We've been moving a bit of water around the site this week (as well as receiving plenty from the sky too). This has been because either we have finished work in certain compartments of the reserve or we are preparing other areas for access in the near future.
The water in front of the 1st platform has now reached a pretty good level - the islands have a covering of water and some ducks can be seen loafing here, while Great White Egrets feed here daily too. The area in front of the 2nd platform has a little more mud showing now as water moves into the section between the 2 platforms where cutting has finished (this has been drained down and dry for some months now) - this is currently splashy and there and a number of duck, Lapwing & Snipe have been seen using this section - these numbers could increase as water levels rise so keep a watch.
The area of most change however has got to be Loxtons. We have continued to pump down this section to enable a contractor to build up the pathways to try and solve our flooding problems in this area. A fair amount of tree felling & pruning has been undertaken here too to compliment this work. It is hope he can start in the first week of November.
The upside of this is that the area in front of the Loxtons screen has been more productive than usual. The left had spit has both muddy areas exposed and shallow water making it suitable for a wide range of birds. Frequent Great White Egret visits here along with Little Egrets help make this an interesting place to sit and watch for a while.
Great White Egret landing in Loxtons (plus a Little Egret for a size comparison)
I sat here a while on Wednesday with some volunteers while we had lunch and saw both the above, Great Crested Grebe, Cormorants, Grey Heron, Teal, Mallard, Gadwall and Tufted Duck. We were also lucky enough to see a Water Rail scoot across the open water in front of us before disappearing, a Kingfisher and a Bittern fly over. On Thursday one landed about 20 feet from the hide in the reeds while John Crispin was present, unfortunately didn't show well enough for a good photo before flying off.
There's also a good opportunity to see Little Grebes close up as they come quite close to the screen, while Kingfishers are a common sight here they are very aware of any noise or movement and so are easily spooked. A drake Mandarin (in eclipse) was present at the end of last week but not seen this week.
The area in front of the 2nd platform is also worth studying for a while. The numbers of waders here varies form day to day but commonly seen are Ruff (up to 5), Black Tailed Godwits (anything from 5 to 75), Lapwing c50 although c130 flew over the reserve this morning, 5 Whimbrel in flight over here and Loxtons on Weds, a Little Stint here on Thursday & Snipe. 32 Snipe were seen here on Thursday - the majority feeding and preening (just a handful sleeping) - a wonderful sight! Up to 5 Greenshank were also spotted the same day.
Black Tailed Godwits
The area is also home to a number of duck including Wigeon c50, Teal, Shoveler, Mallard & Gadwall. Bearded Tits have also put in an appearance with 3 seen here on Thursday but they have also been heard at the first platform, in Loxtons and I heard a large number together north of the 1st platform area this morning (c10).
Away from birds and things are perhaps a little quieter now - mammals are of course much harder to see but there always a chance of Roe Deer feeding on the grassy banks, while the signs are there of Badgers and Otters using the reserve. Mice and Voles can sometimes be seen scurrying across the old railway path or in the undergrowth and we been catching a few in our workshop (they've been chewing the electrical cables) and releasing them on the reserve ( good for a bit of added diversity).
I also forgot to mention last week that there was a sighting of Water Vole, conveniently during a Water Vole Survey which volunteers were undertaking where they look for signs. Sightings are quite rare here - normally you just hear a plop in the water and it's gone.
There are still a few insects about - the most obvious of course butterflies & dragonflies. Reduced numbers this week: Peacock & Red Admiral both seen during the week and a lovely Clouded Yellow following the Waltons trail this morning. For dragonflies, I've really only seen the 2 species this week - Migrant Hawker and Ruddy Darter. The Ruddy Darters were, as last week, egg laying in pairs in shallow pools during sunny spells. A Grey Wagtail was keeping them company this week - a lovely little bird to watch.
Also this week: 2 Great Spotted Woodpecker, 2 Raven, 2 Male Marsh Harriers & 2 Bullfinch all on Tuesday, female Sparrowhawk sat on the wooden gate where you enter Waltons from the rail path on Weds, Hornets seen passing in front of the 1st platform, vocal Water Rails across the reserve, big parties of Long Tailed Tits following the tree lines ,2 Redwing flying in front of the 1st platform also on Weds (others seen locally), plenty of Buzzard sightings, Kestrel on the north of the reserve and a slight increase in Starling numbers.
I've not seen myself but a figure of around 10,000 has been mentioned by a couple of people going into Meare Heath at Shapwick Heath - this of course could increase by at least 100 times this over the next couple of months so worth a visit then for sure - plus we should have somewhere for people to park then too. The work in the new car park is progressing nicely - fingers crossed we will be able to open for parking by the end of November.
That's all for this week - have a great weekend!
Things are most definitely changing on the reserve now - the leaves are turning brown (as is the reed), the wind has picked up and with colder nights and bouts of rain, autumn has arrived. Wildlife is responding to this too, with small parties of Swallows have passing through each day and even 1 or 2 House Martins have been reported. Locally reports of Redwing and Fieldfare arriving in peoples gardens is a sure indicator of Autumn while on the local reserves the arrival of more Teal and Wigeon and reports of groups of Siskin show a similar theme.
The gathering of Waders of course is an autumn highlight and this week large groups of Black Tailed Godwits have been seen in flight and 70 or more landing in front of the 2nd platform to feed along with a few Lapwing and the odd Snipe. A Green Sandpiper was also seen among them this morning.
Black Tailed Godwits (plus the odd Lapwing)
Godwits feeding in front of the 2nd platform
Of course, where large numbers of wildfowl and waders gather so to do the predators such as the Marsh Harrier as the picture above shows. These birds are being seen regularly at the moment - I had one myself from the 1st platform this morning. 2 different birds were also spotted over Loxtons today.
Female Marsh Harrier
Water in Loxtons has been pumped down to allow access for a digger to build up the paths around the back which have flooded annually in recent years causing long term closures for most of the trail. This work should get underway soon. It's still closed but there is access to the hide. The pumping has attracted several species as the shallow water becomes more suited to their needs.
This morning the following list was compiled by John Crispin:
Great White Egret x1, Marsh Harrier x2, Mallard c50, Gadwall x4, Pochard x1, Shoveler x4, Little Egret x1, Teal x9, Tufted Duck x2, Coot x4 and 2 Kinfishers flying together. Add to this the usual plethora of Cormorants on the rafts and the occasional Bittern Flight (2 this morning but there ahve been several here this week) and it's not a bad haul, so worth a walk down.
Bearded Tits are showing well for people lately (well, better than usual anyway). A few have been spotted or heard around both Waltons and Loxtons this week and from both viewing platforms this morning - on both occasions just to the right hand side. I was just telling a visitor that they might see some there (1st platform) this morning and 3 promptly flew along for a few yards - if only it always went like that.
The Tor view hide is still proving popular with visitors - there's always a good chance of a Water Rail sighing here - there have been several lately. They are certainly very vocal on the reserve at the moment, so it looks like we have a healthy population. Little & Great Crested Grebe were seen from there this morning and there are one or two Snipe hidden away on some of the edges - you may be lucky enough to track one down.
The warmer spells are still proving good news for the remaining dragonflies and butterflies. Ruddy Darters are still frequently seen - some pairing off and egg laying in pools this week. Migrant Hawker, Southern Hawker and Common Darter also seen. For butterflies - still plenty of Specked Wood but also Small Tortoiseshell, Red Admiral and Peacock recorded.
One of the best sightings of the week was that of more Great Crested Newts - another youngster from this year and an adult male this time. We are currently doing some specific habitat management work to help these at the moment and ensure the long tern survival of the reserves populations - so it's fantastic to see them. Smooth Newt has also been seen this week and we also get Palmate newt on the reserve. Other Amphibians such as Common Toad and Common Frog are also being seen but it won't be long before they start to look for somewhere to lay low for the winter. Marsh Frogs too are present on the reserve and have been heard croaking away this week during sunny spells.
Also this week: 2 Roe deer disturbed from the Central Wood, Hobby from 1st platform this morning, Peregrine from the same point on Tuesday, Tawny Owls heard calling from Central Wood and Barn Owl from woods in front of the first platform, Raven, plenty of Buzzards and Great Spotted Woodpecker too.
Starlings currently roosting in Waltons c2000 birds this of course is subject to change but gives you an idea.
That's it for this week. Have a great weekend!
It's been another beautiful week on the reserve and this warm & dry weather is really helping with the progress of the new car park and our habitat management work too. We're clearing one particular low lying area of scrub while it's dry (it'll be inaccessible once the rain starts). The area is notable for Great Crested newts (but only if we keep the scrub to a minimum) - the good news is an immature Great Crested Newt from this year was found in this area last week, so they are breeding here - long may it continue.
