Welcome to my last blog of 2018. It's been another fantastic year for the reserve. Perhaps it didn't go all our way with the beast from the east being blamed for the loss of the glossy ibis after a prolonged stay (although one is back in the local area and dropped into Ham Wall recently), the absence any little bittern this year and the desertion of the area by the cattle egrets after last years breeding success (of course these are very much back and in great numbers - but I'll get to that later).

 However, bitterns and great white egrets did well again with 55 booming males in the county this year (50 of these in the Avalon Marshes), 19 of these at Ham Wall. There have been a few sightings of bittern this week. Reports from the Avalon Hide, Waltons, the second platform (VP2) and the first platform (VP1) also. Thanks to John Crispin for his bittern photo taken from VP1 on Monday:

 

 Great white egrets are seen daily and usually quite easily. As many as 9 were seen together in the Loxtons area this week and the ringed french bird mentioned over the last couple of blogs has also been very active this week. It was seen catching and swallowing what looks like a pike from VP1 in John Crispin's photo sequence below - thanks John!:

 

 

 

 

 Another easy daily sighting would have to be marsh harriers. I saw 3 different birds myself in a short space of time this morning but there have been up to 5 seen together - particularly after the starlings have left in the mornings. They are roosting quite close to the track at the moment and still using the Loxtons and Waltons areas. If you are planning a visit just double check with the starling hotline 07866 554142 or of course talk to one of our fabulous volunteers in the car park welcome building who will be able to advise you.

 The numbers are good and there have been some impressive displays recently. I could see the birds swirling from the car park and even hear them pretty well too. As I mentioned you could see close views of marsh harriers in the mornings as they hunt for carrion - and they're not the only ones as John Crispin's photos of a carrion crow shows (apologies for the gruesomeness):

Thanks once again to John Crispin for his Starling morning take off photos taken this week - a lovely sunrise too!

  

Although you can see the starlings from the car park at times you cant beat that closer experience. The car park however is worth a bit of time on your visit. Lots of smaller birds to see including: a very friendly robin, pied wagtail, great spotted woodpecker, long tailed tits, blue tit, great tit, blackbird, coal tit and pied wagtail to name a few but also reported this week: fieldfare, redwing, siskin (25-30), bullfinch, meadow pipits (11), and stonechat (2). Also reports of flyovers by great white egret and marsh harrier and little owl heard from across the road on Tuesday and tawny owl heard calling from the car park the same day. 

In fact a triple of owls on Tuesday as a barn owl was seen perched on the roof of the box opposite VP1. 

On the main track through the reserve look out for: bullfinch, treecreeper (2), siskin (c9), redpoll (c25), raven flying over, great spotted woodpecker, song thrush and linnet (10) - all spotted this week along with good numbers of goldcrest (flocks of 30+). 

Both VP1 & VP2 are worth a look at the moment - the stars of VP1 are the lapwings with various figures being banded about. Often between 200 and 700 but occasionally in the region of 1000+. Whatever it's a wonderful sight to see them taking off and they add some wonderful noise to any visit too. Good numbers of wildfowl at both platforms - particularly VP2 where numbers of teal have drastically increased this week along with good numbers of shoveler, gadwall, mallard and wigeon with a few pochard and tufted duck thrown in for good measure. 7 pochard flew into Waltons as a group on Monday. Look out at both platforms for small groups of snipe with up to 16 from VP2 one day this week and around 6 the peak from VP1.

If you are willing to walk a little further then beyond VP2 on the right you will find a drained down area - as reported in recent blogs. 6 green sandpiper again this week and 3 water pipits using this area regularly. just to add to your bird list.

i did mention cattle egret right at the beginning. Well there are really good numbers in the local area at the moment. 72 is the peak so far using the reserve to roost overnight. They then disperse to local fields during the day - often found with cattle (surprise surprise). Thanks to John Crispin for his wonderful shots again (and of course throughout the year):

Wonderful birds - long may they stay!

Also this week: chiffchaff down the main path Canada geese and greylag geese from the Avalon Hide and VP2, a great crested grebe at Waltons on Monday, buzzards seen daily, kingfishers seen from VP1 and the Tor View Hide throughout the week, 9 reed buntings together at VP2 this week and good numbers of little grebe can be spotted both from VP1 and within Waltons.

Well, that's it for another year. I'd like to thank all those who have contributed their fantastic photos to the blog throughout the year and all the information and sightings that people send in or tell me about. It's all so useful and helps make the blog what it is.  There won't be a blog now until at least the 5th of January as I'm off on Christmas break. The office will be closed from the end of today until January 3rd but the Welcome building in the car park will be open every day apart from December 24th, 25th and 26th. I hope you all have a very enjoyable and restful Christmas and I look forward to seeing you and blogging again in the New Year.

Merry Christmas

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