Any walk around Ham Wall can bring great rewards but sometimes its good to just sit and wait. While you are waiting for that elusive bittern sighting you can enjoy many other sights and sounds of the reserve. Take time to listen to the bird song - particularly along the main path in the tree lines. If you keep quiet after a while many birds will come closer and begin to go about their usual business having checked you out.
The place is teeming with insects and other invertebrates too - bumblebees, hoverflies, butterflies, moths (such as scarlet tiger - a day flying moth - pictured) spiders and an abundance of dragonflies. In fact I was talking to a visitor this week about the thousands of 4 spotted chasers that are across the reserve (the Waltons trail is particularly good). They were watching a 4 spotted chaser settle on the vegetation when a spider, a fraction of its size grabbed it and pulled it down into the undergrowth - there's so much more going on right under our noses - we just need to look.
Plenty of other dragonflies are about too: emperor, black tailed skimmer, broad bodied chaser, scarce chaser & hairy dragonfly all seen this week. Great hobby food of course and there have been a fair few sightings of hobby too. Several sightings of these birds over Waltons in particular but also from the Avalon Hide and over Loxtons and areas nearby. Thanks to both John Crispin and Graham Wagner for their hobby shots all taken over Waltons this week:
Hobby: John Crispin
Hobby with dragonfly: Graham Wagner
A walk around the Waltons trail to see the many dragonflies could also bring rewards such as cuckoos. They can often be heard in this area and from the car park so it could be worth a walk. Marsh Harriers hunt here too regularly and there have been several kingfisher sightings here this week and guess what........even a mini starling murmuration, although we are talking 100 + birds only so don't get your hopes up.
Cuckoos have also been seen in other parts of the reserve including the 2nd platform (VP2) yesterday. However, my best sighting of the week came from further down the track again in the area we call Garleys. It's on the right past Street Heath (the area with the wind pump in it). 2 birds were perched in the big dead tree here and calling away. There was then a chase across this section which was great to see. At the same time a lovely male marsh harrier was hunting and both little & great white egret were using the area. A sparrowhawk also hunts this area on a regular basis. This area is where little bittern have been present the last couple of years. This year despite many evening surveys across the site we've picked nothing up in the whole of the Avalon Marshes - if you know differently we'd love to hear from you.
Great White Egrets are present however and hard to miss. There are many birds seen all over the reserve these days and they fly regularly over the car park from the adjacent section. 5 nests here contain 16 youngsters to add to the growing total with at least two other nests at other locations containing more and a third still being looked at so a successful year here. Thanks to John Crispin for this close up:
Bitterns too are busy in a few areas. Surveys took place yesterday and flights were seen in Waltons, Loxtons, on the north of the reserve and the 1st platform (VP1). Whilst repairing and tidying VP2 yesterday we saw at least 3 flights and another bird perched in the reeds at the back. A bird also did this from VP1 during the evening guided walk and was there again on Wednesday morning - thanks to John Crispin for getting these shots of it:
There are plenty of young birds and family groups being seen across the reserve, as is to be expected at this time of year. Along the main path fledged: long tailed tits, great tits, blue tits and willow warblers, whilst out on the water: young gadwall, mallard and pochard seen with plenty of coot and moorhen chicks present as Graham Wagner's and John Crispin's pictures show. Thanks for sending them in:
Moorhen chick: Graham Wagner
Coot with chicks: John Crispin
There was also a little grebe at Waltons out busy collecting small fish, larvae and other invertebrates and taking them back to its nest.
John Crispin mentioned a third bird infiltrating the territory to which this adult bird was not best pleased. Thanks for these great action shots John:
Fantastic photos, I'm sure you'll agree.
There's lots of other wildlife to see of course. Red Kites have been seen pretty much every day this week: seen from the Avalon Hide on Sunday, over the car park twice on Monday, VP1 on Tuesday, over Shapwick Heath on Wednesday and yesterday we saw one on the way to the reserve on Shapwick Road in Westhay so keep your eyes peeled we are getting plenty of sightings lately.
On a stroll down the main track look out for willow warblers, garden warbler, blackcap, chiffchaff, bullfinches and jays on a few occasions. Make sure you stop at the rail bridge. Look out for grass snakes basking on the sides or even in the water. Several sightings here this week. You can nearly always spot fish such as rudd here too.
Also this week: a fox seen trotting across Long Drove (an area south of Waltons), whitethroat from VP1, grass snakes also seen by the bridge up on the road close to car parks, 2 green sandpiper dropped into the area opposite the little bridge that leads you towards the Avalon Hide, quite a number of swallows passed over on Weds & Thurs this week but also a few swift, sand martin and house martin seen, Water rail seen from the Tor View Hide, Iberian Water Frogs heard croaking away close to the car park and with Waltons and this roe deer seen on the grass track between the Avalon Hide path junction and VP2 - thanks to Graham Wagner for his photos:
That's it for this week: Have a great weekend!
