Monday, 25 April 2011

Don’t count your bramblings too soon

Likely the final purple heron update is that a ‘dark heron that certainly wasn’t a grey’ was last seen on Sunday 17th briefly behind the tree line by several. There have been no further reports since so we assume it departed.

As a result I have had a break from blogging since my posting marathon last week – but it doesn’t pay off as now I have to catch up! We have also been attempting to film otters with BBC Inside Out; did we see any? You’ll just have to wait and see when the programme runs around October…Just as a proviso if you are thinking of looking for them please remember the reserve closes at 6pm – to stand a chance you need a. membership (see above), b. patience and stealth, and c. a lot of luck! We have the ‘See a…otter’ event running on the 11th of June – as per the events page above. Book in advance necessary – otters not necessarily certain!

The main noticeable influx since has been wading birds with green and common sandpipers, ringed plover and curlew all passing through the reserve in small numbers. This spring passage is usually swift and unobtrusive – we tend to see more of them on the return journey in late summer. Why do the birds stop at the reserve? - fairly simple - click on Martin's picture here. (I should point out they are usually none biters!)

The best migrants so far have been a honey buzzard picked up by the nest box team on Tuesday passing overhead along with the usual common. We’ve also had another garganey - this drake stopped of briefly on Saturday night and was found by Mr Eggleton before flying off north.

He also managed to get this excellent picture of a marsh frog (a
definite contender for the ‘win a 2012 permit competition’!):

The HVWG boys managed to pick up a Scandinavian rock pipit littoralis on Watton NR on Thursday along with a cream crown marsh harrier over D res yesterday.

Other migrants arriving include the first garden warbler yesterday, and sedge warblers, reed warblers and lesser whitethroat in their droves.Cuckoo is now very vocal and was sounding around North Scrub/Marsh yesterday and today for Jeff Barker and Tony McLean.

Michael Flowers popped in a week or so back – getting these nice pics of the roe deer.

Little grebes too will be a signature bird for many – staving off the boredom of recent purple heron vigils:

Not to mention many tufted duck:

Michael’s bird watching courses re-start for the new term soon and he still has places available here.

We also thought he may have had the last brambling on site on Tuesday the 12th, but subsequently I still had one on the feeders on Saturday here:

And Martin picked one up calling this morning. Also conspicuous by their absence have been a lack of wintering goldeneye since Thursday – challenge to anyone who can still find one as a last?

Not content with getting last of records Martin has been pulling forward the records again with common blue, azure and blue tailed damselflies by 5 days each, and knocking 3 days off the four spotted chaser record – all the details with the latest fungi and moth news on his blog here. The HVWG boys managed a hairy dragonfly yesterday – again bringing forward the records.

The melanistic rabbit is still on the go also:

Tawny sat unobtrusively in D Woods next to the path:

Thanks to the Group, the Environment Agency and the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust Future Jobs Fund team under Gareth Dixon for teaming up to get the tern rafts established on Watton for the season…(all pics from HVWG):

And just in time - this tern was inspecting them Friday – with a further 4 apparently doing so this afternoon, besides 3 on the ‘old’ Southern Marsh islands– great work!:

Thanks to David Marritt who had this red kite just as you turn off from the A164 to Tophill last week – again suggesting the expansion of this species. I too have seen them further North than usual this year so it looks good on all fronts:

Both Martin and myself suspect we have had hobby sightings this weekend beyond Tophill. Mine was near Wetwang but it was the usual drive by birders’ sighting – do I get a positive ID or crash the car! – I chose to let the bird go on this occasion…

Other new species to expect in the coming days include passage black terns – plenty elsewhere in the country of late, more little gulls, interesting grebes and also the first swift for site is still up for grabs at the time of writing!

Pond dipping tomorrow (26th) at 1pm – still places available, and reserve walk a week on Saturday (May 7th). Also well worth considering is Maurice Gordon’s one day wildlife photography class on the 8th – cost £20 and still places available – book now to avoid disappointment.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

The hooter goes and it's all over...

The calling tawny owl said it all. 20:25 and not a glimmer of any heron activity today, despite David Ware starting out at 6.15am. 7 days is a good run for an adult purple heron that should be in Europe doing better things - so we wish it all the best and hope it reaches its intended destination. We consider the bird gone unless there is a major turn-around tomorrow - the reserve will close at its normal 6pm again from Monday night unless you are a member.

It is unfortunate it became so elusive later in its stay after such a showy start - as with this great picture taken by J Utton last Saturday (A scan of an inkjet print - hence quality):

Thanks to everyone who either came and saw or at least attempted it and the volunteer team who helped us run the site during its stay. Credit to Derrick Venus - webmaster of the HVWG site who is recognised as the birds initial finder. Hopefully our run of good birds will continue further into the year.

