Monday, 26 April 2010

Wagtail plague

Sunday saw a massive 22 yellow wagtails on the walls of D reservoir, but unfortunately no wheatear which were reported on access road today, or 'oddity sub-species' either. Osprey again visited - this time heading North over D reservoir. Birds of the day were 2 garganey (Jeff Barker pic from last year) on South Marsh East. Swifts are now being reported daily with a maximum of 8 on Sunday. The pair of common sandpiper remain on the res walls with a few yellow wagtails today. Merlin over East pond was a good bird - first this year, and a male marsh harrier was over North Scrub. Today a number of grass snakes were again basking on the hay piles. The common tern conundrum looks to be confirmed as a pair were seen frequenting their breeding sites on South Marsh East following Saturday's reports.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

A commic tern...

Loads of arrivals in the last few days. Cuckoo has turned up on North Scrub, with reed and sedge warblers building rapidly. House martins are now a common sight amongst the hirundines and single swifts have been noted the last two days. Numbers build at the end of each day as the days migrants assemble to feed up over the reservoir before nightfall. Yellow wagtails continue to move through and a pair of common sandpiper have been regularly seen on the walls and South Marsh East, feeding on insects such as the alderfly pictured. Water crowfoot is in flower in D woods pond (pic) and the fine male blackcap above was singing nearby. A roe buck was present on site also. 3 grass snakes were seen at the northern end of the reserve and speckled wood are starting to appear amongst the many brimstone and green-veined white butterflies on the wing. Moth of the trap was a satellite but pictured is volunteer Richard Sears risking his fingers extracting a greater water diving beetle from the trap. The meal moth pictured was inside the centre and the larvae feed on seed - presumably loose bird seed from the feeders. Best birds today were two terns over 'O' res. There has been thought that at least one bird is an arctic tern - but I am swaying towards common tern as both appear to show black beak tips, diffuse primaries with the opaque bases to the first four feathers only. If someone wants to look at the photos above and persuade me better then feel free - arctic tern is undoubtedly a good tick for site. They are notoriously difficult to separate and many birders resign to signing them off as 'commics'!

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Turning cuckoo...

No sign of the Nafferton cranes on Sunday night, but another two blue-headed type wagtails were reported from Watton NR – they did not purport to be the sykes type on this occasion. At least another two standard ‘flavilla’ were present on the walls of D reservoir today which I managed to capture below. Also on the D res alone were a conservative count of 700 sand martin, 200 swallow and a handful of house martins at 5pm. A check of around 56 nestboxes today revealed 9 with breeding activity so far, and a very territorial moorhen was seeing off 3 mallard from its nest on North Marsh. Also on the marsh were a grey heron – successfully fishing in the video below, common buzzard and at least 4 pochard - which appear to be getting set for a bumper year across site. A young jet black rabbit by the D res. substation was an unusual reserve sighting, although numbers exist on the approach road (presumably they are a hangover from someone’s escaped pet in the past). Bird of the day was the first cuckoo of the year reported on North Scrub.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Wonderous wagtails

The second half of this week has seen the arrival of more migrants with lesser whitethroat first heard calling on South Marsh West on Friday followed by whitethroat this morning. This afternoon the first house martins turned up – a group of 15 briefly assembled over O res before moving on. Yellow wagtails have been building in increasing numbers with D res straight, Watton NR and the water treatment works being the hot spots. Excitement was caused by the sighting of a syke’s wagtail on the reservoir walls on Thursday afternoon – see photo on the Hull Valley site here. Syke’s wagtail is an eastern subspecies of yellow wagtail – motacilla flava ssp. beema more commonly found in Russia and is somewhat rarer than the usual continental vagrant ‘blue headed’ motacilla flava ssp. flava more commonly seen – or indeed our own ‘all yellow’ wagtail – motacilla flava flavissima. Confused? – there are another 6 sub species of yellow wagtail found in Europe + hybrids!. Another probable blue-headed was being investigated on Watton at closing time tonight until news that a group of cranes had taken off from nearby Nafferton and were flying South – nothing reported yet though. A little easier are the occasional white wagtails Motacilla alba ssp. alba (again another European variant of our UK pied wagtail – ssp. yarrellii) passing through – one photographed by Jeff Barker above. So that’s 5 versions of two birds to really confuse you!. After saying how rare it was to get a kittiwake on the reserve like the one at the end of March – we got another today – this time an adult on D res. I am tempted to say the red-head smew ‘may’ have left for breeding grounds with no sightings since Friday, with no brambling for 10 days - so have officially gone. Moth of the trap for Saturday was the powdered quaker above. Other than that grass snakes, the first marsh frogs, water vole activity (Jeff Barker pic above) on North Marsh, brimstone butterflies and huge numbers of cowslips all mirror the warmer weather.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Secretive sedges and pink gulls...

