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Recent sightings

  • 28 October 2014

    Koniks stand the test of time

    In November the Konik ponies will have been here at Blacktoft for three whole years though it only seems like yesterday that they quietly slipped of the Horse transport onto Ousefleet just as the light was fading.

    The idea of them as a natural wetland management tool came from those clever and progressive people the Dutch but Konik grazing of an intertidal reedbed and grassland had never really being tried, well as far as I know anyway. The question always was would they turn out to be as good as they were reputed to be and would they produce the natural mosaics that we wanted them to do.

    Well I think over the last few years my blogs have regularly answered this question and I think I can now say beyond doubt that yes the Koniks really do produce some totally inspiring habitat that seems to deliver for a whole suit of wetland birds right from bitterns and waders down to sedge warblers, reed buntings and bearded tit.

    The one thing though that I hadn't really appreciated until recently is that it has taken three years for the ponies to really settle in and fully become one with the habitat. This Autumn though I have been astounded and intrigued at how the lads have become 'Water Babies' that is that they seem to have become totally at ease with the water and at times have plunged into pools up to their neck and browsed the surrounding reed vegetation.

    This amazing behavior is for me the final thing that makes them the perfect wetland manager as they browse the reedbed and create the perfect 'Scandinavian blue zone', a habitat that is the grazed interface between land and the wet reedbed. The ponies graze this area so you get little strips of water between the reedbed and land that is perfect for amphibians, fish and insects, especially when its all fertilized with some nice piles of pony dung. This little area is great for a whole host of biodiversity. Yes some cows like Highlands will also do a good job at this but remember that they will have been wormed with ivormectin or similar chemicals that may affect the quality of the habitat for invertebrates.

    The other advantage of the ponies it that to be honest they look after themselves, give or take a bit of foot trimming! They have even recently rather cheekily being letting themselves into areas that we have closed the gates to keep them out! This seems to have revolved a little around a mad craving for reed rhizome which they have been chomping on like spaghetti for the last few weeks. Rich in carbohydrates they are a perfect winter fuel that will help any grazing animal put on condition ready for the winter, for me another example of just how natural and at one this breed of pony is and still very much full of the now extinct Tarpan ancestors genes that they were bred from.  

    Who would have thought that something so simple could change the management of a wetland so much and personally for me our 'wetland water babies' have changed my way of thinking about conservation for ever. The only thing I truly regret is that Blacktoft is not three or four times the size and that we can't deliver natural grazing on a much larger scale, if we could then I suspect that the results would be truly amazing. But never say never, maybe one day this dream will come true.



    Posted by Pete Short

  • 27 October 2014

    Rogues gallery

    Great to see that quite a few people are making the most of the late Indian Summer (or should it be Autumn!) and getting out to take some superb pictures of some great birds on site which I will be using in this blog to show just how good its been, patience and careful planning is the name of the game and if you put in a little effort you can get some top results. 

    This year we've been 'playing' a game of two halves too - that is one half of the lagoons wet and the other dry with shallow flooding. Always a risky strategy as we may end up with less water than we would have liked by new year but in terms of the birds at the moment its being pretty productive. So make the most of it folks as in November we will be looking to flood back up to winter water levels ready for the breeding season.  

    Still a good number of waders about at the moment with a year peak count of 80 black tailed godwits this morning, and then also roosting with them on Ousefleet 10 spotted redshank, 15 ruff and 25 dunlin. Other waders on site include lapwing, curlew snipe and then a few fly over parties of golden plover while a single ringed plover flew over this morning. With the tides rising hopefully there could be something different drop in in time for the end of the month. A lone jack snipe was recorded on Friday as I shepherded the ponies so remember to check out the snipe on Marshland

    Birds of prey are represented by up to 8 marsh harriers, regular merlin, sparrowhawk, kestrel, buzzard and juv peregrine that this morning delighted in giving the black tailed godwits a chase around the reserve before giving up its rather futile and half hearted chase.

