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Recent sightings

  • 19 December 2014

    Recent Sightings at RSPB Ham Wall - 19.12.2014

    This will probably be the last blog before the Christmas break arrives - it will return in January!!

    The biggest news of the week is that we have opened the new car park. There's still some finishing touches to do but we wanted it to be open in time for Christmas, as this will be a busy time with many visitors wanting to see the starling roost. There is an automatic gate which closes at the stated times so please make a note of these before you leave for your visit. We have been featured on ITV West this week, thanks to the Starling photos by Robin Morrison (featured in the blog about 3 weeks or so ago). They became a bit of an internet hit on social media so a film crew followed Robin onto Ham Wall seeking out the roost. It's worth a watch if you search for it (it's also on our Facebook page).

    The Starlings are still a bit split up at the moment. There are reasonable groups at both Ham Wall & Shapwick Heath. Slightly more on Meare Heath on Shapwick and some birds were in The Roughet just beyond Noah's Lake also on Shapwick Heath. At Ham Wall you can see the group at close quarters, with all the chattering noise, with the Walton Heath reedbed - easily viewed from the rail path or the Tor View Hide. 

    Whilst you wait keep an eye out for birds of prey. Sightings of Sparrowhawk & Peregrine are quite common around roost time (PM & AM). This Peregrine was photographed by John Crispin this on Sunday morning:

    The same morning a Buzzard flew in very close over the first platform giving good views of its underwing patterns, as shown in the photo, again from John Crispin. A Buzzard has also been loitering frequently in the car park area and a Sparrowhawk shot across the area too yesterday (18th). The morning is a good time to come and see the Starlings (take off) and also a good time to see Marsh Harriers hunting over the reedbeds.

    Numbers of duck on the reserve are staying fairly steady. There's a good mix to be had across the reserve - the 2 platforms offering good vantage points. Mallard, Gadwall, Tufted Duck, Pochard, Wigeon, Teal & Shoveler are all present and fairly easy to spot. Lapwing numbers too are perhaps even climbing slightly - there's at least 300 on the reserve regularly - the 2nd platform a good spot. The second platform too for noisy Canada and Greylag Geese. 

    Great White Egrets are a real bonus for the local reserves - your chances of seeing one during your visit are quite high. The 2 platforms again offer the best chance - the often feed out in the open giving visitors a great view of this majestic bird.

    One sighting missed from last week was a report of an immature Purple Heron seen just south of the rail bridge between the car park & the 1st platform. Not sure it's been seen again but you never know. Things can easily disappear into this ever growing wetland landscape.

    Not sure the cold has really hit the continent yet as I've not yet seen the large numbers of Fieldfare and Redwing that I would normally expect - there's still reports of Blackbirds in people's gardens in Sweden (they've normally left by now).  Small groups did fly down the rail path yesterday - seen in groups of trees by the new car park in the late afternoon. Groups of Redpoll - again less than usual were also spotted. Groups of Goldfinches and Long Tailed Tits or mixed tit flocks are more common (- it's worth scanning these groups to see if anything more unusual is tagging along).

    Also this week: Song Thrush seen on the rail path on Wednesday, Bullfinch seen in the rail path trees on a couple of occasions, Kestrel reported last weekend but there are a couple close to the reserve seen regularly (the Meare to Glastonbury road in particular), Great Spotted Woodpeckers heard calling (drumming last week), occasional Bittern flights, Little Grebes in Waltons, plenty of Water Rails calling (worth a wait at the Tor view hide for a possible sighting), Raven flying over on Wednesday and plenty of Christmas Robins following as as we work.

    That's it for now. Merry Christmas everybody!!!

