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Recent sightings

  • 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

  • 12 June 2015

    Recent Sightings at RSPB Ham Wall - 12.06.2015

    Another great week on the reserve, with plenty to see for our growing numbers of visitors. It's been so great to be hearing such positive things from our guests and even more rewarding to be able to give them an interesting wildlife spectacle.

    There are several stars of the show each week at present, so I'll do my bets to include as many as I can.

    Bitterns are an obvious start with plenty of sightings to speak of once again. The 1st platform is a good place to go as parts of Loxtons which were particularly busy yesterday. You often get flurries of activity - particularly earlier in the day before thing really warm up. There are often little lulls in the middle of the day when the sun is at its hottest - but there are always exceptions to the rule to prove me wrong.

    The Loxtons screen often has a lot to offer - of particular note are the Common Terns which appear to be sitting for long periods - hopefully this is a good sign. They are still sharing their raft with a few Cormorants but if any eggs present hatch they will soon be ousted by these protective parents. A Black Tern was also seen this week in breeding plumage over at Long Drove - an isolated section south of Waltons. It too was chased by a Common Tern - most likely one of the Loxtons pair. 

    A short walk at Loxtons for me yesterday was rewarded with good sightings of Terns, the peep and a flash of a Kingfisher , a Cuckoo perched and then disturbed (by me), Great Spotted Woodpecker calling in flight as well as good views of a Hobby which flew in front of me and flashed over the hide which sent photographers clicking wildly. It's probably the best area for Hobby at the moment although Waltons can also bring rewards.

    Kingfishers have been perching in front of the Loxtons screen and must be nesting in the vicinity, while they've also been spotted within the Waltons section and from the old rail bridge. Great Spotted Woodpeckers have also been discovered this week nesting, we think in the top of a tall dead birch tree in some of our wet woodland. 

    There not the only birds of prey seen this week. There have been further reports of Barn Owls out hunting - the first platform a good spot to stand in the late evening for your best chance and of course some very busy Marsh Harriers seen passing food and dropping into the reedbeds carrying prey items. Either viewing platform should bring sightings after a short wait. 2 Red Kites were reported yesterday flying east over Waltons in the late afternoon followed by a 3rd 5 minutes later, a Peregrine was spotted during the week and a Kestrel was seen carrying food on the eastern side of the reserve. Buzzards too are present, often seen circling high on hot days but also seen scavenging in the field next to the car park where they have been grass cutting this week.

    The car park pools are coming on nicely and beginning to spring to life. The most obvious resident being the Marsh Frogs (Iberian Water Frogs) who croak madly during warm spells. Scanning with your binoculars and following the sound could well reveal their  hiding places and give you a sighting. Many dragonflies are starting to use the pools too with 4 Spotted Chaser, Scarce Chaser and Broad bodied Chaser all seen there this week. Blackbirds are regularly hunting along the edges and it was lovely to see a pair of Goldfinches coming down to drink delicately from the edge on Wednesday. We also saw Bittern, Great White Egret and Marsh Harrier all from the car park - easy bird watching from the comfort of your car.

    4 Spotted Chaser

    Female Black Tailed Skimmer

    Other dragonflies seen this week include: Emperor - the biggest dragonfly (apple green body and blue tail), Black Tailed Skimmer (pictured above), Hairy Dragonfly (nearly the end of the flight period for these), Banded Demoiselle (Tor View Hide path and Tinneys this week), Blue Tailed Damselfly, Azure Damselfly, Red Eyed Damselfly, Common Blue Damselfly and Variable Damselfly.

    Butterflies also present but seems fewer this week - maybe the winds are not making it easy for them: Common Blue, Speckled Wood, Brimstone, Green Veined White, Red Admiral & Peacock all seen.

    Also this week: a male Bullfinch seen perched in the woodland next to the footpath track by the 1st gate (other side of the drain), Roe deer seen feeding on the islands opposite the 1st viewing platform for the second week running (enjoys a swim obviously), juvenile Bearded Tits seen at Tinneys (the plot on the Sharpham Road), c75 Black Tailed Godwits from 1st platform yesterday but also 4 Redshank (1 or 2 suspected to be juveniles - great news), small Adder reported on the rail path, Lapwings still defending the islands from 1st platform and a Stoat seen to run along the rail path yesterday. 

    That's it for this week. Thanks to John Crispin for use of these archive pictures. Hope you're enjoying your holiday John.

    Have a great weekend everyone!

    Posted by Stephen Couch

  • 5 June 2015

    Recent Sightings at RSPB Ham Wall - 05.06.2015

    The very windy weather on Monday & Tuesday meant there was a lot less activity - that is apart from the hundreds of Swifts swooping around the reserve who seemed to buck the trend - it was a fantastic sight. I'm guessing the wind must have kept the insect life a lot lower and the Swifts took full advantage. I was in awe for several minutes. 

    Now I know House Martins don't read this blog but it's as though they wanted to prove me wrong when I said they had been a bit of a rare commodity this year so far. There were plenty out with the Swifts over the weekend and the early part of the week, enjoying the bountiful supply of insects for precisely the same reason as the Swifts - it was a real treat to watch these birds in such numbers. The skies were grey but I was happy.

    Once the weather calmed it was normal service resumed with the usual cascade of Bittern sightings across the reserve with volunteer Lee Dutton recording 26 flights during his stint on the platform as Information Warden on Saturday. The first platform always a good vantage point - I had 4 flights in a short space of time this morning along with the same number of Great White Egrets and a couple of Marsh Harriers - can't be bad.

    Bitterns are still booming and again the 1st platform a good bet but also over at Loxtons. A bird was perched on the far bank in front of the hide here on Thursday before taking off and just touching the water when doing so. A bird returned to the same spot around 2 hours later and perched again - pictured below:

    10 minutes later it, or another bird, took off again. It looks like a female from the photos but I could be wrong.

    Also from the Loxtons screen the Common Terns are still present on a daily basis. They have shown signs of mating but haven't quite managed it yet - or it hasn't been witnessed at least. They are certainly beginning to take more control of the raft, often ousting the usually resident Cormorants. They are just about tolerating them for now though but will not stand for any company or any nonsense if they begin to nest.

    Other feisty ones are the Lapwings - often seen chasing away other birds - particularly crows and gulls in front of the first platform - their continued presence and behavior is a good sign they are nesting or have youngsters. Small groups of Lapwing are also using the reserve with groups of up to 14 seen, including this morning. Redshank are also present here with at least 3 individuals seen - possibly 4 and one was seen to 'have a go' at a passing Marsh Harrier on Tuesday. The Lapwings stayed out of this one but have been seen chasing off the Redshank if it got too close. One bird has also frequently perched on the rails by the front island offering great views and photo opportunities:


    It was in the same area this morning that a Roe Deer was seen out grazing - must be worth it to swim to the islands. 

    Other mammals recorded this week include a Water Vole seen in the ditch around Waltons, Rabbits seen on the footpath side of the main drain, Grey Squirrel hopping along the rail path and a Stoat which crossed the entrance between the 1st platform and Waltons - a common crossing place for Stoats and Weasels in the past.

    As previously mentioned there's plenty of insect life around the reserve - I won't even try to learn them all. Some of the more obvious of course are Dragonflies, Damselflies and Butterflies.

    I must admit I haven't been particularly mindful of Butterflies this week but from memory have seen Brimstone on several occasions, Peacock, Speckled Wood & Green Veined White. John Crispin also photographed this Common Blue around Loxtons - thanks John.

    As predicted Waltons (particularly the back path) is alive with 4 spotted chaser, with hundreds, if not thousands, present. A cool morning should bring great rewards but even in the warm it's a wonderful sight as I saw, with a couple of visitors on Tuesday afternoon as they put up swarms of the as they walked. I've also recorded Scarce Chaser this week along with my first Emperor and first Black Tailed Skimmers of the season. 

    Damselflies are in plentiful supply with thousands of Blue Tailed Damselflies along with Azure & Variable. I've also seen my first Common Blues of the season. The path to the Tor View Hide is a good place to spot them all as it's quite sheltered. We also have Red Eyed Damselfly and a White Legged Damselfly recorded on the rail path on Tuesday. I've also seen my favourite - the Banded Demoiselle in a few places including the bridge over the drain by the road and in the new Car Park. 

    Banded Demoiselle - Giles Morris

    Banded Demoiselle were also seen at Tinneys this week - the isolated plot we manage on the Sharpham road. They are by the stream/South Drain to the right of the main gateway. I also had Grey Wagtail in the same area, a Marsh Harrier and for the 2nd week running a Cuckoo around the back path.

    Cuckoos are of course on the main reserve - Loxtons a frequent haunt on the dead trees - up to 4 seen by 1 person. John Crispin managed to capture some shots of one taking off this week:

    Also this week: plenty of Marsh Harrier activity - it's rare not to get a sighting, 2 Barn Owls seen hunting from the 1st platform 9pm Thursday (we'll be checking the owl boxes very soon - fingers crossed), 7 or 8 Hobby seen on Tuesday but a few others throughout the week, Treecreeper seen last Saturday, Spotted Flycatcher late last week, very vocal Song Thrush in the car park by the top boardwalk and a Peregrine in a nasty dispute with 2 Marsh Harriers - apparently it looked like a big ball of birds at one point - luckily it looks as though all came away unscathed. 

    That's it for this week. Thanks as usual to John Crispin for all his topical photos. He's on a well deserved holiday this coming week so I'll trawl through my archives to supplement the blog next week.

    Remember if you're into your social media you can follow us on twitter @RSPBSomerset or on Facebook: Ham Wall Nature Reserve for all the latest news

    Have a great weekend!

    Posted by Stephen Couch

  • 29 May 2015

    Recent Sightings at RSPB Ham Wall - 29.05.2015

    There seems to have been an increase in Bittern activity this week - suggests that perhaps some females are off nests and out feeding youngsters. There have again been several chases involving multiple birds. his photograph taken by John Crispin is likely to be a female being chased by a male. The size difference as well as their behaviour lends themselves to this conclusion. There are still several booming males being heard during the day too. 3 were even seen and heard calling in the dark after dusk on Wednesday evening.

    Bittern chase!

    I was off work today but did have to pop in briefly - it was just after the rain stopped and the air was alive with Swifts and the odd Swallow too. No Martins although 12 House Martins were seen yesterday although for some this year they seem to have been a rare commodity. In the brief time I was there I did catch sight of both Bittern and Great White Egret and heard a host of warblers. Blackcaps are plentiful and there are also several Garden warblers, plenty of chattering Reed Warblers in the reedbeds with the odd Sedge Warbler for company.

    There have been plenty of Great White Egret sightings all week - it's hard to have a visit and not see one to be honest. The 1st platform, Waltons & Loxtons probably the best places to see them along with Bitterns and Grey Herons. The areas seem to be full of Marsh Frogs and there's quite a chorus - particularly when the sun shines. This goes some way to explaining the large number of sightings here.

    A stay awhile in Loxtons screen should give you sightings of Hobby - they also hunt over Waltons. These areas are home to 100's of 4 spotted chasers. A walk around the back of Waltons on a cool morning or evening should bring great rewards and photo opportunities of reed stems covered in these dragonflies. Loxtons screen also a good bet for Common Terns - they've been showing some interest in the old tern rafts there but will have to oust the resident Cormorants first (they managed it last year). They have also however been seen on the small rafts at Waltons on several occasions this week. Another bird being seen hassling others has been the Lapwings. Up to 5 have been seen defending what must be either nests or young against Great White Egrets, Marsh Harriers and Grey Herons from the 1st platform. They also chased off Redshanks who must also be nesting close by. Up to 3 have been seen and occasionally have perched on the rails by the islands.

    Also from Loxtons: Kingfishers, Cuckoos perched in dead trees nearby (4 birds seen on Tuesday in the area) and Pochard with young pictured below.

    Pochard with young

    Marsh Harriers are using several areas of the reserve - great views from the Tot View Hide yesterday but lots of activity visible from both platforms. The male below photographed by John Crispin yesterday.

    Buzzards are also seen regularly - particularly from the 2nd platform where 2 birds were seen circling,  interacting and calling together on Wednesday.

    It's been a bit wet & windy at times this week making butterfly spotting a little more difficult - a few less species seen by me this week - although it doesn't mean the others aren't there. I recorded Speckled Wood, Green veined White, Orange Tip, Peacock and Red Admiral this week.

    In terms of mammals I've only seen Roe Deer and Rabbit but there are plenty of signs of others including: Water vole, Badger, Otter, Field Vole and fox.

    Plenty of duck about with broods of Mallard seen. Also Gadwall, Shoveler, Tufted Duck, Pochard and these 2 Shelduck seen on Thursday morning. 


    Also this week: Barn Owl seen at 8am on Thursday, Spotted Flycatcher along the rail path on Tuesday, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Peregrine reported last Saturday & Sunday, Osprey also seen catching a fish at Loxtons on Friday and a brief glimpse on Saturday, Goldcrest by the car park boardwalk and Blue Tits still using the nest box in the same area.

    As previously mentioned plenty of 4 spotted chasers about this week but also seen: Hairy Dragonfly, Broad bodied Chaser, Scarce Chaser, Red Eyed Damselfly, Variable Damselfly, Azure Damselfly and plenty of Blue Tailed Damselflies and many mating pairs as pictured below.

    I've also been attempting to identify some of our bumblebees and think I've seen: Buff Tailed, White Tailed, Early, Common Carder and Tree Bumblebee - but I think I need more work here!

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


    Posted by Stephen Couch

  • 22 May 2015

    Recent Sightings at RSPB Ham Wall - 22.05.2015

    Yet another interesting week on the reserve. It seems that even after 9 years of working here there's always something new to experience and enjoy. I was out trying to find poo of various animals for our who's poo? event next week ( this is not the new experience I'm talking about), I was checking around sluices for signs of Otter and mink when I saw a water vole swimming in the sluice - managed to grab a couple of photos on my phone and even film it for a short while (you can view it on our facebook page). I then realised that the poor thing must have fallen in and was stuck as we had blocked the pipe at the other end to help hold water in. He was beginning to struggle so I picked him out and left him covered over by the sluice. It was gone the next day so fingers crossed it was ok. I've been doing some water vole surveying too and there are good signs out there of their presence.

    Another new experience was that of witnessing the emergence of a dragonfly. I was able to see the larvae on the stem of vegetation and saw it emerging and got a few photos. The last bit was going to take a while so I left it to it and returned about 2 1/2 hours later and it had gone - but a wonderful thing to witness (again there's a short film and some photos on the Ham Wall Facebook page). I'm guessing this is a hairy dragonfly but happy to accept other suggestions! The emergence of 4 spotted chasers has continued soon - there are plenty around Waltons and Loxtons which may help to explain the good number of Hobby sightings being seen in these areas. Nothing like the numbers of previous weeks but always great birds to watch. 2 perched together in trees around Loxtons this week and good views can be had from the screen there or close by. Dragonflies on the wing at present are: 4 Spotted Chaser, Broad Bodied Chaser and Hairy Dragonfly with more set to join them in the next couple of weeks. Damselflies include: Azure, Variable, Red Eyed, Large Red, Blue Tailed and Banded Demoiselle.

    I always say May is the best month for Bitterns and despite the rather changeable weather it has been a good week. Several chases of 2 or 3 birds have been witnessed including 2 in an altercation of the education area at Waltons. This photo from a couple of years ago will give you an idea what it was like: Great White Egrets are another favourite at the moment with many sightings each day, often with 2 or more birds seen together. Waltons, Loxtons and the 1st platform the most regular haunts but really they could be seen anywhere. Little Egrets are present too and just occasionally they will stand together to really give you an idea of the size difference. Around 20 Little Egrets were spotted in the area between the 2 platforms this week.

    Also between the 2 platforms but in the tree line on the rail path a Spotted Flycatcher was "spotted" last weekend and joins a host of other birds with the Blackcap quite dominant. There do however seem to be more Garden Warblers this year and I spotted a pair by the boardwalk not far from the otter sculpture this morning. Willow warblers are also present but not in large numbers. Great Tit, Blue Tit, Long Tailed Tit, Goldfich, Chaffinch, Bullfinch, Blackbird, Robin and Chiffchaff have all been seen along here this week with a few vocal Song Thrushes.

    In terms of waders, the most obvious are the Lapwings from the 1st platform still chasing off or at least dive bombing all comers. Any Great White Egret which stands close enough gets dive bombed until they move off. Redshank have also been seen out here on a daily basis although they are a little harder to track down and a single Black Tailed Godwit flew over on Sunday. Small groups of Whimbrel have also been seen from this location this week.

    Another regular sight is that of hunting Marsh Harriers. Most areas of the reserve have been host to hunting birds this week but the platforms both offer good wide vistas with which to see them. The following bird was photographed by John Crispin this week. It's catch one of the many very noisy Marsh Frogs heard (and seen) around the reserve. Waltons is a good area for them but you can just as easily see and hear them in the car park pools. I was working with volunteers in the car park yesterday and its amazing what you can see from there sometimes - we had close views of Bittern Marsh Harrier and Great White Egret and the Swifts and Martins put on a great display flying low over the pools.

    The legs of this frog look far too long to be that of common frog.

    In previous years they have been seen carrying a variety of prey including young birds and even grass snakes. I was out walking on the reserve with my kids on Saturday and they found a grass snake. Unfortunately it was dead (not long dead though) and had an injured tail - guess something was disturbed or mobbed and dropped it. They also found newly emerged dragonflies with their wings still a bit crumpled - great to see them engaging with nature and if I do say so myself - on a great nature reserve.

    Volunteers also saw Roe deer and a small fox cub this week on their travels and I discovered what I think is a foxes earth on my hunt for The Who's Poo? event this week so I guess the two things tie up. I also saw a rabbit (not astounding I know but we've had hardly any in recent years. It was by our electric pumps and eel pass (we are catching a few each week). Cuckoos are around and heard each day. I've seen one flying across the area in front of the 2nd platform twice this week but have also seen them perched in trees around Loxtons (like the Hobbies) and heard them from the old rail bridge looking over the eel pass to the wood. This area is also a possible place to spot Kingfishers. Kingfishers have also been reported from Long Drove (an isolated unit beyond Waltons and the fishing pools) - they've nested here previously and look set to again. 70 Greylag Geese were seen there this morning too and we often get Linnets in some of the bramble patches.

    Some shots of Cuckoo in flight. Their wing shape and long tail means they are often confused with birds of prey by the less experienced bird watcher.

    Also this week: 2 Crane reported flying high over the reserve on Tuesday and another high flyer - a Red Kite flying East on Sunday. The same day saw a Shelduck from the 1st platform and our friendly Egytian Goose (still around) flying north. Great Crested Grebes still nesting from the 1st platform but both them and Little grebe seen easily from the Tor View Hide. I've just been speaking to some ladies who were watch the parents feeding a youngster (Little Grebe) when a Grey Heron came down and tried drowning it before swallowing it whole - with some difficulty.That's nature I guess but there were still many wonderful moments this week!

    Have a great weekend!

    Posted by Stephen Couch

  • 17 May 2015

    Recent Sightings at RSPB Ham Wall - 15.05.2015

    Another week  packed full of wildlife on the reserve, although the mixed bag of weather hasn't made things easy. Thursday in particular was so awful we cancelled the Bittern surveys and the Bitterns in Hot Pursuit event or as Ray Summers the Warden put it Bitterns in Wet Suits event.  We'll be running more - every Thursday in May and the first 2 in June as well, so more opportunities. Bitterns are still active though, several lots of 3 birds together seen this week including twice today and a pair flying  around at about 3.30pm. Also interesting to see the Lapwings dive bombing a Great White Egret from the 1st platform around the same time. 

    When the weather did finally clear on Thursday I quickly nipped out to strim around the platforms and benches etc - it's a good time to do at as there are few people around. I could hear the reserve coming back to life as the rain cleared with an increase in song and from the 1st platform a host of Swifts, Swallows and Martins began to show themselves. Lovely to watch as many flew low over the water hunting insects. There are plenty on the wing and in particular an emergence of dragonflies with more Hairy dragonflies from last week but also a number of 4 spotted chasers. Soon these will number in their hundreds if not thousands around the Waltons loop if previous years are anything to go by. Also Broad Bodied chaser of which I encountered a newly emerged female this week - I'll post a couple of photos of it on our Facebook and Twitter pages for you to see. 

    Damselflies are out in force too with: Azure, Variable, Blue Tailed, Large Red and Red Eyed (pictured below) all recorded this week.

    Of course these are some of the Hobby's favourite snacks and they are still out in good numbers but not the hoards of last week where up to 50 were reported at one time. They have still given plenty of pleasure however with one excited visitor telling me that they had seen 16 together - great to see visitors so joyful at the wildlife on offer. Hobbies have been perched up occasionally on the dead trees around Loxtons and so to have Cuckoo.

    John Crispin managed to get these shots this week (although at another location on the reserve - but you get the idea).

    Also seen at Loxtons this week include Kingfisher and Marsh Harrier (although 1st platform also good for these) and is probably your best bet for Bearded Tits - just as you cut through from Waltons - but I make no promises on this one.

    There's been a few waders around this week, although we have very little mud on offer. Lapwings from 1st platform already mentioned, 20 Whimbrel last Sunday (9th) flying north followed by a further 10 an hour or so later. A Common Sandpiper was seen briefly around Loxtons while we've had brief visits from Black Tailed Godwits with 4 on Monday from the 1st platform and 55 seen from the second platform (in flight) on Wednesday along with a single Egyptian Goose. 2 Greylag geese have also been seen on the reserve this week along with the usual Canada Geese with one bunch of 6 adults forming a crèche with 14 youngsters between them.

    Black Tailed Godwits - you can check for the Hudsonian Godwit but it's not there!!

    Common Terns have also been spotted with 3 last weekend and a further 2 on Thursday swooping low over the Loxtons rafts where they bred last year - they had a real go at the Cormorants and Black Headed Gulls which were perched there.

    Common Terns on the attack!

    We are starting to see young birds moving around with adults. Mute Swans are the most obvious and this week a pair were seen with 4 cygnets in the canal/main drain which runs through the reserve. Wilst I'm writing about Mute Swans this tagged adult was seen this week with the yellow ZAL ring (via Euring Colour ring recording team). This bird was ringed at Abbotsbury as a female on 04/07/06 it hatched that year but not at Abbotsbury.

    Another great sighting this week was that of Water Rail chicks being seen around the base of the Tor View Hide on Friday (15th). Adults have been seen here occasionally in recent weeks so its always worth a quiet approach and a quick look over the side.

    Also this week: Lots of action from Great White Egrets - the 1st platform and the Waltons section have been the best places to see them but 3 were seen together from the 2nd platform on Sunday. Great Crested Grebes continue to sit on a nest in front of the 1st platform but they can also be seen easily from the Tor View Hide along with Little Grebe. Barn Owls have also been spotted out hunting in the late evening - 2 different males from the 2 sets of Owl boxes in front of the 1st platform. One's also been spotted on the north of the reserve suggesting that we could have a repeat of last years 3 breeding pairs. There are plenty of warblers in full song around the reserve - the rail path trees the best for this - Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler, Garden Warbler and Whitethroat all present and in the reedbed Reed Warblers and the occasional Sedge Warbler. Roe Deer was spotted on Friday really close to the Waltons screens and seen by a number of visitors.

    That's it for this week! Hope you are having a good weekend!

    Posted by Stephen Couch

Your sightings

Grid reference: ST4439 (+2km)

Water Rail ()
6 Jul 2015
Kingfisher ()
6 Jul 2015
Cetti's Warbler ()
6 Jul 2015
Common Sandpiper (1)
4 Jul 2015
Cuckoo (1)
3 Jul 2015
Gadwall ()
6 Jul 2015
Shoveler ()
6 Jul 2015
Pochard ()
6 Jul 2015
Buzzard ()
6 Jul 2015
Great Black-backed Gull ()
6 Jul 2015

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

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