Apologies for the lateness of this blog. Technical issues and being absent from work for a couple of days have really delayed this one! It was written ready for last Friday so concentrates up to that date only......
Another steady week of activity on the reserve this week as we await the big April rush. Many birds of course are in full song and of particular note this week have been Cetti’s Warblers. These little brown birds have a particularly punchy burst of song – very noticeable around the reserve. In fact many have been seen perching up or chasing each other over the last few days. It’s probably the best time of year to catch a clear sighting as they often perch up singing, being very territorial. Soon leaves will form on trees, territories will be established and it will be back to business as usual with the occasional flash across a channel for a sighting.
Other Warblers are present too. Chiffchaffs have been seen and heard singing their familiar songs – of course many of these now over winter, so may not have ‘migrated’ a long distance at all. Another overwintering bird (more often in gardens) is the Blackcap and one individual was heard singing from trees along the old rail path just yesterday. Soon these trees will be alive with song and of much interest to bird watchers as Willow Warblers and Garden Warblers join the throng and perhaps the nightingale will return again this year!
Other spring migrants have been spotted this week with further small groups of Sand Martins passing through but also hangers on from winter such as 2 Redwing spotted in the car park and still a number of Wigeon residing on the reserve.
Other evidence of the arrival of spring includes a grass snake warming itself in the sunshine (and male adders – the first to wake up on Shapwick Heath), frog spawn maturing well in the car park pools and flowering plants such as Celandine & Daffodils showing some colour. 4 species of butterfly have also been spotted this week: Brimstone and Small tortoiseshell but also a Peacock & Speckled Wood seen chasing each other on Wednesday. Quite a few bumblebees out on the wing too.
Grey Herons are also very busy nest building within the Waltons reedbed. Some good shots of the action captured by John Crispin this week. There will soon be plenty of noise coming from this area as youngsters squabble and compete for food.
Great White Egrets are also present on site and being seen on a daily basis and to add to our heron family.........
......Bitterns are of course making themselves obvious with plenty of booming around the reserve. A couple of chases of males & females have also been witnessed and a further bird flying from beyond the 1st platform to Waltons with a strong wind behind it – it was really motoring.
Another spring favourite has got to be the Great Crested Grebe with its elaborate courtship rituals – a pair were seen head bobbing and weed dancing in Waltons this week from the 1st screen but others are further ahead. From the 3rd screen nest building is well underway as is a nest in front of the 1st platform. There are at least 2 other pairs in Waltons too as well as a few more around other parts of the reserve.
Lapwings have been seen displaying over the area in front of the 2nd platform, while a Redshank has also been heard calling from one area of the reserve.
I’ve had a few queries about where to see Bearded Tits this week. Again like last week a pair were seen along the edge of Loxtons but have also occasionally been seen from both screens. 3 or 4 other locations were had this week although, as usual, these are usually a little away from the public areas but Loxtons seems to be a fairly regular thing at the moment. Get familiar with the call to give you an early warning and a better chance of a sighting. This female was snapped by John Crispin just last week at Loxtons.
Also this week: a Curlew was seen circling over Long Drove before flying south, Ravens over most days, 8 Buzzards circling in the morning sunshine on Wednesday – a lovely sight, Great Spotted Woodpecker heard drumming also on Wednesday (part of its mating ritual), a Red Kite passing over Waltons & Loxtons on Weds afternoon – it had been seen earlier at the car park and over Shapwick Heath, 2 Kingfishers hunting together around the back of Waltons, Roe Deer seen in fields surrounding the reserve, good evidence of the presence of Otters on the Otter survey and 2 Firecrests seen up close to the car park. Also from the car park boardwalk this Robin preening itself in the sunshine!
That covers last week. I'll do my best to get something done as a catch up before the Easter break!
Spring has most definitely sprung and the evidence is all around. Last weekend saw the arrival of 100's of Sand Martins on the reserve and even during this week small groups c20 can be seen most days. They are not always flying low though so familiarising yourself with their call can help you locate them.
Bird song has been increasing steadily over recent weeks - those calling of particular note have been a couple of Chiffchaff between the 2 platforms and a Song Thrush near Street Heath although these have been heard in the car park recently too. The car park has been a good place to spot groups of Goldfinch too and on the boardwalks out Goldcrest and Treecreeper have been seen as well as a beautiful carpet of Snowdrops.
The ponds here are now home to several clumps of frogs spawn - some quite well developed, and a Red Kite was seen to fly over last weekend along with 2 Redwings spotted in the treeline.
Elsewhere on the reserve Grey Herons are still busying themselves in the Waltons reedbed. It's hard to tell exactly how many nests are present at the moment but it's at least 3. Their cousins the Great White Egrets have also been seen posturing and there looks set to be a repeat of the nesting successes of the last 3 years but I guess time will tell.
