Friday 22 December 2023

Winners of the 2023 Tophill Low photography competition

 Winners announced

The judges have spent the morning deliberating over the many fantastic entries in our annual photography competition, so we are able to announce our winners for each category. Well done to all the winners and to those that have received highly commended. A big thank you to everyone who has taken part this year.


Winner - John Lanthorp. 

The judges loved the colours in this entry, not only of the bee orchids but in the diversity of the meadow that they are in. The way the photograph has been framed is very clear and yet shows an idea of movement within the meadow.

Highly Commended - Pat Hogarth for her photograph of some antler fungus, a quirky subject matter showing the patterns in the individual specimens and the pattern of them as a whole.

Highly Commended - Kingsmill student for her photograph of some newly emerged catkins and the detail of a single raindrop that she had noticed and capture.


Winner - Pat Hoggarth.

The composition of capturing the two birds together that are interacting with each other was the thing that impressed the judges in this category. One of our iconic wildlife species on the reserve, it was great to see some behaviour shots, this being the best one.

Highly Commended - Rose Habberly has taken a nicely composed photograph and the judges liked the bokeh effect which has the subject cleared focused and the surrounding background less so yet still distinguishable.

Highly Commended - Colin Spruce. The judges liked the activity of the shot, the bird is doing something different in displaying its wings and does look quite comical which they liked.


Winner - Colin Spruce

This great photograph of a Tawny owl was chosen as it has been brilliantly framed by the surrounding vegetation, a difficult thing to achieve when most views of Tawny owl are very brief. The photographer has done well to capture this crips image and have the bird looking directly at the lens.

Highly Commended - Pat Hogarth for her photograph of a young blue tit. The judges liked the fact that this was a commoner species yet shows the detail of its plumage in a beautiful composition.

Highly Commended - Pat Hogarth's Cetti's warbler, a difficult species to view let alone photograph showed the beautiful plumage of this very secretive species.


Winner - John Lanthorp

John's landscape photograph really caught the judges' eye as it caught the reflections of the fantastic autumn colours in a photograph that has great composition and great symmetry.

Highly Commended - Martin Stevens, this is one of the reserve's volunteers has taken a great view of Hempholme meadow whilst working in that area, capturing the atmosphere of the flooded meadow.


Winner - Neil Carson

The judges really liked this photograph of a shield bug which appears to have alien like features and captures the imagination, giving the bug energy and a sense of fun whilst focusing in on the delicate features of this special invertebrate. 

Highly Commended - Pat Hogarth. All three photographs that have been awarded "Highly Commended" are of dragonflies. The first shows the different life cycle stages of a four spot chaser as it emerges up the stems of some horsetail. The judges liked this aspect of the photograph.

Highly Commended - Alan Gray's photograph is of a broad bodied chaser and shows great attention to detail of the wings which the judges liked.

Highly Commended - Neil Cason. The clarity of this photograph of a southern hawker impressed the judges, particularly how Neil had shown the detail of the insect's eyes.


Winner - Pat Hogarth. 

Pat's photograph of a group of tufted ducks reflects a brief moment in time that we often see as we observe wildlife but very rarely capture. The ducks all seem to be looking at the photographer as if questioning her presence in their world as they appear to be "coming out of the picture". A great composition.

Highly Commended - Dave Ruffles. This photograph of the rare winter visitor, the red necked grebe works very well against a what appears to be a cold, grey background, typical of a winter's day.

Highly Commended - Geraldine Gray's capturing of a pair of Teal in the activity of preening highlights the colourful and delicate plumage of our smallest breeding duck.

Young photographer

All the entries for this category were submitted by the group of students that regularly come to volunteer for their Duke of Edinburgh award to help out with habitat management. They spent the morning looking at different aspects of the vegetation and landscape and capturing the shapes and colours around the reception hide.

The winner and highly commended entries cannot be named as they are students under 18 but congratulations to all of them for their fantastic photos and efforts.

Wading bird

Winner - Colin Spruce.

The judges were really impressed with the composition of Colin's photograph, the colours, the reflections and the fact that it encapsulates the bird's natural behaviour without disturbance.

Highly Commended - Unfortunately these photographs that have been selected by the judges were not named so we are unable to congratulate them, hopefully they will see that they have been successful.


Winner - Rose Habberley. 

