July can often be a quiet month for birds and the scorching weather means more than ever that they want to hide away especially in the middle part of the day when the sun is at it's hottest - and who can blame them. The sun has made work on the reserve quite energy sapping but we have achieved a few objectives this week. You may notice that the tern raft has gone from in front of the 1st platform. we needed the floating pontoon blocks from which it is made to complete the bridge we are making to access the islands in front of the 1st platform for reed/vegetation cutting.
Ironically, Common Terns x2 have (Tern)ed up this week (too late for breeding of course) and been seen in and around Waltons and the screens since last Friday - although no sightings were reported to me yesterday so they may have moved on. Volunteer Paul Marsh was on duty on the platform on Wednesday and managed to snap this from the Waltons screen - Thanks Paul:
Didn't see any on a brief visit today - just the usual Black headed and Lesser Black Back Gulls I'm afraid. A Common Tern was reported to be having a go at a Marsh Harrier (juvenile) on Weds this week - they can prove to be quite feisty. 4 juveniles have been said to have fledged from one of the Marsh Harrier nests on Shapwick recently (the other I'm told has failed) so there is a great chance of seeing either juveniles or indeed the adults at Ham Wall on a daily basis. In fact I saw a juvenile myself today at 3.30pm flying in front of the 1st platform being pursued by a few crows - not the only birds giving them a hard time then. A juvenile also disturbed a group of 18 Gadwall in front of the 1st platform on Monday.
The Great White Egrets are still seen on a daily basis, with one in particular still enjoying feeding in front of the 1st platform. The second nest at Shapwick is still going strong with 2 youngsters aboard.
Bittern sightings have dropped slightly - maybe the heat of the day has reduced this, as well as coming towards the end of breeding. A few sightings have been had from the 1st platform both in front and behind in Waltons.
The heat seems to have energised and increased the numbers of Dragonflies seen on site. A great number of species noted this week: Brown Hawker, Southern Hawker, Common Hawker, Emperor, Common Darter, Ruddy Darter, Broad Bodied Chaser, Black Tailed Skimmer, Red Eyed Damselfly, Common Blue Damselfly, Azure Damselfly, Blue Tailed Damselfly and Banded Demoiselle.
Butterflies too are here to be seen but not in huge numbers - but a prolonged period of warm dry weather should help their cause. Those sighted this week include: Meadow Brown, Gatekeeper, Ringlet, Speckled Wood, Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock, Green Veined White, Large White and Comma.
A visitor reported that they had seen an Otter in Waltons a couple of weeks ago and there have been another couple of recent sightings on the reserve - nice to know they are still present even if sightings and indeed signs are limited. Also in Waltons - Little Grebes with young and a juvenile Great Crested Grebe (presumably with an adult bird nearby) small numbers of duck (mainly Mallard and Gadwall) and the odd chatter of Reed Warblers - although very much quieter now.
One or two Hobby have been reported this week - can be seen daily and often reported from the first platform. Buzzard can be seen daily often in 2's or 3's and Kestrel most days towards the end of the site (Sharpham end). 2 different Sparrowhawks were seen at either end of the site on Thursday and there's a good chance of seeing one during any visit.
The Kingfishers are still busy feeding young although it appears they are all but fledged. There can be lots of calling being heard near to the nest area - guessing this is youngsters calling for food. Great to have some success here - always a popular bird. They can often be seen flying across Waltons or from the rail bridge - listen for their whistling call as an indication of their presence.
Also on the reserve this week: Smooth Newt under the pontoon bridge, Grass Snake reported swimming in Waltons (another found dead on the rail path - possibly run over by a cyclist), A juvenile Grey Heron spotted in a recently drained area (adults too), Jays on several occasions, Roe Deer, Great Spotted Woodpecker and this morning a Green Woodpecker reported feeding 2 young near/opposite the old station house as you enter the reserve.
Here's a pic to finish of Green Woodpeckers taken on the reserve a few years ago!
Have a great weekend everybody! Remember if you see anything exciting on the reserve or there is something you want me to blog about just let me know!
I came across some old pictures the other day of the screens and boardwalk at Waltons when the visitor facilities were first put in (about 2003). I've taken some photos of my own as it is now to make a comparison.
Looking down the boardwalk to the bridge/pond etc 2003 approx
2012: Much softer look to it now. Of course there have been a few changes on the right of the picture since the first photo. Now we have a pond dipping platform, bench, log circle for the kids, log piles and a bench. This area is now the main focus for the school groups we have in. We also manage parts of the area as a bit of a meadow and the vegetation structure and diversity is changing slowly and beginning to look good.
