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It's a fantastic time of year on the reserve with so many opportunities to get some great wildlife sightings. There's so much to see but also so much to hear, which is all part of a great experience for visitors. Whether it's crazy Bitterns in some kind of dispute:
Crazy Bitterns: John Crabb
Hungry Grey Heron Chicks calling noisily...
Grey Heron & Chick: Natalie Talbot
...the chorusing of many loud Iberian Water Frogs:
Iberian Water Frog: John Crabb
Or angry Coots having a fight:
Fighting Coots: John Crabb
..and there's always one who has to rush in and get involved too....
Running Coot: John Crabb
.....there really is a feast for all your senses (not sure about the sense of taste - unless you bring your own sandwiches).
The Grey Heron chick on the way to the Tor View Hide is still sat in the nest - at well over 50 days old he's not left to explore the big wide world yet. He knows he's onto a good thing at the moment. Other Heron nests are within Waltons but not as easily seen as this rather noisy fellow.
If you're on your way to the Tor View Hide keep your eyes peeled for the Water Rails with chicks on the path or by the side. Sightings have been numerous this week and there have been some very close encounters. Andrew Kirby sent me these pictures - thanks Andrew.
Water Rail feeding young with dragonfly larvae: Andrew Kirby
The Tor View Hide has been the place to view Bitterns too (or from the rail path looking into the eastern side in particular). There were so many sightings yesterday that it was hard to keep track of all the movement - brilliant.
Bittern: John Crabb
In the other side of Waltons last Sunday, on a misty morning, John Crispin took these shots of a Bittern creeping through the reeds. It gives you an idea of how it uses its long toes to clutch stems of reed to walk/balance on. Thanks for sending them in John:
Bittern walking on reeds: John Crispin
It's also been a great place to spot Great White Egrets over the last couple of weeks, although if I'm perfectly honest they seem to be everywhere you look. I take this sudden flurry of extra activity as a good sign - there must be more hungry mouths to feed somewhere! Thanks to John Crabb for these great shots taken this week:
Great White Egrets: John Crabb
The 2nd platform is not proving quite as productive as it has done in the previous few weeks. The majority of waders have moved on through, although c25 Black Tailed Godwits have been present on occasions this week and a single Bar Tailed Godwit on Monday. Redshank are also here along with several Lapwing (probable nesting) and a single Ruff was present early in the week. A Whimbrel has also showing since last weekend but looks injured by the way it's been moving its wing. It's still here and is feeding so maybe things aren't so bad.
Of course, the Glossy Ibis, is still there and still pulling in a few visitors. It's not always out in the open from the 2nd platform but it's a good place to start. If not there then cross over to the footpath and look in front of the benches or willow blinds along that edge to get better/alternate views of the area. He's (if it is a he) probably in there somewhere.
A short walk from here is the Avalon Hide. As before, it's the place to see the Marsh Harriers at the moment and the very protective male - who loves to chase stuff off. This week (Thurs) a Red Kite and a Buzzard were seen circling high over the area and were both seen off by the male Marsh Harrier. Red Kite was also seen on Tuesday on 2 occasions.
On the way to the hide there's always a chance of seeing Cettis Warbler. I've been seeing one here quite a lot lately but they are definitely becoming harder to see now - back to normal for this bird then. On the path the other side of the wood is a Sedge Warbler which sings well and there's oftena Reed Warbler on the other side for comparison - a good learning opportunity.
There are also Great Spotted Woodpeckers nesting with noisy chicks being heard from within the dead tree trunk. Judging by the noise there are at least 3 youngsters. Natalie Talbot sent me in these pictures this week - thanks Natalie!
Bearded Tits have also been heard in this area this week - both on the way to the hide and in front of the hide itself - worth bearing in mind. Listen out for their 'pinging' calls.
All over the reserve this week have been screaming, diving, swooping Swifts - great birds to watch:
Swift: John Crabb
Similar in shape and flight are of course the Hobbys - another great bird to watch. Still several being seen daily although the peak numbers are probably now through. They'll be chasing the many dragonflies and damselflies now seen on the reserve. Hairy Dragonfly, 4 Spotted Chasers, Broad Bodied Chaser & Scarce Chaser all seen this week, while for damselflies: Azure, Variable, Red Eyed, Blue Tailed & Banded Demoiselle all recorded.
Scarce Chaser: John Crispin
Butterflies include: Brimstone, Green Veined White, Orange Tip, Peacock, Red Admiral, Small Tortoiseshell and Speckled Wood.
It's the fat juicy caterpillars of some of our larger moths (I did move a hawk moth species from the Tor View Hide path yesterday before it got stepped on) that the cuckoos are after. Several can be heard around the reserve often from the car park or around Waltons in particular. The South West corner a good spot, although I did have one perched up in a dead tree right towards the far end of the reserve yesterday.
Cuckoo: John Crabb
Plenty of birdsong to enjoy around the reserve too - the car park a good place to start and along the tree lines of the old rail path. It is closed at present between the bridge and the 1st platform - access from the other side of the drain on the footpath (follow the signs). Apart from that short stretch, the rest of the reserve is open as normal. Regrettably, this bridge closure by the Environment Agency (for structural repairs) means we have no RADAR access at present. We are hopeful the works will be finished by the end of next week. Blackcaps, Chiffchaff, Willow Warblers, Garden Warblers and Whitethroats can all be heard singing frequently:
Whitethroat: John Crabb
Also this week: 3 Adder sightings (one by workmen by the bridge, one on the footpath close to the gate and one in our log piles on the north of the reserve - never had them here before), 2 Common Tern over Waltons on Tuesday then from Loxtons screen and 2nd platform, 20 Little Egrets feeding together early morning, Barn Owl & Tawny Owl seen this week (using boxes around the reserve), Wigeon still from the 2nd platform and 4 Shelduck recorded from the 1st platform last weekend with 2 snapped by John Crispin:
Finally, some cute fluffy chicks - some Canada Geese goslings, photographed by John Crabb this week:
Canada Goose goslings: John Crabb
Many thanks to John Crispin, John Crabb, Natalie Talbot & Andrew Kirby for all your photos and information this week - very gratefully received.