    Posted by Stephen Couch

  • 12 December 2014

    Recent Sightings at RSPB Ham Wall - 12.12.2014

    The weather this week has certainly reminded us that it's winter. Although the WeBS count (wetland bird survey) for this month was slightly down on Novembe,r the winter pattern of species on the reserve continues.There  have been fluctuations in the numbers of wildfowl visible from both platforms (the second platform in particular) though. On a good day there's a lot to scan through (worth doing as you never know what might be lurking) but on other days it can be quite sparse. Some birds are quite hidden though - the section beyond the 2nd platform looked quite empty during the WeBS but 100 Gadwall flew up from channels with the reed - so you can never be sure what's around - a Green Winged Teal was reported last weekend but not spotted since.

    Generally there's a good selection however: Wigeon, Teal, Gadwall, Tufted Duck, Shoveler, Mallard & Pochard all present and around 85 Greylags which are very settled here. Good numbers of Canada Geese join them daily to add some noise to the proceedings along with 300 or so Lapwings. These seem to be easily spooked and can often be seen flying up in groups and circling before settling down again. Little Grebes have also been seen and both Little & Great White Egrets feeding on the mud or in the shallows daily.

    This bird is on the mud at Loxtons, with wildfowl and gulls for company and 12 Cormorants also using the island. The Loxtons Trail is still closed (apart from the bottom track) as we wait for the rebuilt paths and banks to settle before reopening them - there a bit slippy at the moment, comprising mostly of clay. 

    At this time of year on the reserve the focus tends to be on birds - most of our reptiles and insects will be hidden away hibernating now and mammal sightings are hard to come by. There are certainly signs of Badgers all over place - they seem to be enjoying digging up areas around the boardwalk and screens at the moment and there are occasional signs that Otters are about too. I can report sightings of Roe Deer on the reserve and Grey Squirrel both on the rail track and in the new car park area. 

    The new car park has progressed well but we are still awaiting contractors to come in and sort out the electrics for the gates etc - it's so close!!  It's looking good though and will be a welcome addition to the local reserves, particularly in Starling season.

    The roost has been quite split from what I can gather - small roosts at Westhay, Shapwick Heath and the far end of Ham Wall but the main bulk have been landing in Waltons again this week. I got to see it for myself on Tuesday (despite working here it doesn't happen very often). It was very cold so my advice would be to wrap up warm - the temperature seemed to drop very quickly once the sun disappeared. Good numbers came in and there was a bit of swirling but not of epic proportions - just the luck of the draw I guess - the weather was quite poor so maybe this meant they wanted to go straight to bed.  A Sparrowhawk was seen around roost time waiting for a meal however.

    The morning is still a good time to see them. If you come for "lift off"  you may also be lucky enough to see Marsh Harriers come in afterwards to hoover up any Starling bodies from those which died in the night. One day this week 3 Marsh Harriers were seen together. Both John Crispin & Robin Morison have sent me Marsh Harrier Pictures this week - thank you both!

    As you can see - 2 different birds here.

    Marsh Harrier with some company this time!

    Also during roost time you may, as I saw on Tuesday evening, groups of Fieldfare & Redwing. Fieldfares with their familiar, almost chuckling call, are a real sign of winter for me!!.

    We also, of course, get groups of Redpolls & Siskins on the reserve in the winter months. For the best chance of a sighting look for groups of alder trees as they like to feed on the alder cones. So too do the many groups (or charms) of Goldfinches which we are seeing at the moment.

    Also on the reserve this week: Raven flying over and calling on Tuesday, Great Spotted Woodpeckers seen but also heard drumming this week, plenty of Kingfisher sightings, Stonechats in several places but a pair often opposite the 1st platform (the male bird is particularly beautiful), a few Bittern Sightings(1st platform maybe the best bet), groups of Long Tailed Tits to brighten your day, a Tawny Owl seen sitting on a Barn Owl box in the central wood this morning (I've heard then here recently) and plenty of Black Headed Gulls circling high or down low squawking as they do!!

    Black Headed Gull


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

    Posted by Stephen Couch

  • 5 December 2014

    Recent Sightings at RSPB Ham Wall - 05.12.2014

    The Starlings have yet again dominated the headlines here this week with the main bulk of the roost dropping into the Waltons section of the reserve. It is likely that the cold weather will swell the numbers further as birds arrive from the north & east of the continent. The rail path or the Tor View Hide are great places to watch the spectacle at present.The roost is still proving popular, with good numbers of visitors coming to watch. We are trying our best to complete on the car park but are awaiting on electrical contractors to finish work on the electric gates at the entrance.

