Ham Wall

Ham Wall

Ham Wall
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Ham Wall

  • Recent Sightings at RSPB Ham Wall - 12.08.2016

    Well it's been quite a time since the last blog but it seems all the favourites have still been performing at Ham Wall in my absence. The 2 Glossy Ibis are still being seen regularly - usually in the area in front of the second platform but we have also lowered levels in the adjacent section (to the left of the Avalon Hide Path) and they have also been seen in here this week. Unfortunately, like the 2nd platform area not all this area is easily visible and there are plenty of hideouts for birds to disappear in. It's that time of year I'm afraid when the growth is at its peak. We have however started reed cutting on the lower vegetation in front of the 1st platform.

    Cutting it at this time of year (knowing no breeding birds are present) suppresses the regrowth leaving it lower, sparser and more varied when it grows back. Once cut and cleared water levels will be raised to further suppress regrowth and should leave large splashy areas for passage waders and loafing/feeding areas for ducks and heron species.

    In the lowered areas the Glossy Ibis use, it has also been common to see both Little Egret (12 together on Monday) and Great White Egret  (5 on Monday) as well as an array of ducks, grebes and waders. A Garganey is of particular note - spotted in front of the bench just past the junction to the Avalon Hide path where it meets the main track.

    The second platform area often sees Green Sandpiper - although just a single this week, a single Ruff last week and Lapwing this week (up to 30) but most abundant is the Black Tailed Godwits with 60+ reported yesterday. These were photographed by John Crispin:

    Bittern are of course still present. A couple with very purposeful looking flights perhaps late nesters going back to feed young. On Wednesday flights were observed in both Waltons and from the 1st platform and left of here a bittern in moult was spotted.

    Another favourite, the Marsh Harrier is sighted daily with a Male seen hunting near the car park on Monday while juvenile birds are now far more mobile and out hunting on their own looking very adept. The colouration on their heads makes them stand out. Natalie Talbot sent me these photos of juveniles taken at Shapwick Heath (we won't hold it against her) this week. Thanks Natalie:


    Marsh Harrier - Natalie Talbot 

    A few other birds of prey have frequented the reserve this week. On Monday a Peregrine flew over the car park and shortly after a Sparrowhawk passed over being mobbed by a few smaller birds. Unusual to see one being mobbed by it's own dinner?

    Occasional Hobbies are also seen at various locations and of course daily Buzzards. On Wednesday night on the Nature by Night walk at Ham Wall a Barn Owl was spotted in the box opposite the 1st platform. They also picked up several bats as did the Brue Valley bat survey this week. I'll try to find out exactly how many species we've had recorded here but it's looking healthy.

    Not a Ham Wall sighting (as far as I'm aware) but an Osprey has been present from Noah's hide on Shapwick Heath for most of the week (seen this morning). It sounds like the usual bird for this time of year so there's a good chance of it loitering for a while.

    Duck ID's are tricky at this time of year as many are in eclipse. Many ducks become more difficult to tell apart as many colours are lost. This picture was taken last year but shows both male and female Mallard in eclipse. The bill colour being the best identifying factor for telling the apart:

    Within Waltons there is the usual selection of ducks including Mallard (some with youngsters) and Gadwall. There is also a large brood of well grown Tufted Duck to look out for. It's a good area also for spotting Great Crested Grebes with youngsters while in the far corner with the single screen Little Grebes have been recorded feeding their young.

    This has also been the case in front of the Loxtons screen along with the usual noisy group of Cormorants which use the rafts.

    It is a quiet time of year for birds as most of you know. Bug life however is quite abundant and the closer you look, the more you see. The obvious ones of course being butterflies and dragonflies. Butterflies this week include: Red Admiral. Peacock, Small Tortoiseshell, Small Skipper, Green Veined White, Large White, Speckled Wood and Painted Lady.

    Red Admiral: Giles Morris 

    In terms of dragonflies the following have been recorded this week: Emperor, Brown Hawker, Southern Hawker, Migrant Hawker, Black Tailed Skimmer, Common Darter, Ruddy Darter, Blue Tailed Damselfly, Common Blue Damselfly and Variable Damselfly.


