Hello all, firstly can I apologise for the lack of blogs lately. I have been away and various other problems have confounded the writing of what is usually a weekly catch up. There's a lot to catch up with but I'll try not to rabbit on for too long.
It finally feels as though change is underway and that summer will soon turn to autumn. We've had a few downpours but relatively speaking it's been quite warm and settled. This mix of sun and showers recently means the vegetation on the reserve is still growing like the clapper as it has done all season. We are doing our best to keep up with the cutting to keep the place looking presentable and access easy. Of course the more infrastructure we have the long this takes (and we'll have a car park to deal with soon too - work is now starting to get underway again here). We have also begun this years habitat management work within the reedbed. The 1st area being tackled is the islands in front of the 1st viewing platform. In a couple of weeks time this will be completed and then water levels raised once more - to increase interest for wintering birds.
The area in front of the 2nd platform has also had water levels lowered to reveal some muddy areas. Many birds are taking advantage of this including the Great White Egrets where as many as11 have been seen this week (including the ringed bird). Little Egrets c10 and Grey Herons are also enjoying the area along with a handful of wader species. A Ruff was around on Monday & Tuesday last week, while varying numbers of Green Sandpiper have also been feeding here (up to 4) and a Wood Sandpiper was seen to drop into an area on the north of the reserve last weekend. 5 Black Tailed Godwits were present recently while Lapwings are frequent visitors (up to 160). In the area just beyond this 6 Snipe were recorded recently too. Many waders are currently being attracted to the scrape at Shapwick Heath where pump repairs have enabled our friends at Natural England to expose some nice muddy areas.
An Osprey is also present, spending much of it's time at Shapwick but the odd appearance over Ham Wall Has been most welcome.
The area in front of the 2nd platform also holds interest for several Mute Swans, c10 Canada Geese & a selection of duck including several male Pochard in eclipse - as many as 13 recorded. One or 2 Shoveler are also present along with a few Teal, while 3 Garganey (one male in eclipse and 2 female or juvenile) were of note this week.
The Common Terns have still drawn plenty of interest in recent weeks seeing off all comers. A Crow and Buzzard amongst those given their marching orders - thanks to Robin Morrison for the photo:
They were still being seen regularly at Shapwick and Ham Wall until last week, having successfully fledged but seemed to disappear around the 18th although 2 were seen again on Tuesday (could be the juveniles). Amazing parenting from these birds even seeing off Peregrines at times.
Some final feeding shots from our raft and the Loxtons pool from John Crispin & Robin Morrison. Thanks for the photos!
Loxtons screen is still a pleasant place to sit and watch a while. Great Crested Grebe chicks were still good entertainment in recent weeks. Plenty of flight attempts (and crash landings) and plenty of feeding from parents. Kingfishers are a regular here too. If your quiet there's a good chance they will perch by the hide and fish from the branches overhanging the water. They've given several visitors a real treat lately.
The place for Great Crested Grebe chicks is now in Waltons from the screens. 3 were riding on parents backs although earlier this week only one was sighted.
One possible culprit could of been an Otter which swam across Waltons last weekend sending the parents into a panic, with much flapping and paddling and very anxious looks. The youngsters were left to fend for themselves (they could of course still be present - further investigation needed).
With the end of summer approaching birds are on the move. A visible migration of hirundines (Swallows and Martins) is underway with good numbers passing through each day - Swifts too are still evident although in smaller numbers. I even had a juvenile Cuckoo on the 13th August at the back of Waltons. There are still reasonable numbers of Reed & Sedge Warblers on the reserve often feeding at the bases of trees, where water levels are lower.
The numbers of Dragonflies is also dropping - a few species can still be seen although some are very worn out such as this Emperor and the Brown Hawker below it.
Emperor looking very worn.
Migrant Hawkers are present in good numbers (a much later dragonfly than the others), while other late season dragonflies Common & Ruddy darter can also be seen along with Southern Hawker. Blue Tailed damselfly, Red Eyed Damselfly and a few Common blue damselfly have also been recorded.
Happily, it's been a better year for butterflies on the reserve. Small Tortoiseshell, Green veined White, Small White, Brimstone and Red Admiral all evident this week and we did have a couple of reports of Silver Washed Fritillary a couple of weeks ago, which was a pleasant surprise.
Green Veined White
As mentioned earlier work is starting again on the new car park (to be completed end November). These Roe deer spotted by Robin Morrison a couple of weeks ago will have to find somewhere else to rest up for a while.
Roe deer buck
The doe - well hidden in the long grass.
Other recent highlights include: the odd Hobby still being sighted. Barn Owls still present and reported hunting during the evenings (between 8 and 10 Owlets from 3 nests this year on Ham Wall), Ravens flying over the reserve, Ringed and Little Ringed Plover both recorded, Spotted Flycatcher and Treecreeper spotted along the rail path trees this week, Water Rails seen from the Tor View hide where we have cut the reeds down, weasel reported this week on the log pile close to the log circle/pond dipping area (stoat also seen recently), Merlin, Peregrine & Sparrowhawk all reported in recent weeks, Marsh Harriers daily and of course Bitterns.
