It seems we took a long time waiting for spring to arrive and then suddenly it almost felt like summer for a couple of days. The sunshine has certainly brought the visitors into the reserve and there's been plenty for people to see. The spring migrants continue to arrive and it was great to get my first cuckoo of the season. That iconic sound almost encapsulates spring on its own.
I was some way from it, but it sounded like it was beyond the second platform (VP2). Other birds have also been reported from the Avalon Hide, VP2 itself and from the Waltons section so they are arriving steadily. They will soon be watching the reed warblers closely to get the timings just right for laying their eggs in their unsuspecting hosts nest.
Other warblers have arrived in force including blackcaps galore, willow warblers, sedge warblers, chiffchaff and now garden warbler too. Again this week grasshopper warbler was recorded along the grassy footpath between the 2 platforms but near to VP1 on Tuesday. A gentleman also said he'd heard one there today too. Finally saw my first whitethroat this morning. There was one singing on the main path brambles by the first platform (VP1) which I didn't see but one also opposite VP1 on the footpath side of the drain. John Crispin managed to get a couple of shots of this male this week. Thanks for sending them in John:
So we're just waiting for swifts to return and a lot more hobbies. When they do arrive more dragonflies and damselflies will be out. We've had our first ones this week. A hairy dragonfly (normally our first ones) was reported on Monday, while the first damselfly was recorded by volunteer Giles Morris during his survey yesterday - a female large red damselfly - he even got a photo of it and sent it in - thanks Giles:
There's certainly a massive increase in birdsong around the reserve. A short stay in the car park will even tell you that. Blackcaps, chiffchaff, song thrush, goldfinch, great tit, greenfinch, blackbird to name but a few. In the reedbeds reed warblers and sedge warblers are chattering away, reed buntings are singing and the cettis warblers are belting out their loud songs. Many are perching up and singing so it's a good time to get a view of them before all the leaves are fully out.
Along the main path bullfinches (male and female) were seen this morning and goldcrest along with treecreeper throughout the week. On Wednesday, a volunteer, along with some visitors saw an otter to the left of the old rail bridge as you enter the reserve. It was in the small drain by the side of the wood. It swam towards them before popping out of the water for a short while, then re-entering and swimming away - wonderful. That's not the only otter sightings of the week however. On Monday 2 were seen from the Tor View Hide by a visitor - he showed me a picture too and then this morning 2 otters (perhaps the same ones) were seen within Loxtons. We are certainly getting a lot more sightings in recent months which is fantastic. Signs of their presence have increased too - on Tuesday Ali Blaney the Warden found the remains of a large pike head whilst out on her survey.
As well as an increase in birdsong, nesting activity looks to be increasing too and were are even beginning to see young birds from those off to an early start. This morning a greylag goose with 4 young was reported from VP2, whilst at VP1 the great crested grebes have finally hatched chicks - 3 to be precise. Elsewhere the great crested grebes seem to be all at different stages. There's a pair siting on a nest from the 3rd screen at Waltons, whilst others are still head shaking and courting. Fascinating birds to watch whatever they are up to. John Crispin snapped this bird this week with its latest meal - it looks to be a large stickleback. Thanks again John:
There seems to be a lot of activity from grey herons and great white egrets this week. I was seeing several flying around this morning. The reedbeds just beyond the car park and before you get to Waltons is a good place to start although this morning they appeared to be everywhere at one point.
There are certainly grey herons nest within the Waltons reedbeds and one is believed to hold at least one chick at present seen on Tuesday. This photo from John Crispin shows one of the nests occupied - just visible through the reeds:
Great white egrets have also been seen and photographed carrying nesting material this week - things are really hotting up - it's exciting to think what might happen this year.
This one isn't carrying nesting material but it's certainly making its presence known vocally:
Bitterns too are slowly becoming more active. Lots of booming across the reserve still with 19 recorded on last weeks count with 2 just off the reserve. Across the marshes as a whole 50 boomers were recorded which is 5 more than last year. I think I'm right in saying that the Somerset total is 55 which includes 4 at Greylake which is fantastic.
