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Recent sightings

  • 29 July 2014

    Landscape frustrations!

    I really really  love the idea of landscape scale conservation and mega large areas of habitats that cover 1000's of acres, but at times it can be a little frustrating (in fact painful) with the more moblie species such as the waders! 

    You see over the last few years or so Blacktoft has got a big brother over the other side of the river Trent at Alkborough Flats that is a combined flood alleviation tidal set back scheme, wildlife reserve and farmland and which has some pretty large tidal pools that tend to be at times a little over attractive to birds than our little old pools here on the Sands.

    Not that its bad birdwatching here at Blacktoft at the moment with spotted redshank, greenshank, green sandpiper, avocet, bearded tit, marsh harrier and 18 little egrets plus a load more species including plenty of water rails around the edges of the lagoons, marsh harriers and regular hobbies. At the weekend too the wood sandpiper put on a sterling display in front of the hides.

    But we don't have the number of waders which I would expect at this time of year and a recent e-mail from a freind revealed just where they are and yes you've maybe guessed it already! nearly 1000 avocets, 500 black tailed godwits, ruff, dunlin and a whole host of other species including up to 8 spoonbills all on the other side of the river at Alkborough not more than a mile away!

    You see in some years when Alkborough's pools stay wet they seem to be holding mountains of food that is just too attractive to the waders - it doesn't even seem to matter what water levels we have here at Blacktoft the birds just feed where there is the most food! We've tried everything to try and balance the bird usage out but each site goes through months and years when one is more attractive than the other. Of course this is what would happen in natural bigger wetlands where birds move around the site as per their needs - not so good for us birders but excellent for the wildlife!  

    Well of course I could say come to Blacktoft and not say anything about the 'dark side' but that would be kinda wrong in that I would not be supporting my own strong views that 'Landscape Scale Conservation is Best'. There are hides at Alkborough and footpaths and a car park and lots of areas to walk, but if you want to enjoy the birds I would recommend a telescope as they can be a little further away than at Blacktoft, but they can still be fantastic for those who love their birds.

    And here's the rub - for great close views then come to Blacktoft, for numbers and a few extra species go to Alkborough, or why not make a day out of it and visit both sites and come and see just what a great place the Upper Humber is becoming for birds.

    More breeding birds, more wintering birds and lots more passage birds than there has ever been with many now ready to colonise new wetland sites within the North of England.

    Yes landscape conservation - its going to take a bit of getting used to but its most definatly the way forward if we are going to save our birds and wildlife from the pressures of the modern world.

    Aerial shot of Blacktoft with Alkborough in the distance to the right of the picture - don't be fooled by the optical illusion, Alkbrough Flats is twice the area of Blacktoft!


    Posted by Pete Short

  • 27 July 2014

    Waders at Blacktoft Sands late July

    A quick update this weekend.

    We are now coming towards the end of July and waders are showing well at Blacktoft.  The wood sandpiper has been giving excellent close views in front of marshland hide.  Other waders include the 20 spotted redshank, plenty of redshank, greenshank, green sandpiper, common sandpiper, snipe, lapwing, avocets, black-tailed godwit, ruff and dunlin.  Waders are currently using marshland , xerox and townend lagoon. 

    Here is a nice photo taken by volunteer Mike Johnson.

    This week also sees the start of our wader events and these take place as follows:

    • Wed 30th Aug - 10am until 12 noon.
    • Wed 30th Aug - 6:30pm until dark
    • Sat 2nd Aug - 6:30pm until dark
    • Sat 16th Aug - 10am until 12 noon.
    • Sat 30th Aug - 10am until 12 noon.

    Please email us at or contact us at 01405 704665 to book at place on one of these wader events where you will get pointers on how to identify that wader.

    Other sightings this weekend include yellow wagtails on marshland lagoon, water rails and plenty of little egrets.

    Posted by Michael Andrews

  • 25 July 2014

    Holding on to the heatwave

    Phew what great weather we're having at the moment and also what a great variety of wildlife to see alongside all the excellent birds.

    Most notable recent sighting include garganey, osprey yesterday and wood sandpiper again today. There were plenty of bearded tits around Marshland this morning with four little egrets and a handful of juvenile yellow wagtails feeding alongside the avocet family and four green sandpipers.

    The avocet chicks are growing - hopefully they will be able to fly next week!

    Green sandpiper

    Add to this a mix of other waders including ruff, spotted redshank, dunlin, snipe, redshank and lapwing then there's plenty to sort through and identify.

