Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Tadorna tyranny

A busy month on the reserve both for the wildlife and I!  It has to be said these days we find that the likes of twitter much more instantaneous for getting news out and often supersedes updating the blog as its so much more convenient - if you're not into such technology I would advocate it even if you never 'tweet' yourself; It can be a great source of instant sightings from across East Yorkshire.  Obviously we'll continue to update the blog with the 'best of' as below as often as possible;

In the last post we had concern after the fox attack on the marshes but since then we seem to have had great results.  First off we miscalculated on the herons... it appear they were doing something in the tree tops after all.  In spite of never being seen, pterodactyl like screeches on the first otter walk revealed activity a couple of weeks back.  A tentative check under the trees revealed a nest platform with two (at least) chicks just visible:
This is the first time that grey heron has ever bred at Tophill Low so is great news (although perhaps not for the ducklings which were on the menu at the weekend).  Some debris betraying them here:
Whilst we genuinely didn't realise that they were breeding until a couple of weeks back we have kept them quiet until they've now started jumping around the branches of the tree tops.  We very much want them to be successful as they could represent the start of a colony; which in turn could lead to little egret in future whom often breed within heronries. 
Talking of which whilst they have not bred on the reserve there are now a few post season birds appearing on South Marsh - up to six - Andy Marshall:
 Vegetation growth was a big problem as heat and rain obscured view from the hides over just a couple of days - Andy:
But once cleared they gave outstanding photographic opportunities, generally right under the hide:
Roy Vincent:
Maurice Dowson:
 Being so close we can even see what they are eating - in this case 10 spined stickleback (Roy Vincent):
 And greater diving beetle larvae - perhaps a bit like eating an electric tin opener?! Maurice Dowson:
The nice thing is that this would never have been seen a couple of years ago on this marsh; we did a lot of work improving water quality last spring to try and boost up the aquatic life in here and there is certainly lots in now.  The feeder stream from the lagoons is a constant jet of micro-organisms starting off the food chain - at first glance the bed is covered with sticks and debris; but actually every one is alive - all containing caddis fly larvae:
Some nice pond snails:
And shoals of further sticklebacks:
All this bodes wells for the coming wader season.  We've already started adjusting levels as there's a lot of movement at the moment.  The first common sand appeared the other day and this green sand was here some days back - Pete Drury:
Will Scott:
But at the moment the focus is still on wildfowl.  In the last post we said that garganey looked to hold potential - and indeed they've come up with the goods.  The ducklings seem to have survived well and attained a good size although somewhat elusive - Erich Hediger:
This is undoubtedly 2016's best breeder by far.  Whilst marsh harriers etc are enigmatic garganey are much rarer.  Indeed the BTO estimates suggest there are only around 100 pairs in the UK, making them theoretically 3x as rare as golden eagles in the UK so a really good bird for the reserve.
Red crested pochard is also another 1st for the reserve though perhaps not of celebrated conservation success being classed as feral. One chick was lost but 50% success isn't bad for a duck - The initial 2 - Will Scott:
And the latter 1 - Roy Lyon:
But perhaps the efficiency wise the best have been the shelduck family.  These are pretty much fully  grown and seem to have suffered zero predation.  Normally these are heavily persecuted by everything, but then 'The family' is not as innocent as expected.  These mobsters have intimidated and terrorised their way to success.  The red crested-pochard and a mallard narrowly escaped their attention.  But perhaps the worst atrocity was they cornered a drake gadwall and beat it to death - behaviour we have never witnessed before in this normally placid species.  Its a bit like a gang of wilderbeest beating a zebra to death - it seems to hold no logical function?
Anyhow more drama on North Marsh; The reed warblers are really showy at present up there - with brood one having fledged and very active around the reeds at the end of the hide (Darren Smith):

However at the weekend whilst the male cuckoos have pretty much packed up now, a female was seen flying from this location.  So it would seem quite likely we have a nest parasite embedded  in the second brood.  But for the time being all the action is at the northern side of the hide.  
As ever we have had the usual moans that the kingfishers have abandoned us / been eaten etc.  But you can pretty much set your watch by them - they always arrive in mid June and will depart in late September.  The theory is that the sticklebacks they predate ascend in the water to the oxygenated surface when it gets warm in June.  In  winter they descend into deeper warmer water.  Suffice to say the perches have been readied courtesy of the volunteers:
And the pictures are starting to come in; Chris Bell:
Darren Smith:
Pat Hogarth:

