Another interesting, wildlife packed, week on the reserve this week. You could be fooled into thinking it was winter at times on the reserve this week until you hear the chattering of Reed warblers in the reed beds, the calls of Cuckoo, booms of Bitterns and the melody of warblers and other song birds in the trees. When the suns out, it's an amazing place to be at the moment.
One of our many singing Blackcaps on the reserve: John Crabb
The Glossy Ibis continues to show well on the muddy area in front of the 2nd viewing platform (he's been here since September) and has given many visitors a closer view from the 2 willow blinds we have erected (with the Avalon Marshes Young Wardens) recently. There have been a few great close up photos on social media this week. We now have a Ham Wall Twitter feed, which started this week. Why not follow us for the latest news from the reserve @rspbhamwall or for Somerset reserves in general @rspbsomerset. Feel free to share reserve sightings and photos with us too! We're also on Facebook too.
Anyway, back to the real business of the blog! The 2nd platform area has still been the place to watch this week. Good numbers of waders are popping in and out but some you can pretty much guarantee every visit at the moment - among those include: Black Tailed Godwits up to 110 or more, Greenshank up to 13, Common Sandpiper up to 3, Redshank up to 4 and Lapwing up to 4. Among those seen frequently but perhaps not every day include: Green Sandpiper 1 or 2, Ringed Plover up to 6, Little Ringed Plover up to 3, Dunlin up to 5 and Snipe 1 or 2.
Also this week a visit from varying numbers of Whimbrel. As many as 25 were seen Sunday but numbers of just over 10 on most days (there were certainly a few out there this morning too). Last Friday evening (after blog time) 2 summer plumage Spotted Redshank were seen and they remained there throughout most of Saturday but haven't been seen since. A Little Stint was also seen but may have been amongst birds flushed up by a passing Peregrine on Thursday morning (it could still be around somewhere).
Thursday morning was a particularly good one. 3 Cranes flew over the reserve heading in a southerly direction and were seen by many. This adds to the 6 seen and heard 'bugling' during a flyover on Sunday 24th.
Thursday morning also saw further sightings of Short Eared Owl over Waltons and then in front of the 1st platform before dropping behind the wood near the Avalon Hide. I was unaware of this as I walked around that area and almost trod on it before it flew up and dropped 20 yards or so away from me (a lovely sighting).
Great White Egrets were in front of both viewing platforms for good lengths of time, the same morning as volunteers were out observing Bittern behaviour to see if any nesting has begun. It's a great time of year to see both and over the next month you could almost guarantee a sighting of these two during a visit. Bitterns are being seen a little more frequently and often in pairs, threes or fours and sometimes more as males chase females. 4 were seen from the Avalon Hide on Monday!
Great White Egret: John Crabb
Bitterns: John Crispin
The reedbeds and open water may well be full of life but so too are the tree lines and areas of scrub or bramble. Lesser Whitethroat was seen in brambles close to the rail bridge on Thursday morning by a visitor as were a pair of Bullfinches a little further along to the 1st platform. Close to both platforms Common Whitethroats perform their song flights and perch well for a photo opportunity, while in the trees behind the 2nd platform (by Loxtons) a female Brambling along with a Siskin were spotted by an eagle eyed visitor on Monday.
Within Waltons, it's been a few days since anybody reported seeing the Ring Necked Duck. This of course doesn't mean he's not there (or somewhere locally). It's still worth checking all the Tufted Ducks out just in case he's there. The Grey Herons are now feeding youngsters on at least 2 nests. One very visible along the left hand side of the path to the Tor View Hide (one youngster) and another more distantly from the first 2 screens (2 youngsters).
Waltons also had some rather aggressive Great White Egret confrontations on Wednesday on the islands on the west side. Both Great Crested Grebe & Little Grebe show well from the screens and hide, while there's always a good chance of Cuckoo on a walk round and the Lesser Black Backed Gulls seem to have taken over one of the rafts and were seen mating again here on Thursday.
