Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Spot of the decade

It's been a respectable autumn passage on the southern marshes this year.  It would seem last years 'fallow' rotation has re-invigorated the mud and food available, and combined with a lot of tree clearance by volunteers and new landscaping by contractors has delivered a nice assortment of waders this season.  Undoubted highlight found by Erich on Sunday must undoubtedly be the spotted crake in amongst the islands at the northern end of SME.  The last birds seen were in 2004 when at least two remained until mid September so we hope it'll stay.  Given views are fleeting to say the least - described today as '.75 of a second at 09:30' and 'a nanosecond at 11.00' its hardly surprising that we have no picture as yet - therefore here is one of Martin Hodges of a 2004 bird:
It has somewhat put the wood sandpiper into the shade that turned up on the 16th and stayed the next day also:
Green sandpipers are relatively common place with sightings daily peaking out so far at 8 on the evening of the 16th.
Common sandpipers have been regular also with daily reports of two.  The weedboom at Hempholme weir is a good place at the moment and held every wagtail sp, last Friday:
Thanks to Brian Colley for these:
2 greenshank dropped in on the 15th Aug.
2 whimbrel were on south marsh west on the 28th July, 1 on the 1st Aug, 2 on the 4th,
A lone ruff on Watton NR on the 7th of Aug, and SME on the 18th.
2 black tailed godwit on the 30th July, 2 on the 7th Aug,
Dunlin on the 17th and 18th on SME.
Little ringed plover appeared on the 5th of Aug but alas not one of our young.
Ringed plover on the 12th Aug.
Lapwing in numbers up to 20 regularly - Pete Drury:
Snipe hit a notable 27 on the 2nd Aug with up to 7 daily:
The first redshanks of the autumn on the 19th x 3.
With water rail erratically. 

Some great sightings from SME but you can't have it all ways - Brian Colley snapped this 1 of 2 mink present under the back to back hides two days ago; Get some photos now as it won't be here long!:
Roe deer a more welcome sighting by Adrian Dickinson:
Elsewhere black terns were a nice seasonal item with 2 possibly 3 birds around site on the 12th - with the rare occurrence of a bird over the South Marsh East.
The gull season started for those keen enough on the 17th with the presence of mediterranean gull, yellow legged gull and little gull.

Barn owls are still progressing well with 5 chicks of the 7 now remaining - thanks to Darren Smith for these:
And the buzzards are showy like this one by Adrian Dickinson - lots of hobby reports too:
Kingfishers still a favourite on North Marsh - Trevor Hupton:
And Darren Smith:
But here's catch of the day - one's not sure who's eating who here! Amazing photos of a cormorant attempting to consume a pike on the D reservoir by Adrian Dickinson:
We'll be aiming for smaller beasties in the pond dipping events this weekend - book in advance only on 01377 270690 for family pond dipping events on Sunday and Monday the 24th and 25th of August at 1.30pm.

Hopefully in doing so we wont encounter this creature of the deep!

Sunday, 3 August 2014

A little better than the rest

Bird of the last couple of weeks if not the year to date was a pair of little terns found be Lee Johnson on the morning of the Saturday the 26th over the O reservoir which stayed briefly before continuing their migration.  Nearly as rare at Tophill have been numerous sightings of a green woodpecker in the environs of the Water Treatment Works and D reservoir of late, an uncommon visitor this side of the Wolds, with common scoters x 2 a welcome drop in on the 19th.

Most eyes at the moment however are on the wetlands of the site and there have been a selection of waders so far; highlights include
4 black tailed godwit SME on the 17th (pictured by Roy Vincent):
A further 2 on the 26th.
Dunlin on the 18th SME, 19th over D res, WNR 20th, 2 on the 23rd,
11 common sandpiper 19th D res wall, 6 on the 20th, 5 on the 22nd, 1 on the 23rd, 1 on the 27th, 01st, 2nd resepectively
Greenshank 19th Watton NR as photographed by Brian Colley here:
Another present on the 2nd.
Greensandpiper 19th Watton NR, 1 on the 27th, 2 on the 29th, 3 on the 10th and 2 on the 2nd.
Whimbrel x 6 on the 19th, 3 on the 25th (picture by Andy Marshall)
And Roy Vincent:
A further 2 on the 28th, 30th, and single on the 2nd.
Snipe SME on the 19th, 28th, with 7 on the 1st and 27 circling on the second. Photo by Brian Colley:
Grey plover over on the 20th

The marshes are being constantly drawn down at the moment to provide more feeding opportunities as new mud appears.  For those with a membership the evenings seem to yield the best results for waders stopping off to roost at dusk, and would perhaps give the best chance of a spotted crake. 

