There has been plenty of work for staff and volunteers to get stuck into in recent weeks and there's barely been time to draw breath, let alone enjoy the feathery fruits of our labours. Work has continued on the new raised screen at Waltons (the Tor View Hide as it will be known) and the structure itself is now complete (just some fine tuning required and a few benches to make to go inside would be a good idea). The path too has all been laid and just needs a tidy up and some extra screening is required for the walk up. We want it all to be just right before we open it up to the public and with the Christmas break fast approaching this may not happen now until the new year but sooner would be great!
Some good sights have been had from there this week (not just the Tor) - The lovely male Marsh Harrier (dubbed handsome Harry) has been around and showed well over Waltons yesterday, the Starlings dropped down close by yesterday too and swooped low over the reeds several times before settling - the woosh of the wings an amazing sound to hear (it all adds to the experience). Stonechats too have been present all week. Perching up on the tops of reedstems is common behaviour for them and the flicking of the tail is a dead giveaway! It also offers a great photo opportunity. John Crispin captured these shots this week:
Despite the colder weather - there were a couple of nice surprises this week: On Tuesday, despite temperatures dropping to minus 4 or 5, a we saw a Ruddy Darter out on the north of the reserve and later a Red Admiral Butterfly. Also, having mentioned in last weeks blog about a couple of Swallows seen locally, one flew in front of the 1st platform last weekend. Then a second was seen on Tuesday up the the Avalon Marshes Centre in Westhay, where our office and workshop are based. Time for them to get moving on though I think!
Last weekend also saw a female (rintail) Hen Harrier fly in front of the second platform, (I've seen 2 seperate reports of this during the week). The second platform is still offering a nice selection of wintering birds and the first platform is also now offering a similar selection on a slightly smaller scale. At the 2nd, Snipe and Lapwing are more likely and good numbers of Shoveler along with greater numbers of Wigeon and Teal. Although large flocks of c220 Lapwing were passing over Waltons on Thursday on several occasions and were visible from the 1st platform.
The first platform this week has boasted a fair number of Tufted Duck (no sign of the Goldenye amongst them though) and consistent views of Great White Egrets spending long sessions fishing. One in particular must have this as a favourite fishing area. A second bird came in to join it on Thursday but stirred it into action and they both flew off over Waltons and Loxtons and out of sight. Little Egrets are also frequenting the area along with Grey Heron, Shoveler, Mallard, Gadwall, Teal, Wigeon and Black Headed Gulls.
The perching posts in front of the 1st platform offer good views of birds on occasions - used by Grey Heron, Black Headed Gull, Kingfisher and Cormorant. A good opportunity to pick out some of the more distinguishing features.
Kingfishers have again been seen this week. 2 flights along the main drain running parallel to the rail path and heard several times within Waltons this week but just the one sighting myslef despite all the calling.
Also this week: A Jay flying from the Central Wood on Tuesday and in a similar area on Monday, a Green Woodpecker was heard, Great Spotted Woodpecker also seen this week, several Bittern flights throughout the week, with the 1st platform the best bet (4 flights in the morning yesterday), Bearded Tits heard pinging from the 1st platform, a Cettis Warber in full song, Goldcrest heard along the rail path in the trees and on the Otter Survey this week: 2 spraints (Otter poo) and 3 runs recorded - so indication of the presence still.
Goldcrest bathing: John Crispin
Plenty of winter flocks/parties of birds this week including Siskin around Waltons, Goldfinches, Long Tailed Tits, Redpolls c80 near the reserve entrance (search the tops of large Alder Trees around the reserve), Pied Wagtails at dusk and a few Fieldfare. Oh, and of course, several thousand Starlings. Numbers are thought to have doubled over the last week or two with figures of over 200,000 being estimated. The main bulk have been at Shapwick Heath still though, with a smaller roost at Ham Wall. This of course can change at any time so the Starling Hotline is definitely worth a call 07866 554142
The Starling Murmuration begins - Carolin Coward
That's it for now - have a great weekend!!
With the end of the month fast approaching we have been extremely busy trying to complete the new screen and walkway at Waltons. They have now been named too: The Reedbed Walk and the Tor View Hide (it does what it says on the tin). We have until the end of the month to complete the work here due to the planning conditions. Staff and volunteers have thrown several days work into it and we are on the verge of completion. There are still a few more bits and pieces to do but we are confident it will be finished. Stonechats continue to use this area daily and the male Marsh Harrier - looking pristine - often frequents the Waltons area.
The same condtions apply to any works in this phase of the car park build. Staff & volunteers were out yesterday planting around 1000 hedgerow plants with about another 300 to go. This will provide some screening of the development from the road, as well as providing a habitat for many native species. There are pictures of all the above on the Ham Wall Facebook page. If you're on Facebook take a look and "Like" our page to keep up with the latest snippets of information.
Whilst out working at the car park yesterday, I managed to photograph this Red Admiral basking in the sunshine. A few were seen throughout the day but that's probably the last of them for a while as the colder weather takes a grip. It's the first week for some months where I have had no dragonfly sightings.
A report of 2 Swallows locally still shows there are summer visitors hanging on but there is now a distinct feel of winter on the reserve, which is reflected in the bird sightings we are receiving. The area in front of the 2nd platform has been well packed with ducks this week, with notable numbers of Shoveler present each day.
This female Shoveler was photographed by John Crispin this week. John explained how you can clearly see the 'feeding apparatus' which traps the food items on the expulsion of water. This technique is unique to this duck - thanks John!
