This week we have a guest blog from Alison Morgan, (Project Coordinator for the Avalon Marshes New Colonist Monitoring Group), to provide us with the latest news on the great white egret ringing project. This is an update from a previous blog in 2019.

Just quickly before I hand over to Alison, a reminder that our popular canoeing events are back for 2021 and start next weekend.

 Paddle around the reedbed channels with an experienced instructor and expert wildlife guide and see what the reserve looks like from the perspective of our ducks and otters! It’s also a new area to paddle around in 2021, so even if you’ve canoed with us before why not come and explore a different area with different stories.

More details and to book: https://events.rspb.org.uk/hamwall

Dates and Times

• Saturday 4 September 2021: 10–11 am, 11.30 am-12.30 pm, 1.30-2.30 pm, 3-4pm

• Sunday 5 September 2021: 10–11 am, 11.30 am-12.30 pm, 1.30-2.30 pm, 3-4pm

• Saturday 11 September 2021: 10–11 am, 11.30 am-12.30 pm, 1.30-2.30 pm, 3-4pm

• Sunday 12 September 2021: 10–11 am, 11.30 am-12.30 pm, 1.30-2.30 pm, 3-4pm

• Saturday 18 September 2021: 10–11 am, 11.30 am-12.30 pm, 1.30-2.30 pm, 3-4pm

• Sunday 19 September 2021: 10–11 am, 11.30 am-12.30 pm, 1.30-2.30 pm, 3-4pm

And now over to Alison!

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A Great White Explosion - Egrets on the Avalon Marshes

Our growing colonies of Great White Egrets have had their best year since nesting began in 2012. Thirty seven nests were recorded this year on ten sites across the Avalon Marshes, with the largest on Shapwick Heath (Natural England) and Ham Wall. Twenty five of these nests were successful, with an estimated 71 chicks hatched. 50 of these made it through to fledging. 

The earliest nest on Ham Wall, with 10 day old chicks

We have continued the colour ringing project which began in 2016 and 15 birds have now been given red and white rings, each bearing a three letter code which enables individual identification.  We made greater use of the new drone this year, with the images captured helping us both to monitor each nest and to plan and time our ringing visits.  This year we were able to visit four nests, ringing eight chicks – again the highest number to date.  Seven of the eight went on to fledge, the exception being the smallest of a brood of three. 

What happened next took us all by surprise.  Young egrets routinely leave the colonies and wander far afield; in previous years we have had sightings not only from other sites in Somerset but also from Gloucestershire, Warwickshire, Hampshire and Kent.  But this year has brought an extraordinary range of sightings from Lancashire and Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, North and Mid Wales, Hampshire and Suffolk.  O ne bird in particular has shown remarkable wanderlust – AAU (pictured above in the nest).

 AAU was ringed on 23rd April and fledged some time between mid and late June.  He (a feather sample sent for DNA testing showed the bird is male) was reported from Stocks Reservoir in Lancashire on 1st July.  He stayed there for a couple of weeks, moving on to Scaling Dam Reservoir in North Yorkshire where he was seen on 20th July.  From 21st July to 3rd August he was to be found travelling between Ripon City Wetlands and Staveley NR in North Yorkshire, but by the 8th he had moved south to Alkborough Flats in Lincolnshire, just across the River Trent from RSPB Blacktoft Sands.  On 10th he was seen at RSPB Frampton Marsh on the edge of the Wash, but Frampton obviously didn’t suit, because on 11th he was back at Alkborough Flats.  He continued to head back north, visiting Wheldrake Ings (Yorkshire Wildlife Trust) in North Yorkshire on 16th and settling back at Staveley by 18th.  Since then he has been commuting between these two locations.  In all AAU has covered a total distance of at least 900 km – not bad for a gangly bird still only four months old!  His female sibling AAT, meanwhile, was enjoying a trip to RSPB Conwy in North Wales.

 

AAU at RSPB Frampton Marsh - photo by Nigel Deacon

What about the others?  Some followed the Severn, with AAL visiting Gloucestershire and Warwickshire and AAR heading for Newtown in Powys and then checking out a garden pond in nearby Aberhafesp.  Two went east, with AAW exploring the River Deben in Suffolk and ABA seen at Testwood Lakes in Hampshire.  AAP and AAX fledged but have not yet been reported.  Of the older birds, AAC and AAF (both ringed in 2016) have been seen this year in Somerset, and may well have been among the breeding adults.

AAR in Newtown, Powys - photo by Russ Edwards

All the sightings to date (over 100 in all) demonstrate the great mobility of these young birds, which are now routinely seen across the country.  Autumn and winter sightings seem to lead to new nesting records: this year birds have nested in at least four other locations in England.  Ringing is undoubtedly helping us to build up a picture of the habits and requirements of this colonising species.  But the big unanswered question for us at the moment is this: will the survivors among these dispersed birds (first winter mortality is known to be high) return, at breeding age, to Somerset – or will they found new colonies elsewhere?  For that we continue to rely on the reporting of colour ringed birds – anywhere, at any time of year.  So please keep your eyes out, and look carefully at the upper left leg of every great white egret you see!

AAU at Staveley NR - photo by Mike Metcalfe

Alison Morgan, GWE project coordinator


Please report your sightings to: alison.morgan@rspb.org.uk

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Thank you so much Alison for the great white egret update and many thanks to everyone who has submitted a sighting so far.  As you can see above, some have even managed to photograph the birds and very kindly given us permission to use the images - thank you Nigel Deacon, Russ Edwards and Mike Metcalfe.  When we receive sightings we also often get interesting updates on the behaviour of the birds and how they seem to be doing - success in catching lots of fish, interacting with other egrets and grey herons - it's all really interesting news and we love receiving it!

Over the next few weeks the team at Ham Wall are going to be even busier than usual for a few different reasons and we may not be able to find time each week to write a recent sightings blog.  We'll do our best to keep you all updated when we can but please do bear with us during this time.  The good news is that we have started reed cutting and will be able to open up more views of the reedbed as we go - keep a lookout from the first viewing platform (VP1) over the coming weeks to check our progress.

Have a lovely bank holiday weekend in the meantime!

Anonymous
  • In 2020 I saw my first ever Great White Egret at Saltholme. I cant remember the exact month.Over the last few weeks I’ve seen another Great White Egret on two occasions and two weeks apart again at RSPB Saltholme. Great White Egret’s have been seen fairly regularly at Greatham Creek, one of a number of small RSPB satellite reserves looked after by the Saltholme management and near to the main Saltholme reserve..