I'm afraid there won't be a blog next week as I'm away but will hopefully return with a big catch up and lots of great news the following week.
That's it for now. Have a great weekend!!
Posted by Stephen Couch
What a fantastic time of year it is on the reserve with such a variety of wildlife on show and it's so good to see so many visitors out enjoying themselves. There certainly seems to have been an increase in the amount of Bittern activity over the past couple of weeks and visitors are frequently reporting sightings - often of 2 or more birds in a courtship flight or as on Wednesday 2 males in a territorial dispute. Volunteer John Crispin was out on the reserve surveying them on Thursday and managed to get these shots of birds flying over the Loxtons area. Thanks for sending them in John!
At one point there were 3 birds 'in the chase'.
Bitterns: John Crispin
Simon Lewis has also sent me a few Photos this week including this great shot of a Bittern - thanks Simon:
Bittern: Simon Lewis
It's likely that there are now flights from females feeding young in a couple of areas and there's still plenty of booming going including a very strong sounding male out on the north side. It's this area where Marsh Harriers are very active and there is one very aggressive male in particular. He was seen yesterday giving 2 Bitterns in a chase a hard time and forced them down into the reed beds and dived bombed them several times. It's a good possibility that Bitterns in this area will keep a very low profile if that's what happens. I also saw him giving a Carrion Crow a very hard time yesterday. The best place for seeing Marsh Harriers is the Avalon Hide where food passes have been seen this week. Birds are also seen frequently carrying in food items - often with long dangly legs - perhaps those of a Coot or Moorhen chick.
There are plenty of broods around - a quick glance in Waltons often brings sightings of Coots feeding chicks:
Coot with Young - John Crispin
Our other Heron Species are also doing well. Great White Egrets seem to be everywhere this week. Both platforms and the Waltons area in particular offer good views. It's hard not to see these beautiful birds during a visit. John Crabb sent me this great picture this week with the bird's wings looking translucent - thanks John:
Great White Egret: John Crabb
There are at least 6 Grey Heron nests on Ham Wall territory this year - 4 of them within Waltons. They provide great entertainment, especially when an adult comes in to feed one of the now, well grown, youngsters (much noise and flapping). The most visible is to on the 1st island to the left of the Tor View Hide path, although it must be very close to fledging by now. Opposite the first 2 screens is another nest with 2 slightly less obvious youngsters. (The path to the hide also saw several sightings of Water Rail yesterday including a parent feeding young on one occasion).
Add to this a few Little Egrets seen feeding here and there, a now almost resident Glossy Ibis and small groups of Cranes which fly over (groups of 2 and 4 on Sunday 15th), it's quite a collection.
Of course, there are plenty of Iberian Water Frogs for these birds to feed on. You can hear them chorusing loudly - particularly during sunny spells. If you're visiting and hearing an unusual sound you can quite place - it's probably these!
Iberian Water Frog: John Crabb
Another bird people always look for is the Hobby. The best group we've had together so far this year is at least 24 seen over the back of the Waltons section on Sunday. Otherwise they are seen daily all over the reserve in small numbers but around 10 over Waltons on Wednesday and groups of 5 or more yesterday at the back of Loxtons. John Crabb has been out on a mission this year to get some good shots of Hobby - I'd say he's doing pretty well - thanks John.
Of course they are after the many dragonflies that are now out and very busy. 4 Spotted Chasers are very abundant in some parts of the reserve - the back of Waltons is often good. Other dragonflies on the wing include Broad Bodied Chaser and Hairy dragonfly - these will be joined by many more species in the next couple of weeks or so. Their smaller cousins - the damselfly, are also out in force. Thousands of Azure, Blue tailed, Red Eyed, Large Red and Variable damselflies are present and hard to miss (but also hard to identify if they don't sit still). These have been joined this week by the very gorgeous looking Banded Demoiselle - seen at Loxtons, Tinneys and also our site at Long Drove.
Blue Tailed Damselfly - Simon Lewis
Blue Tailed Damselflies copulating: John Crispin.
Butterflies are out too: Brimstone, Clouded Yellow, Orange Tip, Green Veined White, Peacock, Red Admiral, Small Tortoiseshell and Speckled Wood all seen this week and a blue butterfly - either Holly Blue or Common Blue.
The second platform is still producing the goods but not in the numbers is was in previous weeks. Far fewer waders recorded here since the last blog. Peak numbers: Ruff 3 (down to 1 by yesterday), Redshank 2, Black Tailed Godwits c30, Lapwing 6 is all I can muster. The Glossy Ibis continues to stay with us - often showing from the willow blinds on the other side of the drain if not seen from the 2nd platform. Also in the area this week: a pair of Wigeon still hanging on, a Peregrine on Thursday and as many as 4 Garganey (3 males, 1 female). From the platform 2 Mistle Thrush were also recorded on Monday.
We've were looking at the path to the Avalon Hide yesterday with the volunteers and trying to fill in some of the deeper bumps and squashy bits, as well as give it a bit of a tidy to keep access easy. It's quite nice to sit a while in there and see what's about. Got good views of a Cettis Warbler but also discovered that the Great Spotted Woodpeckers are nesting again in a dead birch by the path. Please be aware of this and not loiter here too long. In the owl box further down Tawny Owls have been seen (including a youngster) and there was also a possible sighting of Green Tiger Beetle that flew up off the path. Also whilst tidying up this morning I had a close encounter with a Roe Deer in the wood. They have also been seen from the old rail bridge and the back of Waltons this week:
Roe Deer: John Crispin.
Another great sighting I had this morning was that of some juvenile Bearded Tits at the back of the area in front of the 2nd viewing platform. One bird perched up just a few feet away - wonderful. John Crispin has also seen some this week. They may not show in public areas but it's nice to know they are out there and breeding successfully. John Crispin managed to get some photos of them this week and sent me some information on key things to look out for - thanks John:
Juvenile Bearded Tit - John Crispin
"Juvenile Bearded Tits have been showing well with black back, black lores (where the bill meets the face), black outer tail feathers and yellow bill. Black lores and a yellow bill indicate a juvenile male whilst for female more brown lores and a greyish black bill which will turn yellow on maturity".
Warblers are everywhere it seems - the rail path great for all the song birds but lots of Blackcaps to be seen and heard along with Willow Warbler, Garden Warbler and Chiffchaff. Bullfinch and nesting Goldcrests also seen along here this week. Taller vegetation and brambles are a good place to hunt for Whitethroats too, while the reedbeds are alive with the chattering of Reed Warblers a few Sedge Warblers and the calling of Reed Buntings:
Whitethroat: Simon Lewis
Reed Warbler with typher (presumably to line a nest): John Crispin
Reed Bunting collecting food: John Crabb
Also this week: Red Kite seen over the reserve on Sunday 15th and Tuesday 17th, lots of Swifts over the reserve all week, Otter seen from the Tor View Hide on Sunday Morning, Stoat reported running across the rail path by 1st platform on Tuesday, also on Tuesday a small Adder found dead in the car park (perhaps dropped by something), a pair of Barn Owls seen at Tinneys and seen flying over Waltons one evening, Kingfishers also seen at Tinneys (on the Sharpham Road) and several Cuckoos seen and heard including this one from the far end of Waltons - a common calling place:
Cuckoo: John Crispin
Before I sign off just a couple of reminders:
Unfortunately Station road between Ashcott and RSPB Ham Wall will be closed for essential repairs between the 20th May and 1 June. Access to the reserve will be Via Meare village during this period. Follow the link below for more details
There are signs up at the Meare end of the Road saying road close ahead at Station Road. You can access at this point even if it appears you can't. The roadworks are beyond the Ham Wall car park and access as far as that is fine.
Also: the bridge work is getting underway at last with the Environment Agency's contractors starting on Monday 23rd. As before the main track through the reserve will be closed between the car park and the 1st viewing platform but access is available by crossing the road bridge and walking down the other side of the main drain. Waltons, Loxtons and the 1st platform can be accessed by crossing back over at the pedestrian bridge just beyond the 1st platform. Thankfully, the track has hardened up and should be firm underfoot. Unfortunately, there will be no disabled access (RADAR access) to the reserve during this time and we can only apologise for any inconvenience caused. We've been told the work will take 2 to 3 weeks and will let people know when things return to normal.
Finally, one photo for the road, an often overlooked bird in an action shot provided by John Crabb. The humble Mallard:
That's it for this week. Have a great weekend.
It's certainly a busy time of year for the reserves wildlife. The reserve is a hive of activity and alive with bird song. A simple walk along the rail path can take a while with a host of species to look out for. There are plenty of Blackcaps and a few Garden Warblers to get you started. Add to this Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler, Bullfinches, Goldcrest, Blackbird, Song Thrush, Robin and all the tits & finches and you're already getting a nice list going. In fact many visitors are regularly reporting a total of over 60 bird species in a visit.
As you reach the first platform you can usually add a Whitethroat and a quick look across the reeds often brings a sighting of Great White Egret - often seen fishing in this area (they're hard to miss at some point on your visit). It's fascinating to watch their fishing techniques and John Crispin sent me these photos of a Great White Egret in full fishing mode - thanks John!
The first platform was a good place to spot Bitterns yesterday too with several flights recorded. During the last week or so 2 or more birds have been seen together from here on several occasions (either in front or behind within Waltons). On Wednesday John Crispin managed to take these shots of 2 birds together in the reed beds at Waltons - there was no apparent animosity between the birds and one eventually flew off:
Yesterday 2 were seen flying together - again over the Waltons area:
Meanwhile, below them in the reedbeds the Grey Heron chick from the most visible nest is at around 43 days old. It's been seen stretching and exercising its wings to build up its flight muscles. On average it takes around 50 days for fledging - so not long to go for this little chap:
Hobbys are another big draw for visitors at this time of year. Still can't get near the 40-50 together we had last year but 15 is a good attempt I suppose. They're another easy score for most visitors during May. Of course they are feeding of their favourite dish of dragonflies of which there are now many more on the wing. Most notable are the Hairy Hawkers which are finally out in good numbers after a late start. Almost immediately behind them come Broad Bodied Chaser (1 seen) and 4 Spotted Chaser - our most common dragonfly on the reserve (on a good year you'll get 10's of thousands - the back of Waltons often a hot spot). The car park pools offer plenty of activity with plenty of dragonflies and damselflies seen here this week.
I was lucky enough to be able to snap this shot with my phone camera yesterday of a 4 spotted chaser emerging at the car park:
...and here's what it will eventually look like:
Several damselfly species are present too including: Blue Tailed, Large Red, Azure, Variable and Red Eyed (seen from the Waltons viewing screens and pictured below):
There are plenty of butterflies on the wing too including: Green Veined White, Orange Tip, Brimstone, Clouded Yellow, Speckled Wood, Peacock, Small Tortoiseshell and Red Admiral.
In terms of mammals we've seen Roe Deer on several occasions, Hare in the fields next to the car park, bank voles and a fox prowling around the north of the reserve yesterday morning.
The 2nd platform is still attracting its fair share of waders. This morning saw Ruff in summer plumage, Glossy Ibis, Greenshank, Lapwing (displaying) and Black Tailed Godwits. Without a scope it's hard to get full coverage. Also it may be worth crossing over to the footpath on the other side and finding the 2 small blinds which face the same area. They give a slightly different perspective and could turn up trumps )the Glossy Ibis has hidden around here before now. Also look out for a very late Wigeon (still there this morning) and drake Garganey and multiples of Great White Egret (4 together this week).
Peak counts of Waders here this week: Ruffx5, Lapwing x6, Wood Sandpiper x1, Spotted Redshank x1, Redshank x2, Greenshank x5, Snipe x2, Black Tailed Godwits x25. There may be more - you just need to be patient and have a good look!
Also this week: Osprey reported yesterday at beyond the back of Waltons, Red Kite flying north over the Avalon Hide yesterday, Spotted Flycatcher reported between the 2 viewing platforms, Iberian Water |Frogs croaking loudly (Common Frog and Common Toad also seen this week), Mallards with 10 ducklings and Great Crested Grebes with 4 young in Waltons (and numerous Coot broods), 2 Common Terns over Waltons yesterday morning, a very showy Cettis Warbler by the Waltons screens this morning (try the junction with the Tor View Path for a good photo op), Raven chased off by crows of Wednesday, Sparrowhawk low in front of 2nd platform on Monday and Kestrel over the car park the same day. Marsh Harriers from the Avalon Hide and 3 Cuckoos calling from 1st platform on Monday and 4 seen chasing from the 2nd the same day after female heard calling.
Phew! Think I need a rest after all that and I didn't even mention the amazing screaming Swifts!
Time to relax! Here's a lovely shot of sunrise over Ham wall taken by John Crispin from the Avalon Hide - thanks John. Have a great Weekend everyone! I'm working on Sunday so come and say hello if you see me!
What a fabulous week on the reserve this week. Spring has well and truly sprung and visitors are flocking to the local reserves to see whats on offer. Some of the stars of the show this week have to be the Hobbys. They've been easy to view every day over all parts of the reserve and are always a pleasure to see (unless you're a dragonfly of course).
John Crabb sent me these photos of Hobby over Ham Wall on Tuesday - thanks John:
As many as 10 have been seen together so far but there's a long way to go to beat last years high of around 50 (there's still time). Dragonflies and damselflies are finally beginning to emerge in greater numbers now that the warmer weather has finally arrived. Hairy Dragonflies are the first dragonflies to emerge and a few have been seen while hundreds of damselflies are now showing themselves. Large Red, Blue Tailed and Variable damselfly all recorded this week:
Variable Damselflies - Giles Morris
It's not a safe place for these creatures though as John Crabb's other Hobby photos show:
He's behind you!
Discarding the remains
Another acrobatic flyer came into the reserve in good numbers again this week - the Swift. Always a sign of the arrival of spring for me and one of my favourite birds. They've put on some good 'food catching' flights and had a good scream - as they do. This noise has given this bird the title of 'the Devil bird'.
Swifts: John Crispin
Of course plenty of other migrants have made their way back to the reserve this year. The reed beds are coming alive with the chattering of Reed Warblers and there seems to be more Sedge Warblers on the reserve this year. It can be tricky telling the difference between these two on calls alone. The best this to do is find a track where there's one on each side and have a good listen. During the 'Mr Boombastic' bittern guided walk this week this actually occurred and was most helpful. It was on the path to the Avalon Hide and apparently the Sedge Warbler even did a song flight to prove its identity.
Reed Warbler: John Crabb Sedge Warbler: John Crispin
Other warblers include the Blackcap of which there are plenty, Garden Warbler (one singing close to both platforms this week), Whitethroats (again very showy by both platforms), Lesser Whitethroat seen by rail bridge lat week and 1st platform this week, Chiffchaff, Cettis Warbler - very vocal but beginning to be a bit less showy than the last couple of weeks and Willow Warblers - listen out for their descending calls.
Other birds on the move are of course the waders. The area in front of the 2nd viewing platform is once again the place to go. There's been some interesting stuff out there but it seems to vary slightly each day. Up to 3 Wood Sandpipers have been seen most of the week (although not reported so far today), a lovely looking male Ruff both yesterday & today, up to 100 Black Tailed Godwits, 14 Whimbrel, 2 Common Sandpiper, 9 Dunlin, 8 Greenshank, 1 Ringed Plover, 1 Little Ringed Plover, 3 Redshank, 4 Lapwing (seen displaying), a Turnstone on Monday and the odd Snipe throughout the week.
Old faithful - the Glossy Ibis is still present. Often visible from the 2nd platform but if not cross over to the grassy path and find the 2 willow blinds. These offer slightly different angles on this area and the Glossy Ibis was very close to these on Tuesday. 2 Bitterns took of very close to one of these screens the same day too.
Also from the 2nd platform this week - Peregrine on Tuesday (but not the first time it's been seen here lately), a lone male Wigeon still present, a pair of Pintail also still present, male Garganey showing well all week and the odd drop in from Great White Egrets and Bittern flypasts.
The Avalon Hide still offers the best views of Marsh Harriers with lots of hunting and pair bonding activity to see such as food passes (Tuesday was particularly good apparently. Good chance of a Bittern sighting here too and a Tawny Owl was spotted sat outside the box in the wood (the one you walk through) with a youngster this morning.
At Waltons, no sign of the Ring Necked duck for me this week and no reports so perhaps it's moved on. Great Crested Grebes and Little Grebes and several duck species are visible along with at least 2 Grey Herons nests with youngsters inside (within the reeds).
Grey Heron and chick: John Crispin
Also this week: Short Eared Owl on Monday but not reported since, Barn Owl seen near the Central Wood on Tuesday morning, 2 Mistle Thrush in the car park this morning plus at least 2 Song Thrush calling, 3 Cranes over the 1st platform yesterday and 2 at the far end of the site on Wednesday, 2 Black Terns reported between the car park and Waltons (on the right) last night (Thurs) - then joined briefly by a Whiskered Tern before moving off.
Finally, lots of Great White Egret activity around the site this week. You'd be unlucky not to seen one during any visit at the moment. Here's a nice shot of one sent in by John Crabb this week. Interesting to see the shadow of its head and neck on its wing:
That's it for this week, have a great weekend!
Another interesting, wildlife packed, week on the reserve this week. You could be fooled into thinking it was winter at times on the reserve this week until you hear the chattering of Reed warblers in the reed beds, the calls of Cuckoo, booms of Bitterns and the melody of warblers and other song birds in the trees. When the suns out, it's an amazing place to be at the moment.
One of our many singing Blackcaps on the reserve: John Crabb
The Glossy Ibis continues to show well on the muddy area in front of the 2nd viewing platform (he's been here since September) and has given many visitors a closer view from the 2 willow blinds we have erected (with the Avalon Marshes Young Wardens) recently. There have been a few great close up photos on social media this week. We now have a Ham Wall Twitter feed, which started this week. Why not follow us for the latest news from the reserve @rspbhamwall or for Somerset reserves in general @rspbsomerset. Feel free to share reserve sightings and photos with us too! We're also on Facebook too.
Anyway, back to the real business of the blog! The 2nd platform area has still been the place to watch this week. Good numbers of waders are popping in and out but some you can pretty much guarantee every visit at the moment - among those include: Black Tailed Godwits up to 110 or more, Greenshank up to 13, Common Sandpiper up to 3, Redshank up to 4 and Lapwing up to 4. Among those seen frequently but perhaps not every day include: Green Sandpiper 1 or 2, Ringed Plover up to 6, Little Ringed Plover up to 3, Dunlin up to 5 and Snipe 1 or 2.
Also this week a visit from varying numbers of Whimbrel. As many as 25 were seen Sunday but numbers of just over 10 on most days (there were certainly a few out there this morning too). Last Friday evening (after blog time) 2 summer plumage Spotted Redshank were seen and they remained there throughout most of Saturday but haven't been seen since. A Little Stint was also seen but may have been amongst birds flushed up by a passing Peregrine on Thursday morning (it could still be around somewhere).
Thursday morning was a particularly good one. 3 Cranes flew over the reserve heading in a southerly direction and were seen by many. This adds to the 6 seen and heard 'bugling' during a flyover on Sunday 24th.
Thursday morning also saw further sightings of Short Eared Owl over Waltons and then in front of the 1st platform before dropping behind the wood near the Avalon Hide. I was unaware of this as I walked around that area and almost trod on it before it flew up and dropped 20 yards or so away from me (a lovely sighting).
Great White Egrets were in front of both viewing platforms for good lengths of time, the same morning as volunteers were out observing Bittern behaviour to see if any nesting has begun. It's a great time of year to see both and over the next month you could almost guarantee a sighting of these two during a visit. Bitterns are being seen a little more frequently and often in pairs, threes or fours and sometimes more as males chase females. 4 were seen from the Avalon Hide on Monday!
The reedbeds and open water may well be full of life but so too are the tree lines and areas of scrub or bramble. Lesser Whitethroat was seen in brambles close to the rail bridge on Thursday morning by a visitor as were a pair of Bullfinches a little further along to the 1st platform. Close to both platforms Common Whitethroats perform their song flights and perch well for a photo opportunity, while in the trees behind the 2nd platform (by Loxtons) a female Brambling along with a Siskin were spotted by an eagle eyed visitor on Monday.
Within Waltons, it's been a few days since anybody reported seeing the Ring Necked Duck. This of course doesn't mean he's not there (or somewhere locally). It's still worth checking all the Tufted Ducks out just in case he's there. The Grey Herons are now feeding youngsters on at least 2 nests. One very visible along the left hand side of the path to the Tor View Hide (one youngster) and another more distantly from the first 2 screens (2 youngsters).
Waltons also had some rather aggressive Great White Egret confrontations on Wednesday on the islands on the west side. Both Great Crested Grebe & Little Grebe show well from the screens and hide, while there's always a good chance of Cuckoo on a walk round and the Lesser Black Backed Gulls seem to have taken over one of the rafts and were seen mating again here on Thursday.
Lesser Black Backed Gulls: John Crabb
Hobbys are in too with up to 5 seen over Waltons yesterday - expecting a much bigger influx during the next week or so. By then we may actually have some dragonflies and damselflies on the wing. I've still yet to see one although both Variable and Large Red damselfly have been reported. Hairy Dragonfly is imminent (if it ever gets warm enough).
Butterflies are about - most noticeable this week are a few extra Orange Tips. Add to these: Peacock, Red Admiral, Green Veined White, Comma, Small Tortoiseshell and Brimstone and you can begin to build a short list at least.
Brimstone: John Crispin
Also this week: Roe Deer seen around the back of Waltons on Monday (seen several times recently in this area), some very showy Cettis Warblers - most notably around the screens at Waltons (in the open less that a metre away, Common Sandpiper on the Waltons rafts, Swift, Swallow, House & Sand Martins, Wigeon and Pintail from the 2nd platform, Marsh Harriers from the Avalon Hide, Great Spotted Woodpecker and Garganey seen frequently from the 2nd platform this week:
Garganey: John Crispin
That's it for this week. Have a great bank holiday weekend - surely Ham wall is worth a visit!
Another brilliant week on the reserve this week with, once again, loads to report.
Birds of prey feature highly this week, although I'm falling short of photos in this area I'm afraid. Last weekend, Monday and Tuesday saw Short Eared Owl hunting over the reserve (probably 2 different birds here). Three sightings on Monday morning from the first platform and around Waltons followed by a further evening sighting. Tuesday saw another sighting around Waltons but also an Osprey which perched in trees by Long Drove - land south of Waltons. It was also seen over the Avalon Marshes Centre and Shapwick Heath that day.
Thursday morning saw a sighting of female Hen Harrier on the reserve and an hour or so later a Red Kite passed over.
Marsh Harriers are still busy out in front of the Avalon Hide and on the section beyond that which the 2nd viewing platform looks upon. It could well be another 3 active nests this year. Buzzards have again been seen getting a little too close this week before being seen off by the harriers but also a Bittern was circling above the area yesterday (Thurs) before being attacked by a Harrier and bombed constantly for several minutes. The Bittern never reappeared so its fate remains a mystery.
I've still yet to see my first Hobby of the season, although a few have been reported. At least 2 were seen last weekend. No dragonflies yet either, although there was a report of Variable damselfly this week, so with another warm spell plenty more should begin to emerge over the coming weeks. There are plenty of other flying insects for them to feed on though and of course these are enjoyed by the many returning hirundines and Swifts. Plenty of Swallows and House Martins over Waltons feeding this morning with the odd Swift (several were seen on Tuesday morning).
Several other migrating bird species have found their way to Ham Wall over the last week. There has been an increase in the number of Reed Warblers and I've heard my first Sedge Warbler of the year today. Garden Warbler was spotted in the rail path trees yesterday to join the throng of Blackcaps already present:
Blackcap: John Crispin.
Add to this Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff and all the "usual suspects" and there's quite a build up of song on your walk into the reserve.
It would seem the place to head for is the 2nd platform at the moment. There's plenty of mud showing and the Glossy Ibis seems to be loving it and is present very day. There's also been a great selection of waders here too. Of particular note were Black Tailed Godwits of varying numbers but a peak of over 100, Dunlin x1, Redshank x4, Little Ringed Plover x2, Ringed Plover x4, Greenshank x2, Green Sandpiper x1, Snipe x2 and Common Sandpiper x2. These are the peak counts of any one species recorded here this week.
Common Sandpiper was also seen from the 1st platform over Waltons on both Monday and Tuesday. On Tuesday it perched long enough on the rafts in Waltons for John Crispin to grab these shots - thanks John:
Also in Waltons this week is the continued presence of the Ring Necked Duck. It's been seen most days on the east side of Waltons either from the Tor View Hide or lurking up the channels. On the way to the hide look out for the Grey Herons nest on the left (east) clearly visible. As reported last week, a chick was visible from time to time and here's definitive proof sent in by volunteer Rob Balch - thanks Rob:
Grey Heron and chick (nice hairdo); Rob Balch.
Also in the Waltons section this week: Lots of Pochard and Tufted Ducks, Little Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, Great White Egrets, 2 Roe Deer on the back path this morning, a pair of Linnets in the far corner (male in full song and a female with a beak full of food) and 2 Bitterns yesterday perched up and climbing in the reeds right on the edge in the open. Volunteers who were out in the area at the time enjoyed great views through John Crispin's scope but unfortunately he didn't have his camera at the time. Luckily, Andrew Kirby was nearby and got shots of the same incident. Thanks Andrew!
John did did however have his camera on Sunday when he got these shots of a Bittern enjoying some sunshine:
It's always worth scanning the edges of the reed beds on sunny mornings to see if you can spot any sunbathing Bitterns. Mind you, you never know what you might see flying over the reserve these days:
Like this Chinook flying very low over the reserve on both Monday and Tuesday. Pairs of Hercules have also passed over low on several occasions.
There may be a lack of dragonflies still but there are plenty of butterflies on the wing: Peacock, Red Admiral, Comma, Green Veined White, Small Tortoiseshell and Brimstone all spotted throughout the week.
Also this week: Sparrowhawks seen on several occasions, Stoat seen running across the rail path near the 1st viewing platform on Tuesday, up to 3 Garganey and 2 Pintail seen from the 2nd platform this week, Raven flying over on a number of occasions, 3 Yellow Wagtails and 2 White Wagtails from the 2nd platform over the weekend (and a Whinchat on Saturday), up to 4 Great White Egrets seen within Loxtons during the week, Great Spotted Woodpeckers, Siskin by the 2nd platform, Displaying Lapwings (they also chased off crows), croaking Iberian Water Frogs and Bearded Tits seen just beyond the 2nd platform area.
Finally John Crabb sent me these shots of the first Coot chicks of the year - saw some myself in Waltons - perhaps the same ones. Thanks John!
That's it for this week. Have a great weekend!
If there was any lingering doubt that spring had sprung last week - there can be no doubt now. It's been a week teeming with new arrivals and great wildlife sightings. It's hard to know where to start, so lets start with some spring arrivals. Tuesday saw the first report of Cuckoo on the reserve around the Waltons section and I had my first on Wednesday but there were at least 2 more on site. John Crispin took this shot this week and sent it in - thanks John:
Of course these birds use Reed Warblers as one of their hosts for laying eggs and their timing is good as Reed Warblers are also beginning to come in and the reedbeds are becoming a little noisier every day.
Other migrants coming in include more Willow Warblers, the odd Sedge Warbler and further Blackcaps. 3 male Blackcaps were perched on the same tree all singing as loud as they could to out compete each other for the territory - this also including much chasing and scolding but I didn't get to see the eventual winner. Whitethroat have also been seen and as with most years the brambles on the other side of the main drain from the 1st platform is a good place to spot them. One was performing it's song flight there yesterday and making itself very obvious:
Whitethroat - John Crispin
We're still seeing a few Sand Martins and Swallows each day and this morning came the first report of Swift over the reserve.
Other new arrivals include waders on passage. We have lowered water levels in front of the 2nd viewing platform over the last week and there is plenty of mud showing. It's attracted a number of waders although they are a bit in and out or just passing through. A scope is a good idea though and take some time scanning the whole area. This morning saw a Redshank, 2 Lapwing and 2 Black Tailed Godwits but we've also had Little Ringed Plover, Dunlin, Green Sandpiper and Snipe this week (6 were seen from the 1st platform yesterday too).
Some other birds using this area regularly are a little more obvious. The Glossy Ibis is still present every day and usually fairly easy to spot. He was even seen collecting sticks this week - just being optimistic I guess. Great White Egrets are often present and Little Egrets often accompany the Glossy Ibis during the day. Thanks to John Crabb who sent in these pictures from his visit on Tuesday:
Scan over the ducks in here too. Apart from the usual Mallard, Shoveler, Tufted Duck and Gadwall there are still a good number of Teal and the odd Wigeon but also as many as 4 Pintail this week. This morning however saw as many as 6 Garganey (5 drakes and 1 female) feeding in the muddy shallows (a pair were seen displaying over the weekend).
Other obvious signs of spring are of course the booming Bitterns. Staff and volunteers from across the conservation bodies in the Avalon Marshes were out very early on Thursday morning undertaking a bittern survey. The reward (apart from breakfast afterwards) was 45 booming males in the Avalon Marshes (plus 2 at Greylake) - that's 2 up on last year. 19 of these were on Ham Wall and a further 2 on neighbouring plots. Booming Marvelous!!
There are a few more flights being seen too of either individuals or sets of 2 or 3 in a chase. 3 were also reported chasing each other at Greylake this week too.
Other stars at the moment include the Marsh Harriers. The Avalon hide is the best place at the moment, with significant activity from at least 3 birds.
Marsh Harrier - John Crabb
On Wednesday I was close to the reedbeds distant of the 2nd viewing platform. The weather was wonderful and several Buzzards began to circle very high on thermals - I counted at least 9. When some came lower they obviously annoyed a pair of Marsh Harriers and several disputes occurred. The Marsh Harriers won out in the end. This was obviously not the only time this had happened as John Crabb sent me these photos from the previous day - thank John:
Buzzard sent packing...?
A few minutes later a Sparrowhawk also flew overhead - it made for quite an enjoyable lunch break!
It's been a pretty good week for birds of prey all round. A Kestrel was seen in the car park on Wednesday morning and the early morning start yesterday meant volunteers saw Barn Owls in at least 3 locations (including Tinneys ground on the Sharpham road and Tawny Owls were also heard. It's been the Short Eared Owls that have really caught peoples interest though. After last weeks sightings, 2 were then seen from the Avalon Hide on Sunday 10th in the morning, then 2 hunting along the wide strip next to the South Drain visible from the rail bridge as you enter the reserve. Finally, I saw one myself this morning and a traveled around Waltons. I flushed if from the western edge and then again from the south. Keep 'em peeled - they're probably still out there somewhere. Red Kites have also been seen more frequently of late with a sighting on both Sunday and Wednesday.
Waltons is still a good place to sit and watch a while. A Redstart was seen in the north Western corner on Thursday and There are a few pairs of Great Crested Grebes to keep you entertained. The Grey Herons (3 nests) are also still within the reedbeds with youngsters visible in one of the nests (best viewed from the path to the Tor View Hide). The hide's been the place to find the Ring Necked Duck too, although if he's not there a walk around the eastern half of Waltons might be in order (it was seen yesterday but I had a quick scan without luck this morning).
John Crabb also had a visit from a pike towards the Tor View Hide on Tuesday. Monsters of the deep! Ducklings beware!
Pike - John Crabb
Also some nice photos of Gadwall:
Right down the lens. Gadwall - John Crabb
Still looking for my first dragonfly or damselfly of the year but there are steady numbers of butterflies around: Brimstone, Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock, Red Admiral, Green Veined White, Orange Tip and Comma all seen this week.
Also this week: Nuthatch & Treecreeper both spotted in the car park trees, Great Tit continuing to nest build in out nest cam box (beamed to the monitor in the visitor building at the car park), Roe Deer seen around the back of Waltons, Iberian Water Frogs heard croaking, Common Frog, Common Toad and Slow Worm all seen, 2 Bearded Tits seen in front of 2nd platform on Weds, Stock Dove from the woods opposite the 1st platform (also on Weds), 2 Cranes over on Sunday 10th but 11 over together during the week, 2 Water Pipit seen on the mud at 2nd platform & 2 Yellow Legged Gulls reported on the rafts at Waltons on Sunday.
Finally, a nice shot of a nest building Coot. You can see one sat on a nest on the edge cut island in Waltons too:
Coot - John Crabb
That's it for this week - have a great weekend!
The star of the show this week was probably the White Stork. It's been seen a few times in the local area and was first seen circling high over Ham Wall on Tuesday. It was than seen flying in front of the Avalon hide the next day too and is still currently in the local area as far as I know. John Crispin was on hand to grab these shots of the bird - thanks John.
White Stork - John Crispin
Other welcome stars were more Cranes to add to those seen last week. On Saturday 2nd 4 birds were seen flying over the reserve. One of these was seen to have a leg dangling down in flight. This bird is actually in good health. It seems to be a quirk of his that he dangles one leg when flying and is known to the Crane team. His name is Howard. These 4 were trumped however by the 9 birds seen flying together over the reserve on Wednesday morning at about 10.30. They flew out over high over Shapwick Heath.
It would appear, that particularly on brighter days, it pays to look up and really study the skies - you never know what might be there. Also on Saturday a Red Kite was seen - again fling high, over the 1st platform. A few have been seen in the area recently, so keep your eyes peeled.
Another big draw of course is the Glossy Ibis, still present after several moths now. It was seen on Ham Wall on Tuesday from the 2nd viewing platform (often referred to now as VP2) but has now tended to spend the last few days on Shapwick as they have been pumping down the scrape. They've attracted a few waders - most notably around 90 Black Tailed Godwits. A few have passed over to us - checkout the 2nd platform for these. We are trying to lower the water slightly here too - so may have some interesting characters dropping in here too over the next couple of weeks.
The other more unusual visitor we have at the moment is of course the Ring Necked Duck. It was seen earlier in the week from the 2nd viewing platform but has generally been within the Waltons section on the eastern side. The Tor View hide seems to be the best spot but scan all the Tufted Ducks in this area from the screens too to try and track him down. It was certainly there both yesterday morning and in the afternoon. Thanks to John Crabb for sending me in these photos:
Ring Necked Duck - John Crabb
Apart from these more unusual birds there are lots of new arrivals and birds on passage.
Tuesday saw 2 Whimbrel flying over the 1st platform, while Thursday in particular saw great numbers of Swallow & Sand Martin over Waltons - the windy weather was obviously keeping them low down over the water. There was a report of a Reed Warbler on the reserve on Tuesday around Waltons while in the tree lines Chiffchaffs are in full song. They are joined by the odd Blackcap and several Willow Warblers.
Willow Warbler - John Crispin
Of course we mustn't forget our resident stars. Bitterns are still booming well and next week sees the 2nd of our booming counts. It's last years total of 43 to beat - think it might be close. There have been a few flights from bitterns this week. The Loxtons screen and the Avalon hide have both had reports while 3 were seen in a 'chase' from the 1st platform on Sunday 3rd.
The Great White Egrets are also seen daily - with 9 reported together this week within the Ham Wall reedbeds. Staff and volunteers will be putting in lots of time studying both these species over the coming weeks to establish any breeding activity. Meanwhile, here's some lovely pics sent in by John Crabb for you to enjoy - thanks again John. You can really pick out the breeding plumage and colours.
Great White Egrets - John Crabb
but also this interesting behaviour was witnessed and photographed by John Crispin of what appeared to be a Cormorant stealing a meal from a Great White Egret - very naughty! Thanks for the photos John.
Great White Egret & Cormorant - John Crispin
Of course the Marsh Harriers are our other stars and, as last week, the Avalon Hide is the place to go. Displaying, food passes and carrying of nesting material have been recorded this week from as many as 5 birds.
Marsh Harriers - John Crabb
The Avalon Hide has also been a good place this week to see Kestrel this week and there's always a chance of seeing Barn Owl in the area seen on both Tuesday and last Friday. There was also a report of a Short Eared Owl hunting over the north of the reserve the same evening and a possible Spoonbill seen fling off with Great White Egrets at dusk. This is very possible given last weeks sightings.
Also this week: the first sighting of a Grey Heron chick on the Waltons island - visible from the Tor View Hide path, 4 Jays seen flying around the back of Waltons on Monday and a Roe deer that allowed me to get quite close before running just minutes later, first Garganey sighting on Tuesday from the 2nd platform, lots of Slow Worms under tin sheets left out for reptiles and shed skins from some Grass Snakes, 6 Siskins from the 1st platform on Wednesday and a Treecreeper in Alders by Street Heath (next to Loxtons) yesterday.
Great Crested Grebes seem to be seen more as singles at the moment (unless it's just me) - could be that there's a partner sat on a nest nearby. Here's a nice shot of Great Crested Grebe in flight taken by John Crispin this week. The shot shows well the humped back posture of the flying bird. The back vertebrae are fused together to form a stiff rod. Any rigidity in the body is compensated for by its long and flexible neck!
Great Crested Grebe - John Crispin
Some more action shots to finish - this time from John Crabb.
Lesser Black Backed Gull fishing successfully!
and an aggressive looking Coot!
There's a bit to catch up with as I was away last week but there's so much going on I'll focus mainly on the past 7 days or so. Yet another mixed bag of weather this week: rain, high winds and hail and then some glorious sunshine. Spring has most definitely arrived and there is evidence all around to prove it. Some more firsts this week: the first Willow Warbler reported during the week but one was heard singing around Waltons this morning. Also Blackcap was seen and heard - both join the many Chiffchaffs already present and singing away.
Other migrants also came through this week. Swallows in small numbers: 2 flew over the Tor View Hide on Tuesday, one over the north of the reserve on Wednesday and 4 were seen this morning from the Avalon Hide. One or two House Martins have also been seen and several Sand Martins with a groups of c50 reported on Monday & c30 on Tuesday. The first Swift has been recorded at Portland in Dorset too - very early.
Birdsong has increased in general (particularly during the sunny spells) with some birds in particular standing out with loud punchy calls - Song Thrush for one - calling loudly along the rail path yesterday. The Wren sings very loudly for one so small but it's great to hear:
and of course the Cettis Warbler. Often heard but not seen. This time of year can be very different however and they can often be seen perching up claiming their territories. Several birds have been seen around Waltons in particular this week. Dave Roach sent these shots into the reserve office last week - thanks Dave.
Other signs of spring include nesting and mating behavior. Nest boxes around the reserve are being inspected and used by birds, including the nest camera box at the car park. A great Tit has been bringing in moss over the last few days. Looking forward to seeing some healthy young birds on our monitor in the visitor building in the near future. Also a Blue Tit is using the nest box next to the wooden boardwalk at the car park. Thanks to John Crispin for the photo:
In Waltons Grey Herons continue to sit on nests (visible from the track and the Tor View Hide and a Coot is nesting by the cut island in Waltons - again visible from the main track (up to 5 Snipe have been using the island this week too). Great Crested Grebes have been seen mating in front of the 1st platform and Marsh Harriers have been seen mating from the Avalon Hide. Once again, John Crispin was on hand to capture some images - thanks John:
Bitterns are booming and the odd chase has been seen - so things are really hotting up here too. This morning from the Avalon Hide 3 birds were in a chase (probably males chasing a female) but only 2 landed;
Thanks again to John!!
There have been odd flights recorded elsewhere around the site including Waltons, Loxtons and the 1st platform (see photo):
Other birds of course are showing off their fine breeding plumage. Of particular note is the Great White Egret. Several birds are being seen across the reserve (at least 5 on Saturday) - the Avalon Hide came up trumps this morning for me with a good sighting. John Crispin's photo below shows this birds breeding colours. Note the slate grey bill, green lores and reddened legs:
Little Egrets look mighty fine too. This individual has been regularly visiting the cut island at Waltons:
and even the ducks get in on the action like this fine looking Shoveler after his mate!
Elsewhere is spring for other wildlife too and there has been a flurry of butterfly sightings this week: Red Admiral, Peacock, Small Tortoiseshell, Brimstone and Green Veined White all recorded on Thursday alone.
There have been a couple of Otter sightings over the last couple of weeks too. One from the Tor View Hide last week and from the Avalon Hide on Tuesday. Be aware however that there are mink around too - you may need to double check your sightings before shouting Otter!!
Roe Deer are also present on and around the reserve - there have been several sightings throughout the week and a Badger was seen around the Waltons screens late one evening. If you venture down the far end of the rail path you won't fail to notice the extra soil excavations next to the rail path. Looks like they've had an extension put on the sett!
The star of last week was the Brown Hare seen in the fields next to the car park. It has been seen around the car park trail in the past. Great Shots again from John Crispin!
Other stars came this morning (apart from the bitterns, Marsh Harriers and Great White Egrets). 6 Cranes flew high over the reserve heading north and appeared to land beyond the water tower according to those in the Avalon Hide. A Bittern landed in the reeds to the side of the last bit of path to the Avalon hide and around the same time Bearded Tits were heard pinging but weren't seen. 2 were seen in front of the hide on Saturday.
The Ring necked Duck is still around - seen today from the Tor View Hide (on the east side) and the Glossy Ibis was seen on Bank Holiday Monday flying in front of the 1st platform.
Also this week: Raven calling in flight on Tuesday, 22 Black Tailed Godwits on Saturday, 30 on Monday and 8 on Tuesday (these flew out of the area in front of the 2nd platform). A Sandwich Tern was reported on Monday too and a Kestrel was seen hovering north of the Avalon Hide on Wednesday.Other waders are about: the 5 Snipe in Waltons (previously mentioned) and some heard at other locations, occasional Lapwing flying over but also displaying to the far north of the reserve, a Woodcock was also seen last week close to Loxtons.
Other birds include: lovely looking Reed Buntings close to the Avalon Hide, Stonechats seen within reedbeds close to the same hide, Skylarks singing at Tinneys ground (on the Sharpham Road), Great Spotted Woodpeckers seen and drumming heard, Red Kite seen over the car park on Good Friday and along the rail path: Bullfinch, Treecreepers, Goldcrests and a host of other species.
Apart from all that, it's been pretty quiet!
Grid reference: ST4439 (+2km)
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