Saturday, 1 August 2015

Muddying the waters

As hectic as the marshes were a month ago its nearly all quiet on the tern front.  Of the fourteen pairs that bred this summer we guess the early contingent may well be sunning themselves in Africa by now - Brian Colley:
There appears to be just one youngster left - and its parents were dropping very obvious hints this morning by bring tasty fish in and then scoffing them in front of it:
Masses of lapwings down on the marsh at present - some 280 being a consistent figure over the last weeks.  Of interest to note was the traditional starling present with them:
I don't know if there is any scientific basis in my own personal observations over several years that every sizeable lapwing flock appears to hold a starling amongst its number much like a ceremonial goat.  Next time you see a big flock of lapwing flying overhead have a look for the small mascot invariably present.

Of other small but notable birds the little ringed plovers appear to have departed now.  The general consensus seems to be that they got off at least two chicks, one seems to have been predated - but there is some sketchiness around a third.  At any rate they have had their best year on the reserve in 7 at Tophill so a good result.  The lowered levels on the marsh have been starting to pull birds in with snipe amongst the feeders;
And best yet was this cracking knot in full plumage - a ruff was present at the same time - photo by Luke Rothery:
However a bit different was a bittern last week by John Leason - an unseasonable bird on the marsh and perhaps a hope that it is exploiting the newly resurgent stickleback populous in the marsh. 

However the shine has been somewhat taken off the marshes by the lagoons which sounds odd after 10 years of being a duck habitat.  All the habitat works of winter are now starting to pay dividends.  Initially it was the piscivores that were the big attraction.  Present in numbers of up to 3 have been grey heron:
And up to 8 little egret knocking on the door of the site maxima of 12:
These have undoubtedly been the show stealers giving some great photographic opportunities.  We get a bit blas√© about kingfishers but these are on the lagoons most times too for those that can't stomach the walk up to North Marsh:
But what we're really aiming at is that rich mud favoured by passage wading birds.  Those whom aren't of certain years wont be sure what the fuss is about, but the lagoons were traditionally the habitat at Tophill and perhaps fair to say the best place for close in views of wading birds in Yorkshire in their prime, allowing photographs of spotted redshank, ruff, curlew sandpipers and even long billed dowitcher and lesser yellowlegs at point blank range.  Perhaps most notable were the huge roosts of green sandpiper with up to 45 present on a night.  To be fair these days are perhaps a thing of the past as populations have all decreased whereas there are many more options for habitat these days.  But the option had been removed because of the sludge build up in the habitat meaning we couldn't expose all that juicy mud since 2007.  Now its back we've seen a build up in numbers - promised north easterlies last week delivered the grim weather but not the mass influx we or others were hoping for - but it seems some birds are filtering down - three green sandpipers being consistent over the last three days:
Two common sandpiper:
Nice flight shot by Andy Marshall:
Two ruff there this morning:
Dunlin, greenshank, redshank, grey wagtail and a smart juvenile water rail have all been on the habitat in the last three days too.  August is the best month for waders on the reserve - so hopefully that's the start of things to come - and best of all its only 100yds amble from the car park.  However still a few breeders about - mute swans - Brian Colley:
And wrens are just fledging from the car park building - Brian:
Incidentally keep checking the flickr feed on the right of this page for the most recent photos - we're currently suffering issues in that it won't preview the most recent images on here, but if you click there are some cracking shots from the likes of Tony McLean, Alan Walkington, Jeff Barker and others on there.  Also recent updates on Erich's page too here:

