Wednesday, 31 October 2018

October highlights


Every day at Tophill Low can turn up something new and October is no different. As the changing weather conditions bring some colder and wetter weather it means that conditions are ideal for fungi to appear in abundance; their main aim is to release their spores which are small fungal seeds into the wind for further colonisations. Overnight the fruiting bodies of the fungi burst up from their underground mycelium in all different shapes, sizes, colours and textures. Many have very apt common names such as Dead man’s fingers, sulphur tuft and honey fungus. A walk along the nature trail path can deliver at least seven different varieties. The rich colours of both fungi and the surrounding leaf litter provide good photographic opportunities for an amateur like myself so a good subject to start on. One common type of fungus that is not to be found on the ground is the tar spot fungus that is specific to sycamore leaves. Like its name suggests it looks like spots of black tar on the upper surface of sycamore leaves. It is caused by the fungus Rhytisma acerium. It appears in August as green-brown blotches on the leaves that rapidly turn black (hence the name tar spot). These spots remain visible in the autumn as the leaves change colour and they can still be seen on fallen, decaying leaves. The amount of spots indicate how heavy the infection is and sometimes the spots join together to create larger blotches. It’s not thought that Sycamores infected with tar spots are less healthy or cause the tree any problems, although leaf fall may be earlier and an infected tree will normally get the infection every year. Recent research indicates that pollution inhibits the growth of the fungus, meaning in polluted areas less Sycamore trees are infected, therefore tar spot can be a bio indicator of air pollution.

There has been quite a lot of bird movement on the reserve during the first weeks of October, in particular geese, whose numbers arriving in or adjacent to the reserve being high. Over 1000 Greylag geese and 340 Pink footed geese arrived in early October. 17 Whooper swans were noted on D reservoir on the 15th, with 7 still there on 27th. Large numbers of Teal can be found on South Marsh which is the busiest place at the moment for birdlife. Visitors were delighted to see a Jack snipe on 12th, its characteristic small size and bobbing movement distinguishing it from the larger common snipe. Marsh harriers have been spotted on a number of occasions in the southern part of the reserve. A female Red crested pochard was on D reservoir on 16th and has stayed around till the end of the month. A long tailed duck was seen on 28th and shoveler have been visitors on occasion also on D reservoir. The nature trail wood is a good place to see winter feeding parties of woodland birds, made up of tits, wrens, robins and chaffinches but its always worth a closer look and you might find a Treecreeper or some newly arrived Bramlings. Two jays were around the reserve on the 27th and the first redwings appeared mid October. Mammals have also been spotted with North Marsh the best place to spot otters and south marsh holds the best chances of seeing fox. 

As with all these sightings you need to be in the right place at the right time, so don't rush your visit to the reserve. Take your time, enjoy the warmth of the reception hide's log burner now that the weather is turning colder before you set off out again to explore the reserve further.

Thursday, 19 July 2018

Future stars in the making at Tophill Low

During the May half term holiday we had two family events at the reserve which were enjoyed by several local families. Using the nature trail children were introduced to the many different aspects of the wildlife on the reserve.


The first event was based around natural art and there was plenty of inspiration to be found along the nature trail which helped to make "sticky pictures". With finding a variety of colours and also textures along the trail we headed back into the classroom to create our masterpieces.



Some of the children used the interesting things that they collected to make a collage, others used paints to draw the patterns that they had seen and another child drew his favourite snail that he had found. Using twigs each masterpiece was then framed! Here are a selection of what was produced.



The second event was linked to the popular BBC series Springwatch. First we went out to find out what animals lived on the reserve around the nature trail, using some equipment to look in the pond and to hunt out minibeasts in the bug area. 


Then we headed back into the classroom to put together a script just like on the TV. The video of Oscar presenting his information about his favourite animal that he found, a leopard slug was sent off to Springwatch and Twitter, his first foray into the media world and he did really well. 


The next family events are in the summer holidays - Saturday 28th July 10am -12pm, Tuesday 31st July 2-4pm, Tuesday 7th August 1-am-12pm , Wednesday 15th August 10am-12pm



Sunday, 15 July 2018

Summer synopsis

In solidarity with the weather this year I too have bypassed spring on the blog and skipped straight to summer.  The Glaucous gull finally disappeared in mid April after a spectacular showing all winter.  From a scientific perspective it remained for 86 days, and probability wise it made 96 if you include the re-occurrence of what was likely the same bird again after a 10 day hiatus.  Either way an exceptional stay in Tophill history.  Will it return? well there is a historic precedent from Cheshire here in the 1950's when one returned for 6 years.  So perhaps; it certainly seemed to enjoy feeding on the black headed gull carcasses here all winter:
Indeed it was breeding season which saw it on its way presumably as the black headed gulls had moved off and its food resource had gone.  Perhaps it also found itself out of place once all its Scandinavian pals had gone to be replaced by southerners like the lesser black backed gulls of which there were two pairs prospecting the southern reserve:
In the last post I said it was a little early to count kingfishers emerging from the nest and indeed it was true.  We had a good spell of activity in February at last year's nest site with the hole being prepped and cleared by the birds ready for action and we were lining up for good things.

