Monday, 30 January 2012

Cat' in the compound

Thanks to Erich for the Sunday update via the medium of Facebook - as he writes:
The Cattle Egret was still in the works compound this morning but flew off in the direction of Easingwold Farm at 11.30 [heard nothing more on it.] A mixed finch flock including Siskin and Lesser Redpoll was in the car park. Had a Short-eared Owl at Standingholme Pond. 2 Smew and drake Pintail on Watton NR. First winter Mediterranean Gull again roosted on O res.

Thanks too to Steve Coleman for these great pictures of the cattle egret during its stay in the works compound on Saturday:

And also for this improved image of the iceland gull from last week by Tom Lowe:

Remember too to keep checking the Flickr page for excellent photos including more of the cattle egret by Alan and some outstanding sparrowhawk pictures by Jeff Barker.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Icelandic images

Thanks to Pete Drury for today’s updates from Tophill; whilst the cattle egret has continued to entertain at close range within the Treatment Works compound for Michael Flowers group, perhaps a more challenging bird to see was the iceland gull picked up by Tom Lowe on Tuesday evening and actually photographed here (left bird):

Presumably the same bird was present again tonight and reported yesterday at Brandesburton.

Also on Tuesday Tom reported the cetti’s warbler calling from South Lagoon Inlet hide, and peregrine on the pylon behind Easingwold Farm, with a further two well north of Tophill at Rotsea Farm along with 16 whooper swans.

In South Scrub today a ring-tailed hen harrier was seen by the practical work team, as well as lesser redpoll in a mixed flock of goldfinch and siskin in the alders of North Lagoon with photo’s here from James.

And for those who are quiet and patient in North Marsh the rewards can be great as for Steve Brimble this morning at around 8:45am:

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Catty from a Ducati

Cattle egret continues to steal the show – for the last few days its been either in the Treatment Works compound or in the car park offering very close in views – such as for kittyducati (aka Mandy) in her brilliant photo on the Flickr page here. HVWG also got another great shot here (all much to the detest of the local mistle thrushes!):

Amongst other pics appearing are those on Steve’s and Dave Ware’s blogs.

Today there was a lot of construction work in the compound so it had vacated back to Easingwold Farm – a passing mobile phone pic in-keeping with my current run of quality images showing the un-missable white blob here:

More of a sighting though came further up the road as you make the turn off the A164 lay-by into Tophill – just south of the road (opposite the beware of the bull sign) over the hedge is Watton Beck which passes through a field where the cattle have formed a wallow on the banks. 3 (presumed) little egrets were feeding here – we didn’t have time to stop but may be one to check out.

Elsewhere Sunday turned up drake pintail and female garganey on D reservoir. On Watton the two smew, 3 black tailed godwit, a water rail and a long eared owl were seen.

Monday saw the addition of bittern coming in to roost on South Marsh West at 17:05.

This and others including a fly over knot on Sunday now bring the Tophill year-list up to 97 for the year to date – thanks to HVWG for the running total - who's going to bag 100?

Saturday, 21 January 2012

A cat treat'

No sign of the cattle egret today until last light. A fox hunt on Watton Carrs may have dislodged it from Easingwold and we had nothing but negative back from Hempholme. However at last light Andy Nunn picked it up on the water treatment works compound lawns again - where it possibly could have been all day if no one glanced that way. It merited another fine shot from the bino/phone combo - one day I'll get a proper pic!:

Also seen today were ring tailed hen harrier at Hempholme and a Marsh Harrier over D woods.

Finally I now have the results in for the permit photo contest for the 2012-13 permit design. As stated the picture had to be taken in 2011 and be submitted by e-mail or in person. We've had some belters this year and thanks to everyone who has sent in the photos which make the blog.

I made the selection of a short list based on the needs of the permit design - we need an image that can work on a credit card size and have the space to work in the cardholder details too. At this scale supreme image quality was not necessarily important. Given we had a kingfisher for 2011-12 we decided we would go for a change this year. The images I thought worked well in no particular order include John Coish's black-necked grebe avoiding a tufted duck:

Martin Standley's common tern in flight:

Mike Day's courting great spotted woodpeckers:

Andy Marshall's common tern in a close shave with a peregrine:

Perched barn owl by Roy Vincent:

Osprey by Alan Walkington:

And otter by Andy Marshall:

However we took all images anonymously to the department at Yorkshire Water and got them to vote for their favourite on nothing more than image merit. A close second was Tony McLean's excellent barn owl in the evening light:

But the worthy winner was... Alan Walkington's picture of a the long-tailed tit family which always brings a smile to anyone viewing it.

