Firstly, apologies for the absence of a blog last week. I actually didn't make it into work due to the heavy snowfall where I live. It's left a bit of catching up to do but it's probably worth just concentrating on the last week or so anyway just to keep it relevant. 

It's certainly been a mixed week. Snowfall did come to the reserve but this area was less affected than where I live which is only 10 miles away - so pretty localised. We've also had rainy spells of course but also beautifully warm and clear days like on Wednesday and expecting some high winds today. 

Wildlife of course has to deal with these conditions. When the snow came we we're worried that we would have a repeat of last year when the cattle egrets disappeared. I can say that the numbers seem to have dropped slightly but good numbers can still be seen in the local area. 65 were counted on Sunday by John Crispin. Thanks to John who also provided these amazing shots of cattle egrets braving the snowy conditions - you've got to feel for them all huddled up like that.

On Sunday ice still remained over a lot of the open water even if the rail had dealt with what snow was left. Some areas remained open where large groups of wildfowl had congregated. Their constant movement in the water kept if from freezing. It makes for quite a spectacle with so much bird life crammed into a smaller space as John Crispin's photo shows.

The ice often tends to make wildlife act slightly differently. Driven by hunger you often tend to see more secretive birds out in the open such as water rail but also it's a better time to catch sight of an otter perhaps. I've seen them in snow and ice of a few occasions.

Richard Berry was about on Sunday at around 9.30am and took these shots from the Avalon Hide. Site manager Steve Hughes was also lucky enough to see a mother and 2 cubs out on the north of the reserve on Wednesday. Thanks to Richard for his photos:

He was also able to grab these shots of great white egret. Firstly out on the ice and then another on the path to the Tor View Hide. Thanks again Richard:

Also this great shot from John Crispin of a great white egret in flight:

Despite the erratic weather, the signs of spring are still there. Grey herons have been looking at the Waltons reedbeds again showing signs they may nest there again. We will keep an eye on things to see what happens. The great crested grebes have also been very active with much head shaking, a few wed dances and some mating noted this week - check out Waltons, the first viewing platform (VP1) and Loxtons to track these pairs down. Thanks to Andy Collins for his shot taken on Monday:

There's also been an increase in bird song with great tit, blue tit, chaffinch, dunnock and song thrush all heard in song this week. Thanks to John Crispin for these great action shots of song thrush taken this week. They use hard surfaces and sometimes an individual rock at a favoured location as an anvil for smashing open snail shells:

You've a good chance of seeing or hearing song thrush around the car park. One was perched up on one of the one way signs for some time on Wednesday and they often sing from the taller alders in spring. Look out also in this area for bullfinch, redwing (seen on Tuesday), goldfinches & great spotted woodpecker.

Another sign of spring also came this week. Our first official booming male bittern of the season. I say official as there have been several occasions in one area where perhaps I thought I'd heard one weakly booming previously but wasn't certain. Well I was out beyond the area in front of the second viewing platform (VP2) on Tuesday when this time I heard one for sure. The following day site manager Steve Hughes heard a second weaker male just north again of the first - things are hotting up. 

2 bitterns were spotted from the Avalon Hide yesterday by a visitor.

The Avalon Hide (and VP2) are probably still the best places to catch a sighting of marsh harrier. Marsh harriers have nested in front of the Avalon Hide now for a few years so we expect to see a repeat of this behaviour. Look out in the coming weeks for some pairing activity and carrying of nesting materials. This individual was seen interacting with a buzzard over the reserve this week and witnessed and photographed by John Crispin - always in the right place John! Thanks for your great photos as always:

..and thanks to Andy Collins for his shot from Monday:

Plenty of activity from these - particularly in the morning after starlings have left the roost looking for carrion. Also during roost time look out for peregrine (seen several times this week) and sparrowhawk. 

