Well there's certainly more than a hint of spring in the air this week, with some glorious days to be out and about on the reserve. There have been birds in full song such as Song Thrush, Chiffchaff, Blackbird, Robin, Dunnock and Great Tit amongst others all creating a dawn chorus feel during the day. Red Admirals have been seen on the wing at the reserve on several occasions and Brimstone butterflies have been cropping up locally for many people and the Great Crested Grebes have been performing their courtship displays and dancing on the water presenting weed and were also seen courting & mating on Loxtons in front of the screen as the following sequence of photos shows:
Thanks to John Crispin for the photo sequence. Hope you didn't blush too much at some of the shots!
Also from the Loxtons screen on Wednesday evening: 9 Greylag, 11 Canada Geese and a Great White Egret. These are still being seen daily and often from the first viewing platform seems to be the best chance of a viewing. Also in the Loxtons area 2 grunting Bitterns, although at least 2 have also been heard from the first viewing platform with some booming albeit fairly weak at times.
Some of the best news for visitors this week, is with several sightings of Bearded Tit in the public areas. We have had them on the reserve for years but they rarely ventured over to Waltons or Loxtons sections. However, last weekend two sightings were reported to me of a pair of 'beardies' in the reedbed at Loxtons (on one occasion quite close to the screen), also a group of 7 which flew over the railway line and into the Waltons section. It would be fantastic if they decided to colonise this part of the reserve this year ,as it would finally give visitors the chance to gain some cracking views of this wonderful reedbed bird. Watch this space!
The warmer weather should now see a distinct drop in the Wigeon and Teal numbers although I could see and hear both on the reserve today. Good numbers of Pochard remain in the Waltons section and the numbers of Tufted Duck also seem quite high. Two Drake Pintail remain in front of the first viewing platform this afternoon.
Short Eared Owls remain on site with 4 (possible 5 - or this may have been one of the original 4) were flushed from the dry area in front of the second viewing platform during the last of our habitat management work for the season. 3 were also seen in the same area on Thursday morning.
Kingfishers have been seen most days this week particularly from the bridge on the railway line as you first enter the reserve and are always a real treat to see. Ravens have also been seen on moast days this week with a group of 3 seen on at least 3 occasions.
A Curlew was reported flying over the reserve on Wednesday evening calling at around 17.45pm and on Tuesday evening a Glossy Ibis was seen flying over. This has been seen flying over Ham Wall on a few occasions lately but seems to spend much of its time at Catcott Lows.
Also this week: Green Woodpecker heard calling this morning, Great Spotted woodpeckers callind and at least two drumming, Treecreepers on the railway line Alders and in the wood on the other side of the drain as you first travel along the footpath (2 Roe Deer also seen here, a male Bullfinch seen along the railway line path, Sparrowhawk, Kestrel, Marsh Harrier, Coal Tits and very vocal Water Rails and Little Grebes.
Have a Great Weekend.
There have been some beautiful days on the reserve this week, although there has been a cold wind at times. Spring is slowly creeping it's way upon us, but as yet, I cannot report the first Sand Martins (usually the first to arrive) or Swallows of spring at Ham Wall. The odd one or two have been reported locally however by a lucky few.
Birds are warming up for spring too, with plenty of singing to be heard along the tree lines and of course the booming of the male bittern becoming stronger by the day. Chiffchaff have been heard singing around the reserve along with Song Thrush, Blackbird, Robin, Great Tit and Dunnock to name a few. Groups of Tits and Finches can still be seen feeding together, although it wont be long before these begin to pair up for the breeding season. A few butterflies are on the wing with both Red Admiral and Small Tortoiseshell seen this week.
Today, on the north of the reserve it was nice to see a group of c25 Fieldfares with one or two Redwings mixed in for good measure - these will soon be moving of to their own breeding grounds and there has been significant drop in the number of Starlings too as the weather has warmed up and the days lengthened (although still enough of a flock to impress at present). We also say goodbye to Jen & Chris this week (our Starling Information Officers) after another successful season, well done to both of you and many thanks. They are both moving on to pastures new in Scotland - if you plan to visit Loch Garten up at Abernethy pop in and say hello to Jen. Sure they've both got the Avalon Marshes bug now and will simply have to come back and visit.
