Firstly apologies for the lack of postings over the last week and a half, we've been reduced to just two staff what with all the lock down and reserve closure but off course livestock and related work does not stop and the last few days has been a blur of stock fencing, ensuring the ponies were safe on the high tides and organising all sorts of other jobs to try and keep the boat afloat. So not quite sure what sort of blogs its going to be as there has been lots of summer arrivals with this warm weather and southerly winds. All the sighting relate to our essential work, goodness knows what else is going through when we are not about.

And just before I start the blog I will just re-iterate that the reserve is still closed to all visitors.

So where do I start as a week and a half really is a long time at this time of year! Well I suppose I should begin where it all started, with the little gulls that arrived the end of last week for a day, always one of my favourite gulls they are more like a tern really flying about picking small insects of the top of the water. 

Little gulls last week on Marshland

While at the same time we had a run of spoonbill records with eventually a male and female meeting off and then moving westwards, amazing to think that now we expect this arrival of spoonbills rather then hope one appears in spring. 

and the happy couple 

There's certainly been no shortage of high tides this winter with a record 25 or possibly more (I've lost count) of inundations across the reserve and this week gone saw yet another series of highs that re-flooded 80% of the reserve. Amazing really after all the winter water the reserve was in places starting to look somewhat dry! Its really crazy how dynamic Blacktoft is - it can go to 1ft deep in water to bone dry in a month and then back again in the space of one tide. This recent high tide can only do us good as it will have brought in lots of shrimp, sticklebacks and hopefully elvers that our bitterns and spoonbills will feed on throughout the summer. 

The toads are enjoying the extra water to give them protection from the buzzards and crows

One things for certain its been a funny old week for birds with migration certainly stop start but this morning seeing a large early arrival of many species, and with it being only the 10th April migrants are very early indeed.

As the week has progressed it has gone from having a few chiffchaff about to an inundation of swallows, sand martins, blackcaps, willow warblers, and yellow wagtails and then in the last couple of days the arrival of whitethroats, sedge warblers and this morning the first gropper (grasshopper warbler). There was even a ring ouzel photographed over in Garthorpe by one of the local farmers lads, a cracking male - talk about being swizzled! There was also a black redstart seen on part of the reserve that I couldn't visit due to lockdown, our neighbour saw it from his house window.


Willow warbler (the legs look dark on the photo because of the light)


And a recording of the reeling grasshopper warbler with sedge warbler too (it doesn't show the birds just has the songs)

Yellow wagtail

With all the arable still mostly brown due to late crop planting we've had no sightings of wheatears on the reserve but on the way home I've had a couple by the side of the road including this male which look like it may be from the Greenland race. 

There's certainly been no shortage of bearded tits around the lagoon edges feeding on the insects attracted by the waters edge, the females will be feeding up for egg laying and some may have have lost their nests in this high tide series, I've seen it happen before and they soon get back to nesting and often have a great season due to increased chironomid numbers (chironomids are non biting midges) 

Resident birds have been busy starting to nest with plenty of tree sparrow activity and cettis warblers singing and mating, but a real surprise as I was looking for one of the ponies was the yaffle of a green woodpecker nearby. I've heard it once more but haven't been able to see it. There was also a late water pipit and stonechat but I suspect these may have now gone. 

Cettis warbler

Another bird that threw my identification for a short while was this reed bunting below, when I first saw it I thought it was a yellowhammer but on closer inspection it was a yellow reed bunting that was in the willows. This gives a little clue as the willow pollen is yellow and I suspect this is what the bird was covered in! 

Duck certainly have given a bit of interest what with the overnight common scoter migration, unfortunately I couldn't be on the reserve and I suspect hundreds went over if not thousands, but a little recompense was a flock of 15 that lifted off the river at high tide just as we were filling the water troughs. As I just had a good tang on the upper backside as I crawled under the electric fence and had been laid on my back recovering there were strangely no photo's! It hurts when it goes through your spine!!

I stood utside my house listening for scoter but no luck - it was a lovely moon though with some nice cloud corona's 

No garganey though this year but there is still time, and the goldeneye all left at the same time as the common scoter, but the pochard are returning as are the breeding shoveler and gadwall while a lone pintail on Ousefleet was the first on the lagoons this year, also of interest has been a late northward passage of both pinkfeet and whooper swans. Many greylags are now on nests and it was amazing to see a grey heron get on the end of a guarding male greylag on Xerox when it went too near to the female on the nest, the male flew in and absolutely banjo'd it! 

Little grebes forming a love heart

The bitterns too have been active with a regular boomer and these two birds chasing each other last week, its typical that we've got one of the loudest boomers in years and we are closed, but lets hope they fledge young as they did last year so that we keep getting them back to bred every year.

The fighting shelduck too are somewhat aggressive as these two clearly show, there was a dead bird too one day which I suspect had been killed in a fight.

Pochard with tufted duck

Waders have been somewhat stop and start with at the end of last week seeing the weeks first greenshank, but then just a few black-tailed godwits, avocets, lapwing, a couple of redshank, oystercatchers, and 20 odd curlew. However to day it seems like the water from the tides has brought back a few more with little-ringed plover, 3 ruff, 2 spotted redshank and 60+ black-tailed godwits. But still no sign of any arctic waders moving north but then its very early and the passage of many of these birds usually takes place late April to early June. 

Here's a few photo's in part requested by Chris one of our volunteers who say's he's especially missing the waders and likes to see the pictures on the blog to at least give him a lift, so here you go Chris. 

Black-tailed godwits

Little ringed plover



Birds of prey have been mostly represented by the marsh harriers and buzzards. It seems the marsh harriers are everywhere at the moment! 

Marsh harriers

Buzzard eating a toad - notice how it does not eat the back skin that is the most toxic part of the toad

With the weather warming up the meadows have been starting to move with a few of the early species coming into bloom, we do currently manage about 6 acres of meadow all very different in their way, some are old meadow but others like Horseshoe meadow and Roy's little Meadow are just recently established. Wildflowers are really fantastic and add colour to the countryside that can bring a lift to peoples spirit, something we all need at the moment. Here is just a few of the highlights...................  

The cowslips this year are really amazing, thousands of them blooming and painting a picture that reflects the past 

And how about these beauties, these are flowering in one of our recently established meadows - snakes-head frittilaries, hopefully these will spread to give a lovely show every spring so visitors can come and enjoy them. They were planted as bulbs - you can buy them very cheaply or buy native seed.

A red white and a white red colour scheme

One of my favourite orchid are just starting to bloom - this is a green-winged orchid, unfortunately these are on a meadow that cannot be accessed but we are hoping that the seed we spread on Horseshoe meadow will eventually flower for people to enjoy in the years when we are open.

And I noticed that the 'meadow maker' yellow rattle is coming nice on Roy's Meadow, they are the little plants that have jagged edges. 

Also coming out on one of the meadows is this wood anemone not found on this SSSI meadow until recently - amazing how plants can hide away, it doesn't flower every year I have found.

And finally a bit of interesting nature maybe rather than beautiful - this slime mould is on one of the willows this is before and then after which were on the same tree.

And that s the end of the blog - I need to sort out an electric fence for the ponies before I go home!

Stay safe everyone and hopefully see everyone back on the reserve when things get better............