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Recent sightings

  • 4 September 2014

    Recent sightings at RSPB Ham Wall 12.09.2014

    The lovely "Autumn" weather has continued this week - great wildlife watching weather at a great time of year. There's a huge variety of wildlife on offer and plenty of birds "on the move".  The Osprey looks to have finally left the area late last week. Despite spending most of it's time at Shapwick Heath we did get occasional visits during its 3 week (or so) stay. 

    Lots of other birds are visiting us though on passage. Black Terns x2 have been spotted (again late last week) - a distant shot captured by John Crispin:

    Whinchat x2 and Wheatear have both been sighted over the last fortnight with the new car park field producing both this week. It's also seen Green Sandpiper, Goldcrest, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Sedge Warbler and Song Thrush over the last 7 days with a Hare to add to the list this morning. Contractors however are starting the main bulk of work next week and we should soon have ample space for visitors - particularly Starling watchers over the winter months.

    Swallows are still present locally in good numbers along with a few House Martins and the Sand Martin still appears from time to time, although most have now left. 

    Post breeding is a much quieter time for Bitterns but you do get the odd flurry of activity on occasions with 4 or 5 flights in a matter of minutes (often followed by and hour or so of nothing of course). They still like to pose for the odd picture.

    Work (reed cutting) continues in front of the first platform and we hope to finish this next week. If we do water levels will gradually be raised to knock back any regrowth (although we have left one or two patches of standing reed this season) and should create some nice splashy areas for waders and loafing ducks (and later on Egrets and Bitterns to feed in). The area in front of the 2nd platform is far more interesting at present with some exposed mud.

    Great White Egrets are commonplace here with 3 or 4 seen pretty much every early morning - they are still thereabouts during the daytime too. The 2 or 3 Garganey of the last few weeks seem to have finally left us for the winter but there are increasing numbers of Teal and as many as 7 Wigeon arrived so far for the winter months. Numbers of Mallard and Gadwall in here are good (along with large groups of Canada Geese at times) and numbers of Shoveler are on the up too.

    Although the scrape at Shapwick is attracting the bulk of waders we do have a select mix of our own (often a bit harder to find). If armed with a scope you should pick out Ruff (as many as 5 recorded), c100 Lapwing, Common Sandpiper, Ringed Plover and a few Snipe (up to 8) - 2 of which were feeding, preening and sleeping in the sunshine on Thursday (what a life!). Little Stint and Green Sandpiper have been seen on the reserve this week too. Not bad for a reserve without an official scrape. 

    A snapshot in front of the 2nd platform. Ruff & Lapwing both on show.

    The area has also thrown up Kingfisher, successfully fishing yesterday, Grey Wagtail, Pied Wagtail, Little Grebe & Little Egret. Lots of other species could pop in, so keep your eyes peeled. 

    The warm weather has meant plenty of insects still busying themselves, with Butterflies still quite active.

    Common Blue, Comma, Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock, Green Veined White, Small White, Speckled Wood & Red Admiral all seen this week.

    Common Blue Butterfly female

    Dragonflies are reducing in number generally although certain species that emerge later than most are quite abundant - Migrant Hawker, Ruddy Darter and Common Darter in particular. Southern Hawkers are also present and I saw an Emperor this morning and this Black Tailed Skimmer female was taken last week. The last couple of weeks has also seen a large drop in the numbers of damselflies - Blue tailed the most likely one to spot but their time is just about done.

    Also this week a Weasel seen by the 1st viewing platform this morning, Barn Owl disturbed from scrub to the left of the reed cutting area at the 1st platform last week and seen in the woods beyond this week, Raven flying over the reserve, Peregrine late last week, several singing Chiffchaff on the reserve but Willow Warbler also seen and on Loxtons Little Grebes feeding young snapped by John Crispin this week.

    That's it for now - have a great weekend!!

    Posted by Stephen Couch

  • 29 August 2014

    Recent Sightings at RSPB Ham Wall - 29.08.2014

    Hello all, firstly can I apologise for the lack of blogs lately. I have been away and various other problems have confounded the writing of what is usually a weekly catch up. There's a lot to catch up with but I'll try not to rabbit on for too long.

    It finally feels as though change is underway and that summer will soon turn to autumn. We've had a few downpours but relatively speaking it's been quite warm and settled. This mix of sun and showers recently means the vegetation on the reserve is still growing like the clapper as it has done all season. We are doing our best to keep up with the cutting to keep the place looking presentable and access easy. Of course the more infrastructure we have the long this takes (and we'll have a car park to deal with soon too - work is now starting to get underway again here). We have also begun this years habitat management work within the reedbed. The 1st area being tackled is the islands in front of the 1st viewing platform. In a couple of weeks time this will be completed and then water levels raised once more - to increase interest for wintering birds.

    The area in front of the 2nd platform has also had water levels lowered to reveal some muddy areas. Many birds are taking advantage of this including the Great White Egrets where as many as11 have been seen this week (including the ringed bird). Little Egrets c10 and Grey Herons are also enjoying the area along with a handful of wader species. A Ruff was around on Monday & Tuesday last week, while varying numbers of Green Sandpiper have also been feeding here (up to 4) and a Wood Sandpiper was seen to drop into an area on the north of the reserve last weekend. 5 Black Tailed Godwits were present recently while Lapwings are frequent visitors (up to 160). In the area just beyond this 6 Snipe were recorded recently too. Many waders are currently being attracted to the scrape at Shapwick Heath where pump repairs have enabled our friends at Natural England to expose some nice muddy areas.

