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Bank holiday Monday and its pouring it down with rain as per usual! But this morning as well as the water from the heavens the first high tides of the Autumn also started to seep thousands of gallons of river water onto the reserve and re-wet our lovely seasonal grazing marsh pools. I had arrived early on site and donned my wellingtons and raincoat so that I could get up to the Livestock on the Marsh and ensure that they were kept safe, just in case the tide went 'big'.
The Koniks looking pretty miserable in the rain and note Ousefleet pool one hour before high water, bone dry
A quick look out from Xerox hide confirmed that the predicted 6.6m tide was already on its way in and it looked pretty strong for an hour before high water, this meant that I needed to get up to Ousefleet and quick before the sheep were cut off by the now quickly filling ditches!
Fortunately I quickly gathered the sheep relatively easily and ensured that they moved onto the bank out of harms way (shouting mint sauce always works!), I then held them there while the water gradually formed a barrier in front of them that prevented them from straying back onto the lower lying marsh.
The sheep safely on the bank as the water oozes onto the marsh
Job done I watched and listened as the tidal water fizzed through the marsh as it seeped into the lower lying areas to form pools. Its funny you know how the water running through the longer grass makes a loud fizzing sound which makes the overall experience of watching the awesome power of mother nature in action during a tidal inundation something very special indeed. The water gradually engulfed the pools while the yellow wagtails, meadow pipits and a lone wheatear gathered up the insects that had been flushed out for them to gobble up.
Yellow wagtail feeding on the fleeing insects
Snipe, lapwing, green sandpiper, teal and mallard were already starting to be drawn toward the newly flooded areas and now easily accessible food. You see seasonal pools are very special in that after they dry out in the summer lots of annual weeds grow in them, the livestock drop their dung into them and insects make their home in the vegetation, then when it flood all this rich food supply is suddenly made available for all those lovely waterfowl waders and migrants. In a day or two I know the pools will be the center of activity on the reserve as the banquet begins and they all stuff their bellies with energy giving food.
The first lapwings drifting into the newly formed pool
Now the buzz word for this type of pool in conservation management is a 'pop up wetland' and I tell you they are absolutely fantastic especially when they flood at this time of year for the waterfowl, here at Blacktoft we've off course known for years just how good pop up wetlands are for migrants but unfortunately permanent pools always seem to be seen as being better by many people. Although different and better for some species permanent pools can often lack a good food supply year in year out, temporary pools can provide great amounts of food when managed well for many thousands of birds.
The Americans have a clever system in that they now track their migrant waterbirds in the Autumn using satellite tagging and predict where the food is required and at what key time, they then flood up areas of farmland such as rice fields to create the perfect pop up wetland for their migrants, wouldn't that be great if we could do that through Europe and into Africa!
The Koniks about an hour later then the picture above in the same area, notice its a little wetter! (double click for full effect)
With Ousefleet flooding just nice for September I expect hundreds of migrant teal, wigeon, pintail and mallard to flight onto these pools to feed on the Orache seeds, while the waders such as ruff and greenshank will use it to feed on the invertebrates. In fact the pools look so nice I'm hoping for something special to drop in but then we'll just have to see.....
This hare was not particularly enjoying the new wet pools, it was caught out by the flood and had to wade its way through the fast rising water.
There are more high tides tomorrow and the day after so we may get a little more water by Wednesday, but the paths are still free from the wet stuff so until a further update the reserve will be open for business as usual, but make sure you bring a pair of wellingtons just in case!
I'd better get my wellingtons and coat back on and go and see if the sheep are still on the bank and safe for tonight's tide, I'll leave you with a picture of one of the Koniks, I have no idea what he was doing in the floodwater but the old boy was splashing about and enjoying himself just like a two year old nipper would!
Posted by Pete Short
Just to give everyone advanced notice that Singleton Hide will be having a new roof put on to it on 3rd September and will therefore be closed.
Its certainly been a funny week in many respects with still a trio of top birds on offer but all of them at times being difficult to see. The spotted crake has shown well, at times, the male and female Montagu's harriers have shown as they fly in and out of roost, and then this morning old Moby the great white egret paid another brief visit, before flying off towards Alkborough!
The only photo's I have to offer are of Moby from this morning at First hide alongside some of the 17 little egrets.
Still some nice views of the waders to be had on site but unfortunately the two wood sandpipers decided not to stay more than an hour or two, it seems to have been a bit like that this year for this species which is a bit disappointing after last years excellent showing. Recent waders species on offer on the lagoons include black tailed godwit, ruff, spotted redshank, redshank, greenshank, lapwing, snipe, dunlin, little ringed plover, green sandpiper, up to 3 common sandpiper and a single little ringed plover this morning and a single avocet on Wednesday afternoon.
Black tailed godwit on Marshland
Greenshank eating a stickleback
Water rails have been excellent this last few weeks with many birds showing around the edges of the lagoons, this young one was following another bird onto one of the islands on marshland, it made me laugh a little as it almost looks like its running because it's forgot to put its trousers on and only has it pants to cover its nether regions.
Only a few marsh harriers about at the moment and other birds of prey scarce but it was nice to see this kestrel yesterday taking advantage of my work mowing the banks with the tractor, sometimes we can forget to look at our more common species and see just how beautiful they are.
Juv marsh harrier
Kes - the tractor makes a great hide but probably not best to stop on a slope!
Certainly a sign that September is on its way is a southerly movement of siskin over the reserve on the last couple of mornings. Other smaller passerines have been very quiet with little obvious migration, highlights have been just a few yellow wagtails and then a mix of warblers, but no sign of any of the coastal fall species like on other nearby sites. Earlier in the week there must have been a little movement as I had my first wheatear of the autumn as I drove into work along church lane at little reedness and then my first hobby in a long while nearby.
Not as many duck around but still good numbers of gadwall and shoveler with a few wigeon and the odd pintail to look out for. Good to see the mute swan chicks are now starting to get their body feathers.
A gathering of gadwall on Singleton
And the growing Fred and Freda family
And finally one bunch who seem to be glad that the humid conditions have abated slightly are the lads (our Koniks) who yesterday were running around like mad. Here's a picture of them relaxing when it was just too hot to have fun.
Posted by Charlotte Cullen
Its certainly been a mixed bag over the last week in terms of wildlife with mammals, plants, birds and insects all adding to the wetland wildlife experience.
The spotted crake is now well into its second weeks stay on First lagoon although it is now acting a bit more like a spotted crake in that it only appears now and then, patience is needed but with a little luck added in you can still get good views.
Another surprise this morning was the female Montagu's harrier that came out of roost at just after 8am and went out to feed on the local farmland, I'm amazed that she's hanging on so late into the summer as many Monty's have now moved off south into Europe.
Waders passage is a bit stop start but numbers of some species are building up with 40 ruff yesterday evening and now the first juvenile spotted redshank joining the adults. Other birds on offer include black tailed godwits, snipe, greenshank, green sandpiper, lapwing, curlew, and a little bit of detectable movement yesterday included dunlin, ringed plover, 5 turnstone and 3 common sandpiper.
Juvenile spotted redshank in the middle of two adults
And a better view of it's slightly browner plumage
Green sandpiper at Ousefleet screen
Duck numbers have been very good for august with this week a notable peak of 130 shoveler all together on Xerox. Also look out for pintail and wigeon that are often on Singleton lagoon. Good to see the mute swan chicks continuing to grow and now develop their wing feathers.
I really like Angelica as a fenland plant and this year there seems to be loads all along the footpath, at times it has a lovely purple colour to the flowers. Our other fenland specialist plant marsh sow thistle has had a good season with plants all over the pathways, its easy to spot as it towers above the reedbed and has a very puny little yellow flower, also look for its distinctive square stem.
While I think this plant is sea plantain, I found it while doing the shepherding on the grazing marsh the other day, and no I didn't pick it, it had been grubbed up near the edge of a pool.
Despite the continued rain it has been warm enough to keep the butterflies on the wing with recently a noticeable influx of that long distance migrant the Painted lady, amazing butterflies they fly all the way from North Africa and then at the end of the year go back in the jet stream!
Also keep a look out for these lovely scorpion flies
And a nice insect to see the other day was this Oak bush cricket that our Assistant Warden Liz found near the office. I still insist its called Jiminy. This species is near it's northern range limit
And last but not least have been our trio of mustilids that have been seen around site over the last few days. Star of the weekend was an Otter that entertained many of those who were looking for the spotted crake, hopefully someone will have a photo that they can share as I was busy making hot chilli courgette chutney.
But the stoats and weasels have also been equally as entertaining and a little more obliging in terms of photo's.
This stoat had killed a young wood pigeon and was carrying it along the bottom of the flood bank near the feeders.
Carrying the unfortunate woody
While this cheeky weasel was on the footpath yesterday evening, they are so funny as they jump around and speed along the tracks. Note its short tail and brown front paws that are a good indicater of species along with size, weasels are smaller than stoats.
Hunting along the path
And close up when he came to investigate me
Dan our residential volunteer Warden found out last night the added benefits of locking up the reserve gates at dusk, he was lucky enough to find a nightjar hawking around the flood bank hedgerow! Its been about 13 or 14 years since our last nightjar record so well done Dan, I know where I'll be tonight, hoping for a repeat performance.
This blog was going to be called 'don't ignore those brown boring birds' until I heard about the nightjar this morning. Now of course nightjar is a brown bird so maybe that proves the point, but here's a few other brown birds to look out for on your visit as they mix among the waders. Most of these photo's were from early yesterday evening, there were loads of moulting duck and geese on Singleton and although there wasn't anything too unusual I managed to spend a good hour and a half enjoying watching the 'not so boring brown birds' and a marsh harrier that was chasing them around from time to time, just wish I'd stayed till dusk!
A nice trio of pintail
A shot showing the lovely pattern on their undertail coverts - a symphony of brown
Greylags splashing down
Shoveler in quite a comical pose
Wigeon and gadwall in flight - lots of shades of brown
Wigeon, shoveler and gadwall
And from this morning some nice brown curlew
I'll finish with the marsh harrier beating up the duck - he was quite brown at the moment but certainly not borin!