That said every year we try and do something a bit different up there for a new photographic take.  The 'No Fishing' sign was popular a year or two back, and the mooted gnome and fishing rod perch was never enacted.  But for 2016 we've built 'the gallows' a new elevated rustic perch built yesterday and in use simultaneously - Pat Hogarth:
A little further round the corner these characters have been successful too it would seem - currently two chicks in the nest- Mel Ridgers:
And it may appear we've missed another breeder in the reserve as such too.  One of the engineers Steve tells me we have kestrels nesting in the Water Works too, we'll be having a look at later this week.  Off hand I'm not sure on the breeding status of kestrel on the reserve  - suffice to say that they haven't bred since 2008 for sure - so a great result.  However it may account for the lack of sightings of the little ringed plovers which hatched off two chicks in the water works compound but have not been seen lately: 
But there are still at least one more pair on South Marsh East.
Little grebes - at least two pairs - these on South Lagoon by Mel:
And now two chicks on south marsh east.  We've also managed the triple on wagtails - all UK species grey, yellow and pied have bred on the reserve this year.  Loads of tawnies in D woods, common terns on Watton.  Family of wrens by Pat Crofton:
But otherwise the biggest highlight of the last week has been the orchids - many reckon its the finest showing ever - big swathes across O reservoir and many other places:
Marsh orchids have started to subside now, but there are thousands of common spotted:
Nice to see a couple of the ephemeral pyramidal orchids reappear: 
But the popular favourite is always the bee orchid.  These are easy to see on the O res, although there are a 'mere' 30 or so - compared to some 200 a couple of years back- Roy Vincent:
As ever parasitic yellow rattle a great assistance in keeping the grass down and allowing the orchids to come through
And even the woods are looking impressive with the foxgloves (although off limits while next year!):
All these flowers starting to bring on the butterflies although in thin numbers given recent weather - Large skipper by Erich Hediger:
Dragonflies too on the wing - black tailed skimmers - Erich:
Four spotted chaser - Adam Carter:
And great to see the return of confirmed breeding emperors to the reserve - visible over water too.  Adam Carter:
We're only glancing over the subject of insects here.  Far better visit Martin Hodges page here for a full round up of recent discoveries - the moth list has expanded yet again due to the diligence of the moth team. 
A few mammals on the go too - a nice highlight this family of stoats on the access road by Michael Flowers:
And hare by Darren Smith:
Further sightings of water vole and otter up at North Marsh, a few grass snakes about. 
So all in a successful and diverse breeding season on the reserve.  We're now moving into autumn as such so its all eyes on the marshes for wading birds. 
Otherwise the monthly reserve walk this Saturday at 10am.  And on the 9th we have the final otter walk of the season - book places as per the events page above. 


Finally we've had a few folk understandably concerned over the Brexit result of late and what it means for UK wildlife.  The main impact we can see is a more volatile view on the value or obstruction of conservation depending on which parties are in power every five years.  The best we can recommend is to join the many excellent conservation charities out there, whom have the power to lobby government in future when EU designations may no longer apply.  For us we see the main role of the reserve as to inspire people in wildlife - As Mr Attenborough said “No one will protect what they don't care about; and no one will care about what they have never experienced”
So more gris to the mill for our new reception hide project to help people appreciate the spectacle of wildlife on the reserve.  More news on that to follow shortly...

Thursday, 2 June 2016

The ring of spring

The last few weeks have seen the spring wader passage through the reserve.  Likely the highlight were a succession of ringed plovers that started with three on the 8th and hit eight on the 10th, with three remaining to the 15th. 
Possibly coming back early was one on the 29th. 

Five dunlin also dropped by on the 2nd of May.  Its difficult to say whether it was these or a succession that lingered on the Southern Marshes:
A nice ruff arrived on the 8th in near summer plumage. 
The first common sand went through on the 9th, with 3 on the 11th,
A greenshank dropped by on the 8th, with the rarest birds a little stint on the 9th and turnstone on the 10th, and two bar-tailed godwit on the 17th a good bird for inland Tophill.  Redshank also about:
Lapwing by Roy Vincent:

With wader season done we were into the breeding season on the marshes.  Its been a mixed bag this year with winners and losers.  We'll start with the bad first...