    An Osprey is also present, spending much of it's time at Shapwick but the odd appearance over Ham Wall Has been most welcome. 

    The area in front of the 2nd platform also holds interest for several Mute Swans, c10 Canada Geese & a selection of duck including several male Pochard in eclipse - as many as 13 recorded. One or 2 Shoveler are also present along with a few Teal, while 3 Garganey (one male in eclipse and 2 female or juvenile) were of note this week. 

     The Common Terns have still drawn plenty of interest in recent weeks seeing off all comers. A Crow and  Buzzard amongst those given their marching orders - thanks to Robin Morrison for the photo:

    They were still being seen regularly at Shapwick and Ham Wall until last week, having successfully fledged but seemed to disappear around the 18th although 2 were seen again on Tuesday (could be the juveniles). Amazing parenting from these birds even seeing off Peregrines at times.

    Some final feeding shots from our raft and the Loxtons pool from John Crispin & Robin Morrison. Thanks for the photos!

    Loxtons screen is still a pleasant place to sit and watch a while. Great Crested Grebe chicks were still good entertainment in recent weeks. Plenty of flight attempts (and crash landings) and plenty of feeding from parents. Kingfishers are a regular here too. If your quiet there's a good chance they will perch by the hide and fish from the branches overhanging the water. They've given several visitors a real treat lately.

    The place for Great Crested Grebe chicks is now in Waltons from the screens. 3 were riding on parents backs although earlier this week only one was sighted. 

    One possible culprit could of been an Otter which swam across Waltons last weekend sending the parents into a panic, with much flapping and paddling and very anxious looks. The youngsters were left to fend for themselves (they could of course still be present  - further investigation needed).

    With the end of summer approaching birds are on the move. A visible migration of hirundines (Swallows and Martins) is underway with good numbers passing through each day - Swifts too are still evident although in smaller numbers. I even had a juvenile Cuckoo on the 13th August at the back of Waltons. There are still reasonable numbers of Reed & Sedge Warblers on the reserve often feeding at the bases of trees, where water levels are lower. 

    The numbers of Dragonflies is also dropping - a few species can still be seen although some are very worn out such as this Emperor and the Brown Hawker below it.

    Emperor looking very worn.

    Brown Hawker

    Migrant Hawkers are present in good numbers (a much later dragonfly than the others), while other late season dragonflies Common & Ruddy darter can also be seen along with Southern Hawker. Blue Tailed damselfly, Red Eyed Damselfly and a few Common blue damselfly have also been recorded.

    Happily, it's been a better year for butterflies on the reserve. Small Tortoiseshell, Green veined White, Small White, Brimstone and Red Admiral all evident this week and we did have a couple of reports of Silver Washed Fritillary a couple of weeks ago, which was a pleasant surprise. 

    Small Tortoiseshell

    Green Veined White

    Red Admiral

    As mentioned earlier work is starting again on the new car park (to be completed end November). These Roe deer spotted by Robin Morrison a couple of weeks ago will have to find somewhere else to rest up for a while.

    Roe deer buck

    The doe - well hidden in the long grass.

    Other recent highlights include: the odd Hobby still being sighted. Barn Owls still present  and reported hunting during the evenings (between 8 and 10 Owlets from 3 nests this year on Ham Wall), Ravens flying over the reserve, Ringed and Little Ringed Plover both recorded, Spotted Flycatcher and Treecreeper spotted along the rail path trees this week, Water Rails seen from the Tor View hide where we have cut the reeds down, weasel reported this week on the log pile close to the log circle/pond dipping area (stoat also seen recently), Merlin, Peregrine & Sparrowhawk all reported in recent weeks, Marsh Harriers daily and of course Bitterns.

    One thing to clear up before I finish. There was very little talk of the Little Bittern this year. The main reason for this was the uncertainty as to where a nest sight would be. No females were recorded this year despite many hours put in by volunteers - although 4 barking males were. Until we know where a nest is located and that eggs/chicks are safe from disturbance etc it is very difficult to report information and manage the situation correctly. As it happens it is our belief that no breeding took place this year but we had to be sure hence no news until very late on. Apologies if you felt were we being over secretive or coy with information but we try to mange this as sympathetically as we can and the welfare and protection of the animal always comes first. Lets hope next year brings successful breeding back to the Avalon Marshes.

    On a lighter note here's a nice picture of a wren sunning itself on the old rail path to finish - thought it was a nice shot! 

    Have a great weekend!

    Posted by Stephen Couch

  • 25 July 2014

    Recent Sightings at RSPB Ham Wall - 25.07.2014

    The relentless heat has made it hard work for staff & volunteers this week and not surprisingly many of the reserves birds have been fairly quiet but throughout the week as a whole there is still plenty to shout about. Bitterns are still around but with nesting finished they are going back to their more secretive ways but given the number we have locally there's always a good chance of an encounter.

    The Marsh Harriers on the reserve are still active but now almost finished with the nest. The great news is that 4 juveniles were spotted at the nest site yesterday. The male bird has been a prolific hunter and on one visit yesterday flew over the nest site and the 4 juveniles came up to meet him to try and get the food package. As they did this he let it go and all four spiralled down with it - one of them grabbing the reward - must of been fantastic to see (for one lucky volunteer anyway). A female Sparrowhawk was also seen in the vicinity yesterday and from the rail path a male Marsh Harrier with a grass Snake - although this never went back to the nest site. Another Grass Snake was seen swimming in the drain from the rail bridge on Weds.

    The Common Terns are still going great guns on the raft in front of the Loxtons screen. 2 well grown youngsters are almost ready to go. They have been seen flexing their wings to build up there flight muscles (pectorals) and have actually lifted off the raft to make very small flights. The last couple of days has seen them taking a bit of a dip in the water too - so it wont be long

    Common Tern adult and juvenile earlier this week.

    Juvenile in a flap!

    In the same area Great Crested Grebe youngsters have also been seen attempting to achieve lift off - getting just of the water on one occasion. At one stage all the birds followed each other flying/running diagonally across the water in front of the screen. It's amazing the behaviour you can witness if you just give it a bit of time.

    Great Crested Grebe juvenile attempting a take off!

    More good news this week for young birds on the reserve came when we revisited the Barn Owl boxes. On JUne 10th 4 owlets were ringed from on box but at 2 other sites chicks were either too small or still at egg stage. Chris Sperring (Hawk & Owl Trust) came in once again to undertake any ringing of birds and of course we need a licence to check the nests anyway. We took a quick look at the ringed birds from before to double check there was no second brood attempt. There wasn't but fully grown youngsters were still using the box - here's a snap of one (you can see the ring on it's leg). Absolutely pristine condition - wonderful!

    Ringed Juvenile

    The second box we visited - previously at egg stage gave us 2 Owlets which were subsequently ringed (see photo) whilst the last box saw juvenile birds on the wing and too big to ring unfortunately. Chris will undertake another quick watch of the box if he has time to establish just how many yopungsters there are. 3 successful pairs is a reserve record.  Many thanks agin to Chris Sperring for giving up his time to help - always a pleasure to have him visit us - such an enthusiastic naturalist.

    Although generally it's a quiet time of year for birds (been lots of reports of departing Swifts, Swallows & Sand Martins at coastal locations) there are still plenty of species to look for: Bullfinch & Treecreeper have been seen along the rail path, groups of Tits & finches also seen, Raven have flown over on a few occasiona and Buzzards are a regular. The second platform is beginning to come back into play, as such. Water has been lowered in here over the last couple of weeks and now some mud is exposed - Green Sandpipers x4 and Lapwing c150 have been taking advantage of this so keep an eye out for other waders popping in - there's been a report of a Black Winged Stilt at Shapwick Heath this week so you never know what might drop in.

    A small group of Black Tailed Godwits has been see on a few occasions, a Kestrel was spied at the northern edge of the reserve - be great to see them back, Tawny Owls heard and up to 6 Great WHite Egrets from the 2nd platform but in any numbers down to 1 on many occasions this week.

    Away from birds there's always plenty to interest someone - Dragonflies are still out in force : Brown Hawker, Southern Hawker, Emperor, Common Darter, Ruddy Darter have all been seen. Damselflies are beginning to fade now although Blue Tailed and Common Blue damselflies can still be seen along with the odd Banded Demoiselle.

    Butterflies are more abundant at the moment - there are still plenty of flowering plants around to interest them. In particular Hemp Agrimony often seen growing along the eges of waterways around the reserve - butterflies are particularly attracted to this. Here's an example below as what to look for:

    Speckled Wood (above), Small White, Green Veined White, Small Tortoiseshell, Comma, Small Skipper, Small Copper, Peacock, Red Admiral, Brimstone, Ringlet, Meadow Brown & Gatekeeper all recorded this week.

    Plenty of other interesting bugs around too (and not all of them bite). Found a large Beetle today and later discovered it was a Musk Beetle - so useful to have a good camera on my phone for such things. I'm going to post it on the Ham Wall Facebook page later if you want to see but may also do a short blog with other interesting mini beats I've snapped over the last couple of weeks very soon. There's a whole new complicated world lurking in the bushes!!

    That's it for this week!!   Enjoy your weekend!!

    Posted by Stephen Couch

  • 18 July 2014

    Recent Sightings at RSPB Ham Wall - 18.07.2014

    It may not feel like it - having just had the hottest day of the year so far, but there are a few reminders that Autumn will soon be on the way. The majority of our birds have finished their breeding - most notably the Bitterns. No feeding flights from females now but there are still birds moving about frequently throughout the day (7 flights recorded in a few hours just from the 1st platform yesterday). It's worth spending a bit of time at the 1st platform despite the amount of growth which has shot up recently.

    Bitterns occasionally can be seen sunning themselves in the reeds here and one landed directly in front of the platform, close in, this morning. It's also a good place to spot Marsh Harriers - often seen hunting low over the reedbed. There has also been sightings of juveniles (x3) close to the wind pump that can be seen distantly from the platform.

    Another sign of impending Autumn comes with the increase in wader activity, showing that birds are on the move. Common Sandpipers have been seen on a few occasions this week - often on the small rafts in Waltons: 4 were there on Sunday. Green Sandpipers are more prevalent with as many as 7 seen from the 2nd platform this week and 3  within Waltons on Sunday. Lapwings are also frequenting the area by the 2nd platform c50 the max count and 22 Black Tailed Godwits yesterday (c20 from here on Monday too and 13 this morning). The odd Snipe has also been reported.

