Phew! What a scorcher of a week. We had some blistering temperatures at Ham Wall this week. Many thanks to the hardy volunteers who came out to help in the high temperatures. Not surprisingly we were all soon flagging so an early finish was well in order.
The wildlife has to cope with these temperatures as well so again, not surprisingly, activity has been much reduced - particularly in the middle of the day. Some birds still have young to feed of course and the marsh harriers have been particularly busy in front of the Avalon Hide. I think I wrote last week that there had been one youngster seen but the amount of food being taken in suggested more. That assumption was right as a second and then a third juvenile bird were last weekend. Note the dark brown colour of the juvenile birds with the golden crowns.
Plenty of food has been carried in and on occasions dropped as a food pass, with the youngster in John Crispin's photos dropping the food parcel on this occasion. Thanks for the photos John!
Great crested grebes also have young in front of the Avalon Hide - almost adult sized now but still displaying some of their stripey plumage.
Bitterns have also been seen quite regularly here with many reports from visitors spending time in the hide sheltering from the sun.
For some birds breeding season is over and some are passing back through on their southerly migration. House martins and swallows have both been seen on a daily basis. An Osprey was also spotted last weekend sitting up in the dead trees to the left of the first viewing platform (VP1) - look out for others on migration. One often stops over in the Avalon Marshes for several days on its return route, so keep your eyes peeled.
With bird life often a little quieter at this time of year many wildlife enthusiasts turn their attention to insect life such as butterflies and dragonflies. Plenty to see at Ham Wall of both at the moment.
A decent array of butterflies can be seen in and around the car park area along with the countless numbers of crickets and grasshoppers in the longer grasses. On the list include: red admiral, peacock, meadow brown, gatekeeper, ringlet (pictured), speckled wood (pictured), green veined white, large white, small skipper, holly blue (pictured) & comma. Thanks to Giles Morris for his butterfly pictures all taken yesterday during his survey:
Ringlet: Giles Morris
Speckled wood: Giles Morris
Holly blue: Giles Morris
The hot weather doesn't seem to bother the dragonflies and damselflies too much, with several species visible (if the stop long enough for you to get a good look at them). Brown hawker, emperor (pictured), southern hawker, black tailed skimmer, scarce chaser, ruddy dater (pictured and common darter all recorded this week and a late report of lesser emperor (both male and female) seen in the south eastern corner of Waltons last week.
Damselflies include: common blue (pictured), variable, blue tailed, red eyed (pictured) and small red eyed. Once again thanks to Giles Morris for his images:
Emperor (male) : Giles Morris
Emperor (female): Giles Morris
Ruddy darter: Giles Morris
Common blue damselfly (male): Giles Morris
Red eyed damselfly: Giles Morris (note the small red eyed damselfly has and extra half a blue segment at the bottom of the next segment at the tail end)
If insects aren't your thing how about plants. I have to admit this is on of my weak points but there's a few I do know and Giles Morris has sent me some photos to. Thanks Giles:
Bladderwort: this is a carnivorous plant with yellow flowers. When an insect or other underwater creature lands on the plants trigger it activates an underwater process that sends air from one part of the plant to another where it sucks in the doomed creature. This all happens in one ten thousandth of a second.
Bladderwort sp. Giles Morris
Water bistort: found in still or slow moving water. Look out in ditches and around the screens at Waltons:
Frogbit: This looks a lot like small water lilies as it floats on the water - this offers shelter to fish, larvae & tadpoles.
Frogbit: Giles Morris
In terms of mammals it been pretty quiet all round this week with just one sighting of a roe deer reported. The only other one was this poor little rabbit which was found on the track yesterday. If anyone knows it's owner please visit the welcome building at the car park to collect, where she is currently helping meet and greet visitors.
Reports of both grass snake and adder this week. Grass snakes are