Lots of activity on the reserve this week - busy with wildlife but also with habitat management activities. If you have visited you may have noticed a couple of strange looking machines working away in the reedbeds and open areas. Apologies, that much of this activity has been in public areas and in front of the platforms and hides. They help us with our vital management work to keep the site in tip top condition for wildlife but also they are helping to create interesting and open areas for feeding birds. It gives visitors more to look at and brings a wider range of wildlife closer to the viewing areas and hopefully inspires people to support us or just share their experience with others.
The machines are called Truxors and are handy for clearing channels or really wet areas where our usual reed cutting machine (the Softrak) can't get to. This machine has also been out and about this week and has been clearing an area of thick reedbed as part of our cutting regime to create a nice age structure of reedbed throughout the site, which increases diversity.
If you look within Waltons, Loxtons, from both platforms and in front of the Avalon Hide you can see what they've been up to.
The 1st platform (VP1) has been a good spot again this week. The, now more elusive, glossy ibis has been spotted in front of both platforms on a couple of occasions this week. It's been hanging around with the cattle egrets in the local area during the day and been trying to make friends with other heron types too by the looks of things! Thanks to John Crispin for the selection of photos:
glossy ibis & cattle egrets
glossy ibis & little egret
glossy ibis & grey heron
glossy ibis in flight
cattle egrets feeding
As well as being seen in flight over the reserve on some mornings a cattle egret was also spotted in front of VP1 on Tuesday morning. Little and great white egrets have also been spotted here quite frequently this week (once the Truxors had moved on).
A good selection of ducks throughout the week too including mallard, gadwall, tufted duck, wigeon, teal and shoveler as well as a pintail which was spotted in flight over the main track on Thursday. Little grebe, bittern, marsh harrier and bearded tits all seen from this viewpoint to during the week.
In terms of waders there's been good numbers but just a few species. Lapwing seen daily with at least 150 recorded on one occasion, snipe recorded daily with at least 10 at this location and around 20 black tailed godwits photographed by John Crispin on Sunday but other smaller groups seen throughout the week. Thanks for the pictures John.
black tailed godwits feeding
black tailed godwits with a great white egret on sentry
Of course, any visit starts in the car park. Some interesting stuff been spotted there too this week. On Monday 3 whooper swans were seen in flight - most likely the same 3 spotted over at Noah's lake on Shapwick Heath this week. A Siberian chiffchaff was also recorded in the car park on Sunday and another over near Waltons during the week. The one most people are trying to spot has been the firecrest. The boardwalk area leading to the reserve from the car park hosted 2 early in the week but check the tree and hedge lines all around the car park - they've been seen here recently too as well as along the main track to the reserve. There are goldcrests around too so familiarise yourself with the differences. The most obvious being the white around the eye and black eye stripe. John Crispin has photographed both this week and sent them in - hope this helps. Thanks once again to John.
Others on the car park list this week include: treecreeper - most likely close to the boardwalk to the reserve from the car park, 3 great spotted woodpeckers on Thursday, buzzards, coal tits, song thrush and a sparrowhawk on Tuesday as well as the usual suspects such as blackbirds, robins and various tits and finches throughout the week.
Onto the main track and there's plenty more you can add to your list. Bullfinch are seen on occasions whilst gangs of long tailed tits are regulars. Redpoll & siskin are seen in varying numbers - usually towards Loxtons where the larger alders grow. As many as 3 jays have also been seen whist chiffchaffs are seen frequently - one by the 2nd platform (VP2) on Sunday. Perhaps the best main track sighting this week was that of an otter with a youngster under the old rail bridge just a short walk down from the car park (on Tuesday).
Lots of other interest at VP2 this week - bearded tits seen and heard a couple of times, glossy ibis at least twice, 2 raven flying over on Tuesday and Thursday, a really good long bittern flight on Tuesday, groups of greylag geese still roosting here - around 50 of them, up to 3 marsh harriers, 25 snipe and 100,000 Starlings make this a good place to go.
This has been the place to go for the main starling roost but there have been smaller roosts in Loxtons and Waltons this week and another possible small roost over on Shapwick Heath. We recommend being on site by at least 3.30 to catch the show - varying light levels can mean they come in at slightly different times each day but if you're early enough you'll always have a good chance.
Birds of prey often hang around for an easy meal - sparrowhawks a prime example (there's been one hanging around on the north of the reserve during the week) but you may also see peregrine. One visitor reported seeing a barn owl near Waltons on the way back to the car park too on Monday.
There not the only things to have a munch on starlings. A carrion crow was spotted feasting on one this morning in trees close to VP2.
A great white egret was sat on the footpath opposite VP2 as well but was chased across the area by a grey heron which had been spooked from the side. Shame nobody but Ali the warden was there to see it at such close quarters.
In front of the Avalon Hide is looking really good thanks to the Truxors work. When they stopped for lunch today a bittern settled in one of the cut areas to the delight of some photographers. They will be finished in here today so why not go and take a look. On the way look out for water pipits in the newly flooded areas and listen out for bearded tits as you leave the wood and head to the hide - they were both there at around lunchtime today.
Also this week: 8 roe deer seen together in fields just to the north of the reserve, kestrel seen again close to the Avalon Hide, meadow pipits seen from the Avalon Hide, male stonechat seen from VP2, water rail spotted again from the Tor View Hide (still pretty vocal on the reserve, as are cettis warblers, kingfisher seen from VP1, with Waltons and Loxtons this week and the rats which keep making TV appearances on the live camera feeder in the welcome building at the car park. Thanks to Abbie Thorne for the picture.
Just to let you know with the Christmas period coming up there will be some closures and adjusted hours in the welcome building, which are listed below:
That's it for this week. Wrap up warm if you're coming to visit. As you can see - there's lots to look out for. Have a great weekend.
Not got a lot of time today so it may be a quicker blog than usual I'm afraid. Still plenty to talk about however so lets get started. The Starlings continue to draw in the visitors as expected and the main roost has remained on Ham Wall with most birds using the area distant of the 2nd platform. Smaller roosts are occurring in both the Waltons section and on Shapwick Heath. Hopefully if they move visitors or volunteers will be able to update us so we can pass that on to you. The best thing to do is to phone the Starling hotline on 07866 554142 to find out which site they are on then if they are at our reserve or close by, staff or volunteers in our visitor building will be able to guide you closer to the action.
Lots of other stuff to see on any visit or while you wait for the starlings. Start at the car park and look out for the firecrests. Lots of sightings this week of at least 2 birds but they are quite mobile. They've been seen in the picnic area, at the small copse on the mini marshes trail, right by the visitor building in the small bush (as I found out on Monday) and in the left hand corner by the road (as you face the road - as I found out on Wednesday) and in the tree lines and boardwalk leading to the reserve (see there yesterday). There are goldcrests about to so look for the black eye stripe and white surround of the eye to distinguish them.
On the walk to the reserve look out for a number of birds along the main path including gangs of Long Tailed Tits and other mixed flocks, treecreeper (also seen at Loxtons), great spotted woodpecker, noisy jays and groups of redpoll & siskin seen in the alders - particularly down towards Loxtons end. a group of around 50 Redpoll were reported by a visitor on Tuesday and both were photographed by a visitor this morning.
The first and second platforms (VP1 & VP2) offer varying numbers of birds each day. Lapwing numbers fluctuate but a peak of over 300 birds were seen there on Monday morning and there is often a great white egret feeding in this area. Look out also for Snipe which are using the area along with wigeon, shoveler, mallard and gadwall. You may also get the odd bittern sighting as John Crispin discovered yesterday morning thanks John. He's also zoomed in on the shot to show us the long claws it has in its weaponry.