We've also been pumping down the water in the Loxtons compartment to enable us to access the waterlogged trail. We've been taking out quite a few trees to enable a contractor to access spare clay behind them. This will be used to raise the height of the footpath by some way to stop, or at least reduce, the perennial flooding problem. However, that part of the path remains closed for now until work is completed and the track made good for walking - it might take a while.
You can still access the Loxtons screen though - often a good place to catch Kingfishers flying or perching. Bearded Tits too have been seen in this area this week, as well as in Waltons and in front of both platforms - usually just to the right of each. Small flocks continue to move about each day and there have been numerous sightings from all the local reserves - so while the weathers fine, there's a good chance of a sighting.
Loxtons has also played host to small Starling flocks this week c 1500-2000 birds coming in (just a small taster of what's to come). On Monday they had all settled when a Sparrowhawk came in and sent them all up spiraling in the air. The Starling hotline is not yet operational - not until numbers begin to grow more significantly but we'll keep you posted.
A few Bittern flights have been seen over Loxtons this week too, with one calling in flight on Tuesday. There's no real pattern to their flights at the moment - you just have to stay vigilant to get your sighting - there are plenty around. This one is still managing to fly proficiently despite being well into moult and missing several flight feathers.
The area in front of the first platform is finally beginning to become more splashy - there are a few duck present inc Mallard & Gadwall and a pair of Tufted duck also in moult. Once more under water, these areas around the edges of the cut reed can be a good place to look for Bitterns, particularly on sunny mornings and Great White Egrets will frequent the area for fishing throughout the winter.
Currently, the area in front of the second platform is their favourite haunt. At least 2 seen here most days along with a good selection of wildfowl: c40 Wigeon are present along with Teal, Mallard, Gadwall, a single Pochard, Tufted Duck and the odd Shoveler.
There's waders here too: 2 Ruff on most days and a handful of Black Tailed Godwits (the scrape at Shapwick Heath has been home to large numbers of these this week). Snipe & Lapwing also use this area but a scope would be useful to pick things out.
Marsh Harriers are seen on a daily basis here and over Waltons often 2 at a time - be great to build on our success of fledging 4 youngsters from our nest on Ham Wall this year.
Butterflies are still around but just less obvious. There still seems to be good numbers of Speckled Wood on the reserve and a couple of Small Tortoiseshells were seen yesterday. This morning I've seen 2 Red Admiral and a Clouded Yellow from the first platform.
There still looks to be good numbers of Dragonflies too, although the majority of these are Migrant Hawkers & Ruddy Darters - Common Darter and Southern Hawker (saw a mating pair this week) are still present. Other invertebrates of note are the hornets which are continuing to use one of our Barn Owl boxes to nest in. Luckily we have plenty of other owl boxes for them to use and a Barn Owl was seen flying off the edge of the rail path near the 1st platform on Thursday (it must have landed to catch or feed on something).
Mammals are always harder to spot but we know they are present on site through surveys and signs such as prints and droppings. Grey Squirrels can be seen running down the rail path sometimes perhaps burying acorns. Jays are doing this too of course and are seen weekly including on the feeders at the Avalon Marshes Centre Cafe ( Eco Friendly Bites! )
Roe Deer are fairly common and can often be seen on the grassy banks around the reserve and even on the cut islands. There's plenty of evidence of badgers too. This morning I did catch sight of a fox but he'd seen me first and went hurtling across the field.
A favourite mammal of mine is the weasel and there have been a few sightings this week from the Tor View Hide. It's been seen hunting under the cut reed but didn't manage to come into contact with the Water Rails who were just yards away and showing well (both Sunday & Monday).
Dave Chislett took these photos on Sunday and kindly sent them in to us at the office for us to use. Thanks Dave.
Weasel - Dave Chislett
Water Rail - Dave Chislett (Lots heard calling on the reserve this week.)
Also this week - lots of activity from Kestrels in and around the reserve including 2 seen from the 2nd platform on Weds, Hobby seen from the 1st platform on Tuesday and Weds, Chiffchaff in song, Pochard with 3 well grown young in Loxtons, Great Crested Grebe & Little Grebe in Waltons, Large groups of Long Tailed Tits and male & female Stonechats seen too! Thanks as always to John Crispin for fantastic photos!
That's it for this week. Have a great weekend!