A mild spring gave a helping hand to a variety of wildlife. The bitterns seemed to have faired well after the appalling winter weather. Booming males on Ham Wall totaled 6 spread around the reserve. Many visitors had good views of flying bitterns, either males chasing females or male to male aerial disputes. Females on feeding flights - it is these flights we observe to try and determine how many nesting females we have. This year we had 4 maybe 5 nests which was in line with last years figures.
Bittern in threat posture.
Six pairs of Great Crested Grebes were spread around the reserve with all birds rearing at least 2 juveniles a successful year for this appealing species. Little Grebe also breed on the reserve, a little more difficult to determine how many pairs but probably in line with their larger relative.
Great Crested Grebe
With the mild early spring weather there was great activity amongst the smaller birds. Within the reedbeds a great many Reed Warbler males were advertising their physical prowess and territory to any females who would listen. Sedge Warbler males with their erratic song and the occasional song flight were also trying to attract any females passing by, also the Reed Bunting, a bird that stays with us all year. A favourite reedbed specialist the Bearded Tit, is always a sought after species by visitors. There have been numerous juveniles feeding within the reeds, 'pinging' - a contact call - their way around the reedbeds looking for various insect food.
Juvenile Bearded Tit
Another reedbed specialist is the Water Rail, a very secretive bird but can be identified by their peculiar call - very similar to a squealing piglet - and known as 'sharming'. This years survey - carried out during April -showed a decrease in numbers. Could this be the result of the very hard winter.
Goods news for the waders as 3 maybe 4 pairs of Lapwings bred on the reserve, along with a probable 2 pairs of Redshank.
The duck species which attracts great interest is the Garganey, this duck is our only summer migrant which winter in Africa. On their arrival they are quite visibly, but once the pair bond has been reinforced they become quite secretive. Other duck species that breed on the reserve include: Mallard, Gadwall, Shoveler, Pochard and Tufted Duck.
Along the main path through the reserve could be heard - and sometimes seen - singing Blackcap, Whitethroat, Garden Warbler, Song Thrush, Wren, Chiff-Chaff, Cetti's Warbler with the occasional sighting of Nuthatch and Spotted Flycatcher.
Cuckoo's were seen well over the period which apart from the familiar call of the male a number of females were seen, and sometimes lucky to hear their 'rich bubbling chuckle'. An old rhyme describes the cuckoo's time in Britain.
In April I open my bill In May I sing night and day In June I change my tune In July far far I fly In August away I must
As the rhyme describes, the cuckoos should now be well on their way to winter in Africa, though one was seen on the reserve yesterday!
Grey Heron, Little Egret and the occasional sighting of the Great White Egret are always worth looking out for. Coot are always in attendance - can be viewed from the viewing screens near to the Viewing Platform - look out for the behaviour of the Coot diving for aquatic plants, sometimes there are Gadwall in attendance to try to obtain a free meal. And we mustn't forget a lot of visitors favourite bird the Mute Swan. Family groups can be seen, although the cygnets are now well grown and are starting to replace their downy wing feathers with proper flight feathers.The juveniles will stay with their parents until next spring when the adult birds will make inroads to start their breeding cycle.
Birds of prey have been much in evidence with regular Marsh Harriers - male, female and juvenile - also Kestrel, Sparrowhawk and Common Buzzard and the ever popular Hobby. The Hobby a summer visitor which winters in Africa, and on arrival feeds mainly dragonfly's. They are also capable of catching Swallow, House Martin and Sand Martins in level flight - quite a turn of speed.
There were two pairs of breeding Barn Owls this year, each pair having 3 owlets.
Barn Owl - ( 4 - 5 weeks old )
March saw 5 Whooper Swans on and over the reserve and more recently Black-tailed Godwits - c25, Ring-necked Duck ( the same genus - Aythya as our familiar Tufted Duck ) Kittiwake and Common Tern have stopped over to rest and feed.
The annual cutting of the reeds which is carried out on a rotational basis and an essential part of the reserve management has now started