    Staff and volunteers have been busy this week erecting rails and undertaking more planting and erecting signs. There's still a little more to do, so I'm glad I chose not to make any predictions about an opening date - it's very close though. The best advice I can give (until the new car park opens) is to avoid weekends if you can and arrive in plenty of time to walk to your vantage point. If you're coming phone the Starling Hotline for the last known location of the roost 07866 554142.  If you can only do weekends you could perhaps come in the morning before sunrise to see them take off - there will be far fewer visitors then and it's still a great spectacle. 

    Starlings over Waltons


    The Starlings often attract attention from birds of prey and, as last week, a Peregrine was present this week, showing well on Tuesday night - actually seen taking a Starling. The time of day also means there's a possibility of a Barn Owl sighting - as was the case on Tuesday too when one was spotted flying through the fading light. I saw a Peregrine myself during the early afternoon on the north of the reserve and minutes later a Sparrowhawk flew high over the reserve. 

    Individual birds can be seen hanging around the reserve during the day. Close up views of these birds show just how interesting their markings are - something lost when watching the mumuration.

      

    With the cold weather too has meant the end of the dragonfly sightings - no Ruddy Darters seen this week. They did well to hold on for as long as they did. I did however see a Red Admiral butterfly sunning itself on the newly planted hedgerow in the new car park on Wednesday. 

    Elsewhere on the reserve the 2nd platform is always worth a look at the moment. On Wednesday a drake Pintail was present - quite nice for us as we get very few visiting Ham Wall over the winter. The area is also home to a good number of Greylag geese at the moment - they seem very settled here. On Wednesday a couple of hundred Canada Geese were present too and these along with a few hundred Lapwing made for quite a spectacle both visually and audibly.

    Great White Egrets spend time here too but I've been seeing one every day out in the open from the 1st platform too spending long periods of time fishing and offering great views. Also this morning 3 were seen flying together over the Loxtons section.

    Both platforms offer a selection of wildfowl: Plenty of Mallard & Gadwall and fair numbers of Wigeon and Teal. Shoveler are also present along with Tufted Duck. Ham Wall is also home to a few Pochard at the moment with 8 females and 1 male present. 

    Pochard in flight


    Wigeon in flight over the reserve


    Also this week: Water Rails seen from the Tor View Hide, a late report of an Otter sighting in Waltons early last week, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Groups of Goldfinches and groups of Long Tailed Tits following the tree lines, small flocks of Fieldfare and Redwing seen, Goldcrests seen along the rail path, Snipe seen from the 2nd platform, Marsh Harriers seen daily with a female showing particularly well from the Tor View Hide on Monday and a Raven flying over on Wednesday snapped by John Crispin.

    Raven


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

    Posted by Stephen Couch

  • 28 November 2014

    Recent Sightings from RSPB Ham Wall - 28.11.2014

    The main talking point this week has been - not surprisingly - the Starlings. Numbers are beginning to swell and the latest "guesstimates" seem to be in the region of as many as 750,000. There has been a smaller roost on Shapwick Heath but the main bulk of the birds seems to be at Ham Wall at the moment - this of course is subject to change as more experienced Starling watchers will tell you. There is a huge area for the birds to choose from in the Avalon Marshes but there are good sightings to be had at the moment. They have been roosting in Waltons and towards the far end of Ham Wall but I'm told that there was a change last night and the majority were next to Waltons and behind Loxtons. The second viewing platform the best bet (but look behind you - not in front).

    Robin Morrison sent me these stunning pictures on Monday but they have since become a bit of an internet sensation on Twitter and Facebook - with thousands of viewings, shares and likes (for those of you who know about this sort of thing) - Well done Robin and thank you!

