We've had it all this week in terms of weather. High winds, rain, snow, hail and lovely calm sunny periods. The wildlife is amazingly adaptable however and as always there's plenty to talk about.
The Glossy Ibis is still being seen quite regularly - as last week it been seen several times on the cut island opposite the 3rd screen at the Waltons section. Both John Crispin and John Crabb managed to grab these shots on Sunday. Thank you to you both for sending them to me:
Photo: John Crispin
Photo: John Crabb
It seems the early morning may be the best time to catch it here before it finds another feeding site. It was also reported from the second viewing platform during the week. It's been seen there before too, so these look like the most likely places to try.
The other surprise of the week was the re- emergence of the Dusky Warbler, picked up on Wednesday along the canal path - again in scrub close to the junction with the Avalon Hide. It was looked for again on Thursday but not relocated.
When the suns shines there is a feeling that spring is close by. The snowdrops have flowered by the car park boardwalk, as they do every year and Bitterns can be heard booming (although some a little half hearted) at several locations around the reserve. Loxtons is probably your best bet. On Thursday one was heard booming to the left of Loxtons screen but there is also one in the section by the rail path. You can often hear him if you stand at the small sleeper bridge which leads to the Loxtons trail. On Thursday a second bird flew in from the south into this section. I was lucky today too as one flew past the 1st platform before dropping into the reeds on the right. It perched briefly and then slowly disappeared within the reeds.
Perhaps my biggest surprise of the week was the sight of a bat flying around in bright sunshine over the old station house close to the car park. I can only guess that it was disturbed from its hibernation site (nice to see though).
Back in Waltons there is plenty to see (even if the Glossy Ibis isn't showing for you). Great Crested Grebes are there in all their finery. A few singles but one definite pair who have been reinforcing those pair bonds with a bit of head bobbing to each other. Also within the water a selection of duck and also Canada Geese, Mute Swan, Cormorant and Little Grebe along with plenty of squabbling Coots.
On the cut island you will often see Lapwings, although sometimes they are in the splashy section close to the Avalon Hide (visible from the 1st platform when in flight 150 -200) and 4 Snipe were recorded here on Sunday also. The Avalon HIde is the place to go for the best views of Marsh Harrier. They tend to spend a lot of their time over this northern part of the reserve with 4 different birds recorded frequently. Great White Egrets often drop into this area too, landing in the cut areas giving great views from the hide. The occasional Little Egret drops in too for a good size comparison. A pair on Stonechats were perched up in front on Tuesday too.
Kingfishers are also seen here but it seems that Loxtons is the place to see them had the moment. 3 were seen from the screen on Wednesday with 2 chasing each other and one static. Another was seen flying left to right in front of the screen on Thursday. I also saw on this week - this time in Waltons. It perched on trees by the screens and could easily be seen by the disabled parking area.
Starlings are still around of course. They have been using the Waltons section recently and they were landing very close to the rail path on the 1st island to the left. However, as of last night they have moved to a section in front of (a little distant) the 2nd platform. There may also be some birds going to Shapwick too but I'm not 100% sure. They could of course move again but this is the best guide I can give you at the moment.
On the canal path close to the furthest bridge there seemed to be a lot of Starling remains on Tuesday, so they've obviously been using a section close by recently.
I'm not sure what the Grey Herons made of it all recently. They nested in the Waltons section in low numbers for several years now and this year looks to be no exception. I've been seeing and hearing several birds within this section lately and on Sunday birds were seen mating and carrying nesting material. If you go to the Tor View Hide and look to the left you will often see Herons just sitting in the reedbed. Once again John Crispin & John Crabb were on hand to get some action shots. Thank you both!
Watch this space!!
Also this week: Lots of activity from Great Spotted Woodpeckers heard drumming at Rail path trees by Loxtons, the first wood strip on the canal path and at our offices in the Avalon Marshes Centre. Also had another 2 birds chasing each other and calling loudly - perhaps showing aggression (while the woodland strip bird continued to drum) - Jays in the same strip calling. Also this morning: Peregrine at 7.30am flying north from 2nd platform, Roe Deer by Loxtons which jumped the fence into Street Heath a good selection of duck from 2nd platform inc Shoveler, Tufted Duck and Pochard (there are also a lot of Teal on site) and 30+ Fieldfare at Tinneys ground on the Sharpham Road.
Wednesday saw a Bullfinch at Loxtons, while on Tuesday Bearded Tits were again seen in the same place as the last couple of weeks - just beyond the section the the second viewing platform faces, a Raven also flew over the reserve Cronking. Thursday saw a Kestrel in a tree towards the far end of the rail path and a small group of Siskins perched in alders also along the rail path.
That's it for this week. Have a great weekend!
