The relentless heat has made it hard work for staff & volunteers this week and not surprisingly many of the reserves birds have been fairly quiet but throughout the week as a whole there is still plenty to shout about. Bitterns are still around but with nesting finished they are going back to their more secretive ways but given the number we have locally there's always a good chance of an encounter.
The Marsh Harriers on the reserve are still active but now almost finished with the nest. The great news is that 4 juveniles were spotted at the nest site yesterday. The male bird has been a prolific hunter and on one visit yesterday flew over the nest site and the 4 juveniles came up to meet him to try and get the food package. As they did this he let it go and all four spiralled down with it - one of them grabbing the reward - must of been fantastic to see (for one lucky volunteer anyway). A female Sparrowhawk was also seen in the vicinity yesterday and from the rail path a male Marsh Harrier with a grass Snake - although this never went back to the nest site. Another Grass Snake was seen swimming in the drain from the rail bridge on Weds.
The Common Terns are still going great guns on the raft in front of the Loxtons screen. 2 well grown youngsters are almost ready to go. They have been seen flexing their wings to build up there flight muscles (pectorals) and have actually lifted off the raft to make very small flights. The last couple of days has seen them taking a bit of a dip in the water too - so it wont be long
Common Tern adult and juvenile earlier this week.
Juvenile in a flap!
In the same area Great Crested Grebe youngsters have also been seen attempting to achieve lift off - getting just of the water on one occasion. At one stage all the birds followed each other flying/running diagonally across the water in front of the screen. It's amazing the behaviour you can witness if you just give it a bit of time.
Great Crested Grebe juvenile attempting a take off!
More good news this week for young birds on the reserve came when we revisited the Barn Owl boxes. On JUne 10th 4 owlets were ringed from on box but at 2 other sites chicks were either too small or still at egg stage. Chris Sperring (Hawk & Owl Trust) came in once again to undertake any ringing of birds and of course we need a licence to check the nests anyway. We took a quick look at the ringed birds from before to double check there was no second brood attempt. There wasn't but fully grown youngsters were still using the box - here's a snap of one (you can see the ring on it's leg). Absolutely pristine condition - wonderful!
The second box we visited - previously at egg stage gave us 2 Owlets which were subsequently ringed (see photo) whilst the last box saw juvenile birds on the wing and too big to ring unfortunately. Chris will undertake another quick watch of the box if he has time to establish just how many yopungsters there are. 3 successful pairs is a reserve record. Many thanks agin to Chris Sperring for giving up his time to help - always a pleasure to have him visit us - such an enthusiastic naturalist.
Although generally it's a quiet time of year for birds (been lots of reports of departing Swifts, Swallows & Sand Martins at coastal locations) there are still plenty of species to look for: Bullfinch & Treecreeper have been seen along the rail path, groups of Tits & finches also seen, Raven have flown over on a few occasiona and Buzzards are a regular. The second platform is beginning to come back into play, as such. Water has been lowered in here over the last couple of weeks and now some mud is exposed - Green Sandpipers x4 and Lapwing c150 have been taking advantage of this so keep an eye out for other waders popping in - there's been a report of a Black Winged Stilt at Shapwick Heath this week so you never know what might drop in.
A small group of Black Tailed Godwits has been see on a few occasions, a Kestrel was spied at the northern edge of the reserve - be great to see them back, Tawny Owls heard and up to 6 Great WHite Egrets from the 2nd platform but in any numbers down to 1 on many occasions this week.
Away from birds there's always plenty to interest someone - Dragonflies are still out in force : Brown Hawker, Southern Hawker, Emperor, Common Darter, Ruddy Darter have all been seen. Damselflies are beginning to fade now although Blue Tailed and Common Blue damselflies can still be seen along with the odd Banded Demoiselle.
Butterflies are more abundant at the moment - there are still plenty of flowering plants around to interest them. In particular Hemp Agrimony often seen growing along the eges of waterways around the reserve - butterflies are particularly attracted to this. Here's an example below as what to look for:
Speckled Wood (above), Small White, Green Veined White, Small Tortoiseshell, Comma, Small Skipper, Small Copper, Peacock, Red Admiral, Brimstone, Ringlet, Meadow Brown & Gatekeeper all recorded this week.
Plenty of other interesting bugs around too (and not all of them bite). Found a large Beetle today and later discovered it was a Musk Beetle - so useful to have a good camera on my phone for such things. I'm going to post it on the Ham Wall Facebook page later if you want to see but may also do a short blog with other interesting mini beats I've snapped over the last couple of weeks very soon. There's a whole new complicated world lurking in the bushes!!
