Yes, your eyes do not deceive you. It is a sightings blog from Ham Wall. I'm delighted to be back writing to you after more than a year since the last sightings blog from the reserve. Being a single parent I spent 9 of the last 13 months furloughed away from our wonderful reserve unable to work apart from a 3 month respite between September and Christmas but the sheer volume of work to catch up with meant the blog took a back seat I'm afraid. Thankfully home schooling is over and am so happy to be back at our amazing reserve. Lots to do, but boy did I miss the place as I'm sure you have too.
Things seem to be moving in the right direction after a strange and difficult time for everyone. Hopefully, a regular blog again will be another small step to normality, so here goes.
Firstly, I'm not going to catch up on a year's worth of sightings so we'll keep it recent from the last couple of weeks or so and go from there.
Spring has by now well and truly sprung and the reserve is welcoming back many of those familiar spring species we know and love. I was happy to see my first swallows of the year perched on telephone wires in Meare village and many groups of sand martins have been seen over the reserve with a big influx on the 12th March with a group of over 200 spotted from the first viewing platform (VP1). Thanks to John Crispin and Tony Rogers who both sent me some great sand martin pictures taken recently at the reserve:
Sand Martin: John Crispin
Sand martins: Tony Rogers
Expect to see many more soon along with house martin, swallow and swift (usually a little later) and of course hobby and cuckoo. We have already had a couple of cuckoo sightings and I swear I heard once at the end of March whilst out on the reserve - it called just once so I cant 100% confirm but I'm pretty sure.
Other migrants arriving include the many warblers that call the reserve their home. Blackcaps seem to be everywhere - just stop and listen in the car park and you'll probably hear one. There has also been one singing away in the brambles around the car park ponds and a very noisy reed warbler as you walk by the ponds to head out to the reserve. Thanks to Mike Pearce who managed to get a shot of him yesterday:
Sedge warbler has also been recorded and although pretty much resident cettis warblers are making themselves heard with their punchy calls. The next couple of weeks may be a good time to spot them as they sing from more obvious perches as they set up territories, before becoming a little more secretive again. I had one by the car park ponds yesterday which showed nicely and thanks to Graham Wagner who sent me this shot of one taken this week:
The tree lines heading down the the reserve are awash with bird song - a good chance to scan the branches and learn some songs and calls if you pick up the birds in your sights. Chiffchaff is an easy one to learn on call but easy confused to the beginner (and some more experienced birders) by sight with willow warbler, whose descending call is the giveaway. Thanks to both John Crispin and Mike Pearce who sent in willow warbler shots this week:
Another warbler to look out for is the whitethroat. First one reported on the reserve was 10th April from VP1. There is one opposite in the brambles most years and is often an easy spot. This year is no exception and John Crispin was on hand to grab some shots. Thanks John:
If that's not enough listen out for: noisy song thrushes, drumming woodpeckers, singing robins and blackbirds and a plethora of tits and finches including bullfinch which have been spotted on a few occasions.
The amazing sounds don't stop there of course. One obvious call overpowers most of the others. The boom of the bittern. Several can be heard during the daytime but it's an early start if you want the full affect, That's what happened yesterday when staff and volunteers across the marshes were out from 4.30am to record the booms of the males. The results still need to be collated so I hope to bring you a result next week. There have been a few sightings including one of a pair in a chase which suggests breeding is underway. Sightings increase in May as males chase females (it's quite possible to have multiple birds in the air at the same time) and females begin feeding flights to youngsters.
Grey herons begin nesting early and there are a few small colonies dotted around the site including within Waltons where youngsters are already being fed. These are in the reedbeds rather than up in trees as normally associated with herons.
It looks like a good year for great white egrets too with several nests being located by our fully licensed and trained drone team. It's the only way to accurately research the progress of these birds and causes minimal disturbance. It will also help identify possible nests accessible for birds to be ringed causing the least amount of disturbance as well as getting the timing right.
Thanks to Graham Wagner for his great white egret shot taken in the Waltons area. Note the bill change colour from yellow to black and the green lores (where the bill meets the face) signs of breeding condition. A reddish tinge to the legs can be another.
Cattle egrets too have been present all winter with well over 200 recorded at one time. There are still good numbers locally often in local fields (with cattle not surprisingly), with 60+ seen together within the last week. Thanks to John Crispin for his shot taken locally. We will be making efforts to study what, if anything, they are up to in terms of breeding but we will not be revealing any locations we may discover (as far as I'm aware nothing yet anyway).
Back on the reserve, plenty of action across the waters. From VP1 water levels are being kept high on purpose bas part of our management. We cut the whole area this winter and we are trying to drown out the reeds to suppress regrowth once levels naturally draw down over spring and summer. We don't know how it will react but could well produce a quite open or patchy area for quite some time which gradually thickens back up over a few years giving a series of different transitional habitats adding to diversity.