Unfortunately our breeding waders the little ringed plovers unfortunately failed this year.  Despite caging the nest and subsequently 4 eggs being incubated for 4 weeks the young never materialised.  No eggs or damage to the nest scrape suggests they hatched but were likely predated immediately.  The gang here taking the cage out a month back:
Better news came from the barn owls on North Scrub; after the blog entries about the 50th barn owls at Tophill Low in early July it appears the young fledged and the parents immediately set about a second brood.  When the licenced nest box team went to clean the box out this week there were 7 young barn owls inside.  It's unlikely they'll all fledge but there's certainly masses of voles about this year - short eared owls for winter anyone?
Otherwise the common crane continues to hang about - the last sighting soaring over Hempholme on the 27th, and there are still erratic reports of marsh harriers.  Both sparrowhawks and common buzzards have fledged in recent days with young birds very vocal around site like this one by Bruce Pillinger:
Both kingfisher and hobby have been seen from North Marsh and South Lagoon in recent days - less welcome was a mink sighting - we're rolling out the traps again at the moment to protect these critters - Bruce Pillinger:
As ever we're at the peak of the insect season with hummingbird hawkmoth today and the second ever pine hawkmoth yesreday.  As ever I'll hand you across to Martin and his blog who covers these elements in detail - including some of Tony McLean's clearwing photos.

Planning ahead
If you've been to the reserve recently you may have seen the planning permission notices.  This is part of the project for the new reception hide at the reserve.  Many will know that the old centre has been in a state of decommisioning in recent months with the regretful absence of our displays and meeting room.  The plan is to take the best elements of this and combine it with the sightings hut and the car park D res hide to give a new focal point for the reserve overlooking the reservoir. 
The principal is that it will give a much better point for our wardens to help people enjoy the reserve and be a logical first point of information both for regulars and new comers as it will feature the ever changing vista of the reservoir wildlife as a backdrop - as opposed to the back of the water works hedge and the chance of a woodcock.  It will contain displays and information on the reserve and wildlife with viewing facility over the reservoir - both for new birders in comfort of a sustainably heated room, and also established gull enthusasts in neighbouring spartan quarters:
In addition there will also be a new meeting room in which we can host birdwatching clubs, evening talks, and education groups. 
Perhaps as exciting as the building is work on the approach and habitats around the entry to the reserve.  Traditionally the first experience of the reserve has either been north:
or south:
Neither particularly inspiring as the start of a trip to observe wildlife.  In future all visitors will enter and exit the reserve through a single access point adjacent to the new reception hide through the oak woodland the volunteers have already been improving by the removal of a rank sycamore understorey and the planting of 300 native shrubs and many plants to make this point instead the start of a trip around Tophill Low:
A walk through the trees will lead to a decision point to go north or south:
For those wanting to venture north to D woods and North Marsh this will be the new route instead of the reservoir path - cutting out noise and disturbance on the SSSI:
And for those wanting to head south this will be the new route as opposed to walking along the road past the residential area:
The proposed layout of the paths is mapped here:
We're always conscious of losing habitat and the effect of opening this area of woodland up.  The routes have been carefully selected to minimise the felling of any native trees, and actually manage and promote specimens like ash, oak, beech and willow pollards.  A key feature will be a new wildlife pond along the same lines as that in D woodlands and North Marsh in 2009 where material will be used to create disability access ramps in and out of the hide leaving an excellent pond for amphibians and dragonflies as well as being the back drop for new feeders.  We're confident that the habitat will be better for wildlife than when we started and indeed many wrens have already nested in the brash wall from last winter and this scarlet pimpernel popped up for the first time in a while:
The concept is to provide a ready and enjoyable experience for wildlife enthusiasts of all abilities in the environs of the new reception hide, whilst securing and maintaining the seclusion and remoteness of the wilder parts of reserve.

