There have been some very cold and misty mornings this week but thankfully very little rain. Often the sun has broken through and burnt off the mist to give us a lovely sunny afternoon -Tuesday a good example of this and Monday similarly. A tawny owl decided to sit in the trees of the wood near the Avalon Hide on Monday and sun itself for a few hours. Lots of visitors got the chance to see it which was lovely. A green woodpecker was also spotted during the afternoon and there was one report of the yellow browed warbler from the bridge just as you enter the wood. A couple of visitors were searching for it when I was in the area without success. One of them did see a red admiral on the wing - pretty early.

Thanks to volunteer, Andy Collins who managed to grab some shots of the tawny owl while he was on duty on Monday:

  

The sunny spells haven't been the norm though and it's meant having to work a bit harder for your sightings at times - trying to see through the mist isn't easy. This kingfisher perched in a bush near the single screen in the south-east corner of Waltons yesterday. Thanks to John Crispin for his shot - showing the difficult visibility too:

At a similar time John could hear Ravens flying over - 4 is the best he could count through the mist. I've also heard them this week over the car park and at the Avalon Hide. Also while John was peering into Waltons he caught sight of grey herons carrying nesting material into the reedbeds - it looks like 2 pairs so far and they have nested on the ground in the Waltons reedbeds for several years now. Herons traditionally start building quite early so this is no great surprise but there are several signs of birds gearing up for breeding season across the reserve -  We had a booming bittern on Monday, north of the second viewing platform (VP2) - grunting rather than booming but it's a start, great crested grebes are pairing up and head bobbing firming up their bonds and I feel there has been a slight increase in birdsong in the last week or so.

Thanks to John Crispin for his grey heron shots - each showing different size sticks - got to get that nest perfect:

Visibility is perhaps more important if you're coming to watch the starling murmurations. They have continued to roost over on Shapwick Heath this week in the area known as The Roughet - it's the next section up past Noah's Lake on the left hand side. Estimates of at least 500,000 birds in the roost although this could well be higher. Please feel free to count them individually and let us know

If you can avoid the weekends for your starling visit then it is very much advised. Last Sunday was a bit chaotic to say the least. The car parks were full and the roads were crammed with cars - one of the busiest days we've ever had. It was a similar story at the Avalon Marshes Centre end of Shapwick Heath too. We can only ask people to please park sensibly allowing room for locals to pass through and leave gateways well clear not just for access for the owners but to act as passing places to ease the flow of traffic. Weekdays are far less of a problem but still gets busy if the weather is nice.

Whenever you come give yourself plenty of time to park and get the information you need. Sunset is around 4.35pm at the moment and the starlings have been coming in around 4.15. We usually recommend you coming in at least an hour before this to get parked, find the location and perhaps grab yourself a cuppa. The Starling Hotline is still running to give you the last known location of the roost (ie the night before) 07866 554142

They lift off in the mornings at around 7.30am if you fancy a morning visit. Watch out for marsh harriers quartering the reedbeds after the roost has left looking for an easy meal of starlings that are weak or have died overnight - yes it does happen. This rather icy specimen was photographed in the Ham Wall car park on Monday morning by Andy Collins -thanks Andy!

Other birds of prey can often be seen at roost time - look out for sparrowhawk and peregrine looking for dinner. A peregrine and a merlin have been reported from VP1 this week and barn owls can often be seen as the light fades and have been known to take starlings too - we know this because we find the bodies in the barn owl boxes when we check them and clean them out. 

With the exception of the starling the vast majority of birds around the car park are alive...thankfully and there's a pretty good selection if you look hard enough. The feeders are alive with tits, finches and sparrows and in the tree lines look out for treecreeper, siskin,bullfinch, goldcrest, song thrush and chiffchaffs. A firecrest has also been seen around the car park this week and this morning from the main track behind the car park tree line near the metal entrance gate. 