A few extra sightings this week of multiple birds (2 or more) in chases. 3 were reported this morning in front of VP2 - thought to be a female being pursued by 2 males so expect to see more of this over the next few weeks.
VP2 is also a good place to see marsh harriers - a pair have been using this area regularly to hunt this week but also soar higher up on thermals along with several buzzards. If not here then the Avalon Hide would be the place to go - traditionally in recent years a nesting area and this season looks no different. If your visiting at either end of the day look out for barn owls and tawny owls in, or by, the wooded area behind the hide.
Were getting a few waders recorded too. Redshank last week but also regular sightings of lapwing including some displaying - distant in front of the Avalon Hide for this - also scan the fields here for cattle egrets - they were spotted here recently - we're still only up to 9 after the disappearance of them when the snow came (now a distant memory as I bask in the sunshine). Black tailed Godwits have been seen too during the week, including 3 over Waltons yesterday whilst a common sandpiper was spotted hiding amongst the ducks from VP2 yesterday. Thanks to John Crispin for the photographic evidence:
Also this week: as you can see from the photo above there are still a few wigeon roosting in front of VP2 along with gadwall and tufted duck, teal, shoveler, pochard and mallard also present around the reserve. Sand Martins and swallows also seen daily and to a lesser extent house martins - still haven't seen my first one yet, Redpolls in small numbers still being seen in the alder trees on the main path, Kingfishers seen and heard frequently around Waltons and some noisy little grebes too (also in Loxtons), a kestrel was recorded yesterday and a sparrowhawk flew over the car park on Tuesday, water rails seen often from the Tor View Hide but also one from the Avalon Hide on Wednesday. Roe deer are seen often in the fields on the reserves perimeter, but occasionally within the reserve boundary whilst rabbits are frequently seen along the main path. A grass snake was also spotted from the old rail bridge this week.
Butterflies are becoming more abundant with several species recorded this week : Brimstone, speckled wood, holly blue, comma, small tortoiseshell, red admiral, orange tip and peacock amongst them.
That's it for this week - have a great weekend!
The spring migration is gathering pace with lots more new arrivals this week. A noticeable increase in the numbers of sand martins and swallows over the reserve - the 1st platform (VP1) as good a place as any to observe this. Good numbers passed over this morning picking off the many flying insects that are hanging in the air. Some visitors also reported a few house martins but I'm still waiting for my first.
John Crispin managed this great shot of sand martins alighting in the Ham Wall reedbeds to take a rest and have a bit of a preen. Thanks John:
Also thanks to Graham Wagner for this shot of a swallow in flight in front of the Avalon Hide this week:
I maybe waiting for my first house martin but did manage my first hobby on Wednesday as it flew high over the very north of the reserve (distant from the Avalon Hide) but we will be expecting a big influx of the soon - it's quite a sight to see so many at once. In a 5 minute burst we managed hobby sparrowhawk, buzzard and at least 3 different marsh harriers which was nice. Yesterday 5 buzzards circled together over Waltons and we had visits from marsh harriers although generally most of their activity tends to be in front of the Avalon Hide - a male was busy chasing off crows on Wednesday, indicating a nest here is likely.
There has also been an increase in reed and sedge warbler numbers - more noticeable through song than actual sightings. I did catch a glimpse of a sedge warbler on the way to the Tor View Hide this morning. While John Crispin managed to capture this shot of a singing sedge warbler earlier in the week:
Other new arrivals to look out for include Whitethroat. There is usually a territory in the brambles directly opposite VP1 and that is where one was reported yesterday although I had a good look this morning without success. It probably won't be long before we see them here regularly with their distinctive song flight patterns .
Another to listen out for is grasshopper warbler. One was recorded yesterday on the left side of the footpath about half way towards VP1 although not heard again. Listen out for a repetitive reeling noise - a bit like the sound of a fishing line being wound in.
