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Recent sightings

  • 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

  • 19 September 2014

    Recent Sightings at RSPB Ham Wall - 19.09.2014

    The dry weather has been a real blessing and enabled us to complete the reed cutting work in front of the 1st platform. We've cleared all we want for now (but have left a few clumps of standing reed here and there around the island edges - we felt this might be beneficial for birds using this area. The water level will now come up slowly over the next couple of weeks and should encourage some waders (there are already a few Snipe using the area, although well hidden) through to ducks and egrets as it goes from splashy to a covering of water. The flooding up of the area should discourage any regrowth and leave the area nice and open for the autumn and winter months. A female Roe Deer was seen with 2 youngsters using the area this morning - I was only talking to someone about them doing this earlier this week.

    The second platform is the pace to look for waders at the moment. 5 Ruff have been present for much of the week, while 2 Little Stint joined them earlier in the week. Varying numbers of Lapwing are present, while 3 Greenshank were here last weekend. Green Sandpipers pop in from time to time and Snipe can be picked out although a telescope is a real help in this area. Also last weekend a single Whimbrel was spotted and a few Knot have been noted: 4 on one occasion and up to 30 on another. The other wader of note this week is the Black Tailed Godwit. Flock numbers fluctuate but I did see a flock of just under 50 on Thursday over the reserve. Many of these birds are using both Ham Wall and the scrape at Shapwick Heath so it's worth giving both sites a visit to get your totals up if you're into list making. 

    The 2nd platform is also performing well for ducks too. Wigeon are arriving  with 12 seen this week, while Teal numbers will also increase over the coming weeks. Good numbers of Gadwall and Mallard are here too and a pleasing number of Shoveler can be spotted also. Having said the Garganey had left in my last blog, 2 duly turned up again the next day (either female or juv) but it may be the last we see of them for this year.

    Mallard in eclipse

    Both Little and Great White Egrets are using the area regularly too with 14 of the former seen flying over the reserve from east to west this very morning. John Crispin has sent in a few shots of the Great White Egrets (these were taken over Loxtons this week) - thanks John.

    This is a shot of the ringed bird (you can see them if you look closely). It has a black tip to the bill and suggests this is probably an adult bird. 

    No rings this time. This low flying bird has an all orange bill - this is probably a non-breeding bird.

    Coming in to land

    Fantastic looking bird - what a privilege to have them in the Avalon Marshes.

     The warm weather and long growing season can be a real bonus for many species. Weather they be migrant birds feeding up before a long journey or the invertebrates themselves taking advantage of extra nectar sources or lack of rain. Dragonfly numbers still look good although we are down to just a few species, while damselflies are notable by their absence. Stand and stare for a minute and you will see plenty of dragonflies on the wing. The bulk of them seem to be Migrant Hawkers and Ruddy Darters but Southern Hawker and Common Darter are also present.

    Mating Ruddy Darters - Photo: Carol Coward

    Butterflies too continue to show. Green Veined White & Small White are common while there seems to be more Speckled Woods this year than previously. Clouded Yellow has been reported recently while I had a nice view of a Comma earlier in the week. Small Tortoiseshell, Red Admiral and Peacock also seen while Meadow Brown and Gatekeeper could well still be seen for the next few weeks in small numbers. 

    Comma - Photo: Carol Coward

    Also this week: Great Spotted Woodpecker flying in front of the 1st platform, Plenty of Swallows and House Martins, Pied Flycatcher reported by a visitor on the footpath side in the first section of wood - probably just passing through, Bearded Tits reported by the pond in Waltons corner but other small flocks seen at various locations around the reserve (often non access areas but close to 1st platform been good recently).

    Photo taken during bearded tit survey this Thursday by Dave Roberts. Peak count around 40 at the moment - I expect this to increase but it's often all down to luck on the day you survey!

    Singing Chiffchaffs, groups of Long Tailed Tits, several Ravens including  2 groups of 3 on Monday, 2 Barn Owls in woodland opposite 1st platform, Yellow Wagtail reported by visitor and Grey Wagtail by a volunteer, Great Crested Grebes including a juvenile from the 2nd platform (2 Little Grebe also here and heard calling), Sparrowhawk from the 2nd platform and lots of Buzzard activity including lots of calling from young birds.

    Finally, birds of prey often get a hard time from other birds (understandably so). This week a Hobby was seen to be mobbed by several House Martins and this Marsh Harrier was harassed by crows, with John Crispin catching this shot!

    That's it for now. Have a great weekend!!

    Posted by Stephen Couch

  • 4 September 2014

    Recent sightings at RSPB Ham Wall 12.09.2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Common Blue Butterfly female

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

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

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

    Posted by Stephen Couch

  • 29 August 2014

    Recent Sightings at RSPB Ham Wall - 29.08.2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Emperor looking very worn.

    Brown Hawker

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

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

    Small Tortoiseshell

    Green Veined White

    Red Admiral

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

    Roe deer buck

    The doe - well hidden in the long grass.

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

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

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

    Have a great weekend!

    Posted by Stephen Couch

  • 25 July 2014

    Recent Sightings at RSPB Ham Wall - 25.07.2014

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

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

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

    Common Tern adult and juvenile earlier this week.

    Juvenile in a flap!

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

    Great Crested Grebe juvenile attempting a take off!

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

    Ringed Juvenile

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Posted by Stephen Couch

Your sightings

Grid reference: ST4439 (+2km)

Great White Egret (1)
28 Oct 2014
Marsh Harrier (1)
28 Oct 2014
Water Rail (1)
28 Oct 2014
Kingfisher (1)
28 Oct 2014
Tree Sparrow (1)
28 Oct 2014
Cetti's Warbler ()
27 Oct 2014
Bittern (1)
22 Oct 2014
Whooper Swan (1)
22 Oct 2014
Black-tailed Godwit (74)
17 Oct 2014
Bearded Tit (2)
17 Oct 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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