They're not the only birds displaying significant behavior. Marsh Harriers too have been seen displaying and food passing in the air - distant from the second platform has offered good views recently. There have also been reports of a Marsh Harrier interacting with a Peregrine this week and a further Peregrine sighting as one flew over the reserve yesterday.
Buzzards have also been displaying. Rising on thermals, calling, chasing and interacting all week. The 1st platform the best here, where a Buzzard was also harassed by a Sparrowhawk for a while on Tuesday.
The second platform has been host to displaying Lapwing this week. They attempted to breed on the high banks/ridges here last year and look set to try again this year. Redshank has also been heard calling in the area this week - another of our breeding waders. Redwings x6 were also spotted from this platform on 2 occasions this week.
Bitterns of course are an obvious indicator that breeding season is underway. Last weeks early morning survey across the Avalon Marshes picked up 36 booming males (16 at Ham Wall) and a further bird is booming at Greylake reserve. The figure could increase during the 2nd survey in mid April. Whatever happens it's likely that the Avalon Marshes will again have around a quarter of the UK's population of booming males. The first chase (male chasing female was also picked up this week).
The warmer weather has meant that certain species are awakening from a winter sleep: frogs, newts and a toad have all been sighted this week along with 3 species of Butterfly seen on the wing - a Peacock looking rather battered, Brimstone and Small Tortoiseshell.
In the water some ducks are pairing up although we still have several Wigeon on site and teal, Great Crested Grebes have been seen undertaking courtship displays while Coots are aggressively marking their territories with plenty of splashing and noise.
Also this week: a pair of Ravens flying over calling on Thursday, Smooth newt also seen on Thursday, male Pintail feeding from the 1st platform from time to time, Bearded Tits heard and seen occasionally in Loxtons but also from the 2nd platform last weekend, several Snipe in wetter fields, Great Spotted Woodpecker drumming and Water Rail seen again from the Tor View Hide.
That's it for now - have a great weekend!
Apologies for the slightly delayed blog this week, I'm afraid I was unable to attend work on Friday so it's been pushed onto today!
All the photos this week come from the Waltons area of the reserve, where there seems to have been plenty of action this past week. Following on from last weeks photo sequence of pair bonding Great Crested Grebes, the pair were seen mating in Waltons this week.
A rudimentary platform of reed is laid making the mating platform where the coupling takes place. The pair sometime uses the platform to make a nest but generally the pair of grebes build a nest away from this often flimsy structure.
In the same section this week a Water Pipit was observed feeding on the cut islands visible from the 3rd screen at Waltons. This was identified by the wingbar, supercilium (eye stripe) and habitat it was seen in. We often get them in the winter and usually in the freshly cut areas - this one fits the bill. Thanks again to John Crispin for all the wonderful photos which really make the blog.
Bitterns are getting warmed up for the coming season - several are booming across the Avalon Marshes with birds in both Waltons and Loxtons putting in some practice. Our first official count will be on the 12th March where staff and volunteers will be out across the Avalon Marshes from the local conservation organisations (RSPB, Somerset Wildlife Trust & Natural England) - a nice 5am start.
Grey Herons, the bitterns cousin, have nested in the Waltons reedbed for the last few years, with 5 or 6 nests in each of the last 2.
This year looks to be no exception, although the little flurry of action last week has quietened down somewhat. This lone bird was sat in the Waltons reedbed last week. We may well see activity pick up over the next few weeks and soon there will be plenty of noisy birds to entertain people. This activity should be visible to the left of the Tor View Hide when it occurs.
Another cousin the Great White Egret has again been seen daily. The 1st platform as good a place as any to see them. Lets hope for another successful breeding season for these majestic birds.
The second platform has again proved to be a good place for Pochard with significant numbers using the area. Other duck on site include: Mallard, Tufted Duck, Shoveler, Gadwall, Teal & Wigeon. Marsh Harriers have been seen from here (and the 1st platform) with a pair seen regularly together last week.
Also this week: Rabbit and Grey Squirrel seen hopping along the rail path, Bullfinch and Goldcrest also along the same track, Bearded Tits heard 'pinging' within the Loxtons section (heard from rail path), Raven flying over, Great Spotted Woodpecker heard drumming, Sparowhawk flying from Street Heath over Loxtons, vocal Water Rails around the site, Kingfishers seen adding a touch of colour to the winter backdrop and Song Thrushes heard singing from the car park - as many as 3 on Monday 23rd Feb.
The Starlings have continued to use Ham Wall this past week using the area distant of the 2nd platform. Now that we are into March we should start to see the numbers tail off a bit but there's still time to come and see one final show.
Finally this young Roe deer (one of 2) that crossed over the Waltons boardwalk last weekend. Nice to have them so visible in the public areas.
Roe Deer crossing the boardwalk.
That's it for now - blog back on Friday this week. Have a good week!