Thirteen common tern were present on the 8th, with six sedentary.  It would seem a quieter year for these birds so far when last year we had fourteen nests.  It simply seems its just a poor year for them returning - it'll be interesting to see other sites experiences this year:
They are however using the Watton NR tern rafts which is great news given the number of volunteers sacrificed in the mud whilst repairing and transporting them.
Lesser black backed gulls continued to linger but the bad weather at the beginning of the month seemed to mess up their first nesting attempt, and a second time they also seemed to have abandoned for reasons unknown.  Perhaps much to the relief of the other occupants:
This was mirrored by the little ringed plovers which tried to nest but the snow at the end of April did for their first attempt.  It was not a problem as it was early so attempt number two we hoped would fare better in spite of being size challenged:
Unfortunately they failed after a week.  There were a few reasons in the frame; reports of a stoat cavorting in the area caused alarm, but an inspection revealed an intact nest ruling out egg thieves or predation.  Another possibility was a very heavy thunderstorm that may have flooded the nest.  But the most likely it would seem is some kind of dispute - a volunteer reported a major scrap and fight at the nest site shorty before desertion.  So it would seem the problem is internal.  And these characters - the marsh harrier - never got a look in (Brian Colley):
The same can be said of oystercatchers too.  And this put out looking Egyptian goose was the gooseberry left over from a breeding scrap - the happy pair have moved off somewhere else - Will Scott:
A similar failure to launch has been the grey herons.  Seemingly interested in D woods they showed great promise earlier in the season but the fuss appears to have come to nothing (Stuart Allen):
Tony Simpson
Roy Vincent:
Josh Harrison
A latter blow has been with the black headed gull colony.  Often chastised for being too 'noisy' they are perhaps a victim of their own success and this hasn't gone unnoticed by the wildlife too.  We know foxes are active around the reserve, and we also know that they don't read the books when it comes to swimming.  We first saw this in Jeff Baker's picture from 2013:
And it seems this has not been forgotten.  You may have seen on Tony McLean's flickr stream recently that he has recently captured this image of a fox raiding a goose nest - cleanly swimming over the 'fox trench' to keep them off:
Unfortunately it would seem they have also managed to learn how to clear our electric fences including those stood in water.  We know otters will take birds - we have the trail camera footage of them taking herring gulls off the water; But it seems they have a clear code of conduct - if it swims its fair game - if it doesn't they're not interested.  And again it seems true with no predation of the 140 black headed gull nests attributable to otter.  However the fox has predated around half of these we reckon in recent weeks - a trip onto the marsh revealed a perpetrator print beyond the electric fence:
So its back to the drawing board for an even more intricate fence system next year.  We're reticent to use lethal force as foxes are native and would quickly be replaced so its a deterrent for us.  We've enough on controlling north American mink with another removed a couple of weeks ago.  And we're sure there'll still be plenty of black-headed's that'll survive this year at any rate. 

So with the negatives out the way we shall look at the positives:

Tawny owl have fared well with four nests across the northern reserve.  The adults have been keeping an ever watchful eye from the tree tops - also giving some great photo ops - Alan Walkington:
Brian Colley:
Roy Vincent:
And just in the last few days Brian captured this first image of a chick - so lots of good views yet to come:
Great to have grasshopper warbler back on the reserve again in early summer.  A second bird was reeling at the southern site at the beginning of the month.  We can expect more in mid June for brood two.  Loads of warblers about generally - reed warbler Will Scott:
Brian Colley:
 Roy Vincent:
Blackcap Paul Lyons
Sedge Warbler - Roy Vincent:
And needless to say cetti's everywhere, and the odd garden warbler too.  Cuckoo will be gearing up for round two in coming days also.  Wagtails have been quite enjoyable this season - the typical pied's present - Will Scott:
Grey wagtails have been a great success - the first birds to have bred on the reserve for a few years.  Brian Colley:
And yellow wagtail too - likely two pairs on the approach road:
There are few good birds on the road in at the moment - skylark on the muck heap is a regular:
But also further up towards Watton opposite the free range chicken farm is a field sprayed off for black grass; And this has been covered with breeding lapwing with seemingly some good sized broods coming off.  Also corn bunting and yellow hammer around on the road too.  Lots hirundines about too - Will Scott:
Leading to their shadow the hobby - Will Scott:
An encouraging sign that they are in the area.  Likewise one of the best birds of the season.  We've had a pair of drake garganey on the marshes for some time - suggesting a female/s tucked away safely:

Perhaps of lesser provenance but a rare breeder for round here have been red crested pochard - the first time ever documented on the reserve:
And likewise shelduck doing well - a brood of seven present for some days.  So foxes aside those able to swim are successful.  Hopefully plenty more waiting in the wings of shoveler, shelduck, pochard etc.  And of course the commoner species in spite of the fights - Greylags - Paul Lyons:
And Coots:
Brian Colley:
And perhaps these will come up with the goods - Great crested grebes - Brian Colley:

Meanwhile these characters doing well - Marsh Frog - Vaughan Grantham:
And these to keep them in check - Roy Vincent:
Bit more scrapping too from the roe deer - height of the rut for them - Paul Lyons:
 In the woodlands great spotted woodpecker on the feeders - Paul Lyons:
So in summary - 2016 has been a mixed up spring; But the winners would seem to be wildfowl this year.  Make the most of the summer season as we've already had the first green sandpiper through of the autumn passage!. 
To do this why not pop along to one of our events in the next couple of weeks;
This Saturday the 4th we have the reserve walk at 10am to take in the best of the seasonal wildlife.  Free drop in guided walk with standard admission. 
On the 11th we still have a few places left on our otter walk - strictly book in advance all details are above on the events page
And on the 12th at 10am as a follow up to National Moth night Martin will be holding a short tour through the moth trap - explaining what's on the wing at the moment (subject to some warmer weather making a good catch!).  Again free with standard admission.