Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Windy winterers

From the mist to the wind in the last few days - but I guess it could be worse; Short-eared owl has been seen irregularly again – on Sunday hunkered down 4 feet from the concrete road edge at Hempholme, and at 7:30 this morning hunting the side of D reservoir walls out the wind.

To complete the quintet little owl was also logged near Angram Farm at first light; so we’ve now had all the owls in the last two weeks (within 2 miles of the reserve at any rate!) – and still not a photo of any of them! I see Tony did manage a nice fieldfare though in his valiant efforts here

The white-front flock reached a peak of 65 on Sunday – thanks to HVWG for this pic:

This had shrunk to around 46 over the last couple of days but I see birds are being logged at nearby High Eske too. Thanks to Ian Traynor too for these images:

Smew has been showing again well at Watton too – HVWG pic here – there is a suggestion this could be a young male:

Ian also got this pic:

And likewise of the curlew present too:

As too did HVWG:

Also on Watton yesterday were a little egret, and an otter apparently giving great views at 2:30pm in front of the hide. Luckily for the foxes the hunt today was on the east Hull bank!:

Amongst Ians’s other pictures is this very wintry South Marsh East – for more of his work check out his Flickr page here:

Gracing this scene on Sunday was female goosander – by HVWG – and latterly seen on D res roost with 2 males yesterday:

Seen too have been up to three pintail each evening, and the colossal winds this evening brought the gulls in nice and close:

Before they were blotted out by a very heavy squall:

The previous night HVWG managed a couple of argentatus herring gulls (back centre on top pic):

A mediterranean was on O res yesterday; a change of venue returning 290 great black backed gulls the same night and 2 whooper swans on Sunday afternoon.

This is what I am now sure must be the last dragonfly of 2011 - a common darter on the 19th - one of the latest yearly site records - just outliving a migrant hawker last seen in the car park on the 17th:

On the other hand a wintry but welcome sight was the bittern showing itself again – thanks to Dave Ruffles for the pic – as he points out – it’s not quite a partridge in a tree; but then we are not quite in the festive season yet…

Saturday, 26 November 2011

A bit like buses...

...you wait 50 years for a caspian gull then 2 turn up at once (or within a month of each other at any rate!). Again the bird was found by Martin and this time was an adult; it is believed it has probably stayed on the D res roost.

Further investigations of the gull roost suggest that at last light many of the larger gulls fy from the D res and then drop onto the O res for the night - which is relatively unobserved - with very little perceptible movement away from the reserve.

To accompany it was a yellow-legged gull too and 53 white fronted geese. 5 redshank have also been frequenting the reserve along with the red-head smew on Watton yesterday.

Meanwhile I ended up thigh deep in mud on a pursuit of owls. The long-eared owl report from Monday has now been vindicated - and was seen by a regular hunting a neighbouring site (with the short-eared's too). At some stage we will post details as it is on private land - in the meantime speak to one of the Wardens and we'll point you in the right direction.

As there are no pictures yet of any of them here is the last one from September 2008 by HVWG:

Lastly earlier this year we mentioned the informal photo contest to submit a picture for the basis of the 2012 membership card (and win a years' membership too). I will be shortlisting the best pictures on December the 10th - so that is the deadline. The rules are it must have been taken at Tophill over the last year, and have either been e-mailed or handed in. To keep everything above-board I will be taking the anonymous shortlisted pics to my Yorkshire Water colleagues who will vote on their favourite...

Thursday, 24 November 2011

A mystigul experience

If you’ve managed to see further than 20 metres through the mists of this week you may have glimpsed some of the continued winter delights.

This made no difference to viewing the greatest bird of the week as found - as often is – courtesy of Martin; Cetti’s warbler. Tophill Low a few years ago was honoured by housing the UK’s most northerly known breeding pair just near North Marsh hide, however it is usually an ephemeral number of wintering birds that we receive. We didn’t get any last winter, but the year before there were at least 3 birds around site – one near the back-to-back hides being the best to locate.

This year we have found one at South Lagoon in the reed and bramble thickets. It should now be pointed out that you won’t see the bird – they make a garden warbler look like a show off! And spend all their time creeping amongst the stems out of view – in my 4 years at Tophill I was honoured with a glimpse of an eye and a supercilium once! You need to rely upon sound – their call is explosive and obvious. Have a look on this Youtube link to get the idea.

