It may not feel like it - having just had the hottest day of the year so far, but there are a few reminders that Autumn will soon be on the way. The majority of our birds have finished their breeding - most notably the Bitterns. No feeding flights from females now but there are still birds moving about frequently throughout the day (7 flights recorded in a few hours just from the 1st platform yesterday). It's worth spending a bit of time at the 1st platform despite the amount of growth which has shot up recently.
Bitterns occasionally can be seen sunning themselves in the reeds here and one landed directly in front of the platform, close in, this morning. It's also a good place to spot Marsh Harriers - often seen hunting low over the reedbed. There has also been sightings of juveniles (x3) close to the wind pump that can be seen distantly from the platform.
Another sign of impending Autumn comes with the increase in wader activity, showing that birds are on the move. Common Sandpipers have been seen on a few occasions this week - often on the small rafts in Waltons: 4 were there on Sunday. Green Sandpipers are more prevalent with as many as 7 seen from the 2nd platform this week and 3 within Waltons on Sunday. Lapwings are also frequenting the area by the 2nd platform c50 the max count and 22 Black Tailed Godwits yesterday (c20 from here on Monday too and 13 this morning). The odd Snipe has also been reported.
We are slowly draining water from this section at the moment so the exposed mud should draw in more waders over the coming weeks.
We are also taking water from the area in front of the 1st platform in readiness for management work early next month - this should open the area up nicely for a winter bird spectacle.
Some birds are still busy feeding young - the stars once again are the Common Terns. They continue to be very protective of their youngsters (x2), who are growing well. There's been plenty of preening, wing stretching & flapping and one chick even made a duck move - just like the adults do. The adults do tend to tolerate the nearby Cormorants and ducks but occasionally when taking off to feed will fly at them forcing them to vacate their raft for the water. Some great pictures below from both John Crispin & Robin Morrision taken this week - many thanks to you both:
Adult in flight
Wing stretching from a chick - primary feathers beginning to show!
Adult with fish
Doesn't look the most comfortable way to be flying but great parenting none the less.
Another gullet stretching shot - this time of the Great Crested Grebes. There are adults with young in both Waltons and Loxtons and are quite easy to see, This adult caught quite a large fish but kept it all to itself rather than feeding the youngster - perhaps to encourage it to try feeding for itself.
The warmer days are making it easier to see butterflies - several species spotted on the reserve this week: Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock (probably the most common at present), Red Admiral, Small White, Green Veined White, Speckled Wood, Meadow Brown, Gatekeeper, Ringlet, Small Copper, Small Skipper and Comma all recorded.
Dragonflies too are still busy although some species have finished for this year now (a couple are just starting too). Emperor, Southern Hawker, Brown Hawker, Common Darter, Ruddy Darter, Black Tailed Skimmer, Scarce Chaser, a late 4 spotted Chaser, Blue Tailed Damselflies (but reducing in number), Common Blue Damselfly, Banded Demoiselle (25-30 seen at the gateway to Tinneys ground on the Sharpham to Walton village road) and Red eyed Damselfly all seen.
Ruddy darters (pictured below) are just getting started really and look out for Migrant Hawker too - another late one.
Groups of birds are beginning to gather together a bit now - particularly the tits with mixed groups spotted - but plenty of long tailed. The rail path is still a good place to take a slow walk - you never know what you might see. Bullfinch, Goldcrest, Treecreepers Great Spotted Woodpeckers and Spotted Flycatchers have all been spotted in the last week. Birds are also dusting themselves off on the trackway too - often finches but yesterday several Wrens were spotted doing this.
This Song Thrush was also seen out sunning itself: Sunning can help dislodge feather parasites. The excess heat can encourage them to move to other places in the plumage where it may be easier to preen. It's essential for birds to get rid of these parasites which infest their feathers causing problems with flight, insulation and appearance which all impact on their survival.
Also this week: Otter seen on the middle track at Tinneys, 14 Greylag Geese flying over this morning, a female/juv Garganey seen from the 2nd platform (it had pale lores), Great White Egrets regularly seen but 2 yesterday (One with orange bill, one with black), several Buzards seen flying high often in small groups, 2x Kestrels from the car park on Saturday and Sparrowhawk from 1st platform the same day, occasional Hobby, Jays from the 1st platform & the Sharpham end of the track and juvenile Cuckoo seen along the Ashcott Road - we had one within Loxtons last week too which I omitted to mention in the blog - apologies.
That's it for this week - have a great weekend!
There's a distinct feeling that everything has just slowed down a little on the reserve the last week or so. That's normal for this time of year - many birds have finished their breeding and are resting up - regaining strength & condition to prepare for the autumn & winter months (a fair way off yet admittedly).