Rose's photograph of a marsh frog crawling up and maybe over the log asks the question "Where is it going? Will it get to the top?" The judges liked the split of the photo, the log, the frog and the vegetation are all given the same amount of space, neither taking over the photo. All these aspects together with the colours were what the judges were taken with.

Highly Commended - Pat Hogarth. Pat has captured a beautiful autumn day in this photograph of two hares in the surrounding field. 

A fantastic display of all this year's entries is open throughout the festive season till 7th January. We are asking for each visitor to vote for their favourite photograph of the whole competition. The winner of this public vote will see their photo on the membership card for the next season 2023/2024 which starts at the beginning of April.

Wednesday 29 November 2023

Annual Tophill Low photography competition

Cameras at the ready.....

This Friday, 1st December from 12pm until 12pm on 12th December entries will be welcomed from visitors and members alike to our annual photography competition. This has been reinstated following the many closures and Covid restrictions over the last few years and it's great to be back!

So whether you've taken a brilliant image of a kingfisher, a bee orchid, a marsh frog or the fantastic landscape of the reserve then enter your photos in the competition for a chance of winning a year's annual membership and possibly your photo on the membership card for the year, 2024/2025

There are several categories and with any competition a few rules of entry but all is detailed below. The photographs will be on display in The Holt from Saturday 16th December until 7th January, allowing visitors a chance to view some of the many images that are taken on the reserve throughout the year.  The winners will be announced on 22nd December and the winner of the visitor's choice will be announced on 3rd January and will become the new photo for our membership card for 2024/25.

Please read the details of entry below before you submit your entry to one of the wardens.

Tophill Low Nature Reserve

Wildlife Photography Exhibition 2023

 – Terms of entry

• Any picture entered must have been taken between 01/12/2023 – 12/12/2023. Entry open to all visitors and members and it must be their own work.

• Exhibitors may enter every eligible category if they wish, but entries are limited to 2 images per photographer per category.

• All pictures must have been taken within the Tophill Low recording area (I.e. the Yorkshire Water owned site, Watton Nature Reserve or the Approach road to Angram Farm).

• Photo post processing is permitted.

• Photos can be submitted from 12pm 1st December and entries close at 12pm on the 12th of December 2023. No early or late entries will be considered. Entries must remain in the exhibition for the duration of the exhibition. The exhibition will start on the 16th December and run until 7th January.

• Competition results will be announced at 5pm 22nd December 2023 via the Tophill Low Nature Reserve blog. Public vote submission will be shared on social media on 3rd January with the winner being displayed in the Reception Hide and could become the new Tophill Low membership card for 2024/25.

• All pictures must be no larger than A2 (or 420mm X 594mm) including any mount or frame, clearly labelled with your name on the reverse, no images with names on the front will be considered so public voting is fair.

• ‘Best Young Photographer’ category is open to ages 17 years and under. Direction and guidance permitted from an elder – but photographs must be taken by the younger.

• Photos will be displayed and judged by a team assembled at the discretion of the Reserve Warden. It will be the judging panel’s decision and they may refuse entry to images considered not to meet the criteria. The panel’s decision is final.

• The judging panel will not involve any exhibitors in the competition.

• ‘Best in Show’ will be chosen by public vote via public ballot. The ballot starts on 16th December and closes at 5pm on the 3rd January 2024. No late votes will be counted. The vote is limited to 3 selections per voter. Your 3 selections can be taken from any category.

• Tophill Low Nature Reserve reserves the right to use the images supplied in the promotion of the site and could be used for the 2024 membership card. Credit will be given to the photographers wherever appropriate.

• A prize of a season’s free membership will be given to the winner in each category. The upcoming membership season start is 1st April 2024.

Tophill Low Nature Reserve

Wildlife Photography Exhibition 2023 


Best Bird Life

Best Kingfisher

Best Animal

Best Wading Bird

Best Landscape

Best Invertebrate

Best Wildfowl

Best Botanical / Fungi

Best Young Photographer

Best in Show (decided by public)

Good luck from the warden team - Richard, Amy & Margaret

Saturday 16 September 2023

Summer at Tophill Low

Although in the birdwatching world the summer months of July & August are often considered quiet months of the ornithological year, here at Tophill Low the sightings log has been full of a whole range of resident and visiting species. In July and August many breeding birds will moult, allowing adult birds to renew all feathers after the damage and deterioration of their plumage caused by the whole process of nesting, breeding, feeding and fledging youngsters. New fledglings will often also moult so that by mid autumn they too have a new set of feathers. This means that in the woodland, visitors will see less of the woodland species, as birds remain hidden, to remain safe. Listen carefully though and you will hear the contact calls between parents and their young, often high pitched with short, sharp notes, keeping the family together and away from danger. 

