Well, this blog quickly follows the last one but there's plenty to write about. The best news of the week came on Wednesday when Chris Sperring MBE of the Hawk & Owl Trust came in to check our Barn Owl Boxes for us. The first 2 boxes disappointingly were being used by Grey Squirrel and the 3rd box was empty but had evidence that Tawny Owls had used it - confirming what we had thought - a suspected sighting of a young Tawny Owl here several weeks ago.
We knew Barn Owls were around and the next box has traditionally held breeding. Sure enough it didn't let us down with 3 youngsters inside, 2 rather plump and the third slightly smaller (younger) but healthy bird. These birds were ringed by Chris and it was on to the next ones on the far north of the reserve. Again we were fairly sure we get something here too based on activity and lo and behold another 3 owlets at almost exactly the same stage as the others - 2 bigger and one smaller but again well fed and healthy. We actually had 3 nests last year but that was exceptional so we are very pleased with this result given the delicate nature of the Barn Owls existence and how prone they can be to changes in the weather or food availability. A big thank you to Chris for coming in - a pleasure as always.
Wednesday also saw some interesting activity from the nesting Common Terns at Loxtons. They seem to have been sat fro a long time and we are beginning to wonder whether they have failed. It hasn't stopped them chasing off Marsh Harriers though as John Crispin's photo shows:
The birds are still spending a lot of time on the raft and they still haven't chsed off all the Cormorants and ducks which like to loaf there - which suggests no hatching has taken place as yet - I guess there's still time.
Bittern activity seems to come in flurries - some days seem busier than others. Unfortunately on Thursday, when our volunteers were out surveying it was very quiet - and also very wet. There are still active nests out there but perhaps in some places there is good food availability close to the nest eg Iberian Water Frogs (what we think the "Marsh Frogs" actually are) and there is little need to make long, obvious flights.
They are also able to monitor up to 3 Marsh Harrier nests with 3 youngsters seen at one of the sites - great news. These birds are very visible as they hunt for prey and it's hard to come to the reserve at the moment and not see one.
Great White Egrets are also still playing around but it's been hard to establish just what they are up to. There's not a lot of evidence of breeding successes here - it could be that they are younger birds just a little short of breeding maturity - but nature is full of surprises so you never know - I've learned never to speculate or say for sure I know what's happening. Many of these birds do roost together and can often be seen in small groups - the area between the 2 platforms is quite splashy and good feeding for them and Little Egrets.
8 Great White Egrets together
I've been seeing a lot of Bullfinches lately - particularly around the car park and by the old rail bridge. Yesterday (Thurs 2nd) and eagle eyed volunteer saw a pair too but 3 youngsters were also present. We'd always suspected that they must be breeding on the reserve but it's great to have proof.
We've also of course had breeding Lapwing and Redshank on the reserve this season. Lapwing can still be seen flitting up from the splashy areas between the 2 platforms and a Redshank was seen and heard calling over Waltons yesterday too.
Also calling yesterday was Cuckoo with some visitors reporting seeing 2 together at Loxtons and another bird seen perched in a tree opposite the first viewing platform on Monday.
The Tor View Hide is still proving a popular place to watch wildlife - with good sightings of Bittern, Marsh Harrier< Cuckoo and Hobby all reported this week. A lady was also delighted to see a male Bearded Tit perched up right next to the hide on Monday - what a treat. The Waltons area which this hide looks at is also home to Great Crested Grebes with young, Coots with their youngsters, Little Grebe and several duck species. There have also been several reports of late of Night Heron flying over this area - not been lucky enough myself though.
Over the next few weeks it will become a slightly quieter time for birds as many ducks are in eclipse and species have ceased breeding and are visibly less active until the autumn movement of birds. There are plenty of insects to keep people busy though. If it's warm enough there will be dragonflies on the wing right through to November. At the moment you'll see: 4 Spotted Chasers - Waltons loop the best spot, Emperors - very large and obvious, Black Tailed Skimmers often settled on the ground - try the car park paths and Broad Bodied Chaser - one was seen emerging from the car park pools on Wednesday - look for the flash of blue from the males:
Male Broad Bodied Chaser
Butterflies are on the wing too with a few Painted Ladies seen recently - the rail path a good place, also Speckled Wood, Red Admiral, Green Veined White, Small Tortoiseshell, Small Skipper, Common Blue, Meadow Brown and the first Ringlets of the season. Also check the nettles for groups of Small Tortoiseshell and Peacock Caterpillars (below).
