One of the most popular questions here on the reserve is beyond doubt is:- Is there any water in front of Ousefleet hide? Well normally in the summer the answer is a clear No, we then go on to explain that this is because this pool is a seasonal flood area that has shallow levels in Winter and then dries into spring to allow dynamic ecological processes to take place.
Ousefleet flash in the summer - this is what you often see, a dry 'pool' with vegetation growing on it
The aim of this management is to allow annual weeds to grow and set seed, so that when the river floods over onto this area in the Autumn or Winter there is a large release of food for the duck, geese and waders that when conditions are right use these shallow flood to feed on in profusion.
A closer look reveals lots of annual weeds that will provide both seed and leaves that the duck will eat (Just think of spinach for the leaves!)
Some years are of course better than others, this is part of the natural cycle brought about by the timing of flooding, winter rains, growth of the annual weeds and the effects of our management with either livestock or by harrowing the ground to create good conditions for weed germination as the water recedes.
Harrowed ground will encourage annual weeds for next year in poor growth areas but will also create spring feeding for waders (harrowed area in the foreground from this Autumn)
Much of the food comes from annual weeds such as orache, fat hen, and sea spurry, but as you can see here the mallards are feeding on the Scirpus (sea clubrush) seeds that are quite large and no doubt high in energy.
Mallard at Ousefleet today in the sea club rush - Mallard have declined by more than 80% on the Humber in winter - possibly due to lack of food out on the arable farmland?
And there is often a build up of insect food with both spire snails and blood worms developing in number as spring approaches. This often helps attract the waders if conditions are mild in late winter and during spring passage.
Ruff at Ousefleet this spring feeding on the invertebrates
Spoonbills too use the flash in spring if there is enough water left in it and a few fish or shrimp.
Its a strange fact but these seasonal floods can be a very undervalued habitat when in fact they can be one of the most important ones along the estuary for many species of waterfowl. So its been very nice this year with plenty of water around both in August and September and with these recent surge tides to be able to see just how productive our little 'pop up' wetland pool can be for hundred if not thousands of duck and waders.
Ousefleet flash this morning with over 900 duck feeding across it
A close up of the left hand side of the pools
In August we had a shallow flood that attracted 1600 teal for a period of about three weeks along with mallard, wigeon and a few pintail feeding up after they arrived from the continent, but this shallow flood did not allow the birds access to all the food so I had an inkling that we would get another second wildfowl wonderland show if we flooded again in Autumn.
Many of the teal that fed on Ousefleet in the night roosted on Marshland lagoon - this pool was packed with lots of other species - anyone remember the little crake?!
And Ousefleet - even a shallow flood of just a few inches produced excellent results in terms of numbers of duck, many duck particularly teal prefer shallow splashes of water.
As you may know if you read our blog regularly we have had some of the highest tides in years that have successively flooded the reserve quite deep on seven tides. But our seasonal pools at Ousefleet have soon returned to a shallow water level that has allowed the duck, geese and waders access to feeding and safe roosting opportunities pretty quickly.
Ousefleet grazing marsh last Thursday evening - there were 80 snipe feeding across this lovely shallow flood
And still having plenty of food available across the marsh they have arrived in their droves with 600 teal, 240 mallard, 100 gadwall, 65 shoveler, 2 pintail, and 15 wigeon all enjoying the bounties of the natural harvest right in front of the hide.
Right in front of the hide on Thursday on the island ruff, spotted redshank and teal
But what has been most unusual has been the presence of up to 42 pochard that have also been enjoying the seed in this relatively shallow flood, something that we've never recorded before on Ousefleet flash in front of the hide. Pochard used to be a common wintering duck in the UK but their population has declined by a massive 60% since the 1980's, I suspect due to a serious decline in the continental breeding population rather than just a shift in wintering areas due to milder winters (Current causes of declines are suggested as pollution of water and predation by invasive species such as Raccoon dog). Now these birds may be continental but they may also be birds that breed in the East/West and South Yorkshire wetlands where this species is doing very well indeed with 2019 being a particularly productive years on some sites. Notably though that within the UK this bird is still a rare breeding bird as a whole with an estimated 600 - 700 pairs - many of which are in Yorkshire!
Pochard in front of the hide today
They do seem to like feeding on the dock seeds
This was an interesting individual - is it just a late moulting 1st year male? Or is it aberrant or a hybrid?
The area is also being used by plenty of waders too including up to 56 ruff (a notable number in a year when ruff numbers have been relatively low nationally) 12 spotted redshank, 500 lapwing, 80 snipe, 85 curlew, 80 dunlin, 14 redshank and other interesting birds such as wood sandpiper (seen again today 7/10) and greenshank last week.
Lapwing and ducks today
This dynamic nature of our grassland always seems to give excellent results year in year out and is always an important wetland feature in this part of the estuary, if only we could create a few more of these productive shallow pools that only flood in winter then I'm sure we could boost the numbers and survival of many more wildfowl and waders that use the estuary.
Seasonal pools are important and we need more of them if we are going to keep our wetland birds fed here on the Humber.
Pink-footed goose resting on Thursday
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