    Peg by Pedro

    The Kingfisher continues to delight and it now seems to have moved up in the world and taken a liking for fresh shrimp as shown by this excellent photo from Mike Johnson. Stonechats too this year are sublime and again giving some great views, photo also by Mike. (remember double click photo's to enlarge the photo's and see the detail)

    Not to be outdone the usually shy Cettis warbler (we now have 5 singing males on site)  put on a great show for Mike Flowers birdwatching group last week - take a look at this photo he took, Cettis and bearded tit all at once, Monsieur you are spoiling us! - its not very often you see this in a photo.

    The bearded tits have been GR8 this month with quite a few people showing me some fantastic shots of this normally secretive species. Over the weekend I carried out my Autumn population estimate work and have the good news to report that despite quite a number of birds erupting of site there is a minimum of 400 still in the reedbed. If the weather is OK as forecast on Wednesday I think they will be erupting strongly again on site and could give visitors some good views - you need to be on site between 9 and 10 for best chance of seeing them!

    Below - beardies on Saturday - Pedro

    Quite a few pinkies flying over the site again but not huge numbers of duck on the lagoons, still a nice range of species coming into full plumage now particularly the wigeon, teal and shoveler. A count of 118 gadwall was also noteworthy on Singleton lagoon.

    Another bird that has been really showy recently are the little egrets, usually gone by this time in the year there is little doubt that the mild weather is ensuring these top little herons are still in front of the hides (photo by Mike Johnson) - can you spot the wing moult?

    And here's a lovely photo by Mike of a wood pigeon - a good reminder that you don't have to take pictures of scarce or unusual birds to get a good photo.

    And to finish on here's a picture of one of our roe deer from the weekend, this doe and its calf were really curious as I took the photos again showing that with a bit of patience you can have some real close encounters.

    And the female in better light

    And remember - all our photo's (unless stated) are from the last week of sightings.





    Posted by Pete Short

  • 23 October 2014

    Beardies going bananas

    I don't think I 've ever seen the bearded tits so excited as I did this morning when they were again trying to erupt en mass. Lots of small, medium and large parties were all present in the reedbed at Ousefleet again but one flock of about forty birds were just fizzing! Their jangling calls were so loud and intense that it was almost deafening and as I stood by and watched they repeatedly tried to lift into the sky before tumbling back down into the reedbed.

    Some years always seem to be better than other but this year is really turning out to be remarkable for the time birds have been erupting and the number of birds involved. Most birds that erupt tend to be juveniles but I have also seen colour ringed adults in the past that have been involved in this youthful exuberance. I did say the other day that I though reed seed (their main winter food) may be in short supply but walking through the fen today checking the condition of the habitat suggested that in fact it had has been better than I thought.

    This also confirms some of my research that in fact beardies like to erupt when there is plenty of food as this probably suggests to them that if they leave the site they are more likely to find food where they are going. In poor reed years eruptions are conversely usually less intense. This is a little different to other seed eating birds such as jays and crossbills who's eruptions are often driven by food shortage, beardies instead are trying to find new areas to live, and a good food supply increases their chance of success.

    In the 1970'S many bearded tits were ringed at Blacktoft and a good number were recovered - one of the longest distance recoveries was a female who went to Radipole lake in Dorset where she stayed and bred, thus in part supporting my colonization theory! Other birds were also recovered in East Anglia, the Midlands and in Lancashire (I'll see if I can dig out my old map I created a few years ago of the recoveries and post it) 

    This year birds have already moved off site so maybe you should check a bit of reedbed near your house - you never know there may be some of our beardies lurking in the litter layer!

    For a change it seemed quite a lot of the birds involved were female's - they were as usual difficult to photo but I managed a couple of snaps.

    For more recent beardie photo's why not have a look at those posted on the gallery by Brian - his were taken at Singleton hide.

    Posted by Pete Short

  • 22 October 2014

    Eyes To The Skies

    What a contrast from yesterdays gales, the weather this morning was cool and clear with the resultant rush of visible migration over the reserve as many species made the most of the suitable conditions. Not many thrushes just a couple of redwings and a single mistle thrush but loads of finches particularly chaffinch, also brambling, siskin, redpoll, goldfinch, greenfinchbullfinch and yellowhammer all going south with masses of skylark and a good few meadow pipits mixed in along with a couple of rock pipits.

