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This weekend the changes in the seasons really started to show with a fantastic mix of winter visitors but still a trickle of summer migrants. Strangely on Saturday there was hardly a bearded tit to be seen but when the sun rose on Sunday they went into overdrive erupting all over the place with flocks of up to twenty birds and many of them leaving site to find reedbed further afield. Stonechats have suddenly started to arrive en mass and then the pink footed geese are building nicely with over 300 over this morning to feed on the farmland.
A few beardie shots
And a lovely male stonechat on Ousefleet
Friday evening was really exciting as I was watching a noctule bat out early feeding high over the reserve when suddenly a merlin tried to grab it for its dinner! It must have been the bats lucky day as it managed to avoid being roost time feast. The barn owls too put on a show with three birds all together hunting over the back of Xerox lagoon.
Birds of prey are starting to feature more and more with a few more marsh harriers, sparrowhawk, kestrel and three buzzards yesterday, and up to two peregrines. One of the pegs is a massive female who puts the wind up the waterfowl when she streaks through them although yesterday she made do with an erupting beardie, it didn't even know what had hit it poor thing! Mmmm anyone for ginger biscuits?
A young male marsh harrier
Waders have been pretty good too although the 3 curlew sandpipers have been difficult to catch up with often only staying on site for a short while, but plenty of dunlin is always a good sign and the flock has reached over 200, ringed plover passage too is positive while there are still good numbers of black tailed godwits, ruff, spotted redshank and up to 70 snipe. These are all backed up by the regular lapwings, 700 golden plover roosting out on the apex, redshank and curlew. A good easterly blow from Russia is forecast so I'm getting pretty excited about what could happen on the wader front, I've know some excellent Octobers lets live in hope.
Some good numbers of duck too building with plenty of teal, shoveler, mallard, shelduck, and wigeon plus a few fly over pintail many of which are now starting to attain their full winter plumage now. A tufted duck on Xerox was the first record for a while. The white headed semi albino teal is still around, interesting I'd forgot that I'd mentioned it last year on a blog!
The wigeon are looking nice in the morning sunlight
And our growing mute swan family
Still a good number of little egrets about the lagoons and plenty of water rails on site, showing best around Marshland at the moment.
Then a real mix of passerines with some good vis mig of redpolls, siskins, goldfinch, meadow pipits, chaffinch, skylark and the first Scandinavian rock/water pipit. Also still reed warbler on Friday, two swallows today, a good number of chiffchaffs, goldcrest, songthrush, long tailed tits and great views to be had if patient of singing cettis warbler near to reception. Is it the same one from spring I wonder?
The Kingfisher has been putting on a great show, that's when its not being chased off by a testosterone charged lapwing who after a peregrine attack decided that the kingfisher needed a good chase to clear it away from Singleton!
The kingfisher measuring up the job in hand
Mammals are starting to get pretty good too with regular hares, roe deer, fox, weasel and a reserve rarity yesterday in form of a grey squirrel.
This fox was eyeing up the local rabbits for his breakfast
Squirrel nutkins showing attitude
Posted by Pete Short
A Wetland site manager can learn a lot form his travels and a recent trip to Bulgaria certainly opened my eyes at what amazing and very different birdlife can be found at the other side of Europe only three hours from Manchester Airport! It also made me a bit envious when I saw the massive brackish lakes full of wetland birds and also the low intensity farming that gave an insight into what the UK's countryside must have been like seventy years ago.
For starters and to my eternal shame for someone who has a degree in Human Geography I must admit that I didn't really know the first thing about Bulgaria, apart from that it had been a communist state and had had some good lady shot putters. I can now happily tell you that after a brief ten day visit I know a little bit more and that I can now confidently say the people are very friendly, much of the country away from the towns is beautiful, the food is delicious and that there is some absolutely amazing birding to be had! Why hadn't I been there before!
