The colder/damper weather is becoming the norm at the moment as we move into November. Colder nights have brought a frost to some parts. Some hardy dragonflies are still holding on though with common darter (pictured - thanks to Giles Morris), ruddy darter and migrant hawker all seen this week. Worth looking out for red admiral butterflies too feeding on the late nectar sources on the reserve such as ivy.
This time of year and the plummeting temperatures bring of course new arrivals to the reserve escaping the even colder regions where they spend the summer. The most obvious of these at Ham Wall is obviously the starlings. Numbers of around 20,000 upwards are being estimated at the moment dropping into the Loxtons area of the reserve and visible from the main path. The Starling Hotline is up and running again. This is a recorded message updated each day as and when the starlings move location. This is no guarantee as they can move as they please from night to night but is a pretty good guide as to where to head for. Sunset is around 4.45pm at the moment and the advice is generally to arrive one hour before this to get into place and perhaps grab yourself a hot drink from the Welcome Building before heading out. We will try to have this manned until at least 4pm each night (often until 4.30pm) to provide information to visitors. Starling Hotline: 07866 554142
You could also try coming in the mornings to watch the take off - often just as spectacular. The beauty of this is if you know where they landed the night before you are guaranteed to see them all take off. The car park is open from 5am for you early birds but sunrise is around 6.50am so arrive well before this time. Thanks to Nigel Street who took this morning shot of starlings recently:
Look out for winter thrushes - redwings and fieldfare with a couple of sightings over the reserve this week. Any tree or bush laden with berries is fair game for these birds.
We should also experience a slow build up of water fowl particularly the arrival of teal (pictured in flight) and wigeon from the north. Both viewing platform areas are good places to look. Both of the actual platforms are still out of action as they undergo a revamp but the areas in front are visible from the sides or by crossing onto the grass path on the opposite side of the main drainage channel.
Wildfowl is building nicely in these areas and from the Avalon Hide. Look out for teal, wigeon, mallard, gadwall, pochard, shoveler and tufted duck (pictured).
Be on the look out for other birds on the move. Believe it or not you can often get big movements of birds such as wood pigeons at this time of year with flocks in their thousands.
We also seen small flocks of redpoll and siskin on the reserve in the winter months. Take a look at the tops of alder trees in particular as these groups pass between them to feed. Mixed flocks of birds appear too, particularly tits and finches and it's always worth scanning them to see if anything else is lurking amongst them. You can often see goldcrest, chiffchaff and even treecreeper joining these flocks (all 3 of which have been seen along the main path trees this week).
Whilst walking the main path stop off at the old rail bridge. Below you in the water you can often see groups of fish such as rudd and along the banks and across the reeds both kestrel and barn owl were seen hunting on Wednesday afternoon (just before it rained).
Cattle egret are still roosting distantly in this area with numbers as high as 80 counted. During the day there has been the odd fly over of small numbers but they can be seen in the surrounding area where cattle are still grazing. Our cows are now off site for the winter, in line with our management/funding agreements. When driving in to work in the mornings I often see cattle egret in the fields below Mudgley (between there and the back end of Westhay Moor reserve) - around 30 or more this morning.
Our other heron species are usually more easy to track down. Grey heron, little egret and great white egret were all present in front of the Avalon Hide this morning - just missing the bittern (which has been reported here this week). Great white egrets are fairly widespread across the Avalon Marshes now and almost a dead cert if visiting Ham Wall. Try either viewing platform areas or the Avalon Hide and you're in with a good shout. Thanks to John Crispin who took this shot on Sunday:
Bitterns are being seen too: first platform, Waltons and the Avalon Hide. Thanks again to John Crispin who took this photo sequence from the first viewing platform area on Sunday:
Another visitor favourite - the kingfisher, has also been seen several times this week. On Monday one was perched in front of the Loxtons screen and stayed for a visitor to take photos despite me cutting the bank with my Softrak machine and making a bit of a racket for 20 mins or so.
They have also been seen from the Avalon Hide, Tor View Hide and yesterday 2 chasing each other across the Waltons section to Loxtons.
The damp conditions and rotting wood piles are great place to go fungi hunting (places like RSPB Swell Wood are great). We have our fair share on Ham wall too - a nice thing to get into while you search for other wildlife. Some of the willows from a distance seem to have what looks like a black fungus on the stems but on closer inspection can be seen to be black aphids about 5mm long.
These are quite common and are large willow bark aphids. They build in numbers from the late summer and through the autumn and are sucking the sap from the trees. Despite the large numbers they seem to have no significant affect on the willows growth or vigour. I took this shot with my phone of the pollarded willows along the Tor View Hide path. There are winged adults amongst the masses.:
Also along the Tor View Hide path this morning were several calling water rails and a noisy cettis warbler which showed nicely for a while. There was also a great crested grebe close to the hide.
Also this week: ravens seen and heard flying over most days, buzzards daily, sparrowhawk from the Avalon Hide yesterday, great spotted woodpeckers daily, bearded tits heard from the Avalon Hide this morning and a pair seen in the reedbeds by the path yesterday, also a male bearded tit seen at Waltons close to the first platform this morning, groups of lapwing seen at various locations (one group of 33), 10 snipe seen from the field between the factory and the Avalon Hide but also from the cut island in Waltons and from the 1st platform, a nicely marked male marsh harrier seen from the rail bridge this morning but otherwise daily sightings across the reserve and stonechats (both male and female) seen opposite the first viewing platform.
Finally, for the sightings, have you ever seen a four winged swan???
Thanks to Sandie Andrews for this lovely shot taken a couple of weeks ago on the reserve. She's caught it just right to trick the eye. Star Wars fans may be reminded of the X-wing:
Finally a quick message from the visitor team - looking at the forecast I think this is a wise decision:
Due to the weather warnings for high winds and heavy rain tomorrow Saturday 2 November the Welcome Building will be closed. The reserve, car park and toilets will remain open as usual. If you do decide to visit please take care and check local forecasts.
Despite the miserable weather on its way, I hope you have a great weekend.
Stephen, did you get my images of the otter/polecat/mink in the canal?
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