Thursday, 31 March 2011

Changes to Reserve pricing and membership

We will be increasing prices from April 1st 2011 for day permits from £2.50 to £2.80 for adults, and for concessions from £1.00 to £1.20. Hopefully you will agree this is acceptable given we have not altered prices with inflation for around a decade and need to factor in the recent VAT change, along with the host of recent reserve improvements.

In addition many of you, if members of Hull Valley Wildlife Group, will be aware of changes to the membership process for visiting Tophill Low Nature Reserve due to start in April too.

For details on the changes please also see the Hull Valley site here.

Basically we will now be issuing annual membership permits direct from the Nature Reserve instead of through HVWG. Please do not worry if you have existing HVWG membership – we will continue to honour all valid HVWG passes purchased prior to April 2011 (and expiring up to April 2012).

The new permits are priced at £20 for adults and £14 for concessions for a full year (for full details please see the membership page above). Hopefully this should not alter your enjoyment of the reserve – as before day permits only allow access from 9am – 6pm. To visit outside these hours you need to be a reserve member.

That said we still very much support Hull Valley Wildlife Group in its work for 'promotion, awareness, and appreciation of the region's natural history' and recommend membership at £5. All Tophill Low records whilst being available to ourselves at the reserve to manage the site, will be passed on to HVWG to form an annual report. Tophill Low membership will be just that - an annual ticket only. If you want to get more deeply involved in conservation and wildlife in the wider Hull Valley area beyond Tophill Low we recommend HVWG. Ultimately the net cost to join both organisations remains comparable. For details click here.

As an aside the new membership card for ease features one of my Kingfisher shots from North Marsh last year. A new design will come out every year, and next time we will select a visitor wildlife photo for the April 2012 permit design. The winner gets to see their pic on all the permits for a year, and will also win a years membership. The rules are that they must be submitted to the 'tophill pics' e-mail address top right, and be taken at Tophill Low from April 2011. Entries close end of December and judging is at the discretion of the Tophill Low Wardens.

A quick update on reserve sightings:

Sunday and today saw the first little gulls of the year, with one of the first house martin reports coming in today. Sand Martins reached over 100 on Tuesday above the D reservoir with ones and twos of swallows, where the drake scaup still remains. A merlin attempted a catch of a sand martin this morning over D res and the grey wagtail was on the walls. Predictably amongst the passage of pied wagtails Steve Webb managed to pick out a white wagtail on Tuesday at Watton, where the little-ringed plovers remain.

Also present at least til yesterday were the whooper swan, drake scaup, pink-footed and white-fronted geese on South Marsh East. No smew sightings – it may have gone – but there are still bramblings. However these will likely be gone within two weeks so this is your last chance to see them.

One thing many will be pleased to hear of was a kingfisher back at North Marsh again yesterday.

Monday, 28 March 2011

Scoping the scaup

A lot of good birds this weekend as the summer brigade is well and truly arriving. Highlight for many has been this drake scaup on D res found by R Cowley which arrived Friday and was still present this evening:

Next good bird was at least two common crane picked up by Paul Mountain flying over D woods – there could have been more but were masked by the canopy. It is a likely guess they are the same birds which have been flying round E Yorks and the Lower Derwent Valley. Paul’s other good bird was yet another red kite sighting – they’re now becoming nearly common - hopefully something that will continue.

