Friday, 29 June 2012

The wail of a quail

Highlight of this week has been a quail calling over the river from Hempholme Meadows.  Two birds were calling over each over on Tuesday and a single bird heard calling that night and yesterday afternoon.  Unfortunately it never piped up long enough to get an audio grab but an example is here if you're not familiar with the call. 

We had a walk on Hempholme Meadow on Wednesday for the first time in two months and realised why it is called as such:
This plant is large flowered hemp nettle and was ID'd by Jen Hunt.  It is already on the Tophill List but the meadow is awash with it - another photo by Roy Vincent:
It was always hoped that we might uncover some relic plants of the old meadowland formerly present before the poplars.  And great news is that the new meadow is carpeted with this plant.  According to Eva Crackle's revered book 'The Flora of the East Riding of Yorkshire' (see here) this plant is associated with moist peat soils and was formerly widespread on the cornfields north of Hull.  The species is now classed as vulnerable as it has been hit badly by modern herbicides.  The seed though obviously lasts at least 50 years in the ground, and the meadow should be carpeted by the looks of it in two weeks time, which may be a one off spectacle as it thrives on disturbed soil.  Hopefully cattle hooves may encourage the odd plant up in future years too.  This skull cap was also nice:
We have the Yorkshire Naturalist's Union visiting next Saturday so we hope we may uncover some more gems.  (please note as a consequence we won't be running the normal monthly walk on this occasion).

Birdwise the meadow looks excellent with many wet hollows and pools for waders.  Hopefully the first green sandpiper of autumn on there on Wednesday bodes well for this passage.  Whimbrel and Curlew also seen on Tuesday.  Skylark are now feeding young on the meadow and we suspect these yellow wagtails are on there too:

We'll be hay cropping the meadow in mid to late July to prevent the thistles going to seed.  Another feature of the meadow is regular kingfishers now - we've put some experimental perches in - but we don't want to remove the spectacle on North Marsh.  Some great pictures coming back now if you're there at the right time - Roy Vincent:

Thanks to Mike Day for these great pictures of hobby from Tuesday too - apparently doing its best to catch the kingfishers but settling for a four spot chaser:

Four spot chaser in better circumstances by Roy Vincent:

Along with azure damselflies:

And large red:

Roy also captured these great shots of the otter at ten past nine the other evening:

Barn owls on Struncheonhill between the showers:

Maybe the last adult cuckoo of this year on Wednesday?:

A couple of the Tophill team made a late evening visit to Wilfholme landing earlier in the week and caught a brief glimpse of a 'falcon that wasn't a kestrel' leaving the wires.  So there is still potential for the red foot.

Michael Flower's birdwatching group turned up a couple of sightings in the week also - crossbills and peregrine; all the details here.
Unfortunately the western conifer seed bug it transpires wasn't quite a first for Yorkshire - as it turns out Doug had one a year prior (a county second - viewable on Martin's blog).  A first for Tophill is a good result at any rate!  A couple of weevils ID'd by Barry Warrington and photographed by Pete Drury - Cionus scrophulariae:

And Cionus alauda:

The avocets still have their four chicks:
Doing a grand job seeing off the carrion crows - "they don't like it up 'em you know...":

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Coronet for the King

Unfortunately autumn has now arrived!  the first waders are now starting to return through the reserve.  A dunlin on the southern marshes yesterday, a common sandpiper on the new cut of the river Hull this morning, and four whimbrel east over Hempholme Meadows.  Post breeding season is also traditionally the time for kingfishers on North Marsh - three seen daily now back on their familiar perches - these on Thursday:

Also worth watching is the kingfisher hunting over the new scrape at Hempholme.  In a previous post we reported sticklebacks in the ditches - and a look today revealed masses; clearly the small numbers present after have reproduced hugely given the lack of predators at present.  And the kingfisher is doing an excellent impression of pied kingfisher 'hover-hunting.'

However excellent news yesterday from South Marsh East - after a lot of running around sorting water levels in the last month the avocets have successfully hatched (for the first time ever at Tophill).  Two chicks yesterday and three today with the birds still apparently incubating more:

Unfortunately they are at the mercy of the weather which besides predators are the biggest threats to young avocets.  These birds have taken a gamble in colonising the marsh on the basis that predators may not have learnt to exploit them at Tophill.  Avocet colonies often go through an expansion and sudden collapse as one predator realises 'these are an easy meal' and wipes the lot out in a season.  Hopefully they'll come good though - the birds parenting to date cannot be faulted.

