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Things are certainly hotting up on the reserve - in more ways than one. A beautiful week has seen plenty of visitors to the reserve enjoying the sunshine and they have been rewarded with a host of wildlife.
Migrants arriving - some staying and some just passing through - but it's a time to keep your eyes and ears open to what's about. There's been a big influx of Reed Warblers this week and the noise in the reedbeds will gradually increase over the next couple of weeks with the excited chattering of these birds. A few Sedge Warblers have arrived too and many Reed Buntings are perching up and singing. There has been one particularly obliging male on the way up to the Tor View Hide.
Along the rail path there are many Blackcaps in full song and one potential Garden Warbler but I'm not sure I'm tuned in just yet - this is one I have to relearn every year to get the subtle differences between the 2 reinforced in my head (and ears). One or two Whitethroat have also been noted along here but the best place to see them most years is in the bramble and low scrub opposite the 1st platform.
Another notable warbler through this week has been the Grasshopper Warbler - heard from the canal bank path and from both platforms - at least 2 different birds, but most likely just passing through. The old rail path is often a great place to hear and see a variety of birds - as well as the warblers mentioned, there have been reports of Bullfinch, 2 x Treecreepers by Loxtons, Goldcrest, Song Thrush and a variety of Tits & Finches. We also await the possibility of the return of last years Nightingale.
Up at the car park it's worth just standing and watching a while - you'll most likely see a good variety of species in just a few minutes. Of particular note has been kingfishers who have taken an almost immediate like to the bank we have cut away at the end of one of the pools (made with them in mind). 2 birds were seen excavating and investigating holes last weekend so fingers crossed. Please observe any activity from a distance if possible. On the boardwalk out of the car park to Ham Wall Great Tits are nesting in the box on the left and Blue Tits in the box on the right as the photos show:
Also out feeding on seeds:
Back on the water there's plenty of activity too. Great Crested Grebes nesting at a few locations including from the 1st platform and within Waltons. There's a variety of duck too with Teal and just a couple of Wigeon still present, Pochard, Gadwall, Mallard, Shoveler & Tufted Duck present - these were joined by a Shelduck on a couple of occasions this week and of course the summer visitor - the Garganey. Good views again this week from the first platform to the left hand side.
This area has been good this week for Great White Egrets with an amazing 5 together (although briefly) on Wednesday morning and quite a few Little Egrets too throughout the week - obviously a good fishing spot currently.
Bitterns use this area too and there a plenty of booming males to listen too. The early morning surveys this week picked up a minimum of 39 males with around 17 at Ham Wall. There have been a few flights and chases too and there will be an increased likelyhood of a sighting during you visit over next 8 weeks of so. May traditionally being the best month for all sorts of Bittern activity.
Another noisy bird is the Canada Goose plenty about and some pretty boisterous behavior from some close to the Tor View Hide on Tuesday. Greylag Geese are being spotted too but we also had a brief visit (about 5 minutes) from an Egyptian Goose on Monday. Long enough for John Crispin to grab this photo though:
Another sure sound of Spring is the arrival of the Cuckoo and its familiar call. I haven't been lucky enough yet but a few people have seen some - with the 1st heard/seen around Waltons on Weds. Other migrants, such as Swallows are still arriving but not seeing them in large numbers - reports too of a few House Martins this week and the odd Hobby.
It's often a good time to see waders too, although some of our water levels may be just a little high. Lapwing though have been present from the 1st platform with up to 6 seen from this location and Redshank heard calling on at least 3 days this week. A Common Sandpiper was spotted at Loxtons and 35 Black Tailed Godwits dropped into the section between the 2 platforms.
Other great sightings this week include: Marsh Harriers daily including a well marked male, Osprey on Tuesday afternoon, a Whinchat at Tinneys (on the Sharpham road), Wheatear from the 1st platform on Tuesday, Barn Owl, 4 Roe Deer on the north of the reserve, lots of chorusing Marsh Frogs, recent reports of Adder, Slow Worm and Grass Snake and a few sightings of both Jays and Great Spotted Woodpecker.
We have recently put the Tern Raft back out, although they used the old ones in Loxtons last year. It would be great to have them back breeding for a second year. One was seen from the 1st platform on Saturday 11th and photographed by John Crispin:
Plenty of butterflies on the wing this week, with an increase in Orange Tip numbers in particular but also sightings of Speckled Wood, Holly Blue, Peacock, Small White, Small Tortoiseshell & Brimstone. Dragonflies should follow soon with Hairy Dragonfly usually our first sighting.
That's it for this week. Have a great weekend!
Posted by Stephen Couch
It's been a wonderful week at Ham Wall - the sun has been shining making it almost feel like summer and the wildlife is very active. It's a special time of year for wildlife enthusiasts as creatures awaken from winter slumbers and migrants are on the move. Ham Wall has had its share with grass Snake and Adder reported on the reserve this week, Marsh Frogs being seen in the car park pools and heard croaking around the reserve. Common Frogs and their tadpoles have also been spotted.
It's often the migrant birds that capture peoples interest and there has been a series of firsts on the reserve this week as migrants arrive or pass through. Osprey was seen briefly last weekend but didn't stay. Also arriving over the Easter weekend was a male Garganey. This has been seen on several occasions to the left of the Tor View Hide and seems to be its favourite haunt and has since been joined by a second male. One occasionally flies over to the area in front of the 1st platform and yesterday stayed showing really well for over an hour.
The first Willow Warbler was heard towards the end of last week and there are at least 3 at various intervals along the rail path sing well. In fact bird song has increased dramatically over the last couple of weeks, with several Chiffchaff and Blackcap also singing well - particularly along the rail path.
Also of note along the rail path recently has been Goldcrest, Treecreeper, a pair Bullfinch on Thursday morning, plenty of Goldfinch, Blue Tit, Long Tailed Tit and Great Tit too.
The reedbeds are busy places too but will soon be full of noise as Reed Warblers and Sedge Warblers arrive. The first Reed Warbler was heard on Wednesday so keep you ears open. There's also the possibility of Grasshopper Warbler too - it's call sounds a bit like a fishing reel. Of course the most obvious bird in the reedbed currently is the Bittern with its booming call. Several can be heard in the daytime - there's a particularly good one within the Waltons section.
A few flights have been seen of individual birds but for the next few weeks we should be able to see multiple birds in the air chasing each other (usually males chasing females but perhaps males in a dispute). 4 birds flew together from the 1st platform on both Weds and Thurs this week and a couple of flights from 2 birds were also seen so the 1st platform is a good place to start.
A number of Sand Martins passed through around a week ago or so but seems to have quietened down this week. A few Swallows are being seen but mainly in 1's and 2's. The best being a group of 6 seen on Wednesday. One or 2 House Martins have also been reported. We still await our first Hobby, although a couple have been spotted in the county.
The first platform offers a few duck species too. Teal are still present in small numbers and Wigeon have been seen from the 2nd platform this week, also from the 1st platform: Shoveler, Mallard, Pochard, Tufted Duck and Gadwall. A Great Crested Grebe is also sat on a nest in this area although perhaps better views can be had of the nest in Waltons, visible from the rail path and the 3rd screen. Little Grebes are also present and can be heard calling loudly.
Lapwing too are present and have been seen displaying in front of the 1st platform and up to 12 have been seen at any one time from here and the field beyond. Perhaps a nesting attempt will be made out on these islands though. Other waders spotted this week include: Black Tailed Godwit (1), Snipe (c25), Redshank (1)
Also this week: Water Rail from the Tor View Hide but also behind the bench on the path to it, Mistle Thrush in the car park, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Barn Owl sunning itself on the owl box visible from the 1st platform but also seen at 2 locations to the east end of the reserve (Glastonbury end), 2 Cranes flew over the back of Waltons on Tuesday, Grey Herons still nesting in Waltons, Great White Egrets and Marsh Harriers seen daily from both platforms, Weasel on Tuesday around Waltons, Roe Deer from the rail bridge, Peregrine over Loxtons on Saturday and Kingfishers seen around Waltons too.
A busy week, I'm sure you'll agree - let's hope next week tops it!
Have a great weekend!
Apologies for the lateness of this blog. Technical issues and being absent from work for a couple of days have really delayed this one! It was written ready for last Friday so concentrates up to that date only......
Another steady week of activity on the reserve this week as we await the big April rush. Many birds of course are in full song and of particular note this week have been Cetti’s Warblers. These little brown birds have a particularly punchy burst of song – very noticeable around the reserve. In fact many have been seen perching up or chasing each other over the last few days. It’s probably the best time of year to catch a clear sighting as they often perch up singing, being very territorial. Soon leaves will form on trees, territories will be established and it will be back to business as usual with the occasional flash across a channel for a sighting.
Other Warblers are present too. Chiffchaffs have been seen and heard singing their familiar songs – of course many of these now over winter, so may not have ‘migrated’ a long distance at all. Another overwintering bird (more often in gardens) is the Blackcap and one individual was heard singing from trees along the old rail path just yesterday. Soon these trees will be alive with song and of much interest to bird watchers as Willow Warblers and Garden Warblers join the throng and perhaps the nightingale will return again this year!
Other spring migrants have been spotted this week with further small groups of Sand Martins passing through but also hangers on from winter such as 2 Redwing spotted in the car park and still a number of Wigeon residing on the reserve.
Other evidence of the arrival of spring includes a grass snake warming itself in the sunshine (and male adders – the first to wake up on Shapwick Heath), frog spawn maturing well in the car park pools and flowering plants such as Celandine & Daffodils showing some colour. 4 species of butterfly have also been spotted this week: Brimstone and Small tortoiseshell but also a Peacock & Speckled Wood seen chasing each other on Wednesday. Quite a few bumblebees out on the wing too.
Grey Herons are also very busy nest building within the Waltons reedbed. Some good shots of the action captured by John Crispin this week. There will soon be plenty of noise coming from this area as youngsters squabble and compete for food.
Great White Egrets are also present on site and being seen on a daily basis and to add to our heron family.........
......Bitterns are of course making themselves obvious with plenty of booming around the reserve. A couple of chases of males & females have also been witnessed and a further bird flying from beyond the 1st platform to Waltons with a strong wind behind it – it was really motoring.
Another spring favourite has got to be the Great Crested Grebe with its elaborate courtship rituals – a pair were seen head bobbing and weed dancing in Waltons this week from the 1st screen but others are further ahead. From the 3rd screen nest building is well underway as is a nest in front of the 1st platform. There are at least 2 other pairs in Waltons too as well as a few more around other parts of the reserve.
Lapwings have been seen displaying over the area in front of the 2nd platform, while a Redshank has also been heard calling from one area of the reserve.
I’ve had a few queries about where to see Bearded Tits this week. Again like last week a pair were seen along the edge of Loxtons but have also occasionally been seen from both screens. 3 or 4 other locations were had this week although, as usual, these are usually a little away from the public areas but Loxtons seems to be a fairly regular thing at the moment. Get familiar with the call to give you an early warning and a better chance of a sighting. This female was snapped by John Crispin just last week at Loxtons.
Also this week: a Curlew was seen circling over Long Drove before flying south, Ravens over most days, 8 Buzzards circling in the morning sunshine on Wednesday – a lovely sight, Great Spotted Woodpecker heard drumming also on Wednesday (part of its mating ritual), a Red Kite passing over Waltons & Loxtons on Weds afternoon – it had been seen earlier at the car park and over Shapwick Heath, 2 Kingfishers hunting together around the back of Waltons, Roe Deer seen in fields surrounding the reserve, good evidence of the presence of Otters on the Otter survey and 2 Firecrests seen up close to the car park. Also from the car park boardwalk this Robin preening itself in the sunshine!
That covers last week. I'll do my best to get something done as a catch up before the Easter break!
Spring has most definitely sprung and the evidence is all around. Last weekend saw the arrival of 100's of Sand Martins on the reserve and even during this week small groups c20 can be seen most days. They are not always flying low though so familiarising yourself with their call can help you locate them.
Bird song has been increasing steadily over recent weeks - those calling of particular note have been a couple of Chiffchaff between the 2 platforms and a Song Thrush near Street Heath although these have been heard in the car park recently too. The car park has been a good place to spot groups of Goldfinch too and on the boardwalks out Goldcrest and Treecreeper have been seen as well as a beautiful carpet of Snowdrops.
The ponds here are now home to several clumps of frogs spawn - some quite well developed, and a Red Kite was seen to fly over last weekend along with 2 Redwings spotted in the treeline.
Elsewhere on the reserve Grey Herons are still busying themselves in the Waltons reedbed. It's hard to tell exactly how many nests are present at the moment but it's at least 3. Their cousins the Great White Egrets have also been seen posturing and there looks set to be a repeat of the nesting successes of the last 3 years but I guess time will tell.
They're not the only birds displaying significant behavior. Marsh Harriers too have been seen displaying and food passing in the air - distant from the second platform has offered good views recently. There have also been reports of a Marsh Harrier interacting with a Peregrine this week and a further Peregrine sighting as one flew over the reserve yesterday.
Buzzards have also been displaying. Rising on thermals, calling, chasing and interacting all week. The 1st platform the best here, where a Buzzard was also harassed by a Sparrowhawk for a while on Tuesday.
The second platform has been host to displaying Lapwing this week. They attempted to breed on the high banks/ridges here last year and look set to try again this year. Redshank has also been heard calling in the area this week - another of our breeding waders. Redwings x6 were also spotted from this platform on 2 occasions this week.
Bitterns of course are an obvious indicator that breeding season is underway. Last weeks early morning survey across the Avalon Marshes picked up 36 booming males (16 at Ham Wall) and a further bird is booming at Greylake reserve. The figure could increase during the 2nd survey in mid April. Whatever happens it's likely that the Avalon Marshes will again have around a quarter of the UK's population of booming males. The first chase (male chasing female was also picked up this week).
The warmer weather has meant that certain species are awakening from a winter sleep: frogs, newts and a toad have all been sighted this week along with 3 species of Butterfly seen on the wing - a Peacock looking rather battered, Brimstone and Small Tortoiseshell.
In the water some ducks are pairing up although we still have several Wigeon on site and teal, Great Crested Grebes have been seen undertaking courtship displays while Coots are aggressively marking their territories with plenty of splashing and noise.
Also this week: a pair of Ravens flying over calling on Thursday, Smooth newt also seen on Thursday, male Pintail feeding from the 1st platform from time to time, Bearded Tits heard and seen occasionally in Loxtons but also from the 2nd platform last weekend, several Snipe in wetter fields, Great Spotted Woodpecker drumming and Water Rail seen again from the Tor View Hide.
That's it for now - have a great weekend!
Apologies for the slightly delayed blog this week, I'm afraid I was unable to attend work on Friday so it's been pushed onto today!
All the photos this week come from the Waltons area of the reserve, where there seems to have been plenty of action this past week. Following on from last weeks photo sequence of pair bonding Great Crested Grebes, the pair were seen mating in Waltons this week.
A rudimentary platform of reed is laid making the mating platform where the coupling takes place. The pair sometime uses the platform to make a nest but generally the pair of grebes build a nest away from this often flimsy structure.
In the same section this week a Water Pipit was observed feeding on the cut islands visible from the 3rd screen at Waltons. This was identified by the wingbar, supercilium (eye stripe) and habitat it was seen in. We often get them in the winter and usually in the freshly cut areas - this one fits the bill. Thanks again to John Crispin for all the wonderful photos which really make the blog.
Bitterns are getting warmed up for the coming season - several are booming across the Avalon Marshes with birds in both Waltons and Loxtons putting in some practice. Our first official count will be on the 12th March where staff and volunteers will be out across the Avalon Marshes from the local conservation organisations (RSPB, Somerset Wildlife Trust & Natural England) - a nice 5am start.
Grey Herons, the bitterns cousin, have nested in the Waltons reedbed for the last few years, with 5 or 6 nests in each of the last 2.
This year looks to be no exception, although the little flurry of action last week has quietened down somewhat. This lone bird was sat in the Waltons reedbed last week. We may well see activity pick up over the next few weeks and soon there will be plenty of noisy birds to entertain people. This activity should be visible to the left of the Tor View Hide when it occurs.
Another cousin the Great White Egret has again been seen daily. The 1st platform as good a place as any to see them. Lets hope for another successful breeding season for these majestic birds.
The second platform has again proved to be a good place for Pochard with significant numbers using the area. Other duck on site include: Mallard, Tufted Duck, Shoveler, Gadwall, Teal & Wigeon. Marsh Harriers have been seen from here (and the 1st platform) with a pair seen regularly together last week.
Also this week: Rabbit and Grey Squirrel seen hopping along the rail path, Bullfinch and Goldcrest also along the same track, Bearded Tits heard 'pinging' within the Loxtons section (heard from rail path), Raven flying over, Great Spotted Woodpecker heard drumming, Sparowhawk flying from Street Heath over Loxtons, vocal Water Rails around the site, Kingfishers seen adding a touch of colour to the winter backdrop and Song Thrushes heard singing from the car park - as many as 3 on Monday 23rd Feb.
The Starlings have continued to use Ham Wall this past week using the area distant of the 2nd platform. Now that we are into March we should start to see the numbers tail off a bit but there's still time to come and see one final show.
Finally this young Roe deer (one of 2) that crossed over the Waltons boardwalk last weekend. Nice to have them so visible in the public areas.
Roe Deer crossing the boardwalk.
That's it for now - blog back on Friday this week. Have a good week!
A bit of a mixed week at Ham Wall this week with some glorious weather for a couple days and a miserable day yesterday. It's been busy though with lots of visitors, including families, over the half term break.
There's been plenty for people to enjoy, with the increase in birdsong of particular note. Just a little reminder that spring is on the way. There seem to be a few Song Thrushes about, with 3 in the car park area, at least one in the footpath trees and another bird near Waltons along the rail path - all perched up high. Wrens again seem plentiful along with blue tit, great tit, blackbird and robin you can get a bit of a chorus. A Chiffchaff has again been heard singing this week. On 2 consecutive days a Red Admiral was seen on the wing in the Central Wood.
Another obvious sign of approaching spring is the boom of the bittern. Several have been heard around the Avalon Marshes including a couple with a good solid boom (one around the Waltons trail) and many others still a bit wheezy - more of a grunt (Loxtons section). Staff & volunteers will be out in the early mornings in a couple of weeks to record the number of males around the whole of the marshes - a 4.30 start is not for the faint hearted however, but so worth it once you're there.
There have been a fair few sightings too - the 1st platform offers a good wide view and therefore a good chance of a sighting. There was even a report of a bittern swimming across one of the channels last weekend. It's not unheard of but very unusual - I've never been lucky enough myself - it must look a little bizarre.
Like Bitterns, we have had Grey Herons nesting in our reedbeds in recent years, within the Waltons section. This year looks to be no different with some significant activity on a couple of islands on the left of the Tor View Hide (this will be a great place to watch them from over the coming weeks).
The 1st platform offers a fair range of species too: Mallard, Gadwall, Pochard, Shoveler, Tufted Duck, Wigeon & Teal all present. Groups of Lapwing seen flying over although less than in previous weeks and a group of 10 Snipe or more circling the reserve but the 1st platform offered good views as they flew in a tight pack. 3 Buzzard also on the wing together on Monday and a well marked male Marsh Harrier was great to see. Great White Egrets also feed in this area frequently.
The 1st platform area and Waltons has been home to Great Crested Grebes lately & they have again been seen going through their mating rituals. John Crispin has sent me the following shots and annotations - thanks John!
Male & Female approach each other in the prone position
When together they start their much seen head shaking.
The male then goes off on a wild run finishing with a great flurry
Both birds then dive and surface with weed
This is in readiness for their famous weed dance
The excited birds usually take a little time to calm down
They then fish and/or swim together
Fascinating birds to watch and extremely handsome. Plenty of fishing to be had at Ham Wall so should be able to raise a successful brood - we expect several pairs around the reserve this coming season. There smaller cousins, Little Grebes are present too - you may be able to hear their whinnying call. c150 Pochard (mainly males) seen late in then day from the 2nd platform on a few occasions - probably coming in to roost, Bearded Tits heard pinging in Loxtons.
The Starlings are still present and have been using the area distantly in front of the 2nd platform - they have been following this pattern for a few days but of course this can change so a call to the Starling hotline would be a good idea 07866 554142. The roost should begin to tail off during the month of March so there's just a little time left to see them this season.
Also this week: Water Rail spotted again from the Tor View Hide, Raven flying overhead, Great Spotted Woodpecker drumming, Sparrowhawk, Water Rails fairly vocal, Roe Deer x3 seen on the north of the reserve, evidence of Otter and Badger around the reserve and a Treecreeper seen and photographed by John Crispin by the ditch between Loxtons & Waltons.
It may still be February but I'm thinking about the arrival of Spring - one of my favourite times of year. There seems to have been an increase in bird song in the past week, showing I'm not the only one with spring on his mind. Blackbirds, Dunnock, Blue Tits & Great Tits and a multitude of Wrens (I've been seeing a lot on the reserve this week) have all been singing there hearts out at times. Chiffchaff have also been heard in song and a couple of Song Thrushes have been perched in trees by our car park this week belting out their repetitive notes.
It's also a time for Bitterns to get booming, although the early boomers sound a bit wheezy - more of a grunt really. A few have been heard locally already - not unusual for us - they often start in January. There seems to have been a flurry of sightings too this week. Thursday in particular saw many reports from visitors, including at least 3 from the first platform (one pictured below) - maybe the hormones are stirring. Well it is valentines day tomorrow.
Great Crested Grebes are present here too (and in Waltons), although only single birds at each location despite both areas have pairs bonding - including weed dancing and plenty of head bobbing recently. Little Grebe also spotted and heard within Waltons.
Marsh Harriers were seen mating within the Avalon Marshes last week - so perhaps there could be some early starts this season. Marsh Harriers are seen daily at Ham Wall, with at least 2 different birds seen on Thursday - one from the 1st platform and a second well marked male (pictured) over Waltons. Monday saw 5 Buzzards circling over woodland left of the 1st platform with a further 2 perched below in the tree line.
Other birds of prey seen this week include a Kestrel seen daily on wires over the Meare to Glastonbury road (just a single field separates this from the north of the reserve) and a female Merlin seen perched on a fence post and then in flight at Tinneys Ground (the isolated unit we manage on the Sharpham Road). Adjacent to this plot, c250 Lapwing in a field along with Redwings (as last week) but Fieldfare also seen and heard this week.
The most delightful sighting was one brief sighting of an Otter on the central path at Tinneys on Wednesday - they've been seen here before. A well used run and fresh spraint backed up the sighting.
Another mammal sighting came on Thursday in the form of a Weasel, which ran across the pathway leading over the drain from the rail path into Waltons - it soon disappeared into vegetation however. 12 volunteers and I all missed it as I spoke to a visitor called Frank, who was the lucky witness - by the time I'd turned round it was already gone.
Thursday seemed to be a good day all round, with a Great White Egret visible from the 1st platform for most of the day (a Little Egret for company at one point - great for a size comparison). The bird was photographed by John Crispin and it looks to be showing signs of its breeding plumage, with some superb looking feathers, although it's bill is still orange.
There are still plenty of ducks on site, although this weeks WeBS (wetland bird survey) showed a decrease on the January figures - could be the beginning of duck movements back to their natal sights. There's still a fair selection around including Mallard, Gadwall, Teal, Pochard, Tufted Duck, Shoveler & Wigeon including around 30 which I flushed from the base on the posts of the part built Avalon Hide. Plenty of other water fowl nearby too - so looking good.
The Starlings have again been unsettled and have changed location a couple of times. On Wednesday and Thursday evenings this week, the main bulk were at Ham Wall with a smaller roost on Shapwick Heath. There have been birds seen from the 1st platform but another flock further down too. Obviously it makes it hard to keep the Starling Hotline up to date and harder to make it specific but it's still worth ringing if you are planning a visit 07866 554142. The roost will probably begin to tail off during early March so you'll run out of chances soon.
Also this week: Plenty of Snipe on site with 2 flushed from the Waltons cut island, 1 from Loxtons path, 4 from in front of the 1st platform and c15 from a flooded field on the northwest of the reserve, drumming Great Spotted Woodpecker (one in Loxtons on Thursday & one at The Avalon Marshes Centre on Wednesday), Water Rail from the Tor View Hide, Raven in flight , Jay perched and 2 Roe Deer laid down on the side of the rail path close to Loxtons. Finally this week, a great shot of a Cormorant by John Crispin showing off its full adult plumage - a fine specimen.
That's it for this week - have a great weekend.
I've certainly felt the cold on the reserve this week. Temperatures have fallen well below freezing at night time and frozen, although thinly, large areas of water on the reserve. This often means birds are forced to gather closer together in areas of unfrozen water - one such area being in front of the 1st platform (rather conveniently for visitors). Good numbers of duck have been present including: Wigeon, Teal, Shoveler, Mallard, Gadwall & Tufted Duck with the odd Pochard being spotted on the reserve too.
Great White Egrets have been using the area too - often standing out in the open areas giving good views to visitors. Also visible from the 1st platform is the beginnings of the new Avalon Hide - looking rather like an old wood henge with a series of upright posts sticking up into the air.
During frozen times there's often a chance to see Water Rails. The front of the Tor View Hide had been a favourite place lately but we have currently drained that side to undertake management work, which we will hopefully finish on Monday and bring water levels back up. There have however been some spotted in the reed fringe on the left on the way up to the hide. It's always worth scanning the edges of islands etc to see some out on the fringes looking for morsels of food in the hard conditions.
John Crispin captured this shot of a Water Rail this week - not exactly dancing on ice.
We have recut the area immediately in front of the hide again this week and scraped cuttings up into piles. They are often used as perches and when water levels rise or the basis of a nest in the spring. A wren was perching and singing from the top of one pile this week. We also flushed 2 Snipe from the end of the cut island in front of the 3rd screen at Waltons.
We often find certain birds close by when undertaking management work - Robins are well known for this as many of you probably discover in your gardens. While using our Softrak machine this week to cut reed, Stonechats (up to 5) have again been obvious. Feeding on the ground in cut areas before returning to perches with their familiar tail flicking behavior. 2 Chiffchaffs have also been regular visitors and even a Bullfinch was seen in the reedbed there this week somewhat unusually.
At this time of year sightings always tend to be a little bird heavy but there has been a lot of Roe Deer activity on the reserve this week, with several sightings. A pair and a group of 3 were seen in fields on the north of the reserve, 3 to the north east and another 3 running along the high bank visible from the second platform at the back of the water on Tuesday.
Other than these and the odd Grey Squirrel we're pretty much limited to finding signs to tell us what's around. As usual plenty of Badger activity across the reserve but also discovered 2 areas that Otters had used at Tinneys Ground - the isolated plot on the Sharpham Road - with runs and spraints discovered. In adjacent fields to here, plenty of Lapwing c200 and several Redwing amongst them. Lapwing on the main reserve too.
Another thing of note has been the emergence of the first Snowdrops. Keep an eye out by the first boardwalk bridge (nearest the road) from the new car park. Another new car park sighting was that of a Merlin last Saturday. A brief sighting but it is believed to have been a female bird. Other birds of prey of course include the Buzzard, seen daily and often perched on dead trees to the distant left of the 1st platform and of course the Marsh Harrier. Reports from one local site of a pair seen mating in a tree top is good news to share. Barn Owls are present too, with still evenings or early mornings giving you your best chance of course. Tawny Owls often heard on the reserve too.
Also this week: Bullfinches, Goldcrest, 4 Redwing, Water Rail and Kingfisher all reported from the canal path side of the reserve over a couple of days, more reports of Bullfinches and Goldcrests on the main path, Great Crested Grebe, Little Grebe, Great Spotted Woodpecker heard drumming and Raven flying over on Tuesday.
The Starlings have been a little unsettled again lately and hard to predict. They now seem to have moved off the main reserves to an area of private land. This of course makes it very tricky to update the Starling Hotline and direct people. If they remain here the best I can suggest is to park at the end of Shapwick Heath or at the Avalon Marshes Centre and cross over the Shapwick Road from the western edge of Shapwick Heath and follow the path by the drain looking over to your right. The Starling Hotline will be updated as soon as is possible when the roost location changes, but when they behave like this it's very tricky.
That's it for another week. Have a great weekend!
Plenty of testing weather on the reserve this week with high winds, driving rain, hail and snow to deal with but none the less we're making plenty of progress. The view from the 1st platform will reveal that work has started on the Avalon hide to the left of the Central Wood. Telegraph poles have been driven in to reveal the outer shell of what will be a raised 2 tier hide. Weather conditions & access issues (eg if tracks are passable) will determine whether it will be finished for early spring or if we will have to wait for the end of summer (as not to disturb wildlife during breeding season).
The Truxor (a floating reed cutter) has also been on site this week - ideal for clearing channels and cutting reed in wetter areas. The contractor has cut some small areas in front of the Tor View hide and the 1st platform to make things a bit more appealing for wildlife and therefore visitors too.
Staff & volunteers have also been busy on the islands on the right side of Waltons. The weather on Wednesday morning & Thursday made it particularly challenging for volunteers who did a great job under the circumstances. We hope to finish this next week and raise water levels once more. This should create some good areas for loafing ducks and Snipe frequently use this area (which we cut annually) once it's cleared.
A few Snipe are out on site but as usual they can be hard to track down - often only flying and becoming visible when disturbed. Lapwings too are in evidence c300 or more, both within the reserve and on its perimeter where they often settle in fields with groups of Starlings.
The Starlings themselves have been a little unsettled of late and have moved from Shapwick Heath to Ham Wall and back again, preferring to use areas towards the western end of the Natural England site. It's probably best to give the Starling Hotline a call just in case, or ask a friendly face when you arrive for advice. HOTLINE: 07786 554142
The reserve still has plenty to offer in terms of wildfowl - both platforms offer a good selection of ducks: Mallard, Gadwall, Wigeon, Teal, Pochard, Tufted Duck and Shoveler seen this week and there's always a chance of the odd Pintail. The following shots show male Gadwall in pursuit of a female (with the orange bill) taken this week:
There is plenty of other evidence of birds looking to pair up too. The odd Bittern has been reported grunting (a weak form of booming) within the Avalon Marshes recently. There have been a few flights from Bitterns this week - the 1st platform a good bet.
From within Waltons Little Grebes have been seen & heard calling for a mate along with the Great Crested Grebe - seen successfully catching fish on Wednesday from the 1st screen. A pair were also seen head bobbing from land adjacent to the south end of Waltons on Wednesday - part of their bonding and mating rituals.
A walk along the rail path can often reap benefits - Bullfinches have again been very evident -a stunning male near the 1st platform on Monday and a pair from the 2nd boardwalk bridge (at the car park) on Wednesday - this has also been a bit of a hotspot for Treecreeper in recent weeks.
Another stunning bird - the Barn Owl was spotted hunting over the southern end of Waltons on Tuesday and then a little later down at Long Drove just beyond Waltons by the large wind pump (visible from the old rail bridge). Another bird was spotted close to Tinneys (on the Sharpham road) later in the week.
2 Fieldfares were also spotted at this end of the rail path on Tuesday, although generally there seem to be very few around this year - probably because it has been much milder than usual. Siskins and Redpolls too are noticeably fewer in number although one or two often hide out in flocks of Goldfinches (known as charms). A large flock of c50 was picked up along the line of hawthorn on the footpath side of the main drain by the wooden entrance gate this morning.
Kingfishers are being seen quite frequently and always brighten up a visit. One was seen from the 2nd screen at Waltons yesterday, where it perched just to the right but out of sight. I myself had a great view of one at the bridge over the drain on the Ashcott Road, where it perched for a while on Tuesday. Often all you see is a flash of blue or hear its whistling call.
Also this week: 2 Ravens flying over on Thursday, daily sightings of Great White Egret often from the 1st platform, daily sightings of Marsh Harrier - several sightings over Waltons this week including a male on Wednesday, Great Spotted Woodpecker, female Reed Bunting feeding on reed heads in front of the 1st screen giving good views and Bearded Tits heard calling within Loxtons.
Finally this week some good news about Otters. This months survey conducted by John Crispin has revealed a significant amount of activity for the month of January. Around Waltons & Loxtons 2 recent spraints (the technical name for an Otter poo) and a grass castle - used to spraint upon to give a better circulation of their scent. On the north side of the reserve: 1 fresh & 2 recent spraints along with 2 grass castles & several good, well used runs. Fingers crossed they use the newly built Otter holt on the reserve in the coming weeks!
That's it for now. Have a great weekend!!
Grid reference: ST4439 (+2km)
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