Firstly, apologies for the lack of blog last Friday. I've been taking a few days off lately what with arrangements and attendance of my father's funeral early this week. I hadn't checked my e-mails all week until this morning (bliss for most people) so it's meant I have a lot of catching up to do and working out which photographs I have to use etc. So please Accept further apologies if you have sent me something in and I have missed it.

I was actually in work last Friday (blog day) but was catching up with things and then needed to clean toilets at the car park (it's not all glamour this job you know) and time just got away from me. This was compounded somewhat by the arrival of the river warbler on Friday morning. I had to check out that the sighting was indeed correct (which of course it was) and think about its location and how we would deal with an influx of visitors. As it happens the location is good, as is its behaviour. Perching up regularly and singing in long obvious bursts. It was still present this morning and visitor numbers are steady but manageable and there is plenty of space for people to socially distance etc.

Anyway, on with the important stuff - photographic evidence. Thanks to both Dave Hughes and Alan Wood, who have submitted shots to me for the blog:

  

River warbler - Dave Hughes 

If you want to locate it head past the first viewing platform (VP1) then cross the bridge as if you are walking to the Avalon Hide. Before you get to the hide turn off stop at the sculptured benches - there's a good chance you may have already heard it before you see it. 

During his quieter moments there are plenty of other birds and even mammals to look out for: The roe deer I think I mentioned in a previous blog was still present and my suspision that she was about to give birth or had a youngster nearby was correct as she was seen moving a very small fawn on Saturday - there were a lot of people about - guessing she's somewehere a bit quieter now. Also, regular flights of great white egrets, the odd bittern and plenty of marsh harrier activity. Closer by, family groups of reed warblers, calling of tawny owls in the wood and even flights of bearded reedlings (seen carrying food). These can sometimes be hard to see at Ham Wall but I heard them at several locations this morning along that track and saw some in front of VP2. Thanks to Sandie Andrews for her shots taken during her bittern surveys last week:

I'm not 100% sure but I think this last photo is of a juvenile female. Several juveniles have been reported around the reserve, so that's great to hear. Of course lots of birds are fledging and several family groups of birds can be seen. The great spotted woodpeckers at Waltons have fledged now. These photos were sent in to me last week just prior to this by Any Collins and Alan Wood - thanks to both for your images. Note the red caps on the young birds - absent on the adults:

Great spotted woodpeckers (juveniles) : Andy Collins

Plenty of other juvenile birds around including groups of cygnets (try the Waltons screens), mallards (Waltons and Loxtons), great created grebes in Waltons and many other cute youngsters - although one less coot in Waltons as a rook came down and plucked one out of the water yesterday.

It's hard to beat the cuteness of these little guys though. Thanks to Alastair Swinnerton and Alan Wood for their juvenile wren shots, with Alastair's showing them being fed on the rails of the bridge that crosses the Waltons Pond in the corner:

Having spoken about the river warbler being a rarity, we also had a rustic bunting spotted on Tuesday - it was photographed and I believe there is a photo on social media somewhere. I'm not sure it has been seen again though, although I could be wrong.

Another came last week (Monday 31st May) with the fly over of a white tailed eagle (most likely one of the Isle of Wight birds. Thanks to Iain Jeffery who managed these distant shots of this huge bird as it was mobbed by crows and other birds:

Other birds of prey spotted this week include red kite seen flying over the car park at least a couple of times a week at the moment, buzzards daily along with hobby, although much fewer in number now of course. One put on a good show over Waltons yesterday as well as sightings from VP1, including one which shot up the drain in front at high speed.  We also had a few people thinking they had spotted a hen harrier last week too. 

Barn owls have also been spotted - particularly in the evenings and have been seen carrying prey items - great news. Thanks to Sandie Andrews for her shot of barn owl taken last week:

Hopefully there are plenty of small mammals for them to catch. I did come across a small shrew on the Loxtons track yesterday looking very exposed - may have ended up a meal for something.

Of course the abundance of insect life too is vital for many species survival and Ham Wall seems to be pretty well packed, despite the poor weather for much of May, which has certainly had an impact on butterflies in particular. The dragonflies which were lacking a couple of weeks ago have made a bit of a comeback but the four potted chasers are certainly not up to the very high numbers we usually have. Perhaps many have simply not emerged this year and will spend a further term in the water as larvae. 

Thanks to Alan Wood for his shot of four spotted chaser taken this week:

Also seen this week: my first emperors of the season and also my first black tailed skimmers. I've also seen what may well be the last of the hairy dragonflies for this year with one egg laying within Waltons. You may also well see some broad bodied chaser and scarce chaser which have also been reported this week.

Damselflies seem to have faired a little better with variable damsel now almost our most common species amongst the blues, which wasn't the case a few years back. Look out also for azure and common blues along with blue tailed (the most abundant you will see) and red eyed damsels now emerging. Bear in mind there are also small red eyed damsels where there is an extra half segment of blue on the tail. Banded demoiselle has also been seen this week although I'm yet to see my first.

Thanks to Alan Wood and Mike Pearce for their selection of damselfly photos which I have inserted and labelled below:

Variable damselfly

Mating azure damselfly

Mating blue tailed damselfly

Small red eyed damselfly

There are plenty of other weird and wonderful invertebrate species to look out for. Here are 3 which you may recognise on your travels. I've left it at family names but if you know more please tell me and of course correct me if I'm wrong. Thanks to Alan Wood for his images:

Cardinal beetle

Skip jack or click beetle

Crab spider

Crab spiders can change their body colour to match their background - hence the huge variation in colour - it can take a few days and they can appear white, yellow or green. They wait patiently on flowers, waiting for an insect to land within reach, which they then grab with their long front legs.

It's nice to get away from birds sometimes to show you what else the reserve has to offer. Conservation is about everything of course. 

Our star birds however are a big draw and bitterns have been performing reasonably well. The first platform perhaps the best place to start with several flights seen there over the last couple of days. They are nesting, we believe, close to a marsh harrier nest and so some conflict can be seen between adults but we believe at this stage now youngsters of both nests will be big enough to remain safe. 

Therefore, there have also been plenty of marsh harrier sightings here - or you could try the Avalon Hide, where they are also pretty active. 

On the reedy path that runs towards the hide look out for these two characters photographed by Alastair Swinnerton last Friday. The "grumpy" sedge warbler, as he describes it (and it does look pretty grumpy) was on one side of the path and the cettis warbler was on the other. Apparently they were have a good shouting match at each other for quite some time. See if you can track them down. Thanks Alastair: 

Sedge Warbler

Cettis warbler

Of course, another favourite of the reserve is the great white egret. They are usually a fairly easy spot with birds often at VP1, VP2 or simply flying over the car park. Thank you to Peter Massett who sent in his shots showing really well the fine breeding plumage of these birds:

Aren't they wonderful!

I guess I'd better wrap it up a bit or this will get way too long. What else has been seen this week: Cuckoos heard today from VP1, plenty of swallows over the car park this week, 2 wigeon at VP2, Waltons and Loxtons, a jay which flew over the old rail bridge, a grass snake seen basking in the sun yesterday as you cross from the main track into Waltons, a common lizard seen down near VP2, very vocal Iberian water frogs - particularly in Loxtons and particularly late in the day (they were pretty deafening one evening last week when I was trying to do an evening bird survey - I was struggling to hear anything else), whitethroats opposite VP1 (pretty sure there are now juveniles here), plenty of blackcaps, willow warbler, the odd treecreeper and chiffchaff along the main path and the odd garden warbler too- this one photographed by Alan Wood around the Waltons trail, thanks Alan:

I think I'd better leave it there. Again apologies if I have missed anybody's submissions, hopefully things will now be a little more settled with me and I'll get back in the groove. 

Thanks as always for reading and have an enjoyable weekend. Happy hunting everyone! 

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