2003: The bridge over the pond at the end of the boardwalk.
2012: A lot more growth in this area now (although one was taken in winter and the other in summer the difference is obvious).
2003: From the second screen at Waltons facing back to the first and the platform beyond.
2012: One of the biggest changes. They feel more private and there's a lot more natural screening from willow trees etc. Of course we have to manage these from time to time so they do not become too big and unmanageable. We also manage the edges of the boardwalk and screens regularly to keep it looking good and stop brambles and nettles etc from encroaching onto the walkways.
There could be more changes on the way soon - with plans to build and extra screen on the high bank which runs through the middle of Waltons. This would hopefully give the feeling of being right out in the reedbed. I will let you know more as the project progresses.
It takes time for a site to mature both in terms of it's habitat and the facilities it needs. The habitat seems to be maturing nicely with great results in recent years for breeding Bitterns and Bearded tits and more recently the fantastic sight of Great White Egrets feeding happily on the reserve. We have also put surveys out on the reserve in the screens to find out what things you like/dislike about the reserve and any changes you might like to see. If you haven't filled one out yet, please do and let us know your thoughts. There are pens and a postbox along with the forms at the first screen.
The last couple of days have been a welcome relief for us (and no doubt the wildlife) on the reserve and the water levels will soon reduce to a more suitable level. For the moment however, Loxtons Trail remains closed due to the flooded paths but the rest of the reserve is open as normal.
The Great White Egrets continue to be the stars of the show and are feeding for long periods in front of the 1st platform. All 3 juvenile birds were seen there on Thurdsay as well as adult birds, although on one occasion a youngster was told, in no uncertain terms not to land and feed here, by a lone adult and soon changed its mind and flew off elsewhere.
Bitterns can too be seen on a daily basis although, as Bitterns tend to do, do not make themselves quite as obvious as their large white cousins. However, the first platform lends itself to good views both in front and over Waltons and tends to be the one of the best spots.
Marsh Harriers too are about daily, both Male & Female and the vista from the 1st platform again gives good views even if the birds are hunting on the north of the reserve although a lovely looking male was seen close in on Thursday. Other birds of prey this week include: Sparrowhawk (reported most days), Buzzards (several daily sightings), Kestrel seen from the rail path just beyond the 1st platform on Weds and Hobby (1 or 2 seen on the reserve everyday).
Small numbers of Swift, House Martins and Swallows can also be seen daily and a Cuckoo was seen on Sunday, although I haven't seen or heard one myself now for a good 10 or more days (I guess their work here is done).
Kingfishers have ben very busy at our known nest site and 3 were seen together on Monday. We thought this could be a fledgling but the adults have been very busy all week in and out so maybe not what we initially thought (they cant be far of it though). Best spots are: the rail path bridge and Waltons.
Other birds this week include: 2 Goldeneye (male & female) reported on Tuesday, Bullfinches along the rail path, Spotted Flycatcher too (including this morning near the entrance gate), Great Spotted Woodpecker, Jays daily (not always in public areas), Bearded Tits (several juveniles), but again not in public areas, a young Moorhen being gobbled up by a Lesser Black Back Gull on the Waltons rafts, Great Crested Grebe and Little Grebe with young from the Waltons screens and Little Egrets. A very small Starling flock c2000 or so continues to roost at Ham Wall - a reminder of what's to come in a few months!
We have cut in front of the Waltons screen this week and really opened up the views for visitors - the viewing slots are now not obscured. Whilst doing so, had great views of both Emperor Dragonfly and a newly emerged male Southern Hawker. I tried to take a picture but it was too bright (didn't think i'd say that) to get a great image on the camera we had. However I was sent this image of the very same dragonfly the same day by volunteer Paul Marsh - thanks Paul:
Other dragonflies seen this week include: Brown Hawker, Common Darter, Migrant Hawker, Blue Tailed Damselfly & Common Blue Damselfly.
Butterflies again are almost notable by their absence but have recorded the following species this week: Peacock, Red Admiral, Small Tortoiseshell, Comma, Gatekeeper, Meadow Brown, Green Veined White & Ringlet. Scarlet Tiger Moth also seen around the Waltons Trail today.
