It's a fantastic time of year on the reserve with so many opportunities to get some great wildlife sightings. There's so much to see but also so much to hear, which is all part of a great experience for visitors. Whether it's crazy Bitterns in some kind of dispute:
Crazy Bitterns: John Crabb
Hungry Grey Heron Chicks calling noisily...
Grey Heron & Chick: Natalie Talbot
...the chorusing of many loud Iberian Water Frogs:
Iberian Water Frog: John Crabb
Or angry Coots having a fight:
Fighting Coots: John Crabb
..and there's always one who has to rush in and get involved too....
Running Coot: John Crabb
.....there really is a feast for all your senses (not sure about the sense of taste - unless you bring your own sandwiches).
The Grey Heron chick on the way to the Tor View Hide is still sat in the nest - at well over 50 days old he's not left to explore the big wide world yet. He knows he's onto a good thing at the moment. Other Heron nests are within Waltons but not as easily seen as this rather noisy fellow.
If you're on your way to the Tor View Hide keep your eyes peeled for the Water Rails with chicks on the path or by the side. Sightings have been numerous this week and there have been some very close encounters. Andrew Kirby sent me these pictures - thanks Andrew.
Water Rail feeding young with dragonfly larvae: Andrew Kirby
The Tor View Hide has been the place to view Bitterns too (or from the rail path looking into the eastern side in particular). There were so many sightings yesterday that it was hard to keep track of all the movement - brilliant.
Bittern: John Crabb
In the other side of Waltons last Sunday, on a misty morning, John Crispin took these shots of a Bittern creeping through the reeds. It gives you an idea of how it uses its long toes to clutch stems of reed to walk/balance on. Thanks for sending them in John:
Bittern walking on reeds: John Crispin
It's also been a great place to spot Great White Egrets over the last couple of weeks, although if I'm perfectly honest they seem to be everywhere you look. I take this sudden flurry of extra activity as a good sign - there must be more hungry mouths to feed somewhere! Thanks to John Crabb for these great shots taken this week:
Great White Egrets: John Crabb
The 2nd platform is not proving quite as productive as it has done in the previous few weeks. The majority of waders have moved on through, although c25 Black Tailed Godwits have been present on occasions this week and a single Bar Tailed Godwit on Monday. Redshank are also here along with several Lapwing (probable nesting) and a single Ruff was present early in the week. A Whimbrel has also showing since last weekend but looks injured by the way it's been moving its wing. It's still here and is feeding so maybe things aren't so bad.
Of course, the Glossy Ibis, is still there and still pulling in a few visitors. It's not always out in the open from the 2nd platform but it's a good place to start. If not there then cross over to the footpath and look in front of the benches or willow blinds along that edge to get better/alternate views of the area. He's (if it is a he) probably in there somewhere.
A short walk from here is the Avalon Hide. As before, it's the place to see the Marsh Harriers at the moment and the very protective male - who loves to chase stuff off. This week (Thurs) a Red Kite and a Buzzard were seen circling high over the area and were both seen off by the male Marsh Harrier. Red Kite was also seen on Tuesday on 2 occasions.
On the way to the hide there's always a chance of seeing Cettis Warbler. I've been seeing one here quite a lot lately but they are definitely becoming harder to see now - back to normal for this bird then. On the path the other side of the wood is a Sedge Warbler which sings well and there's oftena Reed Warbler on the other side for comparison - a good learning opportunity.
There are also Great Spotted Woodpeckers nesting with noisy chicks being heard from within the dead tree trunk. Judging by the noise there are at least 3 youngsters. Natalie Talbot sent me in these pictures this week - thanks Natalie!
Bearded Tits have also been heard in this area this week - both on the way to the hide and in front of the hide itself - worth bearing in mind. Listen out for their 'pinging' calls.
All over the reserve this week have been screaming, diving, swooping Swifts - great birds to watch:
Swift: John Crabb
Similar in shape and flight are of course the Hobbys - another great bird to watch. Still several being seen daily although the peak numbers are probably now through. They'll be chasing the many dragonflies and damselflies now seen on the reserve. Hairy Dragonfly, 4 Spotted Chasers, Broad Bodied Chaser & Scarce Chaser all seen this week, while for damselflies: Azure, Variable, Red Eyed, Blue Tailed & Banded Demoiselle all recorded.
Scarce Chaser: John Crispin
Butterflies include: Brimstone, Green Veined White, Orange Tip, Peacock, Red Admiral, Small Tortoiseshell and Speckled Wood.
It's the fat juicy caterpillars of some of our larger moths (I did move a hawk moth species from the Tor View Hide path yesterday before it got stepped on) that the cuckoos are after. Several can be heard around the reserve often from the car park or around Waltons in particular. The South West corner a good spot, although I did have one perched up in a dead tree right towards the far end of the reserve yesterday.
