Don't seem to have had much time for actually getting out on the reserve this week and seeing what's about. A training course took up Tuesday and we've spent a good couple of day doing odd jobs in the new car park area. Things are starting to come together but there's still a fair bit to do. The contractors should be in Monday & Tuesday to finish the surfacing and infilling - once this is leveled out and tidied up it should start looking a lot more like a car park. I'm not making any predictions about an opening day - there may well be unforeseen delays but early December is what we're aiming for.
Thursday was a glorious day and helped us achieve a lot in the car park. During the day I was surprised to still be seeing dragonflies on the wing. One single Ruddy Darter & a mating pair were present and there were several sightings of Red Admiral Butterflies too, enjoying the sunshine. The pools are coming to life too with many water loving invertebrates residing within but also both Marsh Frog and Common Frog spotted - time to start thinking about somewhere to hibernate you'd think!
The early part of the week saw the return of a few passage waders including Ruff, Dunlin & Green Sandpiper all recorded from the 2nd platform (Ruff & Dunlin also seen within Loxtons). The trail & screen are still closed due to the track repairs but bottom path still open. A Spotted Redshank was also sighted last Saturday (15th) from the 2nd platform too and I flushed a group of 19 Snipe from a splashy field distant of the 1st platform this morning.
Wildfowl numbers are now on the up with significant gains in the numbers of Wigeon & Teal (c360) in particular. These are accompanied by Tufted Duck, Pochard (6 males), Gadwall, Mallard & Shoveler. Lapwings at the 2nd platform are adding both colour and noise and when, on occasion, they fly en masse it provides a wonderful spectacle to enjoy - particularly when the sun is shining.
On Wednesday there were several Tawny Owls heard calling (first thing in the day) from the first strip of wood on the left (Westwood) from the Central Wood and from the copse just after the rail path bridge on the right. Just before the rail bridge a Song Thrush was singing the same day. Another was singing up at our workshop area at the Avalon Marshes Centre on Thursday and today a Mistle Thrush calling and flitting about in a large Holly bush in the garden opposite.
Bitterns have been sighted on several occasions this week - luck of the draw whether you are in the right place to see them though. Daily sightings of Great White Egret - 1st or 2nd platform where they show well - particularly early morning where they may be seen stalking in the shallows closer to the platform.
Marsh Harriers are also being sighted on a daily basis - there are plenty of targets for them to hunt at this time of year.
Also this week: 2 Roe Deer seen running along the top edge of the Waltons Trail, Kingfishers in Loxtons and from both platforms, Greylag Geese earlier in the week from the 2nd platform, a pair of Stonechats at Tinneys (the isolated plot on the Sharpham to Walton village road), Great Spotted Woodpecker, Sparrowhawk and an increase in Fieldfare & Redwing numbers(c40 and c20 respectively seen on Thursday).
Starlings numbers are still climbing c400,000 is the number being banded about. The flock is still split a with a group still at the Meare Heath section of Shapwick Heath and 2 groups on Ham Wall - the first at Waltons but probably the biggest was towards the far end of Ham Wall (past the 2nd platform) where large numbers were seen funneling over the rail path on Thursday evening. Remember they can change roost sites at any time so this (and the Starling Hotline message) is just a guide to try and help. The Hotline is worth ringing and is updated frequently thanks to volunteer John Crispin : 07866 554142
Finally, away from Ham Wall, a couple of shots of the Cranes to finish with.
These were taken near Martock in an area the birds have been using for a while. They have however been seen recently from Stathe/Oath on the River Parrett Way. We are so privileged to have such a wonderful array of species to enjoy in our Somerset countryside and on our reserves!
Have a great weekend!!
A week more in keeping with the time of year this week. Some very rainy days have not dampened our spirits however and there's plenty to report as always.
Very little progress with the car park this week as we await more material to infill the, soon to be planted blocks, between parking areas. The surface then needs grading to get a level finish. Early December now looks the best bet with toilets to follow in January as things stand. Staff and volunteers have been in and made a start on a few other things though, as we prepare for opening.
Work has also started on the Loxtons trail. All but the bottom path is closed at the moment as work is carried out to raise the height of the path, to alleviate the flooding problems we have experienced in recent years. Signage is in place and machinery is working on the banks so please don't pass the barrier tape for your own safety. Sorry for any inconvenience as the work is carried out but a fully functioning path should be up and running in a few weeks.
There's a good variety of bird life to spot at the moment. From the first platform a Kingfisher this morning and a range of wildfowl was present: Mallard, Gadwall, Shoveler, Teal, Wigeon and Tufted Duck all very visible this morning. Last weekend saw 17 Pochard also present before they took off and headed west. Not before John Crispin took this shot however:
The WeBS (Wetland Bird Survey) carried out this month showed an increase on October numbers of Teal, Shoveler, Tufted Duck & Lapwing while a small decrease in Gadwall & Wigeon numbers. Lapwings are very prevalent at the moment - particularly in the imaginatively titled 'Phase 2' section. This is the recently cut and flooded area between the 2 platforms. A couple of hundred are present here on most days and are often joined by several Pied Wagtails and the occasional Meadow Pipit.
A short walk on to the 2nd platform brings further rewards with a group of c60 Greylag Geese now quite settled here. First seen last week they were still present in the sunshine of what was a glorious autumn morning today. A Great White Egret was also present along with a few Little Egrets, several Lapwing and the usual Wildfowl. I could also hear a few Canada Geese but was heading away from the area and did not see them.
My walk also rewarded me with a beautiful looking male Stonechat. These have been seen just beyond the area that the 1st platform faces on numerous occasions recently. A pair is present here. These birds often flit from the top of one reed stem to another and can be seen to flick their tail - a nice characteristic. We often see them in the Autumn and Winter months.
A nice comparison - they are even sat on the same piece of Reed mace.
Another autumn/winter visitor - the Fieldfare has been seen in good numbers this week. c100 flew across the reserve on Wednesday but a few smaller groups have also been seen. On occasions a few Redwings are among them.
Our most famous winter visitor is of course the Starling. numbers are growing and estimates of between 300,000 - 400,000 are being talked about. The flock has been slightly split though - some at Shapwick (Meare Heath I think) and Waltons at Ham Wall. The morning take off is impressive too and on Thursday a glorious red sky was present just before the event but unfortunately faded before take off to the disappointment of photographers. Remember the Starling Hotline can be used as a guide to help you find the roost. They can move around a bit but this will give you the last known location - 07866 554142
Also this week - several Chiffchaff about including one this morning feeding in a willow tree, 3 Dunlin on Loxtons on Sunday 9th, several Snipe c20 disturbed by me this morning on the north of the reserve with my machine, Great Spotted and Green Woodpecker heard in our wet woodlands, Red Admiral butterflies on the wing this week (several in the sun this morning), Marsh Harriers daily including a well marked male from 1st platform on Thursday, juvenile Buzzard still calling from our woodlands for long periods, Grey Wagtail in our composting area (close to 2nd platform area) and Bullfinch by the station cottage on the rail path (often seen on the stretch from the car park to the 1st platform). Occasional Bittern flights too, including 2 flying right to left in front of the 1st platform on Monday.
Forgot to mention a Water Pipit seen last week (sightings this week on Shapwick Heath reminded me). The flooded area between the 2 platforms (phase 2) might be a good place to search.
Finally this week a photo of a Pheasant on the wing after a fight with another male - the feathers in the beak tell their own story!!
That's it for this week - have a great weekend!!
Follow the link to listen to radio 4's Living World programme featuring Chris Sperring interviewing Ham Wall volunteer Andre Blacker as they search for Great Crested Newts on the reserve this Autumn.