2022 - A smew sandwich!
There are many birders who will keep a yearly list of their
bird sightings, but few will begin and end the year with the sighting of a
fabulous male smew. Visitors to the reserve this year were able to do just
that, although the middle “filling” of bird sightings may have been a bit
patchy in between due to the extended closures of the reserve at times
throughout the year.
Time to reflect………
The male smew attracting many to start their new year
listing had spent several weeks feeding on Watton Nature reserve and stayed
well into January, only to be ousted out of its top spot by the arrival of a
male Baikal teal in amongst the visiting wigeons in mid January. This winter
visitor from Siberia was sighted feeding on nearby Swinemoor during the day and
accompanying the flock of wigeons to roost on D reservoir from mid afternoon. A
single Slavonian grebe was an added bonus for people coming to view the teal
and the unfrozen water on D and O reservoir provided a wealth of other wildfowl
to view; red crested pochard and pink footed geese in the mix. The frozen
lagoons and marshes meant that kingfishers frequented Barmston drain instead.
Male smew on D reservoir - credit Margaret Boyd
Male Baikal teal on D reservoir - credit Lee Johnson
In terms of habitat management, tree felling started on
south scrub, making way for the arrival and construction of one of the earth
mounds, later in the year. Brash hedges were constructed by our gang of
volunteers in order to make use of the material and in doing so provided
suitable nesting habitat for small woodland birds and mammals. By mid February
the tree felling was beginning to prove dangerous for visitor access and it was
decided that this, combined with the increase in heavy machinery arriving on
site for several projects, mean that the reserve would be closed to visitors
for several months.
It was difficult to report the various wildlife events to
our visitors when they occurred whilst we were closed, wildlife continuing to
flourish despite the disruptions due to the various engineering projects. February
saw the territorial behaviour of tawny owls in reception woods, calling to each
other, very close to the path. Chiff chaffs, then sand martins arrived from
early March, volunteers witnessing their arrival and then the departure of
whooper swans as they went about their conservation tasks.
Old east hide overlooking D reservoir
Once the movements of vehicles and the ongoing projects were
planned, we introduced a series of guided walks, enabling visitors to come back
onto the reserve, albeit in a restricted way. As well as the chance of being
able to view some wildlife it was also an opportunity to find out what was
happening in the various areas of the reserve and what the impact on the
habitats might be. Visitors were able to note the arrival of willow warblers,
blackcaps, sedge warblers and a pair of little ringed plovers investigating
nesting sites on south marsh. A pair of oystercatchers had, by mid April, laid
and hatched two young, which successfully grew to hopefully a size that was
viable. Common terns arrived at the end of April and by the end of the season
it was thought that 8 pairs had bred. A common scoter on O reservoir and a short
stay of a black necked grebe on D reservoir were passing visitors.
Building the earth mound overlooking D reservoir
The main news for April though was the sighting, on several
occasions of TWO bitterns, following the booming of a male for several weeks on
south marsh west. This is an area of the reserve that had been given a lot of
attention the previous winter, establishing a reedbed made up of deep channels,
lined with different ages of reeds. Although there was no definite sighting of
juveniles, we are confident that these birds had a successful breeding season,
a welcome addition to the reserve breeding bird list.
Cutting reeds on south marsh west - bittern habitat
Our volunteer gang are a talented bunch and between building
long lengths of brash walls, the willow tunnel was maintained, the buddleia
hedge trimmed back and the arrival of Tiddy Mun sculpture provided so much
interest to visitors, in particular the school groups that have continued to
visit throughout the year. The nature trail has so much on offer to show and
talk about that we are often trying to rush back for the returning bus, having
been distracted along the route. Pond dipping continues to excite and fascinate
visiting school children and their staff, the fauna of the reception pond
changing with the seasons and from year to year. A bank of data is now building
to show the succession of plants and animals that have colonised it. We have
introduced bog bean and marsh cinquefoil this summer, hoping that it takes
hold, to add to the variety. Some clearing of reedmace was needed of the first
time this summer as it had started to encroach from the sides; the dry weather
made the difficult task possible.
Clearing reception pond
More change was afoot in May as the two hides – east hide
and L shaped hide were dismantled, the new volunteer hub arrived, and the
sightings hut returned. On the reserve, breeding successes included 95 black
headed gull nests recorded, a pair of grey partridge were noted at Hempholme and
a family of willow tits were observed. Rarities in the form of a spotted
sandpiper (D res wall) and a Temmick’s stint (south marsh east) were observed
by a handful of people, but the star of the show was the arrival of a great
reed warbler at the southern end of the site, reeling its loud song for several
weeks. With other records in the Yorkshire area, we hope that if and when it
returns there will be a mate to sing to.
