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Recent sightings

  • 22 July 2016

    Recent Sightings at RSPB Ham Wall - 22.07.2016

    Yet again another wonderful week on the reserve - although the very hot weather has made working quite difficult as well as perhaps calmed down some of the activity from the birds. The early mornings have been the time to come by the sounds of it, with cooler weather, good light and a magical feel.

    The early starts is best for catching up with the Little Bittern (well beyond the 2nd platform on the right). 2 males have been recorded barking here again this week and most days see several flights before the sun really gets going. Lots of visitors are trying to see it - often it's the luck of the draw. Some people stand for hours and then miss it, while the lucky ones turn up wait ten minutes and get a sighting - oh to be in that category. Thanks to Robin Morrison for sending in this shot.

    There's plenty of other stuff to keep you occupied while you wait. Kingfishers are being seen and heard regularly here along with several Jays and a family group of Great Spotted Woodpeckers - these 2 taken by John Crispin. The dead tree is the one close to the Little Bittern area - thanks John:

    Young and adult jays seen regularly too:

    Bitterns are often seen in this area too although activity generally across the reserve has greatly reduced, they are still seen fairly regularly. Some going into moult like this landing bird from Robin Morrison again:

    Often perched in the reeds too:

    Bittern in reeds - Robin Morrison 

    Other birds have been seen passing through this area including a Greenshank and Green Sandpiper. Green Sandpiper have been seen several times in front of the 2nd platform this week with as many as 10 seen together last weekend. Wood Sandpiper was recorded at the back of this section on Tuesday and Little Ringed Plover on Saturday and Sunday last week.

    Green Sandpipers: John Crispin 

    The Glossy Ibis x2 have also been seen here this week - although not always immediately obvious. They were however also seen from the first viewing platform on Monday. The vegetation is high here at present and making visibility difficult. We have drained the water slightly in readiness to start cutting the reeds at the start of next month. This will open up the views once more and provide good feeding and loafing areas for birds over the autumn and winter months.

    The hot weather may be keeping the birds a little quieter but it seems to be good news for butterflies and dragonflies. Quite a good list forming this week:

    In terms of butterflies we've recorded: Comma, Red Admiral, Small Skipper, Large Skipper, Speckled Wood, Peacock, Green Veined White, Small White, Large White, Meadow Brown, Gatekeeper, Common Blue & Ringlet. Also a possible Silver Washed Fritillary along the rail path near Loxtons.

    Gatekeeper: John Crispin. 

    For Dragonflies: Emperor, Southern Hawker, Brown Hawker, Common Darter, Ruddy Darter, 4 Spotted Chaser, Broad Bodied Chaser, Black Tailed Skimmer, Common Blue Damselfly, Red Eyed Damselfly, Blue Tailed Damselfly and Variable Damselfly:

    Black Tailed Skimmer: Giles Morris

    Ruddy Darter: Giles Morris. 

    Variable Damselfly: Giles Morris 

    Other bus of note this week include a large hornet which was working along the brambles close to the Little Bittern area and a leaf cutter bee which was carrying leaves into the visitor building early in the week.

    The hedgerows are good places for bug hunting but also look and listen out for juvenile birds being fed by adults. A Goldcrest was also spotted this week collecting spiders webs for nest building.

    The Avalon Hide is still the place to go for Marsh Harriers. 3 juvenile birds were all seen perched up in small willows in the reed beds on several occasions this week. Their crowns still a very coppery colour in the sun. Hobby again seen here this week perched out on a tuft or old nest in the water but also seen from the second platform and over Loxtons.

    The Collared Pratincole has thought to have left although a volunteer thought they may have seen it again on Tuesday and described it's colours and behaviour perfectly. Nobody else has reported anything but you never know. Thanks to Brendan Sheils for sending in a couple of shots of last weeks star bird:

    Elsewhere on the reserve this week: both Great Crested and Little Grebe adults and chicks from the Waltons screens, Cuckoo heard calling for the whole week until yesterday, Raven flying over, Kestrel spotted last weekend, Great White Egrets abundant with 11 seen together from second platform last Sunday and both Adder & Grass Snake seen by yours truly on Monday around the Waltons trail. 

    Finally some pics to finish:

    This morning (and during the week) 4 young Water Rail chicks seen on the Tor View Hide path all feeding independently with an adult close by. Thanks to John Crispin for the photos taken this morning:

    Other young families include Mute Swans. Thanks to Robin Morrison for this photo:

    and this lovely shot of a Roe deer hind and fawn from around the Waltons Trail on Tuesday. Thanks to Robin Morrison again:

    That's it for this week. There maybe no blog next week as I have to attend a funeral and then I'm off on annual leave, so it could be 3 weeks before I write again for which I can only apologise. 

    Hope you have a great weekend in the sun!!

    Posted by Stephen Couch

  • 15 July 2016

    Recent Sightings at RSPB Ham Wall - 15.07.2016

    Well, there's no doubt as to the star of the show this week. On Sunday evening a Collared Pratincole was spotted on the reserve and with it, over the next few days, came many visitors hoping to add one to their list. It's a summer visitor to southern Europe but a vagrant to these parts (and a first for Somerset I'm told?) Sadly I've not been sent any photos of this handsome bird. But if you search twitter there are plenty of great images.

    I had good views myself on Wednesday of the bird perched on the ground and then in flight as it caught insects on the wing - with graceful, swooping manoeuvers - very Tern like. On one occasion it was seen to catch a dragonfly directly over the 2nd platform. Of course, I wasn't there for that showpiece. I'm so pleased I saw it though - a great, albeit brief addition to the reserve. It was seen late on Wednesday night but was absent yesterday. Whatever could be next for the ever growing list at the Avalon Marshes reserves?

    With so many people travelling to see it, many wanted the double whammy by getting Little Bittern too. Many people managed it and if you add 2 Glossy Ibis and numerous Great White Egrets and "Great" Bitterns to the mix you have one hell of a days birding.

    Little Bittern has been seen in a few places this week. One from the Tor View Hide on Tuesday and one distantly behind the 2nd viewing platform on Wednesday (beyond the back of Loxtons). Most people now seem to be aware that the most active section has been further down the rail path from the 2nd platform. There are more flights earlier in the day as a rule, but some people get lucky during the daytime. One bird perched up in the reeds for a long period on Wednesday and was also seen in flight. Here's a couple more pictures taken by John Crispin last week. Thanks John:

    It's been great to see so many satisfied visitors on the reserve. What an awesome place this reserve has become. The Glossy Ibis have also been showing well - sometimes from the 2nd platform but often you need to cross over and search the whole section to find them. The small blinds and in front of the bench near the junction with the Avalon Hide path give you more views of this area and a greater chance of spotting them.

    On Friday they were spotted doing this..........

    I say!.......and this goes out before the watershed. Thanks to Moi Hicks for sending in the photo.

    Not sure what will come of this. It could be a bit late for this year and I get the impression that these may not be fully mature birds but I guess it's good to practice in readiness for next season perhaps!

    This area has been proving to be really productive in recent months. We have also dropped the water level just a little, which could encourage a few passage waders to drop in. Lapwing are using the area regularly, Snipe have been seen along with a Redshank and up to 6 Green Sandpipers:

    Green Sandpiper - John Crispin 

    The section is vegetating over bit by bit but we hope to reproduce this kind of area just next door in the section to the left of the Avalon Hide path. We'll do some more cutting work in there this winter and open it up again and hopefully produce some satisfying results.

    Also seen in this area this week: Peregrine hunting on Tuesday afternoon, plenty of Swift (one with a very stumpy tail) and House Martins picking off insects, Great Crested Grebe, Greylag Geese, Marsh Harrier, several duck species and of course Great White Egrets:

    They are seen here regularly and all around the reserve really.They are having a successful breeding season with at least another 13 birds being added to the population. A good number have been ringed and we should be able to learn much about their behaviour and how they may distribute from the Avalon Marshes. There still seems to be an active nest as a bird is regularly flying directly over the car park between Ham Wall and Shapwick Heath, so you need to keep your eyes open right from the start.

    The car park pools have much to offer too. Iberian Water Frogs (including many small ones) can be sen here along with a good selection of dragonflies. This week on the reserve: Brown Hawker, Southern Hawker, Common Darter, Ruddy Darter, 4 Spotted Chaser (still 1 or 2), Broad Bodied Chaser, Black Tailed Skimmer and Emperor. Including this one sent in by Mike Smethurst - Thanks Mike:

    There are a good selection of Butterflies being recorded as well including: Green Veined White, Large White, Speckled Wood, Red Admiral, Small Copper, Small Skipper, Large Skipper, Ringlet, Meadow Brown, Gatekeeper and Comma.

    After the car park the rail path can also come up trumps. Many birds to tick off on the way including large gangs of Long Tailed Tits, Singing Chiffchaff and Blackcap and perhaps Bullfinch with young as seen on Tuesday (before the 1st platform). It's also worth stopping at the rail bridge. Kingfisher has been seen here this week as well as in the car park, at Waltons and from the Loxtons screen. Listen out for thier whistling call to give you a clue as to their presence:

    Kingfisher: John Crispin 

    The Avalon Hide is definitely still worth a visit. Flights from Bittern and Great White Egret recorded here this week and the Marsh Harriers are still very visible. These birds have pretty much fledged though but there's a good chance of seeing juveniles popping up and down within the reed beds.

    There's also been a Hobby seen regularly perching out in the water on what I'm assuming is an old grebes nest. It sits on the ground munching dragonflies and just generally chilling out. I saw it there on Monday and have had several reports of it each day this week displaying the same behaviour. It's worth a trip to see if he's still up to his old tricks.

    Also from here both Mute Swans and Coot with young, broods of duck and as with VP2 Swift and House Martins feeding regularly. If you're about in the evening keep and eye out for Barn Owls coming from the edge of the wood to the left of the hide (or view this from the first platform VP1). It looks as though the Great Crested Grebes have given up the nest and therefore the second brood. They'd been sat there for a while and now they're off and I haven't seen any chicks. 

    There are young birds in Waltons. One pair with a well grown youngster hanging around but also some small youngsters from a second brood. Surprised if they tolerate the older bird much longer. These birds can be viewed from several locations around the reserve at the moment. Natalie Talbot managed this shot last Sunday of a successful fishing trip. Thanks Natalie:

    Also this week: A Raven flying over Waltons on Tuesday, Bearded Tits which fluttered up and then came down in the reeds in front of the Avalon Hide, a Bittern heard booming (quite late I thought) from the 2nd platform as people waited for the Collared Pratincole, Song Thrush regularly in the car park and many many Goldfinches using the car park feeders (and a few Greenfinch), Rabbits seen along the rail path and the Loxtons Trail, Roe Deer seen around the Waltons Trail, Water Rail once again seen feeding youngsters along the Tor View Hide path and Common Tern seen mid morning yesterday from the 2nd platform.

    That's it for this week. Have a great weekend!

    Posted by Stephen Couch

  • 12 July 2016

    RSPB Summer Holiday Club

    As the summer holidays fast approach we have got a lot of kids events going on around Somerset!

    Mini Beast Safaris at Greylake

    Thursday 28 July and Tuesday 9 August 11am-12.30pm

    Come on a morning bug hunt to find out what is lurking in the undergrowth and explore the hidden world of everything that crawls, slithers and buzzes.

    £3 per child.  No booking required.


    Kids Tractor and Trailer Safari at West Sedgemoor

    Tuesday 2 August - Trips at 11am and 2pm

    Come on an adventure and enjoy a tractor and trailer ride out on to West Sedgemoor, run wild in the meadow and hunt for some of the creatures that live there. £6 per adult, £4 per child

    Booking essential Email:  Tel: 07774 620879


    Reptiles and amphibians walk at Ham Wall

    Thursday 25 August 10 am – 12 noon

    Do you know our native reptiles and amphibians?  Come along for a walk to learn more about the fascinating lives of these often misunderstood creatures, with a rare chance to get up close and personal with some of them.

    £5 per Adult, £3 per child. Booking essential Email: Tel: 01458 860494


    Go Batty in the woods!

    Saturday 27 August 8pm - 10.30pm

    What can be more exciting than a woodland at night? Join the RSPB and Somerset Bat Group for a bat walk around Swell Wood as we track these amazing creatures using special bat detectors. As darkness falls we will also listen out for the eerie calls of owls and foxes and perhaps get the glimpse of a deer.

    Price: £6 adult, £4 child. Booking essential Email:  Tel:  07774 620879

    Posted by Michael Wilson

  • 8 July 2016

    Recent Sightings at RSPB Ham Wall - 08.07.2016

    Firstly, apologies for the 'missing blog' last week. We've been having a few computer problems at the office recently but i also had to go out late on Friday to rescue a poorly swan who was taken off to Secret World for some treatment. I know - excuses, excuse! Well, I've left myself a 2 week backlog of news and a whole stash of great photos people have kindly sent in.

    There has been a noticeable drop in activity (from birds in particular) over the last couple of weeks. It's tempting to say that it's been very quiet because there didn't seem that there was much that was new to report. But the numbers of satisfied visitors leaving the reserve suggests otherwise. Just because I see Bitterns, Great White Egrets and Marsh Harriers every day it doesn't mean others do. It can be easy to forget just what a special place Ham Wall is and the amazing changes that have happened here in recent years.

    Many people are still dropping in to see the 2 (yes 2) Glossy Ibis.Still spending much of their time in front of the second viewing platform (or in front of the blinds and benches on the other side of the main drain). Natalie Talbot took these shots of the pair last week and the single bird this week. It seemed to be sunbathing. Stretching out it's wing and holding it there for a minute or so at a time. Thanks Natalie!

    The other bird people are talking about is of course the Little Bittern. We still have 2, possibly 3 barking males, but it's still not looking likely that a female is present - unless we are missing something. The way these birds behave, you never know. I'm still not giving locations but people seem to be gradually working it out for themselves. Thanks to volunteers Dean Reeves and John Crispin for the fantastic Photos they've sent me this week and last:

    Little Bittern - Dean Reeves 

    Little Bittern (all 5 above): John Crispin. 

    Great White Egrets are a big draw too and easy to spot. There are still active nests at Ham Wall and one bird in particular has been making regular low flights over the car park recently. They often fish in the area with the Glossy Ibis and one was even perched in trees close to the Avalon Hide on Sunday. Others were perched in trees more distantly from the car park the same day.

    Bitterns are a firm favourite too - we have a minimum of 7 nests this year but could be as high as 9. Still a few flights going on but the pattern is as with other species - reducing. It didn't stop John Crispin getting these shots of Bittern perched in reeds this week before taking off. Thanks for sending them in John!

    No further reports of Night Heron as yet although there are plenty of Grey Heron and Little Egret (thanks to Richard Berry for the photo) boost your heron numbers.

    Little Egret - Richard Berry 

    One thing which has increased recently has been Kingfisher activity. Birds have been seen near their old nest site again - the rail bridge a good place to spot them. Birds have also been seen at Tinneys Ground on the Sharpham Road and within Waltons this week. Yesterday a bird flew across there carrying a fish. Birds have been showing an interest in the car park bank but also they have been seen from the Loxtons screen, as Simon Lewis discovered last week where he got this fantastic shot - thanks Simon!

    Kingfisher: Simon Lewis 

    Marsh Harriers are still active from the Avalon Hide although on a much reduced scale. The 2 nests in front have 3 youngsters in one and a single in the other and a further 3 youngsters in a 3rd nest further east. Great Stuff. Young birds can be seen flapping up and down from time to time and the odd food pass from adults has been observed. A young bird was also seen pursuing an adult across Loxtons yesterday. 

    Marsh Harrier with prey: John Crispin 

    Other birds of prey seen this week (and last) include Red Kite. observed twice this week - definitely becoming a more common sighting.

    Red Kite: John Crispin 

    Hobbys are also still present with birds seen each day. 4 were seen together on Sunday from the 2nd viewing platform along with a Peregrine, while the same day a Hobby appeared to chase a Sparrowhawk from the same location. Barn Owls are also present - most likely out in the late evenings (youngsters to feed?).

    Other birds with youngsters to feed include the Great Crested Grebes. Still birds with young being seen but several sat back on nests. At least one pair from the Avalon Hide, one in Waltons, one in Loxtons and another near the Glossy Ibis haunt. 

    Great Crested Grebes: John Crispin

    Little Grebes are being seen too. I even saw one in the car park pools yestreday. Unfortunately one didn't fair so well as Kevin Bowers saw this week. He photographed one meeting its untimely end. Thanks for sharing them Kevin.

    Kevin Bowers 

    Dragonflies are still about in good numbers. Broad Bodied chasers, 4 Spotted Chasers, Black Tailed Skimmers, Common Darters, Brown Hawkers and Emperor all recorded this week including Emperor emerging from the car park pools. Also first reports of Ruddy Darter this week (pictured):

    In terms of Butterflies recent reports include: Green Veined White, Comma (car park), Small Copper (car park), Small Tortoiseshell, Speckled Wood, Scarlet Tiger Moth and Large Skipper (pictured).

    Also still plenty of bunches of Peacock Butterfly caterpillars.

    Peacock Caterpillars: Natalie Talbot 

    In terms of mammals it's fairly quiet although a single Roe Deer was seen around Waltons yesterday and a mother and fawn again seen around the Loxtons trail earlier in the week. On the rail path you'll see Grey Squirrel and Rabbit (perhaps a Stoat or Weasel) and plenty of evidence of Badgers digging. We've also has fresh evidence that Otters have been on the reserve too.

    It may feel like the end of the season nearly but Cuckoos have been calling quite frequently this week. Round the back of Waltons is one such hotspot. Elsewhere a pair were heard calling and then seen mating. John Crispin was on hand to grab some photographic evidence - thanks John.

    Mating Cuckoos: John Crispin. 

    Maybe not quite the end of the season yet then. A few waders are appearing though. Groups of Lapwing are seen daily in varying numbers with 70+ at one point. Green Sandpipers are being picked up here and there and 2 Snipe (disturbed by a Marsh Harrier) and up to 5 Black Tailed Godwits seen close to the Glossy Ibis this week.

    This area also offers several duck species, Greylag Geese and broods of Coots and Mute Swans (thanks to Nicola Berry for the photo):

    Talking of Mute Swans and Coots there was an altercation between 2 adults of each when the two broods of youngsters got close to each other in front of the Avalon Hide. Despite the size difference the feisty Coot gave a good account of itself. 

    Also this week: Grass Snakes seen in the car park pools and in the main drain at the road bridge, Raven flying north over the reserve yesterday, lots of small Iberian Water Frogs at the car park pools and lots of croaking from the main reserve, Song Thrush seen regularly at the car park where the feeders are alive with charms of Goldfinches and Common Tern spotted on at least 2 occasions this week over Waltons/Loxtons and beyond.

    I'll leave you with a Ham Wall rainbow taken by Nicola Berry  - looks like form the Avalon Hide. Thanks Nicola!

    That's it for this week. Have a great weekend!

    Posted by Stephen Couch

  • 30 June 2016

    Ham Wall - Main Foot Path and Railway Bridge Open


    We are extremely pleased to announce that the work being carried out by the Environment Agency on the railway bridge has been completed and the path has been reopened.

    There is now full access back on to the reserve via this route and the disabled parking spaces opposite the first viewing platform are available as before using a radar key.

    Apologies for any difficulties the closures have caused and we hope that you all continue to enjoy visiting the reserve

    Visitor Experience Officer

    Posted by Michael Wilson

  • 24 June 2016

    Recent Sightings at RSPB Ham Wall - 24.06.2016

    Once again a very active and interesting week on the reserve. You may have read articles this week on social media regarding some of our extra special birds we have on site at the moment. Great White Egrets were the main feature giving news of probable number of nests and about the ringing of some of the young birds. It's hope we can learn a lot more about the behaviour and distribution of this newly colonising pioneer.

    The article also mentioned a bird that we often rather coy about (you may have noticed how I never mention it in the blog. Well the shackles are off - to a certain extent and I'm able to confirm that we have 2 male Little Bitterns (with a possible third) on site at present. I'll chose not to give away precise locations as we're not sure, despite watching them, whether anything significant is going on - but fantastic that they are here nonetheless.


    Male in flight - John Crispin.

    Night Herons have also been mentioned with a few sightings reported - even less evidence to go on with regards to these but great to have them.

    Keeping with the heron theme, it was a surprise to see a second Glossy Ibis drop into the reserve on Saturday. They are spending most of the time in the area in front of the 2nd platform. They have been viewed from there but also from the willow blinds on the footpath side. Other times they are hidden in the now, much longer vegetation. Thanks to John Crispin (above), Natalie Talbot and Tracey Burniston for the great photos

    The original Glossy Ibis - Natalie Talbot

    2 of a kind (just in case you didn't believe me - Tracey Burniston 

    Great White Egrets are hard to miss at the moment with as many as 10 being seen in close proximity of each other this week. Bitterns are very busy too. We beleive we have at least 9 nests this year - it could be higher (and maybe the best year yet).

    Lots of fantastic Bittern shots sent in to me this week:

    Bittern - John Crabb 

    John Crabb 

    Natalie Talbot 

    Thanks to John & Natalie

    Plus a great take off sequence sent in by John Crispin. This followed a preening session of over an hour whilst perched in the reeds. Thanks John

    Add to this the multiples of Little Egret and Grey Heron and recent fly overs by White Stork and Common Crane and you've got yourself quite a collection!

    If that doesn't float your boat how about some birds of prey!

    Marsh Harriers continue to busy themselves in front of the Avalon Hide with regular sightings of the 2 active nests here (there's a 3rd further east too).

    Marsh Harrier - Natalie Talbot

    They also have Buzzards for company in this on the north of the reserve:

    Buzzard - John Crabb 

    If it's Hobby you're after then perhaps Waltons or Loxtons is the place to go. 3 birds seen regularly together here with 4 on one occasion this week. Thanks to John Crabb for another couple of crackers:

    Also this week was a Kestrel seen hovering over the car park and perching up on the telegraph poles on Tuesday and Barn Owl see hunting this week but also what appeared to be a well grown youngster poking its head out of the box opposite the first viewing platform (in the woods at the back). A Red Kite also flew north over the first platform yesterday morning - we're certainly getting more frequent sightings of these as time goes on.

    Hobbys will still be hunting the many dragonflies that are present on the reserve. Still good numbers of 4 Spotted Chasers but perhaps tailing off slightly. Also sen this week: Black Tailed Skimmer, Emperor, Southern Hawker and the first Common Darters. Damselflies aplenty too with Variable damselflies in huge numbers along with the Blue tailed. Lesser numbers of Azure Red Eyed and Common Blue, 1 or 2 Banded Demoiselle and reports of Scarce Blue Tailed Damselfly - a recent colonizer.

    A fair number of butterflies too, along with lots of groups of peacock caterpillars (as last week). Meadow Browns are out in force along with Red Admiral, Small Tortoiseshell, Green Veined White, Speckled Wood, Large Skipper and a few Painted Ladies:

    Painted Lady - John Crispin 

    Other more notable sightings this week in a sudden increase in Kingfisher activity. Some of these could be young birds but adults seemed to have returned to old nest sights where no activity has been recorded this season (maybe we just missed it). Great News though.

    The area in front of the 2nd platform (apart from the Ibis) offers plenty of duck - many in eclipse plumage, but also several Lapwing, up to 3 Green Sandpiper and both Canada Geese and Greylag geese with young. There's Mute Swan with young here too and in Waltons but also had great views of a family from the Avalon Hide: 

    Mute Swan with young: John Crabb 

    Also this week: a slight drop off in the amount of Bearded Tit activity from the area where John Crispin's photos came from last week. Mostly juveniles seen suggesting perhaps they've all now fledged. Closer sightings reported from the second platform area this week. Also several Cuckoo sightings - some over Waltons, one perched towards the east of the reserve but also one perched on a post to the right of the Avalon Hide. Great Crested Grebes are sittng on a nesting platform in front of the hide too while Little Grebe chicks have been seen at a couple of locations including Loxtons. A Roe Deer and fawn were seen together around Loxtons on Tuesday and there seem to be more rabbits along the old rail path at the moment , there's plenty of song from warblers and other song birds and also sightings of Bullfinches which are likely to be nesting - all good stuff.

    With all these young birds and eggs around, there are dangers everywhere. Lesser Black Gulls have often been sen taking chicks of various species but it seems Crows are the expert egg theives. John Crabb's got the photographic evidence of one such bird. It was seen hawking over the reedbeds before plunging in:

    It emerged around 10 minutes later with an egg which it carried off. Once they know where a nest location is they will usually clear it out. That was probably the case here as the bird returned and repeated the process:


    That's it for this week - thank you to all who contributed the wonderful photographs. Without them it's just me rambling on!!

    Have a great weekend !

    Posted by Stephen Couch

  • 17 June 2016

    Recent Sightings at RSPB Ham Wall - 17.06.2016

    As often with Ham Wall it's the long legged birds which steal the show.  Bitterns are still busying themselves feeding youngsters. The activity suggests that we have at least 7 nests on the reserve this season. Waltons is a good area to try and track them down but they are also within the Loxtons area and visible from the Avalon Hide. One was seen perched up in the reeds preening from the hide during the week.

    John Crabb sent me this photo of a Bittern in flight taken recently - thanks John:


    The other long legged classic bird for Ham Wall is the Great White Egret of course. Again very busy and very visible each day on the reserve. Waltons along with the Bitterns and the area in front of the 2nd platform good places to catch up with them - to be honest it's hard not to see one during a visit at the moment. Thanks to John Crispin for some great Egret photos. 

    Note the yellowing of the bill showing its transition from breeding black to its 'off season' yellow.

    We have Little Egrets and Grey Herons aplenty too but this by no means completes the set. Wednesday saw a rare visitor to Ham Wall (but our second visit of the year) of a White Stork. It was seen flying high over Waltons and gradually moved north circling all the time. At one point it was joined by Buzzards and a Hobby. There's been one residing at Steart for a few days, so it was probably this bird. Unfortunately no photo this time but I'll slip in a picture provided by John Crispin from the birds last visit in April:


    We're not done yet though because we still have the Glossy Ibis present in the area in front of the 2nd platform and seen several times over the last couple of weeks. As I've said before if you can't see it from the 2nd platform itself just cross over to the footpath side of the drain and check out the area from the bench and willow blinds not far from the junction with the Avalon Hide (or from the Avalon Hide path itself which looks across this area). Also in this section this week: 3 Green Sandpipers, 20+ Lapwing, Garganey and lots of other duck species - many going into eclipse plumage.

    The Avalon Hide is still the best place to go for Marsh Harriers, a male and 2 females seen here regularly here with another pair further east. Also out the front of the hide is a pair of Great Crested Grebes looking like they were courting again. The Waltons section is probably the best place to get views of the grebes either from the screens or the Tor View Hide. John Crabb managed these shots last week from this location:

    Too Big?   Great Crested Grebe: John Crabb

    Great Crested Grebe with young : John Crabb 

    Volunteers were out surveying for bitterns yesterday at Waltons and Loxtons and were able to report several great sightings to me (as well as the great number of Bittern flights). These include 3 Cuckoos in a chase across Loxtons, 3 Hobbys seen flying together over Waltons, a Kingfisher seen within Waltons (and another carrying a fish further east on the reserve and they also reported lots of Garden Warblers along the footpaths. Thanks to Dennis Upshall and John Crabb for the Cuckoo and Hobby photos.

    Cuckoo: Dennis Upshall

    Hobby: John Crabb 

    The Hobby here can be seen clutching its prey. There are many thousand dragonflies around the Waltons trail. The majority of these are 4 spotted chasers but also recorded on the reserve this week have been: Emperor, Black Tailed Skimmer and Scarce Chaser along with damselflies: Azure, Blue Tailed, Variable, Red Eyed and Banded Demoiselle.

    4 Spotted Chaser 

    Butterflies are out too - the best sighting this week was of Painted Lady but we've also had: Brimstone, Small Tortoiseshell, Green Veined White,Large Skipper, Speckled Wood, Scarlet Tiger moth and Red Admiral. Also spotted several sets of Peacock caterpillars on bunches of nettles this week:

    Talking of caterpillars it appears that certain ones are a favourite meal for Bearded Tits. John Crispin took these shots of them on the north of the reserve this week- thanks John!:

    Also partial to the odd spider:

    In public areas Bearded Tits have been seen and heard in front of the 2nd platform this week and recently in front of the Avalon Hide - so there is a chance.

    Also this week: a couple of Sparrowhawk sightings but this one captured by Dennis Upshall last week - thanks Dennis!

    ....lots of Warblers still present: Cettis, Reed Warbler and the odd Sedge Warbler within the reed beds and in the tree lines, lots of Blackcaps, Willow Warblers, Garden Warblers Chiffchaff and Whitethroat (pictured):

    Whitethroat: John Crabb 

    ...and lots of young birds around the reserve including these Mallards photographed by John Crabb:

    That's it for this week. Have a great weekend!

    Posted by Stephen Couch

  • 10 June 2016

    Recent Sightings at RSPB Ham Wall - 10.06.2016

    After a week off last week the amount of vegetation growth around the reserve was very striking on my return. It means that some views are becoming slightly more obscured and there's plenty more places for the wildlife to hide away. The weather has also been particularly hot this week which often leads to less activity from wildlife at the hottest times of day but, as always, there's plenty to report and some great pictures to share.

    It's certainly the time for seeing youngsters. Many are up and about with parents like ducklings and young Coots or fledging nests and hanging around in family groups like Long Tailed Tits or Goldfinches. The young Heron in Waltons still hadn't left the nest earlier in the week at around 65 days he's rather a lazy individual. Also within Waltons Young Coots, Moorhens and Mallards are all very visible as are now well grown Great Crested Grebe chicks. it looks as though some are left more to their own devices now as the parents are possibly nesting again.

    The young Water Rails are still occasionally seen along the Tor View Hide path - although more often hidden just to the side (I counted 3 on Monday). These shots were taken last week by Dennis Upshall and sent into us here at the office. Thanks Dennis!

    Water Rail & chick - Dennis Upshall  

    Some of our other star youngsters have now fledged. The Great Spotted Woodpeckers from Central Wood (on the way to the Avalon Hide). There were many happy photographers there the week before last getting some great shots. Thankfully the parents were unfazed by the attention and the youngsters left the nest last week but can still be heard in the woods calling. Thanks to Natalie Talbot for sending in these shots:

    Of course lots of birds are still very busy feeding youngsters. Great White Egrets are still being seen frequently and we know there are a few nests with youngsters. Bitterns are still flying regularly - particularly within Waltons and Loxtons. The birds in front of the Avalon Hide had been kept pretty quiet by a very aggressive male Marsh Harrier but it appears that now his youngsters are of a certain size he is less bothered and the tables actually turned on Wednesday when the Bittern chased off the Marsh Harrier. This suggests to me that it is now the Bittern who has young to protect and the increase in Bittern activity in this area supports this - great news.

    Natalie Talbot took this shot of a Bittern this week but also managed to catch one standing in the reeds. Well done Natalie and thanks for the photos!

    Bearded Tits were seen again in the vicinity of the Avalon Hide this week and on Monday during survey,s several juveniles were seen. Adults are still busy though as John Crispin's pictures show, with both males and females seen carrying food. Thanks John!

    John did mention that the tail feathers were beginning to look worn, when compared to the photo below which was taken in the same area last week.

    As already mentioned the Marsh Harriers are still very busy out in front of the Avalon hide. Several interactions and food passes have been witnessed this week. John Crispin manged to grab these shots of a food pass between the male and one of the females this week. They give a great idea of what to expect if you see it for yourself.

    Great action shots - thanks John!

    Youngsters have been seen at the nest locations of the Marsh Harriers - at least one in each for sure. 

    Other young birds spotted, just to add to the action are Mute Swans and their cygnets seen in the area in front of the 2nd viewing platform and also some Canada Goose goslings.

    The Glossy Ibis is still present here at the moment. It can be tricky to find sometimes but use every angle you can to look into this area to track it down. You could try the 2nd platform itself or go to the track the other side and stop at the 2 willow blinds or the nearby bench. You could also stop on the way to the Avalon Hide and look right across the area. Great White Egrets are also using this area regularly and there are several Lapwings using this area. Unfortunately it appears that what was thought to be a Lapwing chick was swallowed by a Lesser Black Backed Gull during the week. 2 Garganey have also been seen regularly along with a pair of Wigeon and a pair of Teal.

    Dragonflies and damselflies are plentiful on the reserve at the moment. Particularly the 4 spotted chaser which is abundant to the point of a plague on occasions around the back of Waltons and Loxtons. there are still a few Hairy dragonflies on the wing but these have been joined over the last couple of weeks by Broad Bodied Chaser, Scarce Chaser, Black Tailed Skimmer and Emperor.

    Black Tailed Skimmer female - John Crispin 

    4 Spotted Chaser - Nicola Berry 

    Damselflies include: Red Eyed, Blue Tailed, Banded Demoiselle, Azure and Variable. Thanks to Nicola Berry for the above picture.

    In terms of mammals, they're harder to come by although John Crispin reported an Otter sighting from the Tor View Hide on Wednesday, which was nice to hear. You can see the occasional Roe Deer grazing on the gassy banks around the reserve - often around Waltons and a couple of Grey Squirrels are busy along the rail path.

    Also this week: Red Kite on both Monday and Thursday mornings, 6 Cranes flying north over the reserve on Tuesday, 3 Bitterns in a chase from the 1st platform on Wednesday, Hobby seen daily (2 over Loxtons yesterday), Grass Snake at the bridge next to the Ashcott Road on Wednesday and some noisy Iberian Water Frogs each day. Barn Owls have been seen out hunting close to the Avalon hide (including yesterday), a Raven flew over cronking loudly on Wednesday, while Cuckoos have been heard around Waltons on a number of occasion. The usual chorus of Warblers in the tree lines and the reedbeds add to the visitor experience.

    We've also had a report of a Gull billed Tern that flew over Shapwick Heath and Ham Wall on Sunday while a couple of days before a Common Tern was spotted at Loxtons where they've bred in the past. John Crispin was on hand to take this shot. Thanks John:

    That's it for this week. Have a great weekend!


    Posted by Stephen Couch

  • 27 May 2016

    Recent Sightings at RSPB Ham Wall - 27.05.2016

    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

Your sightings

Grid reference: ST4439 (+2km)

Glossy Ibis (1)
23 Jul 2016
Collared Pratincole (1)
13 Jul 2016
No breeding code
Grey Wagtail (1)
19 Jul 2016
Cuckoo ()
17 Jul 2016
Cetti's Warbler ()
17 Jul 2016
Black Tern (1)
14 Jul 2016
Common Sandpiper (1)
13 Jul 2016
Water Rail (1)
13 Jul 2016
Kingfisher (1)
11 Jul 2016
Gadwall ()
20 Jul 2016

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Where is it?

  • Lat/lng: 51.151166,-2.791024
  • Postcode: BA6 9SX
  • Grid reference: ST449397
  • Nearest town: Glastonbury, Somerset
  • County: Somerset
  • Country: England

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