Otherwise ten little gulls, hobbys, grey wagtail, and water rails and daylight hunting otters on North Marsh have been notable sightings.

A couple more firsts this week - a (subject to a final check of the list) - varied coronet found by Doug and Martin:
And found by Pete Drury last October and identified last week by Barry Warrington - a reserve first and one of few seen in Yorkshire; Western conifer seed bug Leptoglossus occidentalis (immature):

Wednesday, 20 June 2012


Regardless of the weather tomorrow, this week is the peak of summer as evidenced best in the hay meadows around the reserve:

Whilst the birds are quiet now is the perfect time to seek out some of the most ephemeral beauties on the site.  All the orchids are now in bloom - marsh orchids:
The marsh orchids at Tophill are actually often heavily hybridised, we have elements of southern and northern marsh orchid present in most examples.  However they also cross with the common spotted orchids below:
These are generally discernible by their spotted leaves and lighter coloured petals.  However the highlight for most are the bee orchids currently numbering around 15 on the O res between East Pond and the steps on the southern side:
 Close up by Brian Spence:

Also just appearing now is the pyramidal orchid.  These only appeared four years ago on the reserve and are the most uncommon here.  Unfortunately various calamities seem to befall them including bring strimmed by groundsmen and eaten by rabbits often.  As such the chicken wire guard is going up tomorrow! This example is just south of the car park near the butterfly garden:
Finally not quite orchids but very close are the common twayblades:
 These are in full bloom believe it or not - resplendent in green throughout.  Unfortunately these are out of public view but if you do see any on site please let us know as we'd be keen for them to be found elsewhere. 

Bird highlight since last week has been the red-footed falcon.  Ivan again had the bird on Friday night (15th) but very late on at dusk - so if anyone does want to try their luck then it may still be about.  Ivan also has pointed out it is worth looking out for the corn buntings on the wires when approaching Wilfholme landing too. 

Little gull are the other non-breeding wanderers still about - four on South Marsh East today:

Hopefully to hatch out after tomorrow's rain are the avocets: 

Hopefully they will fare better than many other waders - our spies in Portugal tell us there are already exceptional numbers of black tailed godwits and dunlin already going south which have seemingly given up on this summer and gone home.  Unfortunately it seems our sand martins have also become a victim.  After much interest at the end of May they disappeared when the rains returned again.  We have heard from other sites of a lack of food and late arrival meaning the birds have just abandoned breeding this year.  This fledgling robin did make it though - by Chris Ulliott.

Likewise the sedge warblers have fledged a brood on South Marsh East and are showing well under the first hide at the moment - photo by Brian Spence:

Kestrels too have fledged - four over Watton today - photo's by Roy Vincent:

And carrion crows are usually pretty hardy souls:

Young treepcreeper by Chis Ulliott:

We're not sure whether it may be too late for these terns though:

Roe deer riding out the thunderstorms:

Otherwise it is the usual candidates - swallows at Hempholme (Roy Vincent):

Goldfinches (Chris Ulliott):

Lapwings - subtly building in numbers now (CU):

Dave Ware has photos of the barn owls on his blog here

And news to delight some - kingfishers back on North Marsh.  Only fleetingly at the moment but as follows the pattern of the last three years we would expect them to build up in activity over the next month.  We'll be prepping the perches and clearing the vegetation in coming days in anticipation (Chris Ulliott):

This grey heron may appear optimistic hunting on Hempholme meadows as this scrape is only eight months old:

However setting the mink rafts the other day revealed good numbers of sticklebacks already in the ditches which is remarkable given there was only one tiny pool in the wood when we started work.  It is likely that some may have been washed out of North Marsh in the rains.  In time we would expect all the usual coarse fish in there:

Another thing well worth looking at is insects - thanks to Roy Vincent for this of ruby tailed wasp.  They are often encountered on the woodwork of the back to back hides at present:

Four spot chasers have been out a while - Brian Spence:

Whereas this black tailed skimmer was a brand spanker out today on O res: