I hope you all enjoyed your long weekend last week to celebrate The Queen's Jubilee - and if that's not your thing I hope you managed to escape it all and get out and enjoy some wildlife. 

At Ham Wall, it' s bitterns and marsh harriers that are stealing the show at the moment - although there is of course a whole host of wonderful wildlife to enjoy. 

The first viewing platform (VP1) is a great place to start your hunt for bitterns. We believe there are two nests quite close together in front of VP1 and they are very active throughout the day feeding hungry mouths. Some of these hungry mouths were actually seen yesterday from the nest in front of the Avalon Hide. Two birds were sat out on the reeds when a third bird arrived and they disappeared - the assumption being this was the mother coming into feed two quite mobile chicks. Later yesterday a single bird was sat up and the mother came in and actually fed it on the reeds - confirming what we thought - a real treat for those who saw it. This kind of behaviour has been witnessed again this very morning.

The same two locations (VP1 and The Avalon Hide) are probably the best places to see marsh harrier too, although I have seen a bird regularly visiting the pools at the car park this week. We think we have at least 4 marsh harrier nests this year (possibly 5) at various places around the reserve so your chances of a sighting are very high. 

Thanks to John Crispin who has sent in several photos this week. Firstly a food pass from the a pair on the north of the reserve, then a rather tatty looking female (obviously working hard at this time of year) and then a distant shot of marsh harrier and bittern in the same shot. Thanks John!

The bitterns aren't the only young birds seen this week. I saw some young bearded tits near the Avalon Hide late last week and a volunteer has witnessed young bearded tits with adults in the Waltons section this week, which came as a surprise to me (a pleasant one though). 

I've also seen young coot, moorhen, Canada goose, gadwall and mallard. Along the main path last Friday I saw a young reed bunting and a young robin, sat waiting for a parent. John Crispin has photographed both juvenile blackcap and garden warbler this week and sent them in - thanks again John:

Other birds youngsters are much harder to see, but we know they are there. In front of  VP1 4 lapwing and 2 redshank are present and chasing off all kinds of other birds including marsh harrier - good sign that they have young present. It's much harder to see anything on the ground there now due to the reed growth - our perennial problem at this time of year. We are trying to manage this area a little differently than in the past and it is having an effect, albeit slow. Much barer patches are beginning to show but the edges of the islands are much higher.  We are looking into options on how we can manage these to leave views open to visitors for longer. Some cover is great however - just ask the lapwing and redshank.

A reserve favourite at the moment is the barn owl. Still pretty active in the evenings and even during the day. One flew up the main drain on Monday and I saw one cross over carrying prey, which then flew around the Avalon Hide to the wood to the left - hissing was heard from this box last week. We will attempt to get these ringed this week as long as they are a suitable size. One also flew right over the car park on Sunday.

Thanks to Tony Rowe who sent in these fabulous shots last week for inclusion in the blog:

Other birds of prey spotted this week include hobby - seen daily but often flying high, tawny owls heard calling in the evenings, buzzards seen daily including one flying high on thermals over the car park along with a raven, a hobby and a cormorant. This red kite was also seen over the woods in front of VP1 on Saturday. John Crispin managed to grab a shot - thanks John:

I've seen a few more hirundines this week - a few swallows hanging around the car park each day as well as over the reserve, quite a few house martins just past the old rail bridge on Monday evening and a group of around 30 sand martins in front of the second viewing platform (VP2) earlier in the evening. Whilst I was watching them I could also hear the croaking of Iberian water frogs it appears they have found a way of crossing the main drain to the north as they have previously been almost absent from this side of the reserve. The more deafening frog chorus was still coming from the south side however - Loxtons in particular.

These frogs of course are good fodder for all the bitterns, egrets and herons that frequent the reserve and must contribute towards their success. There are 10 grey heron nests within the Waltons reedbeds - they were very noisy on Monday evening as I walked back to the car park and great white egrets are hard not to spot during a visit. This one was watching an otter at VP2 on Sunday. An otter was also spotted at Waltons on Wednesday morning. Thanks to John Crispin for his photos:

Insects of course are good fodder for many other birds around the reserve. Dragonflies and butterflies often the most popular to see for visitors. 

Several dragonfly and damselfly species on the wing at the moment including: emperor, four spotted chaser, broad bodied chaser, scarce chaser, brown hawker, black tailed skimmer, blue tailed damselfly, red eyed damselfly, variable, damselfly, azure damselfly, common blue damselfly and banded demoiselle. The last of these is particularly beautiful I think. They can be seen next to slow moving rivers and streams - so on Ham Wall next to the main drain (often nearer the road end). Here's one of John Crispin's from our archive to show you what to look for:

I saw this dragonfly emerging this week - the trouble was it was at 9.20pm on Monday evening - I'm pretty sure it didn't make it but you never know. Sorry for the poor image - it wasn't that close to me and I was stretching out with my phone - just thought it was interesting:

In terms of butterflies there has been a marked increase in certain species - particularly the small tortoiseshell - usually our most numerous butterfly at this time of year. There have also been several painted ladies seen around the reserve this week. Another one of John's from our archive to show you: 

As things slow down for the birds post breeding season people often take more interest in insect life in the summer months before autumn migration kicks in - butterflies are a good place to start and they are beautiful and fascinating creatures too. 

We will still have cuckoos for a while longer though, although their stays here are generally quite short - it's not as though they have young to bring up themselves. They can be heard daily and often long into the evenings. One was seen flying by VP2 on Sunday whilst behind in Loxtons 2 were seen chasing each other and perched in trees for around 10 minutes on Wednesday - if this is mating behaviour perhaps the female will be looking to parasitize a late reed warbler nest (or second brood).

 Also this week: a muntjac was again reported on the reserve last week - close to VP1 this time. I also nearly hit one at 6am on Friday morning a along the Glastonbury to Meare road as I drove in to do an early morning survey - it just ran out in front of me. Kingfishers are being seen at a few locations including: the old rail bridge, Loxtons and the back of Waltons, 2 grass snakes were seen this week at the car park area (one of them was unfortunately being carried by a marsh harrier at the time, great spotted woodpeckers seen daily (try the Avalon Hide area), a wigeon was spotted from VP1 and a garganey from the Avalon Hide, great crested grebes with young seen from the Tor View Hide, siskin & greenfinch recorded at the car park, small groups of swift spotted over the reserve most days, whitethroat seen from both VP1 and the old rail bridge and spotted flycatcher seen again from just past VP2. Thanks to John Crispin for his photos:

Think I will leave it there for this week. Thanks for reading and have a great weekend!

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