Thanks to Joe for filling in last week. I'm sure there will be plenty more chances for you to do it again. I always enjoy reading other people's blogs when they write instead of me - good to experience different writing styles and ideas. 

This one may be shorter than most as I'm well behind time (I know I've said this before and it's been just as long - let's see how we go).

We spent the morning showing round some of our partners from the Avalon Marshes Partnership (RSPB, Natural England, Somerset Wildlife Trust and Hawk & Owl Trust). It will be reciprocated on other sites in the near future - it's a great way of seeing how we are all doing things and sharing ideas and best practice. 

Before meeting everybody I had to quickly nip out and do a quick job but managed to slip off the track in my truck after all the rain over the last couple of days. It was pretty bogged down and so had to retrieve it after our meeting using our Softrak machine to pull it out and spare my blushes. It's out safely but has cost me blog writing time sadly. 

Anyway, despite the extra rainfall of the last couple of days, water levels continue to drop around the site - perhaps a little slower than before but it's all progress. The Avalon Hide is unlikely to be open for another couple of weeks - we still need to do some repair work on the path and access is currently not that easy. We did manage to get to the dodgy tree and sort that so we have moved things forward. 

We could chuck some bodies at it next week but we only have a small window of opportunity left to deal with all the tree and scrub work around the rest of the site (we will stop at the end of February) - so that will take priority for the moment. 

Birds are reacting to this mild weather though - Bitterns are strengthening their booms and can be heard booming and grunting around the reserve each day - they will get louder and stronger over the next few weeks. Very few sightings to report. I saw one this morning which would have been visible from the first viewing platform (VP1).

Other heron species are being seen though - Great White Egrets are usually an easy spot - again VP1 is a well frequented area. However, these 5 were photographed by John Crispin in the eastern side of Waltons this week - another 2 were also present and didn't get in shot:

Grey Herons are also using this area and have been seen carrying nesting material onto these islands - it's not unusual for us to have 6 or more nests in this area. 

Little Egrets are often harder to come by at Ham Wall - i have seen one bird from VP1 and VP2 this week and there is often one from the second of the little platforms as you first walk down to the reserve. This one was seen preening this week on the western half of Waltons:

Water levels from VP1 are still higher than we would like - the recent rains mean the main drain is higher and so water will not leave this section though gravity until it drops again. You can see the tide mark on the reeds where it has dropped from. This means there is little suitable space for waders such as Lapwing - there would normally be a few hundred out here at this time of year. I did spot a couple on the front edge this week but had a pleasant surprise this morning to see around 30 from VP2. 

Snipe are also around but in small numbers, often flushed from the reed edges whilst walking around - a few (c12) seen at Waltons on the cut island in front of the third screen where some land is finally showing. Flocks of c250 seen flying overhead:

These little chaps better keep their eyes open - a Hen Harrier was seen taking a Snipe in the Avalon Marshes this week. A male Hen Harrier was spotted over the Ham Wall car park on Tuesday afternoon and then Joe, who wrote last week's blog, saw it again over on Shapwick Heath on Wednesday. 

Marsh Harriers are certainly way more active now. I flushed two together from the edge of the reedbed early this morning - would have been seen from VP1. These are perhaps the pair seen mating early this week. 

There has been other interactions from pairs with food passes and plenty of calling - they are looking to set up their territories for this season. 

These two females were seen interacting this week too. On closer inspection of the photograph from John Crispin you can see a food item being carried by one of the birds - this may explain this behaviour:

Sometimes they attract other unwanted attention such as this Carrion Crow harassing this pair last week:

Plenty of other interactions are taking place across the reserve. The elaborate displays of Great Crested Grebes are being spotted or at least the preliminaries. Lots of head bobbing  and a bit of weed presentation has been witnessed - great to see the whole show when it happens. One pair have already begun nest building. 

Coot are often noisy and boisterous but this often gets out of hand when individuals begin to think about territories. Many a fight can break out over what seems like nothing. Thanks to John Crispin for his photo sequence taken last week:

These disputes can often send some of the other birds, such as duck, scattering to prevent getting caught up in all this roughness.  VP1 and Waltons have their fair share of duck to look out for. Shoveler (pictured below - male and female) and Gadwall seen pretty well populated in these areas. Add to this Mallard, Wigeon, Teal, Tufted Duck (33 seen at VP1) and a few Pochard and you are doing quite nicely.

Pintail have also been seen from VP1. Just the 2 males and one female but considering the large number over on Shapwick Heath, it's nice to have a few drop in. 

From VP1 look out for the Cormorants perching on the rails in their familiar pose:

Cormorant: Bryn Evans

Bryn's photo above sends out those prehistoric vibes when Cormorants pose like this. 

Bryn's also been out photographic the more unusual once again. This time it's lichens. If you take a closer look as you walk round you will often see fungus, mosses and lichens creeping up over trees and log piles.

This lichen is possibly  the Greenshield genus - Flavoparamelia. A foliose (leaflike) type as opposed to crustose (crust like) or frutiose (bush like). 

This is common orange lichen (Xanthoria parientina). It's tolerant to pollution and often found beneath bird roosts, so presumably utilising nitrogen compounds in the droppings. Perhaps a bird has a favourite perch above. Interestingly, if found in shade it would be greener. The orange chemical it produces protects it from UV light. Thanks for all this info Bryn:

Take a look along the main track and see what different lichens you can spot. Of course while you do it there will be plenty of birds to look out for too. Firecrest has been seen a couple of times this week. I'm guessing the same locations as before, so either between to two car park boardwalks or down near VP2 - that's not to say they wont be elsewhere of course. 

Goldcrest are being spotted too along with Blackcap, Song Thrush, Blackbird and flocks of finches and tits too. This long tailed tit was spotted feeding by the Waltons screens this week:


At the car park look out for the male Bullfinch who is still using the Guelder Rose bush near the car park info point. Great Spotted Woodpecker has been sitting in the big oak tree and swooping down to the feeders regularly and small groups of both Redpoll and Siskin have been seen at the car park as well as the main track. 

Groups of Fieldfare and Redwing were also sitting in the car park hedge line and flitting back and forth across the car park. 

Also seen this week: Peregrine at the car park on Tuesday, Jays seen daily around the reserve, Sparrowhawk from VP1 on a couple of occasions, Kingfisher seen at Waltons and the old rail bridge and Ravens across the car park on a few occasions this week. Photograph below from last week:

That's it for this week. Thanks to John Crispin and Bryn Evans for their wonderful photographs and information. Thanks for reading and have a great weekend.