Peak count of sand martins so far has been 55 birds over D res:

The next arrival has been the swallow – I was hoping this might be a first record but the HVWG boys bagged one yesterday:

The first marsh harrier of the new year was picked up over North Scrub on Sunday. There has been quite a movement of wagtails with 9 pied’s on Watton this evening and a smashing pair of grey wagtails on D res wall:

Grass snakes seem to be continuously swimming in North Marsh:

Rory Selvey was at North Marsh over the weekend taking in some of the wildfowl and Tony was at Watton getting some great roe pics again here. There is some thought the smew may have gone – with no sightings for a few days but we’ll see. The whooper and pink foot remain on South Marsh East though:

The sparrowhawk was eyeing up some of the 17+ brambling still on the centre feeders:

Also present today was the white-front and the drake pintail, with a mediterranean gull on D Res roost on Saturday. A few linnet were around South Marsh West at the roost:

Siskin were still present on Saturday – at least 10 in D woods:

Another nice sighting was this treecreeper – a lot being seen of late all over site:

Moth trapping turned up plenty of lead coloured drabs and small quakers:

Martin has further details on his blog of the catches – including a possible site first. And sat on the outside was this probable Netelia testacea – a parasitic wasp of moth larvae:

Yet again there has been more fighting with the moorhen taking on this black-headed gull on the marshes:

At the end of the day the big battle was this welcome sighting of a new barn owl – unfortunately it had a bit of a tussle with the white buzzard – a fine bird that from the sequence of pictures demonstrates just what a confusing bird it can be:

After that it then evicted two jackdaws from their box - which could only look in helplessly. I have heard that if an owl wants a box it will claim it - but this is the first time I have seen it:

Lastly the black rabbit was glimpsed today – collecting bedding material – so it looks like there may be more on the way…

Saturday, 26 March 2011

A splash of colour...

After the drama of the yellow bunting yesterday I thought it timely to take a lighthearted look at some of the other multicoloured residents of Tophill of recent times...

Obviously the yellow bunting has to be up there - the sensible suggestion is that it is covered with pollen from the goat willow. Why this individual should make the effort to coat itself so thoroughly when others next to it did not we will never know:

As in the prior post the white buzzards are another - rough legs in winter and ospreys in summer! Picture courtesy of HVWG:

This white pheasant was on the go in 2008 - unfortunately being a ground nester and white does you few favours - it was not seen for long after making its nest...picture courtesy of Martin Standley.

Another recent bird was the leucistic common gull - seen a few times at Hornsea too this winter:

The black rabbit too has been seen of late - it appears to have a charmed life sitting on the res embankment all day long and seemingly viewed with great suspicion by the resident buzzards and stoats...

However the most notable celebrity has to be the orange great spotted woodpecker - the topillus ssp. was last see a week ago and has now reared orange young for the last two years running - HVWG pic:

Unfortunately I couldn't find any pictures of the pink black headed gull and we never did get a photo of the white weasel (no not an ermine!). Back to reality...

Friday, 25 March 2011

Yes a yellow bunting - but unfortunately reed...

After getting a brief glimpse of what could be a really good bird yesterday - I decided to get in for first light this morning. A scan round revealed plenty of reed bunting activity including this fine typical male:

At around 6.30 I managed to get this one poor pic of a bright yellow bunting - but one which is obviously reed. As you can see the colour (even at first light) is exceedingly yellow and the bib is comparitively small:

I believe this would account for our hope yesterday - unfortunately we did not have a camera or decent optics to get a proper look like this. Apologies if your hopes were raised - no one has twitched it. It is the usual double-edged sword - do you put as much info out and be shot down - as we did to others with the osprey below - or sit on it and be a suppressor!

Tophill is no stranger to odd colours with our orange woodpecker and pink black-headed gull - undoubtedly there will be something equally interesting soon...

Thursday, 24 March 2011

A yellow bunting?

First off and of greatest note was a bunting species found by myself and the practical volunteers today on South Marsh West last thing. Whilst finishing the new kingfisher nest and sorting the gravel island I picked up a bunting merrily feeding in the goat willow next to me. It's black head and brown back said male reed bunting. Unfortunately its (very) bright yellow chest suggested something that needed a bit more investigation. A couple of the guys managed a look too - confirming this very brief ID whilst I sprinted to get the camera and book. Unfortunately by the time I returned we had lost it, though it is likely roosting with the big reed bunting roost on South Marsh West near the back to back hides. A thorough search failed to find it before dusk.

