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Another interesting, wildlife packed, week on the reserve this week. You could be fooled into thinking it was winter at times on the reserve this week until you hear the chattering of Reed warblers in the reed beds, the calls of Cuckoo, booms of Bitterns and the melody of warblers and other song birds in the trees. When the suns out, it's an amazing place to be at the moment.
One of our many singing Blackcaps on the reserve: John Crabb
The Glossy Ibis continues to show well on the muddy area in front of the 2nd viewing platform (he's been here since September) and has given many visitors a closer view from the 2 willow blinds we have erected (with the Avalon Marshes Young Wardens) recently. There have been a few great close up photos on social media this week. We now have a Ham Wall Twitter feed, which started this week. Why not follow us for the latest news from the reserve @rspbhamwall or for Somerset reserves in general @rspbsomerset. Feel free to share reserve sightings and photos with us too! We're also on Facebook too.
Anyway, back to the real business of the blog! The 2nd platform area has still been the place to watch this week. Good numbers of waders are popping in and out but some you can pretty much guarantee every visit at the moment - among those include: Black Tailed Godwits up to 110 or more, Greenshank up to 13, Common Sandpiper up to 3, Redshank up to 4 and Lapwing up to 4. Among those seen frequently but perhaps not every day include: Green Sandpiper 1 or 2, Ringed Plover up to 6, Little Ringed Plover up to 3, Dunlin up to 5 and Snipe 1 or 2.
Also this week a visit from varying numbers of Whimbrel. As many as 25 were seen Sunday but numbers of just over 10 on most days (there were certainly a few out there this morning too). Last Friday evening (after blog time) 2 summer plumage Spotted Redshank were seen and they remained there throughout most of Saturday but haven't been seen since. A Little Stint was also seen but may have been amongst birds flushed up by a passing Peregrine on Thursday morning (it could still be around somewhere).
Thursday morning was a particularly good one. 3 Cranes flew over the reserve heading in a southerly direction and were seen by many. This adds to the 6 seen and heard 'bugling' during a flyover on Sunday 24th.
Thursday morning also saw further sightings of Short Eared Owl over Waltons and then in front of the 1st platform before dropping behind the wood near the Avalon Hide. I was unaware of this as I walked around that area and almost trod on it before it flew up and dropped 20 yards or so away from me (a lovely sighting).
Great White Egrets were in front of both viewing platforms for good lengths of time, the same morning as volunteers were out observing Bittern behaviour to see if any nesting has begun. It's a great time of year to see both and over the next month you could almost guarantee a sighting of these two during a visit. Bitterns are being seen a little more frequently and often in pairs, threes or fours and sometimes more as males chase females. 4 were seen from the Avalon Hide on Monday!
Great White Egret: John Crabb
Bitterns: John Crispin
The reedbeds and open water may well be full of life but so too are the tree lines and areas of scrub or bramble. Lesser Whitethroat was seen in brambles close to the rail bridge on Thursday morning by a visitor as were a pair of Bullfinches a little further along to the 1st platform. Close to both platforms Common Whitethroats perform their song flights and perch well for a photo opportunity, while in the trees behind the 2nd platform (by Loxtons) a female Brambling along with a Siskin were spotted by an eagle eyed visitor on Monday.
Within Waltons, it's been a few days since anybody reported seeing the Ring Necked Duck. This of course doesn't mean he's not there (or somewhere locally). It's still worth checking all the Tufted Ducks out just in case he's there. The Grey Herons are now feeding youngsters on at least 2 nests. One very visible along the left hand side of the path to the Tor View Hide (one youngster) and another more distantly from the first 2 screens (2 youngsters).
Waltons also had some rather aggressive Great White Egret confrontations on Wednesday on the islands on the west side. Both Great Crested Grebe & Little Grebe show well from the screens and hide, while there's always a good chance of Cuckoo on a walk round and the Lesser Black Backed Gulls seem to have taken over one of the rafts and were seen mating again here on Thursday.
Lesser Black Backed Gulls: John Crabb
Hobbys are in too with up to 5 seen over Waltons yesterday - expecting a much bigger influx during the next week or so. By then we may actually have some dragonflies and damselflies on the wing. I've still yet to see one although both Variable and Large Red damselfly have been reported. Hairy Dragonfly is imminent (if it ever gets warm enough).
Butterflies are about - most noticeable this week are a few extra Orange Tips. Add to these: Peacock, Red Admiral, Green Veined White, Comma, Small Tortoiseshell and Brimstone and you can begin to build a short list at least.
Brimstone: John Crispin
Also this week: Roe Deer seen around the back of Waltons on Monday (seen several times recently in this area), some very showy Cettis Warblers - most notably around the screens at Waltons (in the open less that a metre away, Common Sandpiper on the Waltons rafts, Swift, Swallow, House & Sand Martins, Wigeon and Pintail from the 2nd platform, Marsh Harriers from the Avalon Hide, Great Spotted Woodpecker and Garganey seen frequently from the 2nd platform this week:
Garganey: John Crispin
That's it for this week. Have a great bank holiday weekend - surely Ham wall is worth a visit!
Posted by Stephen Couch
Another brilliant week on the reserve this week with, once again, loads to report.
Birds of prey feature highly this week, although I'm falling short of photos in this area I'm afraid. Last weekend, Monday and Tuesday saw Short Eared Owl hunting over the reserve (probably 2 different birds here). Three sightings on Monday morning from the first platform and around Waltons followed by a further evening sighting. Tuesday saw another sighting around Waltons but also an Osprey which perched in trees by Long Drove - land south of Waltons. It was also seen over the Avalon Marshes Centre and Shapwick Heath that day.
Thursday morning saw a sighting of female Hen Harrier on the reserve and an hour or so later a Red Kite passed over.