The main track also offers similar fare - this morning 8 siskin and 5 redpoll spotted and yesterday a flock of 6 chiffchaff, one of which was photographed by Graham Wagner - thanks Graham:

When you get to the first viewing platform (VP1) there is usually something to see and if lapwing are present plenty of noise too. A few hundred have been using the area this week along with small groups of snipe. They can also be seen on the cut island over in Waltons where 6 snipe were counted on Monday. Good numbers of duck between the two sides too with: mallard, gadwall, teal, wigeon (just a few), tufted duck, the odd pochard and shoveler all present. Thanks to John Crispin for his shoveler shot showing the colours in the wing:

Also over in Waltons look out from the first two screens. There is often both great white egret and little egret here, sat for long periods. A little egret was there for some hours on Thursday and on Wednesday morning it had a cattle egret for company for a short period. They are still roosting on the reserve each night with frequent reports of numbers between 100 and 150 but one report of 162 this week. 20+ were also reported in fields along the Burtle Road and have occasionally been seen in the field next to the car park in recent weeks. 

Thanks to John Crispin for his shot of several in a tree one morning recently:

Elsewhere, the Avalon Hide is another good place to go and wait a while. Check the owl box on the edge of the wood in case the tawny owl decides to show itself again and check the edges of the path as you walk up - you may be lucky enough to see water rail, as Graham Wagner did yesterday - thanks for the photo Graham:

In front of the hide there often a fair selection of wildfowl and frequent visits from great white egret. Scan over the cut sections in the reeds around the edges - these are sometimes used by bitterns to feed or just to sun themselves - one was seen here on Monday. Marsh harriers are seen frequently here too and have been a little more active in this area of late - perhaps already staking out their old nest sites from previous years. A pintail was seen here yesterday and photographed by Graham Wagner - the second photo shows it being harassed by a gadwall. Thanks Graham:

Around the reserve plenty of coots - often noisy and often aggressive towards each other. They are very adept at diving for pond vegetation and gadwall will often loiter close by to cash in on anything dropped or missed by the coot. Thanks again to John Crispin for his photo:

Also this week: stonechats seen from VP1, great spotted woodpeckers daily including the car park, redwings seen along the main track, around 12 roe deer seen in fields just north of the reserve frequently with around 3 using the reserve tracks towards the Avalon hide (on the north) earlier in the week, noisy little grebes around the reserve, great crested grebes seen from Waltons, Loxtons and VP1 and a cettis warbler seen flitting around the trees at the Waltons screens yesterday. 

Just before a sign off another reminder of a couple of upcoming events:

What’s that duck?

 Saturday                1 February

Sunday                  16 February

Sunday                  8 March

 10 am – 12:30 pm

Winter is a great time for bird watching at RSPB Ham Wall but it can be tricky to identify all of the different ducks and other birds that are around at this time of year. Come along and learn how to tell the difference between a mallard and a gadwall or a teal and a wigeon. We will also look for the many other birds that call the reserve their home.

Booking essential

RSPB members £4:80; Non-RSPB members £6

RSPB child members £2:40; Non-RSPB child £3

All bookings are online via Eventbrite

https://whatsthatduck.eventbrite.co.uk

Please note booking charges apply.

And......

Join Iolo Williams and RSPB Ham Wall at The Pavilion at Shapwick, Somerset near to the RSPB Ham Wall Reserve, one of the sites featured in his new book '‘Wild Places UK – UK’s Top 40 Nature Sites’, for an informative talk and book signing.

The UK is known for its natural beauty and its wildlife and in Wild Places UK television naturalist Iolo Williams picks his favourite forty wildlife sites from the many nature reserves around the country. As this informative and lavishly illustrated book demonstrates, all forty places are packed with the widest variety of trees, plants, birds, animals and insects. Williams draws on his enormous knowledge to guide readers and visitors to the natural delights of each site. Wild Places UK confirms the country’s stunning landscape inhabited in abundance of all manner of life. Author and book aim to introduce a new audience to the delights of the UK, be they armchair naturalists or, more importantly, visitors to the forty sites Williams has selected.

Wednesday 5th February  13:00 – 15:00

Tickets £20. All booking through Eventbrite (please note booking fees apply)

https://iolowilliamstalkrpsbhamwall.eventbrite.co.uk

Thanks for reading - have a great weekend 

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