All photos taken by John Crispin this morning from the 3rd screen at Waltons on Ham Wall. The Glossy Ibis has been seen here before so worth checking this area out early morning and the Grebes have been head bobbing and platform building earlier in the week. Now they're weed dancing - fantastic to watch these elaborate courtship displays! Thanks John for the fantastic photos, as ever.
Thought it a shame not to show these as they arrived just too late for the usual weekly blog!
I wouldn't say spring is in the air but there are certainly a few signs of change on the reserve this week. Snowdrops are out along the rail path, although not yet on the car park boardwalk at the Shapwick end where there are large clumps each year.
Birdsong seemed quite significant this morning. Several species were calling along the rail path tree line including: Robin, Blackbird, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Long Tailed Tit and Song Thrush who was calling loudest of all. Close by to this bird (adjacent to Loxtons) was a drumming Great Spotted Woodpecker (there's also been one by our office at the Avalon Marshes Centre) and within the reedbed a booming Bittern. This was just opposite the small bridge which crosses into Loxtons between the 2 viewing platforms.
Earlier in the week it was heard towards the Waltons end of Loxtons, booming in sets of 4. Apparently you could hear his intake of breath before booming. Numbers of booming males should gradually increase over the next few weeks and staff and volunteers will undertake an early morning survey across the whole of the Avalon Marshes to get an accurate booming total - 43 recorded last year.
Another sign of change has been the beginnings of courtship displays from Great Crested Grebes. There are several birds on site: a pair from the 1st platform, a couple of birds within Loxtons and further birds within the Waltons section. It's a pair here which have already begun to reinforce pair bonds through head bobbing rituals and have also started building a mating platform:
Also showing signs of aggression:
Waltons has also been home to Kingfishers this week with one flying close to the 1st viewing platform on Monday. Lapwings are using the area too. Often landing on the cut island in front of the 3rd screen - in fact 50 have roosted here this week, while 150-200 flew over Waltons on Monday.
The Avalon Hide is coming up with the goods again. It was great to get it back open last week and great to have such positive feedback about the path and the hide itself. It's probably the best place to see Marsh Harriers on the reserve - several are seen hunting here each day and people often report seeing 3 or 4 different birds. A Peregrine was also spotted from the hide last weekend, while 2 Kestrel flew over calling on Wednesday. While on the birds of prey theme - do check out the owl boxes visible from the hide. A Tawny Owl was spotted from the box in the woodland you walk through on Sunday (31st) while last week saw both Tawny Owl and Barn owl in and around the boxes visible to the woodland on the left hand side of the hide. On Tuesday 2 Chiffchaff were fluttering up on and around one of the owl boxes. I can only assume there was a good source of insects here - maybe from debris in the owl box.
The Avalon Hide is also a great place to see Great White Egret (although one flew over my head in the car park on Thursday (4th). One individual in particular is often seen out feeding in front of the hide. On Sunday one was seen fishing successfully before being joined by a Little Egret who also fished successfully. Thanks to John Crispin for sending in some handy photos taken on Sunday to help show the size difference between these two:
Quite significant I'm sure you'll agree.
Also a comparison with Grey Heron too:
....and then a great shot looking right down the lens:
John Crispin also saw some interesting behavior from Great White Egrets this week. On Sunday a bird flew in from the east into an area diagonally left from the hide but approached with a distinctive slow and pronounced wing beat giving it an almost bouncy look. It chased away a second bird from the area (this bird flew normally) but all the time kept this slower wing beat. John thinks this could be a threat display similar to that of a male Mute Swan 'busking' when seeing off an intruder from its territory.
Ducks present from the hide include: Mallard, Tufted Duck, Pochard, Shoveler, Teal and Gadwall and look out for Little Grebe too. They can be heard around the reserve at the moment with their distinctive 'Whinnying' call.
Starlings at present (as of last night) are split. The majority of birds are over at Shapwick Heath - they have been in the decoy area but were seen just before dusk dancing around the Meare Heath area. There are also a fair number of birds using the Loxtons area on Ham wall.
Also this week: Glossy Ibis seen on Sunday dropping into the area in front of the 2nd platform, a Green Woodpecker heard 'yaffling' close to the Loxtons screen, a group of 6 Reed Buntings or more flitting close to the ramp into the Avalon Hide woodland trail, 2 Snipe disturbed from the wet area on the left just before that ramp mentioned above, a Treecreeper seen in a clump of Alders around the Loxtons trail, a pair of Bullfinches along the rail path close to Street Heath, Bearded Tits at the back of the 2nd viewing platform section (but have recently been seen nearer the front edge), Dusky Warbler reported on Bird Track last weekend (exact location unknown) and Goldcrest also seen along the rail path.
