Saturday, 19 December 2015

White Chistmas cancelled

This could be a reference to the mild weather - the closest we'll get to a white covering is the brambles which have come back for a second flowering:
And hawthorn has put on some good growth in the last month!: 
But namely it wont be white on Watton Carrs because our celebrity white buzzard was found out of sorts on the access road last week.  This fine beast has been the source of many arguments and mis-identifications over the years and without it the number of 'osprey' and 'rough legged buzzard' will nose dive...  As such it needed sorting out so we ran it up to Jean at Ryedale Wildlife Rescue whom as ever provided a brilliant A&E service with the appreciated assistance of Battleflatts Veterinary practice at Stamford Bridge:
As a matter of course it was checked over - we always regard this individual as so recognisable it is a useful barometer when there are so many reports of persecution elsewhere - the fact it is still on the go after so many years reflects positively on our neighbouring shoots and keepers, and happily to say there was no evidence of foul play.  A swollen foot and a bit of an infection suggested a minor RTA or flight collision and by the following morning it was merrily wolfing down breakfast:
As such we hope it can be released back out on the site in coming days to confound reserve visitors for years to come!

As result of the mild weather everything seems somewhat slow on the wildfowl front and the likelihood of a smew being dislodged seems remote at present.  That said there have been a few interesting gulls on the wild waters of the reservoirs:
Martin has been putting the hours in and found a few nuggets.  A big build up of herring gull in late November to around record levels carried in a third caspian gull on the 26th and perhaps every other night yellow legged and mediterranean gulls have been present with a lingering lesser black backed.  The goosander roost is on the reservoirs but not until the light has near disappeared and presumably the two in the last post are those that have been reported regularly subsequently.  A reported razorbill was never picked up again.  White is also out of vogue at present on O reservoir where a nightmare for any larid lover has taken place.  Otters have been known to utilise the steps in and out of the res for a few years and picking this one up on the new round of otter surveying was not out of the ordinary:
However what was the following morning were the amassed corvids present:
Shortly followed by the removal of a well picked over remains of a black headed gull: 
We know that otters do take birds erratically but gull predation is a new one on us.  That said it'll need to polish a few more off if it to make a serious in road.  And it seems to only visit every few nights as per the following trigger:
Whilst there have been no further sightings of the three otter youngsters there have been sightings of lone otters in Hempholme lock, O reservoir and on North Marsh - capturing an otter 'for real' is a different proposition but Bruce Pillinger managed this great picture:
Much appreciated by fishermen of all forms was the release of stock for the river Hull by the Environment Agency last week:
Big numbers of dace and bream going in under the lock:
As ever most of the whooper records stem from late November and sightings dissipate subsequently with last group of 7 on the 26th.  Seemingly left behind was this immature often present on South Marsh East - Michael Flowers:
Tony Robinson:
Showing immaturity too was an immature peregrine falcon giving excellent views as its acrobatic abilities exceeded its patience on the December reserve walk.  It is erratically successful however with the remains of this lapwing presumably attributable:
Whilst undertaking reserve management on the north scrub we kicked out a common snipe and a jack snipe was attributed when our chainsaw man described "a small wader with yellow stripes that flew off under my feet - not knowing it was there I'd have taken its head off on the next sweep!" - a vintage jack snipe description.  The purpose of our labours was on one of the few 'outer' reserve tasks this winter (inkeeping with the 'bedding in' of last winters large scale projects) to remove the thousands of small hawthorn, willow and ash saplings from the important grasslands exposed by the removal of big trees last year and galloway grazing.  A painstaking finger tip search which will hopefully pay off:
The cattle have now left south scrub and the reserve for winter - but will return again as soon as the grass starts growing next season. Rail's creeping about as ever but seldom out in the open without the ice - Darren Smith getting lucky:
The leave it alone policy seems to have worked well with marsh harriers continuing to overwinter mainly around the South Marsh - Michael Flowers:
Michael also had a tentative look for former favourites the woodcock at the back of the old wildlife centre. Whilst the building has changed the habits have not and indeed there are still two woodcock present.  Feel free to view but please do so only from the gateway - do not enter the meadow:
Incidentally we now have copies of Michael's birdwatching calendar available at £8 available from the reserve office - a great guide to seasonality in East Yorkshire. 
Michael's also casting for new students on his introductory birdwatching courses which run on a choice of weekdays and mornings / afternoons across East Yorkshire.  They're perfect if you're new to birdwatching or fancy learning about wildlife in a low pressure friendly atmosphere - or indeed just want to see a lot of East Yorkshire you never new existed.  All the details are on Michael's website here.

Another plug as well - Gayna Wallis has been one of our members for a long time and in another pursuit has recently compiled a history of RAF Carnaby nearby - a great read and Christmas present all the proceeds are going towards a permanent memorial for the airmen at the former airfield:
Copies are available again at the reserve office also priced £8.

Otherwise welcome sightings have included raven again on the 3rd of December, cetti's prolific on the southern site and some big thrush flocks on the road in.  A few pink feet have been over but again most have now gone through south to the beet fields of Anglia, and a pair of grey partridge on the road was a welcome though increasingly uncommon sight - and little owl was as ever keeping its distance from the reserve at Angram Farm recently.

Less welcome was the 6th american mink to be removed since September - video'd on trail camera in happier times the week prior:
We removed 13 last winter in what is the worst spate in 15 years since trapping started on the river Hull.  The only reason we have water voles at Tophill is because of this window; if we stopped they'd be gone within the year.  The big problem is apathy after mink were nearly eradicated from the upper reaches around 2010.  A lack of catches meant interest wained and the mink have exploited this to resurge in a big way across the river valley. 

Again - we do still have a number of mink rafts we can pass on.  If you are responsible for a section of river or know someone that is, and you can check on a raft and trap daily (even if its only two or three days in succession a week) we'd love to hear from you on the addresses above as at the moment Tophill's native wildlife is under mink siege.

However a brighter glimmer in that you may recall we a had a lesser spotted woodpecker sighting reported a couple of months ago.  We've since had a further two reports including on the fat feeder in the woods.  So a challenge for all you photographers is to nail it once and for all.

Meanwhile the reserve will be open every day including Christmas so if you'd rather avoid the in-laws and seek out another velvet scoter like last year get stuck in. And of course there are the spectacular Tophill Low Christmas illuminations to admire courtesy of Duncan and the guys in the Works:
Otherwise we'll be looking to pick up the events programme for 2016 again after a 2015 hiatus due to all the big works last winter - so look out for an array of otter evenings and others upcoming. But first off as is tradition there will be the New Year's day 'year listing event'. Either get your 2016 list off to a racing start or just freshen off the night before there'll be two drop in walks at 10am and 1pm with the emphasis being upon finding as many bird species as possible. It'll be a tough one as last year we hit a record 73 which will take some surpassing. 

Merry Christmas

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

A big rave up

Best birds since the last post have been the ravens which overflew Watton NR on the 12th of November.  Spotted by Lee Johnson these are a big rarity for Tophill Low and even better he managed to also preserve the moment on the camera (along with the belittled jackdaws):
Ravens are occasionally seen east of the Pennines and will hopefully go the way of buzzards in future years. 

Putting an appearance in Watton also since the 7th of November has been a spotted redshank amongst up to 10 common.  It was still on at the weekend and is perhaps the longest staying since the D res was drained back in 2007.  Other winter waders have included green sandpiper and dunlin.  We attribute this to the cattle from Easingwold grazing the reserve for the first time; they've made a real difference and taken the vegetation right down and opened the habitat up a lot.  The curlew and wildfowl clearly seem a lot more comfortable feeding around the seasonal ponds - presumably as the open vistas mean this character is more visible - Brian Colley:
Brian also captured these images of whoopers dropping in.  A lot have been in the county recently and we've been attracting groups of up to 13 since the 7th also:
There was a big movement of pink footed geese last week with 100 birds on the Watton pits and stragglers in and amongst the greylags.  4 pintail were also present recently - a drake by Brian here too:
Thanks to Francis Bell too for these images of the first goosanders of the year on the 16th:
A scaup was present on the 11th.  Another nice seasonal delight was a short eared owl on the 19th on Watton.  We really ought to get a stake out at Hempholme pump house and see if their active over Standingholme or Hallytreeholme as in the vintage 2011.  Siskins are generally reliable enough around the alders of the lagoons but the several lesser redpoll amongst them are always nice to liven things up.  Kingfishers are still on the North Marsh for those patient - Christine Watts:
Neil Murray:
And a festive Robin:
Otherwise our notorious gull botherer has returned from warmer climes and as such the species and numbers have multiplied rapidly.  Whilst present virtually every night Med gulls reached an all time high of 6 birds on the 18th, and yellow legs are near nightly.  Whilst the northerlies did not yield us a white winger of little auk we have had two consecutive Caspian gulls on the last two nights - a belting make this evening.  No doubt the details to follow on Martin's site here.  Otherwise a big build up of goldeneye recently:
Whilst we may be in the depths of winter there are still young about.  It would appear from Steve Hine's pictures and reports we can celebrate the recent birth of three otter cubs on the reserve - photographed on North Marsh last week:
We also caught a water vole (unharmed) in our mink traps today - so good to know these are still on the go after the recent capture of 3 American Mink.  And good news too was that one of our long term volunteers Dave Ware recently picked up 'Student of the Year' at his graduation from Bishop Burton recently - a great accolade and recognition of a lot of hard work put in both in study and helping on the reserve: