Monday, 15 January 2018

Walking the Humber. Stage 1. Faxfleet Ness to Broomfleet Island

Wintry showers might not be the best forecast for a long walk, but I was eager to start this first stage of the Walking the Humber, my first proper outing of the year. I drove to Faxfleet, a remote hamlet by agricultural fields drained by deep ditches. Winter crops are greening the soil. The foreshore is fronted by a wide fringe of tidal reedbeds and mudflats with two borrow ponds. I took advantage of a clearing in between showers to walk to Faxfleet Ness by a path open in the dry reedbed. From here, there is a great view of the head of the Humber. To the right, RSPB Blacktoft Sands, at the confluence of the rivers Ouse and Trent, and opposite the ridge of Alborough village and Alkborough Flats, a nature reserve by the east bank of the River Trent. The place is called Trent Falls, and although there are no falls, there can be fast flowing races at particular points during tides. A Bearded Tit pings a couple of times from the reeds, but I don't see it. The tide is ebbing. Opposite on the spit with a lighthouse a Cormorant dries its wings. A flock of Wigeon and Teal sit on the mud along the tideline.
 The wider area at the head of the Humber is part of the Humberhead Levels, an extensive low lying flat land with peat bogs and agricultural fields on what used to be a large freshwater lake during the last glaciation, the Humber Glacial Lake. The Humberhead Levels are the subject of an ambitious conservation partnership to increase the connectivity of its wetlands, improve its biodiversity value while working with the farming community. 
 I move along. Parts of the floodbank are not right of way to reduce disturbance to the birds as the floodbank is so exposed, so my next glimpse of the estuary is not until I get to Weighton Lock. This is the mouth of the Market Weighton Canal, which drains the area and also collects the water of the river Foulness, whose name has nothing to do with it smelling badly, but instead comes from fowl nest indicating the historical value of the area for birds.
From the lock there are great views of Whitton Island, a recently formed island. The Ouse and the Trent are tidal for over 100 km upstream of Trent Falls and carry a lot of sediment that is deposited in sand banks and mud flats. An old sand bank, Whitton Sands only fully emerged in the last 30 years. In 1998 it was only covered on the highest spring tides, however, the new island is now being quickly colonised by marshland and reeds. This island is now a key roosting site for waders and geese in the Humber and is fully protected. Last year, the RSPB carried out some conservation work creating a lagoon and ponds to enhance its conservation potential. Another shower starts as I look towards Whitton. A soft rainbow over the wolds. Four Greylag, some Wigeon and Teal and four Curlews are on the mudflats. A Grey Heron takes flight. A Buzzard flies over the reedbeds, mobbed by a Great Black-backed gull.
 I make my way to Broomfleet village. The right of way moves away from the floodbank. This land was reclaimed from the Humber in the 19th century, as the names Broomfleet Island and Island farm testify. The rain gets stronger and it's time to head back to the car. Although quite wet, an interesting first stage relatively easy going.
The reedbeds at Faxfleet.
Trent Falls with Alkborough village in the distance.
Trent Falls.
Cormorant at Trent Falls.
A large piece of drifwood by Faxfleet ness.
road by the floodbank.
Stonechat. This species regularly winters in the area.
Path to Weighton Lock.
Dead roe deer.
Market Weighton Canal from the lock.
Weighton Lock.
Greylag and Wigeon at Whitton Island.
Buzzard on Whitton Island. The Humber Bridge in the distance.
Curlew and Wigeon on the shore at Whitton Island.
Buzzard over Whitton Island, with Shelduck on mudflats.
 Path to Broomfleet.
Flooded fields on the way to Broomfleet.
Fieldfares at Broomfleet
Other bird species
Marsh Harriers are common in the area, especially in winter, with a roost at Blacktoft that includes the occasional Hen Harrier. Pink-footed Geese and Barnacle Geese roost in Whitton Island. Spoonbills can be seen during the summer months.
The stage's route. Just over 10 km.

More Information

  • Blacktoft to Brough Trans Pennine way. Here.
  • BTO info Humber estuary. Here.
  • Whitton Island video BBC. 
  • Crown Estate information on Whitton conservation work here.