Other sightings today were the usual drake scaup on D res with two fine looking little gulls and a smattering of yellow wagtails. Water rail was on North Marsh and a great first for year was the discovery of two drake garganey on Watton NR - still present at 20:00 tonight. More reed and sedge warblers also in today.

Probably the most notable sighting however was Martin Hodges' discovery of the earliest VC61 record for large red damselfly today - pic below thanks to Martin - with more info on his blog:

Like Martin - thanks to the Yorkshire Branch of the British Dragonfly Society - website here.

Friday, 15 April 2011

What the Warden saw - Heron Day 7

"I thought it was supposed to be busy?" - probably the words that best summed it up from pretty much the last birder on site today leaving at 16:15. After a manic few days I was concerned about leaving the site for the morning. When I arrived at lunchtime there were 5 cars in the car park. Tony Simpson and Jeff Barker had made a valiant effort in South Lagoon inlet and North Marsh respectively but with no luck from around 10:00 - 14:00. Beyond this the Lagoons have been largely unobserved all day - so unsuprisingly no sightings logged of a bird that has not been seen with 60+ people on site earlier in the week.

Faced with a number of contacts all wanting to see the bird over the weekend it fell to muggins to put in another late evening looking for it. Late afternoon I managed the whooper swan on South Marsh East - but better was the first (and possibly two) reed warblers calling on West. The first 5 greylag goslings were on Watton NR and the first 8 mallard ducklings on N Lagoon - hopefully the removal of another mink on Saturday will aid their cause. The drake scaup was refound near number 17 on D res again. With these in the bag I then set too on the heron. After around 90 minutes in inlet hide it finally flew in from the northern end of the reserve to roost at 19:20 on North Lagoon. The grey blob in a tree in the top left is it (honestly):

The failing light and first rain for days had darkened the skies so this was ISO1600 on my point and shoot - but it shows what most people need to know - I'll leave the good pictures to others...

Reserve open dawn to dusk all weekend.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Heron updates to 18:40

Predictably the bird chose not to show this afternoon. At around 10.50am it flew south from South Lagoon dropping into the Southern Reserve. The only glimmer by the time I left at 18:40 tonight was a probable sighting of the bird flying between the Southern Marshes at 15:00. If I get any further update on the bird tonight I will stick it on.

Big thanks to Richard Manning who with his wife discovered the bird this morning and took the trouble to send us these pictures tonight - he was one of those lucky enough during the birds stay to have a camera ready when it flew in and got these great shots which really capture the purple:

I am informed the bird is being featured in the countryweek section of tomorrow's Yorkshire Post - featuring a photo taken by Andy Hood at the weekend.

Other sightings today have included the drake scaup, whooper swan, little-ringed plover and sedge warbler.

Heron day 6

Yesterday night after I had left the hide apparently the heron returned to North Lagoon around 8pm where it presumably roosts.

This morning the first couple of birders on site managed to get the bird flying into South Lagoon at around 9am - giving some brilliant flight shots we hope to post later. Unfortunately at ten past it apparently 'walked into the reeds and disappeared' - sounding ominously similar to yesterday's activity pattern...

However it is still here - Reserve open til dusk, normal admission and please be courteous to others wishing to see it if you already have done so.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

It's heron's law...

I write this with fear - obviously the day started well with the heron sighting first thing, predictably attracting many visitors. As a result we had no activity from it all day, with nearly everyone leaving late afternoon with only the scaup and a collection of wagtails to show - indeed some were querying my report this morning...

At 17:55 tonight a couple in North Lagoon flagged me down to say it had just hopped out of the reeds on the north bank (20 metres from where I last saw it 9 hours earlier), before flying to each island and subsequently into South Lagoon - in front of another 3 observers. Views here were as poor as yesterday - I managed this shot - but you get the idea:

At 18:15 it then took off and flew in the direction of the Southern Marshes and was lost again.

Just to really make everyone livid; One of our long term regulars who was only able to attempt the bird for the first time tonight arrived just after it was re-found, then got views of it 10 metres away before watching it fly off. I think that's called birding...

Once again we will be open all daylight hours both today and tomorrow. Whether it remains is impossible to speculate. The only pattern it has followed in its behaviour is that it has been seen every day between 2pm and 6pm from the North Lagoon hide (but don't quote me on that...)

