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Recent sightings

  • 21 November 2014

    Recent Sightings from RSPB Ham Wall - 21.11.2014

    Don't seem to have had much time for actually getting out on the reserve this week and seeing what's about. A training course took up Tuesday and we've spent a good couple of day doing odd jobs in the new car park area. Things are starting to come together but there's still  a fair bit to do. The contractors should be in Monday & Tuesday to finish the surfacing and infilling - once this is leveled out and tidied up it should start looking a lot more like a car park. I'm not making any predictions about an opening day - there may well be unforeseen delays but early December is what we're aiming for.

    Thursday was a glorious day and helped us achieve a lot in the car park. During the day I was surprised to still be seeing dragonflies on the wing. One single Ruddy Darter & a mating pair were present and there were several sightings of Red Admiral Butterflies too, enjoying the sunshine. The pools are coming to life too with many water loving invertebrates residing within but also both Marsh Frog and Common Frog spotted - time to start thinking about somewhere to hibernate you'd think!

    The early part of the week saw the return of a few passage waders including Ruff, Dunlin & Green Sandpiper all recorded from the 2nd platform (Ruff & Dunlin also seen within Loxtons). The trail & screen are still closed due to the track repairs but bottom path still open. A Spotted Redshank was also sighted last Saturday (15th) from the 2nd platform too and I flushed a group of 19 Snipe from a splashy field distant of the 1st platform this morning.

    Green Sandpiper

    Wildfowl numbers are now on the up with significant gains in the numbers of Wigeon & Teal (c360) in particular. These are accompanied by Tufted Duck, Pochard (6 males), Gadwall, Mallard & Shoveler. Lapwings at the 2nd platform are adding both colour and noise and when, on occasion, they fly en masse it provides a wonderful spectacle to enjoy - particularly when the sun is shining. 

    On Wednesday there were several Tawny Owls heard calling (first thing in the day) from the first strip of wood on the left (Westwood) from the Central Wood and from the copse just after the rail path bridge on the right. Just before the rail bridge a Song Thrush was singing the same day. Another was singing up at our workshop area at the Avalon Marshes Centre on Thursday and today a Mistle Thrush calling and flitting about in a large Holly bush in the garden opposite. 

    Bitterns have been sighted on several occasions this week - luck of the draw whether you are in the right place to see them though. Daily sightings of Great White Egret - 1st or 2nd platform where they show well - particularly early morning where they may be seen stalking in the shallows closer to the platform. 

    Marsh Harriers are also being sighted on a daily basis - there are plenty of targets for them to hunt at this time of year.

    Marsh Harrier

    Also this week: 2 Roe Deer seen running along the top edge of the Waltons Trail, Kingfishers in Loxtons and from both platforms, Greylag Geese earlier in the week from the 2nd platform, a pair of Stonechats at Tinneys (the isolated plot on the Sharpham to Walton village road), Great Spotted Woodpecker, Sparrowhawk and an increase in Fieldfare & Redwing numbers(c40 and c20 respectively seen on Thursday).



    Starlings numbers are still climbing c400,000 is the number being banded about. The flock is still split a with a group still at the Meare Heath section of Shapwick Heath and 2 groups on Ham Wall - the first at Waltons but probably the biggest was towards the far end of Ham Wall (past the 2nd platform) where large numbers were seen funneling over the rail path on Thursday evening. Remember they can change roost sites at any time so this (and the Starling Hotline message) is just a guide to try and help. The Hotline is worth ringing and is updated frequently thanks to volunteer John Crispin : 07866 554142

    Finally,  away from Ham Wall, a couple of shots of the Cranes to finish with.

    These were taken near Martock in an area the birds have been using for a while. They have however been seen recently from Stathe/Oath on the River Parrett Way. We are so privileged to have such a wonderful array of species to enjoy in our Somerset countryside and on our reserves!

    Have a great weekend!!

    Posted by Stephen Couch

  • 14 November 2014

    Recent Sightings at RSPB Ham Wall - 14.11.2014

    A week more in keeping with the time of year this week. Some very rainy days have not dampened our spirits however and there's plenty to report as always.

    Very little progress with the car park this week as we await more material to infill the, soon to be planted blocks, between parking areas. The surface then needs grading to get a level finish. Early December now looks the best bet with toilets to follow in January as things stand. Staff and volunteers have been in and made a start on a few other things though, as we prepare for opening. 

    Work has also started on the Loxtons trail. All but the bottom path is closed at the moment as work is carried out to raise the height of the path, to alleviate the flooding problems we have experienced in recent years. Signage is in place and machinery is working on the banks so please don't pass the barrier tape for your own safety. Sorry for any inconvenience as the work is carried out but a fully functioning path should be up and running in a few weeks.