    We are slowly draining water from this section at the moment so the exposed mud should draw in more waders over the coming weeks.

    We are also taking water from the area in front of the 1st platform in readiness for management work early next month - this should open the area up nicely for a winter bird spectacle.

    Some birds are still busy feeding young - the stars once again are the Common Terns. They continue to be very protective of their youngsters (x2), who are growing well. There's been plenty of preening, wing stretching & flapping and one chick even made a duck move - just like the adults do. The adults do tend to tolerate the nearby Cormorants and ducks but occasionally when taking off to feed will fly at them forcing them to vacate their raft for the water. Some great pictures below from both John Crispin & Robin Morrision taken this week - many thanks to you both:

    Adult in flight

    Wing stretching from a chick - primary feathers beginning to show!

    Adult with fish

    Doesn't look the most comfortable way to be flying but great parenting none the less.

    Another gullet stretching shot - this time of the Great Crested Grebes. There are adults with young in both Waltons and Loxtons and are quite easy to see, This adult caught quite a large fish but kept it all to itself rather than feeding the youngster - perhaps to encourage it to try feeding for itself.

    The warmer days are making it easier to see butterflies - several species spotted on the reserve this week: Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock (probably the most common at present), Red Admiral, Small White, Green Veined White, Speckled Wood, Meadow Brown, Gatekeeper, Ringlet, Small Copper, Small Skipper and Comma all recorded.

    Dragonflies too are still busy although some species have finished for this year now (a couple are just starting too). Emperor, Southern Hawker, Brown Hawker, Common Darter, Ruddy Darter, Black Tailed Skimmer, Scarce Chaser, a late 4 spotted Chaser, Blue Tailed Damselflies (but reducing in number), Common Blue Damselfly, Banded Demoiselle (25-30 seen at the gateway to Tinneys ground on the Sharpham to Walton village road) and Red eyed Damselfly all seen.

    Ruddy darters (pictured below) are just getting started really and look out for Migrant Hawker too - another late one.

    Groups of birds are beginning to gather together a bit now - particularly the tits with mixed groups spotted -  but plenty of long tailed. The rail path is still a good place to take a slow walk - you never know what you might see. Bullfinch, Goldcrest, Treecreepers Great Spotted Woodpeckers and Spotted Flycatchers have all been spotted in the last week. Birds are also dusting themselves off on the trackway too - often finches but yesterday several Wrens were spotted doing this.

    This Song Thrush was also seen out sunning itself: Sunning can help dislodge feather parasites. The excess heat can encourage them to move to other places in the plumage where it may be easier to preen. It's essential for birds to get rid of these parasites which infest their feathers causing problems with flight, insulation and appearance which all impact on their survival.

    Also this week: Otter seen on the middle track at Tinneys, 14 Greylag Geese flying over this morning, a female/juv Garganey seen from the 2nd platform (it had pale lores), Great White Egrets regularly seen but 2 yesterday (One with orange bill, one with black), several Buzards seen flying high often in small groups, 2x Kestrels from the car park on Saturday and Sparrowhawk from 1st platform the same day, occasional Hobby, Jays from the 1st platform & the Sharpham end of the track and juvenile Cuckoo seen along the Ashcott Road - we had one within Loxtons last week too which I omitted to mention in the blog - apologies.

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


    Posted by Stephen Couch

  • 11 July 2014

    Recent Sightings at RSPB Ham Wall - 11.07.2014

    There's a distinct feeling that everything has just slowed down a little on the reserve the last week or so. That's normal for this time of year - many birds have finished their breeding and are resting up - regaining strength & condition to prepare for the autumn & winter months (a fair way off yet admittedly).

    Bitterns have all but finished breeding but a few flights are still being seen and what could be juvenile birds are often seen popping up out the reeds from the 1st platform. In fact on a couple of the islands, with the lower vegetation, they have been seen out in the open for long periods - nearly 2 hours on Weds and over an hour yesterday. This morning saw one crash land into the reeds and then stand out on the edge - just visible, to give some visitors a treat. A second bird was also seen briefly on the island behind.

    Marsh Harrier (female) was also seen around this time and at one point landed very close to the first Bittern - waiting a couple of minute before flying off again.

    Many of the ducks on the reserve of course are in eclipse, making flying more difficult until their feathers are renewed - also can make identification a little more difficult too.

    Male Mallard in eclipse.

    The 1st platform also turned up some Bearded Tits this morning. They could be heard calling (pinging) more than a dozen times in the reeds with dead stems, just in front and to the right of the platform. Just a couple of brief sightings were had though - they were also there on Wednesday - so could be worth a look.

    Bearded Tits were also heard (but not seen) near the Tor View Hide yesterday - it's not often they venture over this side, so it was nice to hear them. The Tor view Hides has plenty to offer (as well as some shelter from the sun). Water Rails (inc juveniles) can be heard frequently here and are occasionally seen (directly down in front of the screen on the right as you enter). One juvenile was also seen on the track by the hide entrance this week. A mink was nearby but was luckily scared away by a visitor in the hide.

    Otter have also been seen from the hide recently and one swam within Waltons on Saturday - always jealous to hear about an Otter sighting. Also from the hide: Great Cested Grebes & Coots with young, Pochard, Great White Egrets and Marsh Harriers flying over and perhaps more spectacularly - Night Herons (x2) on Tuesday after 9pm. Single birds were also seen on Monday & Weds evenings to add to the 3 seen last week. Another unusual spot this week was a Red Footed Falcon seen once (maybe twice) on Tuesday from the 1st platform.

    Common Terns pass over Waltons ocasionally but are mainly concentrating on the areas around Loxtons close to their nest on the raft (in front of the Loxtons screen). The 2 chicks are still present and the parents are still chasing anything and everything away (including a 3rd adult Tern). Marsh Harriers, Crows, a Sparrowhawk and Lesser Black Backed Gulls have all felt the wrath of the parents for coming too close - with behaviour like this these chicks have a really good chance of survival.

    Common Tern sees off a Lesser Black Back Gull

    From the 2nd platform, you should see some changes soon. We are starting to draw water down slowly here and some fringes of mud are showing. Little Egrets and Great White Egrets were feeding here today along with a Green Sandpiper. These have also been seen eslewhere on the reserve this week (x3). In the drier area more distant from the 1st platform (left of the central wood) groups of Lapwing are still feeding with upwards of 40 seen along with the odd Redshank & Snipe - you may see them if they get disturbed. Starlings are also amongst them and a very small nightly roost already exists on Ham Wall of an evening - a gentle nudge,as a reminder of what's to come.

    The evenings also bring the chance of Barn Owls - although this could be late evening given the good weather. The boxes will be checked for the second time on July 22nd - with hopefully some good news to report and owlets to ring.

    Elsewhere: Spotted Flycatcher seen near the car park and along the rail path (between the 2 platforms), Bullfinches along the 1st stretch of rail path down to the 1st platform, Treecreepers towards the other end of the rail path where a Nightingale also sang on Saturday (beyond the 2nd platform) and the same day a Mistle Thrush flew over Waltons. Hobbies were active from the 1st platform earlier in the week and seen over Loxtons on Thursday, a Sparowhawk flew over the rail path on Wednesday too. Lots of juveile birds to be seen around the reserve like this Reed Warbler:

    Insect life is still good on the reserve and in particular it's been a good week for Butterflies: Red Admiral, White Admiral, Peacock, Green Veined White, Meadow Brown, Speckled Wod, Ringlet, Comma, Small Tortoiseshell and Gatekeeper all seen this week. Silver Washed Fritillary & Purple Hairstreak also reported from areas of Shapwick Heath.


    Dragonflies are also very evident with: 4 Spotted Chaser, Banded Demoiselle, Common Blue Damselfly, Blue Tailed Damselfly, Common Darter, Black Tailed Skimmer, Scarce Chaser, Emperor, Brown Hawker & Southern Hawker all seen this week.

    I managed to get quite a nice shot myself with my camera phone of a female Emperor close up. She had caught a Black Tailed Skimmer and was so busy devouring it, she barely noticed me.

    Female Emperor

    That's it for another week!  Have a great weekend!


    Posted by Stephen Couch

  • 4 July 2014

    Recent Sightings at RSPB Ham Wall - 04.07.2014

    After the flurry of activity over the last few weeks with breeding birds frantically feeding young, it finally appears things are beginning to slow down a little. The reserve has been a little quieter over the last couple of days - this doesn't of course mean there's nothing to see - that's rarely the case at Ham Wall.

    There are still a couple of active Bittern nests - the first platform still a good place to wait. A Bittern was seen roaming one of the islands on Wednesday but with the explosion of growth around the reserve lately, all you could see was its head popping up occasionally (the same with a Grey Heron today but a Bittern did fly in and crash into the reeds). We aim to start cutting the growth here in about a month to get it nice and open for the winter months so there'll be plenty to see. Booming has pretty much stopped now - don't remember hearing one this week and birds in general are a little quiter. Some Reed Warblers can be heard chattering away still - this could indicate they are into a second brood, while there have been very few Cuckoos heard this week - although there have been a few sightings.

    One bird that is breeding a little late is the Common Tern. The pair on the Loxtons raft (visible from the Loxtons screen) finally hatched their 1st chick on Tueday. We immeadiately sprung into action and with hard hats and goggles on for our own protection from these fiesty birds we rowed out to place heavy ridge tiles on the raft as a refuge from predators for the chicks. I say chicks as there are now 2 on the raft. This is a first for the reserve so we are very pleased.

    One of the chicks with its parent

    The terns are very protective of the nest site and have been seen chasing all sorts off - most notably Marsh Harriers. A female across Waltons today & 2 different Males across Loxtons yesterday. The female spent a long time hunting over Waltons today despite the attention of the terns and showed well from the Tor View Hide.

    The hide also offered Water Rail with young very close by - heard but not seen unfortunately, Bitterns, Great White Egrets and Great Crested Grebes with young (also visible from the screens along with young Coots and Moorhens). In fact there are plenty of young birds to see currently including this Kingfisher snapped by John Crispin in Loxtons this week.

    Most notable features to suggest that it's a juvenile are: the white tip to its bill, brownish feet as opposed to the red of the adult and the slightly duller colour to its plumage. Kingfishers can also be seen in Waltons and from the rail bridge quite regularly.

    While the Common Tern chicks were hatching, it was around this time that the Spotted Flycatcher youngsters were readying themselves to fledge from their nest in trees on the rail path (adjacent to Loxtons). John Crispin managed to grab these shots this week of the adult and of youngsters in the nest - lovely.

    Adult Spotted Flycatcher

    Youngsters in the nest

    Another shot of the nest

    The rail path is often a good source of small birds - with all the "more common" species seen along here but also Treecreepers (including near the new car park field) and Bullfinches (often between the Car Park and the 1st platform). Also had Bullfinches in the current car park this morning. In the winter months look out for Redpolls & Siskins along here. The rail path threw up a nice surprise yesterday evening with 3 Tawny Owl chicks (one seen) calling for food (the 2nd time in as many weeks this has happened)

    Barn Owls are still being seen regularly hunting and carrying food back to 3 known nest sites on the reserve - another record for us. Owlets in one nest have been ringed but the other 2 were some way behind. Chris Sperring from the Hawk & Owl Trust should be back in to ring the rest in a couple of weeks.

    It's been a good year for dragonflies it seems with still plenty on the wing including the big hawkers: Brown Hawker, Southern Hawker, Emperor, Black Tailed Skimmer, Scarce Chaser, Common Darter, Broad Bodied Chaser and 4 spotted Chaser all seen this week along with Blue Tailed Damselfly, Common Blue Damselfly and Banded demoiselle.

    Female Black Tailed Skimmer

    Butterflies are also in evidence with Large White, Green Veined White, Specked Wood, Small Tortoiseshell, Red Admiral and Comma all seen this week. Also look out for the hoards of hungry caterpillars on nettles - these are either Peacock or Small Tortoiseshell caterpillars (peacock being black and spiky).

    Also this week: quite remarkably 3 Night Heron seen over the 1st platform Thursday night (going towards Street Heath area) to add to the one of last week, Raven from 1st platform on Wednesday, Sparrowhawk from 2nd platform, beyond 2nd platform and just to right (our composting area) Green Sandpiper and Grey Wagtail seen, Whilst beyond areas in fron of 1st platform c80 Lapwing, 4 Redshank and 2 Snipe (and several Pied Wagtails in an area of exposed mud, Marsh Frogs from the screens and Bearded Tits heard from the 1st platform (and seen by guided walk members on the north of the reserve last weekend.

    Another highlight was a Grass Snake resting on the culvert pipe which passes under the crossing to Waltons from the rail path - unfortunately it didn't stay long!

    Have a great weekend everyone!

    Posted by Stephen Couch

  • 20 June 2014

    Recent Sightings at RSPB Ham Wall - 20.06.2014

    Another very hot week on the reserve. It's hard going out there undertaking work on the reserve and must be too for wildlife busy nurturing and feeding youngsters during this time. I'm not going to complain too much given the weather conditions we were experiencing  in the early part of the year - I've no wish to return there anytime soon. When the suns at its height there does seem to be a lull in activity from birds (and who can blame them) but soon enough the need to feed themselves or young is sufficient to bring some movement.

    Bitterns are still a fairly easy spot. Several females are flying to and from nests. The area in front of the 1st platform is as good as any for a sighting. It's also been a top pace for Great White Egret sightings this week too with birds spending long periods in here fishing.

    Many birds of course have fledged - large gangs of Long Tailed Tits flew by the first platform on Thursday and juvenile Reed Warblers can be seen. An adult Reed Warbler was seen carrying nesting material this week - probably on course for its second brood.

    Other juveniles seen this week include Bearded Tits - not in public areas I'm afraid, although pinging was heard on a few occasions this week from the 1st platform and a couple of brief flashes of birds flying across channels. John Crispin did manage these shots from the north of the reserve this week.

    Juvenile Bearded Tit

    This is a juvenile male. Its bill is orange (the female's is dark) and he also has dark/black lores (where the bill meets the face) which is absent in the female. Great to know they've had success (and are likely on a second brood too).

    There are plenty of other juvenile birds to enjoy - even if you can't see these. In both Waltons and in Loxtons in front of the screen Great Crested Grebes are present swimming around with youngsters and fetching them occasional titbits.

    Feeding time for a young Great Crested Grebe.

    ...and now for the close up. Great colouration on these young birds - soon to be even more striking adults.

    Loxtons screen also offers the Common Terns. There's a pair here, with the female seemingly sat on eggs and the male bird chasing off just about anything that comes near. This was evident on Thursday when a Marsh Harrier passed over. On this occasion both birds saw it off. Hopefully, we'll have some youngsters here too. This as a nest site was a bit unexpected so they might need a bit of help. Once they hatch (if they do) we may need to very quickly nip out and place some heavy ridge tiles on the raft for youngsters to hide under from predators (particularly Gulls and Crows) to give them the best chance.

    There are plenty of broods of duck on the reserve - Pochard in front of the second platform and broods of Mallard at a few locations. Plenty of Mute Swans too with cygnets and groups of Canada Geese with young - almost like creches (6 adults and around14 young in one group). Of course they are several young Moorhen and Coot (see photo) around too).


    Continuing with the juvenile theme - here's a young Little Grebe photographed this week. (these can be seen and heard in Loxtons and Waltons at present).

    Top sightings for the week, if that's not enough already, would be Purple Heron seen on both Tuesday & Wednesday this week. Tuesday in front of the 1st platform (briefly), this sighting was confimed the next morning with several people seeing over Waltons, then perching up before dropping in the section behind). It was belived to be a first summer bird.

    Red Kites have been seen every day this week - quite unusual for us to have them quite so frequently. In fact 2 were seen together on Tuesday from the 1st platform - other days a bit more distantly from the same location.

    Peregrine put in a brief appearance on Thursday having a bit of an altercation with a Buzzard - the Peregrine actually turned over in flight to threaten the Buzzard. Still with birds of prey Barn Owls continue to hunt to feed young in the boxes, often in the light evenings( - keep an eye out from the 1st platform in particular) and Hobbies seen daily (not in huge numbers) - the back of Loxtons a favourite haunt.

    There's plenty of Dragonflies for them to hunt: 4 spotted Chaser, Emperor, Scarce Chaser, Black Tailed Skimmer, Broad Bodied Chaser, Common Darter, Brown Hawker & Southern Hawker all seen this week along with several species of damselfly, including the Banded Demoiselle seen from the bridge from the 1st platform to Waltons screens.

    Also this week: Painted Lady Butterfly, very noisy Marsh Frogs, Fox in reserves woodland along with Roe Deer, Slow Worm under reptile sheets, c35 Lapwing on site this morning, Treecreeper heard by the metal entrance gate, Kingfisher from the old rail bridge and in Waltons by the screens (most days) and several Scarlet Tiger moths around the reserve (see photo).

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


    Posted by Stephen Couch

  • 15 June 2014

    Recent Sightings at RSPB Ham Wall - 13.06.2014

    An absolute scorcher on the reserve this week. It must be a little harder for some of our species battling to feed hungry youngsters in such hot conditions -perhaps evenings and early mornings will offer more success for visitors. Some of the reserves inhabitants seem to thrive in these conditions. There is a bounty of insect life on the reserve and hunting many of these smaller flying creatures are the dragonflies. Several species are on the wing at present. There seems to have been an emergence of Emperor Dragonflies this week. Several were seen today - some seen taking flies in mid air and some in territorial disputes. They are our biggest dragonfly and can often be seen patrolling their territories - they will come quite close to you.

    4 Spotted Chasers, as usual, are everywhere but particularly around Waltons and Loxtons (there are thousands here). Also seen today were Southern Hawker, Broad Bodied Chaser, Hairy Dragonfly and Common Darter.One I didn't get today was Scarce Chaser (it lives up to its name), luckily John Crispin snapped this male yesterday.

    Scarce Chaser (male)

    As well as Dragonflies, damselflies are out in full force too. Azure are still about in good numbers and there's been a big increase in Common blue damselfly this week. Also about are Red Eyed Damselfly, Banded Demoiselle and of course our most abundant damselfly on the reserve - the Blue Tailed. Many of these are paired up, both flying and settling on vegetation coupled up as pictured below!

    Blue Tailed Damselflies!

    On the bird front, Bitterns are still very active. Males continue to boom, there are still occasional chases involving 2 or more birds and many females are undertaking feeding flights to and from their nests (with of course no help from the males).

    There is one very protective male on site at the moment is the Common Tern. They now seem to be occupying the old floating rafts at the back of Loxtons, overlooked by the screen. They've been showing classic behaviour regarding security of the nest site: chasing crows, evicting ducks trying to use the raft and when a Marsh Harrier flew by both birds went up to keep an eye on the master of the marsh.

    Common Terns

    There are 3 Terns, but when the third bird came in he was sent on its way by the resident standing bird.

    Common Terns

    The usual group of Cormorants are confined to the other raft but there are also Great Crested Grebes present and this is one of the best areas to see Hobby on the reserve.

    Great Crested Grebes are also present within Waltons with 2 pairs present with young One pair with 3 young and another with 2. When they are smaller the youngsters will often hitch a rid on the parents back as pictured below. 

    Youngster hitching a ride - Great Crested Grebes!

    Things are fairly quiet from the 2nd platform at present: plenty of Mute Swans, Great White Egrets pop in to feed occasionally and a fair selection of duck are resent. One female Pochard is present with 2 young. To see the young dive is both interesting and comical, as when they surface they invariably preen and become quite unstable.

    The best news of the week came with us checking our Barn Owl boxes. The increase in activity recently had led us to believe they were feeding young. Well, the good news is we have 3 pairs. 2 of these are at the egg stage (one with an owlet just a couple of days old). The last box we checked however had 4 plump youngsters which were subsequently ringed Chris Sperring from the Hawk and Owl Trust. There are some photos of this on our Facebook page. £ pairs is a record for us - lets hope this good weather continues and makes it our best year ever - they need it after the last couple of years!

    Also this week: 25 Greylag Geese flew over Waltons on Monday, 35+ Black Tailed Godwits (these would be visible from the location of the new hide which is being built this autumn behind the central wood), 3 or 4 Lapwing in the same area, Treecreeper and Bullfinch both seen along the rail path, plenty of Cuckoos seen and heard every day including 2 in a chase on Monday, Sparrowhawk from the 2nd platform on Friday, Song Thrush in woodland at the beginning of the footpath walk (other side of the drain to rail path), Grey Herons still dropping into the Waltons reedbed feeding young and Roe Deer seen around Waltons during the week.

    That's it for this week - apologies for the slightly later posting than usual - Happy Fathers day!

    Posted by Stephen Couch

  • 6 June 2014

    Recent Sightings at RSPB Ham Wall - 06.06.2014


    A fairly similar week to last week - this of course means plenty of wildlife on offer.

    Bitterns continue to make themselves quite obvious and there's always a good chance of a sighting or two every day. There are still sightings of multiple birds at the same time with several birds seen chasing each other this week - with 3 seen together flying across Waltons on Thursday. The occasional boomer can also be heard.

    Marsh Harriers too are active and seen daily. Good views of a male this afternoon directly in front of the 1st viewing platform but females also seen on a daily basis.

    Another star of the week has been the Barn Owl or Owls. Yet again this afternoon, as with other afternoons this week one was flying in front of the 1st viewing platform. They can also be seen sitting outside the box oppostite in the wood but have also used a kestrel box nearby and another barn owl box in the large oaks opposite. Hopefully, all will become clear on Tuesday when Chriss Sperring visits us to inspect the boxes and ring any owlets (if they are big enough). There has also been Barn Owl activity in the north of the site. Tawny Owls are often heard from within the reserves wooded areas too!

    Insect life has again been impressive - particularly the dragonflies. The Waltons (Giving Nature a Home) Trail has been alive once again with thousands of 4 spotted chasers. On cooler mornings many can be seen resting up on the reedsin groups. Hairy Dragonflies are also on the wing along with Broad Bodied Chasers and Black Tailed Skimmers (female pictured below). 

    Black Tailed Skimmer (female)

    Several Emperors too have been seen this week - some newly emerged and only just ready to fly.

    Emperor (immature) - Giles Morris

    Of course, they spend long periods as Larvae - veracious predators in the underwater world but climb up stems of vegetation to emerge leaving the exoskeleton or exuvia behind (pictured below). I've never witnessed the event myself - merely found the evidence afterwards. Must be an interesting process to watch.

    Exuvia - Emperor

    The dragonflies will be hunting their prey - smaller invertebrates, which includes damselflies. There are several on the wing at the moment including: Blue Tailed, Azure, Red Eyed, Large Red, Variable and Common. Banded Demoiselles can also be seen. All of the above are fair game for Hobbies hunting the reed beds. Waltons and in particular Loxtons (close to the screen) seem to be prime places - this again may be linked to the numbers of 4 Spotted Chasers. As many as 8 were seen there last weekend.

    Waltons and to a lesser extent Loxtons are also the best places to see the Common Terns - still present but not nesting as far as we can tell. There have been as many as four but at least 3 were there today on the floating pallets in Waltons. Great Crested Grebes are also there with 3 young and the odd call from Little grebe can be heard too. The oddity of the week would be the Wood Duck seen on the raft in front of the 3rd screen on Monday - not seen since but was picked up last week too, so could still be around somewhere. It's likely to be an escape from somebodies collection but was a handsome bird nevertheless.

    It seems that the Waltons and Loxtons areas are also the hotspots for Cuckoos although they can be seen from either platform too. 2 chased each other up to the central wood on Tuesday.  

    The rail path trees continues to offer a good selection of birds. Highlights would be the impressive number of Blackcaps, accompanied by Garden Warber, Chiffchaff, occasional Willow Warbler (although disappointingly low), Goldfinches (good numbers) and a couple of very vocal Song Thrushes. The highlights in this area: Bullfinches on the first stretch before the 1st platform, a Treecreeper close to Loxtons and a pair of Spotted Flycatchers by the second boardwalk that will eventually lead to the new car park.

    Butterflies don't seem particularly abundant at the moment but there's a fair selection of species being seen recently including: Small Tortoiseshell, Brimstone, Small Copper, Common Blue, Peacock, Green Veined White, Speckled Wood and most interestingly Painted Lady. There are reports of Meadow Brown on the wing but not seen any myself yet - worth looking out for the first ones.

    Elsewhere we've had numerous Great White Egret sightings, Rabbit and Stoat on the rail path, Roe Deer feeding on grassy paths, Lapwing flying over (and a serous lack of other waders),  Good numbers of House Martins seen feeding low over the water on a few occasions this week, good numbers of Swift, Kingfishers - Waltons probably the best spot and plenty of Reed Bunting, Cettis Warbers and Reed Warblers in the reed beds. Juvenile Bearded Tits were seen out on the non-access part of the reserve this week so there's plenty of opportunity to see fledging birds over the coming weeks. These young reed warblers is an old shot taken at Greylake some years ago but thought it was worth posting.

    Juvenile Reed Warblers

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


    Posted by Stephen Couch

Your sightings

Grid reference: ST4439 (+2km)

Great White Egret (1)
14 Sep 2014
Pectoral Sandpiper ()
13 Sep 2014
Little Stint (2)
15 Sep 2014
Kingfisher ()
14 Sep 2014
Black-tailed Godwit ()
13 Sep 2014
Ruff ()
13 Sep 2014
Curlew Sandpiper ()
13 Sep 2014
Little Gull ()
13 Sep 2014
Cetti's Warbler ()
13 Sep 2014
Bittern ()
13 Sep 2014

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Where is it?

  • Lat/lng: 51.15384,-2.78925
  • Postcode: BA6 9SX
  • Grid reference: ST449397
  • Nearest town: Glastonbury, Somerset
  • County: Somerset
  • Country: England

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