A week similar to the last at Ham Wall this week. It still feels as though we are in a bit of an autumn lull before the bulk of wintering birds arrive. There's plenty to get excited about though, as we are privileged enough to have a fine selection of resident birds here in the Avalon Marshes to keep us entertained.
The water level in the are between the 2 platforms is still rising offering a nice mix to attract a selection of birds. Most days, including this morning, have seen well over 100 Lapwing present, plus a couple of Green Sandpipers and at first light this morning 100's of duck were present although not there late morning when I was observing the area. Perhaps they had moved across to the areas in front of either platform where good numbers of water fowl have been seen this week.
Numbers of Wigeon and Teal don't seem to be rising particularly quickly at present but I'm sure it won't be long before we see more significant changes. It's nice to have them back, with their familiar calls being heard each day. Good numbers of Mallard and Gadwall are present as usual, interspersed with smaller numbers of Shoveler, Tufted Duck and the odd Pochard. You may still be lucky enough to see a very late Garganey (one was spotted at Shapwick Heath this week).
Teal - John Crispin
The second platform has recently been a good place to sit and watch awhile. Particularly if you are after sightings of Marsh Harrier which have been frequent here. Great White Egrets are often present too along with varying numbers of feeding Snipe - 15 counted on Monday but we've had over 30 recently. Other waders seen here this week include: Lapwing, Black Tailed Godwits, Ruff (4 on Sunday), Greenshank and Green Sandpiper. A collection such as this often attracts attention from more than just bird watchers - a Peregrine was seen hunting in the area on Monday before moving off south.
A second place worth waiting awhile is the screen at Loxtons. While other areas have water levels rising, here they are being drawn down for the impending track repair work. This draining has left areas of exposed mud and shallow water visible from the screen. Very few waders are taking advantage of this currently, although a single Black Tailed Godwit was seen feeding here on Monday. Ducks are enjoying the area, with a good mix recorded this week: Mallard, Gadwall, Wigeon, Teal and a single male Pochard all seen along with Little Egrets, a Great White Egret and a couple of Bittern fights seen on Monday. John Crispin managed to capture this sequence of shots of a Bittern taking off for a short flight.
A fine piece of Bittern action showing some great features of the bird. As well as 2 sightings at Loxtons John had another 6 from the second platform the same day.
The windier and more rainy days offer much less in the way of insect life - dragonflies are still on the wing with both Ruddy Darter and Migrant Hawker again recorded this week. In terms of Butterflies it's been meager pickings as well, although Red Admiral, Speckled Wood and Peacock have been seen.
In terms of mammals, there's less to report also. Signs of these creatures are there if you look hard enough but sightings are hard to come by. Roe Deer have been seen on the outer edge of the reserve while the odd Grey Squirrel has been spotted - perhaps collecting acorns from the few mature oaks, which line the rail path near Loxtons, towards the second platform.
As the weather changes, we'll see less of reptiles & amphibians too as they begin to look for suitable places to spend the winter months: Common Frog, Marsh Frog & Common Toad have been seen during the week however.
Also this week: 2 Ravens seen flying over the reserve, a Jack Snipe flushed by the contractor cutting vegetation with the Tracked Tractor, a Water Rail spotted from the Tor View Hide at Waltons (others very vocal), small groups of Bearded Tits seen and heard around the reserve - including Loxtons and areas close to the footpath on the other side of the main drain, Great Spotted Woodpecker, mixed flocks of Tits & Finches, Great Crested Grebe & Little Grebe - like this one seen at Loxtons in its winter plumage.
Starling numbers are building - albeit very slowly. As the colder weather arrives - particularly in Easter Europe, we should see a sharp rise. In anticipation of this the Starling Hotline is now up and running. This will tell you the last known location of the roost (there is of course a vast area for them to choose from and the roost location is not necessarily consistent). We are enormously grateful to John Crispin, who does a fantastic job in keeping the starling hotline up to date (and of course sends me fantastic photos to supplement my ramblings!) Thank you John!
The Avalon Marshes Starling Hotline: 07786 554142
That's it for this week - have a great weekend!
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!