The path which leads the way to the two hides at North Duffield Carrs has collapsed in places due to the force of the water, which has resulted in the decision to put in a completely new one. This will hopefully begin as soon as the water retreats far enough to allow us to start work, which will lead to a temporary closure to Garganey Hide but the Geoff Smith Hide will remain open throughout. As it stands Garganey Hide is still half under water, and once the water is back down the whole hide will need repairing, disinfecting etc before it's safe/fit for use.
Some parts of the Lower Derwent Valley have been under water for what seems like the majority of 2012 - the first flood came in April and never completely disappeared. Wheldrake Ings has suffered from mid April onwards, since then we have managed to get on for short periods of time, until the big flood in November came. No access has been possible since, until last week when we ventured down there. Tower Hide was accessible in wellies (if you're prepared to walk through rather deep water). It was a glorious day, albeit cold, with temperatures not getting above freezing throughout the day.
We managed to count all areas of Wheldrake that could be seen from Tower Hide, large numbers of Wigeon (2271) were whistling beneath us, far outnumbering the rest of the birds put together - small numbers of Teal (900) and Mallard (100) were mixed in. Looking across onto Swantail we managed to pick out the first two Shoveler for the WeBS count (both drakes), swimming amongst 104 Pintail. The main highlight was another female Scaup (second for the count), plus the first Great Crested Grebe for the year, gliding effortlessly over the calm water. A large number of Tufted Ducks had gathered at the back of Swantail (188), with 34 Pochard and a single drake Goldeneye. Only 4 Mute Swans were present, with two leaving whilst we were there, seen below.
We were lucky that time and weather allowed us to do a full WeBS count for the valley, apart from the Pocklington Canal which hopefully will feature on the next one. We made our way from Bubwith Ings and walked the length of the floodbank to Thorganby, normally we'd have driven it as, a) it's quicker and b) the birds do not seem as bothered by a vehicle as they are by people on foot.
Bubwith Ings saw plenty of geese (60 Greylag and 120 Canada), 26 Mute Swans, 490 Wigeon, 214 Teal, 36 Pochard, a small group of 3 Pintail, 2 Tufted Ducks and the first 2 Goosander (a pair) for the year. 2 Roe Deer were also amongst the trees - one can only imagine if they are baffled by the unusual amount of water infront of them! We carried on down the floodbank, constantly stepping over the flood debris, plenty of litter, bottles and drift wood had been washed up.
As we approached Aughton Ings we spotted a group of 5 Whooper Swans, 2 adults and 3 juvs making their way down to Ellerton, where we could see a large group had already gathered. A few gun shots went off and suddenly the sky filled with waders, 1400 Golden Plover, 100 Dunlin and 30 Ruff circled above us. More geese were counted (184 Greylag and 36 Canada), plus a high count of Wigeon (1800) and Teal (1100). A single Mistle Thrush flew overhead - not a regular sight in the valley.
Upon arriving at Ellerton more Whooper Swans had dropped in, with 104 counted, and 22 Mutes. Loud honking above us drew our eyes to the sky with a skien of Greylag coming in to join the others already present (718 in total), with just a small number of Canda mixed in (10). Here we came across the first Shelduck for the count, with 44 birds on the floodbank - quite a high number for the time of year, numbers don't usually start to build on the Ings until late January/early February. A single Redshank called as it headed down the river, where we then came across 2 Moorhen (surprisingly the first ones) and 2 Grey Herons and a single Cormorant were sitting high in the trees. The ducks were making the most of the flooded fields at Ellerton, with 2100 Wigeon, 2292 Teal, 50 Mallard, 22 Pintail and 2 Tufted Ducks counted. 900 Lapwing wheeled above us, with a single Golden Plover following soon after.
Looking down to Thorganby we could see that a group of gulls had gathered - the first we had really come across apart from a number of Black-heads. They were mainly large gulls with 24 Herring, 6 Greater-black Backed and a single Common Gull. As we arrived at the spot we came across masses of rubbish presumably brought over by the gulls from the local tip - with a variety of bones and plastic strewn on the grass, amongst many feathers and splash. Scoping further down the bank brought us to a group of Redshank (11), upon trying to get nearer to them to check for colour-rings we flushed a Snipe and 2 Curlew called overhead. A good count of Shelduck was had (63) - with hopefully some of our darvic'd birds present. Plus 2210 Wigeon, 956 Teal, 181 Mallard (surprisingly the most that we'd come across), 8 Mutes, 1 Greylag, 5 Canada, 2 Cormorants and 1 Heron (latter two on the river).
East Cottingwith brought us the first count of Goldeneye (17), a species which tends to favour these particular fields during the winter floods. 29 Mutes, 1 Shelduck, 10 Mallard, 40 Teal and 257 Wigeon were also present.
Due to such a large expanse of water still covering areas throughout the valley it wasn't possible to count all the birds and so the totals above may not give a true picture of the number of birds actually present. On a whole we thought numbers of Mallard and Moorhen seemed unusually low - presumably because the birds have been pushed out to the edges. No Gadwall were seen throughout the day (a reflection of the extensive flooding), and only 5 Coot and 2 Shoveler were counted throughout the whole of the site. At this time of year Shoveler numbers should be between 200-300.
Other birds of note were a few raptors - a Buzzard feeding on a carass at Ellerton, Marsh Harrier and Peregrine over the back of Wheldrake, and a Sparrowhawk flew across the floodbank at Thorganby. Surprisingly throughout the day we had no sightings of a Barn Owl or Kestrel, however we know from other reports that upto 7 Barn Owls have been seen around North Duffield - good to know they've not been severely affected by the flooding.
Also worth reporting were a large number of Pied Wagtails - atleast 50 birds were counted throughout the length of the floodbank - feeding furiously on the insects at the waters edge.