Spring has most definitely sprung and the evidence is all around. Last weekend saw the arrival of 100's of Sand Martins on the reserve and even during this week small groups c20 can be seen most days. They are not always flying low though so familiarising yourself with their call can help you locate them.
Bird song has been increasing steadily over recent weeks - those calling of particular note have been a couple of Chiffchaff between the 2 platforms and a Song Thrush near Street Heath although these have been heard in the car park recently too. The car park has been a good place to spot groups of Goldfinch too and on the boardwalks out Goldcrest and Treecreeper have been seen as well as a beautiful carpet of Snowdrops.
The ponds here are now home to several clumps of frogs spawn - some quite well developed, and a Red Kite was seen to fly over last weekend along with 2 Redwings spotted in the treeline.
Elsewhere on the reserve Grey Herons are still busying themselves in the Waltons reedbed. It's hard to tell exactly how many nests are present at the moment but it's at least 3. Their cousins the Great White Egrets have also been seen posturing and there looks set to be a repeat of the nesting successes of the last 3 years but I guess time will tell.
They're not the only birds displaying significant behavior. Marsh Harriers too have been seen displaying and food passing in the air - distant from the second platform has offered good views recently. There have also been reports of a Marsh Harrier interacting with a Peregrine this week and a further Peregrine sighting as one flew over the reserve yesterday.
Buzzards have also been displaying. Rising on thermals, calling, chasing and interacting all week. The 1st platform the best here, where a Buzzard was also harassed by a Sparrowhawk for a while on Tuesday.
The second platform has been host to displaying Lapwing this week. They attempted to breed on the high banks/ridges here last year and look set to try again this year. Redshank has also been heard calling in the area this week - another of our breeding waders. Redwings x6 were also spotted from this platform on 2 occasions this week.
Bitterns of course are an obvious indicator that breeding season is underway. Last weeks early morning survey across the Avalon Marshes picked up 36 booming males (16 at Ham Wall) and a further bird is booming at Greylake reserve. The figure could increase during the 2nd survey in mid April. Whatever happens it's likely that the Avalon Marshes will again have around a quarter of the UK's population of booming males. The first chase (male chasing female was also picked up this week).
The warmer weather has meant that certain species are awakening from a winter sleep: frogs, newts and a toad have all been sighted this week along with 3 species of Butterfly seen on the wing - a Peacock looking rather battered, Brimstone and Small Tortoiseshell.
In the water some ducks are pairing up although we still have several Wigeon on site and teal, Great Crested Grebes have been seen undertaking courtship displays while Coots are aggressively marking their territories with plenty of splashing and noise.
Also this week: a pair of Ravens flying over calling on Thursday, Smooth newt also seen on Thursday, male Pintail feeding from the 1st platform from time to time, Bearded Tits heard and seen occasionally in Loxtons but also from the 2nd platform last weekend, several Snipe in wetter fields, Great Spotted Woodpecker drumming and Water Rail seen again from the Tor View Hide.
That's it for now - have a great weekend!
Apologies for the slightly delayed blog this week, I'm afraid I was unable to attend work on Friday so it's been pushed onto today!
All the photos this week come from the Waltons area of the reserve, where there seems to have been plenty of action this past week. Following on from last weeks photo sequence of pair bonding Great Crested Grebes, the pair were seen mating in Waltons this week.
A rudimentary platform of reed is laid making the mating platform where the coupling takes place. The pair sometime uses the platform to make a nest but generally the pair of grebes build a nest away from this often flimsy structure.
In the same section this week a Water Pipit was observed feeding on the cut islands visible from the 3rd screen at Waltons. This was identified by the wingbar, supercilium (eye stripe) and habitat it was seen in. We often get them in the winter and usually in the freshly cut areas - this one fits the bill. Thanks again to John Crispin for all the wonderful photos which really make the blog.
Bitterns are getting warmed up for the coming season - several are booming across the Avalon Marshes with birds in both Waltons and Loxtons putting in some practice. Our first official count will be on the 12th March where staff and volunteers will be out across the Avalon Marshes from the local conservation organisations (RSPB, Somerset Wildlife Trust & Natural England) - a nice 5am start.
Grey Herons, the bitterns cousin, have nested in the Waltons reedbed for the last few years, with 5 or 6 nests in each of the last 2.
This year looks to be no exception, although the little flurry of action last week has quietened down somewhat. This lone bird was sat in the Waltons reedbed last week. We may well see activity pick up over the next few weeks and soon there will be plenty of noisy birds to entertain people. This activity should be visible to the left of the Tor View Hide when it occurs.
Another cousin the Great White Egret has again been seen daily. The 1st platform as good a place as any to see them. Lets hope for another successful breeding season for these majestic birds.
The second platform has again proved to be a good place for Pochard with significant numbers using the area. Other duck on site include: Mallard, Tufted Duck, Shoveler, Gadwall, Teal & Wigeon. Marsh Harriers have been seen from here (and the 1st platform) with a pair seen regularly together last week.
Also this week: Rabbit and Grey Squirrel seen hopping along the rail path, Bullfinch and Goldcrest also along the same track, Bearded Tits heard 'pinging' within the Loxtons section (heard from rail path), Raven flying over, Great Spotted Woodpecker heard drumming, Sparowhawk flying from Street Heath over Loxtons, vocal Water Rails around the site, Kingfishers seen adding a touch of colour to the winter backdrop and Song Thrushes heard singing from the car park - as many as 3 on Monday 23rd Feb.
The Starlings have continued to use Ham Wall this past week using the area distant of the 2nd platform. Now that we are into March we should start to see the numbers tail off a bit but there's still time to come and see one final show.
Finally this young Roe deer (one of 2) that crossed over the Waltons boardwalk last weekend. Nice to have them so visible in the public areas.
Roe Deer crossing the boardwalk.
That's it for now - blog back on Friday this week. Have a good week!
A bit of a mixed week at Ham Wall this week with some glorious weather for a couple days and a miserable day yesterday. It's been busy though with lots of visitors, including families, over the half term break.
There's been plenty for people to enjoy, with the increase in birdsong of particular note. Just a little reminder that spring is on the way. There seem to be a few Song Thrushes about, with 3 in the car park area, at least one in the footpath trees and another bird near Waltons along the rail path - all perched up high. Wrens again seem plentiful along with blue tit, great tit, blackbird and robin you can get a bit of a chorus. A Chiffchaff has again been heard singing this week. On 2 consecutive days a Red Admiral was seen on the wing in the Central Wood.
Another obvious sign of approaching spring is the boom of the bittern. Several have been heard around the Avalon Marshes including a couple with a good solid boom (one around the Waltons trail) and many others still a bit wheezy - more of a grunt (Loxtons section). Staff & volunteers will be out in the early mornings in a couple of weeks to record the number of males around the whole of the marshes - a 4.30 start is not for the faint hearted however, but so worth it once you're there.
There have been a fair few sightings too - the 1st platform offers a good wide view and therefore a good chance of a sighting. There was even a report of a bittern swimming across one of the channels last weekend. It's not unheard of but very unusual - I've never been lucky enough myself - it must look a little bizarre.
Like Bitterns, we have had Grey Herons nesting in our reedbeds in recent years, within the Waltons section. This year looks to be no different with some significant activity on a couple of islands on the left of the Tor View Hide (this will be a great place to watch them from over the coming weeks).
The 1st platform offers a fair range of species too: Mallard, Gadwall, Pochard, Shoveler, Tufted Duck, Wigeon & Teal all present. Groups of Lapwing seen flying over although less than in previous weeks and a group of 10 Snipe or more circling the reserve but the 1st platform offered good views as they flew in a tight pack. 3 Buzzard also on the wing together on Monday and a well marked male Marsh Harrier was great to see. Great White Egrets also feed in this area frequently.
The 1st platform area and Waltons has been home to Great Crested Grebes lately & they have again been seen going through their mating rituals. John Crispin has sent me the following shots and annotations - thanks John!
Male & Female approach each other in the prone position
When together they start their much seen head shaking.
The male then goes off on a wild run finishing with a great flurry
Both birds then dive and surface with weed
This is in readiness for their famous weed dance
The excited birds usually take a little time to calm down
They then fish and/or swim together
Fascinating birds to watch and extremely handsome. Plenty of fishing to be had at Ham Wall so should be able to raise a successful brood - we expect several pairs around the reserve this coming season. There smaller cousins, Little Grebes are present too - you may be able to hear their whinnying call. c150 Pochard (mainly males) seen late in then day from the 2nd platform on a few occasions - probably coming in to roost, Bearded Tits heard pinging in Loxtons.
The Starlings are still present and have been using the area distantly in front of the 2nd platform - they have been following this pattern for a few days but of course this can change so a call to the Starling hotline would be a good idea 07866 554142. The roost should begin to tail off during the month of March so there's just a little time left to see them this season.
Also this week: Water Rail spotted again from the Tor View Hide, Raven flying overhead, Great Spotted Woodpecker drumming, Sparrowhawk, Water Rails fairly vocal, Roe Deer x3 seen on the north of the reserve, evidence of Otter and Badger around the reserve and a Treecreeper seen and photographed by John Crispin by the ditch between Loxtons & Waltons.
That's it for this week. Have a great weekend!