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!
On Wednesday this week, one of our steadfast volunteers, John Crispin, undertook our annual Water Rail Survey. Water Rails, as most bird watchers know, are notoriously secretive and difficult to see. We undertake the survey at this time of year as they are at their most vocal, staking claims to their territories.
The survey involves taking out a piece of audio equipment and playing the male birds call - known as "Sharming". This, to those of you who don't know, sounds very much like a squealing pig - quite distinctive. Once you play the call, other males will reply and you can record on a map where the calls are coming from and from this (once you've walked the entire reserve) you can work out the number of territories. Of course, not all these will be pairs, but it's a good guide year on year of populations and how they change.
The weather was perfect for the survey and the results were great. A total of 61 birds were recorded, including 7 pairs, which is by far and away our highest result ever at Ham Wall - fantastic news.
Here's a couple of pics of our survey subjects (both from John Crispin).
We've had a message recently from our local Police - Rural Beat Team to remind visitors to please keep valuables locked out of sight of opportunist thieves.
Nature reserve car parks are often targets for passing criminals because owners of vehicles often leave items such as: Sat Navs, Mobile Phones, Cameras, Binoculars, Telescopes and Handbags on display.
Local police have put out signs at local Westhay and other surrounding reserves.
We are very lucky that very few incidents have occurred at our reserve but we don't want to put temptation in peoples way and make it easy for thieves. It would be a shame for visits to the Avalon Marshes wonderful reserves were spoilt by not taking avoidable steps.
On a brighter note, the reserve is starting to buzz with activity: booming bitterns, songbirds in full flow, butterflies on the wing and summer migrants beginning to appear - well worth a visit while the weather is good!