Blue tit - Maurice Dawson

In the next few months our nest box volunteers will be checking boxes across the reserve to see whether they have been used this season, adding to our data set on breeding birds. Together with this information, earlier in the summer a team of volunteers helped to map the breeding birds on the reserve. This was the first time this had been carried out for several years. Maps of the whole reserve where created, plotting where different species were showing signs of breeding, whether it was birds singing, carrying nesting materials, displaying or feeding young. One highlight to note was the number of black headed gull nests on south marsh, and the number of common tern nests, both up on last year, a real success, especially when colonies of black headed gulls nearby have been severely hit by avian flu this season, in particular the colony at North Cave wetlands.

South Marsh East

Ducks are peculiar in that they moult all their flight feathers; the long, wing feathers; at once. For about a month, they can't fly and are very vulnerable to predators. To provide some protection, particularly for the brightly-coloured males, the moult starts with their bright body feathers. These are replaced by dowdy brown ones, making them look much like females. This eclipse plumage is temporary until the new flight feathers regrow. As in this eclipse plumage all the ducks look like females it can be very difficult to tell them apart; they also hide away a bit more so again the marshes seem quiet of birds. Hence at this time of year these ducks can be overlooked, but a couple of regular visitors managed to spot not just one, but two female blue winged teal, in amongst the ducks on south marsh. These birds were first seen on 23rd August and can still be found this weekend, the middle of September. Distinctive with a large pale blue wing patch, these duck are an autumn visitor from north America where they can be found from Nova Scotia all the way to Texas. A small number are recorded in the UK each year. 

Blue wing teal - Lee Johnson

Kingfishers and marsh harriers are the reserve’s iconic species, with many visitors coming to Tophill just to enjoy great views of these birds. Both species have been successful this year in terms of breeding which means that sightings have been across the reserve for both species. Watching a newly fledged marsh harrier trying to gauge whether a willow branch will take its weight has to be a highlight of watching these birds this summer. As we plan and manage the different habitats across the site each year then it is very rewarding to see how species, that have been targeted in these plans, make use of the reserve. This has been the case for the passage waders that visit the south marshes every year to refuel for their onward journey to their wintering grounds. Work carried out on the ditches that allow the water levels on the south marshes to change have been cleared, vegetation around the edges has been cut back and the valuable mud exposed. A total of twelve green sandpipers were seen in mid August, there have been regular counts of 12 common snipe, lapwings have reached over 200 birds, all good to see. However, all these counts have been surpassed by an unprecedented count of 53 black tailed godwits on site at the end of June. Other species of wader have been greenshank, spotted redshank, ringed plover, dunlin, little stint, ruff, avocet and wood sandpiper. A respectable variety for an inland site and its thanks to all the volunteers and their hard work helping the Tophill Low team manage the reserve. 

Common sandpiper - Maurice Dawson

When visitors find it difficult to locate the birds in the summer months, attention is drawn to the other wildlife on the reserve. Butterflies are perhaps the easiest to identify and a number of butterfly counts were carried out to submit sightings to the national Big Butterfly Count in early summer. Interesting records were marbled white in north scrub grassland, this species has been recorded here for several years, but only in this area. Another was a hummingbird hawkmoth near the office buildings, along the butterfly, buddleia border. A total of 18 species have been recorded. 

Marble White - Margaret Boyd

Dragonflies and damselflies are less recorded although many visitors see them. Their fast and flighty nature makes them a bit more difficult to identify but with some careful watching, especially in areas like the reception pond, a range of species have been noted. One that is relatively new to the reserve, and to this area, as its distribution moves ever northward, is the Willow Emerald damselfly. This has been seen ovipositing into a willow branch just by the reception pond. 