It's been a pretty ducktastic week. Although the numbers from the second platform can fluctuate, there is usually a fair selection. Several hundred duck are present (with the Shoveler) - good numbers of Wigeon and Teal along with Mallard and Gadwall and even a couple of Pochard on occasion.
The star of the show this week was the male Goldeneye seen from the first platform yesterday morning. It was hidden in amongst Tufted Ducks, and was hard to see when it had its head tucked in, but once again John Crispin has come up with the goods!
Elsewhere, groups of Fieldfare are often seen passing overhead and small flocks of Redpoll and Siskin are being seen along the rail path in the trees (but a group of c50 was seen this morning). Parties of Long Tailed Tits always bring a smile to my face and several were flitting around the Waltons screens on Wednesday with 1 or 2 Goldcrests hidden amongst them. Other Tits and Finches are also often travelling in flocks - Goldfinches in particular are quite regular and in good numbers.
Several days this week have seen large numbers of Black Headed Gulls from the 1st platform with c200 on Wednesday. Our other flocking friends, the Starlings, are still on the increase. Current estimates of 15,000 at Ham Wall & 100,000 still at Shapwick are likely to change quickly as cold weather approaches. The roosts can move location too, so give the Starling Hotline a ring to give yourself the best chance of catching up with them. Some RSPB volunteers have kindly agreed to come out in the evenings - particularly weekends, to be a point of contact for visitors.
Also this week: Raven flying over Waltons on Tuesday, Flocks of Lapwing flying over and using the area in front of 2nd platform (Snipe here too), Tawny Owl heard in woodland directly opposite 1st platform, Bitterns fairly regularly from the 1st platform and in Waltons, Great White Egrets daily, Great Spotted Woodpecker, 2 Roe Deer along the Waltons Trail on Thursday morning, vocal Water Rails within the reedbeds and small groups of Tufted Duck from 1st platform - pictured in flight below!
That's it for now - have a great weekend!
It's been a lovely week out on the reserve this week, with lovely cold, crisp mornings trurning into bright clear days. It's times like this I realise just how lucky I am to work in such a fantastic place. Despite the odd frost, we are still seing a few Butterflies and Dragonflies frerquenting the reserve. Just 1 Migrant Hawker this week but a few Ruddy Darters are still on the wing. In terms of Butterflies there have been several sightings of Peacock and Red Admiral and the odd sighting of Small Tortoiseshell and even a Comma reported.
Red Admiral - Carolin Coward
Once the sun shines through it can be a good opportunity to spot Bitterns from the 1st platform. They sometimes can be seen sunning themselves on the reed edges - so worth having a scan with binoculars. In fact, there have been frequent sightings of Bittern this week, particularly from the 1st platform. Great White Egrets have been seen frequently from both platforms - with this morning no exception. On Wednesday, John Crispin managed to capture some shots of one catching and swallowing an eel from the 1st platform.
Thanks for the photos John!
Another frequent flyer this week has ben the superb looking Male Marsh Harrier. It's looks to be in fantastic condition and is being spotted daily over Waltons and from the 1st platform. On Wdnesday it was being mobbed by a couple of crows, then 3, then 4, then 5 - he gave up at 6 and flew off with the crows still pestering him.
It's been a pretty good week all round for birds of prey, with a Tawny Owl heard calling from some of the reserves woodland on Sunday, a Peregrine seen following a Starling flock on Monday and sightings of Sparowhawk, Kestrel and Buzzard.
Numbers of wildfowl are building slowly. There has been a marked increase for some species over the last month. The WeBS (Wetland Bird Survey) count picked up 66 Shoveler, 28 Tufted Duck and 54 Snipe - noticeable increases on the last count.
Groups of Snipe c25 were seen this morning zipping about in the area in front of the 1st platform, along with several duck species, a group of Cormorants, 2 Pied Wagtails and a Kingfisher perched on the posts (one was also heard around the waltons trail). The other noticeable bird was the large gathering of Black Headed Gulls, either sat on the water or flying and fishing.
Black Headed Gulls Fishing (John Crispin)
The second platform again has the usual array of wildfowl as well as Snipe and Lapwing and as many as 7 Green Sandpipers were seen on Thursday morning. The star of the show was the reappearance of one of the Glossy Ibis, which showed well on Wednesday but has since hidden away again - but there's always a chance!
Also this week: Redpolls on the rail path trees daily, a group of Siskins in the tree line at the back of Waltons on Wednesday, c50 Fieldfare flying over on Monday just before the Starling roost, 2 Stock Doves on both Weds lunchtime and Thursday morning, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Little Grebes in Waltons, vocal Water Rails, a Raven flying over the 1st platform on Wednesday calling, frequent sightings of Stonechat around the new screen at Waltons (it's not finished yet but we are making good progress) and 6 Bearded Tits seen in the smae area on a couple of occasions.
The treeline of the rail path is worth a slow walk down if you have the time. There's always a possibility of birds such as Bullfinch or Treecreeper but equally the "more common" birds: groups of Long Tailed Tits, Goldcrest, Finches, Blue and Great Tit and even the humble Dunnock. Many of these birds, and others, are often overlooked but a closer inspection can reveal lovely markings and colours and even some interesting behaviour.
There has been a large increase in the starling roost over the last week or so. Estimates of around 100,000 dropping into Shapwick Haeth currently and another 15,000 now dropping into Ham Wall from the 1st platform.
The Starling Hotline is up and running 07866 554142 for the last known roost location.
That's it for this week. Have a great weekend!