As always there have been plenty of wonderful sightings at Ham Wall to report and lots of happy visitors leaving having seen their first ever bittern or great white egret or delighting in the fact that they have heard a cuckoo.
In fact it's been quite a good week for cuckoo sightings although I have no photos this week to show for it. The car park seems to be a good place to start - more often heard rather than seen here although a female flew over on Wednesday. On Monday one could be seen to the right of the rail bridge over by the old factory perched up in the dead trees, while a walk around the Waltons trail can often bring rewards - particularly around the back section. Further down in Loxtons both a male and female were seen together on Tuesday while further down the main track still (not quite to the end) on the right 4 different birds were seen at various perches. Some stayed there for some time - perhaps still watching reed warblers for a late nesting chance - things do seem a little late this year.
In the same section at least 3 little egrets and a great white egret were perched up in good view too. In fact I've been seeing one bird in particular (I'm assuming it's the same bird) perching up in all kinds of places. Twice on gate posts and this morning on small scrubby trees twice within the reed beds close to paths. It was even on the path itself on the way to the Avalon Hide this morning just before you enter the wood. In general these birds are often easy to see and it's hard to miss one on a visit these days. Either platform can eb good or even just sit in the car park and wait for them to fly over - they do this regularly. Thanks to Graham Muttram for his great white egret shot taken last Friday during his visit.
We've been monitoring the nesting of these birds again this year and specially trained and licensed volunteers have been using a drone to give us a birds eye view of nests and give us accurate information. This does not seem to bother the birds in the slightest and actually causes less disturbance as volunteers can stay well away.
We get back film and stills like this to help us decide whats going on:
This can also help us decide whether it is safe to get to the area to undertake any ringing and not disturb any other nests. The ringed bird mentioned in last weeks blog has been snapped again swapping over with its partner at the nest site. We'll keep you posted on what happens here with this 2 year old bird. Thanks to Andrew Kirby for his shot:
There have been lots of young birds reported around the reserve this week - These include gadwall and mallard and great crested grebe at Waltons, pochard, coot and moorhen at Loxtons and cettis warblers being fed by and adult near the screens at Waltons. Large groups of long tailed tits are being seen (they've fledged from the nest near the Tor View Hide path) suggesting that there are many family groups around and mute swans with cygnets are seen at Waltons daily. Thanks to Graham Wagner for his photo:
Close by in the Waltons reedbeds the young grey herons are still present too - thanks again to Graham Wagner for his shot:
There are plenty of active parents too still busy feeding youngsters. Perhaps some of the most obvious would be the marsh harriers. The best place to see these is probably the Avalon Hide. Lots of activity here this week with several food passes being witnessed. Bittern flights are being recorded here too although they are coming into conflict with the harriers from time to time and then lay low for a while. They both have active nests here so there's a good chance of both.
Meanwhile in the wood on the way to the Avalon Hide the young tawny owls are still occasionally being seen as Graham Wagner's shot proves - thanks again to Graham:
Also in the wood there's a chance of great spotted woodpeckers (and young) song thrush (heard singing loudly this morning), Barn Owls here or from the hide (seen on Monday), blackcap, willow warbler and on the last reedy stretch before the hide both sedge warbler and reed warbler singing either side of the path - can you tell the difference? It can be quite tricky.
Hobby are seen occasionally still - often from the Avalon Hide area but also seen from the 2nd platform (VP2) and Waltons including 3 from the Tor View Hide on Sunday (3rd Jun). Lots of their favourite food stuff - the dragonfly around the site. 4 spotted chasers are numerous and seem to be everywhere but particularly around the Waltons trail. Thousands can be seen as you stroll round. Thanks to Will Snelling for sending in his shots taken recently:
Amazing sight I'm sure you'll agree.
Other dragonflies seen this week include: scarce chaser, black tailed skimmer, emperor, hairy dragonfly & broad bodied chaser while for damselflies look for: azure, large red, red eyed, variable, common blue and banded demoiselle.
In terms of butterflies I'm not seeing many but have recorded: red admiral, brimstone, green veined white, speckled wood and a visitor mentioned seeing a painted lady.
The main track on sunny days or the footpath on the other side of the drain are good places to look for insects of all kinds. I often see visitors out insect hunting - great to see different interest groups using the reserve to its fullest.
