The picture below shows the caterpillars of the Peacock butterfly happily munching away at nettles on the reserve. This butterfly breeds once a year laying its eggs on nettles in April and May. The caterpillars are spiky fellas, jet black in colour and finely speckled with white almost silvery dots. They enter the pupal stage in July and August to then emerge and fly on into September and October. So next time your passing some nettles cast a glance to see if you can spot them.
This time of year the main bird activity on the reserve is foraging for food by the parent birds to try and satisfy their growing brood of youngsters. This activity can be seen when walking along the main path through the reserve. Species to look out for include: whitethroat, blackbird, wren, blackcap, reed warbler and sedge warbler.
Sedge warbler with food, by John Crispin
It is worth spending a little time observing this activity, to see how many times the parents visit the nest, and if good views are had, what type of food they are bringing in.
The bitterns on Ham Wall are still active and on a visit there is a good chance of seeing this large brown member of the heron family flying low over the reeds. They sometimes fly quite high so always check any large bird flying over, as it might be the bird you are looking for. A couple of males are still 'booming', but the month of June will probably see the 'booming' get less and less, and finally stop. As males start booming in February the 'booming' period of around 4 months is quite lengthy. The 'booming' is the preserve of the male - to try and entice female's to his territory - both male and female have a flight call - this is commonly referred to as 'gull calling', the reason being it sounds just like a call that gulls use. Grey heron and little egret are two more members of the heron family to look out for.
The great crested grebes (5 pairs) now have well grown young and with careful observation you can see the parents feeding their offspring, sometimes with quite large fish - will they manage to swallow it or not?
The young of coot, moorhen, little grebe and mute swan are always a delight to see.
Raptor species you are likely to see over the reserve are: hobby - catching dragonflies and eating them on the wing. The hobby is also capable of catching swallow, house martin and swifts. common buzzard - if the weather is favourable soaring effortlessly on thermals. sparrowhawk with their dashing flight over the reedbeds and flying low following the various water channels that are within the reedbed. marsh harrier - quartering over the reedbeds in search of small birds, rodents, or even amphibians. kestrel - with their unique method of hunting, hovering, whilst looking for small mammals, they will also take small birds. Most birds can see in the UV spectrum of light which may give a bird an advantage in foraging for food. The waxy surfaces of many fruits and berries reflect UV light that might advertise their presence. Kestrels are able to locate the trails of voles visually using UV light. These small rodents lay scent trails of urine and faeces that reﬂect UV light, making them visible to the kestrels, particularly in the spring before the scent marks are covered by vegetation.
Groups of common swift's (Collective Noun - a scream) can be seen feeding over the reserve. They are superb fliers and the most ariel of birds. All dark except for a whitish chin (hard to see), but best identified by it's characteristic scythe shaped wings - wingspan 16'' - and it's screaming calls (giving it the name of the 'Devil Bird'). During summer evenings small parties of swifts can often be seen wheeling around buildings whilst uttering their screaming calls. Unlike swallows and martins, the swift never lands on the ground or perch on wires, and indeed spends almost all it's life on the wing.
Wildfowl on the reserve include: pochard, gadwall, mallard and tufted duck. Tufted duck have late broods so look out for any family groups. Also look out for male mallards as they moult in to what is called an eclipse plumage. This is where an extra moult occurs and the males look very similar to the females. During this moult all the flight feathers are shed at once thus making them flightless for a while. The male mallard will always retain the dirty green/yellow colour to it's bill where as the females bill is black with a little orange running laterally.
Mammals to look out for on the reserve include: roe deer, stoat, weasel, water vole and otter - always a magical moment when an otter is seen.
On sunny days small tortoiseshell, large white, brimstone, peacock and speckled wood butterflies, also four-spot chaser dragonfly, azure damselfly and blue-tailed damselfly can be seen.
Well dragons may be the stuff of myth and legend but the reserve is currently awash with their namesake dragon flies and also damsel (not in distress!) flies . Damsel flies, mostly Azure abound along the old railway path through the main reserve, particularly favouring stinging nettle plants. Also there are great opportunites to see large numbers of Four spotted chaser dragonflies along the eastern and southern paths around Waltons where they can be seen resting on foliage in large groups or swarming up into the air as one walks past.