Geese continue to delight – 55 white fronts still bring recorded regularly including this afternoon. No sign of the ross’ for a couple of weeks now but Egyptian still here, 2 pink feet have been about, and Tom managed to locate the years’ first bean goose – a tundra rossicus race from NW Siberia on Monday in decoy fields – where this assemblage was taken:

Remember they are mixed with a current 680 greylags though! 15 whoopers were on the river Hull on Monday too.

On the duck front the lone red head smew has been re-located regularly again back on Watton, along with up to 3 pintail. 2 female scaup were on South Marsh East on Tuesday briefly, along with a female goosander this evening – roosting on D res earlier in the week. Roosting between Watton and SME have been the curlew – hitting a high of 152 combined this evening, and possibly 3 little egrets who were lost in the darkness somewhere on site. This is one of a handful of black-tailed godwit still lingering on site – photographed by Maurice Gordon on his Tuesday course:

He also got these lichens – I dare not suggest a name for them – they are perhaps the next untapped frontier at Tophill?

Otherwise at least one short-eared owl still on Hempholme, and a long-eared was apparently reported earlier in the week? – again if anyone would like to shed any light on this one it would be appreciated – because as ever it will go the way of the bonaparte’s and great white egret if no further info is forthcoming…

On the subject of raptorish topics - check out the great new look Yorkshire Red Kites Page here.

Treecreeper in car park:

And common gulls in the mist:

Finally if you can’t see things through the mist you may as well take pictures of it! D res gantry:

Who needs the ‘mara when you have Watton Carrs?:

Hempholme meadows – an interesting snapshot – as next year it’ll be totally different again:

It's work is done...after three months of devastation we can now watch a whole new habitat develop for many years to come...

Thursday, 17 November 2011

A short post

No pictures I am afraid for a change – we should have had the camera though for the two short-eared owls which over-flew us at 30feet height late this afternoon though when working in Hempholme! A few people have been looking for them unsuccessfully since the weekends’ sightings – but today they initially appeared on the eastern river and then disappeared out of sight beyond Struncheonhill to the west – so whilst they are still there, they are clearly hunting a big area – patience necessary…

The other highlight has been the continued presence of white fronted geese – this time we’ve got the figure up to 53. Yesterday also saw the egyptian goose again – but no ross’ – has it gone on to confuse another reserve! - for the best yet of the geese photos visit Dave’s blog here.

Three pintail were on Watton yesterday, with a couple of barn owls on north scrub, a lot of calling water rail around the wetlands and damp woods, and a pair of kingfishers still in the north marsh area. A nice sighting yesterday was a female blackcap near the back-to-back hides – presumably a wintering continental bird? The curlew roost on Tuesday recorded 125 birds and 115+ yesterday - so still good numbers coming in.

Finally the otter piece scheduled for Monday has I am afraid been put back due to a feature on the red arrows instead! – in all likelihood it may now be after Christmas – but we’ll keep you posted…

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Y-fronts or shorts? - what a decision...

Geese continue to make the headlines this week – thanks to Alan Walkington for this pic showing the ‘re-naturalised’ greylag flock which is sucking them all in:

Starting on Thursday Jess and Derrick managed to find 22 white-fronted geese on Watton NR – an excellent count for the reserve (again pics are on pink cuckoos). However that number has continued to swell – small groups such as on decoy fields here found by Eric and Jeff being around the site all of today:

Later Martin managed to get today’s peak count of 52 white-fronts on D res, along with 4 pink feet and 2 whooper swans (and the ross’ type goose - see on).

We were planning to view these on the Robert Fuller gallery walk yesterday, however attentions were diverted. Earlier in the week Erich and myself had been discussing the potential of the new Hempholme meadow for short-eared owl and hen harrier habitat in future; and within a week we have had our first ‘shorty’ in several years hunting the margins of the meadow. Most of their attentions are over the river on the east bank of the Hull, where later two birds (plus barn owl and heron) were hunting. Today Les and Margaret managed a single bird hunting Hempholme meadow itself through the mists – a great endorsement. Here’s hoping they’ll stick around all winter…

No photo’s yet – but here is a library one from Spurn some time ago:

Incidentally it took ‘til today to get hen harrier – Martin recording one south – though not quite hunting Hempholme yet!

