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Tophill Low, East Yorkshire

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Joined: 18 Aug 2008
Posts: 97
Location: Ryedale, North Yorkshire

PostPosted: Mon Aug 18, 2008 11:22 am    Post subject: Tophill Low, East Yorkshire Reply with quote

Many of you may know of Tophill Low nature reserve on the river Hull in East Yorkshire. For those of you who don't it is a large reserve owned by Yorkshire Water and run by the Hull Valley Wildlife Group. Tophill Low is a water-works supplying water to parts of Hull downstream. The reserve lies in remote farmland 3 miles from the nearest village, Watton, and can be found by travelling between Beverley and Driffield on the A164 and turning off by Watton village. A winding road takes you finally to the reserve.
I first visited Tophill Low (by the way there is no visible hill whatsoever just plenty of 'low') in the late 1970s long before it was a reserve, spotting birds wherever I went. By 1980 I was visiting regularly, by which time permits to bird-watch were available from the aptly named Mr Gallon of Yorkshire Water. Since then management of the reserve has passed briefly through the RSPB and has settled on the Hull Valley Wildlife Group who, I have to say, have done an excellent job - although the opening times are a little restrictive (9am to 5 or 6pm), missing the best birding times. Given the low number of visitors I wonder why this is ? That said if you join the Group you get unlimited access - well worth the membership fee if you visit at all regularly (they have a website).
From the first, single, hide there are now, I think, 13 hides and a viewing screen. The reserve consists of two concrete-walled reservoirs, the 'D-res' and the'O-res'. These both attract wildfowl in considerable numbers at peak times of year and I have seen, over the years, Ring-necked Duck, Ruddy Duck, Mute and Whooper Swans, Pochard, Scaup, Goldeneye and more. Little Gulls are frequent and even White-winged Black Terns have been spotted (although not by me). In addition there are the water-works with cut-lawn areas where, in the dim-past, I have seen a Wood Warbler, and where Wagtails, Thrushes etc can be seen. There are two principal areas of woodland as well as several other smaller stands. The first of these is dense mixed woodland next to the D-res, home to Marsh tits, Willow tits, Long-taiuled tits, Goldcrest, warblers and Crossbills among others (as well as hedghogs and Roe Deer). The other area is a lovely stand of hawthorn scrub playing host to butterflies (Tophil Low is also known for it's insect life) in a large-ish clearing, grass-snakes, and many birds, including Turtle Dove.
There are also several areas of wetland, the jewels in Tophill Low's crown. The North Marsh is a fairly dense reed-bed, home to Reed and Sedge Warblers, Little Grebe and Marsh Frogs among others. The older Lagoons, North and South, are in the centre of the reserve and play host to various wildfowl, waders and marsh-land species including wintering Greenshank, Green Sandpiper, Ruff, Water Rail, Kingfisher, Gadwall, Shoveller and so forth. Lesser Whitethroat can be seen in the surrounding bushes alongside Willow Warblers and Chiffchaff in the trees.
This leaves the two finest stretches of wetland, the South Marsh and Watton Borrow Pits.
The Borrow pits are disused scrapings, now flooded and managed. The pits are actually outside the reserve and form an adjacent but separate reserve with it's own hide. However another hide on the reserve overlooks the pits and the ever-present Cormorants, Greylag Goose, Canada Geese, Mallards, Wigeon, Tufted Duck, Great Crested Grebe, Kingfisher and Lapwing, as well as other visitors including Little Ringed Plover (which breed at Tophill Low) Green Woodpecker in the nearby trees, overflying Kestrel, Barn Owl, finches, Redwing and Fieldfare. More recently Little Egret have turned up. Even at the quietest times the Borrow Pits are busy.
The South Marsh boasts four hides, the west, two mid, and the east, all giving good views. The west hide also overlooks the O-reservoir. The South Marsh mixes open water with reed beds and flats, home to Water-rail, Sandpipers, Ruff, ducks, geese, warblers etc.
Tophill Low also attracts migrants in considerable numbers, including Avocet, Little Egret, Osprey, Hen and Marsh Harriers, although a degree of luck is required in seeing these.

