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Recent sightings

  • 26 September 2016

    Wildfowl bonanza at Blacktoft

    A quick update, I'll try and post some photos later,  the  highlight of the last week at Blacktoft has been the great numbers of wildfowl feeding on weed seed on  the recent flooding at Ousefleet. Peak numbers have included 770 teal, 540 wigeon, 430 wigeon, 85 shoveler and 16 pintail. 

    Bearded tits have been very good on calm and fine mornings,  Marshland and Ousefleet hides have been the most reliable, flocks of up to 40 are being seen.

    Still a good selection of waders around, up to 118 black-tailed godwits, 16 spotted redshank, 200 dunlin, 3 greenshank, green sandpiper, 16 ruff, 47 snipe ( all on Marshland Lagoon), a couple of grey plovers on Singleton Lagoon one evening was nice as most records here are of birds flying over and parties of golden plovers are flying over the reserve regularly.

    Water rails continue to be performing well from Marshland and Singleton hides, and also  a couple of sightings of bittern in the last week.

    Still a few summer visitors around, yellow wagtails have been regular on lagoons, a few reed warblers hanging on and up to 6 chiffchaffs.

    Number of marsh harriers coming into roost is building up with 7 in the air together on Saturday evening  together with a splendid male Merlin.

    Posted by Mike Pilsworth

  • 19 September 2016

    The Little Brown Bird

    The Little Brown Bird (LBB) or to some the Little Brown Job (LBJ) is something of a bird watching cliché; that small brown bird that you won’t be able to see properly, and even if you could you would stand little chance of separating it out from the hundreds of other very similar species spread across several more or less identical pages in your Collins Guide.  Most of the time this bird is likely to be a warbler and, usually, one that is simply refusing to sing.  But it may surprise you that at this time of year Blacktoft Sands becomes home to one of the original LBJs, and it certainly isn’t a warbler.  Lots of ‘boring’ birds tend to be brown and a little skulking.  Take for example the dunnock, a bird that, like Blacktoft’s little brown bird of the minute, is named after its rather uninspiring brown or ‘dun’ plumage; in Victorian times the dunnock, also known as the hedge sparrow, was seen as a paragon of virtue-- a faithful bird that would never make a show and whose  song has an almost apologetic tone.  Of course the reality of dunnock breeding strategies are fascinatingly complex and, in Victorian terms at least, far from virtuous (


    (Thanks to Gary Vause for this amazing picture of an underrated little brown job)


    But let's get back to the little brown wader of the moment; this time of year at Blacktoft is particularly great for seeing wading birds. As they return from their breeding grounds on migration back to their wintering grounds waders will often drop into Blacktoft in search of a feed and to unwittingly charm eager birders.  The real prizes of the passage tend to be the smaller waders such as the fleet footed little stint or the elegantly plumaged curlew sandpiper; but there is one other bird, the dunlin, which tends to be overlooked, and is often used only for comparison to others due to its comparatively larger numbers.  As you can guess, the name basically means little brown bird – ‘dun’ means brown and –‘lin’ is likely a shortening of ‘-ling,’ basically meaning ‘the little brown one.’ But, as ever, take a closer look at the species and it may cast a few surprises your way.  It may surprise costal bird watchers that this vigorous little specimen leads something of a dual life, behaving totally differently between the summer and winter.

