Thursday, 19 December 2013

Icey but no winter yet...

Perhaps finishing off the year with a final flourish was another new species for it - 2nd winter Iceland gull on the D reservoir on the 14th of December found by Martin as ever - all the details listed here.  Mediterranean gulls were recorded on the 14th and 15th too.  We wouldn't say no to an ivory though like the one currently residing in its personal fishmongers store at Patrington Haven - all the details on the Yorkshire Birders page.  Perhaps the work of our peregrine may tempt one down:
We knew there had been a victim on the basis of the immense melee over the northern end of the reserve last Thursday.  Turns out this black headed gull found on the mammal safari in Hempholme Meadow was the unfortunate. 

Otherwise regrettably we're still waiting for winter to come in earnest in the form of smew and bittern.  A few woodcock can occasionally be encountered around the reserve, and the female scaup was still present over the weekend, with otter, marsh and willow tit, water rails in South Marsh West, and up to six redshank (one nearly taken out by the sparrowhawk on Saturday which is regularly hunting the area perhaps having had several hearty meals of jack snipe in recent weeks from there) and up to four little egret seen. 

We have managed one new tick though; the first grazers to return to South Scrub for 60 years in the form of two belted and one white Galloway cattle gratefully on loan again from Edward and Nicola at Beswick Hall Farms:
They are there to try and prevent the onward march of hawthorn scrub by winter grazing the habitat prior to growing season and seem to be doing a great job tucking into rank areas already.  They're a hardy breed and can cope well with the conditions - not to say they don't have some luxuries - in case you wondered what became of the car park bathtub! - thanks to the volunteers and the Bishop Burton team for rigging up the water supply:
One of our volunteers taking good care of them - some would say very good (knowing the contents of his chest freezer...):
Barn owl seems to be permanently mounted in the corner of Watton NR at the moment and this buzzard was upsetting the teal last week:
Otherwise we're making the most of the lull to get those all important maintenance jobs done - Ben getting stuck in to digging out the sump pond:
Work on the otter holt continues apace with tree cutting all but complete and just plenty of filthy digging to do to finish. 

Remember the reserve is open every day 9am to 6pm in case you want to escape the relatives or burn off those calories, and as ever we'll be holding the 'year listing' event on the 1st of January; trying to get the maximum bird list together for a day - usually 60-70 species. We'll have two guided walks going out at 10am and 1:30pm - free with standard admission.

Otherwise have a great festive season and thanks for following developments on the reserve over the last year - the highlight which must have been these guys for 2013 (Tony McLean pic):

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Cracking on

We've been pretty lucky at Tophill given the terrible scenes at many of the Humber Reserve's in recent days - check out Tim's Birding blog and Dave Tucker's blog for some of the effects on Spurn.  Whilst tidal the river Hull next to us is so low at present the lowering of the flood barrier saw no surge of Humber water or back up of water.  That's not to say we got off scott free; the winds of Thursday were very strong with colossal waves breaking over the D res wall (some great pictures on Erich's blog).  A few trees were damaged in the woodlands including this poplar whose top blew out and had to felled as it perilously hung over the path:
Its days are far from over however.  The stumps left make the habitat needed for nesting willow tits, the large bough we have left will house some interesting fungi in the years to come and the brash home to wrens.  The gaps we'll refill with some nice understorey species in future.  The wind saw off the last autumn colour (Brian Colley):
Blue tit on the feeders - Roy Vincent:
It's always a hope we get something interesting in off the back of strong winds and the 'Viking gull' - or herring x glaucous gull found by Martin Hodges caused some interest on Thursday evening.  A couple of mediterranean gulls were present last night.  Perhaps the highlight bird of the last week has been the female scaup which has been quite confiding on D res including today - pictures by Karen Williams:
Goldeneye numbers have climbed ten fold since last week but we're still looking for the smew.  Otherwise willow tit, marsh tit, brambling, up to 200 linnet, 60 curlew, water rails and a couple of kestrels have all been regular (Karen Williams):
Mute Swan fly over (Brian):
Meanwhile work continues apace on the otter holt project - Thanks to Roy Vincent for the photo log.  End of work on day one:
Pollarding bankside willows:
And delivering the pipes:
We then received our visit by Building Control; Otter came for a progress inspection prior to last Sunday's start:
And the mother and cub were seen three times yesterday morning:
Footings going in ready for the walls - the build is better than most houses!:
If you want to join us to track the otters down then why not join us on next Sunday's mammal safari event.  We'll be looking for tracks and trails of otters, deer and looking at how to use trail cameras amongst other hints and tips.  Book in advance on 01377 270690.

Friday, 29 November 2013

A temporary holt

If you go up to North Marsh you may be in for a surprise...

If you popped through to the last reserve meeting you'll have heard the plans for a new otter holt on the Western shore. We've built a few holts over the years including the recycled plastic types:
And home brewed out of old pet carriers (and home to the female and two cubs this year):
Unfortunately the oldest holt on the site built by Peter Izzard 15 years ago from logs has finally rotted and subsided. We've had a good inspection of the structure with a remote camera and there are only rabbits to be found so we were happy we could work around it safe in the knowledge there were no breeding otters.

