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Recent sightings

  • 18 July 2014

    Spoonbill feeding frenzy!

    Yesterday the spoonbills put on a superb show first on Townend and then Marshland lagoon. When I went down to lock up the site at 9pm I slipped down to Marshland just to have a look at what was there and wow what a treat! The spoonbills were feeding like crazy and at times almost going into a frenzy with wings flapping and gulping down fish. I managed to get some nice record shots but remember as I took them late in the evening it was starting to get dark. This frenzy feeding maybe explains why spoonbills can seem like they are always sleeping in the day, obviously they go a little crazy in the late evening when its cooler!

    Here are a few shots I took

    This one has a pretty large fish - probably a chubb!

    Here they were being bombed by a black headed gull with chicks! Look at the plumes on the males head (right hand side)

    Lots of other birds to see at the moment on the reserve with good numbers of spotted redshank (19), black tailed godwit (30), and greenshank (7) on site, other waders include green sandpiper, avocet (still 5 young), lapwing, redshank, snipe and then flying west, oystercatchers, curlew, whimbrel, bar tailed godwit and knot. Another species flying west in numbers at the moment is common scoter with 90+ last night and 140+ on Saturday!

    Black tailed godwits - Townend (Tim and Si Jump)

    A mix of waders heading west - curlew, bar-tailed godwit and Knot! (Tim and Si)

    The young marsh harriers are fantastic too with regular peregrine and hobby, a juv/moulting garganey is on Marshland, still willow tit showing most days, little egret (peak of 10), and of course the cuckoo (check out Brians photo's in the gallery they're fantastic!).

    Garganey - Marshland this morning

    Bearded tits are still feeding around the ponds and keep a watch out for the water rails too as they feed on the mud edges.

    Lots of other more common birds around too like this superb young grey heron.

    Update: Sunday 20th July.

    Sightings much as above with the main highlights being the spoonbills that have spent the whole day on marshland lagoon.  The Wood sandpiper on townend lagoon.  Around 20 spotted redshank now.  Water rails good as well.

    Posted by Pete Short

  • 16 July 2014

    A little bit more Cuckoo

    This time its a super little fat headed juvenile cuckoo though which was sat just in front of Townend hide this morning! Picture's aren't the best as when it was really close by I only had a split second to take a shot and I must have been shaking but I thought worth sharing as not many people these days get to see a young cuckoo.

    Also below is a recent posting on bird guides about a study in the Netherlands on the probable effects of neonicotinoid pesticides which helps to further support my last cuckoo blog's summary of what we need to change to help bring back our insect population and many of our migrant and resident birds! This juv is probably from further North in Scotland where it seems insect declines have not being so severe as in intensively arable areas.

    (article below taken from birdguides UK website)

    Following the recent revelation in a review of systematic pesticides that neonicotinoids are causing significant damage to invertebrate species and their populations a new study, published in the science journal Nature has revealed that the pesticides are also having a significant negative impact on bird species.

    Researchers in The Netherlands measured the effect of widespread use of a popular neonicotinoid, imidacloprid, discovering that when the chemical was highly concentrated in surface water supplies, local bird populations showed a significant decline. Birds most affected in the sites sampled included starling, tree sparrow and swallow. These declines were able to be tied in with the introduction of imidacloprid in the country in the mid-1990s, even when allowing for the effects of changing agricultural methods such as the intensification of farming

    Relatively small levels of imidacloprid in the water (around 20 nanograms per litre) were allied to a 30 per cent decline in bird numbers, but many water sources had up to 50 times this amount present. The abstract of the study can be read below:

    "Recent studies have shown that neonicotinoid insecticides have adverse effects on non-target invertebrate species. Invertebrates constitute a substantial part of the diet of many bird species during the breeding season and are indispensable for raising offspring. We investigated the hypothesis that the most widely used neonicotinoid insecticide, imidacloprid, has a negative impact on insectivorous bird populations. Here we show that, in the Netherlands, local population trends were significantly more negative in areas with higher surface-water concentrations of imidacloprid. At imidacloprid concentrations of more than 20 nanograms per litre, bird populations tended to decline by 3.5 per cent on average annually. Additional analyses revealed that this spatial pattern of decline appeared only after the introduction of imidacloprid to the Netherlands, in the mid-1990s. We further show that the recent negative relationship remains after correcting for spatial differences in land-use changes that are known to affect bird populations in farmland. Our results suggest that the impact of neonicotinoids on the natural environment is even more substantial than has recently been reported and is reminiscent of the effects of persistent insecticides in the past. Future legislation should take into account the potential cascading effects of neonicotinoids on ecosystems."