However the best of it is that this is not the only wader habitat on site; Hempholme Meadows holds its waders quietly in the background.  The whole area was topped and baled in the week so the hollows and scrapes are now exposed.  That said plenty of finishing off to do with the volunteers - everyone drafted in - even belted Galloways:
Raking up arising's - Dentists don't have the best of profiles in conservation this week; but our two ex's doing sterling work behind Lukas so they're not all bad!:
Hempholme has seen counts of up to 10 greenshank, 12 little egret and spotted redshank, ruff, green sands and others in recent years so well worth a look too in the next month or two.  Without this hard work we would lose a lot of the important wildflowers around the reserve - the orchids may have gone over but there are others to look at beyond the fleabane - cracking stand of melilot much favoured by turtle doves on SMW:
Sneezewort in South Scrub:
Favoured by such as the comma's just emerging:
Umbellifers like greater water parsnip flourishing:
And home to beasties like the black and yellow longhorn beetle:
All enjoyed by characters like these hummingbird hawkmoths on the buddleias in the car park - another in full view this morning:
A not so lucky ringlet by Brian Colley:
Black tailed skimmer also by Brian:
Make the most of Martin's esticadinho nature page before jealously takes over and we get reports of exotica in warmer climes here.  As detailed Doug and Martin have now achieved a landmark 600 species of moth recorded on Tophill Low since 1992 -  a great achievement indeed. 

Another nice plant was uncovered on Watton Nature Reserve - creeping jenny:
One may question why we were wandering around Watton Nature Reserve - and as eluded to in the last blog posting it was to have a look around with the new management.
After a great deal of uncertainty over the last three years the reserve is secure again.  For those new to the background Watton Nature Reserve is not part of Tophill Low but was owned by the Environment Agency and run with the assistance of Hull Valley Wildlife Group and Tophill Volunteers over 20 years.  Three years ago the site was put on the open market prompted by government funding cuts meaning any 'non operational' assets needed to be offloaded.  This caused great concern as initially there were no assurances given to its status.  Many members of the Tophill community showed a great concern and were keen to secure the future of the site - even offering substantial sums of personal money to 'group buy' the reserve.  Years of monitoring collated by Tophill Volunteers helped attain the reserve Local Wildlife Site status with the support of East Riding's biodiversity team.  A factor that was very important as it emerged during the lengthy sales process that a development may have been on the cards at one point - but fortunately the covenants and designations were robust enough to withstand it.  Whilst we would have liked to buy and add it to the Yorkshire Water site we need to justify such decisions widely and it cannot be an aspiration to own all land - in the same way that many National conservation charities have moved away from this and more into influence.  But that is all history - the new buyer comes with our blessing as the best outcome for the reserve.  But certainly much thanks can be credited to a number of individuals who know who they are, whose actions or offers are greatly appreciated by myself.

The reserve is now owned by Chris Saunders who has a long history in the area.  Chris's previous generations actually owned the former Tophill Low farm before it was compulsory purchased for the Water Works in the 1950's.  Chris already owns the neighbouring Easingwold Farm which holds a large chunk of the only remaining area of original Hull Valley Carr land left as well as the 'Horse Fields' of Wilfhome - favoured by vast numbers of winter thrushes and golden plover.  Watton was compulsory purchased from the farm in 1990 and turned into the current pits - so Chris was always keen to reunite the holdings if the opportunity arose.  After a great deal of negotiation this came to fruition a couple of weeks back - we've been in talks with Chris for a long while and are pleased its come to fruition.   

So what now?
Those worrying about the development of the reserve can expect... what we had before.  Chris's intention is to run the reserve as a nature reserve and work with ourselves and folk like Roy Lyon whom were instrumental over many years in its management to maintaining the site.  There wont be any fishing, shooting or other activities detrimental to the wildlife;  Like the rest of Tophill work will now centre on halting succession as hawthorn is already marching across much of the grasslands.  The intention broadly speaking is to retain the pits with a fringe of open grassland and an outer border of hawthorn and shelterbelt.  To do this - as is our current practice we plan to let loose cattle and grazing stock from the neighbouring farm at Easingwold in a partnership with Mark across there.  Hopefully this will support stewardship applications to improve the farmland habitat around Tophill Low and benefit neighbours and the wildlife alike - so a great outcome. 

Perhaps the only change is on access to the hide at the south west of the pits - this was formerly public access but will now become private with access for volunteers helping to manage the reserve only due to the issues around insurance and safety - although obviously the prow behind remains unaltered. 

So a cracking result all round - Lagoons, Marshes and Watton Nature Reserve all sorted this summer - a red letter season it would seem and after uncertainty a bright new future on all.  Now did someone mention new reception hides?...