There have been some interesting sightings here despite the high water levels. Great crested grebes had a nest here for some time. They were sitting on the nest still on Monday at 7am but by 9.30am had deserted - we don't know why but 2 pairs are still being seen here. Perhaps they will try again. I think the same thing happened last year and they were successful at the second attempt. Thanks to Graham Wagner for his great crested grebe shot
Little grebes too have been active on the reserve with Waltons and Loxtons good places to try. Thanks to both Graham Wagner and Tony Rogers for their little grebe shots:
Little Grebe running on water: Tony Rogers.
Black tailed godwits have made several appearances here in recent weeks of varying numbers. 12 were present last Friday and 16 on Saturday many showing their brick red summer plumage. Thanks to John Crispin for his photos:
Including the black tailed godwit formation flying team:
Other waders seen and heard include lapwing displaying in a couple of areas, snipe being flushed from path edges, a redshank heard calling, 2 ringed plover (little ringed perhaps) and these 2 common sandpiper who dropped in last week. Thanks once again to John Crispin for his photos:
Garganey have also dropped into the area in front of VP1 with a pair seen on 4th April with just the male on the 9th (perhaps she's on a nest?). Thanks to John Crispin for his shot of the pair:
Other ducks include mallard with one female reported with a brood of 12 ducklings, pochard, tufted duck, gadwall, still hearing teal earlier this week and a wigeon last week and shoveler. Thanks to Graham Wagner for his head on shot of shoveler taken last week:
Whilst on the look out for all these keep your eyes peeled for marsh harriers quartering over the reedbeds. Several sightings of birds carrying nesting material and displaying together over the last couple of weeks. When we know more about nesting we will let you know. Perhaps try from the second viewing platform (VP2) and see what you can see. Thank you to John Crispin for his recent photos of marsh harrier:
Other birds of prey seen recently include the tawny owl in our nest cam box (see the screen in the car park Welcome Building when you visit), barn owls seen out hunting including this morning from VP1 but also from the old rail bridge on the main path, sparrowhawk from VP1 on Wednesday, kestrel from VP1 on Tuesday and a peregrine also on Tuesday from the same location perched in trees at the back of the area.
Whilst on the subject of peregrines they are nesting again in St Johns Church in Glastonbury and there is a frequent blog written on there progress which you may want to search up. Its an interesting read with some good footage from the nest. Steve Edwards has sent me a recent picture of the female on an egg to whet your appetite - Thanks Steve:
But it's not all about the birds as you well know. Plenty of other wildlife shares Ham Wall too. Butterflies are emerging and plenty can be seen on the wing including orange tip, speckled wood, green veined white, peacock , small tortoiseshell and brimstone.
It's just a little early for dragonflies but expect to see more very soon. Large red damselflies have been seen - normally the earliest and I would expect to see the odd blue tailed damselfly and hairy dragonfly anytime soon.
Common frogs have spawned and some tadpoles have been spotted, Iberian water frogs have been heard calling and one or two smooth newts have been seen after hibernation. A couple of adders were seen over on Shapwick Heath whilst grass snakes are also out and about. You may be lucky enough to see one - perhaps swimming in the channels. Thanks very much to Tony Rogers who sent me these lovely pics taken on March 30th from the old rail bridge:
In terms of mammals if often more the signs you see of there presence than the animals themselves but there have been some interesting sightings to report. Roe deer are often seen on the more isolated paths and banks around the reserve and in the pockets of woodland, while a group of 10 is frequently seen just off the reserve to the north. Several sightings of fox including 2 by me in the last week or so but also 2 fox cubs seen around the Waltons loop.
A weasel was spotted playing in the stones on VP1 yesterday morning and there have been a few reports of otter from Vp1 and within the Waltons section including this one from last week by Graham Wagner who caught it on camera. Thanks Graham:
I'm aware that this blog is getting a little long (Well it has been over a year) so I'd better just start to wrap it up a bit. So...last bit.
Also seen this week: Ravens flying over calling on several days, buzzards daily, jays squawking noisily on a couple of occasions and snapped by John Crispin:
Kingfishers seen and heard from the car park pools and around Waltons, a few colourful male pheasants showing off their plumage and birds passing through on passages such as this female wheatear snapped by Mike Pearce this week - thanks Mike:
Also look out for a few redpoll which are still being spotted. Try close to VP1 , North West corner of Waltons in the trees by the boardwalk or down by Loxtons. Thanks to John Crispin and to Graham Wagner who both sent me shots of this lovely little bird:
Well, I think I'd better leave it there for now. Lots going on as you can see. If you haven't been for a while come back and see us and treat yourself to visit. I'm hoping to get back to a weekly blog once again from now on, so more from me next week. Thanks for reading and have a great weekend!
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