Purple heron day 5

The heron was found again this morning at around 8.50am. It was observed for a good while feeding in the open in front of the reeds to the north of the north lagoon. When I arrived at ten past it was preening just inside them:

At around half past its head stopped appearing - it did not fly but simply disappeared. Presumably asleep or walked off into the reeds again. Reserve open 'til dusk tonight again. No news yet on the scaup - but eyes have all been on herons.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Heron update day 4

Today was a bit more trying for observers. The bird was seen a couple of times flying over the southern site before dropping into the lagoons at midday amongst dense reed cover - unfortunately in front of the smallest hide on site. As you can imagine it was somewhat cramped. Please be considerate when viewing - if others have not seen it please be courteous and make way once you have. The bird flew onto the neighbouring lagoon at 15.30 before being chased by a canada goose then disturbed by walkers - flying south. We now have signage up on the river bank to try and direct people out of sight.

A comprehensive search by many turned up nothing through the evening and we feared the worst. However just as I was leaving site at 20:10 I was flagged down by one of the last three birders on site - they had just observed the bird return to the lagoons and drop out of sight into dense reeds. We guess this would indicate a presence again tomorrow - one possible bonus is the planned conservation work taking place on Watton NR (tern raft launching) which will effectively reduce the possible heron hidy holes. Reserve open to all during daylight hours again on Weds.

I have now found time to add some of the excellent photos we have been sent. The first and one of the sharpest I have seen yet is this great shot by Dave Mansell:

For more of Dave's work check out his website here.

Regular contributor HVWG sent us these great pics too of the bird:

And Richard Willison kindly sent not only this picture from Sunday taken when the bird was first refound in the trees:

But also a good representation of the other wildlife around at the moment - including the drake scaup still present this evening:

Grass snakes:

And the marsh frogs - some of whom may have sacrificed themselves to the heron:

Other sightings from today include the whooper on south marsh east, yellow wagtails on D res walls and south marsh west.

Obviously a purple heron and a sunny 20 degrees gets everyone out - Jeff Barker has posted his water rail and reed bunting pics on flickr from north marsh. Martin too has the water rail on his blog, along with some cracking new species including possibly the great looking slender groundhopper, with more purple pictures - both moth and bird here. Tony McLean too has another roll-call of great pictures on his site - including some artistic coot work - proving there is plenty more than purple here. David Ware in on Saturday also managed to snap the female wood duck - not seen since here. Unfortunately Rory had a quieter time in North Marsh at the beginning of last week here.

In my opinion one of the best sightings today though was mine of a good sized water vole at dusk under the north lagoon hide - something which have been very thin on the ground after the recent mink population spike.

Monday, 11 April 2011

Heron update day 3

A quick update from 2pmish from the volunteer team at Tophill (Thanks!) is that the purple heron has again been sighted on the reserve - so the bird disappearing over the Humber from Spurn this morning was not ours. Currently it is being elusive but present on South Lagoon amongst the reeds.

The reserve will be open in the evening and first light again tomorrow - please respect permitting arrangements as our team will be present into the evening.

Heron updates 2

No news as I am aware yet (at 8.30 on Monday morning) on the heron (after a couple of long days our volunteers are kindly opening today so I write from home). A sighting at Spurn at 8am this morning was hopefully another bird arriving rather than ours going.

The low down for yesterdays activity was that despite the first observer being on site at 5am it was not picked up until 12.15 briefly when it appeared in tall alders at the north of the lagoon. It would appear that this was where it had spent the night. Unfortunately no sooner had it been found than it was flushed - apparently by birders on the bank.

Through the afternoon conflicting accounts came in until it returned to the same site at 2ish - showing very well and eating frogs and sticklebacks. When I get a moment I will compile links up with good photos - or send them across to the e-mail above right. At around 4.30 a dog walker disturbed it and it flew south low. It was not picked up last night certainly to 7.30pm to my knowledge. Again lots of habitat to go at and plenty of places to hide so we will see what happens today.

Other good birds yesterday included common crane flying south east (then still flying south east over Sunk Island half and hour later!). Drake scaup back on D res with yellow and white wagtail on the walls. First showy greenshank at the south end of the site and the white fronted and pink-footed geese on Watton NR. Peregrine and 5 common buzzard over the car park. Water rail showing well on North Marsh, and both marsh frog and grass snake delighted many unfamiliar with the reserve.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Heron update

A quick update is that the purple heron has been showing very well all evening and was left at 8.15 feeding merrily on sticklebacks in the semi dark. There is no reason to suggest it was going anywhere. We will try and get an update on it's status out as soon as we know tomorrow.

It has wowed many observers this aft - including the lucky visitors who chose tophill for their excursion from the rspb annual meeting at york!

Purple heron!

Purple heron on North Lagoon showing well - after being seen all round the reserve from 2-4pm it has settled and is currently feasting on sticklebacks. The reserve will be open til dusk to cater - normal admission applies. We will also be open tomorrow at first light. Please park in the car park and respect permit arrangements.