Willow Emerald - Pat Hogart

Marsh frogs seem to have bred successfully with the reception pond full of tadpoles developing nicely into adult frogs. Great crested newts have been seen by people pond dipping this year which is the first time that they have been noted in reception pond. Unfortunately, one met an untimely death in the jaws of a grass snake just recently. Roe deer are often seen on site, otters less often but as is quite normal on the reserve, north marsh is the best location for sightings. A family of young hedgehogs had to be caught and rehomed to a rescue centre after they were spotted trying to fend for themselves around the picnic area a few weeks ago; apparently they all seem to be doing well and have been given the best chance we can. All visitor sightings are so valuable so we would encourage visitors to jot down their records in the sightings log, either in the birders hide at reception or in the log in the reception hut near the car park. With the support of visitors we can continue to log our wildlife and really get a bigger picture of how fantastic the reserve is for local wildlife. A big thank you for your help in this.

Tuesday 30 May 2023

Thirty years of Tophill Low - Open Day 2023

On Sunday the 11th of June we have the welcome return of the Tophill Low Nature Reserve open day.  It doesn't seem like it, but the last was 4 years ago pre-covid!   

It also marks 30 years since the (public) opening of the reserve in 1993 so worth celebrating.  

Admission is free from 10am to 4pm with extra car parking laid on a short walk from the reserve (blue badge holder parking available on request).  A perfect day out for any level of interest for all ages and abilities - something for everyone including food and drink! 

As ever we're giving the opportunity to a great range of friends of the reserve to showcase their work too - at the time of writing these include; 

Membership, displays and native wetland plant sales 

 Displays and children's activities 
 Displays on their work and possible chance to meet a bat!

Driffield & Langtoft Hedgehogs     
Awareness of hedgehog conservation and care - inc a possible chance to meet one
 Stands and activities 

East Riding Archaeological Society - history and exhibits 

 Bird ringing demo and motus stand

 New and used binoculars and telescopes to try and buy 
 Displays on the Trusts river conservation projects in East Yorkshire 

Awareness and information on Invasive Non Native Species in Yorkshire and how you can help 
Humberside Police Wildlife Crime prevention officer - displays and police vehicles 

 Wildlife photography 

Yorkshire coast nature wildlife tours 
 Accessible access advocates 

 Sustainability team 

Awareness and displays on badger protection 

Yorkshire Dragonfly Group - displays and information

Conservation farming 

 Tophill Low research group 
 Tony McLean Wildlife photography
 J&J goat meats 

For one day only! A return of twitchers take-away for drinks and refreshments 
FE/HE college running courses in Wildlife Conservation and Animal Management amongst others 

*All exhibitors subject to personal / work commitments - attendees may change.  

Friday 19 May 2023

Become a Nest Box Volunteer

 Become a Nest Box Volunteer

We have a fantastic volunteering opportunity here at the reserve for interested people to get involved and become an active member of our fabulous volunteer team.

We have a dedicated welcome day on Tuesday 30th May to bring new people on board, everyone is welcome.

Our nest box volunteers help to build, position, monitor and record the variety of species that use the numerous nesting boxes across the reserve. We have a range of small nest boxes in the woodland that are particularly for small birds such as tits and robins but that is just the start. You may have noticed the larger boxes for tawny owls and barn owls on the reserve, but we also have specialised boxes for treecreepers within the woodland and tern boxes on the islands in the south marshes for our visiting common terns.

Treecreeper nest box

And it’s not just nesting boxes for the birds we also have a range of bat boxes and in recent years have established a stoat monitoring scheme that relies on boxes being visited by stoats.

Bat box

Stoat Box Survey

The remit of the volunteering team is to keep the reserve and other Yorkshire Water wildlife sites supplied with suitable numbers of nest boxes. These are made in our workshop on site, often to specific dimensions according to the species. The team then sites the boxes on the reserve, wherever there is a need for them and from then onwards the team is responsible for checking, cleaning, maintaining and most importantly monitoring the use of these boxes.

Nest Box Team Survey

The records that the nest box team collect are then shared with a range of organisations. The BTO (British Trust for Ornithology) organise the nationwide nest box scheme, to which we send Tophill Low data. Similarly, any records of bats using the bat boxes are sent to East Yorkshire Bat Group. Volunteers may choose to join the bat group when they monitor and survey the bats. Projects, such as the study on stoats, helped to map the population size on the reserve of this mustelid, helping contribute to data collected from only a handful of other sites in the UK. This project is something that could be developed further in the future. Any new members of the team would be supported to enhance our nest box provision if it fitted into the reserve management plan and could continue to collect important data, either for the reserve or for national surveys.

