It's been another busy week on the reserve with the car park construction in full swing, the building of an otter holt undertaken (pictures on our Facebook page) and plenty of habitat management underway. The parking areas are expected to be completed in around 4 weeks time before Western Power install a new pole & transformer to provide us with an electricity supply. A toilet block and small visitor reception building will then be installed. It could be that we open just a portion of the car park while this happens but this will help reduce the impact of roadside parking during busy periods - particularly as the footfall during the starling season increases.
Although it's been another pleasant week, the early mornings are often misty, cool and dam,p reminding us that it is actually autumn.
Cormorants on the rafts at Loxtons in the morning mist
There's plenty of other evidence of autumn with reduced numbers of Swallows and Martins being seen, although they are still passing through, Plenty of waders in evidence and growing numbers of Wigeon and Teal arriving.
At this time of year Bearded Tits tend to form larger groups and can often be seen flying around. These movements, known as eruptions, are an indication of birds dispersing to other areas as populations swell after the breeding season. It's a time of year we survey the populations, with volunteers out on site in the warm still mornings. Several groups have been seen throughout the week and this weeks survey saw an increase on the last. They've been seen in public areas too including Waltons and from the second platform and I myself had a group of 8 in a more wooded area whilst scrub cutting with volunteers - maybe another indication that these birds are moving through their environment rather than just feeding.
Water is still slowly coming into the area in front of the 1st platform and we should start to see some more obvious changes here soon. The area from the second platform is still offering a good selection of birds however. Last Sunday (21st) as many as 43 Wigeon were counted (a definite increase on last week) while numbers of Teal c20 are also increasing slowly. The area is still abundant in Gadwall and Mallard too along with a few Shoveler.
A Peregrine also flew low across the water on Sunday while 2 or 3 Marsh Harriers have been seen frequently in this area. The photos below show one disturbing a Gadwall as it hunted here this week.
Waders are using the area too with varying numbers of Black Tailed Godwits (peaking at 23 with 1 or 2 in summer plumage) and Ruff (up to 8 recorded) present most days. Lapwing too (50 or more) are here along with a few Snipe dotted around the site. A Whimbrel flew over me on Tuesday and Green Sandpiper has also been recorded along with 2 Redshank.
The warm weather is still benefiting butterflies and I have been particularly surprised by the numbers of Speckled Woods I've been seeing on the reserve - they look to have had a fantastic year. Comma has also been recorded along with Small White, Brimstone, Green Veined White and Clouded Yellow.
A few dragonflies are still present with Ruddy Darters and Migrant Hawkers still quite abundant along with a few Common Darter.
It's been a quiet week for mammals with just Grey Squirrel and Roe Deer spotted although we always find plenty of evidence of Badgers on site. In terms of Otter signs the survey this month turned up very little, although a few runs recorded suggest they are still present. Hopefully they will discover the new holt we build them this week with the help of volunteers. Before covering it over, we inserted pipes into the roof over the chamber and corridor so that at a future date small cameras could be lowered in to monitor what's going on.
Also this week: as with last week plenty of Ravens seen flying over, Kingfishers in Waltons & Loxtons, Tawny Owls heard calling during the day from the Central Wood, a few Jays seen flying around - perhaps storing acorns for the winter, Great White Egrets - often from the 2nd platform (as many as 3 at one time), Little Egrets in here too, occasional Bittern flights, occasional sightings of Hobby too and a single female Garganey still on site.
That's it for this week! Have a great weekend!!
The dry weather has been a real blessing and enabled us to complete the reed cutting work in front of the 1st platform. We've cleared all we want for now (but have left a few clumps of standing reed here and there around the island edges - we felt this might be beneficial for birds using this area. The water level will now come up slowly over the next couple of weeks and should encourage some waders (there are already a few Snipe using the area, although well hidden) through to ducks and egrets as it goes from splashy to a covering of water. The flooding up of the area should discourage any regrowth and leave the area nice and open for the autumn and winter months. A female Roe Deer was seen with 2 youngsters using the area this morning - I was only talking to someone about them doing this earlier this week.
The second platform is the pace to look for waders at the moment. 5 Ruff have been present for much of the week, while 2 Little Stint joined them earlier in the week. Varying numbers of Lapwing are present, while 3 Greenshank were here last weekend. Green Sandpipers pop in from time to time and Snipe can be picked out although a telescope is a real help in this area. Also last weekend a single Whimbrel was spotted and a few Knot have been noted: 4 on one occasion and up to 30 on another. The other wader of note this week is the Black Tailed Godwit. Flock numbers fluctuate but I did see a flock of just under 50 on Thursday over the reserve. Many of these birds are using both Ham Wall and the scrape at Shapwick Heath so it's worth giving both sites a visit to get your totals up if you're into list making.
The 2nd platform is also performing well for ducks too. Wigeon are arriving with 12 seen this week, while Teal numbers will also increase over the coming weeks. Good numbers of Gadwall and Mallard are here too and a pleasing number of Shoveler can be spotted also. Having said the Garganey had left in my last blog, 2 duly turned up again the next day (either female or juv) but it may be the last we see of them for this year.
Mallard in eclipse
Both Little and Great White Egrets are using the area regularly too with 14 of the former seen flying over the reserve from east to west this very morning. John Crispin has sent in a few shots of the Great White Egrets (these were taken over Loxtons this week) - thanks John.
This is a shot of the ringed bird (you can see them if you look closely). It has a black tip to the bill and suggests this is probably an adult bird.
No rings this time. This low flying bird has an all orange bill - this is probably a non-breeding bird.
Coming in to land
Fantastic looking bird - what a privilege to have them in the Avalon Marshes.