Some of the scenery sure is beautiful
Only a small country about half the size of the UK it is very rugged and in the summer hot and winter quite cool, oak forests covers large areas of the uplands and the farming in many places is very low intensity, towards the coast there are large fresh and brackish lakes many with sizeable reedbeds. Unfortunately it has lost a lot of its rare steppe grassland habitat to the plough although a few areas can be still be seen near to the Coast.
Some of the higher uplands hold some relict northern species such as Nutcracker and crossbill as well as for me a much appreciated population of willow tits maybe giving a brief glimpse into how climate change may be affecting this species in the UK.
The mountain area of Vitosha just overlooking Sophia produced superb views of Nutcracker
As the Black sea runs along the eastern edge of the country it is a major migration route with many birds funneling along the coast towards the Bospherous that takes them into Africa. Many of these birds come from Ukraine, Russia, and the Baltic countries who all funnel through what is known as the Via Pontica Black sea migration route. Hundreds of thousands of them if not millions of birds per year make their way through this route making it one of the most spectacular visible migration hotspots in Europe.
Migrating white pelicans - double click on this for full effect, just superb and only a small part of the flock
One of the lagoons near to the black sea - a bit bigger than our Singleton lagoon, no wonder it had thousands of birds on it including a few ferruginous ducks, lots of black necked grebes and black terns etc etc, a bit of a different scale somewhat - I think I need to think bigger is better.
The first part of the trip concentrated in the beautiful Rodope Mountains which currently suffer from massive rural depopulation, birds of prey featured strongly with great views of black, Egyptian, and griffon vultures but also golden and eastern imperial eagle! There were lots of short toed eagles, migrating lesser spotted eagles the odd booted eagle and a cracking male red footed falcon. In all during the whole trip we recorded 24 species of raptor, not including steppe buzzard subspecies, pretty mind blowing for Europe!
Short toed eagle - quite close
And this red footed falcon obligingly shows of his little red 'pants'
Anyone for Griffon?
There was at the time a massive movement of Black storks through the country with kettles of up to 70 flying over but also many that were feeding on the ground giving me much better views than the one at Blacktoft did this summer.
Black storks migrating and on the deck
Also impressive was the steady stream of migrating tree pipits and bee-eaters but also the first Syrian woodpeckers and somber tits both of which are Bulgarian 'specialties'. There were plenty of woodlarks, spotted flycatchers and just mind boggling numbers of red backed shrikes feeding in the invertebrate rich fields.
And there were good numbers of cirl buntings - but difficult to get close to!
This eastern black eared wheatear was none too shabby either which added to good views of chukar partridge on a nearby mountain side.
Towards the coast large areas of oak forest dominate the landscape and gave the chance to get great views of middle spotted woodpecker along more familiar birds such as nuthatch, great tits and yellowhammer.
Middle spotted wood - its been quite a few years since I've seen my last and never quite a good as this one
On the coast the landscape was diverse with wetlands mixing with farmland, relict steppe and woodland giving a unbelievable diversity of birds from woodland specialities like Hawfinch, wetland birds in profusion including Dalmatian and white pelicans (including a flock of 5000!) plus oodles of pygmy cormorants, plenty of waders such as Kentish plover and black winged stilt, a few collared pratincoles, and flamingoes just to add spice, lots and lots of birds of prey, rollers, turtle doves and red breasted flycatchers everywhere.
Its difficult to do the 191 species that I managed to see justice here in such a short blog but here's just a sample of some of the exciting species that I managed to get a decent photo of, there were many more that I didn't! Bulgaria, yes if you like a bit of class birding not too far away once in a while than it well worth a visit!
Syrian woodpecker showing off its ID features
Pygmy cormorants - well mostly there's the odd great cormorant too
One of the many thousands of bee-eaters
Lesser spotted eagle - you can just see the two commas
They still have a few turtle doves
Slender billed gull with two BH gulls
A very confiding squacco heron
Red breasted flycatcher
Kentish plover and little stint
Male red breasted fly
And of course I couldn't leave out red backed shrike, it'll be a long time before I see as many
I managed to get almost to within touching distance of this bird
Bulgaria's certainly worth a visit - now I just need to get back to see those red breasted geese......................................