    But then there was the first significant westward movement of up to 500 woodpigeon plus quite a few robins lurking in the bushes making a typical seep call as many migrant robins tend to do, there was also a lone chiffchaff along the hedgerow. I always like a good bit of vis-mig watching as it always feels that just about anything can turn up!

    Below - wood pigs moving west high over the reserve

    The great white egret made another brief appearance this morning as it flew through the reserve. With up to 5 little egrets feeding on site during the day I can't believe it's not staying put with them on Ousefleet!

    A minimum of 8 marsh harriers out of roost this morning and recent records of merlin, sparrowhawk and peregrine, but no hen harriers still!

    Marsh harriers appropriatly at Marshland hide on Monday

    Still reasonable numbers of wildfowl on the reserve with up to 90 gadwall, 670 teal , 80 wigeon, 20+ shoveler then a mix of tufted duck, mallard, greylags but just a few pinkfeet at the moment. Most of the pinks seem to be going out to feed on the wolds over the last couple of days which is a pity because recently they have been spectacular as they pass over the hides. 3 whooper swans also passed south at the weekend, hopefully there will be a few more to follow over the next week or two. 

    Below - teal from today


    Waders too have been pretty good on the tide with peaks of 37 black tailed godwits, 2 ruff, 90 snipe, 20 curlew, 50 dunlin, little stint, 240 lapwing, golden plover, redshank but just a single flythrough spotted redshank.

    Waders at Marshland on Monday

    Other birds of note include up to 3 Cetti's warblers, our regular kingfisher, and stonechat. The bearded tits were again erupting this morning with up to 14 birds high flying in front of Xerox hide, remember it has to be calm fine mornings for them to high fly, if its windy then you've got little to no chance of seeing them.

    And finally there have been some recent fine sunrises so I'll finish with a landscape.


    Posted by Pete Short

  • 20 October 2014

    Waders 'Au Natural'

    Over the last few days there seems to have been a bit of a resurgence in waders on the lagoons alongside the constantly rising numbers of golden plover out on the Apex mudflats. Here's a few snaps of them - I've tried to keep them natural to show the interactions and behavior of the birds which is equally as fascinating to watch. (I'll try to do a full update of recent sightings tomorrow as there as been plenty to see).  Meanwhile sit back and take a look at the photo's hope you enjoy.

    Lapwings in front of the hide at Ousefleet

    Ruff and redshanks - Marshland

    Black tailed godwits - Marshland

    Preening ruff - Marshland

    More Blackwits

    Dunlin - nice to have them back in front of the hides again, there numbers have been so low in recent years

    And next to a blackwit they look tiny!

    Golden plover flying over Ousefleet

    And finally snipe and dunlin together at Marshland


    Posted by Pete Short

  • 17 October 2014

    Autumn colours Autumn and Winter Birds

    Its been another great week here on the Sands with a good range of species seen including mid week a few sea birds. Although I haven't totted up the bird species count for the year I get the feeling in my that variety wise and quality its shaping up to be a pretty good all round year. I'll be doing a bit of a review of the year in December so maybe then I'll be able to let you know exactly what's what - what.

    This morning it was real mild and mellow but the bearded tits were going berserker with flock of up to 41 high flying over the reedbed! All in all I think there may have been over 100 birds trying to move away from site, and this may not be a bad thing as I seem to suspect after looking at the reedbed that it may not be a very good year for phragmites seed production that the beardies rely on for their winter food.

    Below - 41 beardies high over the reedbed!

    Lots of other birds around on what was a truly breathtaking early morning livestock check! Probably over 1000 pinkfeet over the site as they headed out to feed on the arable, and the 560 greylags that are roosting on Ousefleet aslo added to the goosefest, the noise alone was incredible. Why don't people from the UK seem to appreciate greylags like continental birders - is it because many are feral?

    Pinks overhead

    Now don't these greylags look nice?

    2500 golden plover and 500 lapwing whirling about at the Apex were equally as entertaining especially as there was also Marsh harrier and a merlin following in close proximity to take advantage of any small birds flushed from the cover of the reedbed. Across the site I counted an incredible 80+ snipe many of which were on Marshland but Xerox seems to be attracting a few waders at the moment with 38 black tailed godwits this morning as mid October surprise. Also a few lapwing, redshank and 12 dunlin feeding alongside the teal and shoveler. 61 gadwall were on Singleton along with a few Tufted ducks and little grebes.