That's it for this week!! Enjoy your weekend!!
It may not feel like it - having just had the hottest day of the year so far, but there are a few reminders that Autumn will soon be on the way. The majority of our birds have finished their breeding - most notably the Bitterns. No feeding flights from females now but there are still birds moving about frequently throughout the day (7 flights recorded in a few hours just from the 1st platform yesterday). It's worth spending a bit of time at the 1st platform despite the amount of growth which has shot up recently.
Bitterns occasionally can be seen sunning themselves in the reeds here and one landed directly in front of the platform, close in, this morning. It's also a good place to spot Marsh Harriers - often seen hunting low over the reedbed. There has also been sightings of juveniles (x3) close to the wind pump that can be seen distantly from the platform.
Another sign of impending Autumn comes with the increase in wader activity, showing that birds are on the move. Common Sandpipers have been seen on a few occasions this week - often on the small rafts in Waltons: 4 were there on Sunday. Green Sandpipers are more prevalent with as many as 7 seen from the 2nd platform this week and 3 within Waltons on Sunday. Lapwings are also frequenting the area by the 2nd platform c50 the max count and 22 Black Tailed Godwits yesterday (c20 from here on Monday too and 13 this morning). The odd Snipe has also been reported.
We are slowly draining water from this section at the moment so the exposed mud should draw in more waders over the coming weeks.
We are also taking water from the area in front of the 1st platform in readiness for management work early next month - this should open the area up nicely for a winter bird spectacle.
Some birds are still busy feeding young - the stars once again are the Common Terns. They continue to be very protective of their youngsters (x2), who are growing well. There's been plenty of preening, wing stretching & flapping and one chick even made a duck move - just like the adults do. The adults do tend to tolerate the nearby Cormorants and ducks but occasionally when taking off to feed will fly at them forcing them to vacate their raft for the water. Some great pictures below from both John Crispin & Robin Morrision taken this week - many thanks to you both:
Adult in flight
Wing stretching from a chick - primary feathers beginning to show!
Adult with fish
Doesn't look the most comfortable way to be flying but great parenting none the less.
Another gullet stretching shot - this time of the Great Crested Grebes. There are adults with young in both Waltons and Loxtons and are quite easy to see, This adult caught quite a large fish but kept it all to itself rather than feeding the youngster - perhaps to encourage it to try feeding for itself.
The warmer days are making it easier to see butterflies - several species spotted on the reserve this week: Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock (probably the most common at present), Red Admiral, Small White, Green Veined White, Speckled Wood, Meadow Brown, Gatekeeper, Ringlet, Small Copper, Small Skipper and Comma all recorded.
Dragonflies too are still busy although some species have finished for this year now (a couple are just starting too). Emperor, Southern Hawker, Brown Hawker, Common Darter, Ruddy Darter, Black Tailed Skimmer, Scarce Chaser, a late 4 spotted Chaser, Blue Tailed Damselflies (but reducing in number), Common Blue Damselfly, Banded Demoiselle (25-30 seen at the gateway to Tinneys ground on the Sharpham to Walton village road) and Red eyed Damselfly all seen.
Ruddy darters (pictured below) are just getting started really and look out for Migrant Hawker too - another late one.
Groups of birds are beginning to gather together a bit now - particularly the tits with mixed groups spotted - but plenty of long tailed. The rail path is still a good place to take a slow walk - you never know what you might see. Bullfinch, Goldcrest, Treecreepers Great Spotted Woodpeckers and Spotted Flycatchers have all been spotted in the last week. Birds are also dusting themselves off on the trackway too - often finches but yesterday several Wrens were spotted doing this.
This Song Thrush was also seen out sunning itself: Sunning can help dislodge feather parasites. The excess heat can encourage them to move to other places in the plumage where it may be easier to preen. It's essential for birds to get rid of these parasites which infest their feathers causing problems with flight, insulation and appearance which all impact on their survival.
Also this week: Otter seen on the middle track at Tinneys, 14 Greylag Geese flying over this morning, a female/juv Garganey seen from the 2nd platform (it had pale lores), Great White Egrets regularly seen but 2 yesterday (One with orange bill, one with black), several Buzards seen flying high often in small groups, 2x Kestrels from the car park on Saturday and Sparrowhawk from 1st platform the same day, occasional Hobby, Jays from the 1st platform & the Sharpham end of the track and juvenile Cuckoo seen along the Ashcott Road - we had one within Loxtons last week too which I omitted to mention in the blog - apologies.
That's it for this week - have a great weekend!
There's a distinct feeling that everything has just slowed down a little on the reserve the last week or so. That's normal for this time of year - many birds have finished their breeding and are resting up - regaining strength & condition to prepare for the autumn & winter months (a fair way off yet admittedly).
