Spring has most definitely sprung at Ham Wall. I enjoyed a fantastic moring on the reserve: the sun was shining some trees are in blossom and in bud, birds are singing their hearts out establishing territories, Bitterns are booming, butterflies and other insects are out and about and there's just a general sense that things are changing. It's definitiely one of my favourite times of year.
One of the best sightings this morning was of butterflies on the wing. I saw both Small Tortoiseshell (which I managed to photograph on my phone) and Brimstone and received reports of at least 3 other Brimstone and a Peacock.
Birds are in good voice too with songs from Great Tit, Blue Tit, Chaffinch, Goldfinch, Robin, Blackbird, Dunnock, Song Thrush and Chiffchaff all heard in no time at all this morning. All these can easil be seen and heard along the rail path.
A Great Tit in good voice this week
There's plenty of noise coming from within the reedbed too with some extremely vocal Water Rails (these will be surveyed shortly and one can often be seen by the side of the new hide in Waltons), Cettis Warblers and Reed Buntings all making themselves heard and it won't be long before the consistant chattering of Reed Warblers fills the air.
Of course Bitterns are booming well at present too. Early morings are the best time to hear these but there are occasional booms throughout the day: 9am yesterday, around 10am today and 2pm on Monday. Both sides of Waltons contain boomers as does Loxtons. In fact if you stand at the second platform you are often close enough to hear the intake of breath before each boom (this one often producing between 5 and 7 booms each time). This coming Thursday staff and volunteers will be out early, undertking a co-ordinated survey across the whole of the Avalon Marshes to establish an accurate total. At peak 33 were counted last year - this is around a quarter of the UK population.
With the warmer weather brings the changes in the duck numbers. There has been a noticeable drop in the number of Teal and Wigeon although both are still present. The 2nd platform offers the best variety still with Shoveler the most abundant, followed by Tufted Duck (there were 30+ at the 1st platform this morning). There are of course Gadwall and Mallard present and c30 Pochard.
The 2nd platform offered good view this week of Marsh Harrier - hunting over the more distant reedbed. This is where the Starling Roost has been gathering recently - still in good numbers and worth a visit, either at dusk for arrival or dawn for departure (be in place at around 6am for this though). The Starling hotline is still running 07866 554142 and will continue to do so until such time as the numbers have dropped to a significant low.
Other signs of spring this week include a sighting of a rather docile Slow Worm by the pond dipping/log circle area at Waltons last weekend and plenty of activity from Great Crested Grebes seen mating from the Tor View Hide (in Waltons) on Tuesday and weed dancing on Wednesday. There are at least 2 pairs in Waltons and one in front of the 1st platform - all seen this morning.
The Grey Herons are still going great guns in Waltons with nest building and occasional squabbling - although the nests (at least 5) are spread out across a few islands. Great Views from the Tor View Hide of these. Other birds are also showing nest building behaviour. This Long Tailed Tit was snapped by John Crispin this week pulling what looks like cobwebs off a tree - perhaps as part of nest building - they do often get off to an early start. Take a look and see what you think!
Also this week: Short Eared Owl last week (no blog - so not reported previously), Firecrest reported in an ivy covered tree just over the rail bridge towards the reserve, 4 Roe Deer on the northern edge of the reserve on Monday, lots of Snipe on the edge of Waltons and on the island in front of the 3rd screen - birds also seen interacting and tapping bills together, Repolls in the new car park field and close to the 2nd platform (Siskin also here), plenty of Kingfisher activity - Waltons a favourite haunt, Meadow Pipits from the 2nd platform, Raven flying over on Thursday, frequent Great White Egret sightings, numerous Treecreeper sightings close to the 2nd platform, Merlin close to the reserve on the north side on Monday and good Bullfinch sightings - again close to the 2nd platform.
Male Bullfinch picks new buds and shoots from a tree.
That's it for now. Have a great weekend - it looks like a cracker, so maybe a trip to your local nature reserves is in order.
There's no blog this week I'm afraid as I have been on annual leave this week. I did however prepare some photos of the Grey Herons in the Waltons section last week but haven't published it until now. There has been a lot of Heron activity in this area over the last few weeks. Lots of squabbling, stick carrying and plenty of noise. There are at least 5 nests here at present - all on the ground in the reedbeds. They are normally associated with colonies in tree tops but where there are a lack of suitable trees they will often opt for ground nesting.
This is the 3rd or 4th year the Herons have nested in Waltons. Last year there was a total of 6 nests.
The new Tor View Hide is the best place to catch sightings. Staff and volunteers have continued to repair the pathway to the hide this week after high water levels and the generally wet conditions caused the path to deteriorate in certain places.
