Monday, 16 April 2018

Walking the Humber. Stage 10. Cherry Cobb Sands to Stoney Creek

I start the trip at Stoney Creek and walk up the Humber first. Crops are growing in most of the fields. It's a sunny, mild day, with a SW wind. Keyingham Drain and the North Channel of Sunk Island drain the creek. The tide is high, some small boats moored (top shot). The mournful calling of Redshanks and Curlews provide background noise during most of the walk. Some Dunlin, a cormorant and five Common Seals rest by the marsh in the creek.
Dunlin and Redshank on Stoney Creek.
Common Seals.
After chatting to a birdwatcher by the creek I move onto the flood bank. In the first half of the walk the bank is near the high tide line with a narrow band of saltmarsh giving way to mudflats crossed by a deep channel parallel to the bank. Shelduck and Curlews are particularly plentiful on the mudflats.
Curlew. Part of a 50+ strong flock.
The land lies under the 5 m marked by the vantage height of the floodbank. I walk by a series of large, flat arable fields framed by drains, and hawthorn hedgerows with buds bursting. Wide horizons and featureless landscape on a mainly straight floodbank. A gate in the distance, or a bridge on the drain by the bank provide something to aim for during the walk. This is solitude, no dog walkers, no birdwatchers, I don't meet any one in the walk other than a couple of birdwatchers at Stoney Creek. Skylarks sing, small flocks of Linnets, Meadow Pipits and Reed Buntings abound.
 A pair of Kestrels hunt near each other over the saltmarsh. I see a Buzzard and a Sparrowhawk using the element of surprise by flying low over the floodbank. The bird highlight were two male Yellow Wagtails on a hedge, face to face with a Yellowhammer, the brightest yellow bird species seemed intrigued by each other.
Spot the Meadow Pipit amongst the flotsam and jetsam of the tide line.
Grey Heron.
Yellowhammer and Yellow Wagtail males face to face
There is a continuous belt of saltmarsh and mudflats on the Humber side that is rarely disturbed, which is very wide in the second part of the walk, known as the Outstrays, where there are a few large ponds. A dozen avocets, greylag and shelduck are using them.
Avocets and Greylag
A pond by the tide line.
Here in the Outstrays, odd wooden poles stand on the saltmarsh at regular intervals. These have survived over half a century, and ponds with cement banks: the relicts of WW2 docks decoys. The poles held lanterns that reflected on the ponds at night, creating the illusion of the docks of Hull, to dupe the German bombers away from the city. Now they provide vantage points for singing Reed Buntings.
One of the surviving poles on the saltmarsh.

Insect, wise I see two butterflies, a Small Tortoiseshell and a Peacock, several bumblebees, a mining bee and a dronefly. It feels like spring!
Dronefly, Eristalis tenax
Bombus lapidarius.
Mining bee Andrena sp.

Land reclamation
The Humber estuary has historically been an area with extensive land reclamation, with over 700 km2 gained from the estuary via saltmarsh draining and embankment. Large stretches of land adjacent to the estuary, including Broomfleet island, Sunk Island, and the marshes of Keyingham and Ottringham, were drained, embanked and put into cultivation. Despite the engineering and maintenance costs associated to reclamation, the lands were coveted, as the returns in the few years after reclamation were very high, with the new land providing excellent pastures and high crop yields and also a reliable income as tax to the lord of the manor and government. Cherry Cob used to be a sand bank parallel to the Humber shore, separated from the mainland by a narrow navigable channel. In 1750s the channel substantially silted up. After the land built up and become larger and above the tide line, the Constables were involved in an ownership dispute with the Crown over the new land, which had become an attractive opportunity to add to their estate. The land was reclaimed, embanked around 1799 and drained by engineering work, deliberately encouraging silting of estuary water, a technique called 'warping'. The sand bank became eventually attached to the mainland and warping was used to level the fields. This interfered with the course of Keyingham drain, which had to be re-routed to Stone Creek to keep draining the land behind the bank.
This nest box had been taken over by Jackdaws.
Brown Hare running on a field.
Flooded fields. As was driving to Stone Creek, a man, spade in hand, was digging a channel to drain the flood in the corner of his field. The area is flood-prone and the latest rains haven't helped.

This trig point is halfway up the floodbank, a remain of a time when the floodbank was lower.
A pumping house by a drain.
The remains of a gate and fencing on the saltmarsh.
A stile with no fence, with safety feature.
A sailing boat on the Humber.
A herd of roe deer resting. The industrial south bank of the Humber in the background.
These curved ponds appear to be remains of old creeks.

Radar tower by Stoney Creek
North Channel, bringing the waters from Ottringham and Winestead drain to Stoney Creek.

Featured bird: Yellow Wagtail

 This is a stunning bird of wet pastureland, often associated to cattle, sheep or horses, feeding on the insects disturbed by the grazing animals. Yellow Wagtails now often take advantage of rape fields for nesting. It is a migrant bird, who arrives from mid April from their wintering grounds in West Africa. The whole population of the Yellow wagtail subspecies (flavissima, or 'the yellowest') breeds in the UK, and is now regarded a red listed bird, after strong and rapid declines in the last decades, likely as a result of agricultural intensification resulting in decline arthropod availability and pasture land. The Humber area still holds some good breeding areas for this species.
Today's 12 km round trip.
More information
A blog post on WW2 Cherry Cob Sands decoy docks. here.

Beazeley, A (1900) The Reclamation of Land from Tidal Waters - A Handbook for engineers, landed proprietors, and others interested in works of reclamation. Available here.

Sheppard, J. The Draining of the Marshlands of South Holderness and the Vale of York. East Yorkshire local history series, 1966. Here.

de Boer, G. (1964) Spurn Head: Its History and Evolution. Transactions and Papers (Institute of British Geographers) 71–89 . Here.

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Honeysuckle Farm revisited

A foggy, cold day. If not for the singing chiffchaff, the mating toads or the grown Moorhen chick one would say it was still February. Everything feels late this year after the spell of snow and cold weather in March. The only invertebrate was a bumblebee nest searching.
 I'm always surprised by the diversity of birds in the farm and I put together a decent list every time I go. I added Song Thrush to the site list today. With a pair feeding on the cows field and a male singing.
Starlings were hard to see in the distant fields through the fog.
This Toad mating ball in one of the ponds had me a bit puzzled until I realised that the browner mass is actually a pair in amplexus, with the greyish individual trying to get in.
A Chiffchaff was singing, and two were chasing at some point, this was one of them.
Tree Sparrows seem to be doing well, with nests in two areas of the farm, with a good provision of next boxes in trees as shown in the next photo.

Rooks were looking for food in the cows field, and Jackdaws were also about.
By the sheep field a Woodpigeon (I take the male) approached its partner with a conciliatory posture, the opposite of the aggressive high stance.
The other woodpigeon, probably the female kept approaching the other to groom and demand being fed.
In the ponds the sudden 'ket,ket,ket!' of squabbling moorhens. Two individuals displayed in parallel, tails fanned...
Then they showed their rears to one another and parted their own ways.
One of the pairs actually had a grown chick. Quite surprising given the recent weather. The chick was probably born during the beast from the east event!
Song Thrush and blackbird feeding on the grass.
The nicest surprise was to find three yellowhammers feeding on the chickens and turkey pens. They were a bit flighty, and I only managed this shot. I hadn't seen Yellowhammers in the farm for a couple of years.