The main track is great for warblers and other small birds too. Look and listen out for: willow warbler, blackcap, garden warbler, chiffchaff, bullfinch, treecreeper and goldcrest amongst others, including tits and finches. Thanks to Graham Muttram for his great tit shot:
From the 1st platform (VP1) look out for an increasing number of bittern flights here 4 seen together on Monday and yesterday a few birds perched out in the open. Also look out for passing waders. Lapwing are often seen chasing off crows and all comers distant from VP1 but redshank and black tailed godwits have also been seen. Godwits were also seen from the Avalon Hide this week. Thanks again to Graham Wagner for his photo:
If all this isn't enough for you 4 cranes passed over the reserve on Sunday and we seem to be getting an increase in red kite sightings too. Several were seen last week and one flew over yesterday. On Wednesday 2 were seen flying over the reserve and here's the proof provided by Graham Wagner - thanks Graham.
Also this week: Several swift seen - particularly earlier in the week......
Swift: Graham Wagner
......but also spotted flycatchers seen near the Avalon Hide and also along the main path, kingfishers seen at Waltons and from the old rail bridge, roe deer seen using the grassy paths around the reserve, reed buntings heard calling at several locations, a whitethroat in the car park on Wednesday and from VP1 throughout the week, a single cattle egret at VP1 on Sunday, buzzards daily and several jays seen including this one sent in by Graham Muttram snapped last Friday. Thanks Graham:
Just a couple more shots to leave you with now including this grass snake - one of several seen from the old rail bridge on Wednesday - worth a quick look if you're passing. You can often see fish here in the water too such as rudd. Thanks to Graham Wagner for his grass snake photo:
and finally this one sent in by Will Snelling whilst walking the main path - thanks Will:
and finally, finally I've been asked to pass on information about our canoe event we run each year. Tickets are now available but are selling fast so if you want to come on don't leave it too long:
Nature by Canoe at Ham Wall
Saturday 4 and Sunday 5 August
Saturday 1 and Sunday 2 September
One hour group tours between 10 am and 3 pm
Have you ever thought what Ham Wall would look like if you were an otter? Now here’s your chance to find out – Join a qualified instructor and an expert wildlife guide on this unique opportunity to experience this amazing nature reserve by canoe! No previous experience is needed but a reasonable level of fitness and mobility is required.
Children (6-17) must be accompanied by an adult . This event is suitable for ages 6+.
RSPB members £13; Non RSPB members £15
RSPB child members £8; Non RSPB child £10
All bookings, event information and times are available online through Eventbrite:
(Please note: booking charges apply)
That's it for this week another fun packed show as always at Ham Wall. Have a great weekend!
It's been another great week on the reserve and it was also nice to meet some visitors who mentioned this blog specifically to me and how much they enjoy reading it. Great to know people are finding it useful.
There are lots of really active birds around the reserve, although that should come as no surprise at this time of year. The great white egrets are still going strong and appear all over the reserve, although a short stop in the car park can bring lovely sightings of them flying overhead. Staff and volunteers are monitoring several areas at the moment to establish how many nests and youngsters we have across the Avalon Marshes. Some of this year's youngsters were ringed a couple of weekends ago, which should give us valuable information in the future.
While on the subject of ringed egrets - one ringed 2 years ago (23/5/16) on Ham Wall -a male marked AAC- has been seen paired up and making a definite nesting attempt. Be interesting to see if it breeds successfully at just 2 years old. Thanks to John Crispin for this very recent photo of the bird he sent in.
Another ringed bird turned up this week. One of 2 sandwich terns which were seen from the 1st platform (VP1) and on the rafts at Waltons on Monday evening and then again on the reserve on Tuesday morning. There's a photo on Twitter. The bird has a yellow ring marked UBT - it was ringed as a chick on Inner Farne, Northumberland in June 2015.
We've also had common tern over a couple of times this week, including from the Tor View Hide on Thursday where Graham Wagner was on hand to capture this shot - thanks Graham:
The Tor View Hide has thrown up a few interesting sightings this week. Some visitors mentioned to me that they had been watching a wood mouse moving her youngsters from by the hide. She must have felt they weren't safe enough where they were. Luckily enough Graham Wagner was there again and sent me in this really gorgeous picture of her carrying one of the young. Thanks again to Graham.
The great sightings didn't stop there - Water rails were also being seen with 2 youngsters. Thanks to Graham Wagner once again for sending in his shot. Sounds like quite a flurry of excitement:
Also from the Tor View Hide this week: Great Crested Grebe seen feeding a youngster most days, a Jay seen on Thursday, Grey Herons as they drop in to feed youngsters in the reedbeds (you'll hear a lot of noise from the young when they land) and even bearded tits have been spotted on a couple of occasions.