The monthly Otter survey picked up few signs this time round, although 1 spraint was recorded, which shows we are still being visited by these wonderful creatures. Reptile surveys have finished for the moment: Adder and Common Lizard were recorded once (but good to know they're here) and there were numerous sightings of Grass Snake and Slow worm.
That's it for this week - have a great weekend!
We had a visit today from Chris Sperring MBE from the Hawk & Owl Trust. He is licensed to inspect Barn Owl boxes and ring any owlets. The good news is we have 2 broods of 3 chicks each all looking very healthy.
Chris with the first of this years young.
Close up of another!
Sorry if I look a bit grumpy in this photo - I've no reason to be. 6 young from 2 nests is a pleasing result. It's down on last year but 3 nests and c10 young was exceptional for us. I'll hopefully get some more photos soon from volunteer John Crispin who accompanied us along with Clare above from our regional office in Exeter, who managed to squeeze in some barn owls before her meeting about developments on the reserve.
When I get some more photos I will post a selection on a separate thread and also share some with our Facebook page (Ham Wall Nature Reserve) and Twitter page @RSPBSomerset
Apologies for the lack of blog last week - I was away for much of the week and just haven't had the time this week until now. I did spend a couple of days with work over at Arne in Dorset - a reserve well worth a visit. Good views of Nightjar, Spoonbill and Dartford Warbler the highlights. I'll hopefully do another blog this Friday or on Monday so I may keep this one more brief than usual.
While here in Somerset......... the reserve continues to be busy and throw up a few nice surprises with Purple Heron seen last Wednesday over the reserve and Night Heron this Monday - one of several recent sightings. Great White Egrets also continue to impress and offering good views (1st platform, Waltons & Loxtons all good places to spot them). It's thought that they must be numbering in the 20's on local reserves at present.
Bitterns are being seen quite regularly - particularly from the 1st platform and again in Waltons/Loxtons. Many of these sightings will be female birds flying to and from nests feeding youngsters. One bird was reported swimming on Monday and last weekend a bird in Waltons sky pointing with its wings outstretched - a threat posture perhaps to a nearby predator? The interest the Heron species show in these particular areas probably have a lot to do with the presence of what we used to refer to as Marsh Frogs. In fact they are more likely Iberian Water Frogs or hybrids of these and Edible Frog but we will know when results from DNA sequencing are revealed.
Marsh Harriers take them too as John Crispin's photo reveals:
This female bird and several others are being seen regularly and we believe we are host to 3 nests this year with 2 young birds seen at one of the nest sites.
Hobby are also being seen, although not that frequently - I'd be inclined to scan the back edge of Loxtons for a sighting although the Tor View Hide has also thrown up a couple of sightings this week. One Hobby was seen hunting a flock of around 100 Starlings from the Loxtons screen last weekend (unsuccessfully). Yes, we have a tiny Starling flock already.
There are dragonflies a plenty for the Hobbies though. A lot of Emperors on the wing but also begun to see Brown Hawkers over the past week. These are joining the vast numbers of 4 spotted chasers, Broad Bodied Chasers (one seen emerging in the car park pools today) and Black Tailed Skimmers. Damselflies include: Azure, Common Blue, Red Eyed, Variable and Banded Demoiselle (could spot these from the road bridge or go to the gate entrance at Tinneys - the isolated plot on the Sharpham Road - easily seen here).
4 Spotted Chaser close up. The white dots could be grass pollen?
Butterflies too are improving in numbers. Painted Ladies are still making an appearance as are: Small Tortoiseshell, Speckled Wood, Red Admiral, Green Veined White, Meadow Brown and the first Ringlets of the season.
Also over the last week or so: Lapwings and Black Tailed Godwits seen in the now splashy sections between the 2 platforms along with good numbers of Little Egret and the odd Great White Egret, Kingfishers seen frequently at the Loxtons screen along with a Pochard with 5 young, 2 Common Tern still present sitting on eggs, several Cuckoos still being seen and heard, Great Spotted Woodpecker and Treecreeper seen from the car park boardwalks on a few occasions.
Finally, a few shots of the very tame Song Thrush we have in our car park at the moment. It feeds along the edges of the pools and often perches up on the signs. I've also been seeing a pair of Bullfinches quite regularly of late in the car park area too:
Have a smashing few days until the next blog!