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 

 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 & Ranger service inc vehicles 

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 - Tophill Low graziers with chance to both meet a goat and also (separately!) purchase conservation grazed meat and food on the day 

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  

Wednesday, 28 December 2022

2022 - Time to reflect...


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.

Bee orchid 

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 alive.

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.

Banded demioselle 

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 between!

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 Low home.

Now for next year……….