Monday, 5 November 2012

A Very Full[er] Weekend

Saturday saw the first wildlife event associated with Robert Fuller's Christmas Exhibition. We met at the gallery and then drove in convoy to the secret location. We had only been there a few moments when the first Red kite was spotted, then a couple were found perched in trees, and finally 5 were flying around a very distinctive tree. Later Kites started arriving singly, and occasionally in pairs from all points of the compass. We had reached over 10 birds when first one, then another, and a third, and finally a squadron of 8 Red Kites were all in the air at the same time, and all heading for the same area of woodland. In total we saw 32 Red Kites which is far in excess of what I've ever seen before in East Yorkshire.
Red Kite

 While we were waiting for the birds we observed a Great Spotted Woodpecker near where over 50 Fieldfare were quietly feeding in the hawthorn bushes. A Jay was heard screeching, and a Green Woodpecker called as it flew behind us. A Mistle Thrush perched in a reliable Ash tree and we were able to watch it closely through the telescope. Other birds seen included plenty of Jackdaws. The only mammal seen was a Hare in the field behind us near the almost deafening cacophony of female Mallards coming from a concealed garden pond.

It was dark when I left the gallery after the return journey, and I drove very close to 2 hunting Barn Owls and suddenly a wader species rocketed up from the roadside caught in the headlights, it looked like a Woodcock. It was a nice ending to the afternoon.
Saturday's Sunset

 On Sunday morning I reported at Tophill low for the Otter signs & tracks event. The walk was being run by the reserve warden, but there was a small chance he may be called away for the birth of his first child, so I was there just in case... The morning started very well with 2 Great spotted Woodpeckers fighting just inside the compound, and Peter Drury found 5 Crossbills. Later, one flew over the car park and landed briefly in one of the tall conifers. Richard introduced the site and made sure everyone was aware we we were looking for signs of Otters with very little chance we may find the actual mammals.

Most people had never been to Tophill Low before, so Richard ensured we viewed D reservoir, just to give people an idea of the enormous size of the reservoir - one the main winter attractions for the gulls and wildfowl. Although we had only a brief glimpse we could see Shoveler, Wigeon and Tufted Ducks, whilst Richard ensured everyone was aware that later in the winter that Tophill is one of the main sites in Yorkshire where the stunningly beautiful Smew may be seen.
We threaded our way through D Woods to the North Marsh hide, where Richard displayed photographs of Otters taken from there, including an absolutely stunning shot of 2 fighting dog Otters. A Jay flew into D woods from across the river Hull, and a Kingfisher whistled & flew past the hide, but unfortunately, I think only myself & one person actually saw it.
We carried on through D woods where 2 confiding Goldcrests gave very close views. In North scrub it sounded although at least 3 Jays were fighting over the meagre food supplies. Richard pointed out plenty of evidence of Otters, a holt under some buildings, another artificial one, some Otter runs, an Otter spraint, and a fresh one 'laid' within the past 24 hours, and a faint Otter footprint. Several brave souls had a sniff of the fresh spraint, and although they confirmed it was sweet-smelling no one was prepared to stake their life on the fact that it smelled like lavandar. Richard then took the group to the trail camera, where he removed the memory card. I had to leave the group at this point, but I believe when they got back to the visitor centre they were able to view the footage of a Water Rail, a link to the video is here: Water Rail Video
Fresh Otter Spraint - sweet-smelling, apparently!

 Record Shot of Short-eared Owl
 Record shot of the underside
The reason I had to leave at 12 was because at 1.30 I needed to be at the Humber Bridge for the afternoon's Short-eared Owl event. We shared cars to the location and already as we drove down the narrow approach road one owl could be seen hunting over the rough grassland. We got out of the cars, to find it was amazingly mild for what can be one of the bleakest locations on "God's" earth! Despite this, not everyone had dressed warmly enough, so if you are coming on one of these events, please put on plenty of extra layers - I knew what to expect & was as warm as toast! 

We had several excellent views of the owls, and probably saw 5 individuals, one was noticeably darker than the others. There were also some breathtaking dog fights at times when the hunting owls trespassed too close to each other. Other birds seen included 2 Kestrels, 2 Buzzards, and a Marsh Harrier. We left the location well before dusk, so perhaps more Owls came out after we left... Rather worryingly we were informed that the DEFRA stewardship grant, which has maintained the wilderness feel of this habitat, has expired, so this site may not be as fruitful in future years - if it exists at all.  The mighty financial imperative seems to be tightening its grip.   

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