Skip navigation
Become a member

Help us save nature at places like this. From £3 a month.

Print page

Recent sightings

  • 30 January 2015

    King of the Roe deer

    At this time of year when the wind blows from the high arctic and the snow lies on the ground the roe deer just look superb particularly the bucks who's antlers are now fully formed but still coated with a thick layer of velvet. This superb male ran past the Konik ponies and a fox this morning with a young doe in tow, and with the ice on the lagoons and snow on the ground the scene looked just like it could have been the local Marshland back in distant pre-history.

    Not a great photo but you can see his most excellent antlers which just look like a crown

    And a couple of other deer from earlier in the week

    Not too many waterbirds left on site just a handful of wigeon, shelduck a few lapwings and snipe but most birds have left the frozen lagoons and gone onto the cold weather refuge that is the rivers Ouse and Trent and the mighty Humber. Cold weather like this can be good for unusual species flying up river so if you are visiting for the raptor roost look out for goosander and divers! I had a recent report from a site nearby that someone had seen eider - a bird not on my Blacktoft list...........

    You will need to wrap up well if you are wanting to watch the raptor roost on an evening but with the chill you should be rewarded with at least marsh harrier and hen harrier then possibly merlin, peregrine or barn owl.

    Keep a look out for beardies again as they will be showing a little better in the still conditions, anywhere around the pathways up to Marshland hide and then down to Singleton have been reasonably good recently, here's a snap I took this morning while out looking for the ponies. 

    Stonechats will be struggling but are benefiting from the Wardening team hard at work out cutting reed at the moment, hopefully this will help them survive this cold spell. There's also still a few cetti's warblers around the site so have a good listen for them as you walk between hides. The bullfinch continues to show and there are still a few fieldfares roosting in the reed. You may also have a chance of seeing one of our elusive water rails or water pipits as they get forced out into the open to feed.    

    And I'll leave you with a couple of snow scenes from this morning



    Posted by Pete Short

  • 28 January 2015

    A rapturous roost

    A bus mans holiday on Sunday afternoon produced seven superb species of raptor amongst a host of other nice birds over the weekend and into the early part of the week. Strangely enough some of my best bird species and photo's at the weekend were gained as I drove into the reserve giving the old adage that good birds do not always live on nature reserves, in fact the arable farmland round here can be excellent for many local scarcities.

    I took these photo's of these gorgeous grey partridge while just two fields on there was a gaggle of pink footed geese that ignored my car that I used as a hide. Take a close look at the little mauve line just behind the eye - something that I've never noticed before - ah the wonders of digital cameras!

    But what about those raptors? Well of course there was kestrel and sparrowhawk and at least twelve marsh harriers. But in with all these there were some top views of peregrine,, merlin, buzzard, and of course our regular roosting hen harriers. On Friday too with a bit of cooler weather there was the first sighting of the year of Barn owl, locally they are starting to become a little more active than of late so keep a look out for them as they glide over the reeds.  

    Another bird that we have not had a lot of sighting this winter has been bittern so one on Sunday at Xerox was particularly welcome

    Below - wigeon and teal

    With little ice around the waterfowl and waders have benefited and we have had good numbers of wigeon, teal, shelduck, gadwall and shoveler along with the odd goldeneye and tufted duck. Nearly 70 dunlin today and up to 18 black tailed godwits recently, a few snipe, a couple of redshank and a single spotted redshank.

    Pinkfeet on the arable

    Plenty of pink footed geese over the Sands and also a good number feeding in local fields recently

    On the small bird front I got some nice views of a pair of bearded tits this morning on the way up to Marshland hide, they seem to be in this area most days at the moment. There has also been stonechat, kingfisher, and the Cettis warblers are becoming a bit more vocal and visible at times. There has been a lovely male bullfinch too who on Monday decided to sit right in front of my car as I parked up early in the morning - unfortunately the light was too poor for any photo's.

    Some good sightings too of fox, hare and roe deer particular.




    Posted by Pete Short

  • 21 January 2015

    Merlin eyes up beardies!

    Some nice birding this morning despite it being overcast with a chilly South East wind. Best of the birds was a very obliging female merlin that sat on top of one of the bushes on the bank of Townend lagoon eying up the bearded tits that were showing very nicely again.