    The shots were taken over the Waltons section on Sunday. During the roost on both Saturday & Sunday a Peregrine was present but arrived after all the birds had landed - so did not disturb the roost. Often the presence of a bird of prey as the birds come in can cause the great displays of swirling we all want to see. Remember to call the Starling Hotline for the last known location of the roost to help you plan your visit

    STARLING HOTLINE: 07866 554142


    There are of course plenty of other birds & wildlife to see while you wait for the roost. Great White Egrets are seen daily from both platforms, spending long periods feeding in the open. While Bitterns still make occasional flights. Perhaps the 1st platform being the best vantage point with its wide vista.

    Marsh Harriers too are a common sight these days. On Wednesday 2 birds were seen - the 1st being a young male who had evidence of plumage showing - particularly the grey tail. The 2nd was a female which was showing much yellowing of feathers on the leading edge of her wings and on the coverts.

    Another reedbed favourite is of course, then Bearded Tit. Notoriously hard to see here at Ham Wall though as in many other places. They have been seen & heard this week however in public areas. Last weekend they were heard within Waltons from the rail path and on the north of the reserve in 2 locations. Even better though 4 (2 male, 1 female & 1 juvenile) were seen from the Tor View Hide on Wednesday.

    Note this bird is showing immature plumage.


    The Tor View hide has been a great place recently to see Water Rails and this week was no exception. On Thursday morning 2 individuals were out feeding in the open with a third bird standing out on the path. If you want to have a chance of seeing these shy birds you will need to approach the hide quietly.

    There's an array of wildfowl across the reserve - with Loxtons trail currently closed, the 2 platforms are probably  the best bet. Mallard, Gadwall, Teal, Tufted Duck, Wigeon, Pochard & Shoveler are all present. Great shot below from John Crispin showing the wonderful plumage of the male Shoveler.

    Shoveler in flight

    The weather has certainly cooled off of late and we had our first frost on Monday morning. It was therefore with great surprise that I saw yet another Ruddy Darter dragonfly sunning itself on the Loxtons gate to the rail path on Monday morning. Red Admiral and Peacock butterflies have been seen too but they will by now be seeking for a place to spend the winter. At least 5 were found under wood piles in our storage area on site along with 30+ Smooth Newts.

    The Otter survey on Monday this week undertaken by John Crispin showed up signs of their continued presence on site - always good to know. Such a shame we don't get more sightings. Other mammals seen this week include Roe Deer around the Waltons trail & a Fox seen running away from me close to the area in front of the 1st platform. Plenty of signs of the presence of Badgers too.

    More winter birds are being picked up now - during Starling roost time look out for small parties of Redwing & Fieldfare 12-15 birds and Redpolls & Siskins in the new car park. Work is progressing here well. We'll be looking to get a lot done in the coming week and should be close to opening the parking area at least.

    It's also worth checking out groups of mixed tits - they often hide unexpected surprises such as Goldcrests and Treecreepers and the large groups of Long Tailed Tits on the reserve always bring a smile to my face.


    Long Tailed Tit

    Also this week: 2 Great Spotted Woodpeckers squabbling along the canal path, 2 Chiffchaff together along the same stretch, Kingfishers regularly seen, a Barn Owl sunning itself on the barn owl box opposite the 1st platform on Monday,a few Common Frogs still being seen, Stonechats, 100's of Lapwing and a very obliging Reed Bunting on the way to the Tor View Hide on Tuesday


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

    Posted by Stephen Couch

  • 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).

      

    Fieldfare


    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

Your sightings

Grid reference: ST4439 (+2km)

Great White Egret (3)
21 Dec 2014
Purple Heron ()
10 Dec 2014
Kingfisher (1)
21 Dec 2014
Marsh Harrier ()
21 Dec 2014
Bittern ()
8 Dec 2014
Gadwall (20)
21 Dec 2014
Shoveler (1)
21 Dec 2014
Pochard (4)
21 Dec 2014
Sparrowhawk ()
21 Dec 2014
Goldcrest ()
21 Dec 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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