Yet another busy week on the reserve this week, scrub work underway on the old canal bank/footpath side of the reserve and the new small pedestrian bridge is now open. This will eventually allow access to a new hide (the Avalon Hide) which will be built behind the wood diagonally right of the first platform. Preliminary work has begun here by contractors, who will be building a 2 level raised hide overlooking the north of the reserve. We'll update you with some pictures and progress as time goes on. Odd jobs in the new car park continue and it's being used well - lovely to see, and great fro the locals that parking pressure has been taken off the road. There are further developments in this area due to come in over the next few months.
In terms of wildlife, it's equally busy. A cold night last night meant many parts of the reserve had a thin layer of ice and great numbers of duck were squeezed in front of the first platform along with a wonderful looking Great White Egret producing a nice spectacle. This weeks WeBS count (Wetland Bird Survey) showed a large increase in numbers of Teal up from 89 to 616 and Shoveler up from 52 to 346 in particular on the December figures.
Shoveler in flight - the second male in is showing that he has finished his transition form eclipse plumage to his full set of feathers.
Marsh Harrier activity actually slowed down a little this week - possibly due to the Starlings have a week long excursion to Shapwick although on Weds night they seem to have come back to Ham Wall and were roosting in the Loxtons section. So sightings may well be on the up again. Use the Starling Hotline if you're planning a visit - they have been moving around a little the last week but volunteer JohnCrispin does the best job possible in keeping the hotline up to date. The Marsh Harriers are often seen in the morning post roost, searching for dead or weak birds in the reeds. It's always worth scanning the skies when ducks are disturbed too just in case a harrier or a Peregrine for example is present. A Peregrine was sighted on Sunday the 18th and a Marsh Harrier disturbed the wildfowl in this photo snapped by John Crispin this week (good numbers of Teal here):
The large flocks of Lapwing have proved a little more elusive this week - they too often disturbed by birds of prey. The 2nd platform has been a favourite haunt lately but I saw a few hundred in surrounding fields on the north east extremity of the reserve this morning.
The Tor View Hide continues to be popular with wildlife watchers - Barn Owl spotted here on Monday although the owl boxes in front of the first platform are always worth scanning too. A Short Eared Owl was also reported from the same location on the same day but no further sightings to back this up . Water Rails continue to use the areas in front of the hide although we have been pumping down water in this section in readiness for some reed cutting in the coming fortnight. The ends of the islands in front of the hide and screen to the right are planned for cutting to open up some views to visitors.
Great Crested Grebes have returned and love is already in the air. A weed dance was observed here on Monday from a pair and on Tuesday a second pair from the 1st platform have been witnessed head bobbing as the old pair bonds are reinforced. It's certainly something to brighten up your day if you witness it!
It's a bit thin on the ground for mammals at the moment although an Otter was seen at our Long Drove plot in Sharpham on Monday and Roe deer x3 on the north of the reserve the same day. There's plenty of signs of badger activity though at several locations around the reserve. The spring will certainly bring more variety to the blog with reptiles, insects and small mammals awakening from their winter slumber
Away from the water, it's always worth checking the tree lines along the old rail path. Bullfinches have been sighted frequently this week, particularly on the stretch from the road to the 1st platform. While Treecreeper was sighted again from the 2nd boardwalk bridge from the new car park.
There are plenty of flocks of small birds too - Goldfinches in particular (scan these for the odd Redpoll) and mixed tit flocks. Again, scan these as you never know what could be tagging along - this week both Goldcrest and Chiffhaff have been seen. Take a close look at these too as this week both Firecrest and Siberian Chiffchaff have been reported locally (Shapwick Heath and Westhay for example).
I think this Long Tailed Tit has been snapped coming into land - rather than sat on an invisible branch. Groups of these frequently follow the tree lines on the reserve and bring a smile to many faces.
That's it for this week - have a great weekend!
This Coot had a lucky escape as he avoided the clutches of a Marsh Harrier on the reserve this week. This was witnessed and Photographed by John Crispin at the 2nd viewing platform, who sent me the following photo sequence. Thanks for the photos John! Of course, the Coot may not be so lucky next time!
He lives to squeak another day!
Happy New Year Everyone!! Welcome to the first sightings blog for 2015!!! Firstly, apologies for the lack of blog last week - I simply just ran out of time. It was notable by its absence - as many of you picked up on the fact it wasn't there and quizzed me - I should of known I wouldn't get away with it! It means I've made it hard for myself to squeeze in nearly 4 weeks worth of stuff in one hit. To save me rabbiting on too much I'll concentrate more on the last fortnight and get things back to normal for next week!