Bitterns have all but finished breeding but a few flights are still being seen and what could be juvenile birds are often seen popping up out the reeds from the 1st platform. In fact on a couple of the islands, with the lower vegetation, they have been seen out in the open for long periods - nearly 2 hours on Weds and over an hour yesterday. This morning saw one crash land into the reeds and then stand out on the edge - just visible, to give some visitors a treat. A second bird was also seen briefly on the island behind.
Marsh Harrier (female) was also seen around this time and at one point landed very close to the first Bittern - waiting a couple of minute before flying off again.
Many of the ducks on the reserve of course are in eclipse, making flying more difficult until their feathers are renewed - also can make identification a little more difficult too.
Male Mallard in eclipse.
The 1st platform also turned up some Bearded Tits this morning. They could be heard calling (pinging) more than a dozen times in the reeds with dead stems, just in front and to the right of the platform. Just a couple of brief sightings were had though - they were also there on Wednesday - so could be worth a look.
Bearded Tits were also heard (but not seen) near the Tor View Hide yesterday - it's not often they venture over this side, so it was nice to hear them. The Tor view Hides has plenty to offer (as well as some shelter from the sun). Water Rails (inc juveniles) can be heard frequently here and are occasionally seen (directly down in front of the screen on the right as you enter). One juvenile was also seen on the track by the hide entrance this week. A mink was nearby but was luckily scared away by a visitor in the hide.
Otter have also been seen from the hide recently and one swam within Waltons on Saturday - always jealous to hear about an Otter sighting. Also from the hide: Great Cested Grebes & Coots with young, Pochard, Great White Egrets and Marsh Harriers flying over and perhaps more spectacularly - Night Herons (x2) on Tuesday after 9pm. Single birds were also seen on Monday & Weds evenings to add to the 3 seen last week. Another unusual spot this week was a Red Footed Falcon seen once (maybe twice) on Tuesday from the 1st platform.
Common Terns pass over Waltons ocasionally but are mainly concentrating on the areas around Loxtons close to their nest on the raft (in front of the Loxtons screen). The 2 chicks are still present and the parents are still chasing anything and everything away (including a 3rd adult Tern). Marsh Harriers, Crows, a Sparrowhawk and Lesser Black Backed Gulls have all felt the wrath of the parents for coming too close - with behaviour like this these chicks have a really good chance of survival.
Common Tern sees off a Lesser Black Back Gull
From the 2nd platform, you should see some changes soon. We are starting to draw water down slowly here and some fringes of mud are showing. Little Egrets and Great White Egrets were feeding here today along with a Green Sandpiper. These have also been seen eslewhere on the reserve this week (x3). In the drier area more distant from the 1st platform (left of the central wood) groups of Lapwing are still feeding with upwards of 40 seen along with the odd Redshank & Snipe - you may see them if they get disturbed. Starlings are also amongst them and a very small nightly roost already exists on Ham Wall of an evening - a gentle nudge,as a reminder of what's to come.
The evenings also bring the chance of Barn Owls - although this could be late evening given the good weather. The boxes will be checked for the second time on July 22nd - with hopefully some good news to report and owlets to ring.
Elsewhere: Spotted Flycatcher seen near the car park and along the rail path (between the 2 platforms), Bullfinches along the 1st stretch of rail path down to the 1st platform, Treecreepers towards the other end of the rail path where a Nightingale also sang on Saturday (beyond the 2nd platform) and the same day a Mistle Thrush flew over Waltons. Hobbies were active from the 1st platform earlier in the week and seen over Loxtons on Thursday, a Sparowhawk flew over the rail path on Wednesday too. Lots of juveile birds to be seen around the reserve like this Reed Warbler:
Insect life is still good on the reserve and in particular it's been a good week for Butterflies: Red Admiral, White Admiral, Peacock, Green Veined White, Meadow Brown, Speckled Wod, Ringlet, Comma, Small Tortoiseshell and Gatekeeper all seen this week. Silver Washed Fritillary & Purple Hairstreak also reported from areas of Shapwick Heath.
Dragonflies are also very evident with: 4 Spotted Chaser, Banded Demoiselle, Common Blue Damselfly, Blue Tailed Damselfly, Common Darter, Black Tailed Skimmer, Scarce Chaser, Emperor, Brown Hawker & Southern Hawker all seen this week.
I managed to get quite a nice shot myself with my camera phone of a female Emperor close up. She had caught a Black Tailed Skimmer and was so busy devouring it, she barely noticed me.
That's it for another week! Have a great weekend!