    Common Darter female - Giles Morris  

    Southern Hawker female: Giles Morris 

    In terms of mammals it's always harder to come by sightings. Roe deer are seen around both Waltons and Loxtons each week while rabbits and Grey Squirrel will be seen daily along the rail path along with the rare sighting of Weasel or Stoat. Evidence is always present of Badger - plenty of digging and foraging marks and while Otter sightings are unusual you can often find runs and spraints (posh word for Otter Poo!)

    Just a couple of shots to finish this week. First one taken from last year - yes I'm cheating again but I did see Song Thrush smashing snails on the main rail path earlier this week - always fascinating to watch. I remembered that John Crispin had sent me some action shots last year. Thanks again John!

    Finally another from John taken this week at the car park. This Kingfisher perched on the new water vole raft. Eventually we hope that we can beam back some footage of feeding water voles. Currently we've got some underwater footage we can play on the TV in the visitor building. Gives you a little taster of all the action that goes on underwater in and around the Avalon Marshes.

    That's it for this week. I'm away again next week so no blog again - I know, it's the Life of Riley. I'll be back the week after and get everything back to normal.

    Have a great couple of weeks!

  • Recent Sightings at RSPB Ham Wall - 22.07.2016

    Yet again another wonderful week on the reserve - although the very hot weather has made working quite difficult as well as perhaps calmed down some of the activity from the birds. The early mornings have been the time to come by the sounds of it, with cooler weather, good light and a magical feel.

    The early starts is best for catching up with the Little Bittern (well beyond the 2nd platform on the right). 2 males have been recorded barking here again this week and most days see several flights before the sun really gets going. Lots of visitors are trying to see it - often it's the luck of the draw. Some people stand for hours and then miss it, while the lucky ones turn up wait ten minutes and get a sighting - oh to be in that category. Thanks to Robin Morrison for sending in this shot.

    There's plenty of other stuff to keep you occupied while you wait. Kingfishers are being seen and heard regularly here along with several Jays and a family group of Great Spotted Woodpeckers - these 2 taken by John Crispin. The dead tree is the one close to the Little Bittern area - thanks John:

    Young and adult jays seen regularly too:

    Bitterns are often seen in this area too although activity generally across the reserve has greatly reduced, they are still seen fairly regularly. Some going into moult like this landing bird from Robin Morrison again:

    Often perched in the reeds too:

    Bittern in reeds - Robin Morrison 

    Other birds have been seen passing through this area including a Greenshank and Green Sandpiper. Green Sandpiper have been seen several times in front of the 2nd platform this week with as many as 10 seen together last weekend. Wood Sandpiper was recorded at the back of this section on Tuesday and Little Ringed Plover on Saturday and Sunday last week.

    Green Sandpipers: John Crispin 

    The Glossy Ibis x2 have also been seen here this week - although not always immediately obvious. They were however also seen from the first viewing platform on Monday. The vegetation is high here at present and making visibility difficult. We have drained the water slightly in readiness to start cutting the reeds at the start of next month. This will open up the views once more and provide good feeding and loafing areas for birds over the autumn and winter months.

    The hot weather may be keeping the birds a little quieter but it seems to be good news for butterflies and dragonflies. Quite a good list forming this week:

    In terms of butterflies we've recorded: Comma, Red Admiral, Small Skipper, Large Skipper, Speckled Wood, Peacock, Green Veined White, Small White, Large White, Meadow Brown, Gatekeeper, Common Blue & Ringlet. Also a possible Silver Washed Fritillary along the rail path near Loxtons.

    Gatekeeper: John Crispin. 

    For Dragonflies: Emperor, Southern Hawker, Brown Hawker, Common Darter, Ruddy Darter, 4 Spotted Chaser, Broad Bodied Chaser, Black Tailed Skimmer, Common Blue Damselfly, Red Eyed Damselfly, Blue Tailed Damselfly and Variable Damselfly:

    Black Tailed Skimmer: Giles Morris

    Ruddy Darter: Giles Morris. 

