The main track and bridge through the reserve at Ham wall are now open again as the Environment Agencies contractors have completed the current work (they may be back in the near future however). For the moment it's business as usual and a break from having to walk down the muddy diversionary footpath.
It means slightly cleaner boots for all for a while at least. The Starlings are currently roosting in front of the 2nd platform on the reserve so a nice walk along the main track will get you there.
Do check the Starling Hotline though in case they decide to have a change of scenery over the next few days:
Remember the mornings can be as good or in some opinions better than the evening with the huge numbers of birds leaving in waves. You'll have to brave things just before the sun comes up though but you could be rewarded with a wonderful sight and perhaps a lovely winter sunrise too:
Lots of great sightings to report this week as well as an update on the new facilities.
As you may know the Avalon Hide is now open and is offering great views to visitors over the north of the reserve. The Starlings have been dropping in up this end of the site, so the hide or the 2nd platform have been the places to catch the best views. There must be at least 250,000-300,000 birds in the roost by now although I haven't counted them all personally. Your guess will be as good as mine when the numbers are this high, so come and watch them and tell us how many you think there are.
This morning a Bittern flew in front of the new hide but also 3 other fabulous sightings: one Barn Owl, one Fox and one Otter (good to see the recent flurry of sightings continuing). Not bad for a mornings work. Couple these with the numerous sightings of Marsh Harriers and Kingfishers and it's definitely worth staying while.
Marsh Harriers are a common sight during the Starling murmurations. On Tuesday some RSPB South West staff came to see the hide and progress on the other facilities and also took in the Starlings from the 2nd platform. 4 Marsh Harriers were present at the time - there were as many as 5 on Saturday 14th Nov. Here's one photographed by John Crispin this week from the 1st platform:
If you're planning a visit you'll be pleased to hear that the rail path and bridge is now back open for the moment at least. The Environment Agency may well be getting it painted, although we hope they may be able to keep this open during this time.
In the car park - the toilets are now plumbed in and just about ready to go. They could well be up and running next week, while the reception building may well be following shortly after - although the interpretation panels are not expected until the new year. We'll be trying to man the building as much as possible but aim to be open at least every weekend with volunteers. In fact we are looking for people to help out with this. If you think you might be able to spare some time drop us a line at the office and we'll talk it over 01458 860494.
Back on the reserve and one of the most notable things of the week has been the passage of large numbers of Wood Pigeons. Several local sightings of high numbers have been reported and during the WeBS count (Wetland Bird Survey) on Ham Wall on Monday c5000 were seen flying over the reserve heading south. One theory is that it could be British birds heading south to France and Spain to spend winter in the southern oak forests. Portland Bird Observatory reported an exodus of c25,000 birds the same day.
It's not often I talk about Wood Pigeons!
The WeBS count for November was generally up on last month. Figures below (not including Waltons & Loxtons - recorded separately), October figures in brackets:
Wigeon (48) 50
Gadwall (100) 182
Teal (47) 112
Mallard (64) 60
Pochard (0) 2
Shoveler (4) 54
Still not massive numbers but this could be as a result of the prolonged spell of warmer weather we've had (and on the continent).
Shoveler have shown a good increase and there are a few hanging about in front of the new hide as well as from the screens at Waltons. A few are still showing eclipse plumage like this Waltons male on Wednesday:
An underrated duck is perhaps the male Gadwall. This photo shows its wonderful intricate breast markings:
Another duck we see during the autumn and winter months is the Pintail. 2 males took off during the Starling 'take off' on Wednesday morning and flew over the 2nd platform. Another good looking duck!
The area in front of the 2nd platform is still a good place to find Lapwing with around 200 seen there during the week along with a good list of duck species.
The only other wader recorded this week was the Snipe. Waltons maybe the best place to see these. 2 flew over on 2 occasions on Thursday. We've now finished the cutting work in here and the water levels will slowly come back up. The first cut island (once splashy) is often a good place to pick up Snipe and loafing ducks.
Also this week: 2 Grey Squirrels running up the rail path. They can often be seen hanging around the larger oaks in the area. Raven flew over on Thursday, 2 Red Admirals seen on Wednesday (one on canal path, one on rail path), Firecrest reported in the first band of trees on the footpath side of the main drain, several Great White Egrets seen throughout the week, Water voles reported on Twitter but location not known, Short Eared Owl recorded last Friday, Glossy Ibis last Thursday at the new hide, 2 Bearded Tits seen and heard in front of the 1st platform on Monday and a Stonechat on the north of the reserve. One was also seen in Waltons on Thursday and there is often one in the brambles etc opposite the 1st platform:
That's it for this week. Have a great weekend!
The best news of the week is perhaps the long awaited opening of the Avalon Hide. It's been a long time coming but we're finally there. You access iby following the footpath beyond the new bridge and take a left turn up towards the wood. There are plenty of signs out so just follow those.
It faces an open pool which is usually home to a few duck species throughout the winter but there have been frequent sightings of Kingfisher, Bitter and Marsh Harrier from here during its construction. You may also hear the frequent tip tapping of a Pied Wagtail on the roof - he seems to like it here at the moment.
The Starling murmuration has also been up towards the top of the reserve the last few days so this could well be a good vantage point (bring a torch for the walk back ) or an easier walk with a slightly more distant view would be from the 2nd viewing platform.
The rail path bridge is still closed. They have all but finished the western approach but the Environment Agency have informed us that they are now wanting to paint it so it will more than likely be closed for a further fortnight while this happens. Due to a problem they came across with the structural work they will also have to return in March/April to complete works, which will mean a further closure unfortunately. It's out of hands I'm afraid and it's not making access to the site very easy for staff either but we'll deal with things the best we can.
Starlings could be numbering as many as 200,000 at present but the cold weather will likely keep these numbers climbing steadily. The main bulk have been at Ham Wall but some birds have been dropping into Shapwick Heath this week. As always the Starling Hotline can give you a good guide as to where to start your search. Hotline: 07866 554142
Remember the mornings can be just as impressive and if you know where they were the night before you can guarantee the show. On Wednesday morning the birds flew directly over the 2nd platform at a height of about 20-25 feet and just before departure 3 Marsh Harriers were present along with a Peregrine. This bird actually made a kill although low down so there was no aerial formation dancing - John Crispin viewed this through his binoculars.
The Otter sightings continued this week with yet another sighting on Sunday morning from the Tor View Hide in Waltons. This could also be a good place to spot Water Rails at the moment as they have been seen in the cut area to the side. A silent approach to the hide could bring you a great reward by the looks of things. Waltons has also played host to Marsh Harriers frequently this week, while Kingfishers were also heard here on Monday. Several Bitter sightings have also been noted with the eastern section of Waltons this week.
From the screens Tufted Duck, Little Grebe and Shoveler along with large groups of Black Headed Gulls and the usual presence of Cormorants. Fish Populations seem to be good within Waltons although one had a lucky escape this week.
Black Headed Gull with "the one that got away"
Platform 1 is looking onto quite open water at the moment and a number of Wigeon have been using it this week. Great White Egrets are also here on a daily basis:
Thanks as always to John Crispin for some fantastic pictures.
It seems I have a bit less to report this week than others although I've had a bit less time than usual out and about on the reserve. As a result though the new hide is open and we have successfully cut and burnt the first island in Waltons (visible from the 3rd screen). We aim to cut the end of the next one and the end of the island opposite the Tor View Hide before raising the water levels. It's often a good place for loafing ducks and when splash,y Snipe often use the island.
Talking of Snipe, a Jack Snipe was disturbed on 2 occasions during reed cutting work with our machine in the section between the 2 platforms this week. It did its classic behaviour of waiting until the very last second before moving and the silently flying a very short distance and disappearing - great camouflage.
Also this week: Raven flying over the reserve on a couple of occasions, Buzzards often mobbed by crows, Great Spotted Woodpeckers, c20 Redpolls in the alder trees in the car park, Grass Snake on Monday under a refuge tin at Waltons - expecting it to be the last sighting this year looking at the weather, Migrant Hawker Dragonfly seen along the rail path, Groups of Lapwing from the 2nd platform and often airborne over the reserve, small groups of Fieldfare and amazingly 4 Swallows passing over the 1st platform on Saturday 7th (bet they cant wait to get away). Also a very busy Kestrel once again seen hovering over the 1st platform canal path and Waltons trail.
That's it for this week. Come and check out the new hide if you can and let us know what you think.
Have a great weekend!