This week, while usual blogger Steve enjoys a day off, we welcome back guest blogger Alison Morgan, volunteer coordinator for the Avalon Marshes New Colonists Group. You can read Alison's previous blogs on the project from 2019 and 2021.  I'll add in a few recent sightings at the end of the blog - it's been an exciting week!  In the meantime, over to Alison:

Great White Egrets of the Avalon Marshes

The egrets have got off to a cracking start this year, with at least 34 nests in five locations across the Avalon Marshes. These are being regularly monitored by drone.

We have continued to receive reports from our colour ringed birds, and the most recent one is particularly exciting. One of the birds ringed in the nest at Ham Wall last April was given a red colour ring bearing the letters AAU. Not only has AAU clocked up a minimum of 1450 km since fledging last July, he (sex determined by DNA testing from a feather removed under licence) has just been seen back here at Ham Wall – where he was photographed by Tom Gale (right - thanks Tom!).

Where has this bird been?

After fledging at about 12 weeks old, AAU headed up to Lancashire, where he spent a couple of weeks at Stocks Reservoir. He then moved on to North Yorkshire where he visited three different wetland reserves. August saw him on the move again, down to Went Ings in South Yorkshire and then on to RSPB Frampton Marsh in Lincolnshire. Lincolnshire didn’t suit, so in the middle of August he went back to North Yorkshire, where he added Wheldrake Ings to his list of regular haunts, before moving West to RSPB Fairburn Ings in the first week of September. A brief visit to Langold Lakes in Nottinghamshire was followed by a return to RSPB Fairburn Ings and St Aidens, where he stayed till January – just long enough to have his photo taken by our own volunteer Mike Pearce, up there on holiday. February saw him move south to RSPB Old Moor, still in Yorkshire, and on 18th April he arrived back at Ham Wall.

Other recent sightings come from AAR, ringed on the same day at Shapwick Heath. This bird, also male, headed up the River Severn to Powys on fledging, and was reported in Newtown at the beginning of July. A brief visit to a garden pond in nearby Aberhafesp was followed by further sightings in October and January at Pwllan and Aberbechan (where it had another meal in a garden pond and was photographed by Mark Thomas, right - thanks Mark!). AAR has also now begun to move south, and was seen at Ashleworth Ham and Combe Hill in Gloucestershire between 10th and 18th April. Will this bird also return to the Avalon Marshes?

One of the questions we have been hoping to answer through the ringing progamme has been to find out where our youngsters go after fledging. We now know they go all over the country – we’ve had sightings from north, west and east. Another big question has been whether these widely dispersed youngsters will come back here to the Avalon Marshes, and if so when? Some of the birds ringed in earlier years have been seen, and have bred, locally; but they did not travel beyond Somerset. What about the more adventurous birds – will these pioneer new colonies elsewhere, or will they come back here? We weren’t really expecting any answers to this until the birds reach breeding age at two years old. So it’s a surprise to find AAU and AAR heading back south at only one year old (and not in breeding colours). But for AAU at least, it seems there’s no place like home! What will he do this winter? Stay? Or set off for his favourite haunts in Yorkshire again?

We need your help! Please don’t assume a ringed great white egret is just a local bird hanging about – do let us know – and it’s worth a careful look, as red rings aren’t always obvious on legs of breeding birds, which are also red. We hope to ring some of the youngsters from this year’s nests during May, so please do keep a look out for them too.

Stop Press! An article on the colonisation of the Great White Egret here in the South West will be published in British Birds in May – with lots of information about habitat management and an analysis of what we have discovered through the monitoring and ringing programmes.

Alison Morgan (Avalon Marshes New Colonists Coordinator)


Thanks very much Alison!  It's always so exciting when we receive news of the great white egrets on their travels, so do keep an eye out for them wherever you are in the UK!

Time now for a few of the sightings from the reserve this week that I've been able to get my hands on, no photos I'm afraid but the list alone is very exciting:

From the first viewing platform

  • Glossy ibis - not one, not two but FIVE seen on Easter Monday.  We have also seen a photo of six birds together near Burtle and rumours abound that there are in fact seven in the area
  • Spotted redshank - in summer plumage!
  • Greenshank
  • Black-tailed godwits
  • Garganey - up to seven being seen across the reserve
  • Bittern
  • Marsh harrier
  • Ruff

Across the reserve

  • Purple heron - is being spotted in a few locations - from Avalon Hide and then on Wednesday to the south from the new raised viewing mounds down the eastern end of the reserve.
  • Sand martins and swallows - will the martins start using the new sand martin bank?? 
  • Cuckoo
  • Sedge and reed warbler
  • Hobby
  • Bearded tit
  • Great white egret and little egret
  • Iberian water frogs are being quite noisy at the moment if you hear a strange noise and wonder what it is!
  • Grey heron chicks, also being noisy, particularly those down the far eastern end of the reserve north of the new raised viewing mounds
  • Red kites are being seen regularly at the moment from various locations, so keep your eyes peeled for those
  • Blackcaps and willow warblers - in song everywhere!

Plenty to see and hear across the reserve so it's a great time to visit.

The final important news for the week is that the toilets are fully open again!   Thank you for bearing with us these past few days while a new part was on order.

Enjoy your weekend!