    There's a good variety of bird life to spot at the moment. From the first platform a Kingfisher this morning and a  range of wildfowl was present: Mallard, Gadwall, Shoveler, Teal, Wigeon and Tufted Duck all very visible this morning. Last weekend saw 17 Pochard also present before they took off and headed west. Not before John Crispin took this shot however:


    The WeBS  (Wetland Bird Survey) carried out this month showed an increase on October numbers of Teal, Shoveler, Tufted Duck & Lapwing while a small decrease in Gadwall & Wigeon numbers. Lapwings are very prevalent at the moment - particularly in the imaginatively titled 'Phase 2' section.  This is the recently cut and flooded area between the 2 platforms. A couple of hundred are present here on most days and are often joined by several Pied Wagtails and the occasional Meadow Pipit. 

    A short walk on to the 2nd platform brings further rewards with a group of c60 Greylag Geese now quite settled here. First seen last week they were still present in the sunshine of what was a glorious autumn morning today. A Great White Egret was also present along with a few Little Egrets, several Lapwing and the usual Wildfowl. I could also hear a few Canada Geese but was heading away from the area and did not see them.

    My walk also rewarded me with a beautiful looking male Stonechat. These have been seen just beyond the area that the 1st platform faces on numerous occasions recently. A pair is present here. These birds often flit from the top of one reed stem to another and can be seen to flick their tail - a nice characteristic. We often see them in the Autumn and Winter months.

    Male Stonechat

    Female Stonechat

    A nice comparison - they are even sat on the same piece of Reed mace.

    Another autumn/winter visitor - the Fieldfare has been seen in good numbers this week. c100 flew across the reserve on Wednesday but a few smaller groups have also been seen. On occasions a few Redwings are among them.

    Our most famous winter visitor is of course the Starling. numbers are growing and estimates of between 300,000 - 400,000 are being talked about. The flock has been slightly split though - some at Shapwick (Meare Heath I think) and Waltons at Ham Wall. The morning take off is impressive too and on Thursday a glorious red sky was present just before the event but unfortunately faded before take off to the disappointment of photographers. Remember the Starling Hotline can be used as a guide to help you find the roost. They can move around a bit but this will give you the last known location - 07866 554142

    Also this week - several Chiffchaff about including one this morning feeding in a willow tree, 3 Dunlin on Loxtons on Sunday 9th, several Snipe c20 disturbed by me this morning on the north of the reserve with my machine, Great Spotted and Green Woodpecker heard in our wet woodlands, Red Admiral butterflies on the wing this week (several in the sun this morning), Marsh Harriers daily including a well marked male from 1st platform on Thursday, juvenile Buzzard still calling from our woodlands for long periods, Grey Wagtail in our composting area (close to 2nd platform area) and Bullfinch by the station cottage on the rail path (often seen on the stretch from the car park to the 1st platform). Occasional Bittern flights too, including 2 flying right to left in front of the 1st platform on Monday. 

    Forgot to mention a Water Pipit seen last week (sightings this week on Shapwick Heath reminded me). The flooded area between the 2 platforms (phase 2) might be a good place to search.

    Finally this week a photo of a Pheasant on the wing after a fight with another male - the feathers in the beak tell their own story!!

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

    Posted by Stephen Couch

  • 7 November 2014

    Recent sightings at RSPB Ham Wall - 07.11.2014

    The colder weather has seen some significant changes on the reserve over the last couple of weeks. Temperatures have dropped steeply for a few nights and it may have finally put pay to the majority of the remaining dragonflies we had on the reserve. Migrant Hawker and Ruddy Darter have both been seen this week however but in reduced numbers. Butterfly numbers have dropped too with my only sightings this week being of Red Admirals - including one in the new car park area this morning. A Hornet was also seen. Work has slowed here this week as we await more deliveries of soil for the infilling of the planted areas. Next week we plan to start doing some work in there ourselves to get things ready and in order for our visitors. The aim is still to get some part of the car parking open by the end of the month - this of course is dependent on some contractor work and things running smoothly but it will certainly be a blessing to relieve some pressure on the road in terms of parking. Other more minor works within the car park will then continue over time.

    As is the way of things at this time of year, birds are on the move. A Goldcrest or 2 has been seen this week - possibly migrants and it's still possible to catch sight of a Blackcap or Chiffchaff - both of which have begun to overwinter in recent years. A significant rise in Starling numbers often coincides with colder weather but it's hard to estimate numbers of birds on this scale. A figure of 200,000 has been mentioned this week but perhaps the best way is to come and witness the event for yourself and make your own best guess.

    This picture was taken last Saturday morning from the 1st platform as the birds lifted off. They had previously been at Shapwick, so they can move around the local area a fair bit whilst roosting. The best thing to do is to phone the Starling Hotline, where a recorded message will give you the last known location of the roost - 078Of course if they move roost sites and you are in the wrong place you can always come back in the morning before first light and witness them take off - you'll know where they went down even if distant from you, so you can guarantee seeing them (like the picture above).

    Autumn sees a lot of movement form birds - wildfowl numbers are increasing slowly (eg numbers of Teal & Wigeon) and various waders can be spotted from time to time. This week 3 Little Stint were spotted at Loxtons - they were present on Sunday and Tuesday, while Weds saw an individual bird. Tuesday also saw a single Dunlin at the same location but no sign of the Spotted Redshank from last week. Lapwings are gathering at both Loxtons and from the 2nd viewing platform c150 and a few Snipe at both locations too.

    The Loxtons screen is still a great place to sit a while. Marsh Harriers have been active here this week and you can almost guarantee a Kingfisher sighting given enough time. 2 were seen together on Tuesday.  A Water Rail has been seen a couple of times flying from right to left to the exposed mud on the left hand side. Have a little patience and you may be rewarded with the same or gain views of the bird feeding. 

    2 Little Egrets frequent the area daily and often a Great White Egret pops in (although the 2 platforms may be a better bet for this bird) and Mallard, Shoveler, Teal and Tufted Duck can all be seen and have Little Grebes, Cormorants, Lapwing and Black Headed Gulls for company. Bearded Tits have been spotted here occasionally (2 flew in front of the screen on Tuesday) & Bitterns too make the odd appearance as the shot below shows:

    From the 2nd platform - a selection of wildfowl, Snipe & Lapwing already mentioned and last weekend a group of around 50 Greylag Geese dropped in - a wonderful sight. John Crispin grabbed these shots of the action (Thanks John!)

    Also this week:  Lots of Shoveler from the 1st platform, a pair of Stonechats seen from the same location on Saturday (1st), Great Spotted Woodpecker & Green Woodpecker yesterday (Thurs 6th), c300 Canada Geese on Wednesday morning between the 2 platforms in flight, Redwing, Fieldfare and Redpoll all seen locally so it wont be long before we see good groups on the reserve, lots of pied wagtails in areas where water levels are on the rise, large groups of Long Tailed Tits, Common Frogs & Toads seen whilst moving logs on Thursday to create habitat piles in our wet woodlands, Raven flying over and a Weasel seen running over the rail path (as last week).

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

    Posted by Stephen Couch

  • 31 October 2014

    Recent Sightings at RSPB Ham Wall - 31.10.2014

    The mild weather has continued and is giving us some wonderful days to enjoy autumns wildlife. At Ham Wall the winter wildfowl numbers are climbing slowly with a few extra Teal & Wigeon around this week. I've also seen small parties of Redwing flying over the reserve and plenty of waders to keep us amused.

    The very brief star of the week was a Spotted Redshank which was spotted in front of the 2nd platform last Friday (too late for the last blog), but was disturbed when a large flock of Lapwing were spooked (well it is Halloween) into the air - it hasn't been picked out again but I guess it could still be lurking somewhere.

    Also too late for the blog last week was a record of at least 12 Jack Snipe which were put up by the contractor working in the field on the northern edge of the reserve in front of the 1st platform. I had a great view myself of one at Greylake this week as I was using our reed cutter to clear vegetation in front of their hide - it sat just 2 feet away from my machine - beautiful markings.

    Large numbers of Lapwing have been present all week and over 200 were in front of the 2nd platform (to the left) on the exposed mud around lunchtime today. There has generally been slightly less activity in this area this week - although several duck species have been present with occasional visits from Great White Egrets. 8 Black Tailed Godwits were recorded on Weds - definitely worth scanning across.

    2nd Platform this week

    Generally more action has been seen from the 1st platform and from the screen at Loxtons. We have continued to pump this area (Loxtons) for essential bank/path repair work which will commence soon. As a result of this, a good deal of mud has been exposed attracting a range of species. 2 Green Sandpiper were spotted last weekend and 3 Black Tailed Godwits were present both today & yesterday. Lapwing have been commonplace too and a range of duck species: Mallard, Gadwall, Teal,Tufted Duck and a few Shoveler along with Little Egrets, Little Grebes x2 and Great White Egret.

    Loxtons this week.

    Loxtons has also been a great place to spot Kingfishers recently. A visit to the screen usually pays dividends after just a few minutes and there's plenty else to keep you occupied while you wait. Marsh Harriers have also been seen here - more distantly, often flying on behind the Waltons section too. While the water is down in here we may well take advantage and get our reed cutter in to clear the islands back a bit more of vegetation and open things up a little further - apologies for any temporary loss of the bird spectacle while this happens.

    The warm weather has meant that there have been plenty of butterflies on the wing - today was particularly good. We were inspecting the progress of the car park work and picking up on any extra jobs we need to do and seeing Red Admiral, Comma and a lovely Clouded Yellow (saw one at Greylake on Monday too)flying by. The odd Speckled Wood is also present too. We also watched Ruddy Darters mating and egg laying in the car park pools - good to see them already being colonised by a number of species. Migrant Hawkers are also still on the wing. 

    It was interesting to see footage of Otters at Leighton Moss on Autumn Watch this week. Sightings are hard to come by here but we do have evidence of their presence. John Crispin undertakes a monthly survey and this month located 3 spraints (droppings) and 4 runs - this is up on last month. Of course we have built a new otter holt on the reserve this month - the white pipes visible from the 1st platform indicate where it is. These pass down into the chamber so that in the future we can drop in cameras and catch some otter action of our own if they chose to make it their home.

    Another sign of autumn is the appearance of more fungi - a common one to find on the reserve is Fly Agaric - a very familiar toadstool to many people. They appear in late summer and should still be present until the first frosts of winter. They are poisonous to us however, although some rodents are known to eat them.

    Fly Agaric

    Also this week: a Weasel which ran swiftly across the old rail path on Weds, both Roe Deer and Kestrel seen frequently on the borders of the reserve, Water Pipit this morning from the 2nd platform, plenty of Bittern flights with some calling/croaking in flight, c30 Pied Wagtails in the section (now re-flooding) in between the 2 platforms mobbing a Sparrowhawk, another flock of c30 birds - mostly Reed Buntings and Meadow Pipits on the maize fields to the north of the reserve, a Ruff flying over the 1st platform on Thurs but 10 seen from the 2nd platform on Monday, Bearded Tits in front but well to the left of the 1st platform and a Barn Owl by the road close to our offices and the Shapwick Heath entrance yesterday.

    Starlings are still just a few thousand - things are still quite mild. A cold snap in the east could see a large surge in numbers. The hotline is up and running - 07866 554142 for the last known location. They have been at Shapwick Heath this week I believe, around the scrape area but check the hotline first in case of a change.

    Finally, an unusual pose from a Mute Swan - it was very curious to see how it was holding its wings - it was actually preening. Bird behavior still throws up many oddities to keep things interesting.


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

    Posted by Stephen Couch

  • 24 October 2014

    Recent Sightings at RSPB Ham Wall - 24.10.2014

    A week similar to the last at Ham Wall this week. It still feels as though we are in a bit of an autumn lull before the bulk of wintering birds arrive. There's plenty to get excited about though, as we are privileged enough to have a fine selection of resident birds here in the Avalon Marshes to keep us entertained.

    The water level in the are between the 2 platforms is still rising offering a nice mix to attract a selection of birds. Most days, including this morning, have seen well over 100 Lapwing present, plus a couple of Green Sandpipers and at first light this morning 100's of duck were present although not there late morning when I was observing the area. Perhaps they had moved across to the areas in front of either platform where good numbers of water fowl have been seen this week.

    Numbers of Wigeon and Teal don't seem to be rising  particularly quickly at present but I'm sure it won't be long before we see more significant changes. It's nice to have them back, with their familiar calls being heard each day. Good numbers of Mallard and Gadwall are present as usual, interspersed with smaller numbers of Shoveler, Tufted Duck and the odd Pochard. You may still be lucky enough to see a very late Garganey (one was spotted at Shapwick Heath this week).

    Teal - John Crispin


    The second platform has recently been a good place to sit and watch awhile. Particularly if you are after sightings of Marsh Harrier which have been frequent here. Great White Egrets are often present too along with varying numbers of feeding Snipe - 15 counted on Monday but we've had over 30 recently. Other waders seen here this week include: Lapwing, Black Tailed Godwits, Ruff (4 on Sunday), Greenshank and Green Sandpiper. A collection such as this often attracts attention from more than just bird watchers - a Peregrine was seen hunting in the area on Monday before moving off south.

    A second place worth waiting awhile is the screen at Loxtons. While other areas have water levels rising, here they are being drawn down for the impending track repair work. This draining has left areas of exposed mud and shallow water visible from the screen. Very few waders are taking advantage of this currently, although a single Black Tailed Godwit was seen feeding here on Monday. Ducks are enjoying the area, with a good mix recorded this week: Mallard, Gadwall, Wigeon, Teal and a single male Pochard all seen along with Little Egrets, a Great White Egret and a couple of Bittern fights seen on Monday. John Crispin managed to capture this sequence of shots of a Bittern taking off for a short flight.

    A fine piece of Bittern action showing some great features of the bird. As well as 2 sightings at Loxtons John had another 6 from the second platform the same day.

    The windier and more rainy days offer much less in the way of insect life - dragonflies are still on the wing with both Ruddy Darter and Migrant Hawker again recorded this week. In terms of Butterflies it's been meager pickings as well, although Red Admiral, Speckled Wood and Peacock have been seen.

    In terms of mammals, there's less to report also. Signs of these creatures are there if you look hard enough but sightings are hard to come by. Roe Deer have been seen on the outer edge of the reserve while the odd Grey Squirrel has been spotted - perhaps collecting acorns from the few mature oaks, which line the rail path near Loxtons, towards the second platform.

    As the weather changes, we'll see less of reptiles & amphibians too as they begin to look for suitable places to spend the winter months: Common Frog, Marsh Frog & Common Toad have been seen during the week however.

    Also this week: 2 Ravens seen flying over the reserve, a Jack Snipe flushed by the contractor cutting vegetation with the  Tracked Tractor, a Water Rail spotted from the Tor View Hide at Waltons (others very vocal), small groups of Bearded Tits seen and heard around the reserve - including Loxtons and areas close to the footpath on the other side of the main drain, Great Spotted Woodpecker, mixed flocks of Tits & Finches, Great Crested Grebe & Little Grebe - like this one seen at Loxtons in its winter plumage.  

    Starling numbers are building - albeit very slowly. As the colder weather arrives - particularly in Easter Europe, we should see a sharp rise. In anticipation of this the Starling Hotline is now up and running. This will tell you the last known location of the roost (there is of course a vast area for them to choose from and the roost location is not necessarily consistent). We are enormously grateful to John Crispin, who does a fantastic job in keeping the starling hotline up to date (and of course sends me fantastic photos to supplement my ramblings!) Thank you John!  

    The Avalon Marshes Starling Hotline: 07786 554142

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

    Posted by Stephen Couch

  • 17 October 2014

    Recent Sightings at RSPB Ham Wall - 17.10.2014

    We've been moving a bit of water around the site this week (as well as receiving plenty from the sky too). This has been because either we have finished work in certain compartments of the reserve or we are preparing other areas for access in the near future. 

    The water in front of the 1st platform has now reached a pretty good level - the islands have a covering of water and some ducks can be seen loafing here, while Great White Egrets feed here daily too. The area in front of the 2nd platform has a little more mud showing now as water moves into the section between the 2 platforms where cutting has finished (this has been drained down and dry for some months now) - this is currently splashy and there and a number of duck, Lapwing & Snipe have been seen using this section - these numbers could increase as water levels rise so keep a watch.

    The area of most change however has got to be Loxtons. We have continued to pump down this section to enable a contractor to build up the pathways to try and solve our flooding problems in this area. A fair amount of tree felling & pruning has been undertaken here too to compliment this work. It is hope he can start in the first week of November. 

    The upside of this is that the area in front of the Loxtons screen has been more productive than usual. The left had spit has both muddy areas exposed and shallow water making it suitable for a wide range of birds. Frequent Great White Egret visits here along with Little Egrets help make this an interesting place to sit and watch for a while.

    Little Egrets

    Great White Egret landing in Loxtons (plus a Little Egret for a size comparison)

    I sat here a while on Wednesday with some volunteers while we had lunch and saw both the above, Great Crested Grebe, Cormorants, Grey Heron, Teal, Mallard, Gadwall and Tufted Duck. We were also lucky enough to see a Water Rail scoot across the open water in front of us before disappearing, a Kingfisher and a  Bittern fly over. On Thursday one landed about 20 feet from the hide in the reeds while John Crispin was present, unfortunately didn't show well enough for a good photo before flying off. 

    There's also a good opportunity to see Little Grebes close up as they come quite close to the screen, while Kingfishers are a common sight here they are very aware of any noise or movement and so are easily spooked. A drake Mandarin (in eclipse) was present at the end of last week but not seen this week. 

    The area in front of the 2nd platform is also worth studying for a while. The numbers of waders here varies form day to day but commonly seen are Ruff (up to 5), Black Tailed Godwits (anything from 5 to 75), Lapwing c50 although c130 flew over the reserve this morning, 5 Whimbrel in flight over here and Loxtons on Weds, a Little Stint here on Thursday & Snipe. 32 Snipe were seen here on Thursday - the majority feeding and preening (just a handful sleeping) - a wonderful sight! Up to 5 Greenshank were also spotted the same day.

    Black Tailed Godwits

    The area is also home to a number of duck including Wigeon c50, Teal, Shoveler, Mallard & Gadwall. Bearded Tits have also put in an appearance with 3 seen here on Thursday but they have also been heard at the first platform, in Loxtons and I heard a large number together north of the 1st platform area this morning (c10).

    Away from birds and things are perhaps a little quieter now - mammals are of course much harder to see but there always a chance of Roe Deer feeding on the grassy banks, while the signs are there of Badgers and Otters using the reserve. Mice and Voles can sometimes be seen scurrying across the old railway path or in the undergrowth and we been catching a few in our workshop (they've been chewing the electrical cables) and releasing them on the reserve ( good for a bit of added diversity). 

    I also forgot to mention last week that there was a sighting of Water Vole, conveniently during a Water Vole Survey which volunteers were undertaking where they look for signs. Sightings are quite rare here - normally you just hear a plop in the water and it's gone. 

    There are still a few insects about - the most obvious of course butterflies & dragonflies. Reduced numbers this week: Peacock & Red Admiral both seen during the week and a lovely Clouded Yellow following the Waltons trail this morning. For dragonflies, I've really only seen the 2 species this week - Migrant Hawker and Ruddy Darter. The Ruddy Darters were, as last week, egg laying in pairs in shallow pools during sunny spells. A Grey Wagtail was keeping them company this week - a lovely little bird to watch.

    Red Admiral

    Also this week: 2 Great Spotted Woodpecker, 2 Raven, 2 Male Marsh Harriers & 2 Bullfinch all on Tuesday, female Sparrowhawk sat on the wooden gate where you enter Waltons from the rail path on Weds, Hornets seen passing in front of the 1st platform, vocal Water Rails across the reserve, big parties of Long Tailed Tits following the tree lines ,2  Redwing flying in front of the 1st platform also on Weds (others seen locally), plenty of Buzzard sightings, Kestrel on the north of the reserve and a slight increase in Starling numbers.

    I've not seen myself but a figure of around 10,000 has been mentioned by a couple of people going into Meare Heath at Shapwick Heath - this of course could increase by at least 100 times this over the next couple of months so worth a visit then for sure - plus we should have somewhere for people to park then too. The work in the new car park is progressing nicely - fingers crossed we will be able to open for parking by the end of November.

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

    Posted by Stephen Couch

  • 10 October 2014

    Recent Sightings at RSPB Ham Wall - 10.10.2014

    Things are most definitely changing on the reserve now - the leaves are turning brown (as is the reed), the wind has picked up and with colder nights and bouts of rain, autumn has arrived. Wildlife is responding to this too, with small parties of Swallows have passing through each day and even 1 or 2 House Martins have been reported.  Locally reports of Redwing and Fieldfare arriving in peoples gardens is a sure indicator of Autumn while on the local reserves the arrival of more Teal and Wigeon and reports of groups of Siskin show a similar theme.

    The gathering of Waders of course is an autumn highlight and this week large groups of Black Tailed Godwits have been seen in flight and 70 or more landing in front of the 2nd platform to feed along with a few Lapwing and the odd Snipe. A Green Sandpiper was also seen among them this morning.

    Black Tailed Godwits (plus the odd Lapwing)

    Godwits feeding in front of the 2nd platform

    Of course, where large numbers of wildfowl and waders gather so to do the predators such as the Marsh Harrier as the picture above shows. These birds are being seen regularly at the moment - I had one myself from the 1st platform this morning. 2 different birds were also spotted over Loxtons today. 

    Female Marsh Harrier

    Water in Loxtons has been pumped down to allow access for a digger to build up the paths around the back which have flooded annually in recent years causing long term closures for most of the trail. This work should get underway soon. It's still closed but there is access to the hide. The pumping has attracted several species as the shallow water becomes more suited to their needs.

    This morning the following list was compiled by John Crispin:

    Great White Egret x1, Marsh Harrier x2, Mallard c50, Gadwall x4, Pochard x1, Shoveler x4, Little Egret x1, Teal x9, Tufted Duck x2, Coot x4 and 2 Kinfishers flying together. Add to this the usual plethora of Cormorants on the rafts and the occasional Bittern Flight (2 this morning but there ahve been several here this week) and it's not a bad haul, so worth a walk down.

    Bearded Tits are showing well for people lately (well, better than usual anyway). A few have been spotted or heard around both Waltons and Loxtons this week and from both viewing platforms this morning - on both occasions just to the right hand side. I was just telling a visitor that they might see some there (1st platform) this morning and 3 promptly flew along  for a few yards - if only it always went like that.

    The Tor view hide is still proving popular with visitors - there's always a good chance of a Water Rail sighing here - there have been several lately. They are certainly very vocal on the reserve at the moment, so it looks like we have a healthy population. Little & Great Crested Grebe were seen from there this morning and there are one or two Snipe hidden away on some of the edges - you may be lucky enough to track one down.

    Preening Snipe 


    The warmer spells are still proving good news for the remaining dragonflies and butterflies. Ruddy Darters are still frequently seen - some pairing off and egg laying in pools this week. Migrant Hawker, Southern Hawker and Common Darter also seen. For butterflies - still plenty of Specked Wood but also Small Tortoiseshell, Red Admiral and Peacock recorded.

    One of the best sightings of the week was that of more Great Crested Newts - another youngster from this year and an adult male this time. We are currently doing some specific habitat management work to help these at the moment and ensure the long tern survival of the reserves populations - so it's fantastic to see them. Smooth Newt has also been seen this week and we also get Palmate newt on the reserve. Other Amphibians such as Common Toad and Common Frog are also being seen but it won't be long before they start to look for somewhere to lay low for the winter. Marsh Frogs too are present on the reserve and have been heard croaking away this week during sunny spells.

    Also this week: 2 Roe deer disturbed from the Central Wood, Hobby from 1st platform this morning, Peregrine from the same point on Tuesday, Tawny Owls heard calling from Central Wood and Barn Owl from woods in front of the first platform, Raven, plenty of Buzzards and Great Spotted Woodpecker too. 

    Starlings currently roosting in Waltons c2000 birds this of course is subject to change but gives you an idea.

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

    Posted by Stephen Couch

  • 3 October 2014

    Recent Sightings at RSPB Ham Wall - 03.10.2014

    It's been another beautiful week on the reserve and this warm & dry weather is really helping with the progress of the new car park and our habitat management work too. We're clearing one particular low lying area of scrub while it's dry (it'll be inaccessible once the rain starts). The area is notable for Great Crested newts (but only if we keep the scrub to a minimum) - the good news is an immature Great Crested Newt from this year was found in this area last week, so they are breeding here - long may it continue.

    We've also been pumping down the water in the Loxtons compartment to enable us to access the waterlogged trail. We've been taking out quite a few trees to enable a contractor to access spare clay behind them. This will be used to raise the height of the footpath by some way to stop, or at least reduce, the perennial flooding problem. However, that part of the path remains closed for now until work is completed and the track made good for walking - it might take a while.

    You can still access the Loxtons screen though - often a good place to catch Kingfishers flying or perching. Bearded Tits too have been seen in this area this week, as well as in Waltons and in front of both platforms - usually just to the right of each. Small flocks continue to move about each day and there have been numerous sightings from all the local reserves - so while the weathers fine, there's a good chance of a sighting.

    Loxtons has also played host to small Starling flocks this week c 1500-2000 birds coming in (just a small taster of what's to come). On Monday they had all settled when a Sparrowhawk came in and sent them all up spiraling in the air. The Starling hotline is not yet operational - not until numbers begin to grow more significantly but we'll keep you posted.  

    A few Bittern flights have been seen over Loxtons this week too, with one calling in flight on Tuesday. There's no real pattern to their flights at the moment - you just have to stay vigilant to get your sighting - there are plenty around. This one is still managing to fly proficiently despite being well into moult and missing several flight feathers.

    The area in front of the first platform is finally beginning to become more splashy - there are a few duck present inc Mallard & Gadwall and a pair of Tufted duck also in moult. Once more under water, these areas around the edges of the cut reed can be a good place to look for Bitterns, particularly on sunny mornings and Great White Egrets will frequent the area for fishing throughout the winter.

    Currently, the area in front of the second platform is their favourite haunt. At least 2 seen here most days along with a good selection of wildfowl: c40 Wigeon are present along with Teal, Mallard, Gadwall, a single Pochard, Tufted Duck and the odd Shoveler.

    There's waders here too: 2 Ruff on most days and a handful of Black Tailed Godwits (the scrape at Shapwick Heath has been home to large numbers of these this week). Snipe & Lapwing also use this area but a scope would be useful to pick things out.

    Marsh Harriers are seen on a daily basis here and over Waltons often 2 at a time - be great to build on our success of fledging 4 youngsters from our nest on Ham Wall this year. 

    Butterflies are still around but just less obvious. There still seems to be good numbers of Speckled Wood on the reserve and a couple of Small Tortoiseshells were seen yesterday. This morning I've seen 2 Red Admiral and a Clouded Yellow from the first platform.

    There still looks to be good numbers of Dragonflies too, although the majority of these are Migrant Hawkers & Ruddy Darters - Common Darter and Southern Hawker (saw a mating pair this week) are still present. Other invertebrates of note are the hornets which are continuing to use one of our Barn Owl boxes to nest in. Luckily we have plenty of other owl boxes for them to use and a Barn Owl was seen flying off the edge of the rail path near the 1st platform on Thursday (it must have landed to catch or feed on something).

    Mammals are always harder to spot but we know they are present on site through surveys and signs such as prints and droppings. Grey Squirrels can be seen running down the rail path sometimes perhaps burying acorns. Jays are doing this too of course and are seen weekly including on the feeders at the Avalon Marshes Centre Cafe ( Eco Friendly Bites! )

    Roe Deer are fairly common and can often be seen on the grassy banks around the reserve and even on the cut islands. There's plenty of evidence of badgers too. This morning I did catch sight of a fox but he'd seen me first and went hurtling across the field.

    A favourite mammal of mine is the weasel and there have been a few sightings this week from the Tor View Hide. It's been seen hunting under the cut reed but didn't manage to come into contact with the Water Rails who were just yards away and showing well (both Sunday & Monday).

    Dave Chislett took these photos on Sunday and kindly sent them in to us at the office for us to use. Thanks Dave.

    Weasel - Dave Chislett

    Water Rail - Dave Chislett       (Lots heard calling on the reserve this week.)

    Also this week - lots of activity from Kestrels in and around the reserve including 2 seen from the 2nd platform on Weds, Hobby seen from the 1st platform on Tuesday and Weds, Chiffchaff in song, Pochard with 3 well grown young in Loxtons, Great Crested Grebe & Little Grebe in Waltons, Large groups of Long Tailed Tits and male & female Stonechats seen too! Thanks as always to John Crispin for fantastic photos!

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

    Posted by Stephen Couch

  • 26 September 2014

    Recent Sightings at RSPB Ham Wall - 26.09.201

    It's been another busy week on the reserve with the car park construction in full swing, the building of an otter holt undertaken (pictures on our Facebook page) and plenty of habitat management underway. The parking areas are expected to be completed in around 4 weeks time before Western Power install a new pole & transformer to provide us with an electricity supply. A toilet block and small visitor reception building will then be installed. It could be that we open just a portion of the car park while this happens but this will help reduce the impact of roadside parking during busy periods - particularly as the footfall during the starling season increases. 

    Although it's been another pleasant week, the early mornings are often misty, cool and dam,p reminding us that it is actually autumn.

    Cormorants on the rafts at Loxtons in the morning mist

    There's plenty of other evidence of autumn with reduced numbers of Swallows and Martins being seen, although they are still passing through, Plenty of waders in evidence and growing numbers of Wigeon and Teal arriving.

    At this time of year Bearded Tits tend to form larger groups and can often be seen flying around. These movements, known as eruptions, are an indication of birds dispersing to other areas as populations swell after the breeding season. It's a time of year we survey the populations, with volunteers out on site in the warm still mornings. Several groups have been seen throughout the week and this weeks survey saw an increase on the last. They've been seen in public areas too including Waltons and from the second platform and I myself had a group of 8 in a more wooded area whilst scrub cutting with volunteers - maybe another indication that these birds are moving through their environment rather than just feeding. 

    Water is still slowly coming into the area in front of the 1st platform and we should start to see some more obvious changes here soon. The area from the second platform is still offering a good selection of birds however. Last Sunday (21st) as many as 43 Wigeon were counted (a definite increase on last week) while numbers of Teal c20 are also increasing slowly. The area is still abundant in Gadwall and Mallard too along with a few Shoveler.

    A Peregrine also flew low across the water on Sunday while 2 or 3 Marsh Harriers have been seen frequently in this area. The photos below show one disturbing a Gadwall as it hunted here this week.

    Waders are using the area too with varying numbers of Black Tailed Godwits (peaking at 23 with 1 or 2 in summer plumage) and Ruff (up to 8 recorded) present most days. Lapwing too (50 or more) are here along with a few Snipe dotted around the site. A Whimbrel flew over me on Tuesday and Green Sandpiper has also been recorded along with 2 Redshank.

    The warm weather is still benefiting butterflies and I have been particularly surprised by the numbers of Speckled Woods I've been seeing on the reserve - they look to have had a fantastic year. Comma has also been recorded along with Small White, Brimstone, Green Veined White and Clouded Yellow.

    A few dragonflies are still present with Ruddy Darters and Migrant Hawkers still quite abundant along with a few Common Darter.

    It's been a quiet week for mammals with just Grey Squirrel and Roe Deer spotted although we always find plenty of evidence of Badgers on site. In terms of Otter signs the survey this month turned up very little, although a few runs recorded suggest they are still present. Hopefully they will discover the new holt we build them this week with the help of volunteers. Before covering it over, we inserted pipes into the roof over the chamber and corridor so that at a future date small cameras could be lowered in to monitor what's going on.

      Also this week: as with last week plenty of Ravens seen flying over, Kingfishers in Waltons & Loxtons, Tawny Owls heard calling during the day from the Central Wood, a few Jays seen flying around - perhaps storing acorns for the winter, Great White Egrets - often from the 2nd platform (as many as 3 at one time), Little Egrets in here too, occasional Bittern flights, occasional sightings of Hobby too and a single female Garganey still on site. 

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

    Posted by Stephen Couch

Your sightings

Grid reference: ST4439 (+2km)

Great White Egret (2)
27 Nov 2014
Bittern ()
27 Nov 2014
Water Pipit ()
22 Nov 2014
Marsh Harrier ()
21 Nov 2014
Water Rail ()
21 Nov 2014
Cetti's Warbler ()
21 Nov 2014
Tawny Owl ()
20 Nov 2014
Kingfisher ()
20 Nov 2014
Whooper Swan ()
19 Nov 2014
Spotted Redshank (1)
15 Nov 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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