A bit of a mixed week at Ham Wall this week with some glorious weather for a couple days and a miserable day yesterday. It's been busy though with lots of visitors, including families, over the half term break.
There's been plenty for people to enjoy, with the increase in birdsong of particular note. Just a little reminder that spring is on the way. There seem to be a few Song Thrushes about, with 3 in the car park area, at least one in the footpath trees and another bird near Waltons along the rail path - all perched up high. Wrens again seem plentiful along with blue tit, great tit, blackbird and robin you can get a bit of a chorus. A Chiffchaff has again been heard singing this week. On 2 consecutive days a Red Admiral was seen on the wing in the Central Wood.
Another obvious sign of approaching spring is the boom of the bittern. Several have been heard around the Avalon Marshes including a couple with a good solid boom (one around the Waltons trail) and many others still a bit wheezy - more of a grunt (Loxtons section). Staff & volunteers will be out in the early mornings in a couple of weeks to record the number of males around the whole of the marshes - a 4.30 start is not for the faint hearted however, but so worth it once you're there.
There have been a fair few sightings too - the 1st platform offers a good wide view and therefore a good chance of a sighting. There was even a report of a bittern swimming across one of the channels last weekend. It's not unheard of but very unusual - I've never been lucky enough myself - it must look a little bizarre.
Like Bitterns, we have had Grey Herons nesting in our reedbeds in recent years, within the Waltons section. This year looks to be no different with some significant activity on a couple of islands on the left of the Tor View Hide (this will be a great place to watch them from over the coming weeks).
The 1st platform offers a fair range of species too: Mallard, Gadwall, Pochard, Shoveler, Tufted Duck, Wigeon & Teal all present. Groups of Lapwing seen flying over although less than in previous weeks and a group of 10 Snipe or more circling the reserve but the 1st platform offered good views as they flew in a tight pack. 3 Buzzard also on the wing together on Monday and a well marked male Marsh Harrier was great to see. Great White Egrets also feed in this area frequently.
The 1st platform area and Waltons has been home to Great Crested Grebes lately & they have again been seen going through their mating rituals. John Crispin has sent me the following shots and annotations - thanks John!
Male & Female approach each other in the prone position
When together they start their much seen head shaking.
The male then goes off on a wild run finishing with a great flurry
Both birds then dive and surface with weed
This is in readiness for their famous weed dance
The excited birds usually take a little time to calm down
They then fish and/or swim together
Fascinating birds to watch and extremely handsome. Plenty of fishing to be had at Ham Wall so should be able to raise a successful brood - we expect several pairs around the reserve this coming season. There smaller cousins, Little Grebes are present too - you may be able to hear their whinnying call. c150 Pochard (mainly males) seen late in then day from the 2nd platform on a few occasions - probably coming in to roost, Bearded Tits heard pinging in Loxtons.
The Starlings are still present and have been using the area distantly in front of the 2nd platform - they have been following this pattern for a few days but of course this can change so a call to the Starling hotline would be a good idea 07866 554142. The roost should begin to tail off during the month of March so there's just a little time left to see them this season.
Also this week: Water Rail spotted again from the Tor View Hide, Raven flying overhead, Great Spotted Woodpecker drumming, Sparrowhawk, Water Rails fairly vocal, Roe Deer x3 seen on the north of the reserve, evidence of Otter and Badger around the reserve and a Treecreeper seen and photographed by John Crispin by the ditch between Loxtons & Waltons.
That's it for this week. Have a great weekend!
It may still be February but I'm thinking about the arrival of Spring - one of my favourite times of year. There seems to have been an increase in bird song in the past week, showing I'm not the only one with spring on his mind. Blackbirds, Dunnock, Blue Tits & Great Tits and a multitude of Wrens (I've been seeing a lot on the reserve this week) have all been singing there hearts out at times. Chiffchaff have also been heard in song and a couple of Song Thrushes have been perched in trees by our car park this week belting out their repetitive notes.
