Firstly, I must apologize again for the lack of blog in the last 2 or 3 weeks. I've been away on annual leave and despite my best efforts to try and squeeze a blog in before I was away, I failed miserably. Unfortunately, I've given myself a lot to catch up with to catch up with. It's probably best I just give a quick overview of the last couple of weeks and then get back on track with more current news.
Well, the kids are back at school and I guess that kind of heralds the end of the summer and the beginning of autumn - although at times of late it felt like autumn was already here. We're just leaving what is probably the quietest time of year on the reserve and change is in the air. It's been like that for a couple of weeks now but if you look hard enough though there is still plenty to see and thanks to many eagle eyed people reporting back to me there's plenty to report.
Top bird sightings recently include Osprey seen last Friday (and before). It spent much of its time at Shapwick Heath but I believe it moved onward on Monday. The same Friday a Purple Heron was reported over both Loxtons and Waltons. This bird however has not moved on. Its been seen over Loxtons on both Monday and yesterday. It's out there lurking somewhere for a lucky few to see.
One of the biggest changes of late has been the increase in wader numbers. The scrape at Shapwick is easy pickings but we have our fair share too. They are just harder to see. The second viewing platform is the best bet - but you'll need to be patient. We've chalked up a good list recently with 200+ Lapwing regularly using the sight in recent weeks. 26 Knot dropped in on Aug 18th along with a single Ringed Plover and reports of Ruff, Wood Sandpiper (up to 5), Green Sandpiper, Green shank, Redshank and Dunlin all while I was away.
Yesterday saw small groups of Snipe, a Wood Sandpiper and 3 Greenshank but also groups of up to 60 Black Tailed Godwit. A smaller group of 19 were seen on Wednesday and photographed by John Crispin:
The second platform is also the best place to see Great White Egrets at present. On Wednesday 5 were seen together along with 6 Little Egrets but we've some way to go to beat 15 seen by John Crispin on the 12th August.
Also seen from the 2nd platform this week: Ruff, 4 Shoveler, c100 Lapwing, Wigeon and Teal starting to arrive, numerous Gadwall & Mallard but also Bittern Flights and appearance s from Marsh Harrier - both male and female. A Sparrowhawk also flew across on Wednesday.
You may have noticed some changes in the car park. The sewage treatment system for the toilets is in and the toilet and reception buildings are on order. It is hoped that all will be up and running during October - lets hope all goes according to plan.
The car park is still proving an interesting place to get close to nature. Numerous dragonflies are still using the ponds, including Small Red Eyed Damselflies (as well as our usual Red Eyed Damsels) and of course the Iberian Water Frogs.
Iberian Water Frog - blowing bubbles?
The photos show how they can vary in colour. They are a lot quieter now but you may still hear the occasional croak when the sun is shining. The ponds also housed a Green Sandpiper which shot out of the ponds as I walked around on Tuesday morning.
The car park wires have been home to resting Swallows in recent weeks and they can still be seen flitting low over water bodies along with House Martins. A single Swift was reported yesterday from the 2nd platform - they'll all be gone very soon.
Swallows on wires at the car park.
Another visitor that will be on its way soon is the Hobby. There are still a few around though and a fairly good chance of a sighting each day. 3 were seen from the Loxtons screen on Tuesday while one flew obligingly in front of the 1st platform on Wednesday morning. Another recent Loxtons sighting was that of 2 Mandarin Duck, seen resting on the rafts (about 2 weeks ago now) - they have since left however.
I have tried to note which butterflies I've encountered this week but it's a short list - I'm sure you'll have your own to add: Green Veined White, Gatekeeper, Meadow Brown, Common Blue, Speckled Wood and Small Tortoiseshell.
Also this week: Whitethroat seen from the 1st platform, Raven flying over and calling this morning and on Wednesday, Spotted Flycatcher seen in the large oak by the 2nd viewing platform yesterday, Kingfisher in Waltons on Wednesday and this morning, singing Chiffchaff around Loxtons on Tuesday and then later another perched by the hide, Little Grebes in Waltons pools, Grass Snakes, Smooth Newts and Slow Worms all seen and several single Roe Deer on at least 4 different occasions this week. This Roe Buck taken by John Crispin a fortnight ago!
I finally began to cut in front of the 1st platform yesterday. We'll do our best to crack on with it over the next couple of weeks and get things opened up. Volunteers also cut in front of the Tor View Hide yesterday to make things more visible there - there's just a small section left to do. Thanks for your patience while we catch up with work and try to make your visit more rewarding. You'll also notice that the Avalon Hide is well under construction now and is looking great busy and exciting times ahead.
That's it for this week - have a great weekend!
Here are the extra pictures I promised from this years Barn Owl Ringing. Thanks again to Chris Sperring MBE for coming in and doing it with us.
