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And on the mud, in the reedbeds, on the lagoons in fact birds just about everywhere at the moment! Its certainly fast becoming one of the best Aprils I can remember with so much to see on site and seemingly something new in every day. And maybe its not all co-incidence that we are so good for birds at the moment as the Wardening team and volunteers have all done a tremendous job over the last year to get the site in excellent condition for its wildlife.
Waders continue to shine with at least 14 species recorded this April. The weekend saw 3 greenshank, 130 black tailed godwits, 80 avocets (now mostly on Townend lagoon), 9 ruff (one with german colour rings on), 6 dusky redshank, 25 dunlin, 22 curlew, and then little ringed plover, oystercatcher, lapwing, redshank and still plenty of snipe around despite the sparrowhawk that was obviously hunting the edge of the marsh for them. At least 34 golden plover went over on Thursday evening with some blackwits heading west. Our little shallows at Ousefleet have been superb this spring allowing some great views of the waders, but they won't last for ever as it seems this months tides are not going to recharge the pool as I had hoped.
Here's a few snaps from the weekend.
Black tailed godwits
And one of my favorite birds the greenshank (with teal)
Migrants again are dominating the sightings list and giving everyone some tip-top views, A couple of swifts were a very early record for us this weekend and were supported by up to four grasshopper warblers, reed warbler, and then plenty of sedge warblers, blackcaps, willy warblers, chiffchaffs, and of course our very loud Cettis Warblers. Other migrants included yellow wagtails, house martins, swallows and sand martins.
A nice little willy warbler in the blackthorn
And blackcap at Ousefleet- this little chap has a very funny song which I remember from last year - nice to see an old friend returning
Yellow wags and Mr S the konik (double click to enlarge and see the yellow wag feeding right next to his mouth
The pair of garganey continue to entertain but you have to be patient as they often get themselves tucked up on Townend lagoon to have a kip. Plenty of other duck around plus four great crested grebes today, I wondered where our other pairs had gone to.
And a nice shot sent to me by local regular Mike Booth
Marsh harriers are sublime while bittern seems to just get busier and busier as the days pass, lets hope that its another good breeding season, best hide for these two is Singleton. A male peregrine put on a show at townend as it tried to catch an avocet for its dinner.
Even the gulls are chipping in with the variety with a nice Med Gull flying past me on Friday evening giving its cat like meow.
The koniks were looking in fine fettle this morning as they trotted around Ousefleet, amazing how the waders just ignore them these days!
Finally, there was a rare sighting of a Bri bird on the way up to Ousefleet, he'd forgotten his hat and as it was a bit chilly Matt our Warden had kindly lent him our owl hat! Be warned, never forget your hat when you visit Blacktoft!
Posted by Pete Short
Just a quick Friday update to wet your apatite for the weekend, reserve still outstanding with all still showing that was on the blog yesterday plus this little beauty as it flew over this morning
Immature spoonbill - Singleton hide, I'd been doing a little bearded tit survey work this morning and it just appeared flying towards me as I left the reedbed. Here's the best of my pics
And at last - relief, as I caught up with this gorgeous garganey at Xerox
Yesterday evening the whimbrel were showing nicely on Ousefleet flash, while there was an interesting late passage of golden plover flying west many in their summer plumage
below two pics of the whimbrel on the deck and flying
And a couple of some of the very elusive beardies that I encountered on my survey. Just so much food in the reedbed they don't need to fly anywhere!
Finally a reserve rarity! Rabbit, goodness knows how low the rabbit population round the reserve is these days, they just seem to have vanished.
What a simply amazing, fantastic and outstanding last two weeks it has been here on the sands, I thought that after last week things couldn't get any better but the last three days has just been about some of the best spring migration I think I've ever had the privilege to witness. But its not just been migrants, our resident stars have been splendiferous which all in all just deserves a mega blog and accompanying pictures!
So golly gosh is it or isn't it a goshawk? Photographer Phil Boardman took a picture of a accipiter that drifted over the reserve Id'ing it as a female goshawk, one expert I've consulted thinks it may be a first winter but as per usual with this species there is a bit of debate due to the quality of photo hiding some of the id features - just waiting for confirmation of its size and hopefully another photo of it side by side with one of the marsh harriers (which would give an idea of the size for others) but why not judge for yourselves. My opinion for what its worth is that I think it looks good for one, but then I have been known to be wrong before!
Waders have been excellent especially up on Ousefleet flash where 12 species have been recorded including 181 black tailed godwits, 50+ avocets, 8 ruff, 4 dunlin, 10 redshank, 3 whimbrel (this am), 20 curlew, 2 oystercatcher, lapwing, snipe, little ringed plover, and over the last couple of days a gorgeous dusky maiden better know as spotted redshank. This is all adding up to one of the best wader springs for many years and is giving some stunning birding, here's a few pictures.
