There's really been an autumnal feel over the last week with changes in the birds seeing summer now slip into winter as the first redwings and fieldfare arrive, the wildfowl numbers build up and the harrier roost gathers against a background of browns and reds.   

Marsh harriers coming out of roost on a morning

Its certainly that time of year when the birds of prey start to come into their best with the marsh harriers now joined by merlins, peregrines, sparrowhawks, kestrels and buzzards. No reports recently of hen harrier but certainly there is a good chance of them with the first one seen quite a while ago. Barn owls are very scarce this year in part due to a food shortage but I had one briefly on Monday flying down the flood banks.

Kestrel intent on finding its dinner

Bearded tits seem to be at the peak of their irruptions at the moment with this morning large parties of up to 24 seen flying away from the reserve in a westerly direction. I reckon at least 60 birds in total but not all left, maybe about 50%. Hopefully this signals that they have had a good productive breeding season again in our carefully managed reedbeds and can go and find new places to colonize along in the North of England. It was always interesting when we ringed them during a study (quite!) a few years ago that birds who were trying to leave site all had a layer of yellow fat all under their skin which you could see by gently blowing the feathers apart. 

Female bearded tit

And irrupting birds 

All these birds left site Westward.

Whooper swans and pink footed geese have been taking advantage of the Northerly winds to work their way down the country a bit further from their Icelandic origins. I just love both these species they just add that little bit extra to a days birding giving the Humber a feel of the Northern wilderness. The whoopers have certainly been a feature with birds arriving last Friday and small parties passing through or alighting on the lagoons to either bathe or roost. The pinkfeet have been mostly flying over to feed out on the arable. 

Here's a selection of whooper photo's both landscape and close up's in flight. One of the highlights of my winter these days even though I used to count several thousand on both the Nene and Ouse Washes. 

On Ousefleet in with the Autumn colours

This flock included the first two young of the year

I particularly enjoyed these birds down at Reads Island

While this party flew over Blacktoft on Friday just as the sun was setting


The winter wildfowl have certainly arrived although the main build up at the weekend may have reduced a little as the tides have reduced, What was notable from the weekends WeBS and wildfowl counts was the amazing teal numbers on both our Blacktoft and Reads Island reserves with a few also adding to the total at Whitton Island, with 3600 at Reads and just over 2000 at Blacktoft, add in a couple of hundred at Whitton and the count exceeded 5800 teal! A superb combined total that reflects just how important the Humber can be for this species as it arrives in winter and the need for good feeding and refuge from disturbance. 

Teal and waders - mainly ruff

Also of note on the Friday was 90 shoveler at Blacktoft while there was over 400 wigeon at Reads Island. 

And on Xerox lagoon these four garganey that were slap bang in front of Xerox 


There been a few pintail passing through and feeding on the lagoons and with high tides rising from the end of the week numbers of all species may start to rise as they are pushed up river.

Nice to see a bittern recorded from the weekend again feeding around the edges of the lagoons while 2 tardy spoonbills flew east on Friday. Still the odd little egret feeding on the lagoons and certainly this morning a feeling that there had been an arrival of water rails on site, they are a migrant with continental birds wintering in the UK and boosting the numbers of our residents.

Some of the last spoonbills to be seen on site on the ground - where they the same two from Friday?

The winter thrushes are only just arriving and for some reason on this part of the Humber with Blacktoft missing out on much of the recent large arrivals and overhead passage, I've seen this pattern before so its nothing unusual and just reflects the favoured migration route according to weather, it can suddenly change! Still over the last day or two there have been a few redwings and this morning a couple of flocks of fieldfare sweeping west. There's also been a few continental song thrushes and blackbirds but its unclear if the second record of mistle thrush relates to UK birds or not. 

Other birds moving overhead includes yet more redpolls in what is turning out to be a real irruption year, siskins, skyarks, greenfinch, chaffinch, yellowhammers, meadow pipits and the odd grey wagtail. There was even a single corn bunting south flying out towards Swinefleet common and the first two bullfinch this morning arriving to winter maybe? It seems that the treecreepers have become resident and are roving with the local tit flock, but over the last few days I've had no summer migrants, not even a chiffchaff. 

Equally impressive has been the gatherings of reed buntings recently around the reserve but particularly out on the grazing marsh where we purposely leave some standing dock plants that seem to provide a great refuge for all sorts of small birds. This morning it was as has been the norm over the last three weeks been filled with reed buntings, difficult to estimate when they are weaving in and out of the now desiccated dock stems adorned with seed. Then a sparrowhawk flushed them giving a rough count of 150 reed buntings, showing how important 'untidy' farming can be.   

Many reed buntings pass south to winter at this time of year, but also many of these birds could be local bred too, such lovely birds after their moult when all the feathers are clean and fresh

With one or two of the lagoons lowered at the moment so the Wardening team can get on with reedbed management in Singleton for breeding bitterns we have been getting a few waders feeding in the shallows, they can come and go as some only roost on site but usually there is a selection of ruff (peak of 51), redshank, lapwing spotted redshank (11) and today 10 black-tailed godwits. While on tide there can be a few dunlin and around the edges a few snipe although many of the snipe are feeding out on the wet grazing marsh. Last Friday while shepherding the livestock I put up the winters first Jack snipe so make sure you check any snipe on the lagoons just in case. 

Waders on Singleton 


Feeding ruff - in the morning low light

Just a note on water levels, although we intend to try and lower one lagoon for waders after the weekends high tides they are particularly high and we will be flooding up Singleton lagoon as we need a big tide to fill a 10ha lagoon! It will then take us a while to balance out Marshland as all our lagons flood through the raised water table on very high tides, so just be warned, if its a really big tide then it will take us a while to get the levels back to where we want them and this may affect wader usage of the site unless they go up to Ousefleet to feed. And if its a really high tide then we may have to close the reserve for a while as all the footpaths will be flooded, check the blog/twitter/facebook where we will state if we have to close.

A few curlew regularly seen around site and flighting up river while while there are a few golden plover around, these really show how well they blend in with the bare arable fields.

Spot the golden plover

I often highlight species to watch out for as you travel to site that I've seen in nearby fields, these were a nice covey of 8 grey partridge feeding in the oat stubble as you approach the reserve from the Adlingfleet end of the reserve. 

And with all this rain I've been eagerly awaiting the emergence of the autumn fungi, but Blacktoft is a funny place for fungi and never quite does what it should, so I've been a little disappointed as per usual when I get over fungi-excited. 

But this morning I was quite impressed by a single species emergence along the edge of Townend lagoon of a species of fibrecap (from what I can tell on the photo's), scores of them all along the right hand front edge.

And there was this still to be ID'd species on a willow nest to Townend hide, need to have a closer look at the stems but didn't have time this morning


And I finish on a landscape of one of this weeks sunrise over the reedbed