This delay meant a quick yomp to South Marsh East to look for the otters – predictably that meant no sightings when one goes specifically to look for the animal as on Thursday! – again see Jess’s blog – but as you’ll see from the Youtube clip there is still quite a spectacle…

Elsewhere we have had 250 fieldfare on the approach road, 2 little egret, 4 black-tailed godwit, calling jay on Watton, and a lone dunlin over. Yesterday also saw the reserve’s first recorded woodcock of autumn too in D woods, and possibly the very last migrant hawker at Hempholme. This inkcap was sent in by Alan, also looking a bit past its best:

And another last of is this feathered thorn in the moth trap which pretty much ends the season - a few mild nights in mid winter may turn up a december moth but that is it for 2011 trapping essentially:

Finally; what is hopefully a bit of closure on the ross’ type goose – James Harding-Morris is a Tophill member and 'Scarborian';

“It was first seen at Wykeham Lakes over a month ago, and I was pretty confident that it was a Barnacle x Ross' hybrid. A couple of weeks ago it turned up at Burton Riggs, Seamer, where I was able to view it a bit closer and it still seemed a pretty good fit for Barnacle x Ross'.

It was then seen at Filey Dams, and reported as blue phase Ross'. From the photo's on your blog I am pretty much 100% that this is our bird. A discussion of it, and a picture, can be seen here

Many thanks James - I am glad the concensus opinion here too has tallied with ours! Just in case you want to see the bird again, check out Tony’s blog for another picture which is the best yet of the bill pattern. Perhaps it is time to send it on somewhere else to go and give some more birders some fun…

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

On an icy wind…

The main news today was the discovery of the first smew of this winter – a red-head female on the favoured Watton NR. John Hirschfield was the finder and it was subsequently photographed by Dave Ware:

Usually we get 6 birds over wintering - the Tophill complex being one of Northern England's best spots to see them - hopefully they'll stay til March - and we'll get a drake this time!

Again for more great pictures visit Dave’s excellent blog here.

On the other hand John Hesslewood managed to record what must be the last swallow of the year over D res on the 1st of November. Other sightings from the last couple of days include two separate mediterranean gulls on D res. yesterday, 5 black-tailed godwit on Watton today, willow tit on the feeders, egyptian goose on Struncheonhill yesterday, and a dunlin on the south marsh roost.

Also check out Tony’s blog for foxes and a remarkable image of a goldcrest that isn’t blurred or behind a twig!

Now to all things geese…

It would seem the ross’ type goose has excited many folk! First off just to re-iterate – there is no suggestion that this is a genuine vagrant, and may have been logged at Filey last week. The bird was observed well today on Watton NR again and has been coming and going between here and Hempholme via D res.

It does have clean legs, but as explained by Major Tim Cowley who lived amongst them for two years – it is regarded in the US and Canada that out of a million strong ross’ population, there are reckoned to be only around 100 blue morphs – even the American birders get excited when they see one (see link)! – so the chances of one of them getting here are pretty mulch zilch.

Secondly the bird does not conform to a true ‘blue morph ross’ goose’ – these birds (which do exist! – we have had a few retorts of “you only get blue snow goose”! – again have a look on the blog above) are generally quite dark on the body with just a pronounced white upper neck and face – this bird is mottled white to a much larger extent.

Yesterday there was a concensus that the bird was a hybrid with at least a proportion of snow goose in it – however today most thoughts are coming back to a majority of ross’ – with very little snow goose, but perhaps with an element of barnacle or the like in it? There is a belief that ringed escapee ross’ geese have travelled north with populations of arctic barnacles and pink feet and interbred – possibly creating this – what we assume a 1st winter bird. Anway the debate will no doubt continue – but this is probably not one to add to your life list…

Make up your own mind on some of these photos; a distant digi-scope on D yest:

Jeff Barker’s (see his flickr page for more great pics)

David Ware’s

And HVWG’s

All sensible suggestions welcome…

The other interesting news is the arrival of a group of 13 whooper swans on D res yesterday afternoon – chiefly because we had precisely 13 in February too – the same group?:

HVWG sent these better photos:

But regular Tom Lowe managed to get a close up view of the birds from East Hide – revealing one of them was sporting a coloured darvic ring – yellow – T6H.

Submitting the details to colourmarkedswans@wwt.org.uk Tom has forwarded what must be one of the fastest ringing returns ever!:

It turns out the bird is of Icelandic origin like most which over winter in the UK – and was last seen in Brunahlid Adaldal, Northern Iceland on the 19th of April. The full details have been forwarded to James for inclusion on the ringing blog.

Isn’t that half way to Canada?...

Finally a quick plug for the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust’s ‘Nature on the Coast’ event which is running alternate Mondays – all the details are available here:

Also at Tophill we will be running the twice yearly ‘Reserve briefing’ on Sunday at 2pm – a quick lowdown on all the projects we are currently working on a round the Reserve and ask any questions.