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Recent sightings

  • 5 February 2016

    Glossy Ibis & weed dancing Great Crested Grebes at Ham Wall

    All photos taken by John Crispin this morning from the 3rd screen at Waltons on Ham Wall. The Glossy Ibis has been seen here before so worth checking this area out early morning and the Grebes have been head bobbing and platform building earlier in the week. Now they're weed dancing - fantastic to watch these elaborate courtship displays! Thanks John for the fantastic photos, as ever.

    Thought it a shame not to show these as they arrived just too late for the usual weekly blog!

    Posted by Stephen Couch

  • 5 February 2016

    Recent Sightings at RSPB Ham Wall - 05.02.2016

    I wouldn't say spring is in the air but there are certainly a few signs of change on the reserve this week. Snowdrops are out along the rail path, although not yet on the car park boardwalk at the Shapwick end where there are large clumps each year. 

    Birdsong seemed quite significant this morning. Several species were calling along the rail path tree line including: Robin, Blackbird, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Long Tailed Tit and Song Thrush who was calling loudest of all. Close by to this bird (adjacent to Loxtons) was a drumming Great Spotted Woodpecker (there's also been one by our office at the Avalon Marshes Centre) and within the reedbed a booming Bittern. This was just opposite the small bridge which crosses into Loxtons between the 2 viewing platforms.

    Earlier in the week it was heard towards the Waltons end of Loxtons, booming in sets of 4. Apparently you could hear his intake of breath before booming. Numbers of booming males should gradually increase over the next few weeks and staff and volunteers will undertake an early morning survey across the whole of the Avalon Marshes to get an accurate booming total - 43 recorded last year.

    Another sign of change has been the beginnings of courtship displays from Great Crested Grebes. There are several birds on site: a pair from the 1st platform, a couple of birds within Loxtons and further birds within the Waltons section. It's a pair here which have already begun to reinforce pair bonds through head bobbing rituals and have also started building a mating platform:

    Also showing signs of aggression:

    Waltons has also been home to Kingfishers this week with one flying close to the 1st viewing platform on Monday. Lapwings are using the area too. Often landing on the cut island in front of the 3rd screen - in fact 50 have roosted here this week, while 150-200 flew over Waltons on Monday. 

    The Avalon Hide is coming up with the goods again. It was great to get it back open last week and great to have such positive feedback about the path and the hide itself. It's probably the best place to see Marsh Harriers on the reserve - several are seen hunting here each day and people often report seeing 3 or 4 different birds. A Peregrine was also spotted from the hide last weekend, while 2 Kestrel flew over calling on Wednesday. While on the birds of prey theme - do check out the owl boxes visible from the hide. A Tawny Owl was spotted from the box in the woodland you walk through on Sunday (31st) while last week saw both Tawny Owl and Barn owl in and around the boxes visible to the woodland on the left hand side of the hide. On Tuesday 2 Chiffchaff were fluttering up on and around one of the owl boxes. I can only assume there was a good source of insects here - maybe from debris in the owl box.

    The Avalon Hide is also a great place to see Great White Egret (although one flew over my head in the car park on Thursday (4th). One individual in particular is often seen out feeding in front of the hide. On Sunday one was seen fishing successfully before being joined by a Little Egret who also fished successfully. Thanks to John Crispin for sending in some handy photos taken on Sunday to help show the size difference between these two:

    Quite significant I'm sure you'll agree.

    Also a comparison with Grey Heron too:

    ....and then a great shot looking right down the lens:

    John Crispin also saw some interesting behavior from Great White Egrets this week. On Sunday a bird flew in from the east into an area diagonally left from the hide but approached with a distinctive slow and pronounced wing beat giving it an almost bouncy look. It chased away a second bird from the area (this bird flew normally) but all the time kept this slower wing beat. John thinks this could be a threat display similar to that of a male Mute Swan 'busking' when seeing off an intruder from its territory. 

    Ducks present from the hide include: Mallard, Tufted Duck, Pochard, Shoveler, Teal and Gadwall and look out for Little Grebe too. They can be heard around the reserve at the moment with their distinctive 'Whinnying' call.

    Starlings at present (as of last night) are split. The majority of birds are over at Shapwick Heath - they have been in the decoy area but were seen just before dusk dancing around the Meare Heath area. There are also a fair number of birds using the Loxtons area on Ham wall.

    Also this week: Glossy Ibis seen on Sunday dropping into the area in front of the 2nd platform, a Green Woodpecker heard 'yaffling' close to the Loxtons screen, a group of 6 Reed Buntings or more flitting close to the ramp into the Avalon Hide woodland trail, 2 Snipe disturbed from the wet area on the left just before that ramp mentioned above, a Treecreeper seen in a clump of Alders around the Loxtons trail, a pair of Bullfinches along the rail path close to Street Heath, Bearded Tits at the back of the 2nd viewing platform section (but have recently been seen nearer the front edge), Dusky Warbler reported on Bird Track last weekend (exact location unknown) and Goldcrest also seen along the rail path.

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

    Posted by Stephen Couch

  • 29 January 2016

    Recent Sightings at RSPB Ham Wall - 29.01.2016

    The best news of the week was being able to get the Avalon Hide back open again. As you may know the access had become extremely muddy and too difficult access. It's taken a lot of work in a short space of time but we've done it. Rubber matting has been laid throughout the woodland and beyond to the hide. Thanks to all the volunteers who worked so hard to turn this situation around so quickly. It's fantastic to have it back open.

    Yesterday and this morning saw feeding Great White Egrets (x2 yesterday) and as many as 4 hunting Marsh Harriers. Within the woodland on Thursday a Great Spotted Woodpecker was repeatedly drumming on the silver birches before flying off, followed by a second bird.  Great Whites seen to be feeding here daily at present. A Little Egret joined in on Monday but didn't stay long, while another dropped in for a longer feeding session on Wednesday, hunting in the cut area at the back of the pool. Also on Wednesday one of the Marsh Harriers dropped into the reedbed on two occasions - the second one for some time (unsure whether it had caught prey).  

    Again on Wednesday, croaking Common Frogs in the adjacent ditch to the woodland and in pools close by - at least 3 individuals and perhaps.....but not 100% sur a booming Bittern, booming just once on a couple of occasions. 3 were heard for sure last week and it's not unusual for us to have boomers in January - the Avalon Marshes often has the first boomers nationally each year. It's all down to our balmy south west location I guess.

    Away from the Avalon Hide and the star is probably the Glossy Ibis - if you're lucky enough to see it. It's clearly able to find some very secluded areas in which to hide away during the day but is often seen towards dusk flying from the Ham Wall direction towards Shapwick Heath where it roosts each night. You may see it if you are out Starling watching - the birds are currently using Shapwick Heath to roost also. It was seen by our ecologist yesterday evening flying over the Ham Wall car park and by another visitor on Monday evening coming from the same direction.

    The best sighting was during the morning on Monday as it sat on the cut island in front of the 3rd screen at Waltons. Unfortunately it was spooked by a visitor who approached the hide without realising what was there. John Crispin was on hand however and manged to grab these shots - thanks John:

    Later the same day - when I turned up, of course it was gone. There were however a good 150 Lapwings (maybe more) present as well as a few Teal. Roughly the same number were seen by John Crispin in the section opposite the new bridge which crosses the main drain. This could be the same group as on both occasions the groups were very unsettled. On Wednesday a groups of around 250 flew over the Central Wood (where the path to the Avalon Hide passes through) and more were seen last week using the fields south of the River Brue (this runs parallel to the Meare Glastonbury Rd). so there's plenty in the area. Another Plover ....the Golden Plover was sighted on Monday. Around 50 flew over the reserve heading south during the late morning. 

    Also within Waltons are a few Great Crested Grebes. I think as many as 4 at present. Some showing their wonderful plumage. It won't be long before we are able to witness their wonderful pair bonding and courtship rituals.

    Waltons was also a hot spot for signs of Otter activity during the last survey. This coincides with last weeks sighting from the Tor View Hide (photo in last weeks blog).

    Another favourite sighting for me (and several volunteers) this week was the group of Bearded Tits seen at the back of the area in front of the 2nd viewing platform. The sun was out and shining and we could hear them on both sides of us and then .....there they were. Wonderful! At least 8 crossed the path to join the others - maybe as many as 12 in total. I saw them in this area last week too (just a couple on that occasion). It worth having a scan over this area if your there as they have also been seen at the near side of this section close to the gate on the canal bank - you never know your luck. Here's a stunning male photographed by John Crispin this week:

     I also saw a Stonechat perched up in this area this morning, with it's obvious tail flicking stance. Another was also along the bank where the line of gorse is to the right of the Avalon hide section on Monday. Again, photographed by John Crispin:

    A pair have been seen in this area regularly, while we've been using our reed cutting machinery.

    Also this week: Green Winged Teal reported from the Loxtons Screen last weekend (look out for Kingfishers here too), female Sparrowhawk from the Avalon Hide on Wednesday which flew in close, Lots of groups of Long Tailed Tits following the tree lines (always a cheery sight), calling Cettis Warblers and very vocal Water Rails around the reserve, small groups of finches (goldfinch and Chaffinch) along the rail path, Raven flying over calling and still a fair amount of birdsong - of particular note this week - the Great Tit with its familiar "teacher, teacher" call.  

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

    Posted by Stephen Couch

  • 22 January 2016

    Recent Sightings at RSPB Ham Wall - 22.01.2016

    It was a bit of a shock on Wednesday with temperatures of -6 degrees on the reserve during the day. This however did not stop me from hearing my first booming Bittern of the year. I sounded like it was over at Waltons and boomed in sets of 3 on several occasions. One closer to me tried to reply but let out a single more wheezy effort . Yesterday another bird was heard booming from the other end of the reserve - somewhere towards the second viewing platform area (so that's 3 in total). 

    On both days I was stood at the same location - the path to the Avalon Hide. Thankfully the rubber matting arrived during the day on Wednesday, so yesterday was spent tracking them all out to site and getting started with laying them down. We've made a great start but there are a couple of tricky sections coming up, but with our skillful volunteers on the case it should prove no problem. We'd like to think we'll have it finished by next Friday but I'm not making any firm predictions.

    The highlight yesterday was seeing the Glossy Ibis fly over us into the area in front of the 2nd platform as we moved the matting and there were several sightings of Marsh Harriers throughout the day with at least 4 separate birds seen. The area in front of the 2nd viewing area was packed with birds on Wednesday as many other areas were frozen. Hundreds of Lapwing were seen but a vast array of wildfowl too. I'd got the sense that there were a lot more Teal on site recently and the WeBS (Wetland Bird Survey) count confirmed this on Monday with 705 counted up from just 80 for December. Gadwall also showed a good increase from 289 up to 408.

    Teal take to the air......

    The first platform area has also been showing a good selection of birds with a Great White Egret showing daily - usually arriving just after 8am. It had particular fishing success on Wednesday:


    and a shot from further off:

    Pintails too have been seen here this week. Just one on Wednesday but this had grown to 7 by Thursday with 4 males and 3 females present. Handsome looking ducks:

    Thanks to John Crispin for all the above pictures.

    It was great to be able to write about the Barn Owls (and Tawny Owls) last week. Well, they've been seen again. Barn Owl was seen out and about in the daytime on Monday. A lovely sight but can be a worry as being driven to hunt in daylight hours means hunger. I guess wet and rainy nights take their toll. A Tawny Owl was seen poking its head out of the box on Tuesday. It's situated jsut a little further down the wood from the one visible from the 1st platform. Lets hope for more breeding success for both of these this coming season.

    Waltons is also turning up a few good sightings. Last Sunday saw a Sparrowhawk tucking into its kill on the cut island in front of the 3rd screen. It then flew off with the remainder of its prey to the trees on the rail path. The day before an Otter was seen at the end of the channel facing the Tor from the Tor View Hide. There was a big panic and commotion as birds took to the air. The culprit appeared a few minutes later and John Crabb managed to get this shot - thanks John.

    Icy times in particular can be a great time to see Otters as they scamper over frozen water. Other wildlife such as Water Rails can also become more obvious as they search harder for food. There have been fairly recent sightings of them from the Tor View Hide so it's always worth bearing in mind when visiting it.

    These areas are still accessible and open in spite of the bridge on the rail path remaining closed. The Environment Agency's contractors have not been in at all this week due to it being just too wet or too cold to be able to paint the bridge. It is hoped they will make some progress here next week so that we can get the main track open again. To access you need to walk thew other side of the main drainage channel and cross back at the next bridge just past the 1st platform. It is a little muddy so stout boots or wellingtons are a great idea.

    No reports of the Dusky Warbler along this path this week - that's not to say it's not still here (I've just had no reports of it).  2 Chiffchaff were seen at the end of the first strip of woodland on Wednesday and a treecreeper was heard on Tuesday. Watch out too for mixed groups of tits - particularly Long Tailed (they often hide other birds such as Goldcrests and Chiffchaffs). 

    It's always worth scanning the reeds for smaller birds too. You never know what you might pick up. I was lucky enough to hear and have the briefest of sightings this morning of Bearded Tits at the back of the area in front of the 2nd viewing platform. I also heard Cettis Warbler and saw Meadow Pipit and a Reed Bunting perched up on reeds much like in this photo sent in by John Crabb:

    Also this week:

    up to 7 Ravens flying over the reserve on Wednesday often calling as they flew, one or two Fieldfare seen and heard, a Red Kite reported (also on Wednesday) flying east past the 2nd platform, a Kingfisher seen flying in front of the Loxtons screen, a group of 10 Snipe seen flying over on Thursday, Great Spotted Woodpecker drumming and Stonechats perched up while we cut reeds with our cutting machine. 

    Finally, a nice shot with great reflections of 2 Canada Geese sent in by John Crabb:

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

    Posted by Stephen Couch

  • 15 January 2016

    Recent Sightings at RSPB Ham Wall - 15.01.2016

    A much colder feel this week and it finally felt like winter on the reserve - there were even a couple of icy patches. As with last week there seems to be an upturn in the numbers of wildfowl on the reserve - I have particularly noticed good numbers of Teal this week.

    The Dusky Warbler was seen again early in the week. This time on the rail path by the Autumn/Winter bird ID board before flying through the trees back towards it's 'normal' location on the canal path. It hasn't been reported again but then again maybe those people who wanted to see it have done so and people are less interested. Of course the temporary closure of the Avalon Hide and the main path closure by the Environment Agency for the bridge work has also meant less visitors in general. We are open - you'll just need to walk down the footpath on the other side of the main drain. Wellies or stout boots are advisable as it is quite muddy.

    We are making progress with getting the path to the Avalon Hide open again. Staff and volunteers have been clearing and leveling off a better route through ready for the rubber matting which could arrive next week. It's going to be at least a couple more weeks before we open again I'm afraid. We want to act quickly but we want it to be right too.

    Another star visitor of late has been the Glossy Ibis - again this was reported at Ham Wall on Monday from the 2nd viewing platform but not since. However, on Wednesday it was seen in fields on the other side of the River Brue which runs parallel to the Glastonbury to Meare road. 

    Back on the reserve Barn Owls have been seen on at least 3 occasions this week. 2 were seen in the box opposite the 1st platform last Sunday,  one form the corner of the central wood box on Monday and another in flight from the 1st platform the same day. 2 Tawny Owls were also seen in another box (close to the 1st one mentioned) on Sunday too. Great to know they are still present on site in at least 2 different locations. They are known to feed on Starlings during winter months so they always have a chance of a meal. 

    The Starling roost seems to have moved further east again in the last week. Some birds are still using the Decoy area of Shapwick Heath but some are even further east. You may catch up with them by crossing the road from Shapwick Heath at the bridge and continuing a little further down the path by the drain but I'm not 100% sure. In any case the eastern end of Shapwick is the place to head for and perhaps park at the Avalon Marshes Centre and walk the short distance up the road.

    Other winter visitors are still on site - Wigeon and Teal of course but also a few Redpoll and Siskin seen today along the footpath track. A couple of Fieldfares were also present at Tinneys ground on the Sharpham Road this morning.

    Some birds are showing signs that spring will be coming soon though. Coots are constantly fighting in the open water but so were these 2 male swans this week in front of then 1st platform:

    Elsewhere there seems to be more bird song in the air with Blackbird, Robin, Song Thrush, Dunnock, Wren, Chiffchaff and Blue Tit all heard singing this last week. With the latter snapped by John Crispin:

    Some birds are also beginning to show signs of breeding plumage. This photo of the Great Crested Grebe shows how its plumage is developing when compared to the photo of the same bird in last weeks blog:

    There are currently 2 in front of the 1st viewing platform and a 3rd (pictured) within the Waltons section.

    The cut island in Waltons in front of the 3rd screen has been home to a few Snipe this week as well as: Mallard, Teal, Coot, Moorhen, Gadwall, Cormorant and this morning, Little Egret.

    Their larger cousins, the Great White Egrets are a daily sight with as many as 3 reported this week. Another daily sighting is that of Marsh Harrier with at least 4 different birds seen on Tuesday. One a very well marked male and another very brown looking male (almost female looking).

    Also this week: Kingfisher at Loxtons & Waltons, Roe Deer seen on grassy banks within the reserve, Siberian Chiffchaff along the canal path, 30 Black Tailed Godwits circling the reserve on Thursday, Treecreeper in trees between the 2 platforms, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Buzzards daily, Sparrowhawk on Tuesday, large groups of Long Tailed Tits (but often mixed flocks with other tits, Chiffchaff and Goldcrest) and Raven in flight and calling.

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

    Posted by Stephen Couch

  • 8 January 2016

    Recent Sightings at RSPB Ham Wall - 08.01.2016

    Happy New Year to you all and welcome to the first sightings blog of 2016. Having been away over Christmas, it's always nice to get back to work in such a wonderful place. I've tried to keep my eye on things from afar by watching Twitter updates and looking at the Somerset Ornithological Society website but nothing beats getting out on the reserves yourself. I'd seen the Dusky Warbler was being tracked down fairly regularly and it's still present now - seen again - briefly this morning in the same place - just after the left hand turning to the Avalon Hide. It was seen close to the bench a bit further on during Thursday so it's worth spending some time scanning and listening along this whole length of trees. Siberian Chiffchaff has also been seen in the same area in the last few days.

    Having mentioned the Avalon Hide, I should ought to mention that we have had to close this as a temporary measure. The path - as many of you know has become extremely muddy and we feel the conditions are becoming too difficult at the moment. We apologize for this inconvenience but are looking for a swift solution. Rubber matting has been ordered (like the matting towards the Tor View Hide) and with the help of our very dedicated volunteers we will attempt to rectify these issues over the next few weeks and get things up and running again the best we can.

    Fear not, the rest of the reserve remains open although the further bridge closure on the rail path means negotiating the footpath side of the canal before crossing back over. Volunteers have begun to clear away some of the mud at the start of this walk where it passes under the trees and there is solid track underneath to try and make things a little easier. It is hoped that the bridge will be reopen in another couple of weeks and things will return to 'normal'. 

    It may be a blessing then that the Starlings have currently moved to Shapwick Heath - using the Western end close to Decoy Hide (of course the can decide to move again  at any time). Use the Hotline service but currently it may be best to park at the Avalon Marshes Centre and walk up to Western end of Shapwick Heath from there. Numbers are good with numbers quoted between 500,00 and 750,000 but your guess is as good as mine. Perhaps a sudden cold snap in Europe will swell these numbers further.

    The fine weather has led to e few more unusual sightings for the time of year with many plants in flower and daffodils in bloom. We also has some activity from Iberian Water Frogs in the car park pools although they were rather sluggish. There was a mini Dawn Chorus in the car park too this week with Song Thrush, Wren and Dunnock all in song.

    It has also seen the early return of Great Crested Grebes to the reserve - often absent during cold winter months. 2 individuals have been seen (one in Waltons and one from the 1st platform) and both have been calling at times.

    Also within Waltons you can often see this Cormorant in its full breeding plumage. Some other birds are starting to show their white thigh patch but this is the only one in all its finery:

    Waltons can also be a good place to look for Kingfishers, Marsh Harriers and Bitterns of which several flights were recorded earlier in the week from the Tor View Hide. Late in the day the Glossy Ibis has often been seen flying over towards Shapwick Heath where it's been roosting at night. It has however been spending many of the last few days feeding, preening and loafing about in front of the 2nd platform so start your search there. Thanks, as always, to John Crispin for a fantastic selection of photos to supplement the blog:

    There's been a general increase in wildfowl numbers on the site and this is reflected in the section in front of the 2nd platform. Certainly there were good numbers of Shoveler, Teal and Gadwall there on Monday. A group of c50 Black Tailed Godwits were also flying around for some time looking for somewhere to settle. There are a few Lapwing feeding in this area too here and there on the slightly higher ridges of land. Keep a look out here and in the block to the west for Water Pipits too - as many as 6 have been recorded this week. 

    Great White Egrets are seen every day on the reserve in several different areas. One good place to start is the 1st platform. This has often proved to be a favoured feeding area in previous years and John Crispin managed to catch these shots here this week of one struggling to swallow a sizable fish:

    Also this week: Great Spotted Woodpecker seen & heard calling in several locations but heard drumming close to the first gateway on the footpath track, Barn Owls seen in the box opposite the 1st platform but also in flight in front of the 2nd platform on a couple of occasions, a large group of c60 Pied Wagtails coming out of the reserve in the mornings from a roost (location not known), Ravens flying over on Monday, a Roe Deer seen on the edge of the wood near the drumming Woodpecker, Chiffchaffs and Goldcrests seen - often within tit flocks, Sparrowhawk & Buzzard in flight, Treecreeper heard along the old rail path and also along there several Bullfinches seen (as many as 4 males and 2 females):

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

    Posted by Stephen Couch

  • 23 December 2015

    Year List for RSPB Ham Wall 2015

    Thought it would be interesting to write a list of all the birds seen and heard - however brief at the reserve this year. Unfortunately, I cannot say I've seen all of these myself and of course there could well be some I've missed, so if you spot an omission please let me know and I'll update it - thanks. Haven't counted the Hudsonian Godwit as it was never recorded on Ham Wall land as far as I'm aware.

    Here goes:

    Bittern, Little Bittern, Great White Egret, Little Egret, Cattle Egret, Grey Heron, Purple Heron, Night Heron, Glossy Ibis, Common Crane, Mute Swan, Canada Goose, Greylag Goose, Egyptian Goose, Cormorant, Mallard, Gadwall, Tufted Duck, Shoveler, Pochard, Shelduck, Teal, Wigeon, Pintail, Garganey, Goldeneye, Mandarin Duck, Goosander, Little Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, Water Rail, Coot, Moorhen, Lapwing, Snipe, Jack Snipe, Black Tailed Godwit, Common Sandpiper, Green Sandpiper, Wood Sandpiper, Pectoral Sandpiper, Greenshank, Redshank, Spotted Redshank, Curlew, Whimbrel, Dunlin, Knot, Little Stint, Ringed Plover, Golden Plover, Ruff, Common Tern, Black Tern, Black Headed Gull, Lesser Black Back Gull, Greater Black back Gull, Herring Gull, Common Gull, Kingfisher, Buzzard, Sparrowhawk, Merlin, Hobby, Kestrel, Red Kite, Peregrine, Osprey, Marsh Harrier, Hen Harrier, Barn Owl, Tawny Owl, Short Eared Owl, Little Owl, Swift, Swallow, House Martin, Sand Martin, Reed Bunting, Reed Warbler, Sedge Warbler, Willow Warbler, Yellow Browed Warbler, Chiffchaff, Siberian Chiffchaff, Garden Warbler, Dusky Warbler, Grasshopper Warbler, Savis Warbler, Cettis Warbler, Wood Warbler, Blackcap, Whitethroat, Cuckoo, Wheatear, Whinchat, Stonechat, Skylark, Siskin, Redpoll, Fieldfare, Redwing, Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush, Blackbird, Robin, Starling, Wren, Dunnock, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Long Tailed Tit, Coal Tit, Bearded Tit, Greenfinch, Chaffinch, Goldfinch, Bullfinch, Brambling, Goldcrest, Firecrest, House Sparrow, Pied Wagtail, Yellow Wagtail, Grey Wagtail, Meadow Pipit, Water Pipit, Treecreeper, Linnet, Spotted Flycatcher, Carrion Crow, Rook, Raven, Jackdaw, Magpie, Jay, Wood Pigeon, Collard Dove, Stock Dove, Pheasant, Green Woodpecker, Great Spotted Woodpecker. 

    Total = 142  Species

    Not bad at all for an inland site. Lets try and break that next year! 

    Posted by Stephen Couch

  • 23 December 2015

    Recent Sightings at RSPB Ham Wall - 23.12.2015

    Well, as promised here is another blog just before our Christmas break. It's going to be a bit shorter than normal as I'm posting on Wednesday rather than the usual Friday - I don't fancy working on Christmas day!

    Several visitors have been in chasing the Dusky Warbler, although perhaps chasing isn't the right word. Standing still for a few hours of slowly walking the tree line up and down more like. Many have been rewarded however, some for good periods - with calling too. It's spending most of it's time on the canal footpath, just on and beyond the junction to the Avalon Hide. It seems mornings may be the best time but you may also need to be patient. It's also, I'm told spending more time lower in the scrub rather than higher up - good luck if you come and try to find it. It's been seen every day this week so far, so you never know!

    In the same stretch of trees have been Siberian Chiffchaff and several Common Chiffchaff and a Firecrest late last week. A Treecreeper was also spotted on Monday in amongst the tit flocks along with a couple of Goldcrests. A Chiffchaff was also heard calling in the alder trees in the car park on Monday and there were Daffodils in flower in the village of Meare, close to the reserve - where's the cold snap?

    The Starlings are still the stars of the show with at least 500,000 birds present. The flock has split on occasions but they have been using the reedbeds at Waltons (and many just beyond a bit further off). This is right in the public areas and easily visible from the old rail path which offers that great elevation to enjoy the show. The early mornings are also fantastic, where you can see them leave the reedbeds in waves. On Sunday Half a million Starlings, 5 Marsh Harriers, 6 Raven and a Glossy Ibis all before breakfast - as written by volunteer Lee Dutton on Twitter (can't be a bad start to the day).

    The Glossy Ibis was seen flying out of Shapwick Heath and headed to Ham wall during the early morning (8.15am) on Sunday. It was later picked up here by John Crabb in the afternoon too (about 2pm) who took these distant shots of the bird flying roughly between Waltons & Loxtons - thanks John:

    The bird has since been picked up again today out in front of the 2nd viewing platform at around midday. 

    The car park & toilets will open and close as normal over the Christmas break. This can be a good place to wait a while and start you bird list for the day. Scan the trees - particularly the Alders as both Siskins and Redpolls have been seen there this week. Kestrel is a frequent flyover as is Sparrowhawk (both Monday) and Raven. A scan over the reedbeds just beyond will often bring Marsh Harriers hunting in the area too. Also listen and look out for Song Thrush. There's been one in good voice, singing from one of its favourite song posts. 

    A walk along the rail path brings different rewards - with groups of tits - particularly Long Tailed often with other small birds mixed in. Bullfinch has also been seen along here this week as well as on the other side whilst visitors hunted the dusky warbler down.  Coal Tit was also recorded along the rail path this week feeding on alder trees. 

    Within Waltons you'll find ducks and Little Grebes along with the usual Coots and Moorhens. Great Crested Grebe was seen from the first viewing platform in its winter plumage - unusual to have them at this time of year. Of course, if you're lucky, there's always the chance of a Bittern sighting. I was out checking over the visitor areas on Monday and flushed one from the reed island opposite the small willow screen at the back of Waltons. Just prior to this on the west side a Great White Egret was standing on the edge of the reeds up the channel from one of the 2 willow blinds - not a bad couple of minutes.

    Great White Egrets are fairly easy to see each day - even if distant. The stick out like a sore thumb when in flight as the white plumage is quite a contrast to the landscape.

    Marsh Harriers are also a daily sight - the Avalon hide offers daily views of these birds as well as a bit of cover from the rain and wind. You will need some good footwear to walk the paths however which are quite muddy.

    John Crabb took this picture of a hunting Marsh Harrier this week. The intended prey was a coot or a moorhen which splashed and dived furiously as a means of defence.

    If you're at the 1st platform in the early morning it's always worth having a look at the far tree line to the owl box. Barn Owls have been seen a few times over the last few days so worth a look.

    Also (so far) this week: Roe Deer seen grazing the grassy paths on the north of the reserve, Stonechats perched up on reed stems, groups of Pied Wagtails in muddy areas, Water Pipit spotted in the area just before the Avalon Hide turn off from the canal path, Great Spotted Woodpeckers in flight, 9 Raven flying over on Sunday morning and 2 later on (11 total - most unusual), Sparrowhawk on at least 2 occasions and 25 Fieldfare with 1 or 2 Redwings for company at Tinneys ground along the Sharpham road.

    That's it for now. Not much shorter than normal in the end. It just leaves me to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a very merry and wildlife packed New Year. Thanks for reading!! 

    Posted by Stephen Couch

  • 18 December 2015

    Recent Sightings at RSPB Ham Wall - 18.12.2015

    Another mild week on the reserve - not really feeling like December. Some of our wildlife is perhaps a little confused too with several common frogs seen in one area this week while staff and volunteers were working,  a few sightings of Red Admiral butterfly and even the report of a Swallow flying over the car park this Monday. I've also read of a report of 4 Swallows being fed in a nest in Cornwall.

    The mild weather and fairly dry conditions of late have allowed us to crack on with plenty of habitat management over the last fortnight and we've achieved a huge amount. Stonechats have been present whilst reed cutting all week along with large groups of Pied Wagtails taking the opportunity to feed in the cut areas. 

    Despite not really having that cold snap yet we are seeing winter visitors present on the reserve and some numbers increasing. Small groups of Redpolls have been seen this week - 6 at the screens at Waltons and a group of around 20 flying over the reserve on Wednesday. 3 or 4 Siskins flew close to the Avalon hide on Thursday while several others flew over the car park.Thursday also saw several Fieldfare and Redwing in amongst pockets of Starlings on the north of the reserve just prior to murmuration time.

    The Starlings are still favouring Ham Wall at present and using Waltons - great for visitors. A Peregrine flew over the roost at Waltons during the week but the birds did not react by flying up. Instead it went eerily silent - odd for those people watching. 

    This week saw the November WeBS count (Wetland Bird Survey). Numbers were up again in general on last month but the milder weather could well be keeping some numbers lower than expected.

    A few of this months figures with last month's in brackets: Gadwall 285 (182), Wigeon 136 (48), Tufted Duck 53 (1) but Teal down to 80 from 112. There were also 5 Little Egret, 3 Great White Egrets and 3 Bitterns during the count (all this on the northern side of the reserve only - south counted separately). 

    The WeBS at Long Drove a plot we manage south of Waltons turned up a Glossy Ibis. The 2nd or 3rd time it's been seen in this area recently - we were wondering where it was going during the daytime, before roosting over at Shapwick Heath. On Sunday the Glossy Ibis also flew from this direction and flew through the Starling murmuration at Waltons. It was also seen in flight over Waltons last Friday evening. Could be worth turning up a little earlier for the Starlings and seeing if you can get a sighting.

    John Crispin decided to try and find it the following day (Tuesday) without luck. He did however flush a Short Eared Owl and quickly grab these shots - not bad as he was taken quite by surprise and would have preferred a different lens if he'd known. Thanks for sharing these John.

    Short Eared Owl - John Crispin.

    Also at Long Drove during the same visit around 30 Linnets were present close to the entrance. 

    The Avalon Hide is still proving a god draw and offering some great sightings. The path is a little muddy so some good boots are in order. We'll be taking a good look at the path soon to decide how best to solve this problem. Once you're there, some good rewards can be had. Last Friday saw 2 Kingfishers chasing each other around before going their separate ways, Great White Egrets, plenty of Shoveler and of course frequent Marsh |Harrier activity. There are certainly at least 3 different birds being seen regularly. This photo of John Crispin's shows a Marsh Harrier with the 'yellow' fore wing feathers of a female type and the 'grey' wing feathers of the male type. There can be a great variance in this species and can often confuse.

    Marsh Harrier - John Crispin

    Another Avalon HIde shot was sent to me by John Crabb this week. He was in the hide when a couple pointed out this Tawny Owl poking it's head out of the box visible in the wood behind the hide (The one you walk through to get there). It was a bit of a stretch with his lens but he did get this shot - thanks John.

    Tawny Owl - John Crabb

    The walk along the canal path past the path to the hide has brought some interesting finds this week too (from the Avalon hide path down past the 2nd platform to the next bridge). 2 sightings of Firecrest, a few Siberian Chiffchaff sightings including 2 together on Monday, 4 Bullfinches together and in the cut and wet areas several sightings of Water Pipit as many as 5 seen along with several Meadow Pipits (up to 15).

    Also this week: 5 Raven flying over on Monday morning then seen again flying south in the afternoon, Lots of Greylag Geese visible from the 2nd platform (Canada Geese too), Great Spotted Woodpecker, Treecreeper reported, Plenty of Long Tailed Tits flocking - often with other tit but also Chichaff and Goldcrest and who knows what else - worth scanning these groups, Large groups of Lapwing airborne and smaller groups settled on the ground (try 2nd platform), Snipe being seen and heard here and there throughout the site and this Little Grebe seen from the Avalon Hide.

    It wasn't diving for food as usual but searching the cut typher areas for food. I was doing this for some time (30 mins or so before stopping, preening and carrying on in the same manner. Interesting sometimes just to study the behaviour of these creatures - fascinating.

    That's it for this week! Have a great weekend everyone. I'll try to get one last blog out if I can before the Christmas break!! 

    Posted by Stephen Couch

Your sightings

Grid reference: ST4439 (+2km)

Glossy Ibis (1)
7 Feb 2016
Great White Egret ()
3 Feb 2016
Dusky Warbler ()
28 Jan 2016
Chiffchaff (Siberian - tristis) (1)
23 Jan 2016
Marsh Harrier ()
3 Feb 2016
Kingfisher ()
3 Feb 2016
Grey Wagtail (1)
3 Feb 2016
Cetti's Warbler (1)
30 Jan 2016
Singing/breeding calls heard
Bittern ()
30 Jan 2016
Whooper Swan ()
28 Jan 2016

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

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