Other Wildlife: Still lots of small froglets being seen (Common Frog), Marsh Frogs heard, Smooth Newt and Common Toad also seen when moving our pontoon blocks ready for bridge building to access islands for reed cutting. 1 or 2 Field Voles also spotted scurrying about. Roe deer can be seen on the reserve on most days often sitting or grazing along the grassy tracks. Thanks to John Crispin for the following photo taken this week of a Roe Buck.
Finally, as previously blogged about our eel pass seems to be doing well with well over 120 eels captured and released into Ham Wall since we started. Took a quick shot of one of this weeks catches - 11 eels on Thursday. Once the seaason is over I will give a full report, but nice to have such success.
Have a great weekend and enjoy the sunshine - it's been a long time coming!
Explore Wildlife with the Family
Wednesday 22nd & Thursday 23rd August
We are offering a free course for families on 22nd & 23rd August all about Nocturnal Creatures. It happens over an evening & morning (4-10pm & 9am-1pm) giving families the opportunity to experience animals that are active at dusk such as bats, owls & moths. Activities will include moth trapping, art a night walk, owl pellet dissection, bat detecting & making bat boxes with a few life skills thrown in!
Booking is essential (max 15 families). Anyone interested should contact Jane Allen via email email@example.com or phone 01458 860494 leaving a phone number & an email address if possible.
Pond-Dip Thursday 9th August
The main talking point again this week has to be the weather. If you find yourself struggling with it as a human, spare a thought for the wildlife struggling in the conditions day after day. There have been a few good spells but with water levels still rising, the struggle looks set to continue for a while longer. The Loxtons Trail remains closed for the time being and the once grassy path has become a haven, for the time being to groups of ducks and a Heron who choose to feed along tracks.
Young birds are being seen though with broods of Pochard, Great Crested Grebe & Little Grebe all spotted within Waltons and young Reed Warblers seen amongst the reeds. The most notable of the young birds being seen has to be the fledged Great White Egrets. Juveniles & Adults are extremely conspicuous as they feed at Ham Wall regularly offering great views. The first platform and within Waltons are particular favourite haunts of these birds but can often be seen in flight from all corners of the reserve.
The announcement on this week's 'The One Show' on BBC1 of a second nest, with 2 young at present, was more welcome news and another great boost for the local reserves. It's now difficult to visit Ham Wall and not see a Great White Egret at some point during your stay.
Bitterns too are still making flights, with 3 nests still active we believe. The first viewing platform once again, as good a place as any for a sighting. One was seen landing in Waltons on Tuesday with what looked to be a sizable fish sticking out of its crop/neck. Of course, our other Heron family members - Grey Herons & Little Egrets can also be seen daily.
Marsh Harriers too are a daily occurrence on the reserve with good sightings of the Male (often near Waltons) and female (more usually distant from the first platform) and juvenile also. Buzzards seem plentiful with good numbers reported on most days 10 were seen on Tuesday including one juvenile. Other birds of Prey include hunting Barn Owls in the evenings (see previous blog to this for news on the young), Kestrel, Sparrowhawk and on Monday (about 5.30pm) a Male Merlin was seen to fly across the reedbed about 2/3 of the way down the rail path and sit in scrub for about an hour. Another visitor said they had also seen a female. Hobbys to can be seen most days but usually just one or two (as seen Tuesday).
There are dragonflies around for Hobbys to feed on but numbers do seem lower than normal. This week: Brown Hawker, Common Hawker, Common Darter, Black Tailed Skimmer and 4 Spotted Chaser.
Butterflies to have been hit hard by the weather but have spotted: Green veined White, Red Admiral, Small Tortoiseshell, Meadow Brown, Gatekeeper and Ringlet. A Painted Lady was also reported to me this week - only one seen here this year so far, as far as I'm aware.
Other notable sightings of the past week include: A Little Tern reported at Ham Wall on Saturday 8th, Kingfishers still active from the rail bridge and in Waltons (probably same birds), Roe Deer both round the back of Waltons and in front of 2nd platform, a Weasel ran along the path right by the 1st platform on Weds, a mole was seen on the edge of the path very close to 1st platform on Tuesday, 2 pairs of Bullfinches along the rail path close to the bridge on Weds, 4 Bearded Tit Juveniles distant in front of 1st platform as I was walking around reserve, Spotted Flycatchers also along the rail path, Jays, 3 Redshank and small numbers of Swift passing through.
There is also, believe it or not, a very small roost of Starlings each night of around 2000 currently. People often get caught up in the movement of the flocks etc but a closer look at an individual can show some great colours and markings - not just a black bird!
Have a great weekend - hope you stay dry!!