As many of you will already have heard unfortunately we have had to close the reserve due to Corona virus concerns mainly due to the issue of contamination within the hides and toilets of surfaces where the virus can survive for long periods. It was a difficult decision and not taken lightly, but we felt that without the long trails you have on other sites we could just not operate safely and without risk to visitors, staff and volunteers - I know its hard not to be able to visit but there are still plenty of places everyone can still bird out in the open and along trails at other sites, and we'll be back just as soon as as we safely can.

Work however continues for our small staffing complement with more than plenty to keep us busy with currently a mad dash to get as many of our spring tasks done in time for the onset of the main part of the breeding season from April onward. I did though promise regular wildlife updates on what is going on, so here it is.................... 

It really does seems that spring has sprung this last week with the arrival of our first chiffchaffs and on Tuesday evening the first sand martin of the year, a very early date for us here on the Sands, crazily I did think I hear a brief call of a sedge warbler yesterday but couldn't locate it again - maybe wishful thinking?

Chiffchaff from last Friday

All our headline species are currently gearing up nicely for the breeding season, avocets are starting to prospect the islands on Marshland, marsh harriers are sky dancing, the bearded tits are chasing each other around the reedbed and our bittern is Booming about as loud as I've ever heard a bittern boom.  

Avocets at Marshland this morning

On Tuesday after a bit of a long weekend in Scotland I arrived back on site to find that someone had pulled the plug out of Xerox lagoon and quite a lot of the water in it had drained out. Not ideal but we had planned to lower this lagoon in spring anyway this year and also we have big tides in April so should be able to at least get a bit of water back on so that we can build up the food ready for a mid-may draw down for the arctic wader passage of ringed plover and dunlin. 

What seems to have happened is that a temporary sluice door repair had failed and the blocking board had floated away in the March tides. I wasn't too 'boffered' though as the lagoon was packed with about 300 waders, quite a spectacular sight! Some times (but not always as I found out later in the week) unexpected incidents can lead to coincidental benefits!

Just a few waders! All the godwits had gone this morning, I suspect to over the river

So with both Ousefleet and Xerox in good condition for waders we've certainly had some excellent spring wader watching with 237 black-tailed godwits, curlews, oystercatchers, avocets, dunlin, redshanks, plenty of ruff, spotted redshank, lapwing and a single knot, not a common wader this far up the estuary. 

The Icelandic black-tailed godwits are getting their summer plumage

Ruff at Townend lagoon

Knot, ruff and dunlin

Curlew - there's a good summary of a paper on food preference in Wader study - links nicely to one of my past blogs on curlew food along the Humber. 

Hopefully its attached to the blog.

Dunlin and ruff

Spotted redshank

Also quite impressive has been the number of snipe on site with over 20 around the lagoons but then good numbers in the flooded reed cut plots. There's certainly a strong passage north of this species and I suspect we have well over 100 birds hiding around the site, you wouldn't have a clue though if you didn't have to carry out a bit of work to adjust the sluices. Interesting too that the reed cut plots are providing good roosting and feeding areas (see photo and video) for this little cryptic creeper - active wetland management can have multiple benefits for multiple species - some of which are not always your target species. 

Snipe at Xerox showing how they like to sit on reed piles as in the reedbed

some 'great' snipe habitat in the reedcut and rolled plots

Marsh harriers courtship and nest building has been gathering pace but there has been lots of fighting with the buzzards which today seem to have been migrating northwards. Good too that we've got a bit of nice weather for the barn owls that seem to be hunting as much as they can to make up for all the time they couldn't with the recent winds and rain.  

Marsh harrier

Not too many duck on site at the moment with the usual range of dabbling duck and a few tufties, but the goldeneye have at times made up for this with a winter peak of 5 on Friday with one male doing some brilliant displaying to the female, see the video below.

A bit of crazy goldeneye stiff neck display

The little grebes are particularly nice at the moment too, this one was in front of Marshland hide. 

Resident song birds are now gearing up for breeding with song thrushes, blackbirds, robins, dunnocks and wrens all singing loud and the Cettis warblers are as per usual at this time of year beginning to show a little better. Still a few stonechats about and in the reedbed a few water pipits.

Cettis warbler

Lat Friday I was just thinking how few pied wagtails I seen recently, but low and behold at Ousefleet when I walked up there were a few very nice males, I suspect there was a bit of northward passage as when I was a bird ringer in the Doncaster area we often caught birds from the Fife area in Scotland. There's also now a build up of meadow pipits and singing skylarks out on the meadows all getting ready for the first eggs. 

Pied wagtails - these males looked fantastic in their breeding plumage

Meadow pipit

A ghostly wood pigeon

This morning I had to trudge out into the reedbed to check some water levels and it was very noticeable that there were lots of reed buntings all singing and feeding across the site, quite a few bearded tits too but I was particularly surprised to see a group of 13 showing irruptive behaviour. This is quite unusual in spring and I've only seen it one or two times, I related it then to possible building of high pressure and good population levels but I never fully ascertained exactly why.

Reed bunting

Erupting beardies from this morning

And a nice male from earlier in the week - seems like there's plenty of beardies about at the moment

Plenty of other signs of spring around site with the toads now starting to appear in number and 'singing' out loud in the morning and evening light, particularly nice when the bittern is booming, the real sound of marshland coming alive in spring. If it remains calm tonight I may see if I can record it for you.

A chilled out toad 

The cow slips are blooming early along the flood bank but its always nice to welcome this particularly beautiful meadow flower, things too are just waking up in horseshoe meadow with today the obvious signs of wildflowers starting to emerge from their slumber and start to grow, nice to see a bit of coltsfoot in there, always quite late compared to elsewhere on the reserve. 

Coltsfoot in Horseshoe meadow

Out in the reedbed there was this plant flowering - I need to look it up, any ideas anyone? 

Our habitat management takes many forms across site as said earlier in regards reed cutting, the Koniks add a bit of a different dimension as can be seen at Ousefleet where they've dunged areas of grassland that have been great for waders, grazed grass for wigeon, and are now managing the lagoon edge and scrub to create habitat for a whole heap of wildlife. Sometimes you just can't replicate this type of habitat, and I always enjoy being around the ponies when they are busy doing their work. 

And for anyone who's had to self isolate or stay at home how about writing a guest blog for me on the reserve or your travels, you can send it to my e-mail as word and attache a few photo's and I'll put in as a blog. Either email me at pete.short@rspb.org.uk or phone 01405 704665 to have a chat

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