     In winter time the dunlin is the small, nondescript, mud coloured wader that is to be seen all around the British coast, probing the mud for morsels; but in summer, when they have returned to their upland breeding grounds, a complete change comes over them.  Firstly the little mud grey fellows change their plumage to a rather splendid almost brick red on the back, with a black oblong along their white bellies that makes them , for my money at least, one of our most attractive wading birds. They also have (for a wader) a rather nice song – so nice in fact that it is often incorporated into the song of skylarks that co-habit with them in the summer uplands  .  The seasonal transformation of these birds is such that the famous eighteenth century biologist and taxonomist Carl Linneaus believed that there were two separate varieties of the bird: the brightly coloured upland songster (Tringa alpina;) and the dowdy lowland dunlin (Tringa cinclus).  More than that our ancestors used to call dunlin ‘the plover’s page’ (or in Iceland ‘plover’s slave’) due to its curious habit of shadowing the movements of golden plover, even to the extent of calling when its host plover calls.  Initially this behaviour is hard to fathom, and certainly very unusual, but upon closer inspection it does seem to make sense.  The Dunlin follow the plover (or sometimes the greenshank or dottrel) so closely that they can’t be shaken off; this is not due to the fact they are slaves or errand boys but seemingly because the birds that they choose to shadow have far sharper responses to potential predators and this keeps these not very boring LBJ’s much safer than they otherwise would be via an unusual pseudo-parasitical relationship.


    (Another great shot from Gary Vause)


    Sadly these fascinating and charismatic waders are, like much of our UK wildlife, facing major challenges. Our most abundant shoreline bird is currently under threat from loss of costal and estuarine habitat due to land reclamation and development. So why not visit us here at Blacktoft and see the real thing amongst the flocks of other amazing waders on our lagoons; and if you aren’t already a member join up to the RSPB and help to support our work here at Blacktoft and also in the uplands. (There is an important upland population at our Dove Stone reserve in Greater Manchester.) This will help to ensure that the dunlin will always have a home here in Britain.  



    Posted by Alexander J

  • 19 September 2016

    High tides bring a flood of birds

    What a fantastic last few days its been here on the sands with at last the tides reaching their predicted levels and giving us the shallow inundation of water we so desperately needed in mid September. Its been all hands to the sluices today as the 6.5 tide allowed us to flow water onto Marshland and Townend lagoons, however please note that the water table will rise over the next couple of days and this will raise water levels in all the lagoons, once the tides are over we will balance out the levels again, however we now also have the pools out on the grazing marsh and we are expecting a flood of wildfowl onto these pools to feed on the annual plants - there should be some spectacular numbers of wildfowl on site soon!

    Ousefleet grazing marsh this morning - quite wet would be an understatement!

    Some great birding too over the last few days with records of bittern, spoonbill, plenty of bearded tits showing at Marshland for most of the last two days, and then a lovely kingfisher today been chased by the pied wagtails and being unceremoniously dumped in the water by one persistent waggy.

    Waders have just been fantastic especially on tide (10am tomorrow) with the lagoons holding some superb numbers of birds and allowing some real close up views of many of the species, 180 dunlin and about 7 ringed plover and a single little ringed plover were notable as were a single knot and bar tailed godwit mixed in with them, then there were good numbers of black tailed godwits, eye popping close up views of snipe, ruff, spotted redshank, greenshank and green sandpiper. Plenty of lapwings and a few redshank added to the throng while there were regular flyover curlew and golden plover. Waders certainly have been the theme with at the end of last week turnstone on Singleton, and flyover grey plover and whimbrel; a wader that has been particularly scarce this autumn. 

    A few wader shots

    Roosting dunlin with a single knot and bar tailed godwit

    Feeding greenshank

    Black tailed godwit having their feathers ruffled by the north westerly on Saturday


    Spotted redshank

    Green sandpiper

    Ringed plover

    Snipe - allowing some great shots while feeding

    Wildfowl numbers have been low on site due to low water levels but this will change over the next week, however there have been regular flocks of wigeon and pintail flying west while the first pink footed geese flew over this morning (yes its that time of year already), mind you its and early year with at least 2000 already roosting on our Reads Island reserve at the weekend!

    Pinkfeet whiffling onto Reads Island - always exciting to see them back!

    Plenty of marsh harrier activity around site today and over the weekend hoovering up prey flushed out by the rising tide, also peregrine, buzzard and a particularly naughty sparrowhawk who decided to site on Marshland lagoon on Saturday morning flushing all the waders off for a while. 