Unfortunately the Beast from the East put what we thought was a temporary brake on proceedings, but instead it was terminal.  Whether the same fate befell ours as this one in Amsterdam is debatable - but I have heard a number of visitors from other reserves commenting there's were been knocked back also.

Unfortunately it is what they are designed to do; We know last year they got at least 11 young out of 'the hole.'  We know there were another two nests active within the environs of the reserve - so we're looking at 30 plus youngsters from 2017.  Clearly there is not enough habitat for this volume of birds around the reserve.  In their niche they do take big hits in poor conditions - but then will repopulate in favourable conditions within a year or two, barn owls follow a similar boom and bust and its echoed across all species to a greater or lesser extent.  For some reason 2018 is a vintage cowslip year - its the way it goes:
We've been somewhat spoilt by kingfishers at Tophill Low during 2017 and its easy to think they are a permanent fixture.  However 2018 is actually normal - only in 2008 and 2017 have they bred on site, every other year they have bred off the reserve in land drains and bring their young through post breeding to learn to fish in late June.  And as predicted they have returned with a party of four regularly being seen in the last two weeks - Rose Habberley
Indeed the new favourite perch is the electric fence which took up so much energy in spring to get finished on time:
In spite of the clearance of scrub frequented by Cetti's warbler here the species as we'd predicted continues its increase in density from a pair to at least 5 pairs on the southern site alone - the bird ringing team finding birds with brood patches this year - Pat Hogarth:
But kingfishers aside the fence appears to have done the job; with zero reported ground predation on the marsh this season.  Perhaps in some ways it has been disappointing nothing 'exceptional' bred - but to be fair we were burning the oil well into April which may have deterred a lot of wildfowl from starting.  Next year we hope it should be a different story once all has settled down.  Mute swan held promise back in May - Brian Colley:
And came up woth the goods having 4 cygents at the time of writing - Sue Murray:
A number of tufted duck, gadwall and mallard broods have come off - Brian Colley:
Geese did very well.  Little grebe has bred.  The black headed gulls hammered by the fox over the last two years have come good with many young.  And their success has tempted back the terns which have 5-6 nests and a number of well developed chicks.  Likewise another 4 nests exist on Watton NR giving us the second best common tern year in Tophill history. 

Losers unfortunately though were most notably the little ringed plovers.  Susceptible in previous years to ground predation we have caged them - but elected not to as it was hoped the fox fence would deliver the same benefit without interference.  Alas we have been too successful and the hemmed in hoards of goslings and sub-adult swans scrapping over space appear to have trampled the nest scrape - Brian Colley:
They have bred again this time in the Water Treatment works - but the chick was running around on the road and had emerged the same day as the kestrel family fledged so its chances are slim to none.