With the weather so changeable it's hard to remember sometimes that it's still August - it's almost felt autumnal at times this week. Although it's a quiet time of year for birds on the reserve there is still plenty to report. A good hunt around different areas of the reserve can bring great rewards.
A good place to start at the moment is the 2nd viewing platform. You have to work a bit harder here than on the Shapwick scrape (currently pumped down quite low) but there are some interesting waders to see. Monday saw 3 Dunlin and a Little Stint while Thursday (and this morning) saw a Wood Sandpiper and a single Dunlin. There have been varying numbers of Black Tailed Godwits present up to 90, maybe more and fluctuations in the number of Green Sandpipers (anywhere between 1 & 6). There are also good numbers of Lapwing spread out in front of the 2nd platform and in the section intermediately before it - up to 200 seen. It may be worth taking a walk down the other side of the drain just to get a slightly different perspective on things - you never know what you might find.
The 1st platform area is still pretty overgrown, but we have now finished building our floating bridge ready for the return of our cutting machine. We hope to access this area as soon as we can and begin the usual cut to open things up a bit. Hobbies are still using the area (and Waltons) quite regularly with as many as 15 reported last weekend. I just had to make do with 2 this morning over Waltons - nice to see though. Last weekend also saw 2 Kestrel reported along with 2 Sparrowhawk (one carrying food) and 20 or more Buzzards. Marsh Harriers have been seen soaring high with buzzards too, as well as giving them some hassle from time to time. There are several Marsh Harriers about due to the successful fledging of our 3 nests and the darker, more plain looking youngsters can be picked out. A male bird flew over the car park this morning and was then seen from the 1st platform.
Also this morning a Night Heron was seen again - and again in was within the Waltons section. Missed it again though.
Bitterns are a little quieter now but there's always the chance of a sighting given the numbers that are present over local reserves. John Crispin snapped this one on Wednesday as it flew out of the reeds in front of the 1st platform:
Great White Egrets are still seen daily - often in good numbers. They do form roosts at night and as many as 18 were reported this week. 12 flew into Ham wall from Shapwick Heath on Saturday 1st, perhaps disturbed by a hot air balloon which passed overhead. 6 were seen feeding together on Ham Wall on Sunday 2nd. One also perched in trees along with 7 Little Egrets at the Central Wood this week.
The 1st platform is probably the best place to catch sight of Barn Owl too. Obviously the later in the evening the better chance you'll have but they have been seen perching outside of the box opposite the 1st platform. It's harder to see now due to the leaves on the trees but it is possible. Barn Owls have been perched outside during the day on a couple of occasions lately. John Crispin manged this shot as he passed the box during a survey. As it saw him though it casually wandered back into the box without a care.
The gloomier weather can sometimes be an advantage. Insects often fly lower and will give you better views of insect loving birds. Plenty of Swift, Swallow and House Martin to be had during these times.
Also this week: several sightings of Raven (up to 3), Great Spotted Woodpecker (up to 6), plenty of mixed tit flocks and Goldfinches, Blackcap, family of Whitethroat in the far corner of Waltons, family groups of Reed Warblers and Reed Buntings too, Roe Deer around Waltons trail and Kingfisher sightings from 1st platform, Loxtons screen and Waltons screens.
The Waltons screens are also great places to see both Little Grebe and Great Crested Grebe with young. John Crispin had some interesting observations of Great Crested Grebes and their behavior as the pictures below show:
He also offered the following commentary which I thought was well worth including - thanks John:
"Both parent Great Crested Grebes share equally in carrying and feeding the whole brood when young are small but later a different system operates in families of 2 or more young. The system is known as brood division, which results in the formation of 2 family sub groups with each parent only feeding their 'own' young and showing hostility to 'other' youngsters if they approach too close. The adult pair bond grows progressively weaker after the brood has been divided unless there is an attempt at a second brood."
In terms of butterflies it's been another steady week. Brimstone, Red Admiral, Peacock, Common Blue, Green Veined White, Gatekeeper, Meadow Brown, Speckled Wood all seen this week and a Jersey Tiger moth on Wednesday.
Dragonflies too are still on the wing and many will be well into October (I even had a Ruddy darter in mid to late November last year): Seen this week: Southern Hawker, Migrant Hawker, Brown Hawker, Ruddy Darter, Common Darter, Black Tailed Skimmer, Broad Bodied Chaser and 4 spotted chaser - I've seen all these around the ponds in the car park this week along with loads of Iberian Marsh Frogs of course. Also this week we've seen Common Frog, Common Toad, Slow Worm and Grass Snake.
Finally I'll leave you with a Starling picture. It shows a young bird with both adult and juvenile plumage - just thought it was interesting. Of course it will be joined by a million or so more over the next few months as the Starling murmurations build once more.
That's it for this week. I'm on annual leave next week but will try to get a quick catch up the following Monday if I can. Have a good week!