Black tailed godwits and avocet in flight (Mike Johnson)
Ruff and reeve (male and female), with one of the ruffs just starting to get a ginger neck colour (I know it looks white but when you look closely its going to be ginger)
Spotted redshank now almost in its full black breeding plumage
And the first breeding plumage dunlin of the spring
If you want to see avocet now's a great time to visit!
Duck too have been really good with the springs first garganey leading at least me a merry dance around the site, plenty of visitors though seem to have had good views of the pair which often frequent Townend or Ousefleet lagoon. All the other duck are just superb in their breeding finery and now busy displaying are a sight to see especially the shoveler, teal and shelduck. But also plenty of gadwall, tufted duck and a few pochard with the 2 goldeneye still occasionally spotted. The great crested grebes have been busy chasing the greylags off for some reason but maybe not a bad thing while the little grebes are trilling and showing of their brilliant breeding garb.
Male and female garganey on Townend (Mike Johnson)
Shoveler by Pedro
Shelduck at Ousefleet
Fine great crested grebes displaying and of course who gets in the way! LOL
The marsh harriers are stunning with birds hunting, displaying and nest building, giving visitors views of a lifetime (where else in the UK do you get such cracking views), just check out Mike Johnsons top snaps below. And not to be outdone the bitterns seem to have gone up a gear and are now showing on the odd occasion during the day and booming this morning. Pretty sure that we have at least two birds now on site - sadly no snaps as yet! Also of note are the two singing cettis warblers one of which gave me some top but brief views last night.
And that leads me on to the current stars of the moment, the migrants! What a last three days its been with some amazing early spring numbers of quite a few species and the arrival of some of our reedbed specialists. Highlights include 420 sand martins in to roost last night, plenty of swallows, a massive arrival of sedge warblers (probably 100's), the best willow warbler spring for years, lots of chiffchaff and blackcaps, and this morning fresh in the first reed warbler, two grasshopper warblers and a very nice wheatear that looked like it may have been from the Greenland race. It was also great to chat to one of our visitors yesterday evening who told me how he had been watching 15 yellow wagtails feeding around one of the Koniks feet as it grazed. Two high flying Jays were a real surprise too, I took a few photo's even though they were probably 200ft or more!
Here's a few of my record snaps below and a nice sand martin shot by MJ.
Its been another excellent spring passage of Chiffchaff (below) and willow warbler
The sedge warblers are showing much better than this one!
What a lovely bright male yellow wag
Male wheatear just moulting into its summer plumage (Probably of the Greenland race which we always seem to get more of here at Blacktoft)
Look closely and you may see the grasshopper warbler!
High flying Jay moving south!
There's been a good late passage of sand martins recently
And lastly just to say - if you do anything this weekend than get out and do some spring birding!
Despite yesterdays little blip in the weather and this mornings frost it certainly did not prevent some eggstraordinary wildlife viewing down here on the Sands. Sat in Marshland hide I had been watching a pair of avocets that were holding territory over a very nice little scrape with the male throwing sticks somewhere in its general direction (why do avocets have such bad aim?) and the female stood slap bang over the nest and looking rather egg bound. Now I have been lucky enough to see an avocet lay her egg before but then my attention was taken by a black headed gull who had beaten her to it and knocked out a rather large looking egg that was balanced precariously on top of the bare mud island.
A bit of Olalla
And sheer look of relief!
So when I looked back at the avocets imagine my surprise to find that the old gal had also produced a lovely olive green egg right into the nest scrape, the first avocet egg of what looks like will be a very busy avocet nesting season as we have enough birds for over fifty pairs at the moment! Lets hope that life is kind to them and we fledge a good number of young this season.
Bird wise the last four days have been excellent on site with the following highlights, wader's for once in spring are looking really good with excellent numbers of summer plumaged black tailed godwits, displaying lapwing and redshank, 2 little ringed plovers, a handful of snipe, a male ruff just acquiring his neck collar, 3 spotted redshank (on Sunday) a pair of oystercatchers and a magnificent 20+ curlew.
The Black tailed godwits just get better and better as they attain their breeding plumage
A really good comparison of male and female side by side (note the size difference)
Marsh harriers are displaying superbly with over 15 now and also bittern starting to show better with a bird flying into First lagoon this morning. At least two cettis warblers about too with both now deciding to sing despite my thoughts that by not singing they were female birds, what a strange species Chets are?
Migrants have been pretty good with regular sightings of sedge warbler, yellow wagtails, white wagtail, willow warbler, chiffchaff and a steady stream of swallows and sand martins plus the years first house martin at the weekend. A Jay seen on Friday was an rare spring record maybe making its way back north?
