This will probably be the last blog before the Christmas break arrives - it will return in January!!
The biggest news of the week is that we have opened the new car park. There's still some finishing touches to do but we wanted it to be open in time for Christmas, as this will be a busy time with many visitors wanting to see the starling roost. There is an automatic gate which closes at the stated times so please make a note of these before you leave for your visit. We have been featured on ITV West this week, thanks to the Starling photos by Robin Morrison (featured in the blog about 3 weeks or so ago). They became a bit of an internet hit on social media so a film crew followed Robin onto Ham Wall seeking out the roost. It's worth a watch if you search for it (it's also on our Facebook page).
The Starlings are still a bit split up at the moment. There are reasonable groups at both Ham Wall & Shapwick Heath. Slightly more on Meare Heath on Shapwick and some birds were in The Roughet just beyond Noah's Lake also on Shapwick Heath. At Ham Wall you can see the group at close quarters, with all the chattering noise, with the Walton Heath reedbed - easily viewed from the rail path or the Tor View Hide.
Whilst you wait keep an eye out for birds of prey. Sightings of Sparrowhawk & Peregrine are quite common around roost time (PM & AM). This Peregrine was photographed by John Crispin this on Sunday morning:
The same morning a Buzzard flew in very close over the first platform giving good views of its underwing patterns, as shown in the photo, again from John Crispin. A Buzzard has also been loitering frequently in the car park area and a Sparrowhawk shot across the area too yesterday (18th). The morning is a good time to come and see the Starlings (take off) and also a good time to see Marsh Harriers hunting over the reedbeds.
Numbers of duck on the reserve are staying fairly steady. There's a good mix to be had across the reserve - the 2 platforms offering good vantage points. Mallard, Gadwall, Tufted Duck, Pochard, Wigeon, Teal & Shoveler are all present and fairly easy to spot. Lapwing numbers too are perhaps even climbing slightly - there's at least 300 on the reserve regularly - the 2nd platform a good spot. The second platform too for noisy Canada and Greylag Geese.
Great White Egrets are a real bonus for the local reserves - your chances of seeing one during your visit are quite high. The 2 platforms again offer the best chance - the often feed out in the open giving visitors a great view of this majestic bird.
One sighting missed from last week was a report of an immature Purple Heron seen just south of the rail bridge between the car park & the 1st platform. Not sure it's been seen again but you never know. Things can easily disappear into this ever growing wetland landscape.
Not sure the cold has really hit the continent yet as I've not yet seen the large numbers of Fieldfare and Redwing that I would normally expect - there's still reports of Blackbirds in people's gardens in Sweden (they've normally left by now). Small groups did fly down the rail path yesterday - seen in groups of trees by the new car park in the late afternoon. Groups of Redpoll - again less than usual were also spotted. Groups of Goldfinches and Long Tailed Tits or mixed tit flocks are more common (- it's worth scanning these groups to see if anything more unusual is tagging along).
Also this week: Song Thrush seen on the rail path on Wednesday, Bullfinch seen in the rail path trees on a couple of occasions, Kestrel reported last weekend but there are a couple close to the reserve seen regularly (the Meare to Glastonbury road in particular), Great Spotted Woodpeckers heard calling (drumming last week), occasional Bittern flights, Little Grebes in Waltons, plenty of Water Rails calling (worth a wait at the Tor view hide for a possible sighting), Raven flying over on Wednesday and plenty of Christmas Robins following as as we work.
That's it for now. Merry Christmas everybody!!!
The weather this week has certainly reminded us that it's winter. Although the WeBS count (wetland bird survey) for this month was slightly down on Novembe,r the winter pattern of species on the reserve continues.There have been fluctuations in the numbers of wildfowl visible from both platforms (the second platform in particular) though. On a good day there's a lot to scan through (worth doing as you never know what might be lurking) but on other days it can be quite sparse. Some birds are quite hidden though - the section beyond the 2nd platform looked quite empty during the WeBS but 100 Gadwall flew up from channels with the reed - so you can never be sure what's around - a Green Winged Teal was reported last weekend but not spotted since.
Generally there's a good selection however: Wigeon, Teal, Gadwall, Tufted Duck, Shoveler, Mallard & Pochard all present and around 85 Greylags which are very settled here. Good numbers of Canada Geese join them daily to add some noise to the proceedings along with 300 or so Lapwings. These seem to be easily spooked and can often be seen flying up in groups and circling before settling down again. Little Grebes have also been seen and both Little & Great White Egrets feeding on the mud or in the shallows daily.
This bird is on the mud at Loxtons, with wildfowl and gulls for company and 12 Cormorants also using the island. The Loxtons Trail is still closed (apart from the bottom track) as we wait for the rebuilt paths and banks to settle before reopening them - there a bit slippy at the moment, comprising mostly of clay.
At this time of year on the reserve the focus tends to be on birds - most of our reptiles and insects will be hidden away hibernating now and mammal sightings are hard to come by. There are certainly signs of Badgers all over place - they seem to be enjoying digging up areas around the boardwalk and screens at the moment and there are occasional signs that Otters are about too. I can report sightings of Roe Deer on the reserve and Grey Squirrel both on the rail track and in the new car park area.
