I must have watched the female bittern flight in many times over the last ten years to feed her chicks but yet every time, just as I did yesterday I still want to get up and shout yahoo! Its just one of those sights that I will never never get tired of seeing and it always makes me feel just maybe a little bit too unashamedly proud to have helped in the conservation of such an iconic reedbed species.
But Blacktoft is such a small reserve in a very large world and it cannot of course save species like the bittern on its own, and therefore we are currently about to embark on our new and exciting project called 'Back to the Future'! Its been very kindly funded by Wren Environmental Ltd through their biodiversity action funding and is probably one of the most exciting projects I have worked on. The project is based around trailing new sustainable methods of managing and creating wetland habitat by looking at how we can use both new and old management approaches to create a NEW fantastic Futurescape, full of exciting birds and wildlife and over a very very large area!
By working on the reserve at Blacktoft and with other land managers and organisations all around the Humber and Humberhead levels area we are going to try and do something quite amazing, that is look towards making wetland habitat, birds and wildlife common! Imagine having bitterns, bearded tits, marsh harriers dragonflies and grass snakes as part of your everyday life rather than as a fast disapearing rarity. In fact its already happening as RSPB Old Moor has proved this summer with its amazing breeding bittern, and in an area which when I was a kid was at the heart of the coal mining industry! Where did those bitterns come from, Blacktoft maybe?
Much of the work on site will be about how we use our much loved Konik ponies and cattle and also how we harvest the reedbed and willow for the use in bio-fuels. There is also work around improving some ways in which we flood the lagoons and creation of better habitat for all our wetland wildlife. All this will be monitored and documented in the hope that the techniques can be shared and used elsewhere. There is lots more to the overall project but with one overarching aim of looking at how will we manage our wetlands in 20 years time when fuel and other non renewables are a lot more expensive?
Its going to be a challenge but I know with everyone's support we can do it, so if you live near to a wetland get ready to listen to that boom or ping from your bedroom window! And if you're on the reserve look out for Micheal J Fox on his hover-board!
Equally exciting if not as fast as the Delorian - the Softrak reed harvester!
If you look across the reeds at the reserve this moment you can often see the heads of many of the young marsh harriers as the sit on bushes watching and waiting for the arrival of their parents with food. Here is two of the youngsters out the front of first doing just this today.
Meanwhile down at marshland there is a lot of activity with waders, bearded tit and the family of water rails. Highlights from the waders include 12 spotted redshank, 10 ruff, greenshank, green sandpiper, dunlin and some golden plover. Here is a photo of some of the action or in this case sleeping.
Waders can also be seen on xerox and up at Ousefleet. Yellow wagtails continue to be seen on occasions at Ousefleet and down at singleton is the place to see bittern. Also look out for the smaller birds like the warblers as you walk the trails and if you would like a challenge, then have a go at counting those tree sparrows in the car park or on the flood bank.
Wader numbers are steadily building with some excellent numbers yesterday and today with 80 dunlin, 11 spotted redshank, 11 ruff, 11 snipe, 13 black-tailed godwit, 7 green sandpipers, 2 greenshank, 12 curlew, plus redshank, lapwing, oystercatcher, and fly over whimbrel. Other highlights have been regular bittern records with a bird seen regularly around Xerox and Ousefleet and then another around Singleton, 2+ little egrets, bearded tits, water rail plenty of marsh harriers, and 11+ yellow wagtails (mostly around Ousefleet).
Lots of other interesting things to see with roe deer and their young around in front of First hide if you're lucky and then a nice mix of dragonflies and insects including the first migrant hawker of the summer. (see picture below plus pictures of two other interesting species).
A common beetle at the moment around site Rhagoncha fulva
And finally some young plum reed aphids!
Early Saturday with the mist clearing from over the lagoons I sat at the screen up at Ousefleet and took in the stunning beauty of the morning. I'd already seen some great birds but it was one of those moments that you just have to grab and breath in deeply. Then on with the cattle shepherding duties.........................
Not sure I could top that but the weekends bird highlights speak for themselves, 11 species of wader including some stunning views from Marshland and Xerox hides. Marsh harriers galore, bittern, 2 fly over spoonbills, whinchat, grasshopper warblers, stunning water rails at marshland, bearded tits at singleton and a host of supporting species.
The breeding season seems to be now taking a positive turn with a nice recently hatched brood of tufted ducks, and fast growing mallard, coot, moorhen, and little grebe chicks on site. Reed and sedge warbler are still busy feeding chicks in the nest and the tree sparrows seem to be having a blinder of a late comeback with large broods pouring out of the nest boxes. Another bird that seems to have had an amazing season are our robins! It was great to arrive at work on Friday in the rain and see a long line of juvenile speckled robins bobbing about in the car park.
With the change in the weather the reserve seems to have changed up a gear with so many new things to discover in each hide and along the paths. Some recent highlights include the Marsh sow thistle which will be at its best this week, look out for it near Joe's seat, its easy to spot (see picture below), also the cinnabar moth catterpiller's that were munching the ragwort (Watford! as Eric Morcambe would have probably shouted!)) and finally the plum reed aphids are starting to appear in number on the phragmites reed. These little protein packed aphids are great for fattening up our warblers ready for their southward migration, and that's not long away! Where did the summer go?
Cinnabar catterpillers and ragwort
Marsh sow thistle
This title just sums up Blacktoft at the moment. One half of the reserve is where you see the marsh harriers and the other half you get the waders.
Starting back to front with the marsh harriers. Our 14 young marsh harriers are getting more confident by the day with much flapping around in the wind as they get used to that feeling of flight. Some are getting quite good at flying and seem to have quiet sharp eyes as I watched one of the young from the back of townend / first fly all the way to the back of xerox lagoon to intercept the returning male with that prey item. It then struggled to carry the prey item back to where it started - certainly good practice. The best place for harrier action is down at singleton lagoon. Attached below is a photo taken by one of our volunteers showing a young marsh harrier very nicely with that orange / yellow head. For other excellent photos have a look at our gallery.
Now to the waders - these are to be found on xerox, marshland and ousefleet lagoons. Today there were 11 species of waders present on the reserve with 8 spotted redshank, redshank, ruff, green sandpiper, common sandpiper, snipe, greenshank, golden plover, lapwing, avocet and dunlin present. Each day brings a different mix. Our first wader event starts this Wednesday 25th at 10am. There are still places left so if you want to join a two hour session learning about waders then email us at firstname.lastname@example.org For full details of our events click here.
Other highlights include sightings of bittern, bearded tit, water rail (and young), those warblers, lots of tree sparrows, occasional yellow wagtail and peregrine. It is also great to see dragonflies coming out this weekend.