All this and more with all the wildfowl looking great in their breeding plumage particularly the shoveler, teal, pochard and shelduck while it seems that this year we have two pairs of mute swan on site, Fred our resident mute swan will not be best pleased!
This shelduck managed to show off all its colours as it preened in front of hide of the moment Ousefleet
This mornings first wetland breeding bird survey on site was a real pleasure to undertake, particularly as the weather was so good, but even better news was that there had been a sudden surge of trans Saharan migrants who had rode in on the southerly airflow that seems to be bringing the smog and desert dust with it.
We had the first yellow wagtail arrive on Tuesday but this morning I was greeted onto the reserve by singing blackcap and then discovered a host of other very welcome new arrivals including two sedge warblers, willow warbler, sand martins, 2 swallow, and plenty of chiffchaffs.
Add to this 113 avocets, a cracking 90 summer plumaged black tailed godwits, displaying lapwing, and singing cettis warbler plus all the other ducks and grebes and the wetland was looking outstanding.
But winter has not yet fully gone and I was reminded of this with two fieldfares near to the car park and the two long staying goldeneye which were on Marshland.
Here's a few snaps of some of the birds from the last couple of days.
Black tailed godwit in front of Ousefleet hide
Lapwings too with a bit of nest scraping and display
It really looks like this males having the time of his life as he dives towards the ground
And finally black tailed godwits and black tailed godwits in flight
Sometimes when you are a RSPB site manager you need to do a bit of detective work, especially when it comes to our very own little reedbed sprite the bearded tit because at times they can be as elusive as the proverbial Ouzlem bird from Carry on up the Jungle.
And so I seem to be constantly asked the question at the moment, are there any bearded tits on site? To which I have to reply, yes probably about four hundred, but they can be elusive! This spring however, they seem to be particularly elusive especially when I'm still pretty certain that there are still plenty of them in the reedbed.
So with jungle pith hat and binoculars on, and ready with the double entendre's I ventured forth this morning to try and find out just why we were not seeing many beardies (see I resisted the temptation there of another double entendre missus)
See they do exist! Picture of the Blacktoft Ouzlem bird (better known as the bearded tit) part hiding
The weather was perfect for finding them and by Jove there were plenty of beardies in the tidal reedbed, but very few in the lagoons where they often gather at this time of year to put on condition for breeding as they eat the insects emerging from the water. Even though they were difficult to find I could still find plenty and this gave me some reassurance that nothing disastrous had happened to them between Christmas and today.
Then as I was returning through the reedbed I noticed something small wiggling in the shallow puddles of water along one of the tracks, well not just one in fact but hundreds if not millions across the whole site of tiny pupae of that familiar (to our regular blog reader) insect so loved by the bearded tit the chironomid or better know as the non biting midge or that of the mosquito or a mix of both?
A picture or two of the little wrigglers
In fact it was something that I cannot recall before ever seeing and that is the pre-emergence larval stage of the chironomid fly that will eventually emerge into the reedbed and feed hundred of tiny bearded tit chicks. I've seen the blood worm stage that the waders feed on and I've seen the flying adults in their zillions but I cannot ever recall seeing the inbetween bit. They do look a little like mosquito larvae but I'm pretty convinced that they are the much friendlier chironomids as you can just see the general shape and feathered antennae that is so familiar of the adults. (but I may be wrong so please correct me if you know your mosquito larvae from your chironomids)
What does all this however mean and why does it explain why you are not seeing your much desired and dreamed of lifer the bearded tit? Well you see my dear Doctor Livingstone, the answer is quite simple.
With the recent tidal flooding of the reedbed there is plenty of water through them and this water and the mild weather and the great habitat mosaic created by our Reedcutting Wardens and volunteers seems to be resulting in a massive abundance of food (whether it be chironomid or mozzi) out their in the areas where the beardies like to nest and can stay well hidden.
Although this may not be good news for viewing it certainly is good news for the 130 or so breeding pairs that is my current population and I have the feeling that when they start to feed young towards the end of April there may be plenty of birds showing around the edges of the lagoons.
Hopefully when this happens I'll put it on the blog so that you all have a chance of a sighting of one of the UK's prettiest little birds.
I'll leave you a reminder of what's in store with another photo from this morning.
It really is some superb weather at the moment and it seems to be tempting the wildlife to show itself for everyone.
I'm again going to use photo's to show some of the highlights but just to list yesterday and todays best bits here goes. Bittern was seen again at Singleton, harriers and buzzards galore, 64 avocets and 29 black tailed godwits, swallows, sand martins, a noticeable influx of chiffchaffs, little ringed plover and two cetti's warblers, roe deer, toads singing away and mating, water vole, insects buzzing and fluttering and lots more as well!
Here's the snaps
Swallow! Flying quite fast so difficult to photograph!!