Bitterns have all but finished breeding but a few flights are still being seen and what could be juvenile birds are often seen popping up out the reeds from the 1st platform. In fact on a couple of the islands, with the lower vegetation, they have been seen out in the open for long periods - nearly 2 hours on Weds and over an hour yesterday. This morning saw one crash land into the reeds and then stand out on the edge - just visible, to give some visitors a treat. A second bird was also seen briefly on the island behind.
Marsh Harrier (female) was also seen around this time and at one point landed very close to the first Bittern - waiting a couple of minute before flying off again.
Many of the ducks on the reserve of course are in eclipse, making flying more difficult until their feathers are renewed - also can make identification a little more difficult too.
Male Mallard in eclipse.
The 1st platform also turned up some Bearded Tits this morning. They could be heard calling (pinging) more than a dozen times in the reeds with dead stems, just in front and to the right of the platform. Just a couple of brief sightings were had though - they were also there on Wednesday - so could be worth a look.
Bearded Tits were also heard (but not seen) near the Tor View Hide yesterday - it's not often they venture over this side, so it was nice to hear them. The Tor view Hides has plenty to offer (as well as some shelter from the sun). Water Rails (inc juveniles) can be heard frequently here and are occasionally seen (directly down in front of the screen on the right as you enter). One juvenile was also seen on the track by the hide entrance this week. A mink was nearby but was luckily scared away by a visitor in the hide.
Otter have also been seen from the hide recently and one swam within Waltons on Saturday - always jealous to hear about an Otter sighting. Also from the hide: Great Cested Grebes & Coots with young, Pochard, Great White Egrets and Marsh Harriers flying over and perhaps more spectacularly - Night Herons (x2) on Tuesday after 9pm. Single birds were also seen on Monday & Weds evenings to add to the 3 seen last week. Another unusual spot this week was a Red Footed Falcon seen once (maybe twice) on Tuesday from the 1st platform.
Common Terns pass over Waltons ocasionally but are mainly concentrating on the areas around Loxtons close to their nest on the raft (in front of the Loxtons screen). The 2 chicks are still present and the parents are still chasing anything and everything away (including a 3rd adult Tern). Marsh Harriers, Crows, a Sparrowhawk and Lesser Black Backed Gulls have all felt the wrath of the parents for coming too close - with behaviour like this these chicks have a really good chance of survival.
Common Tern sees off a Lesser Black Back Gull
From the 2nd platform, you should see some changes soon. We are starting to draw water down slowly here and some fringes of mud are showing. Little Egrets and Great White Egrets were feeding here today along with a Green Sandpiper. These have also been seen eslewhere on the reserve this week (x3). In the drier area more distant from the 1st platform (left of the central wood) groups of Lapwing are still feeding with upwards of 40 seen along with the odd Redshank & Snipe - you may see them if they get disturbed. Starlings are also amongst them and a very small nightly roost already exists on Ham Wall of an evening - a gentle nudge,as a reminder of what's to come.
The evenings also bring the chance of Barn Owls - although this could be late evening given the good weather. The boxes will be checked for the second time on July 22nd - with hopefully some good news to report and owlets to ring.
Elsewhere: Spotted Flycatcher seen near the car park and along the rail path (between the 2 platforms), Bullfinches along the 1st stretch of rail path down to the 1st platform, Treecreepers towards the other end of the rail path where a Nightingale also sang on Saturday (beyond the 2nd platform) and the same day a Mistle Thrush flew over Waltons. Hobbies were active from the 1st platform earlier in the week and seen over Loxtons on Thursday, a Sparowhawk flew over the rail path on Wednesday too. Lots of juveile birds to be seen around the reserve like this Reed Warbler:
Insect life is still good on the reserve and in particular it's been a good week for Butterflies: Red Admiral, White Admiral, Peacock, Green Veined White, Meadow Brown, Speckled Wod, Ringlet, Comma, Small Tortoiseshell and Gatekeeper all seen this week. Silver Washed Fritillary & Purple Hairstreak also reported from areas of Shapwick Heath.
Dragonflies are also very evident with: 4 Spotted Chaser, Banded Demoiselle, Common Blue Damselfly, Blue Tailed Damselfly, Common Darter, Black Tailed Skimmer, Scarce Chaser, Emperor, Brown Hawker & Southern Hawker all seen this week.
I managed to get quite a nice shot myself with my camera phone of a female Emperor close up. She had caught a Black Tailed Skimmer and was so busy devouring it, she barely noticed me.
That's it for another week! Have a great weekend!