Thursday, 12 March 2015

The call of spring

A long time since the last posting and a lot has changed, not least seemingly the weather! Last time we were in the grip of ice and snow - whereas now we seem to be in the embrace of spring.  The first coltsfoot appeared around two weeks ago and the first chiffchaff on Monday - with at least a further 3 today. 

This male and female kingfisher appeared in breeding mode 3 weeks back on North Marsh - and indeed its been the most active winter yet for them outside a hide they usually desert at this time.  Photo by Bruce Pillinger.
Another Tophill favourite is the barn owl - thanks to Brian Colley for these from Watton NR:
There are already two pairs seemingly active around the reserve.  Great news from Robin Arundale at the Wolds Barn Owl Group is that one of our birds ringed as a chick in summer 2011 has been seen again on Leconfield MOD base just down the road - a great feat given the terrible couple of years it has had to contend with.  More shots here from Darren Smith:
Doing less well individually was this otter:
I was contacted a couple of weeks back by a local couple at Hutton whom had an otter walk into their tack room.  As ever we sought the assistance of Jean Thorpe at Ryedale Wildlife Rehabilitation who advised as we surmised this was not normal behaviour; and that we should bring it in for veterinary care,  The dog otter was relatively subdued so we are grateful to it that it did not feel the necessity to engage its fearsome jaws - picture here by Jean:
It was an interesting experience to experience one of these animals close up and the best description is a scaled up ferret or an eel - its ability to turn within itself and escape at every opportunity was remarkable.  It went straight off from Jean to Battleflatts Veterinary Clinic at Stamford Bridge whose staff stayed on specially to treat the animal.  Unfortunately though its injuries were too severe and it had to be euthanased which is a shame but understandable given it had lost an eye and had a severe infection in addition to the obvious lacerations.  Whilst these could have been inflicted by a dog the most likely perpetrator is a rival male otter in an increasingly territorial atmosphere as the population thrives on the river:
Again big thanks to Jean for her wonderful commitment to helping wildlife - all the details are here.  And Battleflatts for treating the animal.

An imbalance in the mustelid front sees two mink again on the reserve - the 9th and 10th of the last 12 months so again efforts have been redoubled here to remove them from the reserve before breeding season.  That said water vole droppings have been seen today.

As before the reason for the lack of postings is that we have been planning and doing an awful lot of work on the reserve in recent weeks.  We've cleared dozens of invasive hawthorns from grasslands at both the north and south of the reserve.  In many ways south scrub looks largely similar whereas north scrub is considerably more open - we've effectively turned the clock back 20 years.  Hopefully we'll never have to go back in heavy handed again and the belted galloway cattle can keep the habitat ticking over benignly in future.

Another project that's been highly visible is the work on willows behind east hide.  As ever we get plenty of looks of horror at the scene of devastion we have wrought - mostly inflicted by this 'tree shear' which is effectively a pair of secateurs that can cut 3 feet clean:
The reason for this is entirely conservation driven (and may surprise many!).  These trees as can be seen from the stumps were orignally pollards but have not been cut for around 30 years.  Pollarding allows for fresh growth and done on a five year rotation benefits a sequence of species of warbler that could not utilise purely old growth.  It also increases the longevity of the tree as it puts on fresh new growth.  As can be seen some mature trees have been left in the centre of the area along with any standing deadwood left for species like woodpecker and treecreeper:
However a chief driver for this work is the opportunity to fence remaining sections of the river bank which will allow us to graze the river bank.  As can be seen here the willows would see the fence off in fairly short order so needed to be remanaged as pollards:
Willows will put on 6ft plus in a single year and anyone who had watched the bullfinches and whitethroats from Hempholme Meadows hide will know the value of this habitat.  Why do we want to graze the river bank? Again so we don't have to go back in heavy handed - avoding heavy management work like this by the EA 4 years ago.  If we can maintain the berm we can potentially remove willow and increase reed beds which could potentially deliver breeding bittern.
The other benefit is to avoid the effects of cuts on the river Hull bank.  The banks need to be mown to maintain the turf structure (as per the December 2012 blog postings) but unfortunately in the process many nests are lost - three calling quail disappeared in 2012 after a cut and last year we counted 12 reed bunting nests lost in a June cut.  Grazing will be less damaging, less expesive for the EA and potentially enhance wildlife.