The first sedge warbler was recorded on Saturday morning by the ringing team, followed by the first sightings today on South Marsh West. Swallows and sand martins are everywhere - but no house martins yet. Green sandpiper was recorded on South Marsh East and Watton NR on Sunday, and an osprey perched on the pylons on Watton Carrs the same day. Weirdity of the day was a pinkish tinged black headed gull on the marshes - see the photo on the Hull Valley site here, it was joined by a first summer Med gull again. A lone straggler pink footed goose was left on South Marsh East and I would tentatively say the brambling have now left with none seen at the centre this morning. The red-head smew however still lingers on - still on O res today. For more pictures of the day and a round up of sightings have a look on Michael Flowers's blog who was in with his group today. Contractors have also been progressing with the easy access path extension round O res too. Reserve regular Martin Hodges has kindly sent us a pic of the cranes he managed to get as they went overhead on Saturday. Finally to finish off the eagle tale - the bird was reported in the Yorkshire Dales,then RSPB Leighton Moss in Lancashire before being seen heading past Haweswater in the lakes over the last few days - so it looks like it has undertaken a giant loop back to Scotland again!

Saturday, 10 April 2010

Craned in

Best of the day today was three common cranes which showed an interest in putting down on South Scrub before moving off north being lost over Driffield. Pic above was the last visitors two years ago taken by Jackie Dawson. 2 ospreys passed over D reservoir earlier with the first passage little gull reported. The ringing programme continued (see here), and red chestnut moth was again reported at the top of the site with a good spread of butterfly species throughout.

Friday, 9 April 2010


Pond dipping today - best finds were a water scorpion and some impressive caddisfly larvae (pictured). Small white butterfly was on the wing on the approach road. Red-head smew still clings on to O res (pictured). Meanwhile the little ringed plovers were about again, and on South Marsh East at dusk 5 of the pink footed geese arrived and little egret came in to roost off the river Hull. Evidence of the peregrines handy work was around in the form of a recently dispatched black-headed gull on D res.

Eagle update - the bird was apparently reported at Stockton on the Forest near York at midday today, so looks as though it is now following the Derwent upstream. If it comes back to the Tophill area again I will stick an update on.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Eagle updates and official spring notification

A few updates on yesterdays Eagle sightings for those of you not on the forums. The sea eagle was picked up on the Humber from RSPB Blacktoft Sands at 16:30 yesterday, subsequently on Whitton sands feeding on a carcass, before finally being lost in the South Cave area at 19:30 last night. It was seen briefly again on Whitton sands this morning heading East towards Welton Water at 10:30 but no further sightings since - we'll wait and see.

Spring arrived properly today with the first butterflies - peacocks, small tortoiseshell and brimstones all being reported in and around the reserve. Grass snakes have been abundant from top to bottom on the site and the first yellow wagtail (Jeff Barker pic from last year) was confirmed on D res, with two white wagtails on O. The red head smew is still here along with at least four brambling, and little egret was on South Marsh East (distant pic), along with reed bunting (pic). Likewise there has been a big influx of blackcaps. The first passage black-tailed godwit was picked up coming in to roost on the marshes last night.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Sea Eagle!!!