Cuckoo: John Crabb
Plenty of birdsong to enjoy around the reserve too - the car park a good place to start and along the tree lines of the old rail path. It is closed at present between the bridge and the 1st platform - access from the other side of the drain on the footpath (follow the signs). Apart from that short stretch, the rest of the reserve is open as normal. Regrettably, this bridge closure by the Environment Agency (for structural repairs) means we have no RADAR access at present. We are hopeful the works will be finished by the end of next week. Blackcaps, Chiffchaff, Willow Warblers, Garden Warblers and Whitethroats can all be heard singing frequently:
Whitethroat: John Crabb
Also this week: 3 Adder sightings (one by workmen by the bridge, one on the footpath close to the gate and one in our log piles on the north of the reserve - never had them here before), 2 Common Tern over Waltons on Tuesday then from Loxtons screen and 2nd platform, 20 Little Egrets feeding together early morning, Barn Owl & Tawny Owl seen this week (using boxes around the reserve), Wigeon still from the 2nd platform and 4 Shelduck recorded from the 1st platform last weekend with 2 snapped by John Crispin:
Finally, some cute fluffy chicks - some Canada Geese goslings, photographed by John Crabb this week:
Canada Goose goslings: John Crabb
Many thanks to John Crispin, John Crabb, Natalie Talbot & Andrew Kirby for all your photos and information this week - very gratefully received.
I'm afraid there won't be a blog next week as I'm away but will hopefully return with a big catch up and lots of great news the following week.
That's it for now. Have a great weekend!!
What a fantastic time of year it is on the reserve with such a variety of wildlife on show and it's so good to see so many visitors out enjoying themselves. There certainly seems to have been an increase in the amount of Bittern activity over the past couple of weeks and visitors are frequently reporting sightings - often of 2 or more birds in a courtship flight or as on Wednesday 2 males in a territorial dispute. Volunteer John Crispin was out on the reserve surveying them on Thursday and managed to get these shots of birds flying over the Loxtons area. Thanks for sending them in John!
At one point there were 3 birds 'in the chase'.
Bitterns: John Crispin
Simon Lewis has also sent me a few Photos this week including this great shot of a Bittern - thanks Simon:
Bittern: Simon Lewis
It's likely that there are now flights from females feeding young in a couple of areas and there's still plenty of booming going including a very strong sounding male out on the north side. It's this area where Marsh Harriers are very active and there is one very aggressive male in particular. He was seen yesterday giving 2 Bitterns in a chase a hard time and forced them down into the reed beds and dived bombed them several times. It's a good possibility that Bitterns in this area will keep a very low profile if that's what happens. I also saw him giving a Carrion Crow a very hard time yesterday. The best place for seeing Marsh Harriers is the Avalon Hide where food passes have been seen this week. Birds are also seen frequently carrying in food items - often with long dangly legs - perhaps those of a Coot or Moorhen chick.
There are plenty of broods around - a quick glance in Waltons often brings sightings of Coots feeding chicks:
Coot with Young - John Crispin
Our other Heron Species are also doing well. Great White Egrets seem to be everywhere this week. Both platforms and the Waltons area in particular offer good views. It's hard not to see these beautiful birds during a visit. John Crabb sent me this great picture this week with the bird's wings looking translucent - thanks John:
Great White Egret: John Crabb
There are at least 6 Grey Heron nests on Ham Wall territory this year - 4 of them within Waltons. They provide great entertainment, especially when an adult comes in to feed one of the now, well grown, youngsters (much noise and flapping). The most visible is to on the 1st island to the left of the Tor View Hide path, although it must be very close to fledging by now. Opposite the first 2 screens is another nest with 2 slightly less obvious youngsters. (The path to the hide also saw several sightings of Water Rail yesterday including a parent feeding young on one occasion).
Add to this a few Little Egrets seen feeding here and there, a now almost resident Glossy Ibis and small groups of Cranes which fly over (groups of 2 and 4 on Sunday 15th), it's quite a collection.
Of course, there are plenty of Iberian Water Frogs for these birds to feed on. You can hear them chorusing loudly - particularly during sunny spells. If you're visiting and hearing an unusual sound you can quite place - it's probably these!
Iberian Water Frog: John Crabb
Another bird people always look for is the Hobby. The best group we've had together so far this year is at least 24 seen over the back of the Waltons section on Sunday. Otherwise they are seen daily all over the reserve in small numbers but around 10 over Waltons on Wednesday and groups of 5 or more yesterday at the back of Loxtons. John Crabb has been out on a mission this year to get some good shots of Hobby - I'd say he's doing pretty well - thanks John.