    Marsh harrier hunting over Singleton

    A very naughty sparrowhawk - but a super bird too

    Other birds of note to look out for are yellow wagtails that were showing well on Marshland today, water rails on Singleton, plenty of little egrets and then a passage of meadow pipits, with the first redpoll of the autumn on Saturday, regular grey wagtails south, cetti's warblers singing all over and then a few goldcrests, chiffchaffs, reed and sedge warblers, blackcaps around the bushes.

    Yellow wagtails on the grazing marsh 

    All in all some good birding and a good range of species.

    And finally the weasel put on a show today, deciding to sneak under the gate past my feet - too close to photograph but here's a shot I took as it was working its way towards me. 

    And a rather large chub which was unfortunately found dead in one of our pools last week

    This will probably be my last blog for a couple of weeks - in the meantime there will still be occasional recent sighting updates from the rest of the team.

    Posted by Pete Short

  • 14 September 2016

    A brief encounter - bearded tits

    As per yesterdays blog the beardies are still bouncing around site and allowing some nice views, these were a small group of ten birds that I came across while doing some work on site.

    And then in better light - this female shows how dexterous beardies can be

    Posted by Pete Short

  • 13 September 2016

    Bouncing beardies and the green eyed monster

    Some smashing mid September weather is really helping to create some fantastic birding around the site at the moment with plenty to see in what is a great mix of birds and wildlife around site.

    High pressure often gets the freshly moulted bearded tits somewhat excited and bouncing around the reedbed ready to erupt and this morning they sure were bouncing! Quite a few parties of up to 20 birds really starting to show how good a breeding season it was for this little reedbed sprite and by the looks of the weather this may really just get better and better. Best time is between 9am and 10.30am on a calm sunny morning, best hides are Singleton and Ousefleet. 

    Its quite early for eruptions to be in such intensity but may reflect the nice weather but also that the first brood success was quite good this year.

    Some lovely bouncy beardies - great to have them back in pristine plumage again

    Fantastic to see too that the Great White Egret was back on site yesterday allowing a second look at its plumage, this time in slightly duller light you could see the green around the eye and lore's, and what I think were a few small plumes on the back. Amazing what different plumage and colours you can see in different lights. Also of note were 14 little egrets and lots of water rails along the edge of Singleton

    Below; the green eyed monster

    And dwarfing the blackwits

    With the weather fining up the waders are really making the most of the lowering water levels and increased food supply, Singleton has been particularly good but Marshland too has been very entertaining although we may run out of water on here if this tropical heatwave continues, high tides from Friday which should help us get a little bit on their if they reach prediction! Water is getting a worry though as both weather and tides are both of concern.

    Recent peaks of 224 Black tailed godwits, 9 greenshank. 33 spotted redshank and 31 ruff have been notable as has been the showing of up to 43 super snipe mostly on Marshland. Backing these up have been 175 lapwing, and a handful of redshank, 4 dunlin this morning and fly over grey plover, 2 green sandpiper and the odd curlew. Pretty sure I also herd fly over turnstone this morning that with the dunlin and increase in greenshank numbers the waders are really on the move.

    Ruff - note the one at the front fertilizing the lagoon!

    Greenshank on Townend

    Green sandpiper on Marshland

    And then a surfeit of snipe snaps - just a wonderful little wader - did you know that they can have more than one brood per year, quite unusual in waders

    Still a few marsh harriers lingering but currently regular sighting of hobby and sparrowhawk

    A few nice passerines around too with wheatear and two whinchat on the grazing marsh as well as the odd yellow wagtail. In my last blog I have to admit a bit of a identification mistake in my chat ID, on looking at my photo's I realized that the reason for the female stonechat and whinchat looking so similar was because there were in fact two whinchats and just one male stonechat. Well Wardens do make mistakes!

    Double your whichat

    Some other nice little bods around the site too including a nice mix of chiffchaff, reed and sedge warblers, and a few blackcaps and a couple of goldcrests. Cetti's warblers singing all over the place, meadow pipits, swallows, house martins and sand martins migrating south and an increase in finches particularly chaffinch, goldfinch and linnets moving through. Reed buntings and some of the resident species are also coming out of moult and being a bit more conspicuous around site

    Male reedy bunting

    A perfect pied wagtail at Marshland dilly dallying in the water

    And a sign of the time of year goldfinch among some lovely red Hawthorn berries - a real splash of colour

    A few late insects appearing, nice to see this small copper and a nice grasshopper out on the saltmarsh among the orache and milkwort.