    Songbirds rely on plentiful numbers of invertebrates to feed their growing chicks, in the process helping to keep the numbers of pest species down. Insect-eating birds' positions near the apex of rural ecological food pyramids also result in contaminants concentrating over time to produce indiscriminately deadly results, as was shown by the famous case of DDT (along with DDE), which thinned the eggshells of some birds of prey, including peregrine falcon, resulting in higher chick mortality.

    There is already much published evidence that neonics concentrate in the environment to adversely affect non-pest species and cause declines in many insects, including economically and ecologically valuable honey bees, and the chemicals have been widely suspected of reaching to the very top of the food chain. It is becoming clearer that neonics have an all-pervading influence on our countryside, and rural health and economy, and some of the more common substances are now under suspension by the European Union (EU) to allow bee populations to recover and more research to be undertaken.

    Put simply, if you indiscriminately kill insects you also kill off insect-eaters, and these invertebrates effectively run the engine of the world's entire ecology. Neonics are still widely used in Britain, where use of the substances is not monitored and the EU ban does not cover all manufactured forms of the chemicals.

    A spokesperson for Bayer CropScience, quoted in The Guardian newspaper, said the paper "provides no substantiated evidence of the alleged indirect effects of imidacloprid on insectivorous birds. Neonicotinoids have gone through an extensive risk assessment which has shown that they are safe to the environment when used responsibly according to the label instructions."

    Posted by Pete Short

  • 15 July 2014

    Waders, egrets and birds of prey

    July is always a great time to visit Blacktoft and this morning's return to work from a short break certainly confirmed this, strange how fast things can move at this time of year even within just four days!

    Well at last after a slow start to the season the wader numbers now seem to be picking up a little with recent peaks of 6 ruff, 4 greenshank, 4 green sandpipers, 18 spotted redshank, 20 redshank, 30 lapwing and then a smattering of snipe, curlew, little ringed plovers and of course our avocets and young chicks. I reckon plenty more to come in the next few weeks as they flood southwards towards Africa.

    Below - green sandpipers are showing well at the moment at Townend

    Little egrets numbers too seem to be growing daily with at least 10 on site this morning. While birds of prey are at times spectacular especially as more and more young marsh harriers are appearing by the day with this morning one on an island at Townend and then being buzzed by a couple of cheeky young peregrines!

    This young marshie seems to want to look at its reflection in the water

    Townends also the best place for Little egret but this individual was eating a snail breakfast at First this morning.

    Hobbies seemed to be entertaining people yesterday down at Singleton as they hawked about around the lagoon. Some people may also be wandering why we are not cutting the grass in front of Singleton at the moment, well part of the reason is the whitethroat that is on its second brood right in the middle and still feeding young in the nest!

    Still a good chance of bearded tits, especially from First hide and also keep a look out for water rails along the edges of the lagoons, they always appear as we drop the water levels. Still lots of young grebes and ducks so we still have to balance water levels carefully so that any ground predators don't mop up the late broods.

    Also keep a look out for the cuckoo's who are still enjoying the last few peacock caterpillars.

    Another shot of the young harrier. I reckon its going to be a bumper number of fledglings this year!


    Posted by Pete Short

  • 12 July 2014

    Marsh harriers and spotted redshank steal the show

     This week the marsh harriers and the spotted redshank along with the bearded tits in the mornings steal the show.  All photos by Michael Flowers taken during course visits these last few weeks.

    Starting with those marsh harriers and those youngsters.  It is amazing to watch them chase thier parents for food.  The ones in front of reception have now entered the lazy stage, that is when they sit on bushes scanning the horizon so they can lauch themselves at one of their parents.  This months we are celebrating twenty years of marsh harriers at Blacktoft Sands and now we are one of the best places to see them in the UK.  Throughout the month, you can find out more about them on our fact boards scattered throughout the reserve. Here is a shot of one of our male marsh harriers.

    Then those spotted redshank - counts now of up to 16 of these.  A few are still in the amazing summer plumage.  They just seem to like Blacktoft.  It seems they tend to sleep on xerox lagoon and then feed on townend lagoon.  Here are a few shots of this amazing bird.

     Those bearded tits continue to be good particularly in the mornings from 9am to 10am.  Marshland lagoon is one of the best locations to find them. 