That's it for this week - have a great weekend!
The best news of the week was being able to get the Avalon Hide back open again. As you may know the access had become extremely muddy and too difficult access. It's taken a lot of work in a short space of time but we've done it. Rubber matting has been laid throughout the woodland and beyond to the hide. Thanks to all the volunteers who worked so hard to turn this situation around so quickly. It's fantastic to have it back open.
Yesterday and this morning saw feeding Great White Egrets (x2 yesterday) and as many as 4 hunting Marsh Harriers. Within the woodland on Thursday a Great Spotted Woodpecker was repeatedly drumming on the silver birches before flying off, followed by a second bird. Great Whites seen to be feeding here daily at present. A Little Egret joined in on Monday but didn't stay long, while another dropped in for a longer feeding session on Wednesday, hunting in the cut area at the back of the pool. Also on Wednesday one of the Marsh Harriers dropped into the reedbed on two occasions - the second one for some time (unsure whether it had caught prey).
Again on Wednesday, croaking Common Frogs in the adjacent ditch to the woodland and in pools close by - at least 3 individuals and perhaps.....but not 100% sur a booming Bittern, booming just once on a couple of occasions. 3 were heard for sure last week and it's not unusual for us to have boomers in January - the Avalon Marshes often has the first boomers nationally each year. It's all down to our balmy south west location I guess.
Away from the Avalon Hide and the star is probably the Glossy Ibis - if you're lucky enough to see it. It's clearly able to find some very secluded areas in which to hide away during the day but is often seen towards dusk flying from the Ham Wall direction towards Shapwick Heath where it roosts each night. You may see it if you are out Starling watching - the birds are currently using Shapwick Heath to roost also. It was seen by our ecologist yesterday evening flying over the Ham Wall car park and by another visitor on Monday evening coming from the same direction.
The best sighting was during the morning on Monday as it sat on the cut island in front of the 3rd screen at Waltons. Unfortunately it was spooked by a visitor who approached the hide without realising what was there. John Crispin was on hand however and manged to grab these shots - thanks John:
Later the same day - when I turned up, of course it was gone. There were however a good 150 Lapwings (maybe more) present as well as a few Teal. Roughly the same number were seen by John Crispin in the section opposite the new bridge which crosses the main drain. This could be the same group as on both occasions the groups were very unsettled. On Wednesday a groups of around 250 flew over the Central Wood (where the path to the Avalon Hide passes through) and more were seen last week using the fields south of the River Brue (this runs parallel to the Meare Glastonbury Rd). so there's plenty in the area. Another Plover ....the Golden Plover was sighted on Monday. Around 50 flew over the reserve heading south during the late morning.
Also within Waltons are a few Great Crested Grebes. I think as many as 4 at present. Some showing their wonderful plumage. It won't be long before we are able to witness their wonderful pair bonding and courtship rituals.
Waltons was also a hot spot for signs of Otter activity during the last survey. This coincides with last weeks sighting from the Tor View Hide (photo in last weeks blog).
Another favourite sighting for me (and several volunteers) this week was the group of Bearded Tits seen at the back of the area in front of the 2nd viewing platform. The sun was out and shining and we could hear them on both sides of us and then .....there they were. Wonderful! At least 8 crossed the path to join the others - maybe as many as 12 in total. I saw them in this area last week too (just a couple on that occasion). It worth having a scan over this area if your there as they have also been seen at the near side of this section close to the gate on the canal bank - you never know your luck. Here's a stunning male photographed by John Crispin this week:
I also saw a Stonechat perched up in this area this morning, with it's obvious tail flicking stance. Another was also along the bank where the line of gorse is to the right of the Avalon hide section on Monday. Again, photographed by John Crispin:
A pair have been seen in this area regularly, while we've been using our reed cutting machinery.
Also this week: Green Winged Teal reported from the Loxtons Screen last weekend (look out for Kingfishers here too), female Sparrowhawk from the Avalon Hide on Wednesday which flew in close, Lots of groups of Long Tailed Tits following the tree lines (always a cheery sight), calling Cettis Warblers and very vocal Water Rails around the reserve, small groups of finches (goldfinch and Chaffinch) along the rail path, Raven flying over calling and still a fair amount of birdsong - of particular note this week - the Great Tit with its familiar "teacher, teacher" call.
That's it for this week. Have a great weekend!