Sorry for the slightly later posting than usual but we were having some issues with the computers at work on Friday and I just couldn't get it done. It was another interesting however week on the reserves and there was some great news to report. After having no Barn Owl sightings since July, a little flurry came this week.
On Monday one was disturbed from the box, often visible from the rail bridge in an oak at the far end of the drain on the left as you walk down. It reminded me that we needed to clean out one of the boxes in the wood opposite the 1st platform. In a September clean out, one of the boxes had a squirrel drey in it, with a young squirrel. We obviously had to leave this and planned to return. Well, on our delayed return to clean it out on Tuesday, 2 Tawny Owls flew out to our delight. In another box close by were another 2 Barn Owls (and the original Barn Owl from the day before was also present). Such good news. We know that they will have a good chance of getting through the winter. Not only is it currently mild but we also know the Barn Owls feed well on the huge Starling flocks we have present. A report of a Little Owl from the Garleys section (the area on the right past Loxtons and Street Heath (restored last year) completed an Owl Triple for the week.
The Starlings were at Shapwick Heath, with just a small roost at Ham Wall until Wednesday when they split quite evenly between the 2 sites. Incredible displays on both Wednesday and Thursday in Waltons left us awestruck. Despite the number of times I've seen the murmurations, it still fills me with wonder. I managed to film a little bit of Thursdays display and upload it to our facebook page. Phone the Starling Hotline if you are planning a visit, in case the roost moves again 07866 554142
As the Starlings came in on Wednesday a large flock of Lapwings also flew over - not quite so impressive just c200 birds but nice to see. The first platform has proved to be a good spot this last week. Several Bittern sightings can be had from here. On Thursday Bitterns were seen sunning themselves on the reed edges - always worth scanning on such a morning. The 1st platform also offers: Tufted Duck, Shoveler and frequently a Great White Egret feeding in the shallows as pictured below.
Great White Egret
Marsh Harriers can often be seen across Waltons from here with both male and female seen on Friday morning. The rather handsome looking male is frequently seen here and was also seen over Garleys on Tuesday.
Also this week: a possible Med Gull reported from the 1st platform on Sunday, Redwing seen on the canal path track, a Merlin seen taking a small bird on the north of the reserve on Monday, !50 Canadian Geese in front of the 2nd platform on Thursday along with a good selection of wildfowl (inc Wigeon, Teal, Gadwall, Mallard, Shoveler), frequent sightings of Kingfisher within Waltons, groups of Greylag flying over the reserve, groups of Long Tailed Tits (with Goldcrest amongst them), Common Frog on Tuesday, Great Crested Grebe from the 1st platform, Raven, Jay, Great Spotted Woodpecker and c80 Black Tailed Godwits flying over on Thursday (photographed by John Crispin).
Black Tailed Godwits
That's it for now. Another blog at the end of the week before the Christmas break!!
Back for Good - Farmers give Big Birds a Home
Farming families across the Levels and Moors have been working with a team of conservationists to create new wetland areas where they hope, one day, cranes may breed.
The cranes - huge, grey birds, with long legs & necks, and an incredible bugling call - have been released as part of a national reintroduction programme ‘The Great Crane Project.’
The project has been hand rearing and releasing Eurasian cranes in Somerset since 2010 with the aim of establishing a sustainable breeding population.
Cranes became extinct as a breeding species around 400 years ago as a result of hunting for food, and drainage of their wetland habitats.
Now they are being given a second chance - but the success will be dependent on farmers and landowners getting behind the project and helping to ensure they return for good.
The RSPB, as a partner in the project, has been enlisting the support of local farmers across the moors to create new breeding zones – small pools, surrounded by tall fen-type vegetation and hay meadows, in very out-of the way, undisturbed areas.
Mr Sam Mitchell, a farmer on Kings Sedgemoor who has been part of the scheme enthused
“It will be wonderful to see these birds on my land. It’s a bit different to what I am used to – but I’m looking forward to seeing the wildlife that will return after the creation of this new 25acre wetland”
Mr Mitchell’s has been supported in this venture by DEFRA through an Environmental Stewardship Scheme ‘HLS’ agreement, which will provide income for the next 10 years to off-set the reduction in agricultural productivity.
“It’s also been causing quite a stir in the local community. Neighbours in the village here love the cranes – and often talk about hearing them bugling and calling to each other”
Another farming family, the Stradlings from Cossington, have been helping the cranes by converting an 18th Century Duck decoy, (a pool where ducks were trapped for food) into a potential crane breeding area. The Great Crane Project has provided funds and a small army of RSPB volunteers to clear the built up vegetation and designed the work, and helped to steer the way through all the necessary paperwork and permissions required from Natural England, Somerset County Council, English Heritage, and local drainage Boards.
Joe Stradling said of the project
“Our family, in particular my Grandfather, hold a keen interest in wildlife and do what we can to support it in conjunction with our farming methods. We were only too happy to help with this superb project, reintroducing a species into the environment - exciting stuff.”
“The area was just a overgrown pond and this project has enabled us to improve it, not just for cranes and other wildlife, but to maintain it as a historical monument. Hopefully we will a healthy crop of young cranes one day!”
The RSPB’s work through the Great Crane Project forms part of a wider initiative to offer conservation advice and support for farmers following the disastrous floods of 2012.
Other works completed over the summer for cranes on private land include the creation of another breeding area on the moors near Walton, enhancement works on a former flight-pond near Stathe, and provision of wintering feeding areas for the cranes - again supported through HLS.
Damon Bridge - the RSPB’s Project Manager concluded:
“We have made a terrific start here. It’s great to be working alongside keen farmers to make this project a success. We hope to get these wonderful birds back for good, and to do this need to work towards the creation of more wetland breeding areas within the Moors – and bigger wetlands too!”
Some great sightings on the reserve this week - very few of these made by me I should add. I've spent 2 days reedcutting with our Softrak machine at Greylake this week, 2 volunteer days in a corner of the reserve cutting and burning scrub and had an office day today, but with the help of a few people I've gathered together some impressive stuff.
One of the highlights was the arrival of a pair of Goosander, clearly visible from the 1st platform on Monday. They were there for some time and fishing with great success. They were however, accompanied by a few Black Headed Gulls, which were intent on stealing their fish as they surfaced.
A good catch without the attention of gulls
Gulls swoop on a surfacing male. The stealing of food produced by another is known as Kleptoparasitism. Thanks to John Crispin for the photos and the biology lesson - well, you didn't think I'd use big words like that did you?
There was a bit of a hot streak of sightings on Monday as the same area produced an Otter sighting too. There was one seen from here on Saturday too which sent a flurry of Coots scurrying away just before it arrived. Monday also saw a report of a Water Pipit using the area in front of the 2nd platform. This makes sense as Ray Summers, the Warden, had thought he'd seen a possible Water Pipit the same morning in a nearby section.
You put these birds with the daily sightings we get of Great White Egrets (now considered resident), Bitterns (the first platform offers the best views usually) and Marsh Harriers and you start producing a nice list. There is a rather splendid looking Male Marsh Harrier frequenting the Waltons area lately:
This bird has rather distinct markings - so he really stands out!
The new screen (The Tor View Hide) will offer great views of this bird in the near future. There's just a few finishing touches to do to the path (The Reedbed Walk) and the screen, before we officially open it. Cut areas in front have offered a loafing area for ducks and even a few Snipe have been flushed from here. If we can get the extra screening right on the paths we could hopefully reduce this type of disturbance so that visitors can see them at close quarters. Stonechats are again, frequently being seen in and around the screen area and we even had male and female Bearded Tit seen in Waltons last weekend.
The 2nd viewing platform has also been a good area for Snipe lately - John Crispin Managed to photograph this little chap in a tug of war with a worm this week!
Both platforms offer a fair selection of wildfowl between them: Good numbers of Gadwall, Mallard, Shoveler, Wigeon and Teal with a few Tufted Ducks thrown in too. Groups of Lapwing c200 pass over and sometimes settle in front of the 2nd platform, although we have raised water levels here in readiness for the visit of the Truxor machine in January. This aquatic cutter should be able to open up the area a lot more - particularly the growth directly in front of the platform.
Also this week: Jays heard squawking in the Central Wood, Great Spotted Woodpecker here also, Groups of Fieldfare flying over the reserve including c40 on Wednesday, Vocal Cettis Warblers and Water Rails within the reedbeds, Groups of Redpoll, Siskin (both these often seen in tall Alder trees), Long Tailed Tits, Goldfinches, mixed Tit Flocks and Goldcrest near the screens along with Kingfisher in the Waltons area.
Finally, I had a great view of a Song Thrush bouncing along the grassy footpath that runs parallel to the rail path (the other side of the drain). John Crispin had a similar experience but of course he is always armed with his camera and took these lovely shots:
A good ID point is to note the shape of the spots. Here on the Song Thrush they are arrow shaped but the Mistle Thrush has round spots. Always useful to know such things when out 'in the field'
The Starlings are going great guns and the latest estimates are coming out at around 500,000. The main bulk are still at Shapwick Heath towards the Ashcott Corner Car Park end. There are still some birds on Ham Wall but much lower numbers. The roost location can change though, so phone the Starling Hotline for the latest news: 07866 554142
That's it for this week - have a great weekend!