    Marsh harriers continue to entertain with the young getting more and more moblie by the day, water rail are showing well around the edges of the lagoons and there's stil quite a few warblers feeding young.

    When you're walking down to Singleton hide why not take a bit of time to look at the Marsh sow thistle, one of the tallest plants on the marsh it is only found in 13 square Km in the UK. It's at its best at the moment as its flowering - pretty easy to Identify really as its over 3m tall!

    Hare's have been showing really well around the site and in adjacent fields, this one was lazing on some of the cut rape this morning at the reserve gates.

    Lots of dragonflies too including black tailed skimmer and look out for the first migrant hawkers of the year as I had one in my garden the other day. Butterflies nice too with still a good number of Essex skippers about.  


    Posted by Pete Short

  • 23 July 2014

    Cow pats can be really interesting!

    The other day I was up on the grazing marsh and managed to answer one of my all time wonders of the world - what the heck makes all those little holes in the cow clap out on the saltmarsh!

    They are about a beak width, so I have wondered if they were snipe, or were they made by insects? Well on Saturday morning I suddenly saw a beetle I hadn't seen before scurry accross a pattie, I stopped and it proceeded to burrow straight into fresh manure.

    below - tail end of beetle and hole in some of the UK'S finest

    Not wanting to put my finger in at the time (It looked a little too warm and fresh)  I therefore decided to wait and see if I could get a better view and take some macro shots of the beetle so that I could identify them.

    The results were a splendiferous little beetle called Sphaeridium scarabaeoides - a common dung beetle with a liking for fresh cow dung. Apparently ivormectins that are used in farming to worm cattle these days do not tend to harm these dung beetles but can affect many fly species that use them for egg laying. That's one of the reasons we introduced the Konik ponies as they do not need to be wormed and therefore their dung could be used by some of our many special saltmarsh fly species

    Below the beetle in question and also note the little louse on its back - probably a new louse species to our fauna list if we could ID it!

    Now who says I talk a load of old clap!


    Posted by Pete Short

  • 23 July 2014

    Migration round up!

    A busy last few days with an excellent weekend despite the rain and murk (always good for making birds stop on site) and now a nice range of waders starting to build up as the water levels balance back out after the heavy rain, lightening hail etc!

    The weekend was crazy with the spoonbills putting on a great show on Marshland and then the wood sandpiper on Townend (see pictures) add to this fly through black tern, garganey, and sandwich tern which all suggests that there was certainly a big movement taking place.

    Here's a few pics of spoonies and wood sand

    Lots of other top birds to see at the moment with our 19 fledged marsh harrier chicks putting on a real show, while our five avocet chicks are growing stronger by the day and now starting to get quite well feathered. Bearded tits are showing in the mornings around most lagoons while water rails are regular from Marshland and Townend.

    Other birds of note include little egret, willow tit, common tern (4), peregrine (2) and regular hobby. A good roost of 30 - 40 yellow wagtails is building in the reedbed at the moment, here's a lucky snap I got the other day of one while I was carrying out some work in the reedbed - still in good plumage despite it being the end of the breeding season.

    Wader variety was quite good this morning with 20 spotted redshank, greenshank, 2 ruff, black tailed godwit, snipe, green sandpiper, common sandpiper, lapwing, and redshank on the lagoons while over the last few days there has also been dunlin, whimbrel and curlew.

    Blackwit and spotted redshank from this morning at Marshland

    A nice range of other biodiversity to see at the moment too with a great hatching of essex skipper butterfly  on site, the marsh sow thistle too is at its best and then a smattering of mammals including hare, fox and weasel around the paths. 

    Below - ID of essex skipper can be difficult but best way is to look on the underside of the clubs at the end of the antenna which should be black as in the photo's. The dark bar accross the head is also interesting....... 


    Posted by Pete Short

  • 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

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Your sightings

Grid reference: SE8423 (+2km)

Water Rail (1)
28 Jul 2014
Avocet (10)
28 Jul 2014
Spotted Redshank (25)
28 Jul 2014
Tree Sparrow (15)
28 Jul 2014
Yellow Wagtail (2)
28 Jul 2014
Common Sandpiper (1)
27 Jul 2014
Grey Wagtail ()
27 Jul 2014
Recently fledged/downy young
Little Gull ()
27 Jul 2014
Grasshopper Warbler (1)
26 Jul 2014
Whimbrel (1)
19 Jul 2014

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

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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.