    Other waders today include redshank, dunlin, avocet, green sandpiper and snipe.  Water rails best on townend.  Hobby still around.  Plenty of duck on the lagoons, warblers by the paths and butterflies around today.  Highlight for me was the banded damoiselle that flew into reception mid afternoon. 

    I will leave you now with a photo of that willow tit that has been around for a few weeks now.

    Full reports can be found at and at

    Sunday 13th July update

    Similar to the above - plenty of spotted redshank, bearded tit in the morning, young harriers showing even better today and a few more waders today including ruff and little ringed plover.

    Posted by Michael Andrews

  • 10 July 2014

    Life begins out on the Marsh

    There's still a lot left in this summer judging by the broods of duck and grebes that are still hatching out in good numbers while earlier broods are fledging or have even left the site! Looks like our Bittern nests are now fledged though and this will mean that sightings drop off pretty sharply as the young can now feed themselves. However, our marsh harriers are just starting to get on the wing and so will provide plenty of entertainment for the next few weeks as will our six little but ever hungary avocet chicks.

    Bearded tits continue to entertain, particularly on calm warm mornings around the lagoon edges. Townend has been particularly good this year but also Marshland and First can be good for closer views.

    Waders still continue to just trickle in but there has been up to 14 spotted redshank, 15 black tailed godwits (briefly this am), 2 green sandpipers, snipe, redshank, greenshank, and dunlin yesterday. The curlew passage continues with notably this year the odd bar tailed godwit mixed in to the V formations.  Can you spot them in the picture below?

    Water rails continue to show occassionally around Townend, with regular little egret, peregrine, and barn owl on an evening.  The odd grasshopper warbler still singing and loads of young sedge warblers appearing in with the reed warblers and whitethroats.

    Our tree sparrows seem to be having a good late brood rearing period with lots of active nest boxes with youngsters. The cuckoo's too (memtioned in my last blog) are still showing well and enjoying those peacock caterpillars.

    And lastly I'll leave you with some new Roe deer youngsters that are showing in front of the hides from time to time. I have over the last few years developed a fondness for the local Roe population and its always great to see the new young around site - just like having a new family member!


    Posted by Pete Short

  • 8 July 2014

    Cuckoo's make it feel just like the olden days!

    It's not so long ago that there was a healthy population of cuckoo's in our local countryside but these days their numbers just seem to get less and less each year, in fact when I was a teenager I seemed to hear or see them wherever I went, often up to four individuals in a day. Even up until about 10 years ago Blacktoft was a great place to see cuckoo's, but not in recent years and this year I had only heard one Cuckoo-ing which was a pretty dire state of affairs

    So the last few days has been really special for me with probably between three and four individuals feeding on the reserve and giving some amazing views from First and Townend hide. I even made a special effort last night and this morning to try and see what they were feeding on although I had an inkling of what it was they were fattening up on for their southward journey to Africa. 

    I also tried to see if they were male, female or juvenile by taking a few photo's - in fact I was surprised as the birds I have managed to catch on camera have been males, something I didn't fully expect as many males are now crossing the English Channel and on their way to Africa if not already there!

    Below - I'd almost forgotten just what a superb bird the cuckoo is, these pictures are all from yesterday evening and this morning.


    As I was watching one of the birds it kept flying about almost like a nightjar hovering in front of the vegetation and then flapping away. In the end I saw what was happening, the birds were picking big hairy caterpillars off the nettles and in good numbers. It's well known that cuckoo's have a perchance for this type of caterpillar so this was pretty classic behaviour but what species were they?

    Not the best picture but it shows the bird picking of the caterpillar in flight

    A quick look on the nettles along the side of the path revealed that most of them are these lovely fat juicy peacock butterfly caterpillars.


    Amazing isn't it when we have an abundance of this type of food cuckoo's turn up in number, so pretty easy to understand then that the declines in this type of food mainly due to intensification of agriculture and over use of pesticides in the British countryside are leading to declines in birds like cuckoo's who are in the mid part of the food chain.

    We really need to try and sort this problem and quickly before it becomes too late, and before we lose such an enigmatic bird altogether.

    Sat up in front of first hide



    Posted by Pete Short

  • 7 July 2014

    What a weekend - birding at its best

    There certainly has been a good mix of species around over the weekend with the bearded tits leading the way and showing well on the mornings around all the lagoons. Lots of small parties around the edges of most of the lagoons often feeding on the tops of the reeds.