All really exciting stuff in a project which has already been given the go ahead by Yorkshire Water who are funding it with Leeds based architects Chetwoods designing it.  We're now awaiting the exact programme of funding to determine the build date which is influenced by the SSSI regulations - but it is hoped to be between 2015-17. 

The planning permission is viewable on the ERYC planning portal here under reference 14/01979/PLF.  But if you want to find out more on the project I'll be leading two drop in tours for anyone interested at 10am on both Sundays the 17th and 24th of August.  I'll be taking people on a walk of the route, and will be glad to hear of any suggestions or improvements we can plan in at this stage. 

Boat trips
A month or so back we posted advance notice of a series of boat trips along the river Hull in September as part of the Visit Hull and East Yorkshire Walking and Outdoors festival.
We now have the dates and information to allow people to book (those who have expressed an interest should hopefully have already been contacted by Beverley Boat Hire). 
All trips will comprise of a flotilla of vessels of varying capacities.  Beverley Boat hire staff will brief and launch you so you can make your own way to the reserve before being berthed by one of their staff again at Hempholme Lock landing.  A guided tour around the northern reserve will follow with a chance for toilets and to eat a pack up.  
There will be two trips from North Frodingham Wharf at 0900 on the 15th and 20th of September.  Prices are for a boat to suit 3 adults £45, 4 adults for £60 or six adults at £90 (Great value at £15 each inc admission to the reserve).  The return to North Frodingham will be at 12:30 for 13:30; but for £20 extra per vessel you can retain the boat to explore the Driffield Navigation until 16:30. 
The other trip will be longer from Beverley Boat Hire at Tickton starting at 0900 on the 17th of September.  The journey to Hempholme will take an hour and a half and pass Swinemoor, Storkhill, High Eske, Pulfin and Leven Canal, with again a tour of the northern reserve and a leisurely return  to Tickton for 16:30. Prices for this trip will be £80 for a boat to suit 3 adults, £90 for 4 adults or £120 for 6 adults.
All bookings are being taken by Beverley Boat Hire who can be contacted on 07726 491430 with a £20 deposit per boat by the 7th of September.

We should perhaps explain a little more on the concept of the boat tours as it could be mis-interpreted as a 'what next? pedalos on the res' moment.  The idea stems from the strength of habitats that flank the river Hull - a series of excellent birding sites like Swinemoor, Figham, Noddle Hill, Leven and Arram Carrs, Leven Canal, Tophill, Struncheonhill, Emmotland and the upper tributaries and developing YWT reserves at Snakeholme and Skerne.  All are disjointed and even distant by road (as anyone will know who has been chasing cranes between Leven and Arram Carrs recently!).  The common corridor is the river that links this area together.

Ideally we'd embrace the river but alas in recent years it's been the source of most of the relatively infrequent anti-social incidents including numerous diesel thefts and the stripping of a contractors tractor cab during the Hempholme Meadows project with the cuplrits being seen fleeing by boat.  Another is the speed of power boats and jet ski's dropped into the river and regulalry passing the reserve at 20mph+ with the erosion and habitat damage this causes.  We hope that by nuturing and encouraging reputable users of the river we can sideline the 'wild west' elements. 

We also want to encourage green travel as Tophill and all the other river Hull reserves are so remote it is a long car journey to reach them individually.  As motoring costs more we see this as a way to sustainably get people to the reserve. 

But most of all its a great wildlife experience and a chance to not only get a great perspective upon the habitats but also visit them all in a day.  Hopefully by creating an awareness we can develop the idea into a 'pelagic' which wilst it may not offer manxies and storm petrels will yield harriers and kingfishers and serve to enhance the wider Hull Valley through identity and funding and protect it from insensitive developments.

Historically Tophill Low always was accessible by boat and the old inlet to Tophill Low Farm still exists which if the interest is there we hope to be able to resurrect as part of the wider reception hide above.  It also provides opportunities for local businesses to support the concept of a 'living reserve' much like the cattle grazing.