VP2 offers much the same, although often you will see more great white egrets here. You may be lucky enough to see more birds in the early morning. You could come and watch the starlings take off and perhaps, as John Crispin did, see several Great Whites take off too from a few different areas. Thanks again John:
He also had 3 perched in trees at Loxtons this week:
There was a possible Bewick swan in this area on Wednesday and Whooper Swans have been seen locally (including Noah's lake on Shapwick Heath) this week. Look out here also for Sparrowhawk - a few sightings here this week - a good chance of a sighting of one around starling time - no surprises there. Also a peregrine sighted on Tuesday. Look out also for tufted duck amongst the wildfowl with 3 males and a female sen yesterday - also a chance of pintail as they often use this area at this time of year. Greylags and Canada geese also grace the area on most days. Thanks again to Nicola Berry for her shot of Canada geese:
A walk to the Avalon Hide will take you past the newly cut and flooded areas. Water still rising slowly in here at present. Teal are enjoying the area with around 150 spotted yesterday along with gadwall & mallard. On the stretch before the wood there were around 50 meadow pipits yesterday but there were also water pipit so look out for them. In the same area a few pied wagtails were feeding as were both male and female stonechat. Thanks to Nicola Berry for her photo taken this week:
The final path to the hide once you leave the wood offered us Bearded Tits on Thursday with 3 or 4 heard but not seen. The same thing true of birds heard at VP2 and Tor View Hide this week. A Kestrel was hunting frequently both sides of the Avalon Hide and over the newly flooded area this week. The hide, as always, offers good views of Marsh Harriers as has the Waltons area - including Tor View Hide and VP2. You can also see occasional fly overs in the car park of both Marsh Harriers and Buzzards.
Early mornings or late in the day often give good opportunities for some atmospheric shots - I've posted a few recently. Here's another couple from Nicola Berry taken this week - thanks Nicola:
How about a close encounter with a heron on a misty morning:
and closer still.....
Also this week: 4 Ravens over VP2 yesterday but also over the car park on a few days this week, a single Ruff seen from VP2 on Tuesday, Song Thrush also from VP2 yesterday, Water Rail seen from the Tor View Hide on Monday but many being heard around the reserve daily, Fieldfare of VP2 yesterday and Chiffchaff reported along the main path. Here's one snapped by John Crispin yesterday - thanks John:
That's it for this week - sorry it's been a bit of a whirlwind report this week - there's just so much to do on this busy reserve - but isn't it a wonderful place. Have a great weekend!
It's felt more like winter this week with colder, wetter days, darker skies and high winds at times. The colder, shorter days bring about changes in birds behaviour with many birds flocking together for security, warmth and in areas where food is more plentiful or it's more sheltered. Starlings are of course our most classic example of this. Estimates of over 100,000 birds roosting on the reserve each night - these could be quite conservative estimates but this number will undoubtedly grow quickly with this colder weather.
One problem we have is that the flock has split. Since last week the main bulk of birds has moved to the top of the reserve - this is quite distant from the 2nd platform (VP2) but can offer good views as its a nice open vista. Other smaller flocks are continuing to use Loxtons and Waltons to roost with some visitors reporting many birds around the Tor View hide - so a smaller display for a shorter walk. Either way it would be worth ringing the Starling Hotline in case the flock moves. We also aim to have our welcome building open as much as possible during the busy starling season and staff and volunteers will be more than happy to point you in the right direction.
You could of course be brave and get up early to watch the birds taking off in the morning and you may get a nice sunrise to enjoy as well - thanks to Simon Lewis for the photo:
Starlings at sunrise - Simon Lewis
Some more early morning pictures taken by John Crispin at the Loxtons section - thanks John:
...and another sent into me by Graham Wagner - thanks Graham.
Sunrise from the Avalon Hide: Graham Wagner
There are plenty of other birds flocking together to keep you entertained too: There were at least 300 lapwing in front of the 1st platform (VP1) on a few occasions this week - most notably on Tuesday where they frequently popped up into the air and were quite unsettled at times. In the morning c30 black tailed godwits were with them and around 20 snipe were hidden amongst them too.
Plenty of duck on site with 100's of birds at several places on Tuesday morning - this includes both platforms (gadwall, mallard, teal wigeon, shoveler), in front of the Loxtons screen (lots of gadwall, wigeon and shoveler) and the Avalon Hide (shoveler and gadwall in particular). It was quite impressive to see so many birds across the reserve on the same day. We are also now bringing up water levels in the open and newly cut areas close to the footpath on the way to the Avalon Hide. c300 teal reported using some of these areas this week. It will be interesting to see what else starts using these areas as water levels rise - a water pipit was reported in here yesterday. Other ducks reported this week include pochard within Waltons and from the Tor View Hide and tufted duck from the Avalon Hide. This tufted duck taken last week by John Crispin - thanks John - hope you are enjoying your holiday this week.
Look out for plenty of other flocks of birds that visit us in winter. Fieldfare and redwing are a good example with a group of 8 of the latter seen over the car park this week. Redpoll & siskin can be seen too. Sightings this week from the car park but generally further down the main track flitting in and around the lines of alder trees. The large ones at Loxtons is a good place to start - several seen here yesterday.