Of course they are after the many dragonflies that are now out and very busy. 4 Spotted Chasers are very abundant in some parts of the reserve - the back of Waltons is often good. Other dragonflies on the wing include Broad Bodied Chaser and Hairy dragonfly - these will be joined by many more species in the next couple of weeks or so. Their smaller cousins - the damselfly, are also out in force. Thousands of Azure, Blue tailed, Red Eyed, Large Red and Variable damselflies are present and hard to miss (but also hard to identify if they don't sit still). These have been joined this week by the very gorgeous looking Banded Demoiselle - seen at Loxtons, Tinneys and also our site at Long Drove.
Blue Tailed Damselfly - Simon Lewis
Blue Tailed Damselflies copulating: John Crispin.
Butterflies are out too: Brimstone, Clouded Yellow, Orange Tip, Green Veined White, Peacock, Red Admiral, Small Tortoiseshell and Speckled Wood all seen this week and a blue butterfly - either Holly Blue or Common Blue.
The second platform is still producing the goods but not in the numbers is was in previous weeks. Far fewer waders recorded here since the last blog. Peak numbers: Ruff 3 (down to 1 by yesterday), Redshank 2, Black Tailed Godwits c30, Lapwing 6 is all I can muster. The Glossy Ibis continues to stay with us - often showing from the willow blinds on the other side of the drain if not seen from the 2nd platform. Also in the area this week: a pair of Wigeon still hanging on, a Peregrine on Thursday and as many as 4 Garganey (3 males, 1 female). From the platform 2 Mistle Thrush were also recorded on Monday.
We've were looking at the path to the Avalon Hide yesterday with the volunteers and trying to fill in some of the deeper bumps and squashy bits, as well as give it a bit of a tidy to keep access easy. It's quite nice to sit a while in there and see what's about. Got good views of a Cettis Warbler but also discovered that the Great Spotted Woodpeckers are nesting again in a dead birch by the path. Please be aware of this and not loiter here too long. In the owl box further down Tawny Owls have been seen (including a youngster) and there was also a possible sighting of Green Tiger Beetle that flew up off the path. Also whilst tidying up this morning I had a close encounter with a Roe Deer in the wood. They have also been seen from the old rail bridge and the back of Waltons this week:
Roe Deer: John Crispin.
Another great sighting I had this morning was that of some juvenile Bearded Tits at the back of the area in front of the 2nd viewing platform. One bird perched up just a few feet away - wonderful. John Crispin has also seen some this week. They may not show in public areas but it's nice to know they are out there and breeding successfully. John Crispin managed to get some photos of them this week and sent me some information on key things to look out for - thanks John:
Juvenile Bearded Tit - John Crispin
"Juvenile Bearded Tits have been showing well with black back, black lores (where the bill meets the face), black outer tail feathers and yellow bill. Black lores and a yellow bill indicate a juvenile male whilst for female more brown lores and a greyish black bill which will turn yellow on maturity".
Warblers are everywhere it seems - the rail path great for all the song birds but lots of Blackcaps to be seen and heard along with Willow Warbler, Garden Warbler and Chiffchaff. Bullfinch and nesting Goldcrests also seen along here this week. Taller vegetation and brambles are a good place to hunt for Whitethroats too, while the reedbeds are alive with the chattering of Reed Warblers a few Sedge Warblers and the calling of Reed Buntings:
Whitethroat: Simon Lewis
Reed Warbler with typher (presumably to line a nest): John Crispin
Reed Bunting collecting food: John Crabb
Also this week: Red Kite seen over the reserve on Sunday 15th and Tuesday 17th, lots of Swifts over the reserve all week, Otter seen from the Tor View Hide on Sunday Morning, Stoat reported running across the rail path by 1st platform on Tuesday, also on Tuesday a small Adder found dead in the car park (perhaps dropped by something), a pair of Barn Owls seen at Tinneys and seen flying over Waltons one evening, Kingfishers also seen at Tinneys (on the Sharpham Road) and several Cuckoos seen and heard including this one from the far end of Waltons - a common calling place:
Cuckoo: John Crispin
Before I sign off just a couple of reminders:
Unfortunately Station road between Ashcott and RSPB Ham Wall will be closed for essential repairs between the 20th May and 1 June. Access to the reserve will be Via Meare village during this period. Follow the link below for more details
There are signs up at the Meare end of the Road saying road close ahead at Station Road. You can access at this point even if it appears you can't. The roadworks are beyond the Ham Wall car park and access as far as that is fine.
Also: the bridge work is getting underway at last with the Environment Agency's contractors starting on Monday 23rd. As before the main track through the reserve will be closed between the car park and the 1st viewing platform but access is available by crossing the road bridge and walking down the other side of the main drain. Waltons, Loxtons and the 1st platform can be accessed by crossing back over at the pedestrian bridge just beyond the 1st platform. Thankfully, the track has hardened up and should be firm underfoot. Unfortunately, there will be no disabled access (RADAR access) to the reserve during this time and we can only apologise for any inconvenience caused. We've been told the work will take 2 to 3 weeks and will let people know when things return to normal.