    Looking for bearded tits can give other rewards like this water rail

    Plenty of marsh harrier activity, the young avocets seem to be doing well, and a new brood of pochard on Xerox showing the importance of not draining off your water too early on in the summer. These young pochard will not be fledged until mid August and will need to have some deeper water to feed and protect them from fox predation until then. Bitterns have not been as active as the last few weeks partly because we think one nest has now fledged its young and the other is very near indeed to success! Still 5 great crested grebe chicks too which are growing fast on their diet of sticklebacks.

    Below - some of the brood of 8 pochards.

    The wader passage feels distincly later than usual this year with things only just starting to pick up now. Scores on the doors include peaks of 14 spotted redshank, 5 redshank, 2 green sandpipers, 7 snipe, common sandpiperruff and then these two summer plumaged black tailed godwits this morning on Marshland, superb. Keep an eye on the edges of the lagoons where the waders are feeding as there is now quite a good number of juv water rails appearing and mixing in with the throng.

    Blackwits on Marshland this morning.

    Other species worthy of mention include two cuckoo's that have been showing pretty well in front of the hides, willow tit still present, lots of sedge and reed warblers feeding young and then a few grasshopper warblers reeling. Hobby and peregrine still occassional while the barn owls have been fantastic in the evening giving some stella views.

    Barn owl on Saturday evening

    Even my morning journey into work has been amazing especially for mammals with Sunday's trip particularly notable with roe deer, fox and these boxing hares. 



    Posted by Pete Short

  • 5 July 2014

    Weekend wildlife update - Early July


    Another quick weekend update for you.

    • spotted redshank - 14 today on xerox lagoon
    • Other waders - common sandpiper, green sandpiper, snipe, redshank, lapwing
    • Bearded tits were great this morning during todays event.
    • Grasshopper warblers were also great this morning - with 3 reeling.  These are probably best up until around 10am and perhaps in the evening.
    • Those young marsh harriers are getting quite good at flapping around near reception- well two of them anyway.
    • Other birds of prey around include hobby and peregrine
    • Another great day for butterflies and hoverflies around the trails.
    • Cuckoo made its second appearance of the week and was around much of this afternoon.
    • Avocets and their chicks are entertaining on marshland
    • Tree sparrows were busy collecting nesting material around reception.
    • And, that willow tit is still here.

    I will leave you with a photo of part of xerox lagoon today.

    Posted by Michael Andrews

  • 4 July 2014

    Bomber command - Avocet style

    Its was great to see on Marshland this morning that the two pairs of Avocets have now managed to hatch all their remaining eggs and have a brood of four and two respectively. Late chicks can sometimes do well particularly as the adults seem to be ultra aggressive at this time of the year so lets all hope that these little tinkers can join the squadron for next year. 

    below - Fred our resident mute swan take's a look at the newly hatched avocets - and he got short thrift shortly after!

    Just like this heron!

    Plenty of other birds to see on site recently with up to 13 spotted redshank, common sandpiper (my first of the year as they seem to have been very scarce on the Humber), green sandpiper, ruff, little ringed plover and a couple of snipe. A few curlew over west and the autumn's first whimbrel accompanying them.

    The marsh harriers and bittern are still putting on a great show while on calm mornings the bearded tits have been superb particularly around First hide. Hobby too has been really fantastic recently with a superb dark bird yesterday evening but then also regular sightings during the day, there has also been peregrine too often flying over with prey so make sure you double check your falcons.

    Bearded tit by Tim and Si Jump

    Other bits and bops include cuckoo, little egret, reeling grasshopper warbler and of course our very entertaining great crested grebe chicks on Singleton.

    I noticed this morning that there was quite a few little toads crossing the paths, I wonder if they know that the rain is on the way for tonight?

    A quick trip out to look over Reads Island where there was over 350 avocets and 280 curlew and I had the added pleasure of also watching the Fallow deer on the foreshore relaxing - a very enjoyable way to spend an evening.

    And finally - one of our gentle giants being stood up to by a Mallard and her ducklings - very funny to watch as the poor old Konik just wanted a drink of water!


    Posted by Pete Short

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Your sightings

Grid reference: SE8423 (+2km)

Avocet (4)
22 Jul 2014
Spotted Redshank (28)
22 Jul 2014
Tree Sparrow ()
22 Jul 2014
Common Sandpiper (1)
20 Jul 2014
Grasshopper Warbler (2)
20 Jul 2014
Territoriality over 1 week
Water Rail (2)
20 Jul 2014
Whimbrel (1)
19 Jul 2014
Black Tern (1)
19 Jul 2014
Little Gull ()
19 Jul 2014
Cuckoo ()
16 Jul 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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