September is here and has brought an almost immediate autumnal feel about it (It's raining steadily as I write this). Autumn of course brings with it an increase of activity with bird life in particular as species move away from their breeding grounds to either migrate back or to find good feeding, wintering grounds.
Waders are always a good sign of this and we have had a nice variety visiting the reserve, particularly the second viewing platform (VP2) or at the willow screens which look at the same area from the other side of the drainage channel. We've cleared vegetation in front of these to open up views a bit more as they were getting a little overgrown. With reed cutting season underway too it's been a bit of a challenge to keep up with all the infrastructure and path access (it doesn't help when the assistant warden is off on holiday of course )
See from VP2 and the screens this week: up to 5 redshank (I could hear them calling in there yesterday afternoon before the flew up), common sandpiper, wood sandpiper, greenshank, several snipe and small groups of lapwing. Up to 4 green sandpipers are regulars there too - thanks to Graham Wagner for his shot taken from the willow screens this week:
Early mornings are a good time to see birds generally but it's this time of day when groups of great white egrets tend to have gathered in the VP2 area too. Up to 11 have been seen together this week. Thanks to John Crispin for his shot of 5 together from earlier in the week:
They can be seen all over the reserve really but here and in front of the Avalon Hide are regular haunts. Thanks to Graham Wagner for his shots of an individual fishing before flying off in front of the Avalon Hide taken this week:
Plenty of birds are on the move at this time of year, which means of course there's always the chance of something more unusual turning up which is precisely what happened on Tuesday this week. A Wryneck dropped in front of the first viewing platform (VP1) very briefly before flying off again. Lucky, that man John Crispin was in just the right place to grab a couple of shots quickly. Well done John and thanks for the photos (I have to admit to being slightly jealous - I've never seen a Wryneck):
Sand Martins, house martins and swallows are also being seen passing through as are other migrant birds such as whitethroat, willow warbler with the first of these two photographed by John Crispin feeding on the plentiful berries on the reserve - great fuel for their long journeys. Thanks John:
Some of the shorter distance migrants are now overwintering in Britain - you'll probably see some in your gardens this winter - two good examples are chiffchaff and blackcap - both seen on the reserve this week and photographed by John Crispin- thanks again to John:
Lots of the smaller birds are beginning to flock together as they often do this time of year. Long tailed tits are well known for this and gangs of these birds can often be seen following the tree lines calling to each other as they go. Look closely at any flock as they will often be mixed. Yesterday great tit, blue tit & long tailed tit were in a group which also contained a goldcrest and a treecreeper was also in the mix.
Larger birds gather together too of course and large groups of duck have been seen together in front of the Avalon Hide and in the Loxtons section. Teal numbers are on the increase on the reserve too another sign that winter is on the way.
It also brings us to the dreaded 'S' word. Starlings. Autumn and winter heralds one of the most spectacular sights of nature and it happens right here on the Avalon Marshes. Believe it or not small groups of starlings gather on Ham Wall as early as July to roost together post breeding - birds of the local area. At present a group of around 1000 birds are roosting in the Waltons and flying off at around 6.30-6.45 each morning. Small fry to the big winter numbers but it has begun!
We still have some lovely sunny spells of course and it's still a good time to go butterfly or dragonfly hunting. Butterflies seen this week include: clouded yellow, green veined white, peacock, red admiral, painted lady, small tortoiseshell, speckled wood & common blue amongst others.
Dragonflies are still on the wing but will slowly diminish over the next few weeks, although it is possible to have the later ruddy darters right into November before the frosts and colder nights finish them off. Southern hawker, migrant hawker, black tailed skimmer (pictured), common darter (pictured) and ruddy darter all seen this week along with a few damselflies most likely blue tailed (photo), variable or common blue but look but for the last remaining red eyed and small red eyed damselflies which often perch on floating vegetation whose flight period extends into September.
Thanks to John Crispin for his black tailed skimmer shot and to Ian Barnett for sending in his common darter photos and shot of a damselfly caught in a spiders web (blue tailed I think) and mating blue tailed damselflies:
Common darter male: Ian Barnett
Common darter female: Ian Barnett
Mating blue tailed damselflies: Ian Barnett
Also this week: 2 ravens flying over on Monday, bitterns seen from the Avalon Hide most days and occasional flights over the rest of the reserve, little grebes diving and fishing in front of the Waltons screens, c160 greylag geese seen early morning yesterday from VP2 - they have roosted in this area overnight in the past so perhaps are again?, bearded tits heard from both VP2 and the Avalon Hide with just a couple being seen on each occasion, little egrets seen early morning with the great whites at VP2 and from the Avalon Hide, buzzards daily, great spotted woodpeckers daily, water rail from the Tor View Hide (a juvenile photographed on the reserve this week too by John Crispin, kingfisher from the Waltons screens on Wednesday - Waltons a good bet for these in general and sparrowhawk from VP1 on Thursday afternoon.
Juvenile water rail: John Crispin
If seeing these pictures or reading about the Ham Wall wildlife has inspired you to learn more but you don't know where to start - how about booking on the following walk to take things further:
Beginners Guide to Bird Watching at Ham Wall
Saturday 14 September
Saturday 28 September
Saturday 19 October
10 am – 1 pm
Have you ever wondered which bird is which and want to learn more? Can you tell your bittern from your blackbird, or your marsh harrier from a mallard? If not then this is the event for you. Come along and learn how to identify some of the brilliant birds that call Ham Wall their home.
RSPB members £4.80 : Non RSPB members £6
RSPB child members £2.40 ; Non RSPB child £3
All bookings are online via Eventbrite
Please note booking charges apply
That's it for this week. Thanks for reading and have a great weekend.
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