Lesser Black Backed Gulls: John Crabb
Hobbys are in too with up to 5 seen over Waltons yesterday - expecting a much bigger influx during the next week or so. By then we may actually have some dragonflies and damselflies on the wing. I've still yet to see one although both Variable and Large Red damselfly have been reported. Hairy Dragonfly is imminent (if it ever gets warm enough).
Butterflies are about - most noticeable this week are a few extra Orange Tips. Add to these: Peacock, Red Admiral, Green Veined White, Comma, Small Tortoiseshell and Brimstone and you can begin to build a short list at least.
Brimstone: John Crispin
Also this week: Roe Deer seen around the back of Waltons on Monday (seen several times recently in this area), some very showy Cettis Warblers - most notably around the screens at Waltons (in the open less that a metre away, Common Sandpiper on the Waltons rafts, Swift, Swallow, House & Sand Martins, Wigeon and Pintail from the 2nd platform, Marsh Harriers from the Avalon Hide, Great Spotted Woodpecker and Garganey seen frequently from the 2nd platform this week:
Garganey: John Crispin
That's it for this week. Have a great bank holiday weekend - surely Ham wall is worth a visit!
Another brilliant week on the reserve this week with, once again, loads to report.
Birds of prey feature highly this week, although I'm falling short of photos in this area I'm afraid. Last weekend, Monday and Tuesday saw Short Eared Owl hunting over the reserve (probably 2 different birds here). Three sightings on Monday morning from the first platform and around Waltons followed by a further evening sighting. Tuesday saw another sighting around Waltons but also an Osprey which perched in trees by Long Drove - land south of Waltons. It was also seen over the Avalon Marshes Centre and Shapwick Heath that day.
Thursday morning saw a sighting of female Hen Harrier on the reserve and an hour or so later a Red Kite passed over.
Marsh Harriers are still busy out in front of the Avalon Hide and on the section beyond that which the 2nd viewing platform looks upon. It could well be another 3 active nests this year. Buzzards have again been seen getting a little too close this week before being seen off by the harriers but also a Bittern was circling above the area yesterday (Thurs) before being attacked by a Harrier and bombed constantly for several minutes. The Bittern never reappeared so its fate remains a mystery.
I've still yet to see my first Hobby of the season, although a few have been reported. At least 2 were seen last weekend. No dragonflies yet either, although there was a report of Variable damselfly this week, so with another warm spell plenty more should begin to emerge over the coming weeks. There are plenty of other flying insects for them to feed on though and of course these are enjoyed by the many returning hirundines and Swifts. Plenty of Swallows and House Martins over Waltons feeding this morning with the odd Swift (several were seen on Tuesday morning).
Several other migrating bird species have found their way to Ham Wall over the last week. There has been an increase in the number of Reed Warblers and I've heard my first Sedge Warbler of the year today. Garden Warbler was spotted in the rail path trees yesterday to join the throng of Blackcaps already present:
Blackcap: John Crispin.
Add to this Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff and all the "usual suspects" and there's quite a build up of song on your walk into the reserve.
It would seem the place to head for is the 2nd platform at the moment. There's plenty of mud showing and the Glossy Ibis seems to be loving it and is present very day. There's also been a great selection of waders here too. Of particular note were Black Tailed Godwits of varying numbers but a peak of over 100, Dunlin x1, Redshank x4, Little Ringed Plover x2, Ringed Plover x4, Greenshank x2, Green Sandpiper x1, Snipe x2 and Common Sandpiper x2. These are the peak counts of any one species recorded here this week.
Common Sandpiper was also seen from the 1st platform over Waltons on both Monday and Tuesday. On Tuesday it perched long enough on the rafts in Waltons for John Crispin to grab these shots - thanks John:
Also in Waltons this week is the continued presence of the Ring Necked Duck. It's been seen most days on the east side of Waltons either from the Tor View Hide or lurking up the channels. On the way to the hide look out for the Grey Herons nest on the left (east) clearly visible. As reported last week, a chick was visible from time to time and here's definitive proof sent in by volunteer Rob Balch - thanks Rob:
Grey Heron and chick (nice hairdo); Rob Balch.
