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.
The colder weather has seen some significant changes on the reserve over the last couple of weeks. Temperatures have dropped steeply for a few nights and it may have finally put pay to the majority of the remaining dragonflies we had on the reserve. Migrant Hawker and Ruddy Darter have both been seen this week however but in reduced numbers. Butterfly numbers have dropped too with my only sightings this week being of Red Admirals - including one in the new car park area this morning. A Hornet was also seen. Work has slowed here this week as we await more deliveries of soil for the infilling of the planted areas. Next week we plan to start doing some work in there ourselves to get things ready and in order for our visitors. The aim is still to get some part of the car parking open by the end of the month - this of course is dependent on some contractor work and things running smoothly but it will certainly be a blessing to relieve some pressure on the road in terms of parking. Other more minor works within the car park will then continue over time.
As is the way of things at this time of year, birds are on the move. A Goldcrest or 2 has been seen this week - possibly migrants and it's still possible to catch sight of a Blackcap or Chiffchaff - both of which have begun to overwinter in recent years. A significant rise in Starling numbers often coincides with colder weather but it's hard to estimate numbers of birds on this scale. A figure of 200,000 has been mentioned this week but perhaps the best way is to come and witness the event for yourself and make your own best guess.
This picture was taken last Saturday morning from the 1st platform as the birds lifted off. They had previously been at Shapwick, so they can move around the local area a fair bit whilst roosting. The best thing to do is to phone the Starling Hotline, where a recorded message will give you the last known location of the roost - 078Of course if they move roost sites and you are in the wrong place you can always come back in the morning before first light and witness them take off - you'll know where they went down even if distant from you, so you can guarantee seeing them (like the picture above).
Autumn sees a lot of movement form birds - wildfowl numbers are increasing slowly (eg numbers of Teal & Wigeon) and various waders can be spotted from time to time. This week 3 Little Stint were spotted at Loxtons - they were present on Sunday and Tuesday, while Weds saw an individual bird. Tuesday also saw a single Dunlin at the same location but no sign of the Spotted Redshank from last week. Lapwings are gathering at both Loxtons and from the 2nd viewing platform c150 and a few Snipe at both locations too.
The Loxtons screen is still a great place to sit a while. Marsh Harriers have been active here this week and you can almost guarantee a Kingfisher sighting given enough time. 2 were seen together on Tuesday. A Water Rail has been seen a couple of times flying from right to left to the exposed mud on the left hand side. Have a little patience and you may be rewarded with the same or gain views of the bird feeding.
2 Little Egrets frequent the area daily and often a Great White Egret pops in (although the 2 platforms may be a better bet for this bird) and Mallard, Shoveler, Teal and Tufted Duck can all be seen and have Little Grebes, Cormorants, Lapwing and Black Headed Gulls for company. Bearded Tits have been spotted here occasionally (2 flew in front of the screen on Tuesday) & Bitterns too make the odd appearance as the shot below shows:
From the 2nd platform - a selection of wildfowl, Snipe & Lapwing already mentioned and last weekend a group of around 50 Greylag Geese dropped in - a wonderful sight. John Crispin grabbed these shots of the action (Thanks John!)
Also this week: Lots of Shoveler from the 1st platform, a pair of Stonechats seen from the same location on Saturday (1st), Great Spotted Woodpecker & Green Woodpecker yesterday (Thurs 6th), c300 Canada Geese on Wednesday morning between the 2 platforms in flight, Redwing, Fieldfare and Redpoll all seen locally so it wont be long before we see good groups on the reserve, lots of pied wagtails in areas where water levels are on the rise, large groups of Long Tailed Tits, Common Frogs & Toads seen whilst moving logs on Thursday to create habitat piles in our wet woodlands, Raven flying over and a Weasel seen running over the rail path (as last week).
That's it for this week - have a good weekend!!