We would not like to surmise at this stage on the limited views we had but the bird which smacks most closely to what we saw when leafing through Collins is a male yellow-breasted bunting. Basically think male reed bunting with a full and very yellow chest. However we would like to emphasise it was a bird like this species and without further views cannot be substantiated as this species or any other. It was however certainly not a yellowhammer / cirl bunting.

The reserve will be open early tomorrow for anyone wishing to chance their luck. Please respect ticketing and access arrangements. The best location to look from is the South Marsh West back-to-back hide looking in the area of the up-turned boat.

Next confusing bird was the reported osprey of Sunday afternoon. Picked out on the treeline of D Res. by a visiting group, subsequent viewing from our regulars suggests that this was one of the local white buzzards some of which are pictured below courtesy of HVWG and have caused confusion many times before and undoubtedly to come:

However the Sunday bird was of a more pied appearance than these individuals pictured. That said an osprey should be here soon with the current weather. Buzzards have been everywhere of late.

Sand martins are now plentiful and there has been a large influx of chiffchaff now - 4 yesterday on the southern site:

The next new arrival is a pair of little-ringed plover - the sun setting on it below:

Outgoings include this whooper which has been on south marsh east for a few days now:

Along with an adult white-fronted goose found by John Leason today. Likewise presumably the very fine drake pintail will be gone at somepoint too:

Smew still clings on at Watton with plenty of brambling on the centre feeders:

The biggest migrant of the week however has been toads - which have been moving around the reserve in what must be well into their thousands now - care is needed on all paths around site:

Likewise there are some big numbers of newts in all breeding ponds now - like this heavily laden female:

South Marsh East has a fine variety of species now - see how many species you can find in this shot!:


Little grebe:

Great spotted woodpecker:

Pond dipping with the RSPB wildlife explorers revealed a coming invasion of monsters from the deep - these impressive nymphs and caddisflies came out in every net from the new D woods pond:

However one of the main features this week has been repeated scrapping - be it pheasant v moorhen:

swan v swan:

Or most impressively roe buck vs roe buck in barmston drain - turn the sound up to get the best of the bellyflops!!:

Thursday, 17 March 2011

African arrivals

The weather may not be forthcoming but the birds are. The first reports of sand martins came in on Sunday with a further 3 birds picked up over 'O' res this afternoon. The other herald picked up today was the first chiffchaff - calling in D woods, next will be the little-ringed plover...

Other than this the usual winter brigade are still in residence - these brambling were on the feeders and looking excellent:

A pair of pintail were on South Marsh East today, with a lone red-head smew present usually on Watton. A merlin was over O res this morning, with sightings earlier in the week including thermalling buzzards and two little egrets. Of premier note were a pair of egyptian geese loitering with intent at South Marsh East which could be an interesting development for the season.

Less hopeful was the sighting of a 'huge' mink on North Marsh at the weekend, with a different individual removed at the southern site this morning - not something we want at this time of year. However it wasn't picked up by the photography crowd of North Marsh - Tony McLean, Rory Selvey and Martin Hodges were all in getting different takes on sparrowhawks and what must have been a rather chilly grass snake!

Elsewhere there continue to be plenty of great crested newts in the ponds of the site:

And the larch trees are in flower where the branches are low enough to see:

Finally excellent news is that the results came in for the BTO Business Bird Challenge 2010 today, and we have managed to win the 'conservation initiatives' category for our large wetland class. Unfortunately we only managed fourth in our bird tally - the winning site having 169 species over our 142 for the year, not suprisingly all winners were south and west of us and took advantage of a winter which pushed most species these directions.

However winning the conservation category is a great accolade for and recognition of all the hard work put in by the many reserve and Hull Valley Wildlife Group volunteers helping out practically and in survey work, the outside teams who have helped us like the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust's Future Jobs Fund Team and also Yorkshire Water's investment into the site over the last year to finance it all.