As well as Bitterns booming over the reserve, there has been an increase in activity also, as birds search for partners and suitable nesting and feeding sites. Two birds were also seen chasing each other this week - whether this is a male chasing a female, or chasing another male away we don't know- but activity is on the up. Around 5 flights were observed from the first viewing platform last Saturday, between sunrise an 10am and I was lucky enough to have 4 flights in about half an hour from the same location on Monday. One flew right across and very close in - great view.
From the birds observed on Saturday, one showed particularly well in the small cut area of reed in front of the 1st viewing platform. It was said to have quite a lot of white in its plumage - particularly the wing but also the head. This is useful info for surveying later, to identify and track an individual bird. Also seen Saturday morning, a Female Hen Harrier, quartering the north of the reserve headed west visible from 2nd viewing platform.
Also last weekend, this shot of a Great White Egret in a rather unusual pose was taken by John Crispin:
Throughout the week from the first viewing platform 2 or 3 Male Pintail have been seen as well as: Green Woodpecker, 7 Little Egret put up together spooked by something, Kingfisher flying up the drain and a Female Marsh Harrier along with a Juvenile (male being seen a lot less over the last week or so). Duck numbers are definitely decreasing, although a few Wigeon & Teal remain. Still good numbers of Pochard in Waltons and there were 30 in front of the Loxtons screen on Monday and also present are Tufted Duck, Mallard & Shoveler.
Kingfishers have been seen regularly this week with the old railway bridge the best spot (a pair seen here on Weds). 6 Buzzards were seen together on Tuesday as well as 3 Ravens the same day. Lapwing can be seen daily with a nice group often settling in Waltons from the 3rd screen and one or two pairs possibly exploring the reserve for potential nest sites. Also this week: Sparrowhawk on Monday from the old rail bridge, Short-Eared Owl seen quartering distantly from 2nd viewing platform after Starling Roost, Kestrel in the last area on the left of the railway line past 2nd platform, Roe Deer, Bearded Tits in areas in front of the 1st platform but not very close in and small groups of Redpoll feeding on Alders around the reserve.
These shots of Lesser Redpoll were taken this week by John Crispin:
A handsome looking bird.
Have a great Weekend everyone!
Reported to me today at 3.30pm ( I missed them by seconds myself), 2 Swallows flying left to right in front of the first viewing platform at Ham Wall. No Sand Martins as yet but only a matter of time.
Also a great looking male Marsh Harrier hunting over Loxtons 3.35pm and another male seen just a litle earlier.
Bitterns booming everywhere, Bearded Tits and 6 species of butterlfy seen on the reserve today!
More info to come on sightings in Fridays Blog.
It's been a very warm week on the reserve as everywhere and there's been a real buzz of activity. Birds are most definitely on the move with a few Swallows seen on the reserve this week as I reported in a previous blog. However, it appears that some Sand Martins did beat them after all. On Thursday a lady reported to me that she'd seen quite a large group come through nearly two weeks ago and this morning a gentleman told me he'd spotted 3 on Monday whilst watching a Great White Egret.
Around the same time he'd also seen 2 Cranes flying over and 2 of the released Cranes on the levels at West Sedgemoor had been reported out this way, so it could of been them. Other significant 'movements' include the sighting of an Osprey at Ham Wall on Saturday (24th) and a Sedge Warbler heard chattering away in the reedbed on the right of the railway line behind the first bench the same day. Also heard today - the first Willow Warbler of the season on the rail path trees close to Waltons.
The warm weather has seen a significant number of butterflies on the reserve - many much earlier than usual. Peacock, Red Admiral, Small Tortoiseshell, Speckled Wood, Green-veined White, Orange Tip and Brimstone all seen this week.
Peacock butterfly: John Crispin.