Finally, one photo for the road, an often overlooked bird in an action shot provided by John Crabb. The humble Mallard:
That's it for this week. Have a great weekend.
It's certainly a busy time of year for the reserves wildlife. The reserve is a hive of activity and alive with bird song. A simple walk along the rail path can take a while with a host of species to look out for. There are plenty of Blackcaps and a few Garden Warblers to get you started. Add to this Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler, Bullfinches, Goldcrest, Blackbird, Song Thrush, Robin and all the tits & finches and you're already getting a nice list going. In fact many visitors are regularly reporting a total of over 60 bird species in a visit.
As you reach the first platform you can usually add a Whitethroat and a quick look across the reeds often brings a sighting of Great White Egret - often seen fishing in this area (they're hard to miss at some point on your visit). It's fascinating to watch their fishing techniques and John Crispin sent me these photos of a Great White Egret in full fishing mode - thanks John!
The first platform was a good place to spot Bitterns yesterday too with several flights recorded. During the last week or so 2 or more birds have been seen together from here on several occasions (either in front or behind within Waltons). On Wednesday John Crispin managed to take these shots of 2 birds together in the reed beds at Waltons - there was no apparent animosity between the birds and one eventually flew off:
Yesterday 2 were seen flying together - again over the Waltons area:
Meanwhile, below them in the reedbeds the Grey Heron chick from the most visible nest is at around 43 days old. It's been seen stretching and exercising its wings to build up its flight muscles. On average it takes around 50 days for fledging - so not long to go for this little chap:
Hobbys are another big draw for visitors at this time of year. Still can't get near the 40-50 together we had last year but 15 is a good attempt I suppose. They're another easy score for most visitors during May. Of course they are feeding of their favourite dish of dragonflies of which there are now many more on the wing. Most notable are the Hairy Hawkers which are finally out in good numbers after a late start. Almost immediately behind them come Broad Bodied Chaser (1 seen) and 4 Spotted Chaser - our most common dragonfly on the reserve (on a good year you'll get 10's of thousands - the back of Waltons often a hot spot). The car park pools offer plenty of activity with plenty of dragonflies and damselflies seen here this week.
I was lucky enough to be able to snap this shot with my phone camera yesterday of a 4 spotted chaser emerging at the car park:
...and here's what it will eventually look like:
Several damselfly species are present too including: Blue Tailed, Large Red, Azure, Variable and Red Eyed (seen from the Waltons viewing screens and pictured below):
There are plenty of butterflies on the wing too including: Green Veined White, Orange Tip, Brimstone, Clouded Yellow, Speckled Wood, Peacock, Small Tortoiseshell and Red Admiral.
In terms of mammals we've seen Roe Deer on several occasions, Hare in the fields next to the car park, bank voles and a fox prowling around the north of the reserve yesterday morning.
The 2nd platform is still attracting its fair share of waders. This morning saw Ruff in summer plumage, Glossy Ibis, Greenshank, Lapwing (displaying) and Black Tailed Godwits. Without a scope it's hard to get full coverage. Also it may be worth crossing over to the footpath on the other side and finding the 2 small blinds which face the same area. They give a slightly different perspective and could turn up trumps )the Glossy Ibis has hidden around here before now. Also look out for a very late Wigeon (still there this morning) and drake Garganey and multiples of Great White Egret (4 together this week).
Peak counts of Waders here this week: Ruffx5, Lapwing x6, Wood Sandpiper x1, Spotted Redshank x1, Redshank x2, Greenshank x5, Snipe x2, Black Tailed Godwits x25. There may be more - you just need to be patient and have a good look!
Also this week: Osprey reported yesterday at beyond the back of Waltons, Red Kite flying north over the Avalon Hide yesterday, Spotted Flycatcher reported between the 2 viewing platforms, Iberian Water |Frogs croaking loudly (Common Frog and Common Toad also seen this week), Mallards with 10 ducklings and Great Crested Grebes with 4 young in Waltons (and numerous Coot broods), 2 Common Terns over Waltons yesterday morning, a very showy Cettis Warbler by the Waltons screens this morning (try the junction with the Tor View Path for a good photo op), Raven chased off by crows of Wednesday, Sparrowhawk low in front of 2nd platform on Monday and Kestrel over the car park the same day. Marsh Harriers from the Avalon Hide and 3 Cuckoos calling from 1st platform on Monday and 4 seen chasing from the 2nd the same day after female heard calling.
Phew! Think I need a rest after all that and I didn't even mention the amazing screaming Swifts!
Time to relax! Here's a lovely shot of sunrise over Ham wall taken by John Crispin from the Avalon Hide - thanks John. Have a great Weekend everyone! I'm working on Sunday so come and say hello if you see me!