With the onset of October I now find myself looking for the last swallow although it only seems a short time ago that I was looking for the first one to arrive back from Africa, how the summer flies! Now traditionally here on the Sands if the weather is nice in the first week the last few migrants seem to have a late surge as those from more northern climes push south while the going is good, so was the swallow I saw on Wednesday my last, we'll have to wait and see.
There seems too to be a reasonable number of reed warblers and chiffchaffs around the site and a big surprise while I was sat in the office was a lesser whitethroat sat preening in the bushes.
An autumn bonus - lesser whitethroat
Despite the fog and high tides we've managed to keep the lagoons in good shape so there are still reasonable numbers of waders about and showing well, up to 40 black tailed godwits, 24 spotted redshank, 30 ruff plus, 32 dunlin and smaller numbers of greenshank, curlew, golden plover, grey plover, and ringed plover. Just reported when the fog has cleared that there is both curlew sandpiper and little stint on Singleton this morning, proper job!
And spotted redshanks
Some amazing numbers of water rail still around the edges of the reserve often feeding around the little egrets.
Only a few marsh harriers around but this seems to suit the barn owl that has been putting a great show on in the evenings, best hides have been both Marshland and Singleton.
Not too many duck around but still a nice mix of species with wigeon, shoveler, teal, shelduck, mallard and gadwall. 82 pintail passed through on Wednesday all heading west and there are now a few flocks of up to 40 pinkfooted geese to be seen flying over the reserve.
Fred and Freda the mute swans plus their six cygnets are still doing well, they should be set for lift off in the next three weeks! I realized yesterday that for me this is going to be one of the highlights of the year when it happens, even dare I say it more than the Monty's!
Still plenty of redpolls going over along with a few siskins, meadow pipits and skylarks, then on the deck goldcrests, song thrushes, the first black birds of the autumn this morning, plenty of reed buntings and reasonable numbers of bearded tits showing when the fog lifts, and of course plenty of cettis warblers. Keep an eye out to for our regular kingfisher.
Robin singing its Autumn song
This morning the fen was festooned with spiders webs many of which had a large spider in the middle of the web that was glistening with water globules, Lovely.
I suppose its that time of year when the night temperatures begin to drop and the morning mist forms along the Humber, but then it doesn't really seem to have effected the quality of the birding at the moment, that has as per usual been fantastic this weekend.
It can also make the reserve minutia look superb too in its own way
It of course started on the Friday with the 430 golden plover on Singleton, these have been backed up by 420 lapwings, 29 black tailed godwits, 27 spotted redshank, 37 ruff, 86 dunlin, 2 greenshank, 30 snipe, 38 curlew plus lesser numbers of redshank, a single curlew sandpiper (not present this morning), and a grey plover. I had an intriguing e-mail from someone who had been talking to a couple who had seen a summer plumaged dotterel in the golden plovers near to the village of Adlingfleet in the arable fields, so well worth scanning those golden plover as they also sometimes attract buff breasted sandpipers........
Grey plover - our fist on the 'deck' record this year - all the rest have flown over
Golden plover from Friday
Dunlin and curlew sandpiper
Saturday evening I spotted a small flock of geese grazing in the fields next to the reserve that I decided were worth a second look in the half light, the first pink footed geese of the year! By the morning in the mist their numbers had risen to 16 and this morning I had a flock of 24. Pinkies are for me one of the heralds of Autumn and always look surperb when they are feeding in the fields, fog or no fog!
Pinks in the fog
Only a few marsh harriers around at the moment which is unusual but also buzzard, hobby, sparrowhawk and kestrel all reported. Stars of the evening have been a very showy barn owl around Marshland lagoon and then a Short eared owl hunting late over Ousefleet lagoon on Saturday.