    Here's a few snaps - not the best as it was so dull but not bad either as its hard to get merlin so close here on . Double click to enlarge

    And the beardies if you look carefully (photo taken from the hide)

    Then a nice one from Xerox this morning of wigeon, teal, dunlin and Black tailed godwit


    Posted by Pete Short

  • 20 January 2015

    A Brief Mid Winter Snow Scene

    A light snow shower on Sunday ensured that it was a very white and beautiful Blacktoft that greeted us on Monday morning and giving us the first real feeling in our bones that winter had finally arrived. Strangely though despite the nip in the air the reserve lagoons are not fully frozen over with most of them having some clear patches of water for the waterfowl to use so maybe its not being quite as cold as all that. Most of the snow has now melted away too so we are left with the thought, will this be the only glimpse of winter we get or is it just the start of what could be a late one? Only time will tell. 

    Here's an early morning picture of the view from Singleton hide

    And at least some of the team were enjoying the conditions! - the one on the right has slightly mad eyes as the other one kept nipping it.

    Bird wise its business as usual with the Harrier roost still holding good numbers of at least four hen harriers and up to twenty marsh harriers. Also regular sightings of merlin, sparrowhawk, kestrel and buzzard.

    Not so many waders though which have mostly moved onto the estuary with only a few snipe and the odd redshank left feeding around the edges of the lagoons.

    Duck however are currently managing to use the unfrozen water bodies with wigeon, teal, gadwall, shoveler and shelduck all present this morning, the shelduck were funny to watch as they frantically scrabbled to puch themselves into the soft mud on Marshland lagoon. On Friday the first coot of the New Year was present on Xerox, but it quickly left when the ice started to form! Still a few pinkfeet in the area so keep a check on any geese that fly over the reserve or are feeding in fields nearby.

    Shelduck - bottoms up!

    And a shoveler pair on Townend

    Not too many cold weather movements of smaller birds but there was a distinct influx of black birds this morning. The cettis warblers are getting a bit more active and if you are patient you may get a view of one, listen out for their distinctive harsh but short call. Bearded tits are not as good as before Christmas but this cold spell is starting to draw them out a little again around the lagoons.

    And it may be cold and the middle of January but no one told the tree sparrows! The team have been cleaning out the nest boxes recently and they have gone straight back in and started to fill them back up with nesting material. This fine morning today allowed me to get some nice shots of them as they prospected and displayed around the boxes in the car park with one bird staking out a claim on an old magpies nest!

    Keep  a look out too for mammals on the reserve with hare and roe deer showing quite well and red fox currently busy mating, listen out for their distinctive whimpers that sound as though they are hurt, in fact its when they are mating.







    Posted by Pete Short

  • 15 January 2015

    Stonechats converge!

    Out in the reedbed today the stonechats converged on us to feed on the rich pickings of the disturbed reed litter with at one point at least nine individuals working over the ground where we were working. Its great to see this many of our friendly 'reedbed robins' as we affectionately call them particularly after their population crashed during the cold December of 2010.

    I managed to take some nice shots of some of the different individuals as I was rowing up the reed. It's amazing how these friendly little chats home in on us so that they get a good meal to keep them going on the cold winter nights but maybe not as cheeky as my little friend the robin who meets me as I unlock the gates on a morning to beg some of my dinner time sandwich off me.  

    An interesting bird - such a big supercillium

    Plenty about on site and nice to see the first ruff of the New Year out on Ousefleet this morning joining the regular dunlin, black tailed godwits, and lapwings, although most of the snipe are favoring Xerox and Marshland.

    The harrier roost is still on good form with two ringtail hen's in on Tuesday afternoon joining the regular two grey males and at least nine marsh harriers and regular merlin.

    Hen harriers by Mike Johnson

    And marsh harriers coming out of roost by Pedro

    Also keep a look out for the pink footed geese who are now starting to mix in with the Greylags in the field next to the reserve.

    And the Kingfisher - a great action snap from Mike J again.