Just a word about the starlings at the moment. They seem to be a little erratic at the moment in terms of where they want to settle. They appear to be using the north of the reserve (distant in front of either platform) but have moved about a lot and perhaps even split to different locations at times. It's making it very difficult for us to accurately say where they have been and of course more importantly where they might be the night of your visit. Just something to be aware of that the location is not guaranteed - that's nature for you I'm afraid. 

There's plenty of other wildlife on offer on a visit though. Great numbers of lapwing at times with as many as 1400 counted recently (a really good number for us to have). When they fly up together in large groups they give their own mini murmuration. Either platform for these but particularly VP1 or the island behind on the west side of Waltons which the 3rd screen looks at.

Look out at these locations for good numbers of snipe also with often numbers between 40 and 60 counted. Thanks to Andy Collins for his photos of lapwing and snipe taken on Monday:

In terms of wildfowl look out for: pochard, shoveler, tufted duck, wigeon, mallard, gadwall, teal but also,look out for pintail. 9 were recorded over the wekend but they have also been seen during the week from VP2 - thanks to John Crispin for his photos:

There has also been a report of a garganey from the Avalon Hide yesterday. It's very early but one was also reported from Sutton Bingham reservoir recently - so not as strange as it may sound. 

On your way to the platforms make sure to check out the tree lines along the main path - home to many smaller birds and a great place for bird song as spring properly begins. Great tit, long tailed tit, blue tit, goldfinch, chaffinch, goldcrest, redpoll, blackbird, song thrush, jay, great spotted woodpecker, goldcrest, bullfinch and robin to name a few, have all been recorded. Robins come close in particular especially in the car park or where we are working out on the reserve looking for scarps or anything we disturb during our management. Thanks to Andy Collins for his robin shot:  

Also seen include siskins. Thanks to Mike Pearce for his shots of male & female taken this week:

..and also treecreeper seen both on the main track and along the small drain between Waltons and Loxtons - the location of the following shot from John Crispin. Thanks John:

When close to Waltons look out for kingfishers. They have been very active here this week with lots of calling and flying and often perched up in the willows in the screens area. Sightings also from VP1 and 2 as well as the Avalon Hide.

Just one of many fish loving birds of course. This cormorant made short work of its catch this week. Thanks to John Crispin for his sequence:

The cormorants have a stunning green eye - something not lost on John Crispin who has sent some other photos to highlight the differing eye colours amongst birds. Something to think about when you are studying them. Thanks John: 

Tufted Duck

Great Crested Grebe 

Also another grey heron.This time from Nicola Berry - thanks Nicola:

This heron clearly has a lot to say fro himself.

Nicola also took this shot of 2 swans - they could be preening each other but Nicola seems to think it may have been more of a disagreement. I hope it didn't get too nasty. Thanks for the shot Nicola: 

A much calmer shot of mute swan from Nicola this time. A far more refined character this one:

Also this week: Raven over the reserve on several,occasions, lots of calling from little grebes on site, 2 cranes reported flying over the reserve yesterday, 2 water pipits in the drained area on the right past VP2, grey wagtail in the same area, 8 linnets also reported nearby, 4 roe deer seen on the north of the reserve on Tuesday and groups of reed buntings spotted at various locations. This male photographed by Mike Pearce this week. Thanks Mike:

He also managed to get a shot of cettis warbler perched up. March/April can be a good time to spot these birds as they begin to perch up more calling in territories.A good photo opportunity before the leaves form on the trees and they then return to their usual more secretive nature. Thanks Mike:

Quite a long blog this week. Sorry if I didn't include all your photos if you sent them in - I just had an awful lot this week. Thanks to all those contributors - I really appreciate it. 

I know it was long but I do have one more request of people. You may be aware but we have once again been nominated in the Countryfile Magazine Awards as Nature Reserve of the Year. It's the second year running and we would love to win it this year as it's our 25th year anniversary as a reserve:

Please follow the link and vote for Ham wall in the best nature reserve category - we'd be really grateful. Thank you:

If you could encourage your friends and family to vote too and really spread the word, that would be really fantastic. 

That's it for this week. Thanks for reading. Have a great weekend