The warm weather and long growing season can be a real bonus for many species. Weather they be migrant birds feeding up before a long journey or the invertebrates themselves taking advantage of extra nectar sources or lack of rain. Dragonfly numbers still look good although we are down to just a few species, while damselflies are notable by their absence. Stand and stare for a minute and you will see plenty of dragonflies on the wing. The bulk of them seem to be Migrant Hawkers and Ruddy Darters but Southern Hawker and Common Darter are also present.
Mating Ruddy Darters - Photo: Carol Coward
Butterflies too continue to show. Green Veined White & Small White are common while there seems to be more Speckled Woods this year than previously. Clouded Yellow has been reported recently while I had a nice view of a Comma earlier in the week. Small Tortoiseshell, Red Admiral and Peacock also seen while Meadow Brown and Gatekeeper could well still be seen for the next few weeks in small numbers.
Comma - Photo: Carol Coward
Also this week: Great Spotted Woodpecker flying in front of the 1st platform, Plenty of Swallows and House Martins, Pied Flycatcher reported by a visitor on the footpath side in the first section of wood - probably just passing through, Bearded Tits reported by the pond in Waltons corner but other small flocks seen at various locations around the reserve (often non access areas but close to 1st platform been good recently).
Photo taken during bearded tit survey this Thursday by Dave Roberts. Peak count around 40 at the moment - I expect this to increase but it's often all down to luck on the day you survey!
Singing Chiffchaffs, groups of Long Tailed Tits, several Ravens including 2 groups of 3 on Monday, 2 Barn Owls in woodland opposite 1st platform, Yellow Wagtail reported by visitor and Grey Wagtail by a volunteer, Great Crested Grebes including a juvenile from the 2nd platform (2 Little Grebe also here and heard calling), Sparrowhawk from the 2nd platform and lots of Buzzard activity including lots of calling from young birds.
Finally, birds of prey often get a hard time from other birds (understandably so). This week a Hobby was seen to be mobbed by several House Martins and this Marsh Harrier was harassed by crows, with John Crispin catching this shot!
That's it for now. Have a great weekend!!
The lovely "Autumn" weather has continued this week - great wildlife watching weather at a great time of year. There's a huge variety of wildlife on offer and plenty of birds "on the move". The Osprey looks to have finally left the area late last week. Despite spending most of it's time at Shapwick Heath we did get occasional visits during its 3 week (or so) stay.
Lots of other birds are visiting us though on passage. Black Terns x2 have been spotted (again late last week) - a distant shot captured by John Crispin:
Whinchat x2 and Wheatear have both been sighted over the last fortnight with the new car park field producing both this week. It's also seen Green Sandpiper, Goldcrest, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Sedge Warbler and Song Thrush over the last 7 days with a Hare to add to the list this morning. Contractors however are starting the main bulk of work next week and we should soon have ample space for visitors - particularly Starling watchers over the winter months.
Swallows are still present locally in good numbers along with a few House Martins and the Sand Martin still appears from time to time, although most have now left.
Post breeding is a much quieter time for Bitterns but you do get the odd flurry of activity on occasions with 4 or 5 flights in a matter of minutes (often followed by and hour or so of nothing of course). They still like to pose for the odd picture.
Work (reed cutting) continues in front of the first platform and we hope to finish this next week. If we do water levels will gradually be raised to knock back any regrowth (although we have left one or two patches of standing reed this season) and should create some nice splashy areas for waders and loafing ducks (and later on Egrets and Bitterns to feed in). The area in front of the 2nd platform is far more interesting at present with some exposed mud.
Great White Egrets are commonplace here with 3 or 4 seen pretty much every early morning - they are still thereabouts during the daytime too. The 2 or 3 Garganey of the last few weeks seem to have finally left us for the winter but there are increasing numbers of Teal and as many as 7 Wigeon arrived so far for the winter months. Numbers of Mallard and Gadwall in here are good (along with large groups of Canada Geese at times) and numbers of Shoveler are on the up too.
Although the scrape at Shapwick is attracting the bulk of waders we do have a select mix of our own (often a bit harder to find). If armed with a scope you should pick out Ruff (as many as 5 recorded), c100 Lapwing, Common Sandpiper, Ringed Plover and a few Snipe (up to 8) - 2 of which were feeding, preening and sleeping in the sunshine on Thursday (what a life!). Little Stint and Green Sandpiper have been seen on the reserve this week too. Not bad for a reserve without an official scrape.
A snapshot in front of the 2nd platform. Ruff & Lapwing both on show.
The area has also thrown up Kingfisher, successfully fishing yesterday, Grey Wagtail, Pied Wagtail, Little Grebe & Little Egret. Lots of other species could pop in, so keep your eyes peeled.
The warm weather has meant plenty of insects still busying themselves, with Butterflies still quite active.
Common Blue, Comma, Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock, Green Veined White, Small White, Speckled Wood & Red Admiral all seen this week.
Common Blue Butterfly female
Dragonflies are reducing in number generally although certain species that emerge later than most are quite abundant - Migrant Hawker, Ruddy Darter and Common Darter in particular. Southern Hawkers are also present and I saw an Emperor this morning and this Black Tailed Skimmer female was taken last week. The last couple of weeks has also seen a large drop in the numbers of damselflies - Blue tailed the most likely one to spot but their time is just about done.
Also this week a Weasel seen by the 1st viewing platform this morning, Barn Owl disturbed from scrub to the left of the reed cutting area at the 1st platform last week and seen in the woods beyond this week, Raven flying over the reserve, Peregrine late last week, several singing Chiffchaff on the reserve but Willow Warbler also seen and on Loxtons Little Grebes feeding young snapped by John Crispin this week.
That's it for now - have a great weekend!!