    Variable Damselfly: Giles Morris 

    Other bus of note this week include a large hornet which was working along the brambles close to the Little Bittern area and a leaf cutter bee which was carrying leaves into the visitor building early in the week.

    The hedgerows are good places for bug hunting but also look and listen out for juvenile birds being fed by adults. A Goldcrest was also spotted this week collecting spiders webs for nest building.

    The Avalon Hide is still the place to go for Marsh Harriers. 3 juvenile birds were all seen perched up in small willows in the reed beds on several occasions this week. Their crowns still a very coppery colour in the sun. Hobby again seen here this week perched out on a tuft or old nest in the water but also seen from the second platform and over Loxtons.

    The Collared Pratincole has thought to have left although a volunteer thought they may have seen it again on Tuesday and described it's colours and behaviour perfectly. Nobody else has reported anything but you never know. Thanks to Brendan Sheils for sending in a couple of shots of last weeks star bird:

    Elsewhere on the reserve this week: both Great Crested and Little Grebe adults and chicks from the Waltons screens, Cuckoo heard calling for the whole week until yesterday, Raven flying over, Kestrel spotted last weekend, Great White Egrets abundant with 11 seen together from second platform last Sunday and both Adder & Grass Snake seen by yours truly on Monday around the Waltons trail. 

    Finally some pics to finish:

    This morning (and during the week) 4 young Water Rail chicks seen on the Tor View Hide path all feeding independently with an adult close by. Thanks to John Crispin for the photos taken this morning:

    Other young families include Mute Swans. Thanks to Robin Morrison for this photo:

    and this lovely shot of a Roe deer hind and fawn from around the Waltons Trail on Tuesday. Thanks to Robin Morrison again:

    That's it for this week. There maybe no blog next week as I have to attend a funeral and then I'm off on annual leave, so it could be 3 weeks before I write again for which I can only apologise. 

    Hope you have a great weekend in the sun!!

  • Recent Sightings at RSPB Ham Wall - 15.07.2016

    Well, there's no doubt as to the star of the show this week. On Sunday evening a Collared Pratincole was spotted on the reserve and with it, over the next few days, came many visitors hoping to add one to their list. It's a summer visitor to southern Europe but a vagrant to these parts (and a first for Somerset I'm told?) Sadly I've not been sent any photos of this handsome bird. But if you search twitter there are plenty of great images.

    I had good views myself on Wednesday of the bird perched on the ground and then in flight as it caught insects on the wing - with graceful, swooping manoeuvers - very Tern like. On one occasion it was seen to catch a dragonfly directly over the 2nd platform. Of course, I wasn't there for that showpiece. I'm so pleased I saw it though - a great, albeit brief addition to the reserve. It was seen late on Wednesday night but was absent yesterday. Whatever could be next for the ever growing list at the Avalon Marshes reserves?

    With so many people travelling to see it, many wanted the double whammy by getting Little Bittern too. Many people managed it and if you add 2 Glossy Ibis and numerous Great White Egrets and "Great" Bitterns to the mix you have one hell of a days birding.

    Little Bittern has been seen in a few places this week. One from the Tor View Hide on Tuesday and one distantly behind the 2nd viewing platform on Wednesday (beyond the back of Loxtons). Most people now seem to be aware that the most active section has been further down the rail path from the 2nd platform. There are more flights earlier in the day as a rule, but some people get lucky during the daytime. One bird perched up in the reeds for a long period on Wednesday and was also seen in flight. Here's a couple more pictures taken by John Crispin last week. Thanks John:

    It's been great to see so many satisfied visitors on the reserve. What an awesome place this reserve has become. The Glossy Ibis have also been showing well - sometimes from the 2nd platform but often you need to cross over and search the whole section to find them. The small blinds and in front of the bench near the junction with the Avalon Hide path give you more views of this area and a greater chance of spotting them.

    On Friday they were spotted doing this..........

    I say!.......and this goes out before the watershed. Thanks to Moi Hicks for sending in the photo.

    Not sure what will come of this. It could be a bit late for this year and I get the impression that these may not be fully mature birds but I guess it's good to practice in readiness for next season perhaps!

