The weeks seem to be flying by at the moment as I find myself sat at my desk to write another blog. Luckily, at a place like this there's always something to report - particularly at this time of year.
May is the peak time for the arrival of swifts and hobbies and so it has proved this week with as many as 45 hobbies seen over the reserve on Sunday and swifts numbering in the hundreds over the weekend. The pace has dropped off slightly but visitors still reporting hobby numbers in the twenties and thirties each day. On Thursday one was seen taking a house martin over Waltons and then was given a very hard time by a second hobby intent on stealing its prize. Always worth looking up to catch a sighting of these thrilling aerial supremos. Thanks to John Crispin for his shot taken this week:
There are more dragonflies emerging too for them to feed on with increasing numbers of 4 spotted chasers being seen to join the hairy dragonflies (our earliest emerger) and by now I would expect to see broad body chasers too. In terms of damselflies look out for azure, variable, blue tailed, large red and red-eyed. Thanks to Giles MOrris for his shots taken yesterday of large red and then red-eyed damselfly:
Other insects are out too of course with a good range of butterflies to be seen despite the often wet and windy conditions of the week at times. Spotted this week: small copper, orange tip, green veined white, brimstone, speckled wood and peacock.
When its wet or windy insects often seem to fly lower and this often brings down those hunting them too offering better views of birds such as the swift or martins. Yesterday a black tern joined a large group of black headed gulls hawking over the reedbeds for insects. It was a little distant - over the reedbeds before you get to Waltons on the main track. Another was reported over on Shapwick Heath too so worth bearing in mind if you pay us a visit this weekend.
Plenty of other migrant birds are present too. Listen out for the large numbers of blackcaps along the main path and trails and see if you can pick out those few garden warblers, which sound very similar. Chiffchaff are also belting out their repetitive song and listen for the descending song of the willow warbler - there are several around the reserve this year. Thanks to Graham Wagner for his shot of willow warbler taken at Waltons this week:
Perhaps the loudest of our warblers is the cettis warbler. It may be loud but they can be hard to see - although spring can be a good time as they become territorial. Thank you to both Graham Wagner & John Crispin for their cettis shots taken during the week:
Of course these aren't the only warblers we have on site. The reedbeds are filled with the chattering of reed and sedge warblers - another 2 birds with similar songs. It helps if you can get them both singing at the same time to pick out the differences. Often on the last stretch of path to the Avalon Hide you can hear both - one each side. Graham Wagner took this shot of reed warbler from that location this week:
It was close to this location (in the woodland) that a visitor reported a nightingale on Tuesday (both morning & afternoon) - one had been heard on Friday not far away by the grass path next to the main drain - so a good confirmation that one has been present.
To complete your warbler set, look out for whitethroat. Some are being heard along the main path but the best spot is probably opposite the first viewing platform (VP1). Thanks again to Graham Wagner for sending in his shot:
There are some areas of mud showing from VP1 still and several waders have been spotted there this week including varying numbers of black tailed godwits with peak numbers of just over 100 on at least 2 occasions with many now coming into their summer plumage which is nice to see. On Wednesday a little stint was reported whilst a small number of lapwing and snipe have also been spotted. Whimbrel have been seen on a couple of occasions, with one flying over Waltons calling on Wednesday and a further 2 reported from the Avalon Hide yesterday. Common sandpiper have also been reported on a few occasions this week with these 3 photographed on the floating raft at Waltons this week. Thanks to John Crispin for his shot:
Bitterns are still booming and there's a high chance of you hearing one on your visit. You can even hear them from the car park sometimes. The numbers of sightings is increasing too - no surprise given the time of year, although there seem to have been fewer chase flights (either males chasing females or chasing off other males) this year so far. Birds are being seen flying in and out of Loxtons but also frequent sightings in front of the Avalon Hide where once again this year they are coming into conflict with the nesting marsh harriers.
It can be an interesting confrontation at times. On Wednesday a bittern was seen flying in and landing in the reeds in front of the hide. A male marsh harrier then dive bombed the bird repeatedly, hovering up high then suddenly dropping and also flying by and swooping down. The female watched on from overhead or from her willow perch. The male then dive bombed a second area where another bittern appeared, climbing up the reeds and clinging on. It pointed upwards and with its beak slightly opened snapped at the harrier which moved off to continue its bombardment of the first bird. Keep an eye out here - it's likely not to be the only encounter between these two birds over the coming weeks.
The marsh harriers are almost an ever present in this area and can be seen interacting quite a bit: thanks to John Crispin for his shots of the male flying alone and then an encounter with a female:
Plenty of grebes and ducks to spot too. Little grebes can be seen from pretty much every hide and screen and you always know they are around given their noisy calls. Great crested grebes have young at both Waltons and at VP1 and can also be spotted from the Avalon Hide. Garganey have been seen this week from VP2 and at Loxtons where they were on the raft last week but if breeding they will most likely become a bit more secretive. You can also spot pochard, tufted duck, gadwall, shoveler and of course mallard. Thanks to John Crispin's shot of mallard you can see the lovely iridescence on its neck and head. John had written (and here's the sciency bit...) The iridescence is the result of the different reflection of the wavelengths of light from highly modified barbules (part of the feather). The reflected wavelength changes depending on the angle of reflection formed by the light.
Kingfishers are being seen too around Waltons and Loxtons and from the old rail bridge - always nice to catch sight of these.
Another favourite the cuckoo can also be seen - more often heard though - look out for favourite perches - dead trees to the far left of VP1 and the small dead trees at Loxtons visible from VP2. Thanks to John Crispin for his cuckoo shot:
In terms of birds of prey (apart from marsh harriers) look out for sparrowhawk - quite frequent sightings and buzzards - as many as 18 seen on Tuesday. Take a look at our nest cam footage at the Welcome building too - the owlet is looking quite big now and has been exercising its wings a bit - looking much more alert and ready to branch soon perhaps.
We've also spotted kestrel this week - one we don't get often on the reserve - thanks once again to John Crispin who snapped this one at the reserve this week:
Also this week: raven heard flying over on Tuesday, herons continue to nest in the Waltons reedbeds, daily sightings of great white egret - both platforms are regular places and within Waltons, bearded tits heard near the Avalon Hide, treecreeper and bullfinch seen along the main track. Look out also for this roe deer - it's being spotted quite frequently around Waltons, Loxtons and on the main track and footpath. He even went for a little swim this week. Thanks to John Crispin for these great photos:
Just a quick word now to promote a couple of events coming up:
RSPB Ham Wall 25th Anniversary Walk
Saturday 1 June
6 am – 8 am
Join RSPB Ham Wall Site Manager Steve, as part of Somerset Festival of Nature, for a special walk to discover more about the history and wildlife of Ham Wall as part of our celebrations of 25 years as a RSPB reserve. Ham Wall and the Avalon Marshes are one of the most important wetlands in the country. We will be going in search of some of the amazing birds that make their home here including bitterns, marsh harriers and great white egrets.
RSPB members £8; Non RSPB members £10
RSPB child members £4; Non RSPB child £5
All booking is online through Eventbrite:
(Please note: booking charges apply)
Evening Yoga at Ham Wall
Sunday 23 June
7 pm-8.30 pm
Nature is great for our well-being. Why not combine it with a spiritual Yoga session at our amazing Ham Wall nature reserve as we reach mid-summer.
RSPB members £9.60 / Non RSPB members £12
That's it for this week. Thanks for reading and have a great weekend!
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