Monday, 8 August 2016

Garzetta gallery

Perhaps the main feature these last weeks has been the mass influx of little egret - and not just here but across East Yorkshire reserves.  Our previous maxima of 13 rapidly tumbled as figures of 17, 19, 22 and latterly 24 little egret were recorded by the 2nd of August.  Photo Roy Vincent:
Its a great endorsement of a lot of hard work by volunteers and contractors and funding by Yorkshire Water 18 months ago to deliver improved water quality to the southern marshes and re-landscape them.  In recent times it was fair to say there was next to no aquatic life in this marsh as proven in a Hull University study in 2011.  Its goes without saying its now ram-packed with life as this lot testifies - Roy:
Steve Brimble:
 Steve Hines:

To be fair one we did tip one out of a box... This individual was re-released on the reserve from Peel veterinary clinic at Hornsea after being found exhausted next to the road at Bewholme.  It could be representative of the influx to the area and had perhaps travelled a good distance?
Whilst suitably miffed at not receiving a sprat having used to being waited upon for the last two months it seems to be doing well two weeks later, and its plumage gradually returning to snow white.  Whilst the ringing team were present we took the opportunity to ring the bird so we can hopefully see where it ends up in future. 

However vast hordes of egrets were never really the target of our endeavours.  Really its been about waders.  Near nightly it seems black tailed godwits alight but often are gone by the following morning - an excellent Tophill count of 39 were present on the 26th - best for some time:
A peak so far of c.300 lapwing were present on the 30th with triple numbers near constant - Roy Vincent:
 Will Scott:
A steady year for whimbrel saw 3 on July the 10th and a lone avocet dropped by on July the 8th.  Common sandpipers only seem to have been in the 1's and 2's but are ever present - Roy Vincent:
Green sandpipers hit a respectable 10 on the 5th of August - Brian Colley:
 Will Scott:
And greenshank are at a healthy 6 on the 4th of August - Will Scott: 

On past form the peak of the autumn passage is August the 15th.  For members evenings seem to be yielding good results at present.  We also need to bag a wood sandpiper (or better) which is a fairly obvious omission at present given those elsewhere and the quality of food on offer here. 

Not strictly a mud lark but hidden in the fringes has been the bittern.  An early arrival it may well be with us the rest of winter.  It (or one?) was being chased about by herons on south marsh the other week and a few days ago Dave Hobson captured it on North Marsh:
Not a wader but always about are mixed up numbers of wagtails - yellows, greys and pied's both passage and breeding are present.  North Lagoon at dusk has been getting some good counts.  Roy Vincent:
Steve Brimble:
Brian Colley:
Breeding wagtails scoffing flies is great - especially these ones:
But better still are breeding spotted flycatcher.  A bird was seen a few days running mid July and we assumed it was a passage bird - Karen Williams:
But driving out last night Pat Hogarth captured a family feeding young - presumably having bred on the WTW or the secluded O woods:
Great news indeed and the first nesting for around 5 years.  Another bird becoming more scarce but seemingly holding its own at Tophill is the cuckoo.  Tony McLean got this cracking image of a juv at Watton NR:
Tony's also been up to old tricks too as the kingfishers have made a return in earnest to North Marsh:
They have been fleeting recently up there, but we've had great reports from the last few days.  If you have never seen a kingfisher now's the time - Pat Hogarth:
Unfortunately callously cropped from view is the magnificent (and scourge of the kingfisher photographer) greater water parsnip.  This plant was once common and widespread across the ditches and drains of Holderness but modern dredging machines and water level management (summer elevation for irrigation and winter draw down for drainage) meant it was considered extinct in East Yorks by 1980.  A tiny fragment was found on Hornsea Mere and was propagated and re-introduced at Tophill and appears to thrive - Will Scott:
A recent training event for surveyors held by the Freshwater Habitats Trust extolled the extent and strength of the Tophill population:
If only kingfisher photographers and dragonfly enthusiasts were as appreciative.  On a similar vein check out Martin Hodges blog for all the in depth insect analysis.  Genitalia dissection is beyond the scope of this blog but suffice to say a raft of new species have recently been added to the list, many at the end of the July heatwave, when a mothing night surpassing that of the last decade was experienced.  Full write up here - and a smart pine hawkmoth for starters:

Dredging isn't just a problem for parsnip though.  Last summer we never got the level down on Watton NR despite our best efforts to unblock outfalls.  Again this summer we made three separate rodding trips to no avail.  However on the final trip we realised the issue;  The non-return valve into Barmston Drain had been sheared off by the digger and left in the depths:
This meant water is free to come back into the pits and as the level is kept up for irrigation over summer in the drain, the key summer period of wader passage all mud is covered - water howling back in here:
A deep sea salvage to rival the Mary Rose was launched and the hulk recovered from the bottom of Barmston Drain.  After some skilful in house fabrication and out house welding it was ready for re-fitting - Pete Drury. 
Freshly re-installed its now working a treat:
And is perhaps the best kingfisher perch on the reserve. 
The level has already dropped on the pits by 4" and we hope to get the 'muddy triangle' back for late summer.  Incidentally the Easingwold cattle will be munching their way in anytime soon.  Likewise the Tophill Galloways are currently munching North Scrub.  Hempholme Meadow has just been hay cut and is well worth a look for waders on the open aspect too. 
If you've ever fancied volunteering on the reserve we can never have too many rakers at this time of year.  Thursdays, Fridays, Sundays and Tuesdays we have gangs helping round the site working hard most of the time:
Contact us for details.
Hay cutting also benefits these guys:
Plenty about but a bale moved on the Hempholme hay dump revealed hundreds of eggs last week and was quickly replaced.  Potentially thousands of snakes are due to hatch any moment, and unfortunately will be substitute earthworms for hungry blackbirds and thrushes in parched conditions. 

Another species breeding in proliferation too has been barn owls. 2015 was a fruitless year both here and across most of the UK (the first since 2006 we haven't had a chick off).  But boom follows bust on the vole front, and 2 chicks were ringed by Robin from the Wolds Barn Owl Group two weeks back - Terry Mahoney:
However these two chicks hadn't even fully fledged before the parents had already laid a second clutch in the other box.  Two broods has happened before but not simultaneously.  For more details on the ringing programme in south scrub see here.  Perhaps the best highlights since last time here have been a juv cetti's - again confirming breeding success on the reserve, and marsh tit showing a continued presence and expansion in the southern site.

Next season we hope will be another good barn owl year too, as we hope to broadcast them on telly in the new reception hide.  Indeed most monitoring of the brood this year has already been by remote camera and is working well. 

The building works have been developing apace.  Most landscaping is near complete now with the new access ramps near finished and the extensive new pond dug with southern hawker, common darter already ovipositing and diving beetle moved in.  Alas unbelievably marsh frog has already colonised the pond after just 2 days.  So once the machinery stops there'll still be no peace... A good write up on Erich's blog here.  Otherwise I will do a specific post related to the new build soon...

Next event coming up is the bat evening on the 25th of August at 9pm.  Led by East Yorkshire Bat Group specialist Geoff Wilson it should be a great night.  Free with standard admission - book in advance on 01377 270690. 

Beyond this other things that spring to mind!; Currant clearwing new, butterbur moth new, brown argus back on the reserve, small coppers about, breeding treecreeper, herons fledged, kestrel family active, otter seen, marsh harrier, hobby about, peregrine about, garganey still three present, wigeon back in... Too much about this time of year and not enough time...

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...