    This area has been proving to be really productive in recent months. We have also dropped the water level just a little, which could encourage a few passage waders to drop in. Lapwing are using the area regularly, Snipe have been seen along with a Redshank and up to 6 Green Sandpipers:

    Green Sandpiper - John Crispin 

    The section is vegetating over bit by bit but we hope to reproduce this kind of area just next door in the section to the left of the Avalon Hide path. We'll do some more cutting work in there this winter and open it up again and hopefully produce some satisfying results.

    Also seen in this area this week: Peregrine hunting on Tuesday afternoon, plenty of Swift (one with a very stumpy tail) and House Martins picking off insects, Great Crested Grebe, Greylag Geese, Marsh Harrier, several duck species and of course Great White Egrets:

    They are seen here regularly and all around the reserve really.They are having a successful breeding season with at least another 13 birds being added to the population. A good number have been ringed and we should be able to learn much about their behaviour and how they may distribute from the Avalon Marshes. There still seems to be an active nest as a bird is regularly flying directly over the car park between Ham Wall and Shapwick Heath, so you need to keep your eyes open right from the start.

    The car park pools have much to offer too. Iberian Water Frogs (including many small ones) can be sen here along with a good selection of dragonflies. This week on the reserve: Brown Hawker, Southern Hawker, Common Darter, Ruddy Darter, 4 Spotted Chaser (still 1 or 2), Broad Bodied Chaser, Black Tailed Skimmer and Emperor. Including this one sent in by Mike Smethurst - Thanks Mike:

    There are a good selection of Butterflies being recorded as well including: Green Veined White, Large White, Speckled Wood, Red Admiral, Small Copper, Small Skipper, Large Skipper, Ringlet, Meadow Brown, Gatekeeper and Comma.

    After the car park the rail path can also come up trumps. Many birds to tick off on the way including large gangs of Long Tailed Tits, Singing Chiffchaff and Blackcap and perhaps Bullfinch with young as seen on Tuesday (before the 1st platform). It's also worth stopping at the rail bridge. Kingfisher has been seen here this week as well as in the car park, at Waltons and from the Loxtons screen. Listen out for thier whistling call to give you a clue as to their presence:

    Kingfisher: John Crispin 

    The Avalon Hide is definitely still worth a visit. Flights from Bittern and Great White Egret recorded here this week and the Marsh Harriers are still very visible. These birds have pretty much fledged though but there's a good chance of seeing juveniles popping up and down within the reed beds.

    There's also been a Hobby seen regularly perching out in the water on what I'm assuming is an old grebes nest. It sits on the ground munching dragonflies and just generally chilling out. I saw it there on Monday and have had several reports of it each day this week displaying the same behaviour. It's worth a trip to see if he's still up to his old tricks.

    Also from here both Mute Swans and Coot with young, broods of duck and as with VP2 Swift and House Martins feeding regularly. If you're about in the evening keep and eye out for Barn Owls coming from the edge of the wood to the left of the hide (or view this from the first platform VP1). It looks as though the Great Crested Grebes have given up the nest and therefore the second brood. They'd been sat there for a while and now they're off and I haven't seen any chicks. 

    There are young birds in Waltons. One pair with a well grown youngster hanging around but also some small youngsters from a second brood. Surprised if they tolerate the older bird much longer. These birds can be viewed from several locations around the reserve at the moment. Natalie Talbot managed this shot last Sunday of a successful fishing trip. Thanks Natalie:

    Also this week: A Raven flying over Waltons on Tuesday, Bearded Tits which fluttered up and then came down in the reeds in front of the Avalon Hide, a Bittern heard booming (quite late I thought) from the 2nd platform as people waited for the Collared Pratincole, Song Thrush regularly in the car park and many many Goldfinches using the car park feeders (and a few Greenfinch), Rabbits seen along the rail path and the Loxtons Trail, Roe Deer seen around the Waltons Trail, Water Rail once again seen feeding youngsters along the Tor View Hide path and Common Tern seen mid morning yesterday from the 2nd platform.

    That's it for this week. Have a great weekend!