Firstly, apologies for the 2 week break with no blog. A mixture of me being away and computer issues have caused the delay. It leaves me however with a lot of catching up to do, so I'll start with a short round up of the 2 missed weeks before moving onto the last 7 days.
The end of March still had some cold spells so it left us with a nice mix of the 1st spring migrants and the tail end of the winter visitors. Several groups of Fieldfare were being seen including a group of 14 on 24/3 and small groups of Redpoll too with 6 on 27/3 and just 1 or 2 Siskin.
The first Willow Warbler for me came on the 30th March, joining the already singing Chichaffs. Garganey had already been seen previous to this in Waltons and 3 were still present last week in the same place. The last 3 weeks have seen the first big influxes of Sand and House Martins and to a lesser extent Swallows with 100's passing through after stopping off to gorge on the large numbers of flying insects.
The previous 2 weeks to this had also seen a Female Hen Harrier and a Merlin and of course the continued noise from booming Bitterns. The second early morning Bittern Survey saw equally impressive results as the first with as many as 42 males confirmed in the Avalon Marshes, with an amazing 21 at Ham Wall (and another possible 4 not confirmed).
Monday 30th March saw 2 Common Crane flying high over Ham Wall and 4 Little Gulls reported in amongst a group of Black Headed Gulls and later in the week 120 Black Tailed Godwits from the 2nd platform along with 18 Lapwing a single Redshank and several Snipe - as well as a good selection of Wildfowl, including 4 Shelduck on the Friday.
In fear of this getting too long, I'd better start on the last week on the reserve.
The weekend saw John Crispin undertaking the annual Water Rail survey. This involves playing the males call (known as Sharming) and mapping the replies from other males to work out the number of territories. Doing this each year gives us a trend of how they are fairing. 39 hits on the main reserve is on a par with last year and a good result. During the survey he was lucky enough to spot an Otter to the left of the rail bridge in the narrow drain running away from you. 14 Black Tailed Godwits also flew overhead.
A number of Great White Egrets are using the reserve at the moment with a few places looking like favourite fishing areas. One of these is from the 2nd platform, where water is dropping slowly, creating good feeding areas for a variety of birds. As many as 5 flew up fom the area just beyond this on Wednesday.
Lapwing too are enjoying this area with at least 2 pairs displaying. Again, a good selection of wildfowl reside here at present including: Shoveler, Teal, Tufted Duck, Pochard, Gadwall and Mallard. Garganey too are present with 3 males and 2 females seen here on Wednesday.
Wednesday also saw a further sighting of Common Crane with a single bird flying over quite high (yet again I missed it).
I undertook the weekly Butterfly and Dragonfly transect this week as the usual volunteers were not available. There are a number of butterflies using the reserve at the moment, particularly Small Tortoiseshell and Peacock which seem to be the most prominent. Also recorded were Large White, Brimstone, Comma, Orange Tip and Speckled Wood (pictured). The only record for the dragonfly survey was a single Large Red Damselfly. The warm spells should trigger an emergence over the next few days - look out for Hairy Dragonfly - usually the first one to show.
Many other invertebrates are on the wing - making a fine meal for any hirundines passing over. Good numbers of bees (several species) too, helping to bring the reserve to life.
In the water too there is always plenty of life. In our wet woodland several Silver Diving Beetles were found by the Young Wardens group on their day on the reserve. Also seen this week: Pond Skaters, Water Measurers, Water Boatman, Whirligig Beetles and Water Scorpion to name but a few. It's amazing what life Ham Wall's waters supports.
Under the tins in the reptile area the Slow Worm of previous weeks still resides along with a field vole and there are plenty of Common Frog hopping about the reserve. Of course they have been joined by the non-native Marsh Frogs. The make quite a racket during sunny spells and can often be seen sunning themselves on the egdes by the deeper water. Of course they usually jump in before you get a really good look. So if you hear some strange noises - this is your best bet.
Only just noticed the photo says Dunnock. Not like you to misidentify John. It is of course a Marsh Frog : )
With all the increase invertebrate activity comes an increase in bird activity and the last 2 weeks has seen a big influx of Blackcaps in particular. They can be heard all down the rail path and canal bank trees. Willow Warblers too have increased and even a few Reed Warblers have arrived - soon the reebeds will be alive with hundreds of chattering voices. The treelines are awash with goldfinches, Blue and Great Tits Wrens, Blackbirds and Song Thrush as well as others. It really is a wonderful time of year.
Also this past week: Drumming Great Spotted Woodpecker, 3 Bitterns seen chasing each other and calling, increase in Marsh Harrier activity - including interactions between male and female, Cowslips in flower along the rail path, Kingfisher activity around Waltons, Redpolls by the 2nd platform, Bullfinches along the rail path and canal path, Nesting Swans and Great Crested Grebe visible to visitors.
There will be plenty more changes and new arrivals on the reserve over the next few weeks as the season warms up - so why not pay us a visit.
That's it for this week - have a great weekend!
Things are moving on at a pace on the reserve with the arrival of c200 House Martins today, giving great views over Walton Heath. Some Sand Martins have also been seen but not in the same numbers, just small pockets of between 7 & 12 birds but a sure sign of good things to come. Skylarks have also been heard singing locally - all these good indicators of spring for me!
It's an interesting time of year for many as they tail end of the wintering birds coincides with spring arrivals. The last WeBS survey of the season still showed good numbers of Shoveler gathered in front of the 2nd viewing platform, with c300 counted along with c100 Teal. Wigeon are also still present in some areas of the reserve. These ducks have now been joined by a few Garganey - this is the only summer visiting duck to the Uk after over wintering in the sub Sahara. At least 3 drakes are present - often loitering on the cut island in front of the 3rd viewing screen at Waltons, but yesterday 2 ventured up to the area in front of the Tor View Hide and offered great views. One has also been heard calling quietly, like a dry ratchet sound - really quite distinctive!
2 drake Gargany
The Tor View HIde is still a hit with visitors - offering views of a wide range of species. Once again this week a Water Rail has shown very well on a few occasions directly in front of the hide on the west side. The east side offers views of Great Crested Grebe on a nest and views of Grey Herons dropping into their reedbed nest sites.
Bitterns continue to boom both from here and across the reserve. A second survey of booming males across the Avalon Marshes is due to take place next Thurdsay. Often the number reduces from the 1st survey as some males become ousted by stronger males. Territories may become much more evident - but we'll have to wait and see what happens.
Early morning starts often bring their own rewards (although, the last early morning survey was very foggy) and there's always a chance of Barn Owl sightings for example. In fact, 2 flew out of the box visible from the 1st platform as we passed this morning - great to know they are still here after an appallingly wet winter.
It's not just birds that are active on the reserve of course. Bumblebees are on the wing visiting early flowering plants and the odd butterfly has been seen - mostly Small Tortoiseshell and surprisingly less than last week - although there have been some colder spells and a little wind.
Great news from our reptile area - which spent some time under water this winter, with Slow Worm seen on 2 occasions and plenty of evidence of small mammal activity (mice and voles).
Slow Worm : James Edwards
Marsh Frogs have been heard calling on one occasion on the north of the reserve and there's plenty of activity from Common Frog, including this little fella below:
Common Frog : James Edwards
Also this week: c60 Snipe in the flooded field beyond the section in front of the 1st platform - with Lapwing seen displaying here too, 4 Kingfishers reported from the rail bridge, Treecreepers along the rail path, Sparrowhawk seen near the owl boxes both this morning and on Tuesday and Peregrine this morning flying high in the same area - visible from 1st platform, Merlin also seen close to this area on Tuesday, Several Buzzards, singing Chiffchaffs, occasion Bearded Tit sightings - including once in front of 1st platform, Great White Egrets flying over Waltons and from 1st platform, 1 or 2 Marsh Harrier sightings, Roe Deer on grassy banks around reserve and very vocal Cettis Warblers. One has a territory near the entrance to the screens and could offer a sighting.
Emerging bleary eyed form their winter hibernation, the staff and volunteers from the Avalon Marshes conservation organisations (RSPB, NE and SWT), set their alarms clocks for ridiculous ‘o’clock and proceeded to perambulate the marshy tracks of their respective reserves, ears alert for the sound of the booming bittern.
They were not disappointed...
The line of the graph still seems to pointing to the skies, with last year’s peak count of 34 birds, rocketing to 41 birds confirmed with a query on a possible 3 more! SWT Westhay reported 6 NE Shapwick Heath and Canada Farm reported 12 with an additional on private land
With RSPB Ham Wall bursting at the seams with 20 -23 on the main reserve and 1 at Tinneys Ground and an additional on adjacent private land owned by Godwins!
Another survey is planned for April, where one tends to find that territorial battles have been settled and one is left with the dominant males maintaining their home ranges.
Hats off the volunteers (in excess of 30 of them) who put the time in, but hey we cooked them a good breakfast afterwards!
Ray Summers - Warden, Ham Wall
Below is a national graph produced from booming figures over the last 24 years. Somerset is the black line with the really sharp climb. As Ray, rightly points out this will be pointing further skywards after this years figures are added. The graph is a really nice summary and shows the success of the reedbed management we have taken across reserves in the Avalon Marshes over the last few years - what a fantastic result - thanks to all concerned! Great to see this species in such recovery.
Steve Couch - Assistant Warden, Ham Wall