Lots of other warblers are present and making themselves far more obvious. There is plenty of noise from blackcaps in particular but also chiffchaff and willow warbler and lots of cettis warblers too. In fact this is perhaps the optimum time of year to catch sight of these elusive birds. They are frequently perched out in the open in full song doing their best to secure a mate. This won't last long though and soon they will be back to their usual, more secretive, selves. Thanks to John Crispin for his submissions:
Other birds are also making themselves known vocally - perhaps the most obvious of these is the bittern. Lots of booming still going on, particularly earlier in the day but there are a few which boom all through the day. A couple out near the Avalon Hide and within Waltons. There have been a few flights or chases too - one chase involving 2 birds over Loxtons this morning.
Other members of the heron family are active too. Take a stroll along the main path from the car park and look to your right into the first section of reedbed. You will more thank likely see some sitting in the reedbeds here (you can see them from the car park too when they fly up). You could also try VP1 - one in particular enjoys sitting and feeding in this section.
John Crispin snapped this one showing a large chunk of feathers missing from it's right wing. Thanks John:
These birds are now looking great in all their breeding plumage and so too are their smaller cousins the little egret. Another one of John Crispin's photos show this one in all it's finery:
Grey herons too are present with several flying over Waltons this morning. They also drop into the reedbeds where there are other adults most likely sitting on eggs. The most obvious of the nests is visible on the left as you walk up to Tor View Hide. When the birds get together there is plenty of noise which makes things more obvious still.
The path has also been a good place to see water rails this week. Several visitors have seen up to 3 walking across the path this week. If not hear, approach the hide quietly and scan around its base and the reed piles to the right. Again most mornings people are telling me they've seen one - I saw one myself this morning.
Close to the hide here this morning was a common tern. It first arrived on Wednesday where it was spotted (and photographed by John Crispin) over Loxtons hunting and sitting on the raft preening. This morning it was over Waltons and sitting and preening on the rafts on the east side that the first 2 screens look at. Lets hope a mate arrives and we have some successful breeding like we have had in the past.
Lesser black back gulls were chasing it off at times today and black headed gulls were also present. There has been some courtship displays from these on the reserve this week - observed and photographed once again by John Crispin - thanks John:
Also from the Waltons screens (3rd one) is a nesting great crested grebe. Good view available of this and often close by is tufted duck, gadwall, mallard and even a teal. This teal was photographed by Graham Wagner from the Avalon Hide - thanks Graham:
Another great crested grebes nest is well underway in front of VP1. Hatching must be imminent. Another Graham Wagner shot here of great crested grebe in flight - thanks Graham:
Also this week: Barn Owl seen by the wood behind the Avalon Hide yesterday, still redpoll present with up to 20 seen in the alder trees by Loxtons. Thise behind the second platform (VP2) a good place to start your search, 2 oystercatchers flew over the car park this morning, a brambling was spotted along the main track yesterday and a female redstart this morning just before the old rail bridge - look out also on the main track for goldcrest, bullfinch and treecreeper, bearded tits were heard on the way to the Tor View Hide on Monday and kingfishers are being seen daily in and around the Waltons section.
A few butterflies are being seen but the weather hasn't been that kind. With warmer weather next week look out for: Peacock, red Admiral, Green Veined White, Brimstone, Speckled Wood, Small Tortoiseshell and Comma - all seen recently.
That's it for this week. Have a great weekend!
I'm going to say it straight away.....spring is here. There, I've done it now and I can't take it back. We've been seeing signs here and there for a while but to be honest as a true Brit (I'm going to moan about the weather now) - the snow and rain (more than just April showers I would suggest) have put the brakes on a bit.
But this week, it's all starting to happen. It's been a week of firsts for me. My first Willow Warbler on Tuesday, singing away just after the bridge towards the Avalon Hide but since then there are a few more including near the old rail bridge and round the back of Waltons. John Crispin saw and heard his first one too and sent in this shot - thanks John:
Also the first singing blackcap of the season too - although I heard plenty more today and even saw a couple of males having a bit of a squabble in some brambles. John's come up with another great shot of a blackcap taken this week- thanks again John:
There have been a few spotted over the last couple of weeks - and even when we had the last lot of snow but this morning I saw my first sand martins of the year. There had to be around 30 in a group which flew over Waltons and headed towards the 1st platform (VP1). I did a loop of Waltons and when I got to VP1 I saw my first swallow of the year too so I was a very happy bunny this morning.
