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Just a quick blog from this morning and a few photo's of a female marsh harrier on Xerox who had changed over from a mainly coot orientated diet to a plump male wigeon. When I first spotted her she was eating it on one of the islands but then got disturbed by some black headed gulls whence she tried to carry the carcass away, unfortunately it was a bit too heavy so she dropped it slap bang in the wet stuff which then led to her trying to land on it in the water, watch it drift to the edge and finally drag it into the reed to begin eating again! Ooo what a palaver as Frankie Howard would have said.
Anyway here's a few snaps of the events as they unfolded
Posted by Pete Short
Wowzer, the wind sure is howling around the Humber regions at the moment and after such a dry winter it seems like someone's suddenly turned on the power shower. Not so favorable for northward bound migrants though with a most measly drip of a few chiffchaffs, another couple of sand martins and a little ringed plover. Last year April the 1st saw the years first sedge warblers but somehow I don't think history is going to repeat itself.
The Koniks don't mind the wind - if anything it makes them look even better!
But for those of us hardy enough to brave the vagrancies of British summer time the Sands is still giving some entertaining birding with over 40 avocets in recent days, mostly at Ousefleet. Other notables sightings have been male hen harrier which was in to roost late on Sunday, merlin on Saturday and last week the springs first sighting of bittern. The Cetti's warblers are still present around the footpaths but still no singing so maybe they are both females? But there has been a lone singing Twite in the car park from time to time.
Avocet and redshank at Ousefleet
The big boys seem to be back from their wintering grounds in Africa, that is the adult male marsh harriers and they are already starting to do a little bit of food passing to the females mostly by the looks of it of those delicious little short tailed voles. Also notable, particularly as they have been scarce this winter was a lone barn owl hunting over the reedbed, again I'm not sure if their scarcity is due to the fact that there are lots of mice and voles around this year, I certainly has plenty in my attic at home!!
Still a good selection of waterfowl and a few waders about with many of the drakes looking in cracking plumage at the moment piccalilli the shoveler and teal. Shelduck have been very noticeable up on Ousefleet as they have built up to over 70 in number, one of my favorite ducks they have like many species declined in recent years due to lack of breeding sites such as old straw stacks.
Shoveler - this time with their purple head on, you ever noticed how with the sun light gives them either a green or purple head.
And the shelduck
Waders have declined a little after the recent tidal surge last week but there are good numbers of snipe and a smattering of redshank and occasional black tailed godwit, dunlin and lapwing, but as the water levels drop I suspect their numbers will start to rise again a bit later in the week.
And now for my new campaign - RAONB or raising awareness of none descript birds (Its amazing how many people don't seem to see some of our common birds)
So here goes; A bird I have been really enjoying watching and which has become a little addictive (I have a sad life) has been the little party of four stock doves that are frequenting the newly created island in front of the hide at Ousefleet, they are really beautiful little doves with their shimmering emerald green neck patch and they have also been teaching me a little about their courtship and male competition behavioral activity. It seems the males like to be a bit macho with a display of wing flicking which they seem to aim at each other to see who will flinch away first or if they can knock each other away - a bit like Sumo stock dove fighting! They also like a little sing song and a bit of chase me chase me, which is all very ornithologically interesting of course!
Now its amazing how many people pass of our poor little stockies as wood pigeons despite them being completely different and miss out on good views of a great little bird. They are also like so many of our agricultural seed reliant and hole nesting species birds and are declining year upon year. And so if the above hasn't convinced you to look more closely at our stock doves then maybe the following photo's will..........
The good the bad and the ugly - stock dove stand off
A bit of friendly wing flicking - Hi-ya
Coo-coo a choo (for all you Alvin Stardust fans)
And a bit of stock dove Abby Road (but without ringo)
Here's a few photo's of the fantastic solar eclipse this morning here at Blacktoft. Although it was a little cloudy this actually made it a bit better as you could see the occlusion much better.
The start - not easy to get photo's at this time
But near the end it allowed some excellent shots
And finally the big cheesy grin at the end!
It seems just like last year at this time that smog is the order of the day, but like it or loath it the birds don't seems to be too bothered about the dull and dingy weather. So for me I'm not grumbling as there is some fine birding on the reserve with a particularly nice range of species about, whatever the weather.
Just a pre-warning that we have a few high tides over the weekend so although the paths are bone dry at the moment there may be a few puddles by the end of play on Sunday, so if you're visiting then bring yer wellingtons just in case. Off course high tides can be excellent at pushing birds up the estuary so there is always a chance of good numbers of some species and also the odd sub-rarity, and with birds such as crane, spoonbill and great white egret in the area recently (see last blog) then who knows what could turn up!
Anyway back to the last couple of days I'll go with the highlights and then a few pictures.
At least three little egret have been feeding on Ousefleet along with a nice range of waders including black tailed godwit, spotted redshank and at times up to 40 curlew while in the morning the Avocets are showing well as they nest scrape on Marshland lagoon. A nice male pintail was on Townend this morning again (hopefully you saw it this time Eddie), and three pink footed geese on Singleton with the greylags and a couple of goldeneye still on site. Two plus cetti's warblers along the trails and a few twite still around the car park from time to time.
Hen harriers still coming into roost along with plenty of Marsh harriers and the chance of merlin too.
Now for a few photos - my last for a little while, hopefully Mike our Warden will keep up the sightings in my absence
Shelduck and black tailed godwits as the fog cleared yesterday
The drake pintail at Townend looking in fine fettle
Pinkies on Singleton, always worth a look through the geese
Preening goldeneye on Marshland
Avocets flicking mud to build their nest
And this ones nest scraping with its long legs at a most awkward angle!
A bit of cheeky photo bombing by a pair of pochard
A nice pick of one calling its Klute Klute call - you can just see its tongue
And a final pic of one that looks as though its staring into your eyes.
In terms of birding I have always loved March as it can be just packed with good birding as birds head north, east, south and west as they return to their breeding grounds or search for new ones. And the last few days has seen no exception to the mystic Pedro rule of thumb which surmises the more time you spend in the field the more good birds you see - especially at migration time!
Headline for this morning was a very early fly over spoonbill which flew over the lagoons heading west, it was also backed up by the first chiffchaff of the year picking its way through the reed along the feeder ditch rather than chiff-chaffing and a party of 8+ twite that greeted me as I opened the reserve gates.
Some of last years spoonbills on Marshland
Chiffchaff in front of first hide this morning
Plenty of just about everything at the moment on site with at least 10 avocets this morning, and yesterday evening a single ruff on Ousefleet. These were supported by 30 dunlin, 2 oystercatchers, 12 redshank, a few snipe, 10 curlew and 2 black tailed godwits.
Good numbers of duck with a notable influx of tufted duck and pochard which peaked at 29 on Friday evening. These are currently backed up by an ever growing number of little grebes, a single pair of displaying great crested grebes and a host of wigeon, teal, shoveler, gadwall, shelduck and mallard.
At least two little egrets are regular at the moment one of which at least has some incredible breeding plummes on its back as shown by this picture from the weekend by Tim and Si Jump. Keep an eye out for Great white egret too, there has been one roosting over the last couple of nights on our little gem of a reserve Hook Island just outside Goole.
As usual plenty of marsh harrier activity on site plus the chance of hen harrier (adult male just seen today) coming into roost and merlin which I saw crossing the nearby A161 on Sunday. In addition there has been regular sparrowhawks, kestrel and buzzard.
Nice to see up to 24 twite on site at the weekend, they seem to have become a regular spring feature in the last few years after a long period of dwindling yearly records, hopefully this is a sign that the Pennine population is recovering a little. Also on Friday was our first grey wagtail record of the spring also probably on its way back to the hills. At least two Cetti's warblers still sneaking around the reedbed and today a distinct increase in tree sparrow numbers around the site, while a singing yellowhammer was notable this morning.
Twite from the weekend by time and Si Jump
And to finish on Berries and buds where winter meets spring.
Already it seems that spring is upon us with the first sand martin seen last night while the team were counting the harriers in to roost, and not a bad count either with 14 marsh harriers and two ring tail hen harriers, the best count for a while. March can be a really good month on the reserve and is probably one of my favorite times when just about anything can turn up!
More harrier V crow action
Not sure if anyone clocked the 6 cranes that probably flew over the reserve this morning, I got a call from a friend at North Cave to say they were on the way over towards Blacktoft, unfortunately I was already stuck in the office and a desperate attempt to see them from the a161 failed miserably! If anyone visiting the reserve today did see em can they let us know please?
The reserve seems to be really cooking on gas at the moment made better by the lovely weather and good birding, a splendiferous count of 77 black tailed godwits this morning at Ousefleet which had 5 avocets, 4 dunlin and 7 redshank mixed in with them. There was also curlew and plenty of snipe around while there has been up to 10 spotted redshanks on high tide most days.
Blackwits at Ousefleet
And a redshank getting stuck in the mud for its breakfast
Avo's from the other morning at Marshland (the one's with the aberrant leg colour)
The marsh harriers are really getting into the mood with birds already starting to nest build while our coot killer female struck again the other evening dispatching yet another unfortunate and unsuspecting bird on singleton (see photo's by Mike Johnson)
The harrier dives in for the coot while its underwater
And that's the end of that!
The great crested grebes have been displaying while little grebes mix in with the plentiful supply of wigeon and lesser numbers of teal, gadwall, shoveler, mallard, shelducks, pochard, tufted ducks, greylags and canada geese.
Gadwall and teal
A nice graylag action shot by Mike Johnson
A live coot!
Plenty of common birds singing too and a good number of reed bunting now back on the fen. Also a bit of return fieldfare passage today with birds moving east towards the coast
Still a good chance of seeing roe deer, hare and maybe this fox which I spotted on Ousefleet this morning
The avocets returned en-force this morning with 11 showing lovely on Marshland allowing some good photo's. At this time of the year the avo's can be fickle so its whether your lucks in if they are on the reserve, however with the weather warming a little there should be a good chance on the morning. Here's a few snaps - notice the leg colour on one of the pairs, a most odd red, not sure why but it may be that they are aberrant birds that have a lack of pigment in the legs. Please feel free to correct me if I'm wrong!
Whoopers! loads of em this morning with herds of 35, 52 and 62 over at height and with the wind behind them at speed! I just love seeing migration in action and all three herds came through within about ten minutes of each other all whooping, just magic
Pochard are a lovely duck so it was great to get such good close views of them at Marshland. I also always like to look at behavior so getting some nice preening shots was an added bonus.
Just about bang on time the first avocet pair arrived on site today and started to inspect the breeding islands on Marshland lagoon on what was a stunningly glorious morning out on the reserve. The lagoons were teaming with waterfowl, the harriers were being buffeted by the carrion crows and the local resident birds were all singing away just as though the first breath of spring had given new life to the marsh.
There has of course been over 250 avocets out at Reads Island near the Humber bridge but it always take them a while to come back to our little corner of the estuary, but with the coming weeks their numbers will hopefully grow at Blacktoft particularly as the weather improves.
Avocets out on Reads Island at the weekend - great to see them back!
Plenty of waterfowl with great swathe's of wigeon at the moment and a good numbers too of teal, shelduck , tufted duck, pochard, shoveler and gadwall all backed up by two great crested grebes on Singleton this morning (will they raise chicks this year?), plenty of little grebes, the odd pink footed goose in with the greylags, Canada geese and coot. Two whooper swans showed well on Saturday up on Ousefleet (see Brians photo's in the gallery), March is usually the peak passage period for the whoopers who are heading north to Iceland - hopefully they won't bump into Peter Aundrie the poor loves.
The Canada's are nest prospecting
While the light this morning was great for taking a few snaps - this tuftie was in front of Marshland
The wigeon were being moved about by the harriers looking for their breakfast - this was from Townend
The black headed gulls are also returning to their breeding islands giving the marsh the raucous sound of the breeding season
Waders are being represented by up to 10 spotted redshank, the avo's of course, some lovely snipe, up to 10 black tailed godwits, a few dunlin, redshank and the odd oystercatcher and curlew. But strangely no lapwing!
Spotshanks at Xerox
Plenty of bird of prey activity with at least two hen harriers still about plus merlin and of course the marsh harriers who are now starting to get a tough time from the territorial carrion crows.
Below - two crows giving a Marshie some grief - look at the crow flying upside down!
At least three Cettis warblers this morning but very oddly none of them singing, usually the males are blasting it out before they move away to their breeding areas. A chiffchaff in the volunteer house garden could have been a winter visitor but at an outside chance could also now be a summer migrant, other interesting sightings include the return of the Kingfisher, and bullfinch.
And to finish with a shot of one of the birds people often overlook, our super stock doves. A species that is declining in the countryside because of agricultural intensification and decline in nesting holes the stock dove is one of my favorite species, simply because few people give them a second look, but just look below in good light, simply stunning.
The other day I got a call in the office from a chap who had been in Singleton hide who had seen a marsh harrier dive into the water and kill a coot, it dragged it to the bank and ate it somewhere just out of view. A great experience for all the people sat in the hide and something which the big female harriers are quite capable of although they do not do it that regularly. (Unfortunately none of them had a camera with them)
Or that's what I thought! This morning a large female who was sat on top of the reed on the edge of First lagoon was eating what I think was probably another coot! She was calling like mad to warn off a hungry male who was trying to get a bit of food for himself, the ensuing drama was absolutely fascinating as he repeatedly tried to boot her off the carcass. But the lady was not for moving and fed ravenously for the next three quarters of an hour or so.
Eventually when ready and having eaten most of the unfortunate coot she reluctantly made way for him although there was a bit of a scuffle in the process. Some great wildlife watching which really enthralled me until I realized that I was meant to be driving to Denby dale for a meeting with the boss!!!
Here's my photo's of some of the drama...........
Tearing off a big bit of meat (double click to see)
The male attempting to muscle in
At this point she's defending and calling
Trying to land nearby towards the end of her feed
Another bit of alarm
Sitting and watching someone eat is always difficult!
At last she lets him in, reluctantly!
A bit of a kerfuffle!
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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