in coming years.  Hopefully though it at least brings the sand martin colony into operating condition and gives it a fighting chance for the newly returned birds. 

The first sand martins arrived on March the 17th with up to 70 present by yesterday. 

Preceding the summer specialists though were the winter birds - and chief of which was the huge influx of white winged gulls - iceland and glaucous - such as this captured by Karen Williams:
It represents the finest throughput of these birds since 1981 at least and more than likely ever.  Chiefly observed by Martin Hodges there is a great write up on his blog here.  This has apparently subsided now but a few nice Mediterranean gulls appearing - how long before we see them nesting alongside the black headed gulls? - Martin Hodges:
Whilst it may be hotting up a timely reminder it's still grim up north - Goldeneye still active displaying on the reservoir rather than risking an early departure - Brian Colley:
A trait shared by curlew still present - Mal Jones:
Goosander - Erich Hediger:
And the long staying long-tail - Pat Hogarth:
Joined recently by a more summery companion - drake red crested pochard seemingly back to breed on South Marsh East:
Just dropping by are pintail - Brian Colley:
And Michael Flowers
Back on south marsh now too are the little ringed plovers, joined in the tree tops by chiffchaffs a plenty, and as of yesterday multiple willow warblers.  Not breeding this year will be this black headed gull:
Nobbled no doubt by one of the wintering peregrine around site as captured by Frank Moffatt:
Likewise also not fairing well this season Mr Toad - pics from Tony McLean:
The rarest bird of the last six weeks?  Likely this rock pipit courtesy of Martin Hodges - an uncommon passage bird at Tophill Low:
So spring all the way now and all the excitement begins!  As such the perfect time for a new membership - prices remain the same at £25 for adults and £17 for concessions..  All old cards expire on the 31st of March so if you still have one with the stoat on you need a new one this month!

This brings us on to the subject of the card designs for 17/18.  As ever I scoured the blog, facebook and flickr groups for an array of images that would work well when cropped for a card design.  As such the following shortlist was devised:
Cuckoo Tony McLean:
 Four spotted chaser Adam Carter:
Grey Heron Roy Vincent:
Kingfisher Chris Bell:
Little egret Roy Vincent:
Sparrowhawk Darren Smith:
Spoonbill Maurice Dowson:
Tawny Owl Alan Walkington:
Wrens Pat Hogarth:
As always the compilation was sent across anonymously to head office at Bradford for the popular vote - and this years winner was... Speckled Wood by Jeff Barker
So get yours now!  All details on the membership tab above by return of post or drop by the reserve office or reception hide most days:
A note too that day admission will be increasing to £3.50 for adults and £1.80 for concessions for this season.  As ever all admissions info on the 'visiting' tab above.