You never know quite what you're going to see at Tophill. This morning I was hoping to catch the willow tit or maybe a brambling as I went to fill the feeders in 'D' woods at 10:15. I was just about to set off back from the new pond when I heard the black-headed gulls making a commotion over the trees - passing osprey? - A likely bet. The bird and its followers appeared - wings too thick for osprey - "big heron?...hang on - that white tailed eagle was reported at Flamborough a few days ago - no it could'nt be could it?". By this stage the sea eagle was passing 50 feet over my head. Huge primaries and the grey/yellow hook bill with the shear size showing it was nothing else. I stood gob-smacked only remembering the camera in my pocket too late - which in the time it had fired up the bird had moved over the tree line again. A sprint to East hide revealed a few harassed black-heads circling but no eagle. A run up to North Marsh Hide was made to speak to the couple who had also seen it drift in from the North East (the kingfisher back outside the hide again was ignored). By the time I got down to the southern site regular Mr Richardson was returning from his five minute view as it had circled the marshes, before flying off towards Hornsea with every gull on the site and a marsh harrier pursuing it.

When I arrived I was in time to see the 200 strong squadron of black-headed gulls pictured clearly congratulating each other on their successful dispatch of the scariest thing they'd seen - some re-enacting their exploits on an unfortunate shelduck! A group of 7 pink-footed geese pictured close in and good numbers of swallows and sand martins were some consolation.

Further investigation revealed the bird is a re-introduced from the East Scotland programme (see link) in 2008 and sports a radio transmitter. It had first appeared in England on the 31st of March in Northumberland where lucky observer Alan Tilmouth got photos of the same bird viewable on his blog here. It was then seen passing flamborough on the 4th of April - amazingly the bird has spent 3 days in East Yorks wihout being seen!. This constitutes a first for Tophill Low.

Finally the BTO challenge page above has now been updated with this quarters results.

Monday, 5 April 2010

Farewell to Bittern

It looks like our bittern has now gone to its breeding grounds for summer - likely on the continent. Hopefully it will have a successful season and return to give us as good a show next winter. As a suitable celebration of its visit one of our regulars Dave Ruffles has very kindly given us a copy of this excellent video he took in late March from the North Marsh hide.

Easter weekend

This bank holiday weekend started well with the first returning blackcap and willow warblers reported of the year - by Monday willow warblers were plentiful. Also on Friday was a male marsh harrier over Watton Carrs, with peregrine falcon on the pylons (pictured - HVWG) and the white buzzard reported too over the weekend. A pair of little-ringed plover were seen within the Water Treatment Works compound. Engrailed moth pictured was the best of around 45 caught, most being clouded drabs and hebrew characters. A rather windy monthly reserve walk on Saturday morning turned up 2 grey heron, hares, lapwing, sparrowhawk and some otter tracks amongst others. A dozy grass snake ventured out on 'O' Res. on Saturday afternoon, which turned out to be more awake than I thought - see video. Bird of the day on Sunday was an off course young male common scoter on Watton NR as pictured. Red-head smew and brambling are still clinging on too. A secretive water rail was caught on our trail camera, and finally our resident fox reminded us of Easter's biblical origins by performing his own miracle in front of assembled cormorant disciples...see video below.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Ruddy visitors

Things were a little quieter at the beginning of the week with many winter species apparently gone including bittern and woodcock. Smew was prematurely discounted as it appeared again on tuesday - but is likely to go at anytime along with the brambling. The toad migration appears to be subsiding now with fewer seen. Little ringed plover continues to show fleetingly on Watton NR, along with the odd chilly looking swallow and sand martin. No further med gull reports - presumably it has had enough of all the gull squabbling on South Marsh East. Biggest rarity of the week was a ruddy shelduck reported yesterday on the marsh - but no further sightings today as of 16:00 - we'll keep looking. The photo above was our last visitor in September 2008 (HVWG) - the amur falcon turned up with the last one so here's hoping...! Again the native shelduck are quite territorial at this time - and probably sent the eastern european ruddy shelduck packing. Also on the marsh was a little egret again (photo by Jeff Barker from earlier in the year). An even bigger rarity was a young kittiwake on D Reservoir at dusk - an extremely uncommon visitor to the reserve not seen for several years. Keep an eye out on the BTO challenge page as I'll be totalling this quarters results in the coming days.