Plenty of testing weather on the reserve this week with high winds, driving rain, hail and snow to deal with but none the less we're making plenty of progress. The view from the 1st platform will reveal that work has started on the Avalon hide to the left of the Central Wood. Telegraph poles have been driven in to reveal the outer shell of what will be a raised 2 tier hide. Weather conditions & access issues (eg if tracks are passable) will determine whether it will be finished for early spring or if we will have to wait for the end of summer (as not to disturb wildlife during breeding season).
The Truxor (a floating reed cutter) has also been on site this week - ideal for clearing channels and cutting reed in wetter areas. The contractor has cut some small areas in front of the Tor View hide and the 1st platform to make things a bit more appealing for wildlife and therefore visitors too.
Staff & volunteers have also been busy on the islands on the right side of Waltons. The weather on Wednesday morning & Thursday made it particularly challenging for volunteers who did a great job under the circumstances. We hope to finish this next week and raise water levels once more. This should create some good areas for loafing ducks and Snipe frequently use this area (which we cut annually) once it's cleared.
A few Snipe are out on site but as usual they can be hard to track down - often only flying and becoming visible when disturbed. Lapwings too are in evidence c300 or more, both within the reserve and on its perimeter where they often settle in fields with groups of Starlings.
The Starlings themselves have been a little unsettled of late and have moved from Shapwick Heath to Ham Wall and back again, preferring to use areas towards the western end of the Natural England site. It's probably best to give the Starling Hotline a call just in case, or ask a friendly face when you arrive for advice. HOTLINE: 07786 554142
The reserve still has plenty to offer in terms of wildfowl - both platforms offer a good selection of ducks: Mallard, Gadwall, Wigeon, Teal, Pochard, Tufted Duck and Shoveler seen this week and there's always a chance of the odd Pintail. The following shots show male Gadwall in pursuit of a female (with the orange bill) taken this week:
There is plenty of other evidence of birds looking to pair up too. The odd Bittern has been reported grunting (a weak form of booming) within the Avalon Marshes recently. There have been a few flights from Bitterns this week - the 1st platform a good bet.
From within Waltons Little Grebes have been seen & heard calling for a mate along with the Great Crested Grebe - seen successfully catching fish on Wednesday from the 1st screen. A pair were also seen head bobbing from land adjacent to the south end of Waltons on Wednesday - part of their bonding and mating rituals.
A walk along the rail path can often reap benefits - Bullfinches have again been very evident -a stunning male near the 1st platform on Monday and a pair from the 2nd boardwalk bridge (at the car park) on Wednesday - this has also been a bit of a hotspot for Treecreeper in recent weeks.
Another stunning bird - the Barn Owl was spotted hunting over the southern end of Waltons on Tuesday and then a little later down at Long Drove just beyond Waltons by the large wind pump (visible from the old rail bridge). Another bird was spotted close to Tinneys (on the Sharpham road) later in the week.
2 Fieldfares were also spotted at this end of the rail path on Tuesday, although generally there seem to be very few around this year - probably because it has been much milder than usual. Siskins and Redpolls too are noticeably fewer in number although one or two often hide out in flocks of Goldfinches (known as charms). A large flock of c50 was picked up along the line of hawthorn on the footpath side of the main drain by the wooden entrance gate this morning.
Kingfishers are being seen quite frequently and always brighten up a visit. One was seen from the 2nd screen at Waltons yesterday, where it perched just to the right but out of sight. I myself had a great view of one at the bridge over the drain on the Ashcott Road, where it perched for a while on Tuesday. Often all you see is a flash of blue or hear its whistling call.
Also this week: 2 Ravens flying over on Thursday, daily sightings of Great White Egret often from the 1st platform, daily sightings of Marsh Harrier - several sightings over Waltons this week including a male on Wednesday, Great Spotted Woodpecker, female Reed Bunting feeding on reed heads in front of the 1st screen giving good views and Bearded Tits heard calling within Loxtons.
Finally this week some good news about Otters. This months survey conducted by John Crispin has revealed a significant amount of activity for the month of January. Around Waltons & Loxtons 2 recent spraints (the technical name for an Otter poo) and a grass castle - used to spraint upon to give a better circulation of their scent. On the north side of the reserve: 1 fresh & 2 recent spraints along with 2 grass castles & several good, well used runs. Fingers crossed they use the newly built Otter holt on the reserve in the coming weeks!