All photos taken by John Crispin this morning from the 3rd screen at Waltons on Ham Wall. The Glossy Ibis has been seen here before so worth checking this area out early morning and the Grebes have been head bobbing and platform building earlier in the week. Now they're weed dancing - fantastic to watch these elaborate courtship displays! Thanks John for the fantastic photos, as ever.
Thought it a shame not to show these as they arrived just too late for the usual weekly blog!
I wouldn't say spring is in the air but there are certainly a few signs of change on the reserve this week. Snowdrops are out along the rail path, although not yet on the car park boardwalk at the Shapwick end where there are large clumps each year.
Birdsong seemed quite significant this morning. Several species were calling along the rail path tree line including: Robin, Blackbird, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Long Tailed Tit and Song Thrush who was calling loudest of all. Close by to this bird (adjacent to Loxtons) was a drumming Great Spotted Woodpecker (there's also been one by our office at the Avalon Marshes Centre) and within the reedbed a booming Bittern. This was just opposite the small bridge which crosses into Loxtons between the 2 viewing platforms.
Earlier in the week it was heard towards the Waltons end of Loxtons, booming in sets of 4. Apparently you could hear his intake of breath before booming. Numbers of booming males should gradually increase over the next few weeks and staff and volunteers will undertake an early morning survey across the whole of the Avalon Marshes to get an accurate booming total - 43 recorded last year.
Another sign of change has been the beginnings of courtship displays from Great Crested Grebes. There are several birds on site: a pair from the 1st platform, a couple of birds within Loxtons and further birds within the Waltons section. It's a pair here which have already begun to reinforce pair bonds through head bobbing rituals and have also started building a mating platform:
Also showing signs of aggression:
Waltons has also been home to Kingfishers this week with one flying close to the 1st viewing platform on Monday. Lapwings are using the area too. Often landing on the cut island in front of the 3rd screen - in fact 50 have roosted here this week, while 150-200 flew over Waltons on Monday.
The Avalon Hide is coming up with the goods again. It was great to get it back open last week and great to have such positive feedback about the path and the hide itself. It's probably the best place to see Marsh Harriers on the reserve - several are seen hunting here each day and people often report seeing 3 or 4 different birds. A Peregrine was also spotted from the hide last weekend, while 2 Kestrel flew over calling on Wednesday. While on the birds of prey theme - do check out the owl boxes visible from the hide. A Tawny Owl was spotted from the box in the woodland you walk through on Sunday (31st) while last week saw both Tawny Owl and Barn owl in and around the boxes visible to the woodland on the left hand side of the hide. On Tuesday 2 Chiffchaff were fluttering up on and around one of the owl boxes. I can only assume there was a good source of insects here - maybe from debris in the owl box.
The Avalon Hide is also a great place to see Great White Egret (although one flew over my head in the car park on Thursday (4th). One individual in particular is often seen out feeding in front of the hide. On Sunday one was seen fishing successfully before being joined by a Little Egret who also fished successfully. Thanks to John Crispin for sending in some handy photos taken on Sunday to help show the size difference between these two:
Quite significant I'm sure you'll agree.
Also a comparison with Grey Heron too:
....and then a great shot looking right down the lens:
John Crispin also saw some interesting behavior from Great White Egrets this week. On Sunday a bird flew in from the east into an area diagonally left from the hide but approached with a distinctive slow and pronounced wing beat giving it an almost bouncy look. It chased away a second bird from the area (this bird flew normally) but all the time kept this slower wing beat. John thinks this could be a threat display similar to that of a male Mute Swan 'busking' when seeing off an intruder from its territory.
Ducks present from the hide include: Mallard, Tufted Duck, Pochard, Shoveler, Teal and Gadwall and look out for Little Grebe too. They can be heard around the reserve at the moment with their distinctive 'Whinnying' call.
Starlings at present (as of last night) are split. The majority of birds are over at Shapwick Heath - they have been in the decoy area but were seen just before dusk dancing around the Meare Heath area. There are also a fair number of birds using the Loxtons area on Ham wall.
Also this week: Glossy Ibis seen on Sunday dropping into the area in front of the 2nd platform, a Green Woodpecker heard 'yaffling' close to the Loxtons screen, a group of 6 Reed Buntings or more flitting close to the ramp into the Avalon Hide woodland trail, 2 Snipe disturbed from the wet area on the left just before that ramp mentioned above, a Treecreeper seen in a clump of Alders around the Loxtons trail, a pair of Bullfinches along the rail path close to Street Heath, Bearded Tits at the back of the 2nd viewing platform section (but have recently been seen nearer the front edge), Dusky Warbler reported on Bird Track last weekend (exact location unknown) and Goldcrest also seen along the rail path.
That's it for this week - have a great weekend!