    Gadwall on Singleton

    Mid  weeks rain seemed to ground a few migrants with the first redwings and bramblings of the year (also two bramblings this morning), and a distinct passage of rock pipits, through. Other continentals included a few song thrushes, goldcrests, chaffinch and blackbirds while more local migrants include hordes of skylark and lesser numbers of yellowhammer, meadow pipit and goldfinch . The wind and rain which also produced the grey phalarope also produced 2 kittiwakes and 7 gannets west.

    Black tailed godwit and wildfowl on Xerox


    Other birds of note have included 2 bullfinch, 3 little egrets, ruff, siskin and redpoll (both very scarce this year), and of course our regular Kingfisher and stonechats with Cettis warblers now up to 3 possibly 4 birds.

    A bit more fungi appearing while the Roe deer have been entertaining with a buck currently joining the doe and her two calves.



    Posted by Pete Short

  • 13 October 2014

    Grey phalarope becomes the years 30th species of wader!

    Stormy weather always get me excited (ornithologically that is)  and with easterlies and rain I was hoping that we would get a seabird of two, so as you can imagine I didn't need much excuse to go and have a meeting on the reserve today. A quick flog up to Ousefleet hide had produced a nice October tally of 16 spotted redshank and a little egret which I was just photographing when Becky one of our ex-intern volunteers said what's that funny looking bird on the water. I asked is it a duck and she said no a wader - and as it happened it turned out to be a fantastic little wader - a grey phalarope - well spotted that lass!

    A bit far away for my camera and in foul weather - but here's a record shot of the little sea going gem

    We've only had about 5 or 6 records of grey phal since 1973 so it is a pretty good record indeed and takes the wader species list up to 30 for the year (and we haven't had sanderling yet!) Earlier in the day Matt our assistant warden had jack snipe on the newly de-silted lagoon at Townend and I had the first four whooper swans go south over the reserve and two merlins chasing each other. Yes indeed I do love poor weather, especially when its turning up birds like this - quality not quantity!

    Despite a bit of fog over the weekend there were also some excellent sightings thus continuing the Octoberfest, a late Osprey that went east while two little stints were mixed in with the 300 roosting dunlin and four ringed plover. Still a few ruff and plenty of snipe around while the golden plover and lapwing numbers are building up out on apex with 1700 goldies at least on Saturday (the goldies always appear with the rain).  

    Golden plover out on the Apex (NB this can only be viewed from the other side of the river!) but you may see the large wheeling flocks in the air from Singleton hide)

    Lots of pink footed geese over two with some skeins numbering over 500 now and looking pretty impressive when theirs good light. (below - pinks on Saturday). Not a huge number of duck but still a good number of gadwall and shoveler and lesser numbers of mallard, wigeon, teal, and tufted duck. A small party of Barnacle geese were also seen at the weekend which again may be of wild origin rather than being of the feral population.

    A quick count of the marsh harrier roost the other evening produced at least nine but their may have been a few early birds I missed.

    One little bird that seems to be recovering its numbers this year is the stonechat - on Saturday I had two superb males together (Photo's below). Also probably due to good breeding seasons there are regular kingfisher records and a good build up of cettis warblers. Bearded tits were again erupting at least on Saturday.

    Here's a little bobby dazzler

    Also noteworthy today was a count of 1200 avocets on Reads Island - an amazing number for this time of year!

    And another reason why I like the rain - Fungi! These are bonnet's of some kind and are on the path to Ousefleet hide (still to ID)






    Posted by Pete Short

  • 10 October 2014

    Revel in the roost

    The recent high tides have produced one of the best dunlin roost for years here on the lagoons with at least 500 this morning on Xerox looking and sounding pretty spectacular as they wheeled about and crammed around the islands in tight nit groups. A good look through them also produced a nice little stint to add to the recent wader tally. Other waders included 12 spotted redshank, 10+ ruff, grey plover, 55 snipe, then a few curlew, redshank, lapwing and fly over golden plover.