Great reed warbler - Credit Lee Johnson
Spotted sandpiper - credit Lee Johnson
June brought a slowing down of bird sightings and an
emphasis on the glorious display of orchids along O reservoir ditches; bee,
common and marsh forming a beautiful carpet, yet the lesser obvious common
twayblade was equally a delight to spot, all to the backdrop of the “song” of
the hundreds of marsh frogs across all water bodies.
One aspect of the various engineering projects and one that
will have the most visual impact is the construction of the two earth mounds
overlooking the reservoirs. This started in July, meaning that once again the
reserve was closed to visitors for their safety; heavy lorries carrying tonnes
of rubble passing along the approach road constantly throughout the day. As
well as the earth mounds, we took the opportunity of using vast concrete slabs
to construct a huge hibernaculum, ready for amphibians, grass snakes and also
roosting bats. By next spring this new construction will be covered in
vegetation, only the entrance tunnels visible above the newly created pond. At
the end of August both mounds were complete and now visitors can see the
potential, we wait in anticipation for the hides to be erected next year,
giving great views across the wider Hull valley.
O reservoir mound ready for hide installation
By July it was clear that at least 3 (if not 4) pairs of
marsh harriers had bred successfully. The pair on south marsh west having
fledged five young. The shelduck family on south marsh east raised 4 young to a
viable size but the pair of little ringed plovers were unfortunately unsuccessful
this year. A pair of great spotted woodpeckers nested right next to the path in
reception woods was another successful breeding species. Early wader passage
saw the arrival of ruff, common and wood sandpiper and ringed plover, all
dropping into south marsh east. More work by the volunteer team meant that the
water level could be dropped further. North lagoon, by this time having dried
out completely, in readiness for dredging later in the autumn, winter.
Late passage waders: lapwings, black tailed godwits, ruff,
dunlin, greenshank, wood and green sandpiper all dropped into south marsh in
August. A single wheatear also landed briefly on its migration south, great
white egret was once again noted on the reserve and a juvenile black necked
grebe made an appearance.
Volunteers concentrated their efforts cutting grass around
the reserve, but no longer using motorised machinery, time and again taking up
the scythes to cut the grass, saving fuel and cost and keeping an old tradition
Thankfully by September we were able to reopen the reserve
to visitors, and it was great to welcome people back to enjoy its special wildlife.
New footpaths have been put in place to enable easy movement around the reserve.
North marsh is a favourite area for many visitors and time has been spent by
different groups of volunteers clearing the area so that the channels and
islands can now be clearly viewed. Always popular for feeding kingfishers and water
rails and in recent weeks it appears that an otter is raising a couple of kits near
the riverbank. Whilst cutting some areas there was evidence that harvest mice
had nested amongst the reeds.
North lagoon, now completely dry in September, still
attracted a range of dragonflies: migrant hawker, ruddy darter and emperor
dragonflies, late season fliers. Earlier banded demioselles were seen across the reserve this year. Butterflies still on the wing in September
included speckled wood, comma and red admiral. Eight little stints made a
reserve record number to be observed at one time on south marsh east and a
cattle egret was a good reserve record.
As autumn progressed, numbers of wildfowl built up as is
normal, on D reservoir: pochard, shoveler, goldeneye, gadwall, coot and wigeon
regular visitors. The first smew of the winter, a female red head was spotted
on D reservoir, along with red crested pochard and black necked grebe. Dunlin,
avocet and golden plover provided the interest on south marsh east.
Another new addition to the reserve arrived in November in
the form of a new poly tunnel. This is to be used to propagate wetland plants
which we intend to share with other nature reserves, building partnerships so
that we can share best practice and increase the biodiversity of the Hull
valley. Students from Kingsmill school, Driffield and East Riding college help
throughout the year, arriving each week to help with a variety of conservation
tasks, a huge thanks to them. They are keen to be involved in these new
projects, making a start planting acorns, ready for transplanting once they germinate.
New poly tunnel
As we end the year and days shorten, south marsh west is
attracting a small roost of starlings, redwing and fieldfare head to south
scrub, both roosts attracting a couple of marsh harriers, sparrowhawk and the
occasional peregrine. Little egrets head to D woods to roost each evening and
the gull roost numbers are into the thousands.
Early December saw extremely low temperatures, even parts of
the reservoirs freezing over. Kingfishers heading to the open water of Barmston
drain. Colder weather no doubt brings in winter migrants, siskins and lesser
redpolls feeding on alders near the lagoons and on D reservoir and Watton
nature reserve two male smews, to finish the year how we started and plenty in
Cold snap hits early December
Thanks as always to our team of volunteers who do such an invaluable
job helping manage the habitats for the great wildlife that consider Tophill
Now for next year……….