It is this image that will feature in the new permit design and Alan wins a year's membership to site - well done! - Again thanks to everyone who submitted and apologies we couldn't include them all.

We are running the same open contest for 2012 - however - to save me deliberating on which to inlcude; we will this time be asking for individuals to submit just one photo each in December. Remember images need to work on credit card size and feature space for names etc - pictures must have been taken in or around Tophill during 2012 - happy snapping...

Friday, 20 January 2012

A near cat-astrophe

The cattle egret remains on site – I don’t think it was picked up on Thursday but came on the pagers for 15:30 today. For the lucky people that have had good views there have been some great photos generated – Tony Robinson got these at Hunt Hill Farm earlier in the week after Michael Flowers course visit:

HVWG too got these great pictures:

A highlight from Wednesday was this iceland gull on the D res roost – it is the pale bird centre of shot second row up – A nice second showing for the year only half way through Jan:

And this coal tit visited the feeders to accompany the willow tit:

And the near cat-aclysm? That would be as photographed by Rich and Giselle and visible on their excellent lighthouse journal blog here!

Monday, 16 January 2012

Cat catch up

The cattle egret was again on show today - firstly at Hempholme, actually inside the water treatment works compound at 2:30pm and then last thing back at Easingwold farm where HVWG got this shot which is perhaps marginally better than my last!:

At last light - 16:19 it again returned east apparently back to Hempholme. Around the rest of the reserve were 2 willow tits in D wood - HVWG pics here:

Short-eared owls are still on Struncheonhill with an adult mediterranean gull on D res roost. And on Watton NR 2 smew, egyptian goose, 1 white-fronted goose, 1 pink-footed goose and reported garganey.

Thanks to HVWG for the updates.

The early birder catches the worm (or saves a walk)

Thanks to HVWG and Martin for the days updates from Sunday:

Everyone’s main interest was the cattle egret – early risers were rewarded with the close in showing at Easingwold Farm, but at 10:30am it flew north and returned to its traditional haunt of Hempholme. The best photo’s yet of it I have seen were taken by Martin Standley and are on his blog here.

Again thanks to the locals for their patience – if you fancy owning a house that looks out onto a cattle egret then why not look at this one which is where the original sighting was made from. In all seriousness though the Hempholme area does seem to be very up and coming for wildlife – the presence of lots of HLS wet grassland, woodland and shooting cover seems to be generating big returns on wildlife at present.

Really the best bird of the day was a 2w glaucous gull on D res roost – a year first apparently found by Erich and photographed by Martin and on his blog here. A 1w mediterranean gull was another nice bird on O.

Elsewhere the two smew were present – photo here by HVWG:

And on Watton too were egyptian goose, pink-footed goose, c.40 eurasian white-fronted geese. At Struncheonhill were one to two short-eareds, with willow tit D woods, 100 chaffinch in the car park and tawny owl, and three egrets overflying – presumably little.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Easing the walk

As hoped the cattle egret showed brilliantly today down to a few feet to repay those who could not see it earlier.

I believe the bird was picked up at Hempholme Farm area again early doors before birders reported it flying south at about 11:00 - after the start of a local shoots and a later fox hunt on the east bank. The livestock of Easingwold Farm (the first farm outside the main gates of Tophill Low) has always been a hope and sure enough it was picked up here – actually on the mown lawn of the farm house and feeding with the chickens.

The link here shows the location – note the public footpath and please stick to it. It is suggested that viewing is best from the path which subtly skirts the farmyard to the West – please do not enter the yard itself despite what the map suggests. This image I obtained with a phone and binoculars from within Tophill this afternoon – and as you can see this is someone’s private lawn.

For closer up views as available down to a matter of feet see Andy Hood’s excellent photo here.

Big thanks to Reserve Volunteer Richard Sears who knows the Farmer and has contacted him to explain the situation. He is currently OK with it and has said the bird has apparently been there the last 3 afternoons – but as ever – please be respectful to landowners when viewing. Richard mows the lawn for Easingwold Farm which must be why it's there – if you too would like to attract a cattle egret to your lawn visit his website here!