It's also a time for Bitterns to get booming, although the early boomers sound a bit wheezy - more of a grunt really. A few have been heard locally already - not unusual for us - they often start in January. There seems to have been a flurry of sightings too this week. Thursday in particular saw many reports from visitors, including at least 3 from the first platform (one pictured below) - maybe the hormones are stirring. Well it is valentines day tomorrow.
Great Crested Grebes are present here too (and in Waltons), although only single birds at each location despite both areas have pairs bonding - including weed dancing and plenty of head bobbing recently. Little Grebe also spotted and heard within Waltons.
Marsh Harriers were seen mating within the Avalon Marshes last week - so perhaps there could be some early starts this season. Marsh Harriers are seen daily at Ham Wall, with at least 2 different birds seen on Thursday - one from the 1st platform and a second well marked male (pictured) over Waltons. Monday saw 5 Buzzards circling over woodland left of the 1st platform with a further 2 perched below in the tree line.
Other birds of prey seen this week include a Kestrel seen daily on wires over the Meare to Glastonbury road (just a single field separates this from the north of the reserve) and a female Merlin seen perched on a fence post and then in flight at Tinneys Ground (the isolated unit we manage on the Sharpham Road). Adjacent to this plot, c250 Lapwing in a field along with Redwings (as last week) but Fieldfare also seen and heard this week.
The most delightful sighting was one brief sighting of an Otter on the central path at Tinneys on Wednesday - they've been seen here before. A well used run and fresh spraint backed up the sighting.
Another mammal sighting came on Thursday in the form of a Weasel, which ran across the pathway leading over the drain from the rail path into Waltons - it soon disappeared into vegetation however. 12 volunteers and I all missed it as I spoke to a visitor called Frank, who was the lucky witness - by the time I'd turned round it was already gone.
Thursday seemed to be a good day all round, with a Great White Egret visible from the 1st platform for most of the day (a Little Egret for company at one point - great for a size comparison). The bird was photographed by John Crispin and it looks to be showing signs of its breeding plumage, with some superb looking feathers, although it's bill is still orange.
There are still plenty of ducks on site, although this weeks WeBS (wetland bird survey) showed a decrease on the January figures - could be the beginning of duck movements back to their natal sights. There's still a fair selection around including Mallard, Gadwall, Teal, Pochard, Tufted Duck, Shoveler & Wigeon including around 30 which I flushed from the base on the posts of the part built Avalon Hide. Plenty of other water fowl nearby too - so looking good.
The Starlings have again been unsettled and have changed location a couple of times. On Wednesday and Thursday evenings this week, the main bulk were at Ham Wall with a smaller roost on Shapwick Heath. There have been birds seen from the 1st platform but another flock further down too. Obviously it makes it hard to keep the Starling Hotline up to date and harder to make it specific but it's still worth ringing if you are planning a visit 07866 554142. The roost will probably begin to tail off during early March so you'll run out of chances soon.
Also this week: Plenty of Snipe on site with 2 flushed from the Waltons cut island, 1 from Loxtons path, 4 from in front of the 1st platform and c15 from a flooded field on the northwest of the reserve, drumming Great Spotted Woodpecker (one in Loxtons on Thursday & one at The Avalon Marshes Centre on Wednesday), Water Rail from the Tor View Hide, Raven in flight , Jay perched and 2 Roe Deer laid down on the side of the rail path close to Loxtons. Finally this week, a great shot of a Cormorant by John Crispin showing off its full adult plumage - a fine specimen.
That's it for this week - have a great weekend.
Work is underway on the Avalon Hide - what will be yet another new addition to the reserve at Ham Wall. It resembles more of a neolithic wood henge than a hide at present but eventually it will be a 2 storey raised hide on a bank overlooking the north of the reserve. 2 bridges are already in place to enable access from the main visitor areas. Starting at the 1st platform you will walk along the old rail track cross the bridge and follow the footpath to the next gate where you will turn left up to the wood, cross another bridge and then follow the edge of the wood round up towards the hide.
The beginnings of the new hide with Glastonbury Tor in the background!
When its finished will depend on the weather conditions being kind so that access remains simple. It's hoped that people will be enjoying the new hide sometime this summer.