One thing to clear up before I finish. There was very little talk of the Little Bittern this year. The main reason for this was the uncertainty as to where a nest sight would be. No females were recorded this year despite many hours put in by volunteers - although 4 barking males were. Until we know where a nest is located and that eggs/chicks are safe from disturbance etc it is very difficult to report information and manage the situation correctly. As it happens it is our belief that no breeding took place this year but we had to be sure hence no news until very late on. Apologies if you felt were we being over secretive or coy with information but we try to mange this as sympathetically as we can and the welfare and protection of the animal always comes first. Lets hope next year brings successful breeding back to the Avalon Marshes.
On a lighter note here's a nice picture of a wren sunning itself on the old rail path to finish - thought it was a nice shot!
Have a great weekend!
The relentless heat has made it hard work for staff & volunteers this week and not surprisingly many of the reserves birds have been fairly quiet but throughout the week as a whole there is still plenty to shout about. Bitterns are still around but with nesting finished they are going back to their more secretive ways but given the number we have locally there's always a good chance of an encounter.
The Marsh Harriers on the reserve are still active but now almost finished with the nest. The great news is that 4 juveniles were spotted at the nest site yesterday. The male bird has been a prolific hunter and on one visit yesterday flew over the nest site and the 4 juveniles came up to meet him to try and get the food package. As they did this he let it go and all four spiralled down with it - one of them grabbing the reward - must of been fantastic to see (for one lucky volunteer anyway). A female Sparrowhawk was also seen in the vicinity yesterday and from the rail path a male Marsh Harrier with a grass Snake - although this never went back to the nest site. Another Grass Snake was seen swimming in the drain from the rail bridge on Weds.
The Common Terns are still going great guns on the raft in front of the Loxtons screen. 2 well grown youngsters are almost ready to go. They have been seen flexing their wings to build up there flight muscles (pectorals) and have actually lifted off the raft to make very small flights. The last couple of days has seen them taking a bit of a dip in the water too - so it wont be long
Common Tern adult and juvenile earlier this week.
Juvenile in a flap!
In the same area Great Crested Grebe youngsters have also been seen attempting to achieve lift off - getting just of the water on one occasion. At one stage all the birds followed each other flying/running diagonally across the water in front of the screen. It's amazing the behaviour you can witness if you just give it a bit of time.
Great Crested Grebe juvenile attempting a take off!
More good news this week for young birds on the reserve came when we revisited the Barn Owl boxes. On JUne 10th 4 owlets were ringed from on box but at 2 other sites chicks were either too small or still at egg stage. Chris Sperring (Hawk & Owl Trust) came in once again to undertake any ringing of birds and of course we need a licence to check the nests anyway. We took a quick look at the ringed birds from before to double check there was no second brood attempt. There wasn't but fully grown youngsters were still using the box - here's a snap of one (you can see the ring on it's leg). Absolutely pristine condition - wonderful!
The second box we visited - previously at egg stage gave us 2 Owlets which were subsequently ringed (see photo) whilst the last box saw juvenile birds on the wing and too big to ring unfortunately. Chris will undertake another quick watch of the box if he has time to establish just how many yopungsters there are. 3 successful pairs is a reserve record. Many thanks agin to Chris Sperring for giving up his time to help - always a pleasure to have him visit us - such an enthusiastic naturalist.
Although generally it's a quiet time of year for birds (been lots of reports of departing Swifts, Swallows & Sand Martins at coastal locations) there are still plenty of species to look for: Bullfinch & Treecreeper have been seen along the rail path, groups of Tits & finches also seen, Raven have flown over on a few occasiona and Buzzards are a regular. The second platform is beginning to come back into play, as such. Water has been lowered in here over the last couple of weeks and now some mud is exposed - Green Sandpipers x4 and Lapwing c150 have been taking advantage of this so keep an eye out for other waders popping in - there's been a report of a Black Winged Stilt at Shapwick Heath this week so you never know what might drop in.
A small group of Black Tailed Godwits has been see on a few occasions, a Kestrel was spied at the northern edge of the reserve - be great to see them back, Tawny Owls heard and up to 6 Great WHite Egrets from the 2nd platform but in any numbers down to 1 on many occasions this week.
Away from birds there's always plenty to interest someone - Dragonflies are still out in force : Brown Hawker, Southern Hawker, Emperor, Common Darter, Ruddy Darter have all been seen. Damselflies are beginning to fade now although Blue Tailed and Common Blue damselflies can still be seen along with the odd Banded Demoiselle.
Butterflies are more abundant at the moment - there are still plenty of flowering plants around to interest them. In particular Hemp Agrimony often seen growing along the eges of waterways around the reserve - butterflies are particularly attracted to this. Here's an example below as what to look for:
Speckled Wood (above), Small White, Green Veined White, Small Tortoiseshell, Comma, Small Skipper, Small Copper, Peacock, Red Admiral, Brimstone, Ringlet, Meadow Brown & Gatekeeper all recorded this week.
Plenty of other interesting bugs around too (and not all of them bite). Found a large Beetle today and later discovered it was a Musk Beetle - so useful to have a good camera on my phone for such things. I'm going to post it on the Ham Wall Facebook page later if you want to see but may also do a short blog with other interesting mini beats I've snapped over the last couple of weeks very soon. There's a whole new complicated world lurking in the bushes!!
That's it for this week!! Enjoy your weekend!!
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!