Last weekend saw Bearded Tits appearing again in the Waltons section. They have been spotted/heard frequently in non-access parts of the reserve, which is great, but to see them more frequently in the public areas is fantastic! Lets hope they now begin to colonise this part of the reserve this year by breeding in these areas and giving our visitors a real treat.
Bitterns, are of course still booming strongly and there is thought to be as many as 30 booming males across the Avalon Marshes at present and this figure could rise further over the coming weeks with more early morning 'bittern listens' planned. Flights are still more difficult to come by at the moment but the first viewing platfrom offers a great vista and the best chance of a sighting.
Great White Egrets are still being seen and there is still thought to be at least 3 in the marshes still, including the ringed bird. Marsh Harriers are also seen but maybe not quite as frequently as a few weeks ago, although a handsome looking male is using Waltons and Loxtons fairly regularly. A second, younger male has also been seen on occasions but a lot less female activity.
Sparowhawks are being seen most days and one flew right in front of the viewing platfrom really close in on Thursday. The visitors who were up there missed it as they were engrossed in something else at the time. Just shows how easy it is for things to pass you by. Last Saturday morning around 6.10am one of our volunteers John Crispin saw a female Sparrowhawk down a female Mallard and managed to get the shot below. The bird was then spooked and flew off leaving the poor Mallard to hobble into the reeds. It was looked for but not found.
Kingfishers can still be seen with the old railway bridge as you come into the reserve still a hotspot, where birds are seen flying up and down the surrounding drains, a lady reported seeing one here on Thursday afternoon.
The rail path trees still offer great bird song especially in the morning for a dawn chorus: Blackcaps can now be heard easily, Willow Warbler as mentioned, Song Thrush, Blackbird, Wren, Dunnock, Goldcrest, Goldfinch and Chaffinch to name but a few. Treecreeper has also been spotted in the usual Alders between Loxtons and the rail path.
Also this week: Raven flying and calling over Waltons on Thurs, 2 Jays on the north of the reserve but also seen at the back of Waltons and by Street Heath (next to Loxtons the other side), 2 Greylag Geese flying over on Thursday, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Little Egrets feeding in Waltons, groups of snipe and single birds at a few different locations, Small groups of Lapwing in Waltons but also several pairs displaying at various locations, and extremely vocal Water Rails and Little Grebes. Several Pairs of Great Crested Grebe on site seen displaying and signs of nest building with the best views in Waltons, in front of the 1st platform and from Loxtons screen.
Well, I think that's it for now - apologies again if you came across this blog half complete previously - hope you find it fully intact this time. Have an enjoyable weekend even if the weather has turned a little colder!
Staff and volunteers had a busy day on Wednesday erecting Barn Owl boxes at various locations on the reserve. The Barn Owl is usually associated with farmland, hunting for small mammals around field margins and in rough grassland. Their population has declined, mainly as a result of reduced food supply, caused by changes in farming practices. The loss of old barns and an increase in road deaths have also contributed. We can do something to help though, by providing prey rich rough grassland areas and providing suitable nesting sites.
Here are a couple of new boxes erected at Ham Wall this week:
Barn Owl box on Alder Tree
Box in an Oak
We now have 13 Barn Owl boxes out on the reserve - many of this triangular design but we also have larger square boxes erected on old telegraph poles where suitable trees did not exist. Examples of these can be seen along the railway track on the Shapwick Heath reserve at the Shapwick Road end. We had at least 2 pairs last year, with 3 owlets each which were subsequently ringed but many of the other boxes have been used as roost sites.
As well as Barn Owl boxes we have also, in recent months, erected 2 Tawny Owl boxes and a Little Owl box.
The pictures show 2 different designs of Tawny Owl box.............
...........and we haven't stopped there. We've also erected more bat boxes (now totalling around 25) - some visible from the old railway path through the reserve. We have had pleasing results with our previous boxes, with Soprano Pipistrelle in particular taking a liking to them. There are a few other species of bat known to frequent the reserve too. With all these and around 50 small bird boxes put up over the years it's box heaven for our wildlife. Some good results to show for it soon too we hope.
Bat boxes on the old rail path