    For a full round up of all the more regular birds on offer on site see the last blog a Welcome Woodcock. I'll leave you with a nice psychedelic shot of a flock of woodpigeons tumbling into the car park hedges as the sun rises.


    Posted by Pete Short

  • 12 January 2015

    A Welcome Woodcock

    This winter has certainly been notable in the UK for the distinct lack of some species from Scandinavia and the Arctic including any notable influx of Woodcock which co-incidentally I had been lamenting at the weekend, would it be a woodcock less winter on the reserve?

    I've certainly been on the lookout for them but time after time the bird emerging from the willow copse has been a poxy pheasant! So it was quite a surprise this morning that one of the first birds to fly across the path near to Singleton was yes you've guessed it a woodcock! Good to have it on the reserve year list so early and a bit out of the blue considering that it has been so wild and windy these past few days.

    And if any of you we're thinking that because I'd been off site to see the Bewick's swans for my last blog that there was not much to see at Blacktoft then you'd be wrong Its been excellent!    

    Below - Bewicks out on Swinefleet Common

    Still 3 hen harriers, two grey males and a ringtail into roost and remember that they show best in windy conditions, also at least 9 marsh harriers out of roost this morning and then merlin, kestrel and buzzard all recorded over the last few days.

    Waders have been good too with a great count of 300 dunlin up at Ousefleet on the weekend and at least 10 black tailed godwits, also 8 spotted redshank (although just one today), 18 snipe, 2 redshank and about 400 lapwing have all been on site most days making the most of the mild conditions and falling water levels on Ousefleet. I can't believe that we are drying out in the middle of winter!

    Dunlin and Black tailed godwits

    Plenty of duck on site with over 300 wigeon, 4 goldeneye, 80 teal and then lesser numbers of shoveler, gadwall, tufted duck and a single pochard. If it stays mild we will start to see the return of the coots and little grebes soon!  On some mornings up to 2000 pink footed geese have been streaming out of roost on the Humber being joined by thousands of big gulls particularly herring and great black-backed, keep an eye out for the rarer white winged gulls as last weekend I had a possible 2nd year Iceland gull reported as flying over! Or how about this Herring gull showing many characteristics of an adult yellow legged gull - unfortunately I didn't have my scope to fully confirm and the light was awful! It the bird 6th from the right at the front!!! Gull-tastic mate

    Wigeon - I've included a close up of the calling birds - notice how large their tongues are!

    And still the kingfisher puts on a top performance although the bearded tits have really gone quiet in this crazy wind. A few cetti's warblers still on site, supported by reed buntings, tree sparrows, and regular great spotted woodpecker.

    Kingfisher from this am in front of Xerox


    Posted by Pete Short

  • 10 January 2015

    Off reserve sightings - Bewick's swans

    Over the last few weeks there have been a few Bewick's swans out on the nearby arable farming area of Swinefleet Common, although for most of the time they have been pretty distant. Today just before the farmer ploughed the harvested sugar beet field they have been feeding in I managed to sit in my car for cover along one of the little roads that crisscross the common and get a few acceptable photo's of these now scarce to rare visitors to Gods Own Yorkshire from their Arctic breeding grounds.

    Bewick's are our smallest swan species and have more black and less yellow than whoopers, the dirty white birds are last years young.

    Despite the terribly windy conditions it was a nice little trip out for some relatively easy birding of what is one of my favorite birds that I used to count in good number when I worked on the Ouse Washes.

    Here's a few of the 500 snaps I took! (must have got a bit way overexcited!)


    And finally.........

    Posted by Pete Short

  • 8 January 2015

    The story of reed seed and bearded tits - How research benefits reedbeds and their biodiversity

    You may remember in one of my blogs before Christmas that I was talking about my reed seed germination tests and studying the bearded tits to find out what they were feeding on, well here's a brief resume of some of the work and what I have discovered over the festive break.

    Bearded tits don't just eat reed seed in the winter months, they can in fact take a whole range of small 'weed' seeds including nettle, halbard orache, willowherb, cow parsley and grass seed. But overall reed seed is  very much a mainstay of their diet and because the seed panicle (reed seed head)  stays on the reed stem it also interestingly stays accessible during wet and snowy conditions when seeds of other plants that have fallen to the ground are hidden. But reed seed production can be very variable from year to year and this can on some sites lead to starvation of the population.