Also in the Waltons section this week: Lots of Pochard and Tufted Ducks, Little Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, Great White Egrets, 2 Roe Deer on the back path this morning, a pair of Linnets in the far corner (male in full song and a female with a beak full of food) and 2 Bitterns yesterday perched up and climbing in the reeds right on the edge in the open. Volunteers who were out in the area at the time enjoyed great views through John Crispin's scope but unfortunately he didn't have his camera at the time. Luckily, Andrew Kirby was nearby and got shots of the same incident. Thanks Andrew!
John did did however have his camera on Sunday when he got these shots of a Bittern enjoying some sunshine:
It's always worth scanning the edges of the reed beds on sunny mornings to see if you can spot any sunbathing Bitterns. Mind you, you never know what you might see flying over the reserve these days:
Like this Chinook flying very low over the reserve on both Monday and Tuesday. Pairs of Hercules have also passed over low on several occasions.
There may be a lack of dragonflies still but there are plenty of butterflies on the wing: Peacock, Red Admiral, Comma, Green Veined White, Small Tortoiseshell and Brimstone all spotted throughout the week.
Also this week: Sparrowhawks seen on several occasions, Stoat seen running across the rail path near the 1st viewing platform on Tuesday, up to 3 Garganey and 2 Pintail seen from the 2nd platform this week, Raven flying over on a number of occasions, 3 Yellow Wagtails and 2 White Wagtails from the 2nd platform over the weekend (and a Whinchat on Saturday), up to 4 Great White Egrets seen within Loxtons during the week, Great Spotted Woodpeckers, Siskin by the 2nd platform, Displaying Lapwings (they also chased off crows), croaking Iberian Water Frogs and Bearded Tits seen just beyond the 2nd platform area.
Finally John Crabb sent me these shots of the first Coot chicks of the year - saw some myself in Waltons - perhaps the same ones. Thanks John!
That's it for this week. Have a great weekend!
If there was any lingering doubt that spring had sprung last week - there can be no doubt now. It's been a week teeming with new arrivals and great wildlife sightings. It's hard to know where to start, so lets start with some spring arrivals. Tuesday saw the first report of Cuckoo on the reserve around the Waltons section and I had my first on Wednesday but there were at least 2 more on site. John Crispin took this shot this week and sent it in - thanks John:
Of course these birds use Reed Warblers as one of their hosts for laying eggs and their timing is good as Reed Warblers are also beginning to come in and the reedbeds are becoming a little noisier every day.
Other migrants coming in include more Willow Warblers, the odd Sedge Warbler and further Blackcaps. 3 male Blackcaps were perched on the same tree all singing as loud as they could to out compete each other for the territory - this also including much chasing and scolding but I didn't get to see the eventual winner. Whitethroat have also been seen and as with most years the brambles on the other side of the main drain from the 1st platform is a good place to spot them. One was performing it's song flight there yesterday and making itself very obvious:
Whitethroat - John Crispin
We're still seeing a few Sand Martins and Swallows each day and this morning came the first report of Swift over the reserve.
Other new arrivals include waders on passage. We have lowered water levels in front of the 2nd viewing platform over the last week and there is plenty of mud showing. It's attracted a number of waders although they are a bit in and out or just passing through. A scope is a good idea though and take some time scanning the whole area. This morning saw a Redshank, 2 Lapwing and 2 Black Tailed Godwits but we've also had Little Ringed Plover, Dunlin, Green Sandpiper and Snipe this week (6 were seen from the 1st platform yesterday too).
Some other birds using this area regularly are a little more obvious. The Glossy Ibis is still present every day and usually fairly easy to spot. He was even seen collecting sticks this week - just being optimistic I guess. Great White Egrets are often present and Little Egrets often accompany the Glossy Ibis during the day. Thanks to John Crabb who sent in these pictures from his visit on Tuesday:
Scan over the ducks in here too. Apart from the usual Mallard, Shoveler, Tufted Duck and Gadwall there are still a good number of Teal and the odd Wigeon but also as many as 4 Pintail this week. This morning however saw as many as 6 Garganey (5 drakes and 1 female) feeding in the muddy shallows (a pair were seen displaying over the weekend).