The new car park has progressed well but we are still awaiting contractors to come in and sort out the electrics for the gates etc - it's so close!! It's looking good though and will be a welcome addition to the local reserves, particularly in Starling season.
The roost has been quite split from what I can gather - small roosts at Westhay, Shapwick Heath and the far end of Ham Wall but the main bulk have been landing in Waltons again this week. I got to see it for myself on Tuesday (despite working here it doesn't happen very often). It was very cold so my advice would be to wrap up warm - the temperature seemed to drop very quickly once the sun disappeared. Good numbers came in and there was a bit of swirling but not of epic proportions - just the luck of the draw I guess - the weather was quite poor so maybe this meant they wanted to go straight to bed. A Sparrowhawk was seen around roost time waiting for a meal however.
The morning is still a good time to see them. If you come for "lift off" you may also be lucky enough to see Marsh Harriers come in afterwards to hoover up any Starling bodies from those which died in the night. One day this week 3 Marsh Harriers were seen together. Both John Crispin & Robin Morison have sent me Marsh Harrier Pictures this week - thank you both!
As you can see - 2 different birds here.
Marsh Harrier with some company this time!
Also during roost time you may, as I saw on Tuesday evening, groups of Fieldfare & Redwing. Fieldfares with their familiar, almost chuckling call, are a real sign of winter for me!!.
We also, of course, get groups of Redpolls & Siskins on the reserve in the winter months. For the best chance of a sighting look for groups of alder trees as they like to feed on the alder cones. So too do the many groups (or charms) of Goldfinches which we are seeing at the moment.
Also on the reserve this week: Raven flying over and calling on Tuesday, Great Spotted Woodpeckers seen but also heard drumming this week, plenty of Kingfisher sightings, Stonechats in several places but a pair often opposite the 1st platform (the male bird is particularly beautiful), a few Bittern Sightings(1st platform maybe the best bet), groups of Long Tailed Tits to brighten your day, a Tawny Owl seen sitting on a Barn Owl box in the central wood this morning (I've heard then here recently) and plenty of Black Headed Gulls circling high or down low squawking as they do!!
Black Headed Gull
That's it for this week. Have a great weekend!!
The Starlings have yet again dominated the headlines here this week with the main bulk of the roost dropping into the Waltons section of the reserve. It is likely that the cold weather will swell the numbers further as birds arrive from the north & east of the continent. The rail path or the Tor View Hide are great places to watch the spectacle at present.The roost is still proving popular, with good numbers of visitors coming to watch. We are trying our best to complete on the car park but are awaiting on electrical contractors to finish work on the electric gates at the entrance.
Staff and volunteers have been busy this week erecting rails and undertaking more planting and erecting signs. There's still a little more to do, so I'm glad I chose not to make any predictions about an opening date - it's very close though. The best advice I can give (until the new car park opens) is to avoid weekends if you can and arrive in plenty of time to walk to your vantage point. If you're coming phone the Starling Hotline for the last known location of the roost 07866 554142. If you can only do weekends you could perhaps come in the morning before sunrise to see them take off - there will be far fewer visitors then and it's still a great spectacle.
Starlings over Waltons
The Starlings often attract attention from birds of prey and, as last week, a Peregrine was present this week, showing well on Tuesday night - actually seen taking a Starling. The time of day also means there's a possibility of a Barn Owl sighting - as was the case on Tuesday too when one was spotted flying through the fading light. I saw a Peregrine myself during the early afternoon on the north of the reserve and minutes later a Sparrowhawk flew high over the reserve.
Individual birds can be seen hanging around the reserve during the day. Close up views of these birds show just how interesting their markings are - something lost when watching the mumuration.
With the cold weather too has meant the end of the dragonfly sightings - no Ruddy Darters seen this week. They did well to hold on for as long as they did. I did however see a Red Admiral butterfly sunning itself on the newly planted hedgerow in the new car park on Wednesday.
Elsewhere on the reserve the 2nd platform is always worth a look at the moment. On Wednesday a drake Pintail was present - quite nice for us as we get very few visiting Ham Wall over the winter. The area is also home to a good number of Greylag geese at the moment - they seem very settled here. On Wednesday a couple of hundred Canada Geese were present too and these along with a few hundred Lapwing made for quite a spectacle both visually and audibly.
Great White Egrets spend time here too but I've been seeing one every day out in the open from the 1st platform too spending long periods of time fishing and offering great views. Also this morning 3 were seen flying together over the Loxtons section.
Both platforms offer a selection of wildfowl: Plenty of Mallard & Gadwall and fair numbers of Wigeon and Teal. Shoveler are also present along with Tufted Duck. Ham Wall is also home to a few Pochard at the moment with 8 females and 1 male present.
Pochard in flight
Wigeon in flight over the reserve
Also this week: Water Rails seen from the Tor View Hide, a late report of an Otter sighting in Waltons early last week, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Groups of Goldfinches and groups of Long Tailed Tits following the tree lines, small flocks of Fieldfare and Redwing seen, Goldcrests seen along the rail path, Snipe seen from the 2nd platform, Marsh Harriers seen daily with a female showing particularly well from the Tor View Hide on Monday and a Raven flying over on Wednesday snapped by John Crispin.
That's it for this week. Have a great weekend everybody!