    Ah grasshopper

    Enjoy the heatwave, get out and do some birding!

    Posted by Pete Short

  • 10 September 2016

    Weather brings some classic September migration

    SW winds can be very good here at Blacktoft often bringing a good range of migrants to the reserve, recent days seem to have supported this with a superb selection of birds passing through the site and using the lagoons for feeding on.

    Take this morning, a bit of overnight rain gave some classic birding on site with a good range of migrants including lots of reed warblers, chiffchaffs, blackcap and willow warbler but also notably a lesser whitethroat, goldcrest and then plenty of meadow pipits flying south with at least three grey wagtails. Out on the grazing marsh the autumns first pair of stonechats mixed with a single whinchat giving a good chat identification lesson! Then just as I was thinking how good it was for chats up popped a moulting wheatear which perched on a fence post allowing some great views! Whatever the weather its always worth being out and about birding at this time of year particularly during rain!

    Male stonechat 

    Male and female stonechat - note how similar the female is compared to the whinchat below


    And to finish the set wheatear, bingo!

    There seems to be loads of insects about for all our migrants to eat, this is a juicy fly I snapped along one of the reed edges

    Earlier there had been a single spoonbill flying around the site and also a visitor report of the great white egret that showed so well on Thursday (see photo's).

    Little egret still with breeding plumes along the back at First lagoon this morning

    And a poor record shot of the spoonbill

    And grey heron eating a sand gobbie

    Birds of prey seem to be having a bit of a renaissance with first merlin of the winter flashing past Singleton hide last night, earlier there had been two hobbies at Ousefleet, its always great to see summer and winter migration meeting here on the banks of the Humber. Still a few marsh harriers about with at least four birds together yesterday evening.

    Marsh harrier at Singleton

    Lots of water rails are currently showing around Singleton lagoon which also seems to be the focus for our wading birds which are taking advantage of the lowered water levels, notably there were 204 black tailed godwits yesterday evening but also up to 17 ruff, 28 snipe, 27 spotted redshank and then a mix of greenshank, green sandpiper, lapwing, and redshank. At Ousefleet there are up to six curlew feeding within the orache while golden plover flocks fly over the apex. A single knot was noted yesterday but with the reserve looking in perfect condition you get the feeling just about anything could turn up.  

    A couple of curlew at Ousefleet

    Black tailed godwits

    One of the too white headed ruffs - this ones wading through the muddy gloop of Singleton

    And spotted redshank eating sticklebacks

    Last weeks Bar tailed godwit with a Black tailed (Tim and Si Jump)

    Not too many duck about but the garganey is still being reported and there is an autumn passage westwards of wigeon, teal and pintail that could also contain other duck species. Notably there were 1400 teal and 1600 avocets along the banks of Reads Island on Wednesday.  

    Part of a 52 strong flock of pintail heading west midweek

    A few other birds to look out for include the singing Cetti's warblers and a few lingering yellow wagtails as well as our tree sparrows at the feeders.

    I'll leave you with a photo of our regular great spotted woodpecker, not an easy bird to photograph here in the scrub.

    Posted by Pete Short

  • 8 September 2016

    Great Egret and recent highlights

    A great white egret on Singleton Lagoon this morning was a nice surprise, dwarfing it's smaller cousins and being hassled by the local herons and marsh harriers. It has remained on the lagoon all day and will hopefully hang around for a while, what was probably the same bird was seen on the East Yorkshire coast yesterday.

    The have been some good numbers of waders on site with up to 125 black-tailed godwits, 27 spotted redshanks, 10 ruff, a bar-tailed godwit joined the black-tailed flock for a couple of days. The have been regular greenshanks, the occasional flock of ringed plover and dunlin passing through and a curlew sandpiper was on Singleton lagoon this morning.