I've also been getting reports of reed warblers since Tuesday but I had to wait until this morning to get mine. It was singing just off the path as you walk up the last stretch to the Avalon Hide. Be warned though the water levels here have been quite high and come over the path in some places. People have been walking around it fine until the last couple of days where it has now become pretty muddy there too. It is passable in wellingtons or stout boots but I'd leave your flip flops or trainers in the car for this one.
Now that water in the surrounding drains has dropped sufficiently we can now pump out the reserve a bit so this level should drop considerably over the next day or too.
If you're going to the hide look out for the Marsh Harriers. Regular flights here and some great skydancing reported on Tuesday and the odd food pass. There's a nice looking male involved in much of this action.
Bitterns are present here too - not just the boomers. There have been a few chases involving 2 birds. This is often a male chasing a female but on chase on Tuesday looked more aggressive rather than passion fueled. This perhaps suggests two males - one certainly sent the other packing. A regular visitor Terry Honeywill witnessed the chase and took this shot. Thanks Terry:
A few duck accompany theses stars in this area but also keep your eyes peeled for tawny owls in the box behind the hide in the wood and for barn owl seen Monday evening by the gate on the bank to the right of the hide.
If it's great white egrets you're after then you may not even need to leave the car park. They have been flying over quite regularly from the reedbeds just beyond. For the best views perhaps walk along the main track and then look to your right across that first piece of reedbeds. You'll most likely see a few white bodies amongst the reeds.
Several were seen however this week within Waltons from the 3rd screen (on the west side). 6 were here in total with another 3 from VP1. of these 6 had black bills (suggesting they are in breeding plumage) and 3 with orange/yellow bills. Among them was also one of the ringed birds AAF who is a male ringed at Ham Wall on 26th June last year. I also saw him today on the east side of Waltons perched in the reeds close to one on the grey heron's nests. You can see this if you look closely on the Tor View Hide path. Thanks again to John for sending in these photos:
Lots of other action from the car park this week including a red kite on Monday (one seen last week too), 19 snipe which flew over - also on Monday, raven, song thrush in full voice, lots of other birdsong including chiffchaff and some friendly robins looking for a crumb or two.
The sunny spells (yes, we are getting some) are proving good for invertebrates. There seems to be an increase in flying insects this week - coinciding with the arrival of hirundines and other migrants which can only be a good thing for them. There are more bumblebees about too and I'm beginning to see more butterflies. This week I've recorded: small tortoiseshell, brimstone, red admiral, peacock, comma, speckled wood and green veined white.
Look out also for the emergence of more grass snakes and movement from the Iberian water frogs which inhabit the reserve - the car park pools have often been a good place to start your search.
After this a walk along the main path should not only bring the reward of all the new arriving warblers but also the possibility of goldcrest, treecreeper, bullfinch and redpolls. There are still a few being spotted. John Crispin took these shots of them on alder trees just past the second platform (VP2). Particularly nice to see the male in his breeding plumage - very handsome:
Also this week: pintails both male and female seen from VP2, kingfishers since several times particularly around the Waltons section, 6 cattle egrets still roosting each night, 2 jays seen along the footpath side of the main drain, Teal and wigeon still present on site, redwing seen at the car park this morning, bearded tits seen last Friday from VP2, Water rail seen a few times from the Tor View Hide this week, both common tern and little gull reported today over on Shapwick Heath from Noah's hide, black tailed godwits seen on a few occasions this week with 30 last weekend in flight and 7 seen loafing from VP2 on Tuesday and a redshank seen both on the ground and in flight calling on Thursday in the VP2 area. Thanks to John Crispin for sending in his shot:
That's it for this week - come and see us and see what spring has to offer - more surprises in store no doubt. Have a great weekend - and thanks for reading.