Again – parking is an issue – the road in is a main access for the Treatment Works, farms and residences so we would ask that people park within the reserve and visit the farm on foot. There is no official parking on this road. There are plenty of great birds in the reserve also – short-eared and barn owl have again been seen around Hempholme weir, willow tit in D woods, bittern midday on Watton NR with two smew to name a few today. If you are desperate to avoid a charge there is a small public car park at Wilfholme landing to the south from which you can walk through the mud across the back of Watton NR to the EA hide and subsequently on the prow to Easingwold. However there are only about 5 parking spaces here so expect not to get in.

The bird made a brief circumnavigation of O res mid afternoon before returning to the farm. At last light the bird almost certainly flew over the reserve car park NE - straight back towards Hempholme Farm - we can't see it going far overnight.

The other notable sighting of the day was a near ermine stoat frolicking on the ice of North Marsh for observers today.

Friday, 13 January 2012

The cat’s out the bag

Many apologies for something we do not like doing – but there has been a cattle egret present next door to Tophill Low Nature Reserve since at least the 29th of December – and is undoubtedly Bob Askwith’s bird from Kelk on the 18th and 19th of that month – and the Sunk Island bird from November the 7th.

This is as we can work out about the 10th for Yorkshire and the first readily visible since the Fairburn bird of October 2006.

The reason we have not put this out sooner was at the request of the land-owner because it had only been showing on private farmland and was not visible from Tophill. Whilst visible from the road it is single track and would not support the traffic parked up. Before anyone levels ‘suppressors’ against us – we were not at liberty to disclose this information and create an access issue for private farmers. Prior to this morning the number of Tophill regulars who had seen the bird could be counted on less than one hand (and not me either). At the invite of a local landowner one member of Hull Valley Wildlife Group obtained these pictures yesterday:

Based on the land-owners initial photo:

We had assumed the bird would quickly end up in a publicly viewable area and we could put it out – however it obviously likes it and is apparently feeding most days in a field of sheep near Larum Farm, Hempholme. Since this morning it has come to our attention the bird has been rumbled so we now need to get the news out to avoid potential conflicts over access.

We have tried in the last two weeks to negotiate parking with local farmers unsuccessfully – so at present vehicles are requested to park at Tophill Low NR car park (normal admission applies) or find a sensible and legal location – probably nearer Brandesburton – we have yet to find one to recommend but will keep you posted. Vehicles are requested NOT to park on the verges of the single track road to and from Hempholme village – or in the village/hamlet itself (which is little more than a farm yard). We have been in touch with the land owners, parish councillor and local police to advise that we are publicising the bird with this proviso.

There is nothing to restrict access to the usual rights of way – but again DO NOT enter private farmland or leave the paths – we have been specifically asked to make this be known by the Farmers. The link here shows the usual centre of activity to the south of the village.

Note the public footpath across the fields – we have spoken with the farmer and suggested people will be using this – currently it is ploughed – but please stick to it. They have also asked to point out there is no access to the east bank of the river Hull above Hempholme Lock.

At lunch time today the bird could be viewed from within Tophill in the fields to the east of the river.

Ultimately make a day of it – there are a few good year ticks from the car park to Hempholme – willow tit, goldcrest and kingfisher in D woods, with potentially three species of owl present around Hempholme – like the short-eared’s courtesy of Rory:

And John Hirschfield:

Unfortunately no green-winged teal or greeland white front sightings of late. But the smew and garganey have still been seen on Watton today with egyptian goose and pintail and a 1st winter med gull on O res. Beware too of the pair of little egrets also regularly around Hempholme.

Once again we are very sorry we couldn’t let people know for their ’11 lists – but as you’ll appreciate our hands are tied when on private property.

Enjoy the bird and view it responsibly – if we as birders are seen to be a nuisance we will never hear about future birds that frequent the area also.

Monday, 9 January 2012

Inside and out of the otters

Chances are you may have seen the excellent feature on otters at Tophill Low and the River Hull this evening.

So by means as a bit of background to the story:

Otters in the river Hull

Otters have always been indigenous to the River Hull and Holderness area. Like most populations in England during the 50’s to 80’s they suffered from the widespread use of industrial and agricultural pollution in the form of dieldrin, PCB’s and the like. Canalisation and drainage schemes did not help their cause and the animals became extinct in many river catchments.

