Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Sandpiper spectacular

An excellent 3 weeks on the reserve has seen some great waders going through the site.  Much by design rather than accident this is largely due to the work conducted 18 months ago to sort water supply issues out in the marshes and lagoons - the intention being to try and recapture something of 'the good old days'.  A lot of credit is due to the volunteers for many, many hours of work, and funding from Yorkshire Water.

As per the last post, little egrets and kingfishers assembled outside the hide suggested that there were masses of fish and inverts in there; So the question was when to offer them up for dinner.  Traditionally the 15th of August is always the peak passage time, but the weather prior was not conducive with a wave of barren westerlies.  However the 15th saw the wind change to migrant laden easterlies - so mud exposed we awaited the result.
First and best was perhaps the pectoral sandpiper which arrived on the 16th.  Generally considered as a trans-atlantic vagrant there is also a sizeable population in northern Siberia, and given there were another 4 in the country all on the east coast it would seem that this was perhaps an Asian bird.  It did much better than the preceding 2010 bird which only lasted 10 minutes before being eaten by a sparrowhawk, and remained until the 21st of August giving some good views and ticks for regulars - Steve Hines:
Roy Vincent:
Its near immediate replacement was a little stint which arrived on the 24th of August on north lagoon and remained until the 28th of August.  Showing a few feet away it gave some great views - Roy Vincent (stint top - dunlin left, curlew sand bottom):

 Dwarfed by a moorhen:
Ruff (centre) - Roy Vincent:
Curlew sandpiper:
 And perhaps even a grey wagtail!:
Spanning the two birds were up to 4 curlew sandpipers on August the 20th which remained in dwindling numbers until the last left on the 27th of August. 
Roy Vincent:
Comparison with a ruff:
Most prevalent amongst the rest were ruff; Still present in good numbers there have been anything up to 17 daily on the lagoon:
2 - 3 greenshank have also been constant - Roy Vincent:
With up to 6 green sandpiper, common sandpiper and 170+ lapwing - Roy:
And a few snipe - Roy:
And the odd little ringed plover with 8 dropping in on the 28th out the rain:
A few black tailed godwits, curlew, redshank and the odd whimbrel over.  Still little egrets ever present - Roy Vincent:
Otherwise in lieu of a reduced number of little egrets have been kingfishers - seemingly on every water body going including rather optimistically on the 3 week old new woodland pond.  Excellent photos again - Phil Dodd:
 Steve Hines:
Roy Vincent:
Otherwise pintail passing through, garganey moving off, with a lingering female scaup on D res and a seasonal dispersal green woodpecker around the southern reserve were additional interest.  Not to mention masses of wagtails of all flavours roosting on the lagoons - with the terrapin beneath - Steve Hines:
Generally wader numbers drop off into September - but never say never... Likewise butterflies.  The best may be over but sunny days are still brining a nice selection out as per Martin Dove:
And always nice to see one of these elusive beasties; water shrew captured pinching flies from spider webs by Pat Hogarth:
Not so welcome has been the return of mink to the reserve - one removed but another still at large. 

Unfortunately made worse by the loss of a highly valued member of the Tophill volunteering team recently.  Chris Earl has been our star man for controlling mink, along with being a friendly face for visitors over the last few years and sadly passed away after a short illness.  He'll be greatly missed and should anyone wish to pay their respects his service will be at Haltemprice Crematorium at 10:30am this Thursday the 1st of September. 

Reserve walk this weekend on the 3rd of September at 10am - free with standard admission.

Unfortunately August's bat walk had to be cancelled due to torrential rain that night.  As such it has been rescheduled for the 8th of September at 8pm - book on 01377 270690 for places - still a few left.  Likewise on the 11th of September we have our 'See a kingfisher' event - again book in advance and hopefully a good chance this year...

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...