Stoat Box Survey

We are entering a new phase with our nest box team, and we want this group of volunteers to lead on this dynamic aspect of our volunteering team.

Please come along on Tuesday 30th May from 10.30am to meet the site team and hopefully join our volunteers.

Sunday 8 January 2023

Michael Clegg bird race day

Today saw our annual year listing event - formerly held on the 1st of the 1st, since the charity bird race became 'non-motorised' we've synchronised with the annual Yorkshire Wide Michael Clegg bird race for the good cause.  

This year funds raised go towards the Spurn Little Tern colony at Beacon ponds.  If you'd like to donate in recognition of efforts then the page is here.  

So how did we get on?; 

Early efforts with Margaret Boyd and Lee Johnson delivered several hard to get species;  

Pink footed goose and goosander on D reservoir.  Smew dutifully stayed on both D and Watton NR with the great white egret.  Lee's chiffchaff and golden plover at the south end were complimented by some long range house sparrows at Wilfholme pumping station and a transient red kite a nice bonus.  

Rob Worsfold and myself tackled the access road (formerly a 5 minute job by car!) so instead we made the long walk yielding numerous buzzards, a nice cache of collared dove at Easingwold Farm and tree sparrows at Angram Farm.  The main aim was to relocated the corn buntings seen from car earlier and one was picked up in the hawthorns adjacent to the sunflower seed crop (amongst larger flights of linnet, yellowhammer and linnet).  At the WTW entrance a scan of a sisking flock in the London Plane tree yielded a lesser redpoll.

The 10am guided walk led by Amy and Margaret found a full suite of thrushes, curlews, lapwings, cetti's warbler and marsh harriers. 

With the majority of wildfowl readily available from the reception hide the pm walk north was slimmer pickings by this stage.  A sneak peak of the currently closed to public north end saw three woodcock, tawny owl, jay, another marsh tit (alas no willow today), three snipe in hempholme meadow, water rail adjacent and little grebes on the river with one of several kingfishers.  

Treecreeper turned out to be the last species of the day; a fruitless late bid for a roosting redshank or gull exotica with Martin yielded no more. 

But the tally took us to a record breaking 86 species!  A great effort and still a few omissions like partridges, pintail and the redshank.  

Full list; 

1. Little Grebe
2. Great crested grebe
3. Cormorant  
4. Bittern
5. Great white egret 
6. Little egret 
7. Grey heron 
8. Mute swan 
9. Pink footed goose
10. Greylag goose
11. Canada Goose
12. Mallard 
13. Gadwall
14. Shoveler 
15. Wigeon 
16. Teal 
17. Tufted duck 
18. Pochard
19. Goldeneye
20. Smew
21. Goosander
22. Red kite
23. Marsh harrier
24. Common buzzard 
25. Kestrel 
26. Sparrowhawk
27. Peregrine 
28. Pheasant
29. Moorhen 
30. Coot 
31. Golden plover 
32. Lapwing
33. Curlew
34. Woodcock
35. Black headed gull 
36. Herring gull 
37. Great black backed gull
38. Common gull
39. Feral pigeon 
40. Stock dove 
41. Woodpigeon 
42. Collared dove 
43. Barn owl
44. Kingfisher 
45. Great spotted woodpecker
46. Skylark
47. Pied wagtail 
48. Grey wagtail 
49. Wren 
50. Dunnock 
51. Robin 
52. Song thrush 
53. Redwing 
54. Fieldfare 
55. Mistle thrush 
56. Blackbird
57. Chiffchaff
58. Goldcrest 
59. Great tit 
60. Coal tit 
61. Blue tit 
62. Marsh tit 
63. Long tailed tit
64. Magpie 
65. Jackdaw 
66. Rook 
67. Carrion crow 
68. Starling 
69. House sparrow 
70. Tree sparrow
71. Chaffinch 
72. Linnet
73. Lesser redpoll
74. Goldfinch 
75. Siskin 
76. Bullfinch 
77. Reed bunting 
78. Yellowhammer
79. Corn bunting 
80. Cetti's warbler
81. Greenfinch 
82. Jay 
83. Treecreeper
84. Tawny owl 
85. Common snipe 
86. Water rail