Sunday, 30 October 2011

The heralds of winter

Winter arrived last weekend in the form of the returning bittern. It is believed this may be a first year bird and likely to be a dispersal from the Low Countries. The bird will likely remain on the reserve until March – so hopefully we will enjoy many more views of it to brighten up winter.

On this occasion it was seen at South Marsh West in the same location as the jack snipe, where Jess managed to get the only picture so far for Pink Cuckoos. It was more than likely seen flying around the North Marsh area mid week too – something to look for if and when the kingfishers move off!

Les and Margaret managed to find the first brambling this winter on the D woods feeders on Friday, along with two willow tits – photo here – and hopefully better to come:

In addition this stonechat (another Tophill year tick) delighted many over this weekend – giving great views on North Scrub (apart from when the sparrowhawk nearly got it!) – it looks a bit washed out being a first winter male:

Alan Walkington sent these great pics of it across also:

Otherwise the seven day highlights include:

Pintail last Saturday and today - D res.
Black tailed godwits last Saturday and on Friday – South Marsh East
Little gull last Saturday – D res.
Water rail on Tuesday – South Marsh West
Ringed plover, dunlin, and ruff on Wednesday – South Marshes
Black-necked grebe - Friday - on and off D res
Hen harrier (female) this afternoon - D res
Egyptian goose – this evening – D res
Mediterranean gull (adult) – this evening – D res

Otherwise there has been a big build up of wildfowl – lots of well marked wigeon:

Along with teal – which are looking good again after moult:

Shoveler and gadwall:


And increasing numbers of goldeneye:

This evening we undertook the first of 3 roost walks. The next two are book-able via Robert Fuller’s wildlife gallery – details here.

The gulls put on their usual spectacle, along with a few corvids, groups of starlings moving through, and a cracking 68 curlew over.

A visit to South Marsh East was the last stop to see the assembled geese coming in to roost. Unfortunately they decided not to arrive before we packed up at 6pm in any great numbers. However a bit of a commotion amongst the ducks followed by a tell-tale bow wave delighted everyone, when up appeared the otter, 30yds away. Whilst dark it was silhouetted nicely against the moonlit water running across the mud island in front of the hide (and was likely a female or cub on size) – so nobody was particularly miffed at having missed the feral greylags!

For more on the otters there is scheduled to be a TV piece upcoming on BBC Inside Out – currently thought to be broadcast on Monday the 14th – so one to watch.

In addition we continue to embrace modern media by staring off our Facebook page - see right>.

Finally apologies for the lack of updates in the last few days – I have been checking out some Welsh specialties:

Likewise Martin has acquired guru status after finding Portugal’s second ever pallid harrier at Sagres – all the details on his blog here, and Likewise Tony has been getting some alternative pictures in Holland here. And I anticipate Rory's Welsh kite pics will be on anytime soon here. Normal service resumed…

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Murderous mustelids

The peace and quiet was disturbed on Tuesday by the cries of a rabbit meeting its end courtesy of one of our wildlife centre stoats. It proceeded to then carry it off into the undergrowth in the usual unlikely manner. I hasten to add that in all these pictures the rabbit was dead (in what was by stoat standards a very humane kill!):

The loft-space of the wildlife centre is home to our family of stoats who can often be encountered near the car park. The same day also saw a weasel near D res. For more stoat pictures, this time from North Marsh, check out Rory’s great pictures here including the first willow tit photos we’ve seen in a while (hopefully soon to be on the newly re-mounted feeders)

Attached are some pics courtesy of HVWG of Sunday’s highlights – egyptian goose:

This was seen the same night by Tony McLean (photo here) and also on D res wall yesterday by Derrick.

Also sent through was red-crested pochard:

Curlew flying to roost:

Barn owl on North Scrub:

Which Steve has been getting on his blog too here.

And those first three whoopers of the year:

Which incidentally were joined by a further flight of seven as seen by Michael Flowers today south over North Marsh. Michael also recorded further siskin and lesser redpoll in D woods, with an apparent highlight being a dozing fox for those first into the wildlife centre hide.

Hempholme meadows progresses – this was scrape one of four last week:

Incidentally we recorded our first wader feeding there on Tuesday night – curlew at dusk. 3 pied wagtails are virtually resident (along with two kestrels which I am surprised can fly given the volume of mice they have consumed now). Red legged partridge are common too but noteworthy were a covey of eleven greys on the flood banks on Tuesday.