Marsh Harriers are still busy out in front of the Avalon Hide and on the section beyond that which the 2nd viewing platform looks upon. It could well be another 3 active nests this year. Buzzards have again been seen getting a little too close this week before being seen off by the harriers but also a Bittern was circling above the area yesterday (Thurs) before being attacked by a Harrier and bombed constantly for several minutes. The Bittern never reappeared so its fate remains a mystery.
I've still yet to see my first Hobby of the season, although a few have been reported. At least 2 were seen last weekend. No dragonflies yet either, although there was a report of Variable damselfly this week, so with another warm spell plenty more should begin to emerge over the coming weeks. There are plenty of other flying insects for them to feed on though and of course these are enjoyed by the many returning hirundines and Swifts. Plenty of Swallows and House Martins over Waltons feeding this morning with the odd Swift (several were seen on Tuesday morning).
Several other migrating bird species have found their way to Ham Wall over the last week. There has been an increase in the number of Reed Warblers and I've heard my first Sedge Warbler of the year today. Garden Warbler was spotted in the rail path trees yesterday to join the throng of Blackcaps already present:
Blackcap: John Crispin.
Add to this Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff and all the "usual suspects" and there's quite a build up of song on your walk into the reserve.
It would seem the place to head for is the 2nd platform at the moment. There's plenty of mud showing and the Glossy Ibis seems to be loving it and is present very day. There's also been a great selection of waders here too. Of particular note were Black Tailed Godwits of varying numbers but a peak of over 100, Dunlin x1, Redshank x4, Little Ringed Plover x2, Ringed Plover x4, Greenshank x2, Green Sandpiper x1, Snipe x2 and Common Sandpiper x2. These are the peak counts of any one species recorded here this week.
Common Sandpiper was also seen from the 1st platform over Waltons on both Monday and Tuesday. On Tuesday it perched long enough on the rafts in Waltons for John Crispin to grab these shots - thanks John:
Also in Waltons this week is the continued presence of the Ring Necked Duck. It's been seen most days on the east side of Waltons either from the Tor View Hide or lurking up the channels. On the way to the hide look out for the Grey Herons nest on the left (east) clearly visible. As reported last week, a chick was visible from time to time and here's definitive proof sent in by volunteer Rob Balch - thanks Rob:
Grey Heron and chick (nice hairdo); Rob Balch.
Also in the Waltons section this week: Lots of Pochard and Tufted Ducks, Little Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, Great White Egrets, 2 Roe Deer on the back path this morning, a pair of Linnets in the far corner (male in full song and a female with a beak full of food) and 2 Bitterns yesterday perched up and climbing in the reeds right on the edge in the open. Volunteers who were out in the area at the time enjoyed great views through John Crispin's scope but unfortunately he didn't have his camera at the time. Luckily, Andrew Kirby was nearby and got shots of the same incident. Thanks Andrew!
John did did however have his camera on Sunday when he got these shots of a Bittern enjoying some sunshine:
It's always worth scanning the edges of the reed beds on sunny mornings to see if you can spot any sunbathing Bitterns. Mind you, you never know what you might see flying over the reserve these days:
Like this Chinook flying very low over the reserve on both Monday and Tuesday. Pairs of Hercules have also passed over low on several occasions.
There may be a lack of dragonflies still but there are plenty of butterflies on the wing: Peacock, Red Admiral, Comma, Green Veined White, Small Tortoiseshell and Brimstone all spotted throughout the week.
Also this week: Sparrowhawks seen on several occasions, Stoat seen running across the rail path near the 1st viewing platform on Tuesday, up to 3 Garganey and 2 Pintail seen from the 2nd platform this week, Raven flying over on a number of occasions, 3 Yellow Wagtails and 2 White Wagtails from the 2nd platform over the weekend (and a Whinchat on Saturday), up to 4 Great White Egrets seen within Loxtons during the week, Great Spotted Woodpeckers, Siskin by the 2nd platform, Displaying Lapwings (they also chased off crows), croaking Iberian Water Frogs and Bearded Tits seen just beyond the 2nd platform area.
Finally John Crabb sent me these shots of the first Coot chicks of the year - saw some myself in Waltons - perhaps the same ones. Thanks John!
That's it for this week. Have a great weekend!
If there was any lingering doubt that spring had sprung last week - there can be no doubt now. It's been a week teeming with new arrivals and great wildlife sightings. It's hard to know where to start, so lets start with some spring arrivals. Tuesday saw the first report of Cuckoo on the reserve around the Waltons section and I had my first on Wednesday but there were at least 2 more on site. John Crispin took this shot this week and sent it in - thanks John:
Of course these birds use Reed Warblers as one of their hosts for laying eggs and their timing is good as Reed Warblers are also beginning to come in and the reedbeds are becoming a little noisier every day.
Other migrants coming in include more Willow Warblers, the odd Sedge Warbler and further Blackcaps. 3 male Blackcaps were perched on the same tree all singing as loud as they could to out compete each other for the territory - this also including much chasing and scolding but I didn't get to see the eventual winner. Whitethroat have also been seen and as with most years the brambles on the other side of the main drain from the 1st platform is a good place to spot them. One was performing it's song flight there yesterday and making itself very obvious:
Whitethroat - John Crispin
We're still seeing a few Sand Martins and Swallows each day and this morning came the first report of Swift over the reserve.
Other new arrivals include waders on passage. We have lowered water levels in front of the 2nd viewing platform over the last week and there is plenty of mud showing. It's attracted a number of waders although they are a bit in and out or just passing through. A scope is a good idea though and take some time scanning the whole area. This morning saw a Redshank, 2 Lapwing and 2 Black Tailed Godwits but we've also had Little Ringed Plover, Dunlin, Green Sandpiper and Snipe this week (6 were seen from the 1st platform yesterday too).
Some other birds using this area regularly are a little more obvious. The Glossy Ibis is still present every day and usually fairly easy to spot. He was even seen collecting sticks this week - just being optimistic I guess. Great White Egrets are often present and Little Egrets often accompany the Glossy Ibis during the day. Thanks to John Crabb who sent in these pictures from his visit on Tuesday:
Scan over the ducks in here too. Apart from the usual Mallard, Shoveler, Tufted Duck and Gadwall there are still a good number of Teal and the odd Wigeon but also as many as 4 Pintail this week. This morning however saw as many as 6 Garganey (5 drakes and 1 female) feeding in the muddy shallows (a pair were seen displaying over the weekend).
Other obvious signs of spring are of course the booming Bitterns. Staff and volunteers from across the conservation bodies in the Avalon Marshes were out very early on Thursday morning undertaking a bittern survey. The reward (apart from breakfast afterwards) was 45 booming males in the Avalon Marshes (plus 2 at Greylake) - that's 2 up on last year. 19 of these were on Ham Wall and a further 2 on neighbouring plots. Booming Marvelous!!
There are a few more flights being seen too of either individuals or sets of 2 or 3 in a chase. 3 were also reported chasing each other at Greylake this week too.
Other stars at the moment include the Marsh Harriers. The Avalon hide is the best place at the moment, with significant activity from at least 3 birds.
Marsh Harrier - John Crabb
On Wednesday I was close to the reedbeds distant of the 2nd viewing platform. The weather was wonderful and several Buzzards began to circle very high on thermals - I counted at least 9. When some came lower they obviously annoyed a pair of Marsh Harriers and several disputes occurred. The Marsh Harriers won out in the end. This was obviously not the only time this had happened as John Crabb sent me these photos from the previous day - thank John:
Buzzard sent packing...?
A few minutes later a Sparrowhawk also flew overhead - it made for quite an enjoyable lunch break!
It's been a pretty good week for birds of prey all round. A Kestrel was seen in the car park on Wednesday morning and the early morning start yesterday meant volunteers saw Barn Owls in at least 3 locations (including Tinneys ground on the Sharpham road and Tawny Owls were also heard. It's been the Short Eared Owls that have really caught peoples interest though. After last weeks sightings, 2 were then seen from the Avalon Hide on Sunday 10th in the morning, then 2 hunting along the wide strip next to the South Drain visible from the rail bridge as you enter the reserve. Finally, I saw one myself this morning and a traveled around Waltons. I flushed if from the western edge and then again from the south. Keep 'em peeled - they're probably still out there somewhere. Red Kites have also been seen more frequently of late with a sighting on both Sunday and Wednesday.
Waltons is still a good place to sit and watch a while. A Redstart was seen in the north Western corner on Thursday and There are a few pairs of Great Crested Grebes to keep you entertained. The Grey Herons (3 nests) are also still within the reedbeds with youngsters visible in one of the nests (best viewed from the path to the Tor View Hide). The hide's been the place to find the Ring Necked Duck too, although if he's not there a walk around the eastern half of Waltons might be in order (it was seen yesterday but I had a quick scan without luck this morning).
John Crabb also had a visit from a pike towards the Tor View Hide on Tuesday. Monsters of the deep! Ducklings beware!
Pike - John Crabb
Also some nice photos of Gadwall:
Right down the lens. Gadwall - John Crabb
Still looking for my first dragonfly or damselfly of the year but there are steady numbers of butterflies around: Brimstone, Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock, Red Admiral, Green Veined White, Orange Tip and Comma all seen this week.
Also this week: Nuthatch & Treecreeper both spotted in the car park trees, Great Tit continuing to nest build in out nest cam box (beamed to the monitor in the visitor building at the car park), Roe Deer seen around the back of Waltons, Iberian Water Frogs heard croaking, Common Frog, Common Toad and Slow Worm all seen, 2 Bearded Tits seen in front of 2nd platform on Weds, Stock Dove from the woods opposite the 1st platform (also on Weds), 2 Cranes over on Sunday 10th but 11 over together during the week, 2 Water Pipit seen on the mud at 2nd platform & 2 Yellow Legged Gulls reported on the rafts at Waltons on Sunday.
Finally, a nice shot of a nest building Coot. You can see one sat on a nest on the edge cut island in Waltons too:
Coot - John Crabb
That's it for this week - have a great weekend!
The star of the show this week was probably the White Stork. It's been seen a few times in the local area and was first seen circling high over Ham Wall on Tuesday. It was than seen flying in front of the Avalon hide the next day too and is still currently in the local area as far as I know. John Crispin was on hand to grab these shots of the bird - thanks John.
White Stork - John Crispin
Other welcome stars were more Cranes to add to those seen last week. On Saturday 2nd 4 birds were seen flying over the reserve. One of these was seen to have a leg dangling down in flight. This bird is actually in good health. It seems to be a quirk of his that he dangles one leg when flying and is known to the Crane team. His name is Howard. These 4 were trumped however by the 9 birds seen flying together over the reserve on Wednesday morning at about 10.30. They flew out over high over Shapwick Heath.
It would appear, that particularly on brighter days, it pays to look up and really study the skies - you never know what might be there. Also on Saturday a Red Kite was seen - again fling high, over the 1st platform. A few have been seen in the area recently, so keep your eyes peeled.
Another big draw of course is the Glossy Ibis, still present after several moths now. It was seen on Ham Wall on Tuesday from the 2nd viewing platform (often referred to now as VP2) but has now tended to spend the last few days on Shapwick as they have been pumping down the scrape. They've attracted a few waders - most notably around 90 Black Tailed Godwits. A few have passed over to us - checkout the 2nd platform for these. We are trying to lower the water slightly here too - so may have some interesting characters dropping in here too over the next couple of weeks.
The other more unusual visitor we have at the moment is of course the Ring Necked Duck. It was seen earlier in the week from the 2nd viewing platform but has generally been within the Waltons section on the eastern side. The Tor View hide seems to be the best spot but scan all the Tufted Ducks in this area from the screens too to try and track him down. It was certainly there both yesterday morning and in the afternoon. Thanks to John Crabb for sending me in these photos:
Ring Necked Duck - John Crabb
Apart from these more unusual birds there are lots of new arrivals and birds on passage.
Tuesday saw 2 Whimbrel flying over the 1st platform, while Thursday in particular saw great numbers of Swallow & Sand Martin over Waltons - the windy weather was obviously keeping them low down over the water. There was a report of a Reed Warbler on the reserve on Tuesday around Waltons while in the tree lines Chiffchaffs are in full song. They are joined by the odd Blackcap and several Willow Warblers.
Willow Warbler - John Crispin
Of course we mustn't forget our resident stars. Bitterns are still booming well and next week sees the 2nd of our booming counts. It's last years total of 43 to beat - think it might be close. There have been a few flights from bitterns this week. The Loxtons screen and the Avalon hide have both had reports while 3 were seen in a 'chase' from the 1st platform on Sunday 3rd.
The Great White Egrets are also seen daily - with 9 reported together this week within the Ham Wall reedbeds. Staff and volunteers will be putting in lots of time studying both these species over the coming weeks to establish any breeding activity. Meanwhile, here's some lovely pics sent in by John Crabb for you to enjoy - thanks again John. You can really pick out the breeding plumage and colours.
Great White Egrets - John Crabb
but also this interesting behaviour was witnessed and photographed by John Crispin of what appeared to be a Cormorant stealing a meal from a Great White Egret - very naughty! Thanks for the photos John.
Great White Egret & Cormorant - John Crispin
Of course the Marsh Harriers are our other stars and, as last week, the Avalon Hide is the place to go. Displaying, food passes and carrying of nesting material have been recorded this week from as many as 5 birds.
Marsh Harriers - John Crabb
The Avalon Hide has also been a good place this week to see Kestrel this week and there's always a chance of seeing Barn Owl in the area seen on both Tuesday and last Friday. There was also a report of a Short Eared Owl hunting over the north of the reserve the same evening and a possible Spoonbill seen fling off with Great White Egrets at dusk. This is very possible given last weeks sightings.
Also this week: the first sighting of a Grey Heron chick on the Waltons island - visible from the Tor View Hide path, 4 Jays seen flying around the back of Waltons on Monday and a Roe deer that allowed me to get quite close before running just minutes later, first Garganey sighting on Tuesday from the 2nd platform, lots of Slow Worms under tin sheets left out for reptiles and shed skins from some Grass Snakes, 6 Siskins from the 1st platform on Wednesday and a Treecreeper in Alders by Street Heath (next to Loxtons) yesterday.
Great Crested Grebes seem to be seen more as singles at the moment (unless it's just me) - could be that there's a partner sat on a nest nearby. Here's a nice shot of Great Crested Grebe in flight taken by John Crispin this week. The shot shows well the humped back posture of the flying bird. The back vertebrae are fused together to form a stiff rod. Any rigidity in the body is compensated for by its long and flexible neck!
Great Crested Grebe - John Crispin
Some more action shots to finish - this time from John Crabb.
Lesser Black Backed Gull fishing successfully!
and an aggressive looking Coot!
There's a bit to catch up with as I was away last week but there's so much going on I'll focus mainly on the past 7 days or so. Yet another mixed bag of weather this week: rain, high winds and hail and then some glorious sunshine. Spring has most definitely arrived and there is evidence all around to prove it. Some more firsts this week: the first Willow Warbler reported during the week but one was heard singing around Waltons this morning. Also Blackcap was seen and heard - both join the many Chiffchaffs already present and singing away.
Other migrants also came through this week. Swallows in small numbers: 2 flew over the Tor View Hide on Tuesday, one over the north of the reserve on Wednesday and 4 were seen this morning from the Avalon Hide. One or two House Martins have also been seen and several Sand Martins with a groups of c50 reported on Monday & c30 on Tuesday. The first Swift has been recorded at Portland in Dorset too - very early.
Birdsong has increased in general (particularly during the sunny spells) with some birds in particular standing out with loud punchy calls - Song Thrush for one - calling loudly along the rail path yesterday. The Wren sings very loudly for one so small but it's great to hear:
and of course the Cettis Warbler. Often heard but not seen. This time of year can be very different however and they can often be seen perching up claiming their territories. Several birds have been seen around Waltons in particular this week. Dave Roach sent these shots into the reserve office last week - thanks Dave.
Other signs of spring include nesting and mating behavior. Nest boxes around the reserve are being inspected and used by birds, including the nest camera box at the car park. A great Tit has been bringing in moss over the last few days. Looking forward to seeing some healthy young birds on our monitor in the visitor building in the near future. Also a Blue Tit is using the nest box next to the wooden boardwalk at the car park. Thanks to John Crispin for the photo:
In Waltons Grey Herons continue to sit on nests (visible from the track and the Tor View Hide and a Coot is nesting by the cut island in Waltons - again visible from the main track (up to 5 Snipe have been using the island this week too). Great Crested Grebes have been seen mating in front of the 1st platform and Marsh Harriers have been seen mating from the Avalon Hide. Once again, John Crispin was on hand to capture some images - thanks John:
Bitterns are booming and the odd chase has been seen - so things are really hotting up here too. This morning from the Avalon Hide 3 birds were in a chase (probably males chasing a female) but only 2 landed;
Thanks again to John!!