All in all Tophill Low is an excellent reserve, little deserving the 'tag' recently given it by a rather unsavoury 'birder', of Stalag Tophill Low. This 'gentleman' complained of the 'many rules' and road-bumps etc. Of course Tophill Low is a working site so there are various health and safety considerations, the only ones of note being the fencing around the works and the assembly instructions in case of emergency - very sensible of course. Other wise his 'hated rules' were simply along the lines of 'no dogs', 'do not disturb the wildlife' and so on - none of them any bother at all and all very sensible, obvious ones that any decent bird-watcher would already be following. He also complained that you couldn't walk around the reservoirs and look over the walls - well this is clearly to prevent disturbance to the wildife as popping your head over the retaining walls would scare the birds off, disturbing them and ruining watching for everyone else. He would do well to remeber that a reserve is for the wildlife, we come second. Finally the speed-bumps! They are a bit 'sharp' but are there to protect both staff and other visitors, who, at the North Lagoon, have to step out into the little access road from the hide entrance.
So don't be put off by the complaints of this one, or by the industrial fencing that greets you upon arrival. The rest of the reserve is wonderfully quiet and reasonably 'wild' in feel, with the breeze through the trees and reeds. Remember there is no local town or industry (apart from the works themselves), just miles of farmland and peace and quiet.
Oh yes! It's only 2.50 for a day permit ! Less for pensioners and the disabled. There is ample parking and a visitor centre and toilets. The site is signposted and you should look to at least 3 hours, better 4 or more for a thorough visit, although those pressed for time would do well to head for the 'D-res' hide by the car-park, the Lagoon hides adjacent to the visitor centre and if possible the Borrow Pits and South Marsh.

Here is my latest bird-watch there - done on a Saturday over 4 hours in which time I encountered three people, one leaving as I arrived and two arriving as I left. I had four hours birding on my own, peace, quiet and tranquility.

Time: - c.11:45 AM- 3.30PM
Weather: - Dry, warm, light breeze to stiff breeze. Bright.

Great Crested Grebe. Several on d-res and north lagoon
Little Grebe North Lagoon, South lagoon (Pair feeding 4 chicks), and South Marsh
Cormorant 20+ Watton Borrow Pits
Mute Swan D-res, North Lagoon, Watton Borrow Pits, South Marsh.
Greylag Goose Dozens at Watton Borrow Pits.
Canada Goose 1 at Watton Borrow Pits
Mallard D-res, Watton Borrow Pits and South Marsh
Gadwall c.12 North Lagoon, 12+ South Marsh
Shoveller 6 South Marsh
Wigeon Watton Borrow Pits.
Teal South Marsh dozens
Tufted Duck 100+ all inc. 50+ O-res.
Ruddy Duck D-res.
Marsh Harrier Imm. at South Marsh.
Moorhen All waters
Coot All waters
Lapwing 1 Watton Borrow Pits
Green Sandpiper 4 South Marsh
Common Sandpiper c.6 flying over South Marsh
Ruff 1 imm. South Marsh
Black-headed Gull a few South Marsh
Herring Gull singles overhead
Little Gull 9 d-res. c.6 South Marsh and over o-res.
Feral Pigeon Pair across Watton Borrow Pits
Woodpigeon Singles all areas
Kingfisher 1 perching and circling over water at South
Lagoon. 1 over Watton Borrow Pits.
Swallow Across reserve.
Grey Wagtail 1 near visitor centre.
Lesser Whitethroat Single in bushes beside South Lagoon
Sedge Warbler 1 at South Marsh
Goldcrest In scrub woods into Watton Borrow Pits
Great Tit 1 visitor centre hide.
Blue Tit 1 visitor centre hide.
Long-tailed Tit Parties in D-res woods and clearing near Watton
Borrow Pits
Carrion Crow Singles over Watton Borrow Pits
Chaffinch 2 Visitor centre hide. 1 near car-park
Greenfinch 1 visitor centre hide.

Also seen - Marsh Frogs, Weasel, Peacock butterflies.

This was a quiet day at Tophill Low. Try it in autumn for the migrants !
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Joined: 22 Jun 2008
Posts: 164

PostPosted: Mon Aug 18, 2008 1:49 pm    Post subject: Tophill Low Reply with quote

Welcome to Bigg Bird. Smile

I hope you enjoy the forum. Very Happy

Thanks for the detailed description of Tophill Low. Lots of useful info. Very Happy

All best wishes from terratoonie.

Do what you feel in your heart to be right - for you'll be criticized anyway. You'll be damned if you do, and damned if you don't ! - Eleanor Roosevelt
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Joined: 24 Mar 2005
Posts: 2165
Location: Derbyshire

PostPosted: Wed Aug 20, 2008 1:37 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Mr Gallon - I like it Laughing sounds a great place, and not a million miles from me. I'll do a bit more checking for when I get my rare pass-outs!

I can confirm - Bitterns DO exist, and they are brilliant!!!!
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Joined: 18 Aug 2008
Posts: 97
Location: Ryedale, North Yorkshire

PostPosted: Wed Aug 20, 2008 7:39 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Tophill Low is a bit quiet at the present (although still not bad at all) but it's busier come about October. The opening times will be tightening a little soon 9-5. THey are shut on MOnday's and Tuesday's by the way !
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