Plenty of long tailed tit flocks as well. They tend to follow lines of trees and are constantly calling to each other keeping in touch. They are great birds to watch and I always enjoy seeing them. There are often flocks around the screens at Waltons too feeding in the willows there. Thanks to Graham Wagner for his long tailed tit shot taken this week:
Long tailed tit: Graham Wagner
Lots of flocks of smaller birds are often mixed so don't always assume they are all of a kind. For example Long tailed tits will hang around with great tit and blue tit also but look out too for other more unusual birds hidden amongst them You may often see birds like goldcrests, possibly firecrest or chiffchaff - or who knows what other unusual warblers may be there. A siberian chiffchaff was seen this week and a yellow browed warbler last week (at the car park) so you never know. We had a couple of sightings of firecrest this week - one at the car park and one further down near VP1. Looking at this photo taken by Graham Wagner I would suggest this is a firecrest with the broad white band above the eye (supercilium) and the black eye stripe which are absent on the goldcrest. Thanks Graham.
Firecrest: Graham Wagner
Cattle Egrets are still flocking together with 30+ being seen in field in the surrounding area along with the glossy ibis at times. They have also been roosting together - sometimes on Ham wall but it has also been suggested that they have roosted in front of Noah's hide on Shapwick Heath this week too. The Glossy Ibis has also put in a couple of appearances at VP1 this week but has been far more elusive over the last fortnight than in previous weeks.
As if all this wasn't enough there are still plenty of other things to report. Marsh harriers have been particularly active this week. Lots of sightings from the Avalon Hide and across Waltons too. Several sightings from the Tor View Hide this week too. On Tuesday I had 2 birds flying together and often interacting with each other. At the same time, more distantly, over Loxtons I could see a further 2 birds doing something similar. there have also been similar reports of birds in front of the Avalon Hide showing similar behaviour. Yesterday, interaction of a different kind between a marsh harrier and a sparrowhawk from the Tor View Hide with other reports of sparrowhawk across the reserve too throughout the week.
These birds appear more frequently around starling roost time - not surprisingly and we've also reports of Peregrine on a couple of occasions. These birds can be seen in the mornings too often dropping into the reedbeds after the starlings have left to pick up any dead or struggling birds for an easy meal. A couple of Great White Egrets did this too last week - perhaps they were doing the same?
Other birds of prey seen and heard this week include a Red Kite seen from the VP2 on Monday, buzzards seen daily and tawny owl heard from Central Wood during the week. Barn Owls could also be seen and they are known to pick of starlings as we find carcasses in the owl boxes when we clear them out or ring owlets.
Other favourites seen this week include Bittern flights from the Avalon Hide (inc 2 on Tuesday) and within Waltons in particular with one flying in front of the 1st screen there yesterday. Kingfisher also seen from the same location - Waltons is a bit of a hot spot but sightings have also been had from the Loxtons screen and the Avalon Hide as Graham Wagner's shots show - thanks again Graham:
Kingfisher: Graham Wagner
Bearded tits are still being seen - perhaps not quite as frequently as before but the fact that they have been seen and heard from the Avalon Hide this week and on the path to the Tor View Hide yesterday is really good. I even had some whilst I was at Greylake last week doing some work in their reedbed which is great.
Also this week: Brambling seen in the car park on Monday, Raven flying over yesterday, another otter sighting - this time from the VP2 yesterday afternoon, the usual kestrel being seen from VP1 and close to the Avalon Hide, vocal water rails (listen out for their calls - they sound like squealing pigs) - one also seen from the Tor View Hide - keep a look out here, coal tit in the car park, still lots of greylag geese c40+ using the area in front of VP2 and smaller numbers of Canada Geese too making plenty of noise c30, Stonechats being spotted from the Avalon Hide and the 2nd platform on a regular basis, treecreepers (pictured) being seen quite often along the main track and a few butterflies still being spotted such as Red Admiral and Comma (end of last week) along with a few Common and Ruddy Darter dragonflies seen earlier this week although any more frosts are likely to see these off completely.
Treecreeper: Graham Wagner
That's about it for this week - happy hunting everyone and have a great weekend!