Unfortunately the reserve remains closed due to the logistical difficulties that are still affecting the staffing of the reserve operations and also the ability to put in controls to keep social distancing and numbers of people on site that would keep everyone safe. Strange times indeed and for us quite difficult and depressing, another fellow Site Manager in  teams meeting recently asked me if I enjoyed having the reserve to myself, well the answer was categorically no! One of the reasons we manage the reserve is for people to enjoy the birds and wildlife so that they support conservation and there is nothing more I enjoy is seeing people enjoying the site, its been a sad old time when our biggest strengths of having hides and close up viewing in a small area becomes our nemesis..............

However, work continues and so does the management work for the wildlife on the reserve, this weeks blog will focus on what our reduced team are up to, why and some of the results in what is one of our most bio-diverse periods of the year. 

Its been a very late season for our marsh harriers with young only just fledging, high tides, predation and lack of food really have made it a difficult time and probably the worst breeding season we've had in the 23 years I've worked here. At the moment we only have a count of 10 young fledged although there may be a few more to appear, some nests have been very difficult to monitor with only today fledged birds suddenly starting to fly in places where adult activity was almost impossible to detect. 

One of the lucky ones - a young bird begging for food, one of a brood of two

With so few harrier nests still going its been a quiet late summer for birds of prey but there has been peregrine, buzzard and kestrel while at least one adult barn owl is regularly roosting in the Ousefeet nestbox. 

Interesting a couple of weeks ago that I said a female marsh harrier had taken a curlew, I had a look late afternoon to see what was left if anything and was surprised that the whole curlew carcass was still there albeit picked clean. Notably the deceased bird was a male (smaller then the females) and just look at the wing below, obviously very much in moult which would have left it less able to fly well enough to avoid a hungry harrier.

Curlew remains (look away if having your tea!)

And the moulting wing - you can see both its primaries and secondaries are not even half grown

Its certainly that time of year too that we start slowly draining some of the lagoons and cut the banks to create short grass for feeding wigeon in the winter. I would have liked to hold on until we opened to start draining but then with no prospect of imminent change we needed to start giving the waders somewhere to feed as they pass through on migration or arrived for the winter. 

Diversity as is the norm these days has been reduced compared to a decade or two ago but gradually the waders have been appearing, of course there is now lots of wader habitat over at Alkborough Flats and from what I hear there has been good numbers of some species, landscape scale conservation can spread birds around a wide area but overall it increases numbers of many species. 

What has been interesting is the 100 odd dunlin feeding on Marshland, most of them adults but one juvenile which often arrive a little later, dunlin have been scarce in July over the last few years so its been nice to have them feeding on the shallow's over the last week and not even bothering to go out into the estuary after tide. Other waders have included 10 spotted redshank, 6 greenshank, 5 green sandpiper,  11 ruff, 20 black-tailed godwit, redshank, snipe, avocet, lapwing, curlew plus the odd fly over whimbrel and oystercatcher. Star bird was a short staying adult wood sandpiper last Friday.  

The first female ruff was back today


Adult dunlin

Juvenile dunlin

Lapwing - quite a young bird possibly from somewhere local?


Roosting waders

Wood sandpiper (left)

Spotted redshanks on the rare occasion they have been on site

Duck are mostly in moult and come and go from site but still quite a few young gadwall, mallard and tufted duck with young still on site, also a few nice broods of little grebe, moorhen and water rail appearing, in contrast to coot which again seem to have lost their young during a period of poor weather. The mute swan young on Singleton are doing well with all 7 still fit and healthy. Oddities have been the long staying pintail and then a pink-footed goose in with the hundreds of greylags that are feeding out on the cut peas. 

Pink-footed goose

Greylags coming in off the arable

No signs recently of any bitterns but certainly regular records of spoonbills and a record 38 little egrets the other day which seem to have had a brilliant breeding season this year, in fact it seems that all fish eating birds such as bitterns, little egrets, herons and spoonbills have had a great breeding season. It seems that the wet winter has according to my EA fisheries contact given rise to a good recruitment of young fish into our waters. 

Spoonbill and little egret

The breeding season for many small birds is coming to an end but then for others such as meadow pipit, robin, blackbird and tree sparrow there are pairs raising late broods around site. Interesting this last week hearing a bit of reeling from the grasshopper warblers that seem to alongside the reed and sedge also produced a few young. In contrast the poor yellow wagtails are having a shocker of a season with no young seen from the pairs that nest alongside the reserve. Out on the grazing marsh the first stonechat appeared, a moulting bird but certainly no sign of any whinchat's in what is looking like a blank year for this species Its certainly been a very up and down breeding season and difficult to know what to make of it. Otherwise with many birds in moult its been a little subdued around the bushes recently.

Female yellow wagtail

Meadow pipit with food for the young

In terms of work we've been doing exactly what the old adage is, make hay while the sun shines! With over 8 acres of wildflower meadow and herb rich flood bank to manage we work alongside our grazier to make the hay and ensure that all goes to plan so that they are managed in tip-top condition for the wildflowers and invertebrates. Always a time when you need good weather to make good hay all went pretty well and 40 big bales were taken off to feed the livestock in winter, actually 50% down in volume this year due to flooding and then drought affecting grass growth considerably. It certainly is a skill to get it all right and get the hay into the sheds all within a week, not helped by some rain not forecast by the weathermen! 

Haycut 2020

Just before haycutting, it was a conflict of interest this year to have Horseshoe meadow cut looking so good but then if you cut too late too much the meadow tends to become dominated by the courser plants.

Just after the cut and spreading of the hay

Turning the hay with an old 1960's acrobat turner

Bailed and ready to be carted back to the farm

We also currently look after a 100 acre farm and within that we have nectar and wildbird cover mix to manage. Its certainly not been an easy year for getting this right again due to wet weather and then the three months of drought. But with a bit of TLC things are starting to come together, it just takes a bit more attention to detail than I would have liked!

Established nectar mix - 50% get cut in July to then grow and flower again

The nectar rich plants on the left doing what they do

Recently established nectar mix - set late due to the drought

Unharvested headland with wheat for winter bird food - this looks pretty good considering

Bird friendly food crop - not the best set of this due to drought but its gradually coming and may give a bit of food in the end. a mix of spring barley, wheat, sunflower, millet, quinoa, fodder radish, and a few other bits and bobs. 

Some really nice biodiversity about though at this time of year with the wet weather seeing the reincarnation of quite a bit of fungi around site.

Some sulphur caps of some description

Glistening inkcap


Dryads saddle

And shaggy incap - three phases young, mature, old age

And good to see some Essex skippers on the wing alongside our other meadow butterflies and moths.

Cinnabar moth caterpillars on ragwort - there are some places where we can have ragwort but not within the hay meadows as its poisonous to livestock particularly when its dried in the hay

And the meadow held lots of grasshoppers this year

And although there aren't lots of dragon flies about this southern hawker performed for the camera the other morning just before the heat rose. 

As I was passing the Alders today I noticed that the leaves looked very threadbare! A closer inspection revealed some alder leaf mining beetle larvae!

And I'l finish off with some wildflowers from the marsh - both excellent for pollinators

Marsh woundwort


Marsh sow thistle

Strawberry clover