    Below - roosting dunlin


    Ruff, redshank and snipe on Marshland (Mike Johnson)


    Plenty of pink footed geese flighting out of roost too over the hides honking and squealing as they go out to feed on the arable fields, then a good supporting cast of wigeon, teal, shoveler, and gadwall on the pools.

    Pinks overhead

    Marsh harriers still present and merlin seen earlier in the week. A few little egrets still hanging around with up to three on Ousefleet recently.

    After a lull there was suddenly a massive movement of small birds south this morning with skylarks and meadow pipits, greenfinch, chaffinch, linnet and goldfinch, plus quite a few swallows. Oddments of yellowhammer and a reserve rarity house sparrow were notable.

    Around the lagoons and willows were 2 stonechats, cettis warbler, kingfisher, plenty of chiffchaffs while there are still a good number of grey wagtails moving through and bullfinch yesterday (see pictures by Tim and Si Jump). 

    Bearded tits were again erupting this morning in the fine bright weather and over the last few days quite a number have seen to be strongly erupting off site being pushed by the south easterly tail winds.



    Posted by Pete Short

  • 8 October 2014

    Back to the future - part II - mud glorious mud!

    Some of you who have visited over the last month or so may have noticed that we have been doing a bit of work with a large excavator on the lagoons. Well this has been the main part of the five year funded work program funded by WREN Environmental and is known as Back to the Future, mainly because we aim to create a future landscape using some ideas from both the past and future.

    Our main focus has been on improving the wetland complex for the benefit of many of our key wetland birds and wildlife such as bitterns, bearded tits, water voles and toads. Grazing of the Koniks has been another part of the project in an attempt to create more natural management of the wetland system and introduce lots of mosaics in the vegetation

    However this phase of the project was designed to rehabilitate one of the brackish lagoons by removing the accumulated silt and land forming the ground to help create better feeding conditions for both breeding and migrant waders.   

    The team have put a lot of effort into trying to design a lagoon that will provide the maximum amount of feeding area for the waders and by lowering the lagoon back down to it's original level we should be able to keep a shallow water level for much longer than we have been able to recently.

    We are all really excited about the potential of the work for the birds that use the reserve and have our fingers crossed that it will give some excellent birding for next year when the food levels have built up again.

    Here's a couple of pictures to give you an ideal of the work on Townend lagoon

    Just after excavation

    And now with a bit of water in it............

    Its also time to give a bit of an update on the konik grazing part of the project as I feel that this is really starting to give some very positive indication of just what the grazing is achieving, especially with a bit of careful water control by the team.

    Recently I have been concentrating quite a bit of time birding at Ousefleet to record bird usage of the area grazed by the ponies in winter. The hope was that their grazing and dunging would help create perfect conditions for chironomid worms and also soil worms to flourish as well as lots of beetle larvae, and I have to say that maybe this late summer things are looking positive.

    recent peak counts of waders include 111 snipe, 72 curlew, 27 ruff, 7 black tailed godwits, 300 lapwing, 12 spotted redshank, plus smaller numbers of redshank, golden plover, greenshank, green sandpiper, common sandpiper ringed plover, single red necked phalarope, wood, and pec sand, and today 150 roosting dunlin. Duck counts have been over 500 teal and 500 mallard plus good numbers of shoveler, and gadwall and the odd pintail. The surrounding vegetation has been used by lots of bearded tits and warblers while little egrets and spoonbills have fed on the pool. In the spring over 80 avocets fed on the pool. So some promising results here!

    Below - one of the ponies the other evening with the seasonal scrape at Ousefleet covered in teal.


    Posted by Pete Short

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Coast on a stormy day with heavy rain falling on coastal headland

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Your sightings

Grid reference: SE8423 (+2km)

Pectoral Sandpiper (1)
7 Oct 2014
Great White Egret ()
6 Oct 2014
Whooper Swan (12)
29 Oct 2014
Marsh Harrier (4)
29 Oct 2014
Black-tailed Godwit (10)
29 Oct 2014
Kingfisher (1)
29 Oct 2014
Cetti's Warbler (2)
29 Oct 2014
Tree Sparrow (5)
29 Oct 2014
Ruff (3)
28 Oct 2014
Little Stint (1)
28 Oct 2014

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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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