It seems like the small birds are starting to put on a show for everyone with flock of up to 20 bearded tits erupting in the mornings now, also kingfisher, great spotted woodpecker, chiffchaffs, reed buntings, meadow pipits, goldcrests, goldfinch, tree sparrows, tit flocks and overhead siskins and redpolls. A few of the redpolls are now starting to feed on the hairy willow herb and allowing some good photo opportunities.
Goldfinch feeding on Marsh Sow thistle
Tree sparrow - I always like my photo's of tree sparrows when they are away from the bird feeders
And redpoll this morning
Yesterday morning was certainly a beautiful one with just a hint of autumn in the air which was also reflected by some of the birdlife, coal tit, great spotted woodpecker and kingfisher all made it feel like winter is on its way.
The waders and the night sky though were set to be the stars of this stunning late September day. My morning rounds around the site produced excellent numbers and views of a superb variety of waders including ruff, spotted redshank, greenshank, curlew sandpiper, lapwing, snipe, and dunlin all fueling up on the chironomid bloodworms for their migration or cooler days to come.
Marshland is always good for the light in the mornings and didn't disappoint
Some superb views of Black tailed godwit
The spotted redshank are now in their winter plumage but are still fantastic in the right light
One of the 300 Lapwing and black tailed godwit
And a nice gathering of ruff and lapwing
But after a long day in the office getting to grips with finances and funding I decided that it was worth a trip down to the site to enjoy the last rays of sunshine. I headed straight down to Singleton hide where the light tends to be better in the evening and as soon as I approached the lagoon I could see and hear golden plover that were flighting towards the lagoon. Now its not every day that golden plover settle onto the lagoons these days as they seem to prefer Alkbrough Flats, so I was pretty keen to see if a 'few' had actually landed on the lagoon and would give me some nice views of this moorland plover.
My first sightings of goldies as they passed the rising moon
But nothing had quite prepared me for what I saw when I entered the hide, 430 shimmering golden plover all lined up in the water calling with their siren like mournful whistles. An absolutely amazing sight for all those who were in the hide and quite a spectacle because there was also a most excellent assemblage of other birds accompanying them. 14 little egrets frenetically feeding with water rails running around their feet, 27 spotted redshank trawling for fish, at least 37 ruff and 60 dunlin combing the mud for bloodworms, greenshank, 13 black tailed godwits, a single curlew sandpiper plus plenty of snipe and lapwing as supporting cast. And when a marsh harrier came a little too close a spectacle of hundreds of waders wheeling around the lagoon.
What a way to end the day, but not quite the end there was one last celestial treat to come..........
Here's a few pictures of the Goldies (I'll put some video on facebook), difficult to do them justice but hopefully you'll enjoy.
Part of the flock
With four juvenile ruff
Birds taking off as the marsh harrier went past
A few started to return after the scare but the light was now fading
One or two birds still had the remnants of their breeding plumage
Mixed in with some of the other waders
The final celestial treat was the moon rising high into the sky and showing off all its desolate meteor bombarded scared landscape in all its fine glory.
Back in Blighty after a short birding break abroad and my first impression is that Autumn is upon us with the leaves turning golden and the berries shining red and purple on the bushes around the reserve. A quick walk around the reedbed today to inspect the management teams late summer reed cutting in the back of Singleton lagoon gave me another sign of the time of year with my first erupting parties of bearded tits. Not many but a few small groups of between two and six beardies who have now moulted into their adult plumages. Beardies are unusual in that both the adults and young birds undergo a complete feather moult all at the same time unlike many other species of passerine that often retain a few juvenile or adult feathers.
Cut reebed at the back of Singleton
Its the first time we've been able to lower the water for a couple of years mainly due to late breeding bitterns and also a need to hold water to make up for poor tidal water availability on a poor series of 2014 tides. But this year we needed to get on with reed cutting to ensure the reedbed stays in tip top condition for its breeding reedbed birds and so the team have really got stuck into cutting the mosaic that helps cater for all our priority species. What was a little shocking but no surprise was the amount of plastics and driftwood that had been dumped into the reedbed when we had the major surge tide in December 2013, here's a picture of just a little bit that the team have removed, what an uncaring species we humans are at times dumping so much detritus into our rivers.