Other notable updates - 2 common tern on the marshes now, female wood duck on Watton with the white front and two pink footed geese, whooper swan on South Marsh East, marsh harrier, common buzzard, yellow wagtail and LRP all seen today. Green sand on Watton this morning with many swallow and sand martin. Blackcap, willow and sedge warbler, still brambling on feeders. Grass snakes, orange tip butterflies. Goosander on O res.

Told you this weekend would be good...

A tern up for the books

It's always nice to get a site first - having been pipped by the reserve regulars on all the hirundines I was pleased to log the first sedge warbler on South Marsh West on Tuesday night. However I was fairly bowled over to see a common tern back on the breeding islands of South Marsh East this afternoon!:

Skimming back through the records (thanks to HVWG) it appears this is the earliest recorded common tern at Tophill (certainly for at least 15 years) by a whole 13 days. Indeed a look on Birdguides suggests this could be a Yorkshire first for year / and the most northerly recorded to date in the UK? However it may not be one of ours as close inspection of the pic reveals it is a ringed bird - unless one of ours has been rung on migration? We expect up to 9 new birds from 2009 to arrive this year - in addition to the existing 5 pairs.

The drake pintail was also present. It is lucky the tern islands were finished yesterday!:

The terns very nearly had to share their islands with 3 castaway volunteers for the summer - I will leave the full write up and pictures for the HVWG newsletter - which will be worth the £5 annual membership for this feature alone...

That said the little ringed plover are eyeing it up already:

And the 28 pied and two yellow wagtail seem to like it too:

Probably best not to wade out given the leeches attached to the boat - though in reality only dangerous if you're a snail:

Another invertebrate interest are these bee-flies - noted by Pat Crofton they are apparently a new arrival in the UK and are all over when you start looking. They are another parasite of moth larvae:

Cowslips are looking excellent:

Grass snakes out in force:

And even a pair of barn owls on site again catching voles:

Unfortunately no sign of the scaup since Weds when these were taken:

Likewise the slav grebe only stayed for Tuesday - thanks to HVWG for this pic which shows it was here!:

Still mink activity from the scat below:

Apparently 6 mink have been removed from the upper Hull along with our 3, with additional sightings from High Eske. There has obviously been a big spike in the population. My own theory is that the cold winter perhaps drove mink from frozen tributaries onto the main river Hull, which they have found to their liking - last summer they were not recorded on site at all. Obviously we will do our best to knock them back before the water voles etc. get hit badly.

Other than that there are still bramblings and goldeneye - but no whoopers or interesting geese anymore. Unfortunately no news on the osprey of late and no reserve sightings - all info is on the EY birding forum.

However a cracking forecast with winds originating in central Europe can only make for a fun weekend...

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

A changing menu

Our sparrowhawk is taking his last opportunity to indulge in brambling before their imininent departure:

The male brambling particularly are looking excellent - just a few more days and we won't see them 'til October again...

Other hangers on still include the pink-footed and white-fronted geese on Watton and drake pintail on South Marsh East today, with two whooper swans seen on Sunday. No smew now for two weeks - so they have probably gone for another year.

'Just passing' species include the drake scaup - again still present today - picture here courtesy of HVWG:

Another great bird on D today was a Slavonian grebe found by the nest box team.

Resident species include this kestrel showing hope for breeding:

When filling up the bird feeders I unavoidably disturbed the moorhen - which in leaving its nest kicked an egg into the water. Feeling partly responsible I returned it and got my second welly full in 24hrs:

Within 10 mins it was back on the nest...

I couldn't resist another pic of the orange great spot which came through twice on Friday:

And this coal tit was making everyone aware of its territory:

Hopefully pochard will come up with the goods with this many on North Marsh:

The recent removal of three mink in three days from the reserve can only help their cause.

The main feature though has been arrivals however - only a chiffchaff pic to show:

But Saturday saw willow warblers arrive in huge numbers. Paul Mountain getting the first at 9.30 - by 10.30 on the reserve walk there were 3, and by the Sunday were 5 on the Southern site alone.

Next was blackcaps - none on Saturday but by Sunday they were all over site. The Morley's and Alan Marshall get credit for that one.

On Saturday we had 3 meadow pipit over on the reserve walk - later in the day Martin had 20+ over. Plenty of moths to see too as evidenced on his blog...

Wagtails have also been moving through - 26 pied's roosting on South Marsh West along with the first yellow of the year on Sunday. Also on the night was the first green sandpiper - again courtesy of Martin.

Little gulls have also been drifting through D res.

Finally you would have needed some good optics but these pictures were taken within a few miles of Tophill today at an undisclosed location by HVWG - hopefully it'll be in Tophill tomorrow...