Chiffchaff by Mike Booth
Avocets coming in to land
A lovely female pochard
Some exciting spring fungi in the Konik dung, egghead mottlegill
A misty morning view from Ousefleet
And a couple of Roe deer on the way into work,
And I'll finish with the avocets on Marshland
Today in the beautiful sunshine there was a quiet riot of colours and sounds as spring was suddenly triggered by the suns rays of warmth. But its certainly being strange with few if any trans Saharan migrants apart from the odd chiffchaff, no doubt this northerly airflow is affecting migration but with a still night tonight I have the expectation that tomorrow and the forecast south easterlies of next week may just start a steady trickle of birds back to the Sands.
One thing for sure though that there was plenty to see over the last three days with the usual odd ball mix of birds and wildlife that this time of year often brings. The first yellow flowers of coltsfoot were emerging along the footpath, always a sure sign that spring is truly here for me.
Coltsfoot - notice too that there are a couple of lovely pollen beetles on it with a bit of a spring in their step
Lots of bumble bees too and some truly pristine peacock butterflies and the odd tortoiseshell's too making the most of the summer warmth, this one really was a riot of all the summers colours. While many birds such as magpies, coots and long tailed tits were all seen nest building, and the toads were at last singing to each other and mating
Toad in the main feeder ditch in front of reception
Probably the main stars of the show at the moment are the avocets with nearly 50 birds today and the ever growing number of skydancing and food passing marsh harriers which were truly awesome this afternoon.
Male marsh harrier from today - didn't have time to get any better snaps as so busy!
But also plenty of other interest on site with late winter birds recorded such as redwing, fieldfare, goldeneye, and up to 16 twite still roosting on site with a single bird happily singing away in the car park all afternoon today! He seemed so happy that at times he almost had his little eyes closed in the warmth.
Here's our little musical twite from today!
And stretching a leg
Up to 16 black tailed godwits have been very entertaining with most of them now starting to attain their stunning brick red breeding colours just before they will depart up to Iceland to nest. There's also still a good number of snipe still showing off in front of the hides, while there was also 4 oystercatchers today, and a few redshank and over 10 curlew on the grazing marsh, but sadly just one lapwing which is a poor reflection on their current decline as a local breeding bird.
Black tailed godwit in front of Xerox
Oyk in flight at Ousefleet
Plenty of waterfowl still on site with teal, gadwall, shoveler, pochard, tufted duck, great crested grebe, little grebes all over the shop but now just the last two wigeon of the winter left on site.
The old carrot bills the greylags still make a nice photos
Other highlights of the weekend include still up to two cettis warblers, little egret, a good passage of buzzards north, merlin and late on the evening the barn owls have been excellent in front of Singleton hide with one only 20 feet from me last night.
On the mammal front its also been entertaining with regular hare, roe deer, and weasel and even the odd glimpse of the water vole in front of reception who I have the feeling is now rearing her first brood of youngsters.
Hare from Thursday night
Hopefully the coming week should be pretty good on site especially when the sun shines but I'll leave you a photo I took from Marshland hide of this amazing weird sunset and 'light show' emanating from the glass works at Goole last night
About typical for early April, a northerly airflow! Certainly not like last year but still a good range of species on offer and the chance of anything turning up in the current cool and sometimes stormy weather. Today though it has been beautiful with some nice birds to boot.
Avocets and a BHG on Marshland yesterday
First of all just a quick mention of the 20 Kittiwakes and single common scoter that were seen on the river Trent during the gale force winds on Tuesday, technically within the reserves recording area!
Today saw all the big four summer species seen by visitors - marsh harriers (galore), 42 avocets, bittern and bearded tits both at Singleton lagoon! Top class birding indeed.
Another picture of the female marsh harrier who caught the wigeon, here she's trying to pluck it from the water
A few chiffchaffs around today too singing as they move north and as I did a bit of survey work in the reedbed I booted out a late water pipit feeding in the reedcut plots.
Some very nice wet reedbed plots, perfect for the spring and breeding birds
Plenty of more common species around including snipe, pochard, shoveler, tufted duck and both little and great crested grebes. The little grebes look superb at the moment in all their breeding regalia and make great photo subjects particularly when in front of Marshland hide. Shelduck numbers continue to rise with 88 (two fat ladies in bingo) counted today.
Little grebe in nice plumage - I can't recall ever noticing such a yellow gape flange
A good number too of reed buntings and tree sparrows on site now ready for the breeding season but look at who's already sat tight on her eggs - mother goose, and I bet she's not far from hatching them out if I know the greylags!
Hope to see you over Easter.
We're setting up an emergency fund that we can use to get our reserves back into shape and repair the damage caused. Please help us rebuild from the worst storm in 60 years.
Grid reference: SE8423 (+2km)
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