What a load of rubbish (sing)
One of the advantages of lowering the water levels at this time of year on Singleton lagoon is that the waders love it! We've also got two other lagoons, Xerox and Marshland that are also at good levels for them too so its been pretty good for a variety of wading birds this last few days. 32 ruff, 14 black tailed godwits, 25 spotted redshank, 32 dunlin plus greenshank, regular curlew sandpiper, 2 knot, 20+ snipe, curlew and 230 lapwing are all enjoying the chironomid fest at the moment. There are also good numbers of water rails and still up to five little egrets about too.
Black tailed godwits on Marshland
Curlew sandpiper on Singleton feeding on the lovely mud
A nice assemblage of duck and waders by Tim and Si Jump - curlew sand, blackwit, ruff and lapwing
Next week there are a few high tides again plus a easterly flow forecast - the question is will this bring the possibility of a curlew sandpiper and little stint increase?
Not too many birds of prey around at the moment but still our resident marsh harriers, peregrine, buzzard, sparrowhawk and kestrel all possible, but keep an eye out for a late hobby or early hen harrier!
It seems like many of the swallows have now moved south but are being replaced by plenty of siskin, redpoll, skylark and meadow pipits that are flying over the reserve although a few are mixing in with the goldfinch. There has also been a noticeable increase in singing male Cettis warblers with at least 5 birds now present. This species' population just seems to go up and up every year, where will we be in another 10 years - Cettis all over the place if the trend is like that in the south of England.
Redpoll by Tim and Si Jump
Duck numbers have declined from last week as the teal and wigeon have now hoovered up a lot of the available plant food, however as the insect food increases many birds will again start to feed on Ousefleet. Still a few shoveler and gadwall about too and a chance of pintail and garganey.
Good to see the late moorhen brood still doing well on my return.
And as I've only been back from my travels recently I apologies for the lack of photo's, but here's one bird for you to identify and it gives a clue to where I've been in Europe. I'll do a bit of a blog about the country in question another day but for a bit of a challenge can you guess both the bird and country?
There's been a distinct autumn feel during the week most of the summer migrant warblers have now gone with only chiffchaffs, blackcaps and reed warblers remaining in any numbers. Looks being a great autumn for siskins and redpolls with birds passing over daily and a few siskins have been joining the local goldfinch flocks and the first goldcrests of the autumn appeared on Thursday.
Wader numbers have been gradually increasing on Singleton Lagoon with up to 42 ruff, 22 spotted redshanks and 46 black-tailed godwits but we are still awaiting a passage of little stints and curlew sandpipers hopefully we will get some very soon. A great white egret spent three days on site at the beginning of the week feeding (can you spot it on in this photo).
Ruff and spotted redshank on Singleton.
I have been regularly coming across otter tracks and spraints around Blacktoft this summer and this morning I was lucky to get my first ever sighting of one on the reserve as it swam rapidly across Singleton lagoon , surprising the local little egrets.
Still plenty of ducks on site with nearly 1000 teal through the week as well as up to 8 pintail and a garganey has been seen a few times. We still haven't had any pink footed geese passing over the reserve but should be with us any day.
Water rails are very vocal at the moment with up to 8 birds regularly showing on Marshland and Singleton.
Finally, bearded tits have been starting to call excitedly and should be erupting soon, my prediction is that Ousefleet may well be the best place to get good views.
Posted by Mike Pilsworth
The last few days have been truly memorable here on the Sands with some beautiful weather and masses of birds on site that have at times almost made it look like the water is boiling with waterfowl. Yesterday and this morning I counted a maxima of 2200 duck on site with some really notable numbers of some species, in fact yesterday evening I just sat in Ousefleet hide and soaked up the atmosphere as teal and wigeon flew in to feed in their hundreds and curlew gathered in a pre roost flock.
Wigeon and pintail flighting into Ousefleet lagoon
For a video of the wildfowl why not have a look on our East Yorkshire RSPB facebook page, I've just uploaded it.