    Below - a male beardie this winter quite clearly enjoying reed seed on the panicle.

    I find these little aspects of birds lives fascinating and because I'm a bit of a beardie obsessive-compulsive I've being studying all sorts of little facets of their ecology and behavior for the last 13 years or so including an annual new year survey of reed seed availability and food preference. 

    First of all I pick the reed seed panicles and soak them for a few hours or so


    I then bag em up and put them in the airing cupboard or on the Radiators for a few days with all my washing and if I get it right hey presto the reed seed begins to germinate as below. 2014 seems to be a very productive reed seed year with my first batch of reed giving an average of 240 fertile seeds per seed head.

    A rough count/guestimate of the number of germinating seeds gives a good idea how much quality seed is available for the beardies to feed on and also an indication therefore of what winter survival is likely to be if hard weather hits. Here's a table of the last few years of the research and how it relates to eruptions and wintering numbers. 2014 seems to be a very productive reed seed year with my first batch of reed giving an average of 240 fertile seeds per seed head.

    Beardies will also eat other available food particularly insects and as discovered this year locally abundant seeds such as thistle which they seem to have been scoffing on Ousefleet grazing marsh.

    Of course a hungry bearded tit cannot afford to overlook a protein packed food parcel such as these that I found near to where they had being feeding this year

    This spider that was hiding in the reed panicles

    And this Hemiptera fly - possibly Notostira Elongata

    Then particularly during the cold spell a few beardies were feeding around the horse grazed areas where there were a good number of Diptera flys - this one's from the Dolochopidea family I think - yummy

    All interesting stuff! But all this food availability is not completely created by accident, the reedbed habitats have been enhanced year on year via the reserves Wardening team who practically manage them with work plans informed by the types of research carried out above.

    Below - Reed seed production and insect numbers can be enhanced through selective cutting of the reed - something we do a lot of at Blacktoft! It looks destructive but it is in fact a great way to bring new life to an aging reedbed

    Grazing of the Koniks too seems to be adding another dimension by creating new mosaics of habitat that we as humans could not truly fully comprehend the complexities and intricacies of inter-relationships between large grazers and other species.

    So next time you see a bearded tit, reed bunting or a stonechat in the reedbed, stop and have a look at what its eating and think about all the work that goes on to ensure that these birds continue to thrive in the Blacktoft reedbeds and particularly how research has helped us understand how best to do it.

    I put this final photo in because it shows the tail and the patterns that we rarely see unless we are studying them - digital photography has really enhanced how things can be recorded for research and study. 




    Posted by Pete Short

  • 5 January 2015

    Its good to share............

    Unfortunately the photo's section is not allowing people to upload their photo's onto the Reserve webpage at the moment, however I've alerted our Web team and IS departments down at HQ and hopefully the problem will be sorted soon.

    However, today and over Christmas I've had some dazzling snaps sent to me from some of my sterling regulars which I'd just like to share with you all and say thanks to them.

    Taken on Christmas eve by Mike Johnson - some excellent action shots

    Marsh harrier

    Hen harrier - grey male

    More marsh harrier action

    And teal in flight

    And from Tim and Si Jump today some real stonking shots



    Reed bunting

    And bearded tit - by the path!



    Posted by Pete Short

How you can help

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

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.

Donate now

Your sightings

Grid reference: SE8423 (+2km)

Marsh Harrier ()
30 Jan 2015
Black-tailed Godwit ()
30 Jan 2015
Bearded Tit ()
30 Jan 2015
Tree Sparrow ()
30 Jan 2015
Pink-footed Goose (300)
25 Jan 2015
Merlin (1)
25 Jan 2015
Kingfisher (1)
24 Jan 2015
Water Rail (1)
22 Jan 2015
Barn Owl (1)
22 Jan 2015
Cetti's Warbler (1)
22 Jan 2015

Contact us

Where is it?

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

Get directions

Note: Some reserves are not served directly by public transport and, in these cases, a nearby destination (from which you may need to walk or take a taxi or ferry) may be offered.