Another week, another storm! This time, although Storm Dennis made things rather wet again, we didn’t have any more trees down thankfully. On Monday morning Steve was anxious to check the new viewing screen down the Tor View hide path for any damage but shouldn’t have worried, our volunteers have clearly done a brilliant job of making it nice and sturdy! The first replacement screen is almost ready for use but not quite yet, so please do respect the hazard tape barrier for the time being. The photos below are from yesterday and I’m sure you’ll agree the volunteers have done a marvellous job. Only two more to go! The benches in the photos are from the old screen.

Ali Blaney: The first replacement Tor View screen almost ready for use

As well as the screen replacement the team have been repairing fencing, continuing with scrub clearance and fixing up some things after the storms. There are still a few things that need a bit of work after the storms, including the reed screens along Tor View hide path that took a bit of a battering and the roof on the viewing shelter on Loxtons trail. Just a reminder too that part of Loxtons trail is still closed with a fallen tree at one end and flooding at the other, and the boardwalk bridge in the north east of Waltons is also still closed due to a hung-up tree. Yesterday we spent some time bagging up lots of soil conditioner ready for the spring rush. Don’t forget you can purchase our soil conditioner from the welcome building in the car park - £4 per bag or currently on offer at three bags for £10. It’s made on site from our reed cuttings!

Speaking of spring, our wildlife is determinedly ignoring the bad weather and carrying on regardless. Male bitterns are regularly booming across the reserve, trying to attract the females out in the reedbed while other bird species are well into nest building. At least a couple of early cormorant nests appear to have survived both storms which is great news and grey herons are well underway in Waltons reedbed. We also now have a great crested grebe nest in Looks Low, visible from the first viewing platform (VP1), just behind the right-hand side post and rail out in the water. John Crispin sent photos of the new nest along with some of the plentiful winter wildfowl species out there are the moment in Looks Low. Thanks John! And while you’re at VP1, look out for the stonechat which is showing well in front.

John Crispin: Great crested grebe nest in Looks Low - the birds are now sitting with periodic nest 'housekeeping'

John Crispin: wigeon courtship flight with three males chasing a female

John Crispin: A pair of shoveler in flight

John Crispin: Female stonechat

Elsewhere on the reserve there is plenty going on too. You probably still need wellies to get to the Avalon Hide at the moment but it’s worth the walk as you can see from the photos. An otter was spotted on Wednesday by Sandie Andrews and Mike Pearce, along with marsh harriers and a bittern on Tuesday. Mike has made a great panorama image from multiple shots of the same bittern in flight. Thanks Mike!

Mike Pearce: An otter from Avalon Hide

Mike Pearce: Pair of marsh harriers from Avalon Hide

Mike Pearce: A bittern in flight from Avalon Hide

Mike also observed a coot engaging in foot-stamping behaviour. Mike says "I’d never seen this before and it was very loud - but one online source suggests it may be a warning of danger to other coots (similar to what rabbits do) but there was no obvious threat to the coot, apart from the distant marsh harriers". Mike wondered if anyone else had observed this behaviour, have any of our blog readers seen it anywhere?

Mike Pearce: A foot-stamping coot!

Last but not least from Mike we have a lovely photo of a blackbird on Tuesday.

Marsh harriers seem to be all over the place at the moment and we’ll be watching them closely for any sign of courtship behaviour over the coming weeks. John Crispin watched a couple hunting over Waltons yesterday, who then turned their attention to Looks Low before heading east. One bird was a young male, with very little grey wing feathering but a good solid grey colour on the tail. See if you can spot that one while out on the reserve. I also enjoyed watching a lovely male marsh harrier yesterday, battling with the winds over the eastern end of the reserve – they always look like they’re having a great time.

We'll also be watching our great white egrets closely too for any signs of platform and nest building. A couple of birds are starting to come into breeding plumage and we've noticed chase flights over the reserve the past couple of weeks. Exciting times indeed - with such a large area available for nesting in who knows where they'll go this year!

Well that’s it for this week I’m afraid, apologies to anyone who sent photos for the blog directly to Steve C or to the Ham Wall inbox that I’ve not been able to access. Steve is away next week too having a well-earned break but hopefully I’ll have time for another update, however brief.

Have a great, storm-free weekend!