One really noticeable bird you'll hear will be the cuckoo. Several birds have been seen and heard around Waltons this week with 4 seen on Tuesday flying in twos. John Crispin has got some more shots of cuckoo this week too. Thanks for sending them in John:
They have also been heard calling from the car park and around Loxtons. Some calling consistently for some time. Of course they are looking out for reed warbler nests at the correct stage so they can lay eggs of their own. This reed warbler was busy feeding it's youngsters this week (or perhaps a rather plump young cuckoo). Thanks to John Crispin for sending in his shot:
A good beak full of insects there. You'll probably have noticed the vast numbers of flying insects around Ham Wall. A great food source for many birds - good numbers of swift around the reserve (thanks to Graham Wagner for his photo below) and even house martins seen from the Avalon Hide too.
Dragonflies hunt other flying insects of course and there are certainly plenty of those about. If you take a stroll around Waltons in particular you'll see thousands of the 4 spotted chasers - they lift off in clouds when you walk by.
You'll also have a good chance of seeing hairy dragonfly and also broad bodied chaser and scarce chaser. These look similar so I thought I'd look in our photo archives for a couple of comparison shots. Both photos are from John Crispin:
Broad bodied chaser - male
Scarce chaser - male
The most obvious differences from the photos are the amount of black on the tail and the larger dark patches on the wings but also note the yellow patches down the sides of the broad bodied chaser.
Also look out for damselflies: azure, blue tailed, red eyed, large red, variable and banded demoiselle all spotted this week.
With all these dragonflies around I'm always surprised that the hobby numbers drop off so dramatically after they pass through. There are daily sightings though and as many as 6 reported on Monday. Sightings from Tor View Hide, VP1, Loxtons and the Avalon Hide this week as well as the car park. Thanks to John Crispin for sending in these great shots last week - which I promptly forgot to use in the blog. Here they are for this week instead:
Another beak full of food here with this busy chaffinch photographed by John Crispin this week:
The Avalon Hide has been getting some rave reviews this week too. Some visitors overjoyed to see 4 bitterns flying together on both Wednesday and Thursday this week and often reporting at least 3 Marsh Harriers too.
It looks as though once again they are nesting in close proximity so expect some conflict here as they look to protect their young from predation. Some conflict was witnessed on Wednesday and this may well continue until youngsters are at a stage where they are big enough to protect themselves or be mobile enough to hide out.
Photos of both male and female taken by John Crispin this week (these actually taken from VP1). Thanks John:
Also from the Avalon Hide this week: Great crested grebes sat on a nest, Green Sandpiper, Black Tailed Godwits (varying numbers seen around the reserve this week with a peak of 43 seen on Monday), Lapwing, Great White Egret, Red Kite (3 seen over the reserve on Monday) and in the woods nearby great spotted woodpeckers with young (very noisy - sometimes seen on the path) and some tawny owl youngsters keeping well hidden though.
Also this week - as many as 12 buzzards seen on Monday, reed warbler & sedge warbler heard around car park pools, song thrush heard at the car park and at the old rail bridge along with a pair of bullfinch. Look out also in this area for Kingfisher. They were entering the wood on the left as in previous years most likely nesting in an upturned tree within the root plate. Jays were also seen in this area a couple of times this week. Several kingfisher sightings within Waltons with as many as 4 birds counted on Wednesday. Also on Wednesday 2 teal recorded, whilst on Monday raven, bearded tit, red kite, cuckoo & garden warbler all seen from the second platform. Other warblers are also plentiful: chiffchaff, blackcap, willow warbler, whitethroat and cettis warbler all to add to the list. Others species of note include: roe deer seen in woods in front of VP1, sparrowhawk seen on Tuesday, Whimbrel from VP1 on Monday - particularly late in the day (may have roosted here overnight), calling reed buntings and long tailed tits feeding young in a nest just visible on the right as you walk up towards the Tor View Hide.
Think I'll leave it there for this week but just thought I'd mention an upcoming event. There are still a few places left on our annual yoga event. The details are below should you wish to take part. Imagine doing your yoga within a peaceful nature reserve with swaying reeds, booming bitterns and sweet bird song:
Evening Yoga at Ham Wall
Sunday 17 June
7 pm-8.30 pm
Nature is great for our well-being. Why not combine it with a spiritual Yoga session at our amazing Ham Wall nature reserve as we approach the Summer Solstice.
RSPB members £8 / Non RSPB members £10
All booking is online through Eventbrite:
Have a great weekend everybody. Thanks for reading!