GLOURIOUS GREY HERON @ TOPHILL LOW NATURE RESERVE
On Friday I headed east and visited Tophill Low Nature Reserve. Tophill Low is situated off the A164, a couple of miles east of the village of Watton between Driffield and Beverley in East Yorkshire. It is similar to Rodley Nature Reserve in set up as it has a water treatment works run by Yorkshire Water within the reserve, however this water treatment works is considerably bigger than the one at Rodley.
Tophill Low opened as a nature reserve in 1993 and has twelve hides, with seven of them being wheelchair accessible, across the three hundred acre site. The River Hull borders the eastern edge of the reserve and the two large 'D' and 'O' shaped reservoirs which have an SSSI status due to the very large number of wildfowl that can be found on the reservoirs.
It was a bright sunny day when I arrived at Tophill Low and from the car park I walked up the boardwalk to the Reception Hide which looks out over the D reservoir. On the water I could see Tufted Ducks, Black Headed Gulls, several Goldeneyes and a couple of Mallards. Over to the right of the hide there are some feeders which were busy with Blue Tits, Great Tits, around a dozen Chaffinches and several Goldfinches. A Greenfinch and Coal Tit now made trips to the feeder as the number of Goldfinches swelled to more than twenty waiting in the bushes around the feeders or on the floor amongst the Chaffinches.
I left the Reception Hide and turned left, heading down the boardwalk to the blue route which takes you round the northern half of the reserve. At the end of the boardwalk I turned left onto the blue route and past some more feeders which had Chaffinches, Goldfinches and Blue Tits in attendance. I continued on through the woods past a couple of singing Robins, following the path as it wound its way back to the D reservoir.
The path now turned to the right and followed the edge of the reservoir to the first hide which looked out over D reservoir. From here I had a closer view of the Tufted Ducks and some of the Goldeneyes, but with not much else about I left the hide and followed the path as it turned back into the woods. After a short distance I reached a pond in the middle of the woods with another set of feeders at the far end. On these feeders there were Blue Tits, Great Tits and a couple of Goldfinches with the first of several Chiffchaffs that I would see during my visit sat on a bush just behind.
Just beyond the pond the path splits in two with the left hand path continuing on through the woods towards the top of D reservoir and onto Hempholme Meadow. I decided to take the right hand path which eventually reaches the North Marsh Hide. As I arrived at the hide I could see a Grey Heron taking off and flying across the marsh and landing just out of site behind some trees. As I sat down in the hide I could hear Blackcaps singing in the trees and a second Grey Heron flew off from the right hand side of the marsh.
Ten minutes had passed when the Grey Heron returned and landed at the back left of the marsh and made its way slowly through the reeds. After a few minutes it took off again but landed a lot closer to the hide and made its way along the edge of the water towards the hide. It was now just twenty or so feet from me and it kept moving closer to the hide and kept moving back and forth across the front of the hide. It moved even closer and was less than ten feet away probing the shallow water for food. The Grey Heron kept this up for a good twenty minutes, pausing occasionally to stake out a fish it had spotted and then thrusting its long beak into the water to catch its prey.
It now flew off having spent nearly thirty minutes fishing in front of the hide as a Kestrel made its way eastwards in front of me. The Grey Heron turned and flew over the trees towards the D reservoir, but it returned just a couple of minutes later and landed at the back of the marsh. To my right, amongst the reeds, I spotted a lone Little Grebe diving under the surface of the water. I had been in the hide for more than an hour now so I left and headed back down the path to where it had split just after the pond and feeders.
As I reached the split in the path a Robin was singing from a branch just above my head and at the feeders a Bank Vole emerged from the undergrowth before being scared off by a Dunnock landing nearby. I followed the path back towards the start of the blue route and turned on to the yellow route which covers the southern half of the reserve. As I walked through the woods I saw and heard several Chiffchaffs singing from the tops of the trees with some even dropping down close to the ground.
I saw a couple of Wrens moving through the bushes but they disappeared from view as soon as they saw me. Eventually I reached the North Lagoon hide where the water was higher than usual with just a trio of Mallards and a single Little Grebe present. I moved on and followed the path round to the South Lagoon hide where there were a pair of Little Grebes and a single Greylag Goose which took off as I arrived.
The Little Grebes moved further and further away from the hide so I left and walked round to the hide at the northern end of the South Marsh East. Next to this hide is the new Photography Hide which was opened in 2019, but as it is currently a members only hide I had to be satisfied with the old hide at the top of the South Marsh East. Out on the water and islands I could see at least ten Shelducks, half a dozen Curlews and several more Black Headed Gulls.
Weaving their way along the edge of an island, amongst the Curlews, I spotted a pair of Redshanks and in the water nearby were half a dozen Teals. Further out there were around twenty Lapwings and on an island just in front of the hide I could see two Little Ringed Plovers. A Little Egret now flew over the water and landed at the far end of the water. Just a couple of minutes later a Marsh Harrier soared in from the left and dropped down into the reeds at the far side.
The Little Ringed Plovers made their way round the edge of the small island before they moved into the centre. They now mated before they flew off to another island further along the marsh as a pair of Lapwings and one of the Redshanks landed on the island they had just vacated. I left the hide and continued round to the next hide which looks northwards across South Marsh East. From here I could see Mute Swans, Canada Geese, Greylag Geese, Cormorants, a single Herring Gull, two Lesser Black Backed Gulls and several Black Headed Gulls.
I walked the very short distance to the next hide which looks out westwards of South Marsh West. In the water just in front of the hide I could see a pair of Little Grebes and a couple of Gadwalls as the Marsh Harrier flew over the reeds and out of site. The next hide I visited was at the other end of South Marsh West and also looks out over the O reservoir. Out on O reservoir I could see a few Tufted Ducks and Goldeneyes and back over on South Marsh West there were three more Goldeneyes.
From here I made my way back along the edge of the O reservoir to the hide at the top of South Marsh East to see if the Little Ringed Plovers had returned. They had not so I made my way back through the woods towards the Reception Hide. As I walked through the woods I saw a few more Chiffchaffs with one even perching at the top of a small tree to sing away as I walked past.
Back at the feeders next to the Reception Hide they were still busy with several Goldfinches and Chaffinches as well as Blue Tits and Great Tits. A pair of Greenfinches now visited the feeders with Dunnocks and Robins joining the Chaffinches on the ground below the feeders. I now walked down the boardwalk to my car and headed home as a flock of Goldfinches flew overhead.
I have attached a few photos and a full sightings list from my visit to Tophill Low Nature Reserve.