The plan is to construct a new permanent pipe and chamber holt here from recycled building materials.  We have a number of concrete blocks and a large metal cover which we plan to use as a chamber, along with these large gauge plastic pipes left over from the recent river Hull tunnelling project:
As these off cuts are open to vermin and the like they can no longer be used as water mains - therefore their future was chipping and recycling until we scavenged them.  There are even plans for insulation as seeing as we have some of that left too!  All the work is being carried out by the Tophill volunteers who have already been doing sterling work.

The principle of the structure is to provide a natal (breeding) holt that is reliably above winter floodwaters.  The displaced mother and cub seen in the floodwaters a year ago demonstrated that many waterside holts were lost to them - this one should always be a reliable refuge and one that needs no maintenance from us in future. The position is adjacent to the 90's holt on the Western side of the North Marsh - and the plan is to provide excellent views from the hide of 'dressed entrances' under photogenic tree stumps from which the otter will (hopefully!) emerge (photo Chris Bell).
Clearly this is going to create some disturbance for which we apologise - we've timed the works to wait until after kingfisher season.  Another unseen threat has been the creep of willows into the marsh; we've lost around 30feet of marsh all along this edge to largely sterile 'mangroving' where branches hit the water and start growing again leaving a dead understory.  We've already done a lot of work cutting willows from the marsh in the last two winters further up and it is adjacent to one of these spots where the second pair of harriers bred this year - so we know the work delivers results - in this case a much wider marsh with more reedbed and more opportunity for bittern and rails and putting some distance between the kingfishers and the sparrowhawks watching from the woods:
So expect a change of scene on North Marsh - it may look brutal this winter - but trust us we've done this before!:
From Sgt Major wood...

To Hempholme Meadow...

South Marsh East excavations...
To avocets (Alan Walkington) and little ringed plovers
D woodlands...

To the new pond to name but a few...
So bear with us and embrace the change!

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

A 'fare wind doth blow

At last some whisperings that the season is changing and with it some of the bird life too.  Its undoubtedly been steady for the last month - but then reports everywhere else seem to be the same; Westerly winds have been somewhat sterile but a swing to the north has started to blow in the fieldfares since last Wednesday.  Thanks to Roy Lyon for all pictures:
Other seasonal arrivals have included more bramblings - a group feeding in the car park leaf litter on Sunday, with 9 woodcock flushed from around the reserve on Saturday.  Only 4 goldeneye on the D reservoir however would suggest we are still some way from a smew.  Dunlin seen by Michael Flowers over the res was an unseasonal find (details on his blog), whereas regular redshank and 43+ curlew around the southern reserve are typical of the time of year.  Roosting on the South Marsh West they are joined by thousands of jackdaws and rooks which communally roost in D woods at this time:
With the usual gull numbers on the D:
A small group of whooper swans keep dropping in but this female scaup is likely the best bird of the minute on the D - found by Roy and Erich and more info on his blog:
There were two cetti's warblers on the Southern Marshes today with a marsh harrier south and a late chiffchaff.  And the white buzzard continues to fox people! one of its less gaudy cousins here:
Talking of weird birds of prey we have had a sighting of a lanner/peregrine cross with falconry jesses at Hempholme a couple of weeks back - turns out it escaped on Beverley Westwood five weeks prior, and had been seen at Wawne and Leven Carrs in between.  If you see it let us know and we'll forward the info on to the owner.
Meanwhile the volunteer team and Bishop Burton Students have been preparing for more new arrivals - penning area on the southern site ready for the arrival of 3 Beswick Hall belted Galloway cattle in coming days:

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Rudding enthusiasts

The succession of westerly winds seem to have made for an unremarkable end to autumn with only limited numbers of geese and very few small birds present.  We just about scraped the stars together for the winter thrush walk over the weekend, but none were abundant like last years locust like experience in South Scrub.  It falls to the old faithful to be the stars of the week - thanks to Steve Hines for these of the otters in North Marsh:
Darren Smith also got these belters:
Rudd? - no doubt I'll be corrected if not!:
We'll be looking at tracks and field signs on the mammal safari event on the 15th of December - book in advance on 01377 270690 - more details on the events page.
Jack snipe on Watton with three commons on the 9th was nice by Dave Ware. 
Both Marsh and Willow tit have been seen in the D woods around the feeders.
Water rail on South Marsh West
Greens sandpiper on the 9th
3 Cetti's warblers on the South Marsh East (great write up on Steve's blog here) on the 9th.
2 Whoopers on Watton on the 13th and O res on the 17th
Marsh harrier on the 15th
100 brambling seen by Hull RSPB group on the 17th on Watton Carrs
12 linnets 17th
And a single drake pintail on the 17th on D and Watton.

Even if the bird life is steady there's always plenty to see if you look hard enough. Thanks to Doug Fairweather Ascobolus stercorarius - growing on rabbit droppings:
And a pin mould sp. growing on walnut shells:
Loads more great shots on Martin's site as ever here.