Thursday, 19 May 2011

Having aluco in the boxes…

Part of the perks of being a reserve volunteer is the right to visit areas of the reserve off limits to visitors as part of management work. A big highlight for our nest box team is a sneak peak of the nest boxes as part of the long standing monitoring programme on the reserve. “Anyone home?” – anyone who has read Eric Hoskins (if not see here!) will be familiar with the necessity of a chainsaw hat when dealing with tawnys:

A fine pair of tawny owl chicks in this one:

And in another box one portly chick:

It is worth noting that tawny chicks regularly leave the box at this stage leading many people to find them on the ground as ‘orphans’; This is rarely the case – the adult tawny will be sat in a tree nearby keeping watch and feeding them up. It is a safer breeding strategy than having ‘all your chicks in one basket’ - so in most cases leave them well alone and the parent will look after them just fine.

However the best prize on site in one of the barn owl boxes - 3 day old chicks – the egg tooth still being visible on the nearest:

The winter was obviously very bad for barn owls, but the spring has been very kind – the long dry period clearly allowing the females to put on sufficient weight for a good brood. Whilst tiny they have the hopes of many pinned on them for trying to rebuild numbers after the last two bad winters. So hopefully the summer will be as kind for feeding them up too, and the winter will give them a break in their first year. In many ways they are lucky in that this year there are many unoccupied territories for them to move to – in normal years most young perish because they cannot find a good habitat of their own.

At this juncture it is worth noting that barn owls are a schedule one species protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act and it is an imprisonable offence to recklessly disturb them at the nest. Our nest box team and ringers are specially licenced by Natural England to monitor the chicks – as such please do not leave the paths or suffer the consequences!. For anyone wishing to see the barn owls in action safely we will be running our ‘See a…Barn owl’ event at 7pm on the 9th of July - booking in advance necessary on 01377 270690. Alternatively try visiting the reserve any time over the next couple of months the morning after a heavy nights rain – this will force the owls out hunting in daylight. Our next visit to the chicks will be the ringing in a few weeks time.

Meanwhile these great tits were confusing us with their mum…

However regular Alan Walkington sent us what I must say is, in my opinion, one of the greatest pics taken this year – simply brilliant!:

Another definite contender for the win a permit competition – we have an informal competition to win a 2012-13 permit for the best photograph we can use on next years membership cards. Rules are must be taken at Tophill from April this year and submitted to the tophillpics email. Entries close December.
Other nest news includes the sighting of 3 shelduck young yesterday on South Marsh East – excellent as they didn’t breed last year.

Again a great chance to thank the nest box team under Alan Williamson for their work in repairing and monitoring nest boxes for many years, Jim Evans for his work in constructing many fine new boxes, and our own practical volunteers and the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust Future Jobs Fund Team, whom have clearly helped our owl attract a mate by managing the grassland habitat to its optimum over this winter.

John from the nest box team has also sent in these shots of the osprey from last week – just to confirm it isn’t that pesky buzzard!:

The snake walk on Sunday turned up 9 snakes and numerous great crested newts – everything from 10”:

…to 4 feet:

And all in between:

It would appear we missed the breeding frenzy of last week – John Wilkinson recording a staggering 23 together all at East Pond. Again please be considerate when trying to view or photograph the snakes – if you can observe them and leave without them moving you have achieved the zenith…

Bird wise things are steadying a bit with ‘that time of year’ approaching. Terns are now embedded on South Marsh East – but not as many as we would like – it will be interesting to compare with other sites as we have gone from 6 pairs last year plus a potential 9 young from two years ago - to two pairs and a site maxima of 7 so far. What’s happened on migration?

Attempting to answer some of these questions are the ringing team – all the details on the blog of the latest visit.

A weird sighting was 3 pink footed geese on Friday – they are not injured like the whooper swan which has unfortunately succumbed last week – but just seem to be very late stragglers. Lots of hobby and marsh harrier sightings though, turtle dove purring on site again, and 700 swift and 400 sand martins on D reservoir on Monday night. Oystercatcher still have their chicks – so all appears on track…

Plant wise the first marsh orchids are out, and lots of yellow rattle all coming through on the hay meadows. Martin has been chasing down more hairy dragonflies and thanks to him for sending across these pics:

As ever all the details on his blog here. Likewise Tony and Rory have again been in of late and have the pictures on their blogs. And Jeff has some great common blue pics on his Flicker page.

Maurice has a review of his one day wildlife photography course here – we hope to do something similar next year again.

Moth trapping revealed a muslin moth:

And shears - showing the pair of clippers on its back:

Within the last week Derrick has also recorded brown argus in South Scrub too.

Finally just a reminder to all members to please remember to sign in at the HVWG hut in the car park on arrival – by foot/bike/or car. Our evening wardens have rounded up a few folk of late out of hours - so please ensure you help them by doing this – thanks again.