At their low ebb the otters in the river Hull had dwindled to handful in the upper reaches – but even in the bad times spraints were still found around Wansford and Brigham. This carries great significance as the Hull otters are genuine East Yorkshire otters. In some areas – such as over the Wolds on the Derwent the population was deemed to be so small that captive reared individuals were released to bolster the population. This has never happened on the river Hull (contrary to some beliefs)and as such they are gentically very valuable.

Gradually the otters have made a return and there are now estimated to be a dozen or so in the Holderness area. Again we have had mutterings that the population is rocketing leading to fears over fish stocks – however otters are extremely territorial animals. A dog will require around ten miles of prime river, and a female around six of lesser habitat. They will not tolerate other individuals or even their own mature young and will fight viciously to protect their territory – often targeting their opponents genitalia to render them ‘useless’. This has been reflected in heavy scarring in some road casualties. According to Jon Traill of the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust casualties have been recovered from Fraisthorpe on the coast and individuals have now been seen on Hull foreshore; reflecting a population expanding outwards.

Meanwhile the hazards of modern life unfortunately claim many otters both on the roads and in illegal eel nets – such as those that claimed what could well have been two of Tophill’s otters at High Eske two years ago.

All in this makes for a stable population – the otters have been well attuned to their environment for thousands of years and will not eat themselves out of their environment – but inevitably there will be occasional conflict when an otter finds an easy and captive meal – like koi ponds and intensive fisheries. There is much information available on how these can be protected. Ultimately it is telling that the winning peg on the EA all River Hull fishing match this summer was won at Hempholme – next to one of the rivers best otter habitats.

Seeing the otters

Those who have put in hours of time have sometimes managed to glimpse these animals at Tophill Low and other reserves like High Eske. Sometimes people are lucky – like those on two of our roost walks this autumn when an otter ran in front of us twice running. But generally it requires a long wait in the hides – North Marsh, South Marsh West / East and Watton have all returned sightings in the last year. But for example the footage in the Youtube video below was the culmination of approximately 40 hours or more of observation!

Much of our understanding has been obtained through the use of a trail camera – these have come down in price massively in the last few years. We have been using a Wildgame IR4 – but there are many others as good or better out there.

One of the interesting notes is the one family of an adult and three cubs in the video have been observed from as far north as Hempholme to as far south as half way along Leven Canal – a huge area.

Some of our quiet and patient photographers have managed pictures – like these outstanding pictures by Andy Marshall:

Tony McLean:

and Rory Selvey to name a few:

Remember – the reserve closes at 6pm nightly – to observe outside these times you need to be a member – details above. If you don’t have a members permit (or have a valid day ticket in the accompaniment of one of our members) you will be asked to leave.

Again please be respectful when viewing – make noise and the otters will simply not show or pass the hides underwater. And they usually only pass once – so if you are noisy the chances are those next to you whom have waited for 5 hours may not be pleased…

In addition to the BBC InsideOut team we would also like to thank the volunteers at Tophill who work both on and off screen to better the habitats. Credit is also due to Jon and Gareth and their team from the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust who helped us with the piece and Andy Walker for his infra-red binos!

The year rolls on

Big thanks again to HVWG who has been keeping a rolling total of the figures over the first week of the year:

By 2nd:
71 Feral Pigeon D wall
72 Kingfisher WNR

By 4th:
73 Garganey WNR
74 Cettis Warbler South Lagoon

By 5th:
75 Canada Goose SME
76 Shelduck SME
77 Fieldfare Top of site

By 6th:
78 Common Buzzard Struncheon (W over WNR 8th)
79 Hen Harrier E of River.
80 Starling Top of site.

By 7th:
81 Iceland Gull D res

By 8th:
82 Lesser Redpoll Nth Lagoon
83 Pink-footed Goose WNR
84 Grey Heron W over WNR
85 Green sandpiper Hempholme

Still no mention of Song Thrush this year.

Birds present yesterday (the 8th) included:
2 smew:

garganey WNR, green winged teal still WNR and O res (same bird). 2 mediterranean gull (1 st wint D then O res, adult D res,) egyptian goose and 2 pintail Watton NR, 20 siskin N Lagoon.

Med gull:

And earlier on the 5th:
O res: 940 herring gull, 8 Scandinavian herring gull.
SME: c150 curlew, 15 canada geese & 1 shelduck.
WNR: Ruff and 3 Blackwit.