Trip reports

Field Trip - Tophill Low

Field Trip - Tophill Low
Kingfisher at Tophill Low Photo: Phyllis Brown

Sunday, 17 October 2021

As our coach meandered down the twisting country lanes into the reserve, mellow with the colours of autumn, the signs were good for a productive day's birding. A yellowhammer flushed from the hedge and two buzzards hunted on the fields, freshly ploughed for a winter crop.

We were greeted by the warden who gave us a brief overview of the area. Although the relatively low turnout for the trip might have been down to the fact that this is still a working Yorkshire Water site, that doesn't do justice to the wide range of habitats on this fantastic reserve which include reservoirs, woodland, scrub, farmland and wetland.

The two reservoirs are large and the 'D Reservoir' (so named because of its shape) overlooked by the visitor centre was packed with wildfowl and gulls, with common gulls for once living up to their name in being particularly numerous. A solitary goldeneye was the pick of the ducks but there were also large numbers of shoveler, great-crested grebe, tufted duck, pochard and coot.

Leaving the visitor centre offers a choice of going north or south. The northerly route led through woodland, the air thick with the earthy smells of autumn and bursts of machine gun fire from the brambles giving away a wren's position. Long-tailed tit, goldcrest, chaffinch and robin made up the usual woodland supporting cast.

Along this path were three hides. The first gave further views of the D Reservoir from a slightly different direction but the second looked the other way across the reeds of North Marsh. Initially this area appeared to be rather barren but patience was rewarded with views of kingfisher, buzzard and lapwing, while a Cetti's warbler sang loudly from the scrub. The furthest hide, looking across Hempholme Meadow, produced a jay and a grey heron as well as a herd of goats relaxing on top of hay bales.

Heading back south gave a chance to call in at a hide overlooking the lagoons close to the reserve access drive. Although the range of birds on these was limited at the time of our visit, a kingfisher put in a star turn - with one lucky member even managing to get photos of it sitting on a 'no fishing' sign!

Access around the 'O reservoir' (also named for its shape) was somewhat more restricted than usual as a result of works to repair structural problems with one of the two 1950's water mains. In fact, one of our members was heard to remark that they had spotted two cranes in that area - although unfortunately they were of the mechanical rather than ornithological variety! But nevertheless, this southerly part of the reserve still proved very productive.

The most fruitful hide of the day, guarded by coppiced willows with troll hair styles, overlooked the adjoining Walton Nature Reserve, a wetland area packed with birds. Redshank, lapwing and a solitary black-tailed godwit with a damaged wing were accompanied by greylag and Canada geese, gadwall, mallard and a pintail among other wetland birds. Undoubtedly the best bird of the day seen by a few lucky members, a merlin flashed across the pools flushing the wildfowl as it passed. A marsh harrier was more confiding, appearing on several occasions when it gave good views. A short distance away on South Marsh, a hide overlooked a flock of as many as 24 curlew, while a photographic hide on the same pool gave water level views of the birds, a real bonus for photographers.

Returning to the visitor centre just before leaving gave an opportunity to see hundreds of gulls arriving on the D reservoir to join Tophill Low's famous gull roost. The north end of the water became increasingly specked with white flecks until, suddenly, most of these flew up into the air in a swirling cloud. The cause was that was that the marsh harrier had put in a final appearance causing mass consternation amongst the other birds.

Talking to the warden before leaving, she was full of enthusiasm for plans to develop the reserve, including replacing the existing hides plus the addition of a seven-metre high hide with panoramic views of the O Reservoir and adjacent marshes. So anyone that missed this trip should definitely make sure they book a place next time!

23 attendees; 67 species seen