And the sand martin colony now looks the business:

Thanks to Mark Hammond too for this nice take on the gull roost on Sunday:

Once again, roost walk event will be Sunday the 30th of October at 4pm – details on the events page above.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Rock ‘n wall

The last few days has seen a selection of Tophill year ticks – first off was this rock pipit on D res wall on Friday night – far from common inland at Tophill. It briefly gathered flies before disappearing high east off to its usual stomping grounds:

Remember to check all birds like this carefully though – you never know what may be present and the differences between pipit species are slim:

Passerines have been the big story this week – lots of siskin (pictured here) have been feeding on the cones along with successive waves of crossbills:

Check all long-tailed tit flocks carefully too:

These goldcrest were some of at least ten in the D woods yesterday:

However with the number of yellow-browed warblers on the coast only ten miles away – pay close attention both for these and firecrests. A late blackcap was the best find yet.

A good tip for all those reporting rarities – get a picture regardless of the quality as Tom Lowe did here (behind the coot!):

Thursday’s garganey was only seen by Tom, but a picture is irrefutable. Seen by several though today were an egyptian goose on Struncheonhill and latterly D res found by Eric C, where a female red-crested pochard was observed most of the day found by John H.

We have also had golden plover over Watton and peregrine over North Marsh, along with four black-tailed godwit in addition to the usual curlew:

However likely the rarest bird this week was found on the WeBS count this morning by Dave Ware – a bar-tailed godwit resting on South Marsh East. They never normally stray in-land, although common on the coast, and this is the first record since D res was drained in 2007. Rather dodgy ‘phone-bino’d’ pic here:

Better may follow on Dave’s blog where he has pics from my old stomping ground at Normanby too.

Winter arrived truly in the shape of three whooper swans late on seen by Erich over D, and redwing and fieldfare are now widespread.

Both Tony and Rory have photos on the way from today’s activities – along with a sneak peak of some different takes of Tophill on Tony’s Flickr stream.

Here from Saturday were a couple of end of season moths – november moth:

And large wainscot:

The Tophill Low gull roost
Unfortunately though we didn’t make Autumnwatch on Friday, but the gulls should still not be snubbed. The main spectacle starts every evening around 3pm between September and March when a trickle of gulls start arriving from surrounding farmland, coasts and landfill sites in every direction:

After a brief wash in the reservoir they then congregate on the open farmland around the reserve to preen – Decoy fields next to D res are a favourite but it can move to the access road fields or East of the river on occasion:

Just before dusk we get ‘the big lift’ when all birds not already on the water for the night simultaneously arise in a great spectacle – turning the sky white…

…before dropping onto the sanctuary of the reservoir for the night:

And even when it’s frozen:

So here are the main players – common gull:

And black-headed gull:

Both these species make up the bulk of the roost – currently around 15,000 birds but this can swell to 40,000 in winter. According to WeBS league tables this puts us in the top 15 UK sites for black-heads and top 3 for commons. We also make the top 3 for our annual little gull passage – but this is a July/August phenomenon. However there are always other species mixed in – great black-backed gulls with their black uppers and pink legs are at their maximum now:

These birds are assumed to mostly come from Scandinavian breeding grounds – as evidenced by the ringing return from a deceased bird rung at Lista in southern Norway as a chick:

Lesser black-backed gulls are now sub-siding as most move south for winter – charcoal grey uppers and yellow legs:

We also get herring gulls too (pale grey / pink legs below) – with Scandinavian race fairly regular too:

Another infrequent (though seen this week) bird is the yellow-legged gull generally from Mediterranean regions – much like the pale herring gulls but with yellow legs like lesser-black-backed:

Kittiwakes occasionally drop in during summer, but mediterranean gulls are regular all winter – up to four mixed in recently. These demonstrate the similarity to black-headed gulls but note the erect stance, heavy set bill – and crucially white wings devoid of black markings bar a small leading edge:

Which brings us on to ‘white-wingers’; usually describing arctic species which we occasionally get on strong northerlies in mid winter – like this glaucous gull earlier in the year:

We have also had iceland gull this year – but beware of leucistic or albino birds like this tricky common gull last year:

This completes our line up to date excepting Terry Richardson’s franklin’s gull a few years ago – a trans-atlantic vagrant.

And obviously all this lot attracts the peregrine - primarily after black-headed's:

Leaving many 'angel-wings' everywhere on site:

They may not be TV stars - but the gull roost is there every night – often unwatched, so if you are getting withdrawal from the gulls of Bempton now they’ve left, why not sit with a flask and a scope and see what you can find?... After all caspian gull carries most bets here as the next addition to the Tophill list…

If you fancy an intro, on Sunday the 30th of October we will be running our popular 'roost walk' event starting at 4pm to look at gulls, corvids, curlew and geese.

And in addition if you want to stay warm then why not pop along to Beverley Naturalist's this Tuesday night (18th) for a talk from wildlife photographer Geoff Trinder. It starts at 7:30pm at St. Mary's Church Hall in the shadow of Beverley Minster - admission is £3.50 including refreshments - new faces are always welcome.