There's lots more to report but I'll start with the waders that are now starting to return to site as we level out the surge tide and drain our main September wader lagoons Singleton and Marshland. There has also been a sniff of passage with odds and ends moving west, the past two days have seen 7 spotted redshank, 24 black tailed godwit, greenshank, lapwings, snipes, 24 curlew, ruff, 5 dunlin, 4 ringed plover, grey plover, 2 turnstone, common sandpiper, golden plover, 4 avocet and 5+ redshank, so nay bad really.
The light has been pretty nice too really for good views and photographs.
A lovely preening lapwing
Now looking all proud and perfect
Redshank and ripples
And a feathery snipe
Black tailed godwits enjoying the lowered water levels in Singleton lagoon
The waterfowl have been just so superb its difficult to convey the sheer breathtaking experience its been at times, especially when they have been spooked by a raptor. I'll start with the headline figures, 1400 teal, 80 shoveler, 200 mallard, 210 gadwall (a site record), 310 wigeon, and 34 pintail all eating the lovely Orache grown out on the grazing marsh.
A gaggle of gadwall
A male shoveler just starting to acquire its new plumage
And despite being just brown this teal looks just dandy
As I sat in the hide too last night I had several parties of shelduck totaling 50 birds flying west coming back from their moult migration also numerous parties of wigeon stopping off as they too come in from the continent and stopped to refuel their hungry bellies.
A squadron of shelduck and wigeon
In terms of birds of prey still plenty of marsh harriers about especially towards dusk and also regular sightings of hobby, sparrowhawk, kestrel, and buzzard.
Marsh harrier beating up the reedbed.
Odds and sods include still a few water rails on show from time to time and up to nine little egrets, a few more herons, and a number of cormorants now roosting out on the apex lighthouse tower.
In terms of small birds it looks like the Cetti's warblers are emerging from their moults and late summer hiding with at least three birds recorded yesterday and today, also of interest for us inland vis miggers has been a steady passage of chaffinch, meadow pipits and siskin south with a couple of grey wagtails over too. Also a few goldfinch and linnets passing through and occasionally stopping off to feed.
Cetti's warbler - another picture from yesterdays close encounter
Still a smattering of summer migrants about with sedge and reed warblers still tacking away, a few chiffchaff but no sign of any other warbler species at the moment. Our usual tree sparrow flock around the feeders plus a great spotted woodpecker while still small numbers of yellow wagtails around the flooded grazing marsh.
I'll finish off today, my last blog for a couple of weeks with a picture of one of our growing moghen chicks.
With all the wildfowl around at the moment I seems to have reverted back to type (having worked on both the Ouse and Nene Washes both of which hold thousands of wildfowl) by becoming obsessed with counting the peak numbers on site which this morning included an impressive 1400 teal among the throng.
A wildfowl counters dream - lots of wildfowl!
But one thing I have also learned over the years is that wildfowl counting can also bring rich rewards in terms of other species, and this morning it was one of the most elusive of warblers the Cettis warbler that gave me my reward for my obsession. In fact I don't think I've ever come close to getting a decent shot of this skulking and frustrating species so when I heard one next to Ousefleet hide this morning I hoped that it would at least give me a chance to get a record shot.
The first results were stunning - a nice clear shot of its backside as it disappeared!
The next I was pretty pleased with -I'd actually managed a photo showing over 50% of the little skulker
Then maybe it felt sorry for all the times I've tried to get a photo and failed when it eventually sat up only feet away from the front of the hide, maybe not professional quality but I left the hide a very pleased wildfowl counter. I reckon this is a young bird from this year as you can see the fault bars in the tail - look carefully and you can see faint dark lines across the tail which are fault bars and are caused by changes in nestlings food supply and subsequent growth.
And another showing the nice tones in its plumage
I also noted that a few parties of bearded tits were calling excitedly indicating that there may be a few autumn post breeding eruptions over the next few days so keep an eye and an ear out for them if you visit.
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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