The reserve and wildlife of course doesn't stop for Christmas even if staff are on a break. The starlings stole the headlines once again, with close to 1 million birds dropping into Waltons each night over the Christmas break - usually during lovely still evenings with fantastic sunsets. The 2 occasions I dropped in saw the reserve very busy. The 2nd visit on Jan 2nd saw between 400 and 500 visitors Starling watching and a close to capacity new car park (thank goodness we got it open in time). Last Tuesday a Peregrine got in amongst the flock and caused some wonderful shapes as birds spiraled to avoid capture. During this week the main roost has left Ham Wall for Shapwick Heath and have been in the Decoy hide area (check the Starling Hotline though to check they haven't moved again 07786 554142)
Apart from the Starlings the Christmas break highlights included Water Rails continuing to show well in front of the Tor View Hide - frequently 1, sometimes 2 and very occasionally 3 have been seen together (one was also seen on the ponds in the new car park when frozen) - a Weasel was also seen around this time from the Tor View Hide, 3 Gooseander flew over on New Years Eve and a Woodcock was seen flying circuits around the reserve at dusk. Stonechats have also been of note both in the car park and from the 1st platform.
Ducks during cold spells over the Christmas break!
Another highlight was the visit of 11 Pintail - a more infrequent visitor to the reserve during the winter. John Crispin took these shots of them - a handsome looking duck!
Pintails low from the 2nd platform
Pintails in flight
Last week saw the frequent presence of Great White Egrets from the first platform - a favoured fishing area, at the moment. This sequence of shots was taken at Loxtons of a GWE fishing from the tern rafts. The trail is still closed however currently as the newly formed banks & paths are on the stick side. It could be a while until we reopen as we really need the banks to firm up and vegetate over to make a safe and easy passage - apologies for the length of time this is taking but hopefully once the reopen, they will stay open for good and the flooded tracks will be a distant memory.
GWE giving the Black Headed Gull his opinion!
The last 2 weeks have seen large numbers of Lapwing using the reserve and surrounding fields - there must be 500 or more at times from the 2nd platform - a lovely sight when the take to the air. Other waders of note would be a group of 20 or more Snipe seen on a few occasions including them circling the area in front of the 1st platform on Tuesday this week, a single Green Sandpiper has also been spotted recently. This Monday (12th) saw c100 Golden Plovers pass over the 1st platform heading in a south westerly direction.
The car park and surrounding area has itself has begun to build a good bird list of its own. A Treecreeper has been seen on the large birch at the 2nd boardwalk bridge on a few occasions ( 2 Goldcrests here too this week) and groups of Goldfinches are frequently using the treeline (there could be the odd Redpoll among them too) and a Sparrowhawk chased a group across the car park last week. As the planted areas grow and mature this should become an even more desirable place for birds and other wildlife. Bullfinches are certainly of note at the moment - often seen in this area but also all the way down to the 1st platform or even just beyond, where frequent sightings of both males & females have been made.
The Waltons section too can prove fruitful a selection of wildfowl (as with both platforms) often on show, Water Rails heard & seen, Bearded Tits seen and heard from the Tor View Hide (but also along the bottom Loxtons path (still open), Ravens on several occasions including 4 together last week and a single bird both yesterday and this morning. A walk along the boardwalk this morning saw Song Thrush (seen here on a few occasions recently), 4 or 5 Dunnocks sitting and calling to each other from their perches a Great Spotted Woodpecker drumming on the metal box near the log circle and several sightings of Marsh Harrier. Whilst clearing vegetation form the side of the boardwalk Common Frogs and Voles were disturbed briefly and a Roe Deer was spotted along the Waltons Trail on Thursday. On Wednesday one was visible from the old rail bridge resting on the grassy bank. Celandines were also out in flower along some of the ditch edges - quite early?
Waterfowl on site includes: Mallard, Gadwall, Tufted Duck, Teal, Shoveler, Wigeon but keep and eye out for Pintail.
We've had visits this week from RSPB South Lincolnshire local Group on Sunday and Volunteers form the RSPB reserves in the Exeter area on Wednesday who also took in the Cranes as part of their visit - great to give something back to groups and people which help the organisation so much - both kindly guided by John Crispin - thanks John!
Well I think we're just about up to date!
Have a great weekend!