Despite the last few days of inclement weather the birding just seems to get better and better in what is turning out to be a quite remarkable and memorable year, here's a quote form Paul Thomas who sent some of the stunning pictures in this blog 'The reserve has been fantastic this summer on my many visits and some great birding' .
I just don't think you can argue with Paul's kind comments with a list in the sightings book for yesterday including spotted crake, bittern, great white egret, spoonbill, Montagu's harrier and the first singing cettis warbler for a while! Now that's what I call a good days birding.
Here's a few of Paul's excellent pictures just to show what a day it was! (I was in Manchester in an all day meeting unfortunately!)
The first sighting bittern for a while, this one is a young bird but could have come from anywhere in the UK.
Good to see old Moby the great white egret back showing in style
Spoonbills are always nice to connect with
And we've still got our little star at the moment our spotted crake, this photo's by graham Catley
Plenty of other birds around with a nice selection of waders, there is usually ruff, spotted redshank, greenshank, snipe, curlew, redshank, lapwing, dunlin, black tailed godwit, green sandpiper about but in recent days there has also been avocet, grey plover over (not a grey pullover though), common sandpiper and today 110 golden plover flighting onto the arable.
Avocet and juvenile black tailed godwits on Xerox
Some distinct signs of Autumn too with a build up of duck and at the moment a distinct passage of the first wigeon (15 west today) and pintail (12+ on Singleton), but equally as impressive for me has been the hundreds of mallard, 60 shoveler and 110 gadwall as well as a few teal and over 1000+ greylag geese which are at time breathtaking as they fly over the reserve or land on Singleton lagoon.
A couple of pintail on Singleton this morning
Singleton packed with waterfowl - just like a SPA (Special Protection Area) should look like!
Other birds that have added to the quality of the birding have been a few bearded tits around the edges of the lagoons, a handful of marsh harriers, buzzard, peregrine, grey wagtail and of course our lovely gathering of little egrets.
I'll never get bored with looking at little egrets, they are top birds especially when they still have their plumes - these two were on First hide this morning.
And there you have it - more quality birds and still a good chunk of the Autumn to come......................
It may have been damp and dreak all day on Friday (although I didn't even need to put my coat on?) but the reserve's birds put on a superb performance and have very pleasingly carried it on all weekend and into the new week. Interestingly, the mere whiff of an easterly on the Friday saw the years first little stints on Xerox lagoon for most of the afternoon, unfortunately though by Saturday morning the wind had gone to the North West and they'd done a bunk on the favourable winds. Lets hope that there are a few more days with a bit of drizzle and easterly winds.
Here a record shot of the two juveniles, from the plumage I think one is slightly older than the other so maybe not from the same brood.
The spotted crake has really drawn the admiring crowds and is now amazingly in its seventh day of stardom and with the added bonus of water rails 'all over the shop' and on Sunday a short visit by the great white egret again which must still be lurking in the local area somewhere.
Here's a great picture from Mike Johnson showing the crakes wings, how the heck does it fly to Africa on those little bantam size wings!
And a nice shot sent to me from Phil Boardman
And a shot of a juv water rail at Marshland this morning that decided to walk around one of the islands like a wader.
And that takes me very nicely onto the waders that have been giving some great views from most of the hides with the water levels just at the perfect height for them to feed on, species seen include of course the little stinks, then 9 avocet, 32 black tailed godwit, 14 spotted redshank, 22+ ruff, 31 redshank, 15 curlew, 30 dunlin, 5 green sandpiper, 15 snipe, ringed plover, the years first grey plover which flew over, whimbrel (west), 4 oystercatcher (west), and of course the ever present pewits. Amazingly though no golden plover - where are they all?
Just to add that the grey plover and little stinks made it 30 species of wader for the year, what will be next?
Two greedy juvenile Black tailed godwits feeding on Marshland
Greenshank also at Marshland
Plenty of other birds to see with the wildfowl number building most notable species was the first pintail for a while that joined the 595 mallard, 50 shoveler, 50 gadwall, 6 wigeon and numerous teal. Fred and Freda's six mute swan chicks are doing really well with the cygnets now starting to develop their wing feathers.
Other birds of note over the last few days have been over 20 little egrets, kingfisher, grey wagtail, yellow wagtails (around the ponies), and then today quite a few bearded tits emerging from the reeds along the edges of the lagoons.
Here's a good example of where and what you need to look for, photo by Mike Johnson.
Plenty of linnets about too with a flock of up to 80 on the grazing marsh. Its not often you get a flight picture with no blurs.
I'll leave you with a shot of one of our cheeky robins in the car park - I think they were well fed on the open day!
And a very wet wood pigeon from Friday - you see he wasn't going to be seen wearing a coat, they breed the wood pigeons tough up north.
Still time too to see the last few Essex skippers - photo by Mike Johnson
Forgot to mention the Montagu's harriers!!! Male and female still about, no sign of the juv now. Just a few marsh harriers at the moment but chance of hobby.
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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