    Marshland Lagoon was partially flooded over the weekend and it has been attracting quite a few waders with  snipe showing well  (this picture was taken this morning) and these ringed plovers and dunlin appeared as soon as the was water on the lagoon. Also been very good for wagtails on the lagoon with up to 40 pied , still a few yellows around and a grey dropped in briefly this morning.

    Most of the migrant warblers have now left, with a few chiffchaffs, blackcaps in the last few days, although cetti's are becoming more vocal. There has been some nice movements of birds heading south over the reserve particularly meadow pipits and swallows and mixed in amongst them I have had our first autumn siskin and a tree pipits yesterday.

    Water rails are becoming more vocal with lots of piggy squealing in last few day and they are showing fairly regularly on Xerox, First and Singleton Lagoon. They are also late breeders and I was very pleased to see this quite small chick in the open on Singleton Lagoon on Saturday.

    Amongst the wildfowl shoveler numbers have been quite high with peak count of 96, the has continued to be a few reports of garganey, and a flock of 25 pintail flew west onTuesday evening

    Posted by Mike Pilsworth

  • 1 September 2016

    Autumn beckons as migration picks up pace

    This morning it really felt like September had arrived very quickly as a walk around the reserve revealed that the local robins had changed to their winter song, chiffchaff's were all among the willows 'huiting' and the waders were feeding avidly on the lagoons along with a good number of little egrets and a lone spoonbill. 

    Can you spot the spoonbill among the sea of egrets

    There was a really nice variety of waders on both Xerox and now Singleton lagoons, we've just let a little water off Singleton so it should be in tip top condition to attract down a nice range of waders over the next couple of weeks. Please note that we have been experiencing a significant tidal drought over the last few months and this means that we cannot flood up some of the lagoons quite as we would wish at the moment, it also means that we have to be careful with the little bit of water we still have so that we still have water over the next couple of months at the least. I have known low tides last right into the new year which off course makes us extra cautious with our current situation.

    Plenty of waders at the moment with a good number of juvenile black tailed godwits present, also ruff, spotted redshank, redshank, dunlin, curlew sandpiper, greenshank, green sandpiper, curlew and golden plover. Watch out for water rails along the reed fringed edges of the lagoons, I had an adult with a fluffy youngster today which would have only been about two weeks old! 

    Curlew sandpiper with lapwing

    It looks like the purple swamphen is still over at Alkborough but you never know as time goes on maybe it will arrive over here at Blacktoft, whatever its a nice bird for the Upper Humber and an indication what 3000ha of wetland will attract. Not as many ducks around at the moment but the garganey was seen over the weekend.

    Plenty of bird of prey action as many raptors start to emerge from their moult period and begin their migrations or post breeding dispersal, marsh harriers are still regular but also plenty of buzzards sightings, sparrowhawks, peregrine and possible hobby as local nests are just fledging their young.

    Buzzard flexing its wings on Ousefleet grazing marsh

    Another sign of the imminent Autumn is the increase in singing cettis warbler's, it was however pleasing to note good numbers of yellow wagtails and meadow pipits out on the grazing marsh using some of the areas that I'd recently flailed to help control the thistle's, another bonus was a lovely pair of wheatear that were too sorting through the freshly mown grass.  Still a good number of tree sparrows too around the feeders and yesterday there was a grey wagtail over heading south.

    Yellow wagtails

    And wheatear

    Tree sparrow

    I'll leave you with a picture of a migrant hawker dragonfly that I took this morning, a rare reserve sighting of a young smooth newt on the footpath and then the sunset from Monday evening


    Posted by Pete Short

  • 26 August 2016

    Some superb wildlife watching!

    The last few days have really seen some fantastic wildlife watching here on the Sands with an eclectic mix of superb birds, insects, amphibians and mammals on site, here's just a few highlights hopefully giving you an idea of just how good its been at times. High tide can be particularly good at the moment with the weekends tides around 2 and 3 o'clock, so best to be on site for at least 1ish if you want to connect with it. However birding in the morning or early evening can also be pretty good so don't worry too much, there may be other highlights for you to find! 

