Firstly, apologies for the lack of blog over the last couple of weeks. I was on annual leave during the half term week and last week just got caught up in other work on the reserve and simply ran out of time. So I've got quite a bit to catch up on but as always when I'm in this position I'll just concentrate on the last week and throw in a few other snippets from last week as an overview.

Well, the last fortnight has flown by and the weather was not like a regular February was it? But, as much has arrived it seems like much more normal weather for the time of year. The warm spell certainly sparked some changes on the reserve with a big drop in Lapwing numbers over the last 2 weeks or so. You can still see a few on the reserve hanging in there. There are a couple of compartments on the reserve where they could potentially breed this year so let's wait and see what happens there.  

Other obvious changes has been the increase in bird song as territories become established. The chiffchaff in particular are now very vocal with 5 or 6 being heard along the main path through Ham Wall. Thanks to John Crispin & Mike Pearce for sending in their Chiffchaff shots taken recently on the reserve: 

Chiffchaff - John Crispin 

Chiffchaff: Mike Pearce 

Cettis Warblers are also being extremely vocal with their punchy call - like the chiffchaff a nice easy one to learn. There will be greater photo opportunities, for these often elusive birds, at this time of year as they will sit up on bushes and trees to establish territories - catch them before the leaves come out or they return to their usual skulking behavior lower down in the reeds. Thanks to Graham Wagner and Mike Pearce who have both managed to get shots in the last 2 weeks: 

Cettis warbler - Graham Wagner 

Cettis Warbler: Mike Pearce

There are plenty of other birds singing of course including robin, blue tit, chaffinch, goldfinch, wren, great tit, blackbird and song thrush - the latter 3 all photographed by Mike Pearce this week. The great tit feeding on reedmace, a female blackbird taking a bath and the song thrush just looking fine. Thanks Mike: 

Apart from bird song there are other obvious changes around the reserve. The arrival of sand martins last week along with a few house martins and one or two swallows heralds the beginning of spring for sure. No beast from the east this year to scupper those early birds chances. Further sightings this week of groups of 20 or 30 birds as well as some smaller groups shows migration is now underway. A reduction in numbers of wigeon and teal show birds are also travelling north to their breeding grounds too. I popped out of my house in Wells last week to look up and hear wigeon migrating in the darkness. I could just make them out shimmering slightly in the moonlight ....the were heading north too, so going in the right direction. 

Other birds are dropping in too such as black tailed godwits. Not large groups but up to 11 seen from the first viewing platform this week (VP1) and photographen by John Crispin and Graham Wagner - thanks to you both:

These birds could be on their own migrations and stopping off with us for a rest. These birds we have would be Islandica race. Other waders around recently include the lapwings I have already mentioned but also small numbers of snipe - often seen from VP1 or around Waltons either from the Tor View Hide or more often from the last of the 3 screens on the cut island. There have also been up to 9 green sandpipers reported - I don't have a location but am assuming that they were in the drained area on the right at the far end of the main path. A Water Pipit was reported in the same area. 

Whilst on the lookout for these, at the Tor View Hide perhaps, look out for water rail too. Graham Wagner had success here this week with this shot - thanks Graham:

Water rail: Graham Wagner 

Also seen at the Tor View Hide this week was an otter on Sunday Morning (there was also one the previous Sunday from the Avalon Hide) and one from our volunteers out on the north of the reserve last Thursday - we're getting a fairly steady set of sightings for these lately but not really a pattern or regular location - so it's still all down to luck I'm afraid. Also: kingfishers around Waltons quite regularly, little grebes, a peregrine yesterday, grey herons which are currently nesting in the Waltons reedbeds, various duck species and great crested grebes.

There are a few places you could see them and they have been seen displaying this week from with Waltons, there was a pair from the Avalon Hide yesterday and a pair sitting on a nest platform from VP1 currently which is quite easy to see. Thanks to John Crispin for his shot of a grebe swallowing lunch plus to Graham Wagner for his shot of one coming in to land:

Great crested grebes 

Other fishy tales come in the form of the little grebe directly below from John Crispin and a coot carrying a fish from Graham Wagner - thanks to you both:

Little Grebe: John Crispin

Coot with perch: Graham Wagner

There are many active birds on the reserve at the moment. Marsh harriers are showing signs of having another go in front of the Avalon Hide. They have certainly been prospecting for nest sites and have been seen mating elsewhere. Thanks to John Crispin & Graham Wagner for their shots taken last week on the reserve:

Marsh Harriers

Bitterns have been booming. You can hear one or two during the day but this will increase over time. Volunteers & staff will be out next Thursday across the whole of the Avalon Marshes counting the booming males - the total last year was 50 and we should expect a similar figure this year - but lets wait and see. This character was photographed by John Crispin this week. Check out the breeding plumage in the loral area just in front of the eye. It's blue/mauve in the male and pale brown in the female so this indicates that this is a male bird perhaps checking out his territory. Thanks John:

Great White Egrets are showing signs of nesting too - looking at areas where they have nested in the past. Also cattle egret are still present locally. Obviously, if any potential breeding occurs we will not be giving away any information on this as with any little bittern activity should it occur, to give these birds the maximum protection possible. 

Obviously, all breeding birds deserve our protection and we hoping for a bumper year for all our species. Lots of birds are making a start such as these ducks. First these shovelers photographed by John Crispin:

and then these gadwall also photographed by John:

The photos show in different ways the beauty of their plumage. With the female gadwall showing it's wing feather tracts and the male with its intricate vermiculations in its plumage and the pale grey/buff long scapular (shoulder) feathers extending along its back - thanks to John Crispin for all this info and his shots.

More mating action here - this time its toads. Thanks to Graham Wagner for his shot taken on the main track this week:

Right, we're nearly there I promise. I'd better just finish this off quick or it will turn into a novel.

Also seen this week and a little bit last week has been a few bearded tits. Last week reports from VP2 and around Waltons (unusually) and this week along the Avalon Hide path - thanks to Graham Wagner for proving that they do exist and I'm not telling fibs:

Also in the reedbeds you'll have a good chance of seeing or hearing reed buntings too - learn that call before all the reed warblers arrive with all their chattering. Thanks to John Crispin for his shot below:

Reed Bunting : John Crispin 

Also look out along the main path for both treecreeper and bullfinch. Both seen this week but also both seen along the ditch between Waltons and Loxtons which is where John Crispin got both his shots from. Thanks John:

Treecreeper : John Crispin

Also this week: ravens over the car park on several days, goldcrest along the main path, great spotted woodpeckers seen daily as have buzzards, roe deer seen from the main path on Sunday, several meadow pipits seen at the car park, sparrowhawk sen yesterday at the Avalon Hide and also on Sunday and a male pintail seen on a few occasions from the willow blinds on the footpath track opposite VP2 - thanks to Graham Wagner for his shot:

Finally, before I finish I've been asked to tell you about one of our upcoming events; See details below: 

Mr Boombastic at Ham Wall

Saturday 23 March and 6 April

6 am –9 am

With fifty male booming bitterns recorded last year, the Avalon Marshes is one of the best places in the country to find this shy and elusive bird.

Join us on an early morning walk to come and listen to the eerie booming of the bitterns as they look for a mate.

RSPB members £4 / Non members £6;

RSPB child members £2 / Non member child £3;

Booking essential

All bookings through Eventbrite: https://mrboombasticathamwall.eventbrite.co.uk

Please note booking charges apply

 There are still several places available on the 23rd March and just 3 (at present) left on the 6th April so book to avoid disappointment.

That's it for this week(finally). Thanks for reading and have a great weekend!

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