Monday, 18 December 2017

A calm low tide at South Landing

A very calm, sunny and mild day at South Landing. The tide was completely out on arrival. The usual Pied Wagtails and Rock Pipits fed by the stream and on the tide line. At the other end of the beach, where the tiny waves were lapping the beach, a curlew and some Oystercatchers searched for food.
Pied Wagtail on the stream.
Curlew with ragworm.
Robin on the beach.
South Landing low tide.
Carrion Crows mobbing something atop the cliff.
A cacophony of harsh crow calls called my attention. Over 40 crows were circling and calling low over the cliffs. I kept looking in their direction hoping for a raptor to appear, but I had no luck. The crows settled a bit and then I noticed they were breaking shells at the top of the beach (something I have watched previously at Sewerby beach, nearby, see this blog post). They were collecting periwinkles at the bottom of the exposed beach, then flying to the top, where there are large exposed flat rocks and dropping them, the impact audible, immediately flying down to reap their reward: an exposed, cracked periwinkle. I know that's what they were eating as I collected lots of freshly broken common periwinkle (Littorina littorea) shells, their shards very sharp plus a clam and a mussel. 
The moment the crow drops the shell.
Crow eating periwinkle.
An intact periwinkle and lot's of broken fragments collected at the top of the beach.
Freshly Broken mussel shells.
Broken periwinkle shells on flat rock.

It was almost an hour later, when the crows started gathering and cawing insistently again, I looked up, and the profile of a fox showed at the top of the cliff. The crows would fly low and pester him. The fox moved across the cliff giving me a chance to record a video of it before it walked out of sight.
My first sighting of the fox.
Fox. Video here:

It went quiet again, but not for long. As I walked on the beach in the direction of Danes Dyke I heard the cackling calls of fulmars. I would have completely missed them if I hadn't heard them, sitting on the cliffs. There were nine of them, some in pairs, which called and billed and gently nipped each other. Two of them kept circling, landing occasionally, and then leaving again to circle the cliffs.
Fulmar pair.
Fulmar pair.
Four Fulmars on the cliffs and two came from circling.

After lunch with the fulmars, I headed back to the landing. A Turnstone was digging the soil between the cracks in the rock. A clear element in coastal erosion, turnstones!
Turnstone on the cliff.
There was a Common Seal perched on a rock near the landing. The tide was starting to come in, and the rock where the seal was was quickly becoming submerged.
Common Seal.
Trying to keep flippers dry.
Barely any rock left!
On the sand, six sanderlings stopped for a few minutes to rest from their constant races.
As I was leaving I noticed a bird washing on the stream. It was a Stonechat.
Stonechat bathing.
Here it is again, now mostly dry

A wonderful day out, plenty of mild sunshine and a great assortment of birds and mammals on South Landing today.

Monday, 11 December 2017

Frosty Alkborough Flats with a Fox

A very frosty, but still morning with sunny spells. Given the high tide and lack of wind I decided to go to Alkborough Flats. The flats were indeed very frosty, and the area in front of the hide also covered on ice. The only birds visible were Marsh Harriers, at some point four flew together. 
A couple of Stonechats hunted on the frosty plains.
Song Thrush with Snail.
Four Marsh Harriers.
 I decided to walk around the reserve and as I was leaving the hide I noticed a Fox ahead of me. It was mostly preoccupied with hunting and it didn't notice me. It stood tensely listening and did it's foxy jump a couple of times. These were the most prolonged views I've had of a Fox ever!
Typical fox jump.
About to jump.
On the wet grassy fields, Lapwing, Black-tailed Godwit and Redshank were resting or feeding while some Fieldfares and Greenfinches were on the hedges. A Mink ran across the path and didn't appear again.
Lapwings and Black-tailed Godwits.

Kestrel, with the Wolds in the background.
Barnacle Geese.
Whooper Swans.
Black-tailed Godwits.
One of two Little Stints on the frosty grass. One managed to catch a large earthworm.
The iced out wet grassland where the Little Stint were feeding.
The river Trent.
A flock of Shoveler and some Wigeon on the river.

Carrion Crow mobbing a Buzzard
The remains of a Song Thrush meal, broken snail shells.
 The snow and hail showers seemed to veer towards the Wolds and Alkborough stayed dry, and in the afternoon, the sun made an appearance.