So as ever - give us time - it will recover and be better! And there's still plenty of opportunity for treecreepers - Roy Vincent:
In addition to the tops of the willows its also time to say goodbye to a few other as well.  Perhaps he most obvious was a colossal 39 whooper swans on the O res yesterday - thanks to Roy Vincent for these:
Around 200 were reported through the Lower Derwent valley yesterday too.  A big build up in goldeneye on the D res yesterday with 226 present.  Other highlights have been big black headed gull numbers containing 5 separate mediterranean gulls.  As ever check out Martin's blog both for gull and moth news here.  Redwing on the way - RV:
Red crested pochard and scaup have been an ever present fixture up to and including today.  The 'snow geese' moved on leaving these hybrid farmyard birds behind; thanks to Steve Hines for this shot:
A pair of stonechat towards the end of February livened things up and peregrine chasing teal over Hempholme - photo by Roy Vincent:
Kestrels active too - RV:
Another area where work is to come is on the South Marsh East; we have the area drained ready for the creation of new breeding islands starting in a few days time; but in the meantime its an inseasonal wader bonanza with up to 13 redshank and 6 dunlin on their at present (Roy Vincent):
Curlew too have been present on Watton in numbers of up to 70 RV:
And Mal Jones:
Elsewhere shelduck are ready and waiting RV:
Buzzards on the wing RV:
Goldcrest RV:
And long tailed tit RV:
Mistle thrushes readying again - Francis Bell:
So - next up sand martin, osprey, little ringed plover - its downhill all the way now.

A time of change not only for wildlife but also for permits.  As ever we run the annual membership design contest and as ever we scoured the blog and flickr accounts over 2014 for an image that would work as a new card for the coming year.  Whilst there's lots of great pictures we need something with a suitable backdrop and subject - with this in mind we shortlisted...
Roe deer buck by Roy Vincent:
Little egret by Bill Eggleton:
Great crested grebes by Roy Lyon:
Barn owl by Tony McLean:
Jack Snipe by Pete Drury:
And bullfinches by Andy Marshall:
As ever we sent all these off for anonymous vote in Yorkshire Water offices over at Bradford - but the winning entry was... brown hare by Alan Walkington:
Alan's picture has formed the basis of the new card and he gets a years membership.  Same terms for this year -  all in by 31st December 2015. 

So with that done we now have the new membership cards in and ready to go.  The cost is the same as last year - £25 for adult and £17 for concessions.  As ever drop in to the reserve to renew at the office (weekends best) or download the joining form the membership page above and we can send out by return of post.

So after a bit of mud and sawdust we're looking forward to another exciting year on the reserve.  Cetti's and harriers are already in the offing and who knows - maybe those ospreys...

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Ice interlude

Winter seems to have come and gone as a brief interlude since the last posting;  A brief spell of snow gave the reserve some winter scenery for the first time in a couple of years:
Like the snow goose its provenance was limited - Frank Bell:
The northerly winds delivered upon them a respectable two Iceland gulls - separate birds on consecutive nights of the 30th and 31st found by Martin as per usual.  A med gull, yellow legged gull and lesser black backed gull have perhaps been more telling of this winter all present on the 25th.  North Marsh was inviting enough for this stoat snapped by Darren Smith galloping on the ice:
As the weather last week was so clement it seemed perfect for a dip; Mike gets stuck in below - only an inch of ice to get through to the warm mud beneath:
Many of you will have followed our otter holt build last year and to be fair we are still awaiting a first resident.  That said it is suspected mink had moved in whilst the camera was down in recent months - and we are at last seemingly on top of our mink infestation with credit to Chris who was ensuring the traps ran 7 days a week.  Hull University student Stefan Rooke's study with trail cameras appears to show no further activity after the 7th mink of autumn / winter and 8th in the last twelve months was caught two weeks ago - the worst run since Peter Izzard started trapping over 10 years ago.  Many have asked if the water vole population will have survived - and it certainly will have.  If they coped with mink running freely for many years they'll cope with a few individuals for a few weeks and are one of those species designed to explode again in numbers within a couple of generations.
  
Part of the issue with attracting otters has been that the access dyke dug at great effort by the team last year had silted back up again meaning any investigative otter would have to wade through two foot of silt.  To rectify this we have dammed one end of the dyke and then pumped out all the sludge.  We've then used sycamore withies to create bank protection and stop the mud slumping again - Rob and Harry weaving:
Hopefully otters like this one snapped by Steve Brimble the other day are not far off:
To undertake this we needed to lower North Marsh which coincided nicely with the need to flood Hempholme Meadow as part of its annual management to kill off dry land loving weeds.  This also forces many invertebrates to the soil surface which makes good feeding for wetland birds.  Untold numbers of snipe are in the meadow with the barn owl flushing multiples as it flew above the rushes looking for displaced field voles.   But perhaps the star bird here has been the water rail with five present today and yielding some good photo ops (on the facebook page). We've elevated the level again today so expect more rail activity over the weekend.  Little egret passes overhead by Roy Lyon:
Elsewhere the usual candidates are still about - drake scaup and red crested pochard on D reservoir - Brian Colley:
A nice drake pintail has been around on site and small numbers of curlew and redshank present on Watton.  But really its spring in the air with woodpeckers creating a cacophony around the car park at the moment.  For us its a race against time now trying to finish all the tree work before bird breeding season - generally reckoned to be circa March 15th when the first dunnock nests start appearing.  Here managing dyke-side willow pollards with the team last weekend:
So regardless of what the tail end of winters throws up - spring's well and truly here as far as we can see with both goldeneye and the red arrows in display - Brian Colley: