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Recent sightings

  • 7 August 2015

    Recent Sightings at RSPB Ham Wall - 07.08.15

    With the weather so changeable it's hard to remember sometimes that it's still August - it's almost felt autumnal at times this week. Although it's a quiet time of year for birds on the reserve there is still plenty to report. A good hunt around different areas of the reserve can bring great rewards.

    A good place to start at the moment is the 2nd viewing platform. You have to work a bit harder here than on the Shapwick scrape (currently pumped down quite low) but there are some interesting waders to see. Monday saw 3 Dunlin and a Little Stint while Thursday (and this morning) saw a Wood Sandpiper and a single Dunlin. There have been varying numbers of Black Tailed Godwits present up to 90, maybe more and fluctuations in the number of Green Sandpipers (anywhere between 1 & 6). There are also good numbers of Lapwing spread out in front of the 2nd platform and in the section intermediately before it - up to 200 seen. It may be worth taking a walk down the other side of the drain just to get a slightly different perspective on things - you never know what you might find.

    The 1st platform area is still pretty overgrown, but we have now finished building our floating bridge ready for the return of our cutting machine. We hope to access this area as soon as we can and begin the usual cut to open things up a bit. Hobbies are still using the area (and Waltons) quite regularly with as many as 15 reported last weekend. I just had to make do with 2 this morning over Waltons - nice to see though. Last weekend also saw 2 Kestrel reported along with 2 Sparrowhawk (one carrying food) and 20 or more Buzzards. Marsh Harriers have been seen soaring high with buzzards too, as well as giving them some hassle from time to time. There are several Marsh Harriers about due to the successful fledging of our 3 nests and the darker, more plain looking youngsters can be picked out. A male bird flew over the car park this morning and was then seen from the 1st platform.

    Also this morning a Night Heron was seen again - and again in was within the Waltons section. Missed it again though. 

    Bitterns are a little quieter now but there's always the chance of a sighting given the numbers that are present over local reserves. John Crispin snapped this one on Wednesday as it flew out of the reeds in front of the 1st platform: 

    Great White Egrets are still seen daily - often in good numbers. They do form roosts at night and as many as 18 were reported this week. 12 flew into Ham wall from Shapwick Heath on Saturday 1st, perhaps disturbed by a hot air balloon which passed overhead. 6 were seen feeding together on Ham Wall on Sunday 2nd. One also perched in trees along with 7 Little Egrets at the Central Wood this week.

    The 1st platform is probably the best place to catch sight of Barn Owl too. Obviously the later in the evening the better chance you'll have but they have been seen perching outside of the box opposite the 1st platform. It's harder to see now due to the leaves on the trees but it is possible. Barn Owls have been perched outside during the day on a couple of occasions lately. John Crispin manged this shot as he passed the box during a survey. As it saw him though it casually wandered back into the box without a care.

    The gloomier weather can sometimes be an advantage. Insects often fly lower and will give you better views of insect loving birds. Plenty of Swift, Swallow and House Martin to be had during these times.

    Also this week: several sightings of Raven (up to 3), Great Spotted Woodpecker (up to 6), plenty of mixed tit flocks and Goldfinches, Blackcap, family of Whitethroat in the far corner of Waltons, family groups of Reed Warblers and Reed Buntings too, Roe Deer around Waltons trail and Kingfisher sightings from 1st platform, Loxtons screen and Waltons screens.

    The Waltons screens are also great places to see both Little Grebe and Great Crested Grebe with young. John Crispin had some interesting observations of Great Crested Grebes and their behavior as the pictures below show:

    He also offered the following commentary which I thought was well worth including - thanks John:

    "Both parent Great Crested Grebes share equally in carrying and feeding the whole brood when young are small but later a different system operates in families of 2 or more young. The system is known as brood division, which results in the formation of 2 family sub groups with each parent only feeding their 'own' young and showing hostility to 'other' youngsters if they approach too close. The adult pair bond grows progressively weaker after the brood has been divided unless there is an attempt at a second brood."

    In terms of butterflies it's been another steady week. Brimstone, Red Admiral, Peacock, Common Blue, Green Veined White, Gatekeeper, Meadow Brown, Speckled Wood all seen this week and a Jersey Tiger moth on Wednesday.

    Dragonflies too are still on the wing and many will be well into October (I even had a Ruddy darter in mid to late November last year): Seen this week: Southern Hawker, Migrant Hawker, Brown Hawker, Ruddy Darter, Common Darter, Black Tailed Skimmer, Broad Bodied Chaser and 4 spotted chaser - I've seen all these around the ponds in the car park this week along with loads of Iberian Marsh Frogs of course.  Also this week we've seen Common Frog, Common Toad, Slow Worm and Grass Snake.

    Finally I'll leave you with a Starling picture. It shows a young bird with both adult and juvenile plumage - just thought it was interesting. Of course it will be joined by a million or so more over the next few months as the Starling murmurations build once more.

    That's it for this week. I'm on annual leave next week but will try to get a quick catch up the following Monday if I can. Have a good week!

    Posted by Stephen Couch

  • 31 July 2015

    Recent Sightings at RSPB Ham Wall - 31.07.2015

    I know it's only been a few days since the last one but thought it was well worth getting in the usual Friday blog and getting back on track.

     I hadn't been well for a few days and it was great to be back at work and catch sight of an Osprey. The bird was looking rather tatty - perhaps after a busy breeding season so there's a chance that it will hang around the local reserves for a few days. Good views were had over Waltons, Loxtons and the 2nd platform and the bird was seen yesterday distantly on the right of the old railway bridge as you come onto the reserve. Nothing so far today though as I write this but you never know.

    This rail bridge is often worth a quick stop off. Kingfishers have bred nearby, although it looks a though they have now fledged with multiple birds seen flying around late last week. If you peer into the water you'll often see groups of fish - Rudd were there this morning and a lovely Banded Demoiselle flitting along the bank edges. I've also seen Bullfinches nearby in recent weeks.

    The first platform is still very overgrown in front - so very little water showing. Our reed cutting machine should return from repair soon and in 2 weeks or so we should be able to get out and start cutting and clearing this area. The second platform and the section in between the the 2 platforms have plenty to offer though. Lots of splashy areas and some bare mud showing in front (and a bit to the left) of the second platform. There is still some vegetation that gets in the way a bit but with a bit of effort you should be able to pick out a variety of species. Reported from here this past week include: 3 Yellow Wagtails, 4 Wigeon, 3 Garganey,up to 70 Black Tailed Godwits, well over 200 Lapwing, Great White Egrets, Common Sandpiper, Redshank, 3x Green Sandpiper and 100's of other duck including: Gadwall, Mallard and Pochard.

    Behind you in Loxtons is still a good place to hunt for Hobby, with 3 seen together here on Tuesday and the usual host of Cormorants perched on the Loxtons rafts in front of the screen. Kingfishers are seen here too quite regularly as well as over in Waltons.

    There's a fair range of species here you can see readily from the screens and hide. Of particular note are Little Grebes of which there seen to be a few broods across the reserve. From the screen both adults and juveniles are clearly visible. There were some particularly small youngsters out on the north of the reserve on Wednesday - probably just a couple of days old - so tiny.

    Juvenile Little Grebe

    and the adult........

    adult with young...

    Also within Waltons and easily visible are Great Crested Grebes, although I'm not quite sure what this one is up to .....

    We're still seeing a few Bittern flights - Wednesday was particularly good although nesting has now all but finished. There were lots of flights distant of the 2nd platform and this area has been abundant with Marsh Harrier activity this week. They seen to be everywhere and adults have been seen up and flying with 2 youngsters together and food passes have also been witnessed. 3 successful nests out in this area is our best season to date. 

    When the suns shining, the insects seem to wake up and the butterflies, bumblebees and dragonflies become a lot more visible. Peacock butterflies seem to be the most abundant at the moment and the flowering plants along the edges of the paths seem to be packed with life. The Hemp Agrimony is a popular plant with the butterflies with a Speckled Wood pictured feeding on it below:

    Also seen this week: Small Skipper, Gatekeeper, Meadow Brown, Small Tortoiseshell, Green Veined White, Red Admiral and Brimstone (pictured).

    In terms of dragonflies it seems to be a fantastic year for Brown Hawkers - the most I've seen. Emperor, Migrant Hawker, Common Darter, Ruddy darter and Southern Hawker have also been recorded this week.

    We've been preparing some areas for our Reptiles & Amphibians day in August - hoping to attract some species to certain areas for good public views on the day.  Slow Worms and Grass Snakes were seen so we're in with a shout as well as Common Toad, Common Frog and of course the Iberian Water Frog - great views in the car park pools again this morning.

    Also this week: Great Spotted Woodpecker daily, Raven flying over Waltons on Thursday, good numbers of House and Sand Martins on Tuesday with c20 Swift the same day, Barn Owl seen from the boxes opposite the 1st platform on Tuesday, 2 Otter spraints (poos) on Tuesdays Otter survey - great to have signs if no sightings, Common Tern loafing with Godwits on Wednesday and a great sighting of 4 juvenile Bearded Tits (unfortunately not in public areas as usual) on Tuesday.

    juvenile Bearded Tit - with the familiar black stripe on the back (absent in adult birds).

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

    Posted by Stephen Couch

  • 27 July 2015

    Recent Sightings at RSPB Ham Wall 27.07.2015

    Apologies for another late blog - I've been laid out with a sickness bug and have just got back on my feet. I was even happier to be back when I caught up with the Osprey which several people reported to me this morning. It was seen over Waltons (and beyond), Loxtons and from the second platform today, so it's doing the rounds. It looks rather shabby so well into moult. It's a bird I quite often miss when they pass through so was glad to catch this one. 

    There has also been another flurry of Night Heron sightings, with and individual seen flying around Waltons on Wednesday afternoon and then again on Thursday morning, lunchtime and afternoon - I'm still yet to catch up with this one - could become my bogey bird - pretty terrible seeing how I work here. 

    Some of the best action of late has been in front of the 2nd platform. Water levels are reducing slowly here and small areas of mud are appearing. You have to work hard and be a little patient for some variety due to the patches of vegetation but they're there.  Recent reports of 200+ Lapwing, 60+ Black Tailed Godwits (seen today too), 2 Green Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, 2 Garganey, 3 Yellow Wagtails, 4 Wigeon and a host of other water fowl have been seen. 

    A look behind into Loxtons could bring rewards like today when 3 Hobby were seen flying together (5 were seen on Saturday) and Kingfishers were also seen and heard today here too, as well as in the Waltons section.

    Waltons has traditionally been a place crammed with fish lending itself to all fish loving species as a place to feed. This Cormorant took full advantage by grabbing this tench. A nice sequence sent in by John Crispin - thanks John!

    Great Crested Grebes get in on the act too where juveniles have been seen being fed by adults - but they do take the odd one for themselves too of course:

    Bitterns too love a fish and the odd flight can still be witnessed by the majority of the action has now calmed down from any nest sites but Waltons and the 1st platform as always a good place to try. Great White Egrets too are present - daily sightings to be had from either platform. A local nest on land adjacent to Ham Wall has now fledged so there are some youngsters to see.

    We have 3 Marsh Harrier nests either fledged or very close on the reserve so it's hard not to see one at present. An adult dropped food to youngsters today in front of the second platform, which they caught in mid air, part of their learning process. 

    Elsewhere, the car park is still of interest: last Tuesday saw Raven flying over, Young Great White Egrets, lots of small birds in the tree lines and plenty of life in the ponds (apart from the very obvious frogs). A female Brown Hawker was seen egg laying in the water and surrounding mud.

    Also seen this past week: Emperor, Southern Hawker, Black Tailed Skimmer, Migrant Hawker, Banded Demoiselle, Blue Tailed Damselfly, Common Blue Damselfly.

    Butterfly numbers have also been pretty good over the past few weeks: Green Veined White, Large White, Brimstone, Comma, Gatekeeper, Ringlet, Meadow Brown, Holly Blue, Peacock, Red Admiral, Small Tortoiseshell and Speckled Wood all seen quite regularly but a treat was a Silver Washed Fritillary which settled along by the Waltons boardwalk on Friday and had many a picture taken by visitors (unfortunately I was off sick so missed out). 

    Also seen over the last few days: Kestrel on power lines by the reserve, Sparrowhawk from the 1st platform, Roe Deer around Waltons, Great Spotted Woodpeckers, Little Grebes, Groups of Long Tailed Tits, charms of Goldfinches, small flocks of Swifts and mixed flocks of House & Sand Martins. 

    Think that better do for now - more on Friday!!!   Have a good week!

    Posted by Stephen Couch

  • 17 July 2015

    Recent Sightings at RSPB Ham Wall - 17.07.2015

    It seems to be slowly creeping towards that very quiet time of year on the reserve. July is half over and August is fast approaching. Many birds are in moult after breeding which makes flight more difficult so they tend to be more hidden and of course there's a lot less singing. They've been busy feeding and tending their young for several weeks and looking for a well deserved rest. As a parent myself I know how they feel, although my rest may be several years away yet but I feel privileged to be able to escape each day to work in such a wonderful place. 

    Several young birds are still on show though. I caught sight of a young Cettis Warbler by the Waltons screens on Tuesday and there are often young Reed Warblers flitting around and calling. Often young birds can be a bit naive and perch out in the open sometimes. Some young Robins were doing this on the lower of the 2 boardwalks from the car park on Tuesday and at the same time young Goldcrests were high in the trees being fed by parents - a lovely sight.

    The car park pools are still full of life, with the "Iberian Water Frogs" still croaking loudly and sunning themselves on the pool edges. More life can be expected next year with a female Black Tailed Skimmer (example pictured) egg laying in the water this week and appearances from Emperor, Broad Bodied Chaser, 4 Spotted Chaser, Ruddy Darter and a beautiful newly emerged Common Darter seen there yesterday. 

    Damselflies too are present, with Banded Demoiselle, Blue Tailed, Common Blue, Red eyed and Variable all seen this week. Another special visitor, or more likely resident to the car park pools is a Water Vole seen by volunteer Pete Wood yesterday - he also mentioned that a visitor has seen one previously and mentioned it to him, so fantastic news that they've moved in. Good to see the new car park is "Giving Nature a Home" as well as the reserve. 

    It's been another good week for Butterflies too with several species sen or reported to me: Speckled Wood, Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock (pictured), Red Admiral, Brimstone, Gatekeeper, Meadow Brown, Ringlet, Small Skipper, Painted Lady, Green Veined White, Large White and Comma all on the list. Not a bad list for the week.

    The car park can prove to be a good place to loiter for a while and looking towards the reserve will often reward you with Great White Egret and Marsh Harrier sightings.  There's some good news in terms of Marsh Harriers too - we've got fledged birds from the first nest with 4 youngsters flying around - you may see these pristine looking, dark birds for yourselves. It also looks like we have 2 birds in a second nest and a third nest with at least one further chick - our best year yet!

    As I wrote in a previous blog the Common Terns sadly failed in their breeding attempt this year but have been seen on the reserve on occasion since. On Tuesday one was seen hunting the channels with the Waltons reedbeds and the next day from the 1st platform. The growth in this area has really gone crazy in the last couple of weeks and it's hard to see much of the water at present. Rest assured we will be out cutting soon to really open it up for the autumn and winter - it should be ideal for waders, herons of all kinds and ducks as the water levels rise slowly after we finish. We are already building the pontoon bridge to access the islands with our machine (once it's back from repair) but need to be sure there are no breeding birds still active in the area before we start the management.

    Common Tern

    The Waltons section still holds a strong interest - people are still hoping to catch sight of a Night Heron or Purple Heron - possible Purple Heron seen distantly from the rail bridge on the right as you walk to the reserve but not confirmed - same place as Friday's bird but no good views seen (Grey Herons sit in this area too but the providers of the sightings are sensing that this bird is different - just too far away and a bit hidden). Waltons also played host to an Otter last weekend - we know they're here but we get so few sightings, it's great to hear about them when we do.

    From the other side of the bridge Kingfishers are still active at their nest site in the edge of the wood and active birds have also been seen in the back right corner of Waltons and with Loxtons including from the screen. We have at least 3 nest sites on the reserve this year that we know of. Always nice to see!


    Another favourite - although more seasonal is the Hobby. There are still some birds around - some of which are young non breeding birds. A single bird flew in front of the 1st platform yesterday and also perched in the tall dead willow in the wood at the back. On Tuesday there were 4  perched in this tree and a 5th bird in flight so a good place to start your search. 

    There are a few Bitterns still flying too, although most nesting activity is now winding down. A juvenile Bittern was again seen in the Loxtons section of the reserve as last week.

    If you're on the hunt for waders it's probably a bit more tricky but you could try the 2nd platform. Water is very slowly draining here and very small areas of mud will appear but it may even be worth walking the grassy bank to get a better view from all angles. Greenshank was recorded here this week and beyond this section 2 Green Sandpipers were seen. Apart from that the section between the the platforms holds a few Lapwing which fly up from time to time visible from the 1st platform and often Little & Great White Egrets are feeding in here (or you see them drop in).

    Green Sandpiper

    Also seen this week: Great Spotted Woodpecker, several gangs of Long Tailed Tits, Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Garden Warbler, Buzzard, Grass Snake, Slow Worm, Smooth Newt and this Roe Deer seen around the Waltons trail:

    Roe Deer

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

    Posted by Stephen Couch

  • 10 July 2015

    Recent Sightings at RSPB Ham Wall - 10.07.2015

    It's been a bit of a changeable week on the reserve and there's a distinct sense of bird life just slowing down a little as we approach the end of the breeding season for many species. The sight of c60 Lapwings flocking together - often disturbed by birds of prey such as Marsh Harriers passing over  before settling again is one indicator of change. This could well be the most likely time you'll see them as they spend the rest of the time feeding in splashy areas between the 2 platforms.

    Starlings are also beginning to gather together. Around 1000 birds are roosting on the reserve each night and on Saturday evening spent time resting up on the electric cables over the car park or feeding in the adjacent field. This was until a male Peregrine hurtled in causing mayhem before plucking one out of the air. In the confusion a second bird was taken by a Carrion Crow and then joined by 2 juveniles and another adult which devoured it on the ground in very little time. 

    The car park can be a good place to sit and watch a while. If you face the reserve, you've a great chance of seeing Marsh Harrier, Bittern and Great White Egret with the latter 2 often flying directly over the car park to Shapwick Heath. The car park pools are also developing well and will be teeming with life in a couple of years. Many dragonflies and damselflies have been egg laying in the waters and of course we have the very noisy (soon to be confirmed as.....) Iberian Water Frogs.

    Bullfinches, Song Thrush and Treecreepers have all been seen and heard in and around the car park area of late (with juvenile Bullfinches x3 seen with parents last week). 

    There was a brief sighting of a Silver Washed Fritillary from the boardwalk at the Shapwick Heath end of the car park this week and in fact, it's been a good week for butterflies all round with quite a nice list built up: Peacock, Red Admiral, Small Tortoiseshell, Speckled Wood, Meadow Brown, Ringlets, Small Skipper, Comma, Green Veined White, Brimstone and the first Gatekeepers of the season.

    We also been seeing plenty of Scarlet Tiger Moths over the last couple of weeks too - so worth keeping your eyes open for them.

    Dragonflies too are very busy and this week saw the first Ruddy Darters of the season. There are also plenty of Emperors, Black Tailed Skimmers and 4 Spotted Chasers to see as well as Broad Bodied Chaser and Common Darter. Banded Demoiselles can still be seen too - one of my favourites. Other Damselflies include: Red eyed, possibly small Red Eyed, Azure, Common Blue, Variable and Blue Tailed.

    Ruddy Darter

    A few Bitterns are still active on the reserve with a few nests still going. Some activity from the 1st platform and within Waltons suggests anything going on here is nearly over, while a Loxtons nest is still going strong. Juvenile bitterns were seen twice this week as you walk up to the Loxtons screen up the channel on the right. One of these birds was clinging to the reeds and panicked when it saw one of our volunteers looking at it and dropped into the water before scrabbling to the edge. Nice to know we got juveniles in the area. 

    Night Heron were again spotted throughout this past week. Saturday, Sunday and Thursday all brought reports with Waltons the most likely place to see it. Purple Heron was again seen early on Saturday morning again over Waltons before dropping in - not reported again so far this week until now - just had another possible sighting reported to me by volunteer Paul Marsh, as I write this blog - seen down the large drain to the right of the old rail bridge as you come onto the reserve - was quite distant. 

    We also had a brief visit (unless they are well hidden somewhere) of 2 Spoonbill which dropped into the splashy section (although out of sight) between the 2 platforms. Also seen the same day was a single Green Sandpiper. We are moving just a little water back into this section from the area in front of the 2nd platform. A few bare areas may begin to show here over the next couple of weeks and a Spotted Redshank was seen in this area on Monday by a visitor. A Great White Egret made good use of the area this week and these birds can be seen daily on the reserve.

    Also this week: Roe deer which frightened the life out of me as it hid in the grass as I checked our eel pass on Monday, 2 Cuckoo flying over 1st platform on Tuesday and 2 Hobbies seen here on Monday, Kingfishers seen at Waltons and Loxtons but also still active left of the old rail bridge flying into the wood (on a second brood by now), Barn Owls active from 1st platform during the evenings if you're lucky, Adder seen at Waltons but also plenty of Grass Snakes and Slow worms, Spotted Flycatcher seen last weekend, Great Crested Grebe and Little Grebe with youngsters in Waltons from the screens and plenty of Mute Swan families showing well:

    Mute Swans at Waltons

    Cygnets on the South Drain.

    Finally this week, I had an e-mail from an RSPB colleague, Rob Hughes, who had photographed this Teal on the reserve on Wednesday morning. The unusual this about it as you will notice from the photograph is that it has a nasal saddle as a form of identification:

    The sighting was reported by Rob and the following information sent back: 

    The teal was marked by Luis at EVOA project Lagoons – Tagus River Nature Reserve (, 38º50’51’’N 08º58’19’’W – at about 1449km from your resighting place. I enclose a GoogleEarth marker or use,-8.9708529,1105m/data=!3m1!1e3 ), and the other data are:


    Anas crecca V6blue, metal ring J15418, Male, Adult (EURING code 4), 323g, 191mm of wing - marked on 29-10-2014 and never resighted. This is the first resight for UK from a duck marked at EVOA!

    So it looks as though we have a Portuguese resident. It was Wednesday morning when I was stood at the 1st platform with some volunteers and we thought we had a brief sighting of a Teal  - so maybe we did! Thanks for sending through the information Rob. 

    That's it for this week - have a good weekend! 

    Posted by Stephen Couch

  • 3 July 2015

    Recent Sightings at RSPB Ham Wall - 03.07.2015

    Well, this blog quickly follows the last one but there's plenty to write about. The best news of the week came on Wednesday when Chris Sperring MBE of the Hawk & Owl Trust came in to check our Barn Owl Boxes for us. The first 2 boxes disappointingly were being used by Grey Squirrel and the 3rd box was empty but had evidence that Tawny Owls had used it - confirming what we had thought - a suspected sighting of a young Tawny Owl here several weeks ago.

    We knew Barn Owls were around and the next box has traditionally held breeding. Sure enough it didn't let us down with 3 youngsters inside, 2 rather plump and the third slightly smaller (younger) but healthy bird. These birds were ringed by Chris and it was on to the next ones on the far north of the reserve. Again we were fairly sure we get something here too based on activity and lo and behold another 3 owlets at almost exactly the same stage as the others - 2 bigger and one smaller but again well fed and healthy. We actually had 3 nests last year but that was exceptional so we are very pleased with this result given the delicate nature of the Barn Owls existence and how prone they can be to changes in the weather or food availability. A big thank you to Chris for coming in - a pleasure as always.

    Wednesday also saw some interesting activity from the nesting Common Terns at Loxtons. They seem to have been sat fro a long time and we are beginning to wonder whether they have failed. It hasn't stopped them chasing off Marsh Harriers though as John Crispin's photo shows:

    The birds are still spending a lot of time on the raft and they still haven't chsed off all the Cormorants and ducks which like to loaf there - which suggests no hatching has taken place as yet - I guess there's still time.

    Bittern activity seems to come in flurries - some days seem busier than others. Unfortunately on Thursday, when our volunteers were out surveying it was very quiet - and also very wet. There are still active nests out there but perhaps in some places there is good food availability close to the nest eg Iberian Water Frogs (what we think the "Marsh Frogs" actually are) and there is little need to make long, obvious flights.

    They are also able to monitor up to 3 Marsh Harrier nests with 3 youngsters seen at one of the sites - great news. These birds are very visible as they hunt for prey and it's hard to come to the reserve at the moment and not see one.

    Great White Egrets are also still playing around but it's been hard to establish just what they are up to. There's not a lot of evidence of breeding successes here - it could be that they are younger birds just a little short of breeding maturity - but nature is full of surprises so you never know - I've learned never to speculate or say for sure I know what's happening. Many of these birds do roost together and can often be seen in small groups - the area between the 2 platforms is quite splashy and good feeding for them and Little Egrets.

    8 Great White Egrets together

    I've been seeing a lot of Bullfinches lately - particularly around the car park and by the old rail bridge. Yesterday (Thurs 2nd) and eagle eyed volunteer saw a pair too but 3 youngsters were also present.  We'd always suspected that they must be breeding on the reserve but it's great to have proof. 

    We've also of course had breeding Lapwing and Redshank on the reserve this season. Lapwing can still be seen flitting up from the splashy areas between the 2 platforms and a Redshank was seen and heard calling over Waltons yesterday too. 

    Also calling yesterday was Cuckoo with some visitors reporting seeing 2 together at Loxtons and another bird seen perched in a tree opposite the first viewing platform on Monday. 

    The Tor View Hide is still proving a popular place to watch wildlife - with good sightings of Bittern, Marsh Harrier< Cuckoo and Hobby all reported this week. A lady was also delighted to see a male Bearded Tit perched up right next to the hide on Monday - what a treat. The Waltons area which this hide looks at is also home to Great Crested Grebes with young, Coots with their youngsters, Little Grebe and several duck species. There have also been several reports of late of Night Heron flying over this area - not been lucky enough myself though.

    Over the next few weeks it will become a slightly quieter time for birds as many ducks are in eclipse and species have ceased breeding and are visibly less active until the autumn movement of birds. There are plenty of insects to keep people busy though. If it's warm enough there will be dragonflies on the wing right through to November. At the moment you'll see: 4 Spotted Chasers - Waltons loop the best spot, Emperors - very large and obvious, Black Tailed Skimmers often settled on the ground - try the car park paths and Broad Bodied Chaser - one was seen emerging from the car park pools on Wednesday - look for the flash of blue from the males:

    Male Broad Bodied Chaser 

    Butterflies are on the wing too with a few Painted Ladies seen recently - the rail path a good place, also Speckled Wood, Red Admiral, Green Veined White, Small Tortoiseshell, Small Skipper, Common Blue, Meadow Brown and the first Ringlets of the season. Also check the nettles for groups of Small Tortoiseshell and Peacock Caterpillars (below). 

    The monthly Otter survey picked up few signs this time round, although 1 spraint was recorded, which shows we are still being visited by these wonderful creatures. Reptile surveys have finished for the moment: Adder and Common Lizard were recorded once (but good to know they're here) and there were numerous sightings of Grass Snake and Slow worm. 

    That's it for this week - have a great weekend!

    Posted by Stephen Couch

  • 1 July 2015

    Ham Wall Barn Owls

    We had a visit today from Chris Sperring MBE from the Hawk & Owl Trust. He is licensed to inspect Barn Owl boxes and ring any owlets. The good news is we have 2 broods of 3 chicks each all looking very healthy.


    Chris with the first of this years young.

    Close up of another!

    Sorry if I look a bit grumpy in this photo - I've no reason to be. 6 young from 2 nests is a pleasing result. It's down on last year but 3 nests and c10 young was exceptional for us.  I'll hopefully get some more photos soon from volunteer John Crispin who accompanied us along with Clare above from our regional office in Exeter, who managed to squeeze in some barn owls before her meeting about developments on the reserve. 

    When I get some more photos I will post a selection on a separate thread and also share some with our Facebook page (Ham Wall Nature Reserve) and Twitter page @RSPBSomerset 

    Posted by Stephen Couch

  • 1 July 2015

    Recent Sightings from RSPB Ham Wall - 01.07.2015

    Apologies for the lack of blog last week - I was away for much of the week and just haven't had the time this week until now. I did spend a couple of days with work over at Arne in Dorset - a reserve well worth a visit.  Good views of Nightjar, Spoonbill and Dartford Warbler the highlights. I'll hopefully do another blog this Friday or on Monday so I may keep this one more brief than usual.

    While here in Somerset......... the reserve continues to be busy and throw up a few nice surprises with Purple Heron seen last Wednesday over the reserve and Night Heron this Monday - one of several recent sightings. Great White Egrets also continue to impress and offering good views (1st platform, Waltons & Loxtons all good places to spot them). It's thought that they must be numbering in the 20's on local reserves at present.

    Bitterns are being seen quite regularly - particularly from the 1st platform and again in Waltons/Loxtons. Many of these sightings will be female birds flying to and from nests feeding youngsters. One bird was reported swimming on Monday and last weekend a bird in Waltons sky pointing with its wings outstretched - a threat posture perhaps to a nearby predator? The interest the Heron species show in these particular areas probably have a lot to do with the presence of what we used to refer to as Marsh Frogs. In fact they are more likely Iberian Water Frogs or hybrids of these and Edible Frog but we will know when results from DNA sequencing are revealed. 

    Marsh Harriers take them too as John Crispin's photo reveals:

    This female bird and several others are being seen regularly and we believe we are host to 3 nests this year with 2 young birds seen at one of the nest sites. 

    Hobby are also being seen, although not that frequently - I'd be inclined to scan the back edge of Loxtons for a sighting although the Tor View Hide has also thrown up a couple of sightings this week. One Hobby was seen hunting a flock of around 100 Starlings from the Loxtons screen last weekend (unsuccessfully). Yes, we have a tiny Starling flock already. 

    There are dragonflies a plenty for the Hobbies though. A lot of Emperors on the wing but also begun to see Brown Hawkers over the past week. These are joining the vast numbers of 4 spotted chasers, Broad Bodied Chasers (one seen emerging in the car park pools today) and Black Tailed Skimmers. Damselflies include: Azure, Common Blue, Red Eyed, Variable and Banded Demoiselle (could spot these from the road bridge or go to the gate entrance at Tinneys - the isolated plot on the Sharpham Road - easily seen here).

    4 Spotted Chaser close up. The white dots could be grass pollen? 

    Butterflies too are improving in numbers. Painted Ladies are still making an appearance as are: Small Tortoiseshell, Speckled Wood, Red Admiral, Green Veined White, Meadow Brown and the first Ringlets of the season.

    Also over the last week or so: Lapwings and Black Tailed Godwits seen in the now splashy sections between the 2 platforms along with good numbers of Little Egret and the odd Great White Egret, Kingfishers seen frequently at the Loxtons screen along with a Pochard with 5 young, 2 Common Tern still present sitting on eggs, several Cuckoos still being seen and heard, Great Spotted Woodpecker and Treecreeper seen from the car park boardwalks on a few occasions.

    Finally, a few shots of the very tame Song Thrush we have in our car park at the moment. It feeds along the edges of the pools and often perches up on the signs. I've also been seeing a pair of Bullfinches quite regularly of late in the car park area too:

    Have a smashing few days until the next blog!

    Posted by Stephen Couch

  • 19 June 2015

    Recent Sightings at RSPB Ham Wall - 19.06.2015

    A nice bunch of photos this week thanks to contributions from both John Crispin and Robin Morrison - thank you both very much - the photos really make the blog what it is - rather than just my ramblings.

    During the last couple of weeks there has been, not surprisingly, an increase in the number of young birds seen - particularly those out on the water as the following photos from Robin Morrison show:

    Coot feeding a youngster.

    They also seem to be looking to nest again perhaps as the next photo shows, although I was watching one with a youngster carrying sticks to a floating raft in Waltons and perching some on each end - seemed and looked a bit odd - maybe some kind of instinctive behavior.

    There are plenty of young cygnets too - some Mute Swans have had quite large broods in the past of 9 or more.


    Groups of ducklings with parents are also being seen - commonly Mallard as pictured below:

    and a duckling close up........

    ........running for cover!

    Shoveler with young have also been reported recently along with Pochard which have been seen from the Loxtons screen this week.

    Pochard with young.

    While on the subject of ducks it's important to remember that at this time of year (after breeding season) wildfowl undergo a moult of feathers and go into what's known as eclipse. The drakes are of particular interest here as they undergo this transformation and take on the appearance of the female - this can make identification a little harder. 

    During this moult they lose their flight feathers and so become unable to fly for a short period. Luckily they live in a wetland habitat which provides ample food, shelter and safety during this period.

    Pictured below is the drake of the Tufted Duck with the dark slick on its usually pristine white flank.


    Also the drake Mallard which moults into a brown plumage losing most of its regular, distinctive markings. A good point to remember however is that its bill always stays a dull yellow colour making it easy to distinguish from the female.

    Drake Mallards in eclipse

    Ducks are interesting but it seems to be the Heron species that attract most of the attention. Bitterns are still regularly flying around the reserve - the 1st platform a good place to start where there is an active nest towards the left side. A female has been seen flying this morning on 3 occasions in a short space of time.

    Great White Egrets are regulars too, with frequent sightings of these majestic beasts on a daily basis. Ham Wall seems to be a real stronghold at the moment for them. 2 of the RSPBs ecologists were out and about on the reserve late Weds and early Thursday morning and saw 13 together in  a partially drained area with another 5 in flight. These 18 do not include any on other reserves or those few perhaps attending nests so quite a remarkable figure. They were joined by an incredible 78 Little Egrets, 1 Dunlin, 1 Wood Sandpiper, a Garganey and several Shoveler. It was interesting on Monday to see a Grey Heron and a Great White Egret in a very noisy dispute - 2 very cranky birds. 

    A Great White Egret flies in front of the Tor View Hide

    The area is between the 2 platforms but over a bank and to the rear of the visible section - a shame I know for visitors but they can be seen flying up on occasions - perhaps when a passing Marsh Harrier comes into view. The ecologists recorded nearly 30 Black Tailed Godwits here too but over 50 flew over on Monday and landed in front of the 1st paltform.

    Redshank are here too and often seen perching up on the posts and rails there 2 adults and 2 juveniles seen (great news). Lapwings are still chasing off all comers including dive bombing the odd Great White Egret and groups of around 50 have been seen on occasions (51 on Monday). 

    Varying numbers of butterflies being seen on the reserve but several sightings of Painted Lady this week, which is nice. Also seen Green Veined White, Speckled Wood, Red Admiral, Peacock, Small Tortoiseshell, Common Blue and Small Skipper.

    Dragonflies still very obvious all around the reserve with 4 Spotted Chasers again the stars with thousand seen all over the place - the back of Waltons, as usual, the best place. Several Emperor also seen - our biggest dragonfly, Black Tailed Skimmer, Broad Bodied Chaser, Blue Tailed Damselfly, Banded Demoiselle, Common Blue damselfly and Azure Damselfly all about. The car park pools are becoming a good place to see these out in the open.

    The car park pools are also providing a good feeding area for Blackbird and Song Thrush nesting nearby. The Song Thrush in particular is proving very brave often coming up close with a beak full of food or even perching up on rails just yards away (as well as being very vocal and calling from the tree line). A Mistle Thrush was also reported this week from the car park.

    On exiting the car park you will notice we have place a sign and information on the boardwalk about a colony of Tree Bumblebees which have decided to nest under the boardwalk. I have also heard both Goldcrest and Treecreeper in this area this week and Blackcap and Chiffchaff often sing from this location.

    The treelines are good places to find these and many other song birds - lots of Goldfinches present and gangs of Long Tailed Tits working their way along. You may also see and hear the odd Garden Warbler. John Crispin managed this shot during the week:

    Also this week: a few Roe Deer seen around the reserve, Stoats regularly crossing the rail path carrying prey items eg mouse just past the 1st platform, frequent Marsh Harrier sightings, Red Kite seen on Thursday, Common Terns still sat on the raft at Loxtons screen (eggs could hatch sometime next week) and a Sparrowhawk snapped by Robin Morrison during the week. 

    If the weathers good come down and pay us a visit - as you can see there's a lot of wildlife on show!

    Have a great weekend!!

    Posted by Stephen Couch

Your sightings

Grid reference: ST4439 (+2km)

Great White Egret (4)
31 Aug 2015
Purple Heron ()
30 Aug 2015
Bluethroat ()
15 Aug 2015
Marsh Harrier (1)
31 Aug 2015
Black-tailed Godwit (100)
30 Aug 2015
Ruff (2)
30 Aug 2015
Common Sandpiper (3)
30 Aug 2015
Green Sandpiper (4)
30 Aug 2015
Kingfisher (2)
30 Aug 2015
Garganey (5)
30 Aug 2015

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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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