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:
But once cleared they gave outstanding photographic opportunities, generally right under the hide:
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:
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:
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...