Welcome to another blog from a very wet week at Ham Wall (although today looks lovely). It's meant fewer visitors to the reserve and fewer reports relayed back to us but this by no means indicates there's less to write about. There are still plenty of hungry mouths out there that need feeding from busy parent birds.
The car park is your first stop generally and actually you can make quite a list before you even leave this area if you are lucky enough.
There have been plenty of fly overs from great white egret, marsh harrier, buzzard and hobby throughout the week. Plenty of warblers continue to sing in the trees including blackcap, chiffchaff and willow warbler and the feeders in the little wildlife garden behind the Welcome Building are a hive of activity at times.
Greenfinches were a most welcome visitor this week along with regular visits from great spotted woodpecker (still being seen feeding youngsters nearby), bullfinch, goldfinch, chaffinch, blue tit, great tit, dunnock, collared dove, wood pigeon, blackbird house sparrow and robin.
There are one or tow very friendly robins who loiter around the feeders and picnic benches begging for scraps. One has even waited on the decking before the building was opened quite indignant that the feeders were empty. Thanks to Abbie Thorne (Visitor Experience Manager) who took this on her phone. I recognise this as the character who was begging me for food at lunchtime on Wednesday at the picnic benches.
The car park has also had sightings of jay, swallow, swift and mistle thrush this week. 5 mistle thrush were seen together close to the Avalon Hide on Tuesday (don't think I've ever had more than 2 together) so perhaps an unusual sighting for us.
Other gems this week include the sighting of Purple Heron. Seen on Monday from beyond the second viewing platform (VP2), it was also seen the same day over Shapwick Heath so presumably flew over the reserve and car park at some point.
Cuckoos seem to be doing well this year on the reserve. Plenty of sightings and calling being reported (Including from the car park). Some interesting behaviour from 2 males in particular which were seen within the reeds in front of VP2 for 2 hours plus yesterday (20th). They were observed clambering about in the reeds and feeding - we think on caterpillars (the large caterpillars are a favourite snack of theirs so I believe. As this behaviour continued for some time I can only assume that there was a hatching of some kind or concentration of food at least in one place which kept them occupied.
A very reddy-brown coloured cuckoo was also spotted. This was confirmed as a'hepatic' cuckoo - females can sometimes take this rare rufous form where they have a reddish brown colour rather than grey. That's something new I've learned this week.
VP2 also offers bittern sightings with an active nest to the right hand side. Marsh harriers can also be seen here but to be honest they have been spotted over most areas of the reserve. A particular concentration of sightings comes, not surprisingly, from the Avalon Hide. As with most years they have chosen to nest in the area that the hide faces and frequent sightings can be had from here daily. There have been a few incidents of bitterns getting a little to close and being shown some aggression from the harriers. If the bitterns are nesting close by then they are sensibly keeping a low profile. There have also been plenty of food passes witnessed with males dropping food to females. Thanks to Graham Wagner for hid action shots taken this week:
The Avalon Hide also boasts good views of great crested grebes with 4 youngsters calling all day to parents who were diligently feeding them fish (anything to shut them up). Great crested grebes seem to have done pretty well on the reserve this year with a pair in front of the first viewing platform sitting for a second time (day 20 on the nest) having successfully reared young already. Broods have also been spotted at Loxtons and at least 2 pairs from within the Waltons section where Graham Wagner took this shot of a youngster this week - thanks Graham:
Waltons also plays host to a family of little grebes which can be seen from the screens or the Tor View Hide. The hide has also been the venue for people to see water rail and youngsters this week as well as numerous bittern flights and the usual selection of ducks. Many ducks are beginning o move into or are already in eclipse (just to make those ID's just a bit more tricky).Thanks to John Crispin for his shot of a male mallard transitioning to its eclipse form:
The reserve also seems to be doing well for pochard this year too with several broods reported around the reserve. The Loxtons area in particular is a good place to track them down. These youngsters with adult were photographed using the rafts at Loxtons this week. Thanks to John Crispin for sending in his photos:
Whilst talking about Loxtons I should mention that we have had to close the bridge at the far end between the path and the main track due to a structural issue. The smaller bridge before this is open as is access to the screen and the rest of the trail is open as normal.
The main track itself as always is great for warblers and other song birds you can build a good list. In particular look out for treecreeper, goldcrest and groups of long tailed tits following the tree lines. At VP1 see if you can spot the whitethroats feeding their young.
Of course there is plenty of other wildlife to look out for besides birds. A whole host of insect life is on offer from shield bugs to butterflies and of course the many dragonflies and damselflies buzzing around the vegetation and open water. For dragonflies look out for four spotted chaser, scarce chaser, black tailed skimmer, emperor, common hawker - all reported to me this week but also look out for damselflies: blue tailed, red eyed, azure, common blue and variable. On the ditch edges - particularly the main drain keep your eyes peeled for banded demoiselles.
The wet weather makes butterfly spotting a bit more difficult but reports of speckled wood, red admiral, common blue and small skipper. I also saw a meadow brown late last week in the car park - my first for the year. I've also been seeing a few scarlet tiger moths this week too. Here's one from the John Crispin back catalogue (thanks John):
You may have also seen groups of black spiky caterpillars on the stinging nettles during your walks around the reserve or the countryside in general. These are from the peacock butterfly. Thanks again to John Crispin for these lovely shots:
Thanks also to John Crispin for his bumblebee shot. I'm taking a stab and saying it's a common carder but happy to be corrected by somebody who knows better.
The ponds are full of life too of course but it always nice to pick up these little beauties. Thanks to volunteer Giles Morris who picked up this great silver diving beetle at the car park pools on Saturday during a guided walk. The underside clearly shows the peculiar spike on the thorax:
Also during another walk on Tuesday evening they saw great views of barn owl with 2 seen from the old rail bridge hunting over the cut areas of grass to the right. One carried food back towards boxes in front of VP1 - a good sign we have young owlets present. There have been several sightings of barn owl during daylight hours - not surprising given the weather conditions. If they have youngsters to feed they are being forced out to find that extra food when ever they can.
They also spotted a hobby out hunting at 10pm - the latest any of them had ever seen one out and about - perhaps like the owls forced to feed on a dry evening after a wet day. Daily sightings of hobby throughout the week but not really pinned down to one area. Just have a general walk about and keep looking up as well as scanning the tree lines and water.
Swift are also being seen daily on the hunt for the many flying insects that Ham Wall gives a home too. Thanks to Graham Wagner for his shots of swift. The first one also show an insect just ahead of it. Did it catch it?......we'll never know!
Also this week: kingfishers spotted from the Avalon Hide, Waltons & the old rail bridge (to the left), 3 Egyptian geese seen flying near the Avalon Hide most likely the same ones spotted near Tinneys ground - the piece of land we manage on the Sharpham road where a hare was also spotted, garden warblers heard along the main track, little egret seen at the Avalon Hide yesterday and their more commonly seen cousin the great white egret seen in good numbers all week. Many are now showing signs of a change in bill colour from the breeding black colour to the non breeding/wintering yellow colour. Thanks to John Crispin who's photo shows exactly that. He's also showing the same bird attempting to land in a tree on a rather blustery day:
That's it for this week. There won't be a blog next week I'm afraid as the local school in Wells is closed for Glastonbury festival (don't ask me why) and I have no child care so my fatherly duties await. It will return all being well in 2 weeks time.
Thanks for reading and thanks to all those who contributed there wonderful images. Have a great weekend!
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