Well I think wet is an understatement for the marsh but then for us that's good! The past few winters have seen our habitats far too dry so its nice to have them wet for most of the winter, creating the wet and boggy habitats that makes the marsh come alive. No problems with the paths though, all are clear although the path up to Ousefleet is somewhat a little boggy at the moment so you'll need strong boots or wellies.
Ruff, b-t godwits and redshank
I'm not sure that I've seen a winter over the last 22 years I've worked at the Sands that has been so consistently busy for the wildfowl and waders right from August to this very day the 25th February. In fact the last couple of weeks have been really quite excellent for the waders on site particularly across Ousefleet grazing marsh alongside the Konik ponies and into the sheep and cattle grazed fields.
Wigeon flock out on the marsh
Numbers this week have included 136 black-tailed godwits, 35 ruff, alongside plenty of curlew, redshank and lapwings, there's also been a few dunlin, a couple of oystercatcher, several snipe and this morning on Xerox the return of four roosting spotted redshank. Of course its not always the numbers of waders its often the views that make for some great birding, and with a bit of patience and the right day there's been no shortage of some great wader-watching.
Sleeping black-tailed godwits
Ruff and redshank feeding on Konik grazed grassland - just like in Holland!
Ruff and redshank trying to eat the same bit of food
Birds of prey have added some spice to the mix with plenty of marsh harriers now starting to be stirred by the onset of spring, also at least two hen harriers have been providing entertainment often during the afternoon as well as when they come into roost. The buzzards are still to be seen surveying the marsh from their perches while the odd sparrowhawk is visiting, kestrels regular and the odd peregrine can be seen hunting for the waders. Just to add to the list another red kite drifted through at the weekend.
Marsh harriers this morning
The poor barn owls have been plagued by the wind recently but on calmer mornings and evenings there has been some great owl watching to be had. I noticed this bird sat in front of First hide, slipping through the door I took the photo's through the closed window while standing back a little so as not to disturb. (btw we have been kindly sent some great pictures of flying barn owls but Stu slipped away for his days off before forwarding them, I'll publish on the next blog!)
Wildfowl numbers have remained quite buoyant right across the marsh but the wigeon on the wetter days do go and feed on the sugar rich grass out on the grazing marsh (see photo), plenty of teal including on Saturday the brief re-sighting of the green-winged teal, mallard are starting to nest prospect while shoveler, and gadwall feed on the lagoons alongside a couple of goldeneye, pochard, and plenty of tufted ducks. Coot are quarrelling and the little grebes are becoming redder by the day.
Wigeon - female
Barnacle goose 3A from Alkborough flats - a bird with a chequered history
A look over Whitton island at the weekend produced a count of 1400 barnacle geese feeding on the island as well as just over 200 at Alkborough Flats. Many of these are from the local feral population but it was interesting to find one with a colour ring on it blue 3A. Thanks for the WWT conservation team for sending me details, this birds life history was stranger than you could have imagined. First ringed at RSPB Inys Hir in Wales in November 2013, it was then recorded at Derwent water (where there is also a feral breeding population) in late March and early April 2014. But never recorded anywhere again after that! That was until this weekend when it turned up on the Humber. There are clear spikes in the numbers recorded at Whitton often during the main barnacle migration and wintering period so there is a suggestion that the feral population is possibly boosted by other birds.
Barnacles on Whitton - the lagoons and ponds created in 2017 look in superb condition for the breeding season
The question is are they nearly all feral or are a good proportion wild, or is it an equal mix. There is a history of wild ringed birds turning up at Whitton with the feral birds right since the 1970's so there is some wild influence. Interestingly Kain Brides from the WWT answered some of my questions about some of the Scottish feral birds, they have been proved to be joining the wild birds in both Iceland and Spitsbergen! So all certainly not clear when it comes to this beautiful little arctic goose on the Humber but certainly intriguing!
Back to Blacktoft and the smaller birds have on the calmer days provided some nice birding, with 117 fieldfares in the fields this morning and quite a few skylarks and linnets, regular bullfinches, tree sparrows prospecting the nest boxes, reed buntings and Cettis warblers singing and kingfisher feeding around the site, while this morning the dunnocks were singing and wing flicking at each other, one of the joys of a early spring walk watching the antics of one of my favourite hedgerow birds.
Skylarks and fieldfares - birds can be so difficult to photo against an arable background
Stonechat - there are still a few around
With March nearly upon us the question is with all this mild weather about when will the first chiffchaffs and sand martins arrive!
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