Birds have also been seen carrying sticks into 2 other locations close to the reserve. It seems this behaviour is really catching on.
Thanks to John Crispin for all the photographs here. In fact the vast majority of the photos that supplement the blog are given and used with John's kind permission. Extremely generous I'm sure you'd agree - they really are top quality. Thanks John.
Don't forget there is a great Heronry at RSPB Swell Wood. Many Herons are back there and getting busy and usually there are around 90 nests I believe and they are often joined by Little Egrets too. March and April are good months to go before the leaves begin to grow in the canopy and reduce visibility. I'm back to work next week, so there will be a regular blog. as usual, on Friday. Have a great weekend!
It's been a much better week weather wise on the reserve and it really shows with the reserve full of bird song during the sunny spells. Most noticeable this week have been Blue Tits, Dunnocks and Wrens perching up and singing loudly. Wrens can often be seen flitting in amongst brambles or thickets on the edges of path often low down. This fine specimen however was photographed by John Crispin from the new Tor View Hide in Waltons.
There's more than a hint of spring in the air at times on the reserve and some of the wildlife seems to think so too with 2 Bitterns reported in Waltons this week (1 booming weakly - more of a whumph and another grunting rather than booming - but they are warming up). Great Crested Grebes have been seen undertaking their head bobbing courtship displays - also in Waltons, Cettis Warblers and Water Rails have been calling loudly and Coots are becoming increasingly territorial and making plenty of noise about it.
Some of the stars of the reserve this week have been the Grey Herons who have been very busy nest building and have been seen carrying sticks on several occasions - the Tor View Hide provides an excellent vantage point for this activity - at least 5 nests in Waltons but 2 other birds have been seen carrying nesting material into 2 other areas just over the reserve's boundary. So it seems this ground nesting idea is really catching on.
John Crispin has added some interesting annotation to the above shot that I thought you might like to read - thanks John
In addition to the primary, secondary and tertial feathers all bird wings have a small cluster of stiff flight feathers, called the alula. The alula is the freely moving first digit on the leading edge of the wing attached to the thumb bone. The alula consists of 3 to 5 feathers and provides a forward slot which smooths out the air flow over the upper wing during a high angle of attack - this is generally seen when coming into land, and helps to prevent stalling. This is shown in the photograph of a Grey Heron coming into land on Walton Heath (above).
It's not just the birds that are being stirred into action. I came across 2 clumps of frog spawn on Thursday in Loxtons. We are currently lowering water levels in this area now that surrounding drains are low enough. If the water gets too high here it overtops into our neighbours land and we don't want to cause them any problems. It does mean however, that with levels dropping, I need to keep an eye on the frog spawn which is in some shallows created by the lowered levels. I did that very thing this morning and discovered 4 more clumps of spawn.
With the advent of spring almost upon us it hails the arrival of an interesting time for bird lovers where there is a distinct overlap between the wintering birds and the spring arrivals - bumber times ahead we hope.There are a bumber crop of ducks on the reserve at the moment particularly in front of the 2nd platform where around 700 Shoveler were recorded during the WeBS survey on Monday and good numbers of Teal can be seen here too. The Green Winged Teal has been seen again this week - on Wednesday when birds were disturbed by a Marsh Harrier (3 different birds seen this day). It scooted across the water at this time and was picked out by a visitor or two. It tends to be towards the back of this area amongst the vegetation - so not the easiest to see.
The WeBS survey also served up around 60 Pochard on Long Drove too and plenty of Coot in the deeper water.
The 1st platform has a smaller selection of duck but is a good place to spot Bitterns. One was seen to fly across the area on Thursday. During sunny spells this is often a good place to scan from Bitterns on the ground or standing up in the reeds. The platform has also offered good views of Chiffchaff this week and a few have been heard singing including on the edge of Waltons and from the Tor View Hide.
The Starlings have been on Ham Wall this week - quite distant from the 2nd platform but a Sparrowhawk did get amongst them on Wednesday evening and helped produce a pleasing display. 30 Fieldfares also flew over the platform during the roost.
Also this week: Snipe flushed from the edge of the path to the new hide, Song Thrush heard singing from the rail path and in the wet woodlands, drumming Great Spotted Woodpecker, Stonechat around the Waltons trail, Meadow Pipits in front of the 2nd platform, 5 Greylag Geese in the same area this morning (plenty of Canada Geese around too), several voles disturbed from under tin sheets in an area managed for snakes/reptiles (underwater just 2 weeks ago), 2 Buzzards high over Waltons half-heartedly mobbed by a crow and 2 sightings of a pair of Bulfinch from the rail bridge.
That's it for this week. Have a great weekend!