There have been odd flights recorded elsewhere around the site including Waltons, Loxtons and the 1st platform (see photo):
Other birds of course are showing off their fine breeding plumage. Of particular note is the Great White Egret. Several birds are being seen across the reserve (at least 5 on Saturday) - the Avalon Hide came up trumps this morning for me with a good sighting. John Crispin's photo below shows this birds breeding colours. Note the slate grey bill, green lores and reddened legs:
Little Egrets look mighty fine too. This individual has been regularly visiting the cut island at Waltons:
and even the ducks get in on the action like this fine looking Shoveler after his mate!
Elsewhere is spring for other wildlife too and there has been a flurry of butterfly sightings this week: Red Admiral, Peacock, Small Tortoiseshell, Brimstone and Green Veined White all recorded on Thursday alone.
There have been a couple of Otter sightings over the last couple of weeks too. One from the Tor View Hide last week and from the Avalon Hide on Tuesday. Be aware however that there are mink around too - you may need to double check your sightings before shouting Otter!!
Roe Deer are also present on and around the reserve - there have been several sightings throughout the week and a Badger was seen around the Waltons screens late one evening. If you venture down the far end of the rail path you won't fail to notice the extra soil excavations next to the rail path. Looks like they've had an extension put on the sett!
The star of last week was the Brown Hare seen in the fields next to the car park. It has been seen around the car park trail in the past. Great Shots again from John Crispin!
Other stars came this morning (apart from the bitterns, Marsh Harriers and Great White Egrets). 6 Cranes flew high over the reserve heading north and appeared to land beyond the water tower according to those in the Avalon Hide. A Bittern landed in the reeds to the side of the last bit of path to the Avalon hide and around the same time Bearded Tits were heard pinging but weren't seen. 2 were seen in front of the hide on Saturday.
The Ring necked Duck is still around - seen today from the Tor View Hide (on the east side) and the Glossy Ibis was seen on Bank Holiday Monday flying in front of the 1st platform.
Also this week: Raven calling in flight on Tuesday, 22 Black Tailed Godwits on Saturday, 30 on Monday and 8 on Tuesday (these flew out of the area in front of the 2nd platform). A Sandwich Tern was reported on Monday too and a Kestrel was seen hovering north of the Avalon Hide on Wednesday.Other waders are about: the 5 Snipe in Waltons (previously mentioned) and some heard at other locations, occasional Lapwing flying over but also displaying to the far north of the reserve, a Woodcock was also seen last week close to Loxtons.
Other birds include: lovely looking Reed Buntings close to the Avalon Hide, Stonechats seen within reedbeds close to the same hide, Skylarks singing at Tinneys ground (on the Sharpham Road), Great Spotted Woodpeckers seen and drumming heard, Red Kite seen over the car park on Good Friday and along the rail path: Bullfinch, Treecreepers, Goldcrests and a host of other species.
Apart from all that, it's been pretty quiet!
There have been several 'firsts' for me this week. On Monday I have my first Sand Martins of the year - I heard them (perhaps 3) fly over the car park in the morning. Later on a visitor reported seeing some from the first platform. As I traveled into work on Thursday morning a single House Martin flew over the Meare road - at the Glastonbury end, so I got my first one of those too.
Monday also saw the first hatching of tadpoles in the car park pools and a first butterfly report for a while. A Small Tortoiseshell was seen along the old rail path. The rail path also came up trumps for Common Lizard. It was seen basking in the sunshine at the old rail bridge. I got some snaps on my phone but Andrew Collins, who was also there, kindly sent me in these photos. Thanks Andrew:
Not my first reptile of the year though after last week's Grass Snake but what a lovely thing to find. A visitor also reported seeing a second Grass Snake on Monday. Unfortunately for the snake it was dangling underneath a Buzzard at the time getting an aerial view of the Loxtons section. It was later seen eating the snake on the Loxtons path before it was disturbed. More Grass Snakes were seen yesterday (17th) in amongst brambles on the edge of Loxtons (behind the 2nd viewing platform). A visitor reported one larger snake with at least 2 smaller ones writhing around it - probably a female with a couple of males. By the time I got there, all I could see was the tail end of a snake disappearing - oh well, you can't win them all.
Another great first for the week was the first bird on our feeder cam, which beams shots back to the visitor building. Visitor Experience Officer Michael Wilson was on hand to take a shot - of the TV at least.
Once birds find it, it could be quite interesting viewing!
Other than these surprises, it's been business as usual - which of course means there's lots going on.
One of the big draws at the moment is the booming Bitterns. Thursday morning saw volunteers out across all the local nature reserves out before dawn to listen for 'boomers'. A max of 15 on RSPB land holdings in the Avalon Marshes and 2 on adjacent land puts us on a par with this time last year. Total figures from the Avalon Marshes are around 36 so it looks like a healthy crop once more. A 2nd survey takes place in mid April and this is where we usually get the peak count - so lots more to come.
It terms of Bittern flights it's a little quieter but they have been seen on a few occasions this week. The first platform, Waltons and the Avalon Hide all good places to try.
Of course our other Heron species are still very much present too. Great White Egrets are being seen on a daily basis - often in pairs, which is quite significant. Grey Herons are also still busying themselves with nests in Waltons - a couple with birds sitting (visible from the Tor View Hide). The hide also offered views of an Otter on Monday on the eastern side during the afternoon and on Tuesday the Ring Necked Duck was seen on the western side. If you're here it's worth scanning all the groups of Tufted Duck and Pochard to see if he's still around. This Waltons area is also the place to perhaps see Great Crested Grebes displaying. The hide can also be a good place to see Water Rail - a few sightings have been reported from here lately. You'll know they're about - they call loudly like a squealing pig. Loud but rarely seen.