    Its always good to meet visitors and help them see whats on site and it was nice to be able to show a couple of youngsters with their Dad a few of the waders, in return they showed me their excellent Jersey Tiger moth that they had found while on holiday in France. And yes all the avocets were down at Reads Island today, over 2000 were counted by the Wardening team along with over 1500 shelduck!

    Where do I start?

    Look out for the fantastic large red underwings that are emerging at the moment - they often like to cling onto the hides as in the pictures or on the toilet block! A tottaly awesome moth .

    And on the window of the reception building a show from underneath giving a slightly different perspective (maybe in need of a bit of a clean! the window that is not the moth!)

    With a bit of rain the toads were emerging along the paths this morning

    There's some top mammal watching at the moment with both stoats and weasels, fox wading across the lagoons at Singleton and regular hares on Ousefleet gorging themselves on the orache and fat hen and also plenty of roe deer sightings

    Fox at Singleton, notice how old Basil is keeping his brush dry

    Hare at Ousefleet having a good streatch

    And it looks like a match made in heaven as one of the koniks takes a shine to one of the cows!

    And the birds? Yes there's some top notch birds to be seen on site at the moment depending on if your lucks in, have a look at the blog before the previous blog (if that makes sense) for more details on species.

    Recent highlights though are in pictures below

    Montagu's harrier is still knocking about - this picture was taken on Wednesday but she was also seen on Thursday

    And at least one spoonbill landed on the lagoons today to give some amazing views as it fed in Xerox lagoon - pictures galore!

    Here's one showing its foot - something you don't always see, honest!

    And a couple of action shots


    And posing!

    Waders - 20 species or so over the last week.

    Curlew sandpiper with ruff behind on Xerox

    And curlew sandpiper, ruff, lapwing and teal - Xerox

    Little ringed plover on Marshland

    Greenshank on Marshland - I think a theme is emerging here?

    Snipe - on Marshland, - yes there may not be a lot of water on Marshland but it is still worth a look as it often has a few little surprises on it. Unfortunately we cannot fully reflood it until there is a tide that is high enough and that will be up to Mother Nature............

    A few other birds to watch out for alongside all the waders etc

    Yellow wagtails have been at times showing well on marshland or at Ousefleet alongside the Koniks

    And I had this encounter with one of my favourite birds the stock dove at Marshland - the hummingbird of the north! They seem to feed on the smallest of seeds but what I liked here was that alongside the female was a lovely juvenile that had just recently fledged - probably from the Marshland owl box, I don't suppose many people bother to photograph juvenile stock doves do they?Or am I not on my own

    Mother stock dove

    A close up - I really must get out more!

    And showing off her emerald neck patch that only glimmers in a certain light - just like hummingbirds as it happens

    And the little un, notice the rather large bill which is a sign that its only recently fledged - a lovely little dove

    A pair of stockies on Ousfleet

    I'll finish with the tree sparrows that are gathering at the feeders in number at the moment.

    Whatever the weather have a good weekends birding - I'm hopefully going to be having a good look around as you never know what may turn up at this time of the year.

    Posted by Pete Short

Your sightings

Grid reference: SE8423 (+2km)

Purple Swamphen ()
30 Sep 2016
Great White Egret (1)
12 Sep 2016
No breeding code
Pectoral Sandpiper (1)
11 Sep 2016
No breeding code
Spoonbill ()
28 Sep 2016
Marsh Harrier ()
28 Sep 2016
Black-tailed Godwit ()
28 Sep 2016
Spotted Redshank ()
28 Sep 2016
Greenshank ()
28 Sep 2016
Bearded Tit ()
28 Sep 2016
Cetti's Warbler ()
28 Sep 2016

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Where is it?

  • Lat/lng: 53.69844,-0.72462
  • Grid reference: SE843232
  • Nearest town: Goole, East Yorkshire
  • County: East Riding of Yorkshire
  • Country: England

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