After the flurry of activity over the last few weeks with breeding birds frantically feeding young, it finally appears things are beginning to slow down a little. The reserve has been a little quieter over the last couple of days - this doesn't of course mean there's nothing to see - that's rarely the case at Ham Wall.
There are still a couple of active Bittern nests - the first platform still a good place to wait. A Bittern was seen roaming one of the islands on Wednesday but with the explosion of growth around the reserve lately, all you could see was its head popping up occasionally (the same with a Grey Heron today but a Bittern did fly in and crash into the reeds). We aim to start cutting the growth here in about a month to get it nice and open for the winter months so there'll be plenty to see. Booming has pretty much stopped now - don't remember hearing one this week and birds in general are a little quiter. Some Reed Warblers can be heard chattering away still - this could indicate they are into a second brood, while there have been very few Cuckoos heard this week - although there have been a few sightings.
One bird that is breeding a little late is the Common Tern. The pair on the Loxtons raft (visible from the Loxtons screen) finally hatched their 1st chick on Tueday. We immeadiately sprung into action and with hard hats and goggles on for our own protection from these fiesty birds we rowed out to place heavy ridge tiles on the raft as a refuge from predators for the chicks. I say chicks as there are now 2 on the raft. This is a first for the reserve so we are very pleased.
One of the chicks with its parent
The terns are very protective of the nest site and have been seen chasing all sorts off - most notably Marsh Harriers. A female across Waltons today & 2 different Males across Loxtons yesterday. The female spent a long time hunting over Waltons today despite the attention of the terns and showed well from the Tor View Hide.
The hide also offered Water Rail with young very close by - heard but not seen unfortunately, Bitterns, Great White Egrets and Great Crested Grebes with young (also visible from the screens along with young Coots and Moorhens). In fact there are plenty of young birds to see currently including this Kingfisher snapped by John Crispin in Loxtons this week.
Most notable features to suggest that it's a juvenile are: the white tip to its bill, brownish feet as opposed to the red of the adult and the slightly duller colour to its plumage. Kingfishers can also be seen in Waltons and from the rail bridge quite regularly.
While the Common Tern chicks were hatching, it was around this time that the Spotted Flycatcher youngsters were readying themselves to fledge from their nest in trees on the rail path (adjacent to Loxtons). John Crispin managed to grab these shots this week of the adult and of youngsters in the nest - lovely.
Adult Spotted Flycatcher
Youngsters in the nest
Another shot of the nest
The rail path is often a good source of small birds - with all the "more common" species seen along here but also Treecreepers (including near the new car park field) and Bullfinches (often between the Car Park and the 1st platform). Also had Bullfinches in the current car park this morning. In the winter months look out for Redpolls & Siskins along here. The rail path threw up a nice surprise yesterday evening with 3 Tawny Owl chicks (one seen) calling for food (the 2nd time in as many weeks this has happened)
Barn Owls are still being seen regularly hunting and carrying food back to 3 known nest sites on the reserve - another record for us. Owlets in one nest have been ringed but the other 2 were some way behind. Chris Sperring from the Hawk & Owl Trust should be back in to ring the rest in a couple of weeks.
It's been a good year for dragonflies it seems with still plenty on the wing including the big hawkers: Brown Hawker, Southern Hawker, Emperor, Black Tailed Skimmer, Scarce Chaser, Common Darter, Broad Bodied Chaser and 4 spotted Chaser all seen this week along with Blue Tailed Damselfly, Common Blue Damselfly and Banded demoiselle.
Female Black Tailed Skimmer
Butterflies are also in evidence with Large White, Green Veined White, Specked Wood, Small Tortoiseshell, Red Admiral and Comma all seen this week. Also look out for the hoards of hungry caterpillars on nettles - these are either Peacock or Small Tortoiseshell caterpillars (peacock being black and spiky).
Also this week: quite remarkably 3 Night Heron seen over the 1st platform Thursday night (going towards Street Heath area) to add to the one of last week, Raven from 1st platform on Wednesday, Sparrowhawk from 2nd platform, beyond 2nd platform and just to right (our composting area) Green Sandpiper and Grey Wagtail seen, Whilst beyond areas in fron of 1st platform c80 Lapwing, 4 Redshank and 2 Snipe (and several Pied Wagtails in an area of exposed mud, Marsh Frogs from the screens and Bearded Tits heard from the 1st platform (and seen by guided walk members on the north of the reserve last weekend.
Another highlight was a Grass Snake resting on the culvert pipe which passes under the crossing to Waltons from the rail path - unfortunately it didn't stay long!
Have a great weekend everyone!