That's it for now. Have a great weekend!!
Yet another busy week on the reserve this week, scrub work underway on the old canal bank/footpath side of the reserve and the new small pedestrian bridge is now open. This will eventually allow access to a new hide (the Avalon Hide) which will be built behind the wood diagonally right of the first platform. Preliminary work has begun here by contractors, who will be building a 2 level raised hide overlooking the north of the reserve. We'll update you with some pictures and progress as time goes on. Odd jobs in the new car park continue and it's being used well - lovely to see, and great fro the locals that parking pressure has been taken off the road. There are further developments in this area due to come in over the next few months.
In terms of wildlife, it's equally busy. A cold night last night meant many parts of the reserve had a thin layer of ice and great numbers of duck were squeezed in front of the first platform along with a wonderful looking Great White Egret producing a nice spectacle. This weeks WeBS count (Wetland Bird Survey) showed a large increase in numbers of Teal up from 89 to 616 and Shoveler up from 52 to 346 in particular on the December figures.
Shoveler in flight - the second male in is showing that he has finished his transition form eclipse plumage to his full set of feathers.
Marsh Harrier activity actually slowed down a little this week - possibly due to the Starlings have a week long excursion to Shapwick although on Weds night they seem to have come back to Ham Wall and were roosting in the Loxtons section. So sightings may well be on the up again. Use the Starling Hotline if you're planning a visit - they have been moving around a little the last week but volunteer JohnCrispin does the best job possible in keeping the hotline up to date. The Marsh Harriers are often seen in the morning post roost, searching for dead or weak birds in the reeds. It's always worth scanning the skies when ducks are disturbed too just in case a harrier or a Peregrine for example is present. A Peregrine was sighted on Sunday the 18th and a Marsh Harrier disturbed the wildfowl in this photo snapped by John Crispin this week (good numbers of Teal here):
The large flocks of Lapwing have proved a little more elusive this week - they too often disturbed by birds of prey. The 2nd platform has been a favourite haunt lately but I saw a few hundred in surrounding fields on the north east extremity of the reserve this morning.
The Tor View Hide continues to be popular with wildlife watchers - Barn Owl spotted here on Monday although the owl boxes in front of the first platform are always worth scanning too. A Short Eared Owl was also reported from the same location on the same day but no further sightings to back this up . Water Rails continue to use the areas in front of the hide although we have been pumping down water in this section in readiness for some reed cutting in the coming fortnight. The ends of the islands in front of the hide and screen to the right are planned for cutting to open up some views to visitors.
Great Crested Grebes have returned and love is already in the air. A weed dance was observed here on Monday from a pair and on Tuesday a second pair from the 1st platform have been witnessed head bobbing as the old pair bonds are reinforced. It's certainly something to brighten up your day if you witness it!
It's a bit thin on the ground for mammals at the moment although an Otter was seen at our Long Drove plot in Sharpham on Monday and Roe deer x3 on the north of the reserve the same day. There's plenty of signs of badger activity though at several locations around the reserve. The spring will certainly bring more variety to the blog with reptiles, insects and small mammals awakening from their winter slumber
Away from the water, it's always worth checking the tree lines along the old rail path. Bullfinches have been sighted frequently this week, particularly on the stretch from the road to the 1st platform. While Treecreeper was sighted again from the 2nd boardwalk bridge from the new car park.
There are plenty of flocks of small birds too - Goldfinches in particular (scan these for the odd Redpoll) and mixed tit flocks. Again, scan these as you never know what could be tagging along - this week both Goldcrest and Chiffhaff have been seen. Take a close look at these too as this week both Firecrest and Siberian Chiffchaff have been reported locally (Shapwick Heath and Westhay for example).
I think this Long Tailed Tit has been snapped coming into land - rather than sat on an invisible branch. Groups of these frequently follow the tree lines on the reserve and bring a smile to many faces.
That's it for this week - have a great weekend!
This Coot had a lucky escape as he avoided the clutches of a Marsh Harrier on the reserve this week. This was witnessed and Photographed by John Crispin at the 2nd viewing platform, who sent me the following photo sequence. Thanks for the photos John! Of course, the Coot may not be so lucky next time!
He lives to squeak another day!