Firstly, please accept my apologies for the missing blog last Friday, I was away from work for the whole week, so this week we have a bit of catching up to do.
Overview of last week (30th Mar-5th April)
Sand Martins and Swallows continued to arrive on the reserve and were greeted by some quite cold temperatures - thankfully things seem to be warming up slightly and more flies are appearing on the reserve this week to offer some sanctuary for these birds after their long journeys.
Bitterns continue to boom on the reserve - the survey last week actually showed a drop in numbers. This could be attributed, partly to the weather (it was a little blustery during the survey, which could carry sound away) or due to the fact that weaker males have decided to go quietly or even been pushed out to other sites or marginal areas in search of a mate.
Marsh Harrier activity was good with male and female birds seen regularly and Great White Egrets are still present in the Avalon Marshes but proving slightly more elusive than normal.
Highlights of last week were a Spotted Redshank seen on Sun 31st March from the 1st platform, the Pied Billed Grebe still present from the 2nd platform and a great Otter sighting within Waltons. Large groups of Chaffinches c200 were of note, feeding within the maize fields bordering the north of the reserve, a Red Kite was sighted from the rail bridge on Friday 5th and a Garganey was heard calling from the Emery's section (last section on the left towards Sharpham) on Thursday 4th. Also on the 4th a Peregrine flew high over the 1st platform and a few Bullfinch were reported along the railpath. A White Fronted Goose was also seen from the second platform during the week - possibly the one which was spending time with the Whooper Swans before they left.
White Fronted Goose
I wrote recently about some ringed birds on the reserve and how to report them. Well, here's another:
Ringing history of a Black-headed Gull seen recently on Waltons-E.
Here's the full bird list for Ham Wall for March 2013:
Barn Owl, Tawny Owl, Marsh Harrier, Sparrowhawk, Buzzard, Kestrel, Peregrine, Merlin, Bittern, Little Egret, Great White Egret, Spoonbill, Grey Heron, Cormorant, Mute Swan, Whooper Swan, Canada Goose, Greylag Goose, White Fronted Goose, Mallard, Gadwall, Shoveler, Pochard, Tufted Duck, Teal, Wigeon, Shelduck, Ferruginous Duck, Tufted Duck/Ring Necked Duck Hybrid (just off site), Ring necked Duck, Scaup, Smew, Moorhen, Coot, Great Crested Grebe, Little Grebe, Pied Billed Grebe, Black necked Grebe, Water Rail, Lapwing, Snipe, Woodcock, Black Tailed Godwit, Spotted Redshank, Redshank, Avocet, Kingfisher, Herring Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Black Headed Gull, Common Gull, Robin, Blackbird, Song Thrush, Wren, House Sparrow, Starling, Dunnock, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Long-tailed Tit, Coal Tit, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Bullfinch, Goldcrest, Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler, Stonechat, Meadow Pipit, Water Pipit, Linnet, Skylark, Pied Wagtail, Treecreeper, Lesser Redpoll, Siskin, Fieldfare, Redwing, Brambling, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Green Woodpecker, Reed Bunting, Cetti's Warbler, Bearded Tit, Carrion Crow, Rook, Jackdaw, Magpie, Jay, Raven, Wood Pigeon, Stock Dove, Collard Dove, Pheasant, Swallow, Sand Martin.
Please let me know if there's anything you think I've missed and I'll add it to the list or you could always post your sightings from your visits on the forum. Let's try to get the magic 100 next month!!
Other notable non avian sightings include:
Large Mammals: Otter, Roe Deer.
Butterflies: Peacock, Brimstone, Small Tortoiseshell.
A very cold week on the reserve this week but spring is just around the corner. A number of Sand Martins have been seen on a daily basis. You got to feel for them though - they must be wondering what the hell they are doing here at the moment. As many as 20 have been seen daily from several locations. Both platforms - particularly the 2nd one yesterday have had several birds flying low over the water hunting for whatever they can find. Waltons too has been a good place to spot them with birds flitting across the channels from the 3rd viewing screen.
Swallows too have been spotted this week, although in much lower numbers - literally just 1s and 2s being seen. Lets hope things warm up for these well travelled birds very soon.
Some good groups of Sand Martins were reported to me last Friday - just too late for the blog along with one or two other gems. 2 Water Pipits were spotted from the 2nd viewing platform - they have been here on several occasions over the past 3 months or so. It could be that they have there frequently lately but not being picked up. There's been much attention on the Pied Billed Grebe - maybe other things are being missed. The Grebe has still been showing well at times this week and been heard calling on several occasions. It was seen close in to the 2nd platform this very morning.
Also last Friday, a Peregrine was seen from the 2nd platform and there was a good view of a pair of Bullfinches along the rail path eating emerging buds from the trees. An Osprey was also seen last weekend on Shapwick Heath reserve, next to Ham Wall.
Back to this week and the cold has kept much of the wildlife huddled down and hidden from the cold. There's still much to be seen however with quite large groups of duck gathered in certain areas. Large groups of Shoveler were seen in front of the 1st platform several times, including this morning and as many as 250 Teal were gathered together in one of the northern sections of the reserve (out of public view sadly). Still good numbers of Wigeon, Pochard, Tufted Duck, Mallard and Gadwall can also be seen. It was amongst a group of Pochard that the Ring necked Duck was seen this week but not in the previous known location. This time (on Tuesday) it was spotted in the first section on the right as you come over the rail bridge.
Ian Hayes reported seeing a male Scaup back at the previous Ring necked duck location on Thursday. This is about 400m beyond the 2nd platform on the left in the channels behind the old tin hut. There was a possible female with him but they were disturbed and flew off before a certain ID could be made - thanks for reporting it Ian.
Another person to thank this week is Robert Balch, who reported seeing a mother Otter with 2 cubs from the 1st platform on Tuesday morning - what a fantastic sighting. Thanks to Robert to for allowing us to post these pictures which he sent us.
The top picture is that of the mother and the lower shows 2 unruly children!
Bitterns continue to boom across the Avalon Marshes and a second early morning survey is planned for next week to see if there has been an increase in booming activity. There was a minimum of 33 boomers at the last count - impressive. Several flights have been seen this week - the first platform a good bet, where a bird was seen to fly at least 3 times on Thursday between the islands.
Marsh Harriers are being reported daily at Ham Wall with an adult male and female seen in close proximity - we will have to wait and see when and where they chose to breed in the marshes this year.
Another local favourite - the Great White Egret is also being seen daily. One bird in particular - the ringed female predominantly feeds in front of the 1st platform and can often be seen there.
Also this week: A Brambling was spotted on the northern edges of the reserve in amongst a Chaffinch flock of around 60 birds - just goes to show it's worth scanning these groups for individuals of other species (thanks to John Crispin for this report), also in the wood close by a Green Woodpecker was heard calling and Great Spotted Woodpeckers have been seen and heard drumming this week.
2 Barn Owls were, yet again, seen perched outside their box on Thursday - this box is easily visible from the 1st platform in the trees towards the back of the reedbed, A Redhead Smew was spotted from the 2nd Platform this morning but flew off out of sight quickly - no further reports as yet. Kingfishers again seen in and around Waltons, 8 Redpoll were reported from just past the 2nd platform this morning and Fieldfare & Redwing have been spotted on a few occasions. A White Fronted Goose was reported from just south of Waltons on Tuesday and Treecreepers were heard in the Central Wood and along the rail path.
Happy Easter to everyone - have a great weekend
Although there is a hint of spring on the reserve, it seems the winter is reluctant to release its grip for the moment. It's been a cold and wet couple of days on the reserve and wildlife has seemed more reluctant too to show its face - not surprising (I've felt the same way). There has been things to report though, particularly from the warmer, drier days earlier in the week, so here goes.
Last weekend a female Scaup was reported from the second viewing platform and it showed to a select few before flying north to the next section of the reserve and out of sight. As far as I'm aware it hasn't been seen a second time. The Pied Billed Grebe is still present on the reserve from the second platform. More reports of good close sightings have been reported this week - particularly on Monday when it was seen to catch a very large fish before disappearing into the reeds.
Further down the rail path the Ring Necked Duck has also been seen on occasions this week - but the Ferruginous Duck has proved harder to come by - it could be that it's moved on as there have been no reports of a sighting this week that I can find. If you do see it, let us know!
From the 1st platform on Monday a female (Redhead) Smew was seen swimming across the open water. It swam down one of the channels and as with the Scaup wasn't seen again. That's not to say they aren't here of course - you may just have to be a bit luckier.
One of the nicest sightings of the week was by Ray Summers the Warden. He saw an Otter run up over a bank near the central wood (diagonally right of the 1st platform) before dropping into the water, sticking his head up for one last look and then disappearing into the reeds. He was close by the same area again today and thinks it may have been there again - on this occasion the splash was all that was heard.
Otter: John Crispin.
Bitterns are still booming steadily - you should almost certainly be able to hear one on your visit to the reserve. They have been seen in flight too this week - as always the best bet is from the 1st platform - there's an excellent vista from here both to the North and over Waltons. The visitors on our guided walk this week were able to hear them but no sightings on this occasion. They were lucky enough to have both male and female Bearded Tits though and for many it was a first. This would be out on the non access areas though but I did hear some 'pinging' from Beardies from the 2nd platform this week and they have been seen and heard from the 1st recently.
They also had views of a pristine looking male Marsh Harrier - the best view to date for some of those on the walk. It was followed just after by a female or juvenile bird. This male was seen again this morning (in the rain) out on the north of the reserve and around the central wood on Thursday, which put up a large group of Wigeon from the water body close by. One of our volunteers Paul Marsh sent me this photo of a male Marsh Harrier taken from the 1st platform last week - a good opportunity to use it. Thanks Paul.
Male Marsh Harrier: Paul Marsh.
Great White Egrets are still a daily sight and have been spotted from both viewing platforms this week and out on the northern edges of the reserve. Lets hope for a repeat of last years success. Their cousins the Grey Heron are plentiful on the Somerset Levels and there is a Great Heronry up at Swell Wood (the largest in the South West). The next month will be a great time to view them before the leaves come out on the trees. Plenty of trees are in bud or sprouting now on the reserve. Grey Herons can also nest on the ground and have been known to ground nest at both Shapwick and Ham Wall in recent years. John Crispin has sent me this photo of a Grey Heron in flight and some additional info about its colouration:
Shows the distinctive red bill and legs of an adult breeding bird.
'Temporary seasonal colour change of the bill is under hormonal control, also the deposition of carotinoids - organic pigments obtained from some food items -, showing a deeper colour at the base of the bill. The leg colouration is thought to be due to increased blood flow. These characteristics in the male show early in the breeding cycle usually before the setting up of a territory. The female also shows these characteristics, but a little later in the breeding cycle. This colourisation fades rapidly with the onset of incubation until normal colour of the bill and legs is achieved. If the pair produce a replacement clutch of eggs the male and female develop the red base to the bill, but as before the colour quickly fades.
Thanks John - good to have some more intellectual input to go with my ramblings!
We should start to get a few passage waders through now. Shapwick Heath have pumped down the lagoon on the right as you enter the site and Redshank and c12 Black Tailed Godwits along with good sightings of Great White Egrets have been had there this week. For waders on Ham Wall, the second platform has its fair share of Lapwings visiting - there was a good number there this morning and several Snipe can be flushed of the wet track edges on a walk round. We've some suitable areas for breeding Snipe on the reserve this year we hope if we can maintain the water levels in those sections. Lets hope it does the trick.
One of the reserves favourite birds has to be the Kingfisher and Waltons certainly seems to be a hot spot for them once again. 2 birds were once again seen chasing each other round on Wednesday and they have often (in recent weeks) been seen perched in trees by the screens and inlet close to the disabled parking spaces.
Signs of spring this week? Well bird song once again of course, with a good variety to be heard. This was added to this week with the song of the Willow Warbler being heard on a couple of occasions from the 2nd viewing platform. Worth a listen, while you wait for a sighting of the Pied Billed Grebe. Goldcrest too can be heard close to here as well as Treecreepers just down the track a little further. 3 Sand Martins were reported close to the car park on Wednesday and Great Spotted Woodpeckers have been heard drumming on the reserve again and seen within the central wood where the last of this seasons scrub work was undertaken this week.
Also this week: Jays out on the north east of the reserve near the old decoy wood, very vocal Little Grebes and Water Rails, Great Crested Grebes pairing off, a male Sparrowhawk flying through central wood on Thursday, good numbers of Starlings still coming in (hotline now closed for the season) and a Roe Deer happily sunning itself (while it had the chance) up the 1st track by the wood on the canal path.
Further to my talk of ringed birds last week here are some links which may help:
www.bto.org This is the homepage but you should find a link for reporting ringed birds on the right hand side.
For EURING ring recoveries go to:
That's it for now, have a good weekend.
There will be another opportunity to purchase some of Ham Wall's peat free soil conditioner this weekend.
Sunday 24th March 10am - 4pm
It is produced from the waste vegetation obtained during the habitat management of the reserve for birds & wildlife. It's a great way to help your garden, the environment and the RSPB. Reduced price if you bring your own bag/s.
Volunteers will be on hand to help load bags and provide information at our workshop at the address below. It's at the end of the area next to the Eco-Friendly Bites Cafe.
The Avalon Marshes Centre, Shapwick Road, Westhay, Somerset, BA6 9TT.
If you can't make this day but you would like to know more about our compost or you would like to arrange a time to come and buy some please call the Ham Wall office on (01458) 860494 Mon - Fri