Other obvious signs of spring are of course the booming Bitterns. Staff and volunteers from across the conservation bodies in the Avalon Marshes were out very early on Thursday morning undertaking a bittern survey. The reward (apart from breakfast afterwards) was 45 booming males in the Avalon Marshes (plus 2 at Greylake) - that's 2 up on last year. 19 of these were on Ham Wall and a further 2 on neighbouring plots. Booming Marvelous!!
There are a few more flights being seen too of either individuals or sets of 2 or 3 in a chase. 3 were also reported chasing each other at Greylake this week too.
Other stars at the moment include the Marsh Harriers. The Avalon hide is the best place at the moment, with significant activity from at least 3 birds.
Marsh Harrier - John Crabb
On Wednesday I was close to the reedbeds distant of the 2nd viewing platform. The weather was wonderful and several Buzzards began to circle very high on thermals - I counted at least 9. When some came lower they obviously annoyed a pair of Marsh Harriers and several disputes occurred. The Marsh Harriers won out in the end. This was obviously not the only time this had happened as John Crabb sent me these photos from the previous day - thank John:
Buzzard sent packing...?
A few minutes later a Sparrowhawk also flew overhead - it made for quite an enjoyable lunch break!
It's been a pretty good week for birds of prey all round. A Kestrel was seen in the car park on Wednesday morning and the early morning start yesterday meant volunteers saw Barn Owls in at least 3 locations (including Tinneys ground on the Sharpham road and Tawny Owls were also heard. It's been the Short Eared Owls that have really caught peoples interest though. After last weeks sightings, 2 were then seen from the Avalon Hide on Sunday 10th in the morning, then 2 hunting along the wide strip next to the South Drain visible from the rail bridge as you enter the reserve. Finally, I saw one myself this morning and a traveled around Waltons. I flushed if from the western edge and then again from the south. Keep 'em peeled - they're probably still out there somewhere. Red Kites have also been seen more frequently of late with a sighting on both Sunday and Wednesday.
Waltons is still a good place to sit and watch a while. A Redstart was seen in the north Western corner on Thursday and There are a few pairs of Great Crested Grebes to keep you entertained. The Grey Herons (3 nests) are also still within the reedbeds with youngsters visible in one of the nests (best viewed from the path to the Tor View Hide). The hide's been the place to find the Ring Necked Duck too, although if he's not there a walk around the eastern half of Waltons might be in order (it was seen yesterday but I had a quick scan without luck this morning).
John Crabb also had a visit from a pike towards the Tor View Hide on Tuesday. Monsters of the deep! Ducklings beware!
Pike - John Crabb
Also some nice photos of Gadwall:
Right down the lens. Gadwall - John Crabb
Still looking for my first dragonfly or damselfly of the year but there are steady numbers of butterflies around: Brimstone, Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock, Red Admiral, Green Veined White, Orange Tip and Comma all seen this week.
Also this week: Nuthatch & Treecreeper both spotted in the car park trees, Great Tit continuing to nest build in out nest cam box (beamed to the monitor in the visitor building at the car park), Roe Deer seen around the back of Waltons, Iberian Water Frogs heard croaking, Common Frog, Common Toad and Slow Worm all seen, 2 Bearded Tits seen in front of 2nd platform on Weds, Stock Dove from the woods opposite the 1st platform (also on Weds), 2 Cranes over on Sunday 10th but 11 over together during the week, 2 Water Pipit seen on the mud at 2nd platform & 2 Yellow Legged Gulls reported on the rafts at Waltons on Sunday.
Finally, a nice shot of a nest building Coot. You can see one sat on a nest on the edge cut island in Waltons too:
Coot - John Crabb
That's it for this week - have a great weekend!