Shelduck too appear to have fizzled.  In spite of a promising start it is unclear whether any have fledged for unknown reasons.  The smart looking lesser black backed gulls were replaced by a scruffy delinquent mob of sub-adults and came to nothing.  And tantalisingly pochard bred on site - a rare breeding bird panel species with BTO estimates at only 500 pairs in the UK.  Alas rather than doing so in the sanctuary of the fox fence they did so on south marsh west.  The problem with this is its a bit like going for a swim in the Zambezi river during migration.  Undoubtedly the pike claimed them within hours - a 2.5 foot shadow in the Barmston Drain here:
Whilst we are told that otters ravage the waterways of east Yorkshire they seem to make little impact within the reserve and an impressive array of coarse fish are always present.  Hopefully many of you have had chance to read Alicia Tredell's excellent poster display in the reception hide on otter diet - results still on display up until Thursday 26th.  The remains of a fish in the rapidly shrinking pools of Hempholme meadow were presumably an easy catch:
Great shot from Francis Bell back in March here:
At the time of writing we have just reached a whole dry month.  The last rain at Tophill at the time of writing was on the 16th of June which was but a 5 minute downpour.  Hempholme Meadow is the driest it has been since construction in 2011:
As has been documented there is still a decent level of raw water - lots still coming over Hempholme Lock from the March saturation of the Wolds Aquifer meaning the res's are still full: 
Banded demoiselle a nice Tophill scarcity at the weekend with a grey wagtail brood to boot on the weir:
The issue is the rate of consumption and trying to treat and distribute sufficient water into the network at peak demand.  Elsewhere tawny owls have bred as usual but have been hard to pin down  - occasionally lucky folks have dropped onto them - Sue Murray:
Kirk Moore:
Barn owls are clearly active around the site but the favoured north scrub boxes again seem to have failed - two eggs dwindled to one on the camera which became none; Still time yet for them to have a go - Don Davis:
It was great to have reeling grasshopper warbler again - John Leason:
Seemingly two broods on the northern reserve.  Cuckoo seem show no sign of decline within Tophill with at least two calling males present - which will now be in Africa!.  Spotted flycatcher gave us a glimpse - perhaps young will be found before the season is out.  Another sub-Saharan migrant is the sand martin - which for the first time seem to be doing some good in the wall - Sue Murray:
Perhaps the most charismatic bird at Tophill to breed was the channel wagtail.  This intergrade between the continental 'blue headed' yellow wagtail and the UK 'yellow headed' yellow wagtail is not a species but was certainly dashing.  They have been known to occasionally breed in more northern climes - but it was great to witness this bird collecting flies in front of the reception hide for its nestlings - John Leason:
The grey herons successfully bred at north Marsh again - we eventually confirmed there were two pairs by a Yorkshire Water sanctioned drone on the open day whilst doing some promo filming - Brian Colley:
Passage birds have included a few nice scarcities - Purple heron was a particular highlight which arrived on the 26th of April and lingered until the 9th of May and showed in typically purple heron like fashion for two weeks. 
Again perhaps we've been spoilt by purple herons at Tophill Low.  The last really showy one was in 2011 - but they've been occasional over recent years and with them breeding in Southern England for us they've sort of become a "step up from a great white egret, which itself is just a glamorous little egret."  I must admit  I was taken aback by folks twitching it from Staffordshire and South Wales - but I guess when it arrived there were just the Dungeness birds in the UK - so for a year tick it has some weight.  Since its disappearance we have filled the gap with some more stripey types; the belted galloways have returned to set about the sward for 2018.  The foxes don't appear to have suffered greatly from their South Marsh exclusion - lots of adult and cub sightings in recent weeks  - Tony Mclean:
Likewise grass snakes seem to have been showy - the mk2 elongated snake viewer:
Delivering up to 4 grass snakes at a time - Paul Lyons:
White stork has graced us in recent weeks too.  We have had white stork on the reserve before and this was first sighted at Wansford on a strong southerly which looked promising - but its behaviour subsequently was a little dubious and the red plastic ring on its upper left leg has sealed its fate as an escapee.  That said still an interesting sight just south of Tophill Low where it took up regular residence at the farm earlier in summer - Maurice Dowson: 
Bittern was an early arrival for summer with a bird giving great views on the 9th of July - John Leason:
Brian Colley:
So that was summer!  We're now firmly into autumn passage and wading birds returning are starting to create a show.  Parties of up to 23 black tailed godwits in recent days - Sue Murray:
Greenshank, ruff, green sandpiper, ringed plover all recent records.  Today's lapwing tally was 147, and little egrets seem to increase by the hour with 17 present today as we creep towards the 29 bird record on South Marsh East.  Tony McLean grabbed a couple of shots of a pair of passing spoonbills on the 11th of July over Watton NR.  A smattering of little gulls so far but yet to attain last year's influx:
As ever we target the wader season for the lead up and peak of the 15th of august which is traditionally when the highest tallies occur.  South Marsh East is good to go but may receive a strim if we can find a window after breeding birds finish (there were day old black headed gull chicks last week).  North lagoon on the other hand is in need of a bit of fettling; We drained it in early May for spring wader passage and held out all month waiting for an ultimately unfruitful movement.  However we timed it, we managed to do so perfectly this year for water speedwell:
I don't know what water speedwell is useful for but we've got a great crop.  Its not so great for observing waders though and could threaten any interest for the autumn passage; as such its back to good old manual labour to remove it over the next couple of weeks.  So hopefully it'll be in fine fettle for late July and the start of the prime wader movement.

This summer also saw the open day on the 17th of June.  We're really pleased with how the event went and we saw 650 people enjoying some excellent stands and displays from local environmental groups.  Given its success we have already earmarked the 9th of June 2019 for a similar event - a few here from the day:
We also had a send off the next day for our team of excellent volunteers from East Riding College under the tutelage of Ronny - they've been supporting the volunteers here all year and done some great work repairing footpaths, painting hides and undertaking much of the fox fence prep works which seems to have been well worthwhile:
We have some great events coming up for families over the summer holidays - booking details on the events page. 

Saturday 28th July 10am -12noonFlower power & butterfly bonanza.
With the wild flower meadow now in all its glory increase your knowledge of wildflowers on the reserve. Not only are the flowers stunning themselves but they provide essential food for the butterflies. On a hot sunny day what could be better than soaking up the sun in such a beautiful setting with flowers and butterflies all around.

Tuesday 31st July 2-4pmBe your own nature guide.
With some good knowledge of the flora and fauna on the reserve learn how to take your very own tour. Point out all those things that a warden needs to know and add your own findings too!

Tuesday 7th August 10am -12noonScavenger hunt.
Follow the scavenger trail to learn about and find a range of bugs and beasties. Use pooters to catch and observe the life on the woodland floor. Peer into the bug hotel, lift a log, dig for worms!
And running for two weeks will be a photographic exhibition in the reception hide holt: