Plenty of testing weather on the reserve this week with high winds, driving rain, hail and snow to deal with but none the less we're making plenty of progress. The view from the 1st platform will reveal that work has started on the Avalon hide to the left of the Central Wood. Telegraph poles have been driven in to reveal the outer shell of what will be a raised 2 tier hide. Weather conditions & access issues (eg if tracks are passable) will determine whether it will be finished for early spring or if we will have to wait for the end of summer (as not to disturb wildlife during breeding season).
The Truxor (a floating reed cutter) has also been on site this week - ideal for clearing channels and cutting reed in wetter areas. The contractor has cut some small areas in front of the Tor View hide and the 1st platform to make things a bit more appealing for wildlife and therefore visitors too.
Staff & volunteers have also been busy on the islands on the right side of Waltons. The weather on Wednesday morning & Thursday made it particularly challenging for volunteers who did a great job under the circumstances. We hope to finish this next week and raise water levels once more. This should create some good areas for loafing ducks and Snipe frequently use this area (which we cut annually) once it's cleared.
A few Snipe are out on site but as usual they can be hard to track down - often only flying and becoming visible when disturbed. Lapwings too are in evidence c300 or more, both within the reserve and on its perimeter where they often settle in fields with groups of Starlings.
The Starlings themselves have been a little unsettled of late and have moved from Shapwick Heath to Ham Wall and back again, preferring to use areas towards the western end of the Natural England site. It's probably best to give the Starling Hotline a call just in case, or ask a friendly face when you arrive for advice. HOTLINE: 07786 554142
The reserve still has plenty to offer in terms of wildfowl - both platforms offer a good selection of ducks: Mallard, Gadwall, Wigeon, Teal, Pochard, Tufted Duck and Shoveler seen this week and there's always a chance of the odd Pintail. The following shots show male Gadwall in pursuit of a female (with the orange bill) taken this week:
There is plenty of other evidence of birds looking to pair up too. The odd Bittern has been reported grunting (a weak form of booming) within the Avalon Marshes recently. There have been a few flights from Bitterns this week - the 1st platform a good bet.
From within Waltons Little Grebes have been seen & heard calling for a mate along with the Great Crested Grebe - seen successfully catching fish on Wednesday from the 1st screen. A pair were also seen head bobbing from land adjacent to the south end of Waltons on Wednesday - part of their bonding and mating rituals.
A walk along the rail path can often reap benefits - Bullfinches have again been very evident -a stunning male near the 1st platform on Monday and a pair from the 2nd boardwalk bridge (at the car park) on Wednesday - this has also been a bit of a hotspot for Treecreeper in recent weeks.
Another stunning bird - the Barn Owl was spotted hunting over the southern end of Waltons on Tuesday and then a little later down at Long Drove just beyond Waltons by the large wind pump (visible from the old rail bridge). Another bird was spotted close to Tinneys (on the Sharpham road) later in the week.
2 Fieldfares were also spotted at this end of the rail path on Tuesday, although generally there seem to be very few around this year - probably because it has been much milder than usual. Siskins and Redpolls too are noticeably fewer in number although one or two often hide out in flocks of Goldfinches (known as charms). A large flock of c50 was picked up along the line of hawthorn on the footpath side of the main drain by the wooden entrance gate this morning.
Kingfishers are being seen quite frequently and always brighten up a visit. One was seen from the 2nd screen at Waltons yesterday, where it perched just to the right but out of sight. I myself had a great view of one at the bridge over the drain on the Ashcott Road, where it perched for a while on Tuesday. Often all you see is a flash of blue or hear its whistling call.
Also this week: 2 Ravens flying over on Thursday, daily sightings of Great White Egret often from the 1st platform, daily sightings of Marsh Harrier - several sightings over Waltons this week including a male on Wednesday, Great Spotted Woodpecker, female Reed Bunting feeding on reed heads in front of the 1st screen giving good views and Bearded Tits heard calling within Loxtons.
Finally this week some good news about Otters. This months survey conducted by John Crispin has revealed a significant amount of activity for the month of January. Around Waltons & Loxtons 2 recent spraints (the technical name for an Otter poo) and a grass castle - used to spraint upon to give a better circulation of their scent. On the north side of the reserve: 1 fresh & 2 recent spraints along with 2 grass castles & several good, well used runs. Fingers crossed they use the newly built Otter holt on the reserve in the coming weeks!
That's it for now. Have a great weekend!!