The same can be said of the Cetti's Warbler. They have a very loud, punchy song but are usually skulking about in the reedbeds hidden away. At this time of year however, they become a little more showy and can often be seen perching up calling and claiming its territory. Waltons near the screen, by the Tor View Hide and behind the 2nd platform in Loxtons (2 seen together) are all good places to start.
Song in general is picking up more and more. Of particular note this week have been the Chiffchaffs, with several calling loudly along the rail path and around the Loxtons trail. John Crispin managed to get this shot of one this week- thanks John!
Elsewhere, other birds have been seen carrying nest material. I myself watched Long Tailed Tits nest building in brambles around Loxtons. It looked very white but I believe they often used cobwebs to bind nests together. John Crispin also saw nest building Long Tailed Tits this week:
....and Goldfinch too!
The Avalon Hide is still the place to go to see Marsh Harriers. A pair displayed for long periods in front of the hide on Monday and had been seen carrying long reed stems to nest build with. Also on Monday a male Kestrel hovered and flew acrobatically around the hide. It was also seen from the first platform (and another at the far end of the rail path yesterday). Further to these a Peregrine was also reported on Monday.
On some days you may not need to stray far from your car to get some exciting sightings. On Sunday a Marsh Harrier, Sparrowhawk, Kestrel (pictured) and Buzzard were all seen within about half an hour. Treecreepers, Song Thrushes & Goldcrests are often amongst the trees there too and - also on Sunday- 3 Great Spotted Woodpeckers (including one drumming).
Kestrel - John Crispin
Also this week: 2 Barn Owls from the box opposite the 1st platform this morning and another from Tinneys ground (on the Sharpham Road) during the BIttern Count yesterday, Tawny Owls also heard calling during the survey, 3 Jays in woods opposite the 1st platform this morning too. Also 3 Water Pipit on the north of the reserve, Raven seen and heard in flight on Monday, a pair of Bullfinch on the rail path between the 2 platforms the same day, up to 5 Snipe on the cut island in Waltons during the week, a few Lapwing seen daily and 2 Black Tailed Godwits from the 2nd platform on Tuesday. ....... almost forgot the 3 Cranes seen flying over the reserve yesterday - be interesting to see how they get on this year!
That's it for this week. Have a great weekend!
Firstly, apologies for the lack of blog over the last couple of weeks. I was helping to run a corporate team day for some employees of Bristol City Council 2 Fridays ago (when I usually write the blog) and just didn't have the time. Then I was off on annual leave last week. It means there's a bit to catch up with but I think I'll concentrate on this week and just add in a few snippets from the previous fortnight. Fortunately I have lots of lovely photos to really pack it out.
It's been a little bit of a mixed bag when it comes to weather over the last few weeks - bit of snow, hail high winds but as a rule it feels as though it's warming up a bit and spring is within touching distance. Wildlife on the reserve is responding too and the mornings have generally been for alive and tuneful with birdsong. The Song Thrush takes some beating though. The car park has been a good place to hear them recently.
Song Thrush - John Crispin
In the car park pools, if you look closely enough, you'll see several patches of frogspawn - look to the shallower edges where the water warms up quicker and there's other things beginning to stir too. On Wednesday morning - probably the coldest and windiest day this week, was the day this little grass snake decided to emerge. It was by the wooden gate at the footpath entrance to the reserve (on the other side of the main drain). I took a quick picture with my phone and then moved a couple of things round to give it some cover.
Within Waltons the Grey Herons are still sitting or bringing in extra nesting material (3 nests for sure). The Tor View Hide is probably the best place to view these. Thanks to John Crispin & John Crabb for the photos.
Grey Heron - John Crispin
Grey Heron - John Crabb
While you're in the hide there's usually plenty of other stuff to see. Last weekend Water Rail was seen right in front and Coots were boisterously displaying and being very territorial on Tuesday - although they do make rather a lot of noise about it. If you prefer grace and elegance, it's hard to beat the Great Crested Grebes. On Tuesday they were performing their courtship display close in to the hide and undertook a bit of weed dancing for the cameras. Thanks to Rob Balch for sending me in this shot of the action - what a lovely sight it is.
Great Crested Grebes - Rob Balch
Fishing Great Crested Grebes - photos by John Crabb
Great Crested Grebes in flight - John Crispin
In fact, this area has been a little hot spot over the last week. Bitterns are booming well in both Waltons and Loxtons, while plenty of Pochard & Tufted Duck have been frequenting the area. In amongst them from last weekend until Tuesday a Ring necked Duck was present on the west side of Waltons. This is likely to be the same bird that's been at Glastonbury Heath pools until recently - just a stones throw away from the back of the reserve. While it was in Waltons John Crispin managed to grab these great photos - thanks John!
Ring Necked Duck - John Crispin
It has since moved into the area in front of the 2nd viewing platform and was seen there yesterday.
Waltons has also been visited by the Glossy Ibis over the last few weeks. It's either been sat on the cut island in front of the screen on the west side or in front of the Tor View Hide. On other occasions - including a couple of occasions this week, it's been spotted in front of the 2nd viewing platform. These tend to be it's favourite haunts when it visits the reserve but of course it could literally be anywhere. As far as we know it still roosts each night over on Shapwick Heath.
Last Wednesday morning (2nd Mar) John Crispin came across this heart warming sight on the cut island on the east side of Waltons:
Glossy Ibis, Great White Egret and 8 Little Egrets (unfortunately he couldn't squeeze in the eighth Little Egret)
Glossy Ibis again! - John Crispin
From the first platform this morning a Great White Egret was present with another 2 in flight over the reedbed next to the car park. You could also try the Avalon Hide for these - they often sit and feed in the cut areas. Bitterns can be heard booming here too and you catch the occasional flight. Staff and volunteers will be out before dawn next Thursday across the whole of the Avalon Marshes to undertake the booming Bittern survey - with a follow up survey in April. Last years total of 43 is the target to beat.
Also from the hide - great action from Marsh Harriers. 2 weeks ago I saw 2 males displaying to females over the same nest sites as last year - more of the same please!. Tawny Owls have also been spotted in the Owl boxes in the central wood, while left of the hide 2 Barn Owls were seen last Sunday.
This handsome little chap was spotted in front of the Avalon Hide before I went away on annual leave but I have seen one close by this week too.
Stonechat - John Crispin
Elsewhere on the site good numbers of duck - particularly Shoveler, Pochard, Teal (male seen displaying this week) and Tufted Duck.
Shoveler in flight - John Crispin
But also plenty of Wigeon, Mallard and Gadwall....
Gadwall in flight - John Crabb
....and on the odd occasion some lovely Pintail - male seen from the 1st platform this Tuesday (and last).
Pintail photos by John Crispin.
Other recent sightings include: 4 Siskin and 2 Redpolls seen by the 2nd platform, Treecreeper seen by the car park boardwalk, Dusky Warbler reported around Loxtons on 29th Feb and 3 Cranes flying over the car parks the same day, Ravens seen in flight, male Bullfinch seen & heard close to the canal path/Avalon Hide path junction with at least one more bird calling close by, colour ringed Coot in Waltons ringed at Abbotsbury in July 2015, 14 Snipe flying over Waltons at the weekend and c30 Lapwings yesterday and singing Chiffchaff at Waltons too. Chiffchaff and Goldcrest were also seen feeding by the 2nd platform this week sometimes from the treeline - other times hawking in the air. Dave Chislett sent me this Goldcrest photo recently for use in the blog too - thanks Dave.
Goldcrest - Dave Chislett
Finally - a firm visitor favourite - the Kingfisher. Staff and volunteers have cleared the Kingfisher bank in the car park and inserted a post and perch in readiness for some wildlife cameras to be installed in the coming weeks. Sightings at both Loxtons and Waltons this week. Lets hope they find their way to the car park pools too!
Kingfisher - John Crispin
It's been a pretty good week all round but the best news has come this morning. Having spoken to the contractors who have been working on the Environment Agencies bridge it looks as though the main path through the reserve will be open again today. Maybe even now as I write this blog.
It will be a relief for all those coming to visit to see the Starling murmurations over the weekend. The majority of the birds have been on Ham Wall this week - many of them down the far end beyond the 2nd viewing platform. A pair of Bullfinches were also reported feeding in these areas this week. As always it's worth giving the starling hotline a call if you're planning a visit - they can change roosts on any night but it will give you the last known location. Hotline No. : 07866 554142
Here's some shots of the Starlings taking off on Thursday morning sent in by John Crispin - thanks John!
There's been some wonderful warm weather this week - although the least said about Wednesday, the better. There was a noticeable chorus of singing birds at the car park this morning with Song Thrushes in particularly good voice. There's a hint of springlike activity with all the bird song, fighting coots, daffodils and snowdrops in bloom, booming Bitterns and displaying Great Crested Grebes.
The pair in Waltons were together and head bobbing together but only very briefly. This kind of pair bonding activity should increase steadily over the next few weeks. Still they are always a handsome bird to watch, even when not displaying.
Great Crested Grebe - Photo by John Crabb
Waltons has been one of the places to see the Glossy Ibis of late - on the cut island in front of the 3rd screen - the last report I had of it here though was on Sunday. It has been seen flying into its normal roost site on Shapwick Heath on most evenings but it's often uncertain where it spends its days. This cut island at Waltons has also been frequented by Snipe feeding, with 3 seen on Thursday morning at this location:
Snipe; Photo - John Crispin
From the Tor View Hide Grey Herons can still be seen sitting or others seen flying in carrying sticks. There are 2 perhaps 3 locations where birds are currently sat or nest building. John Crispin sent in this shot taken on Thursday - thanks John.
A selection of duck species can also be seen here but perhaps the 1st platform is a good place to sit and stare a while for these. Mallard, Gadwall, Teal, Tufted Duck, Pochard, Shoveler & Wigeon have all been seen here this week. A large number of Wigeon flew out of this section yesterday when they were spooked and John Crispin took this shot of males fighting over a female on this week.
The second platform also has its fair share of interest. The Starlings spent the early part of the week here but also a Black Necked Grebe was reported to me at this location. I was out on site and not far away but neither myself nor another visitor could locate it, although we did spot a Pintail which, was nice. A Black necked Grebe was later reported over at Shapwick Heath, so the chances are it was there, even if very briefly.
Great White Egrets are often seen here too but you could also try the Avalon Hide or the 1st platform where Little Egrets have also been dropping in from time to time. 2 Great White Egrets were seen flying together for some time on Thursday - almost displaying perhaps.
Great White Egret: Photo - John Crispin
The Avalon Hide is probably still the place to go and see Marsh Harriers. 2 were certainly in the area yesterday. Bitterns have also been seen here this week. I had one close to here on Thursday but have also seen one from the 1st platform and the Tor View Hide this week. Listen out for booming males too - one or two been heard around the Loxtons area recently.
Loxtons screen is perhaps the place to go for a Kingfisher sighting. I have fairly regular reports from this location and this week was no exception. On the was to the screen on Monday a Great Spotted Woodpecker perched up and showed very nicely, although this was trumped by our offices this morning with 3 birds chasing around at the Avalon Marshes Centre.
Not much to report in the way of mammals this week. The usual couple of Grey Squirrels along the rail path but several Roe deer seen this week. I had 3 together in the wood by the owl boxes yesterday and later o 2 more by the first woodland strip on the footpath side of the canal. Another was seen enjoying the sunshine around Waltons on Tuesday and snapped by John Crabb. Thanks for sending in this and your other photos John:
Also this week: several buzzard sightings including one being mobbed mercilessly by a Crow this morning, a Kestrel hovering over the Ham Wall car park again this morning, Raven flying over during the week, c400 Lapwing seen on both sides of the track from the 2nd platform on Thursday - a wonderful sight in the sunshine, Plenty of Long Tailed Tit groups but often with Blue Tit, Great Tit and Goldcrest mixed in and these Canada Geese doing a pretty dance after mating:
Canada Geese: Photo - John Crabb
Finally, always a nice bird to see - the Treecreeper. It's been seen several times in the last week or so using the Alder trees by the boundary ditch between the Waltons & Loxtons sections. I was lucky enough to see it there last week and on Monday. John Crispin got this shot on Sunday:
We've had it all this week in terms of weather. High winds, rain, snow, hail and lovely calm sunny periods. The wildlife is amazingly adaptable however and as always there's plenty to talk about.
The Glossy Ibis is still being seen quite regularly - as last week it been seen several times on the cut island opposite the 3rd screen at the Waltons section. Both John Crispin and John Crabb managed to grab these shots on Sunday. Thank you to you both for sending them to me:
Photo: John Crispin
Photo: John Crabb
It seems the early morning may be the best time to catch it here before it finds another feeding site. It was also reported from the second viewing platform during the week. It's been seen there before too, so these look like the most likely places to try.
The other surprise of the week was the re- emergence of the Dusky Warbler, picked up on Wednesday along the canal path - again in scrub close to the junction with the Avalon Hide. It was looked for again on Thursday but not relocated.
When the suns shines there is a feeling that spring is close by. The snowdrops have flowered by the car park boardwalk, as they do every year and Bitterns can be heard booming (although some a little half hearted) at several locations around the reserve. Loxtons is probably your best bet. On Thursday one was heard booming to the left of Loxtons screen but there is also one in the section by the rail path. You can often hear him if you stand at the small sleeper bridge which leads to the Loxtons trail. On Thursday a second bird flew in from the south into this section. I was lucky today too as one flew past the 1st platform before dropping into the reeds on the right. It perched briefly and then slowly disappeared within the reeds.
Perhaps my biggest surprise of the week was the sight of a bat flying around in bright sunshine over the old station house close to the car park. I can only guess that it was disturbed from its hibernation site (nice to see though).
Back in Waltons there is plenty to see (even if the Glossy Ibis isn't showing for you). Great Crested Grebes are there in all their finery. A few singles but one definite pair who have been reinforcing those pair bonds with a bit of head bobbing to each other. Also within the water a selection of duck and also Canada Geese, Mute Swan, Cormorant and Little Grebe along with plenty of squabbling Coots.
On the cut island you will often see Lapwings, although sometimes they are in the splashy section close to the Avalon Hide (visible from the 1st platform when in flight 150 -200) and 4 Snipe were recorded here on Sunday also. The Avalon HIde is the place to go for the best views of Marsh Harrier. They tend to spend a lot of their time over this northern part of the reserve with 4 different birds recorded frequently. Great White Egrets often drop into this area too, landing in the cut areas giving great views from the hide. The occasional Little Egret drops in too for a good size comparison. A pair on Stonechats were perched up in front on Tuesday too.
Kingfishers are also seen here but it seems that Loxtons is the place to see them had the moment. 3 were seen from the screen on Wednesday with 2 chasing each other and one static. Another was seen flying left to right in front of the screen on Thursday. I also saw on this week - this time in Waltons. It perched on trees by the screens and could easily be seen by the disabled parking area.
Starlings are still around of course. They have been using the Waltons section recently and they were landing very close to the rail path on the 1st island to the left. However, as of last night they have moved to a section in front of (a little distant) the 2nd platform. There may also be some birds going to Shapwick too but I'm not 100% sure. They could of course move again but this is the best guide I can give you at the moment.
On the canal path close to the furthest bridge there seemed to be a lot of Starling remains on Tuesday, so they've obviously been using a section close by recently.
I'm not sure what the Grey Herons made of it all recently. They nested in the Waltons section in low numbers for several years now and this year looks to be no exception. I've been seeing and hearing several birds within this section lately and on Sunday birds were seen mating and carrying nesting material. If you go to the Tor View Hide and look to the left you will often see Herons just sitting in the reedbed. Once again John Crispin & John Crabb were on hand to get some action shots. Thank you both!
Watch this space!!
Also this week: Lots of activity from Great Spotted Woodpeckers heard drumming at Rail path trees by Loxtons, the first wood strip on the canal path and at our offices in the Avalon Marshes Centre. Also had another 2 birds chasing each other and calling loudly - perhaps showing aggression (while the woodland strip bird continued to drum) - Jays in the same strip calling. Also this morning: Peregrine at 7.30am flying north from 2nd platform, Roe Deer by Loxtons which jumped the fence into Street Heath a good selection of duck from 2nd platform inc Shoveler, Tufted Duck and Pochard (there are also a lot of Teal on site) and 30+ Fieldfare at Tinneys ground on the Sharpham Road.
Wednesday saw a Bullfinch at Loxtons, while on Tuesday Bearded Tits were again seen in the same place as the last couple of weeks - just beyond the section the the second viewing platform faces, a Raven also flew over the reserve Cronking. Thursday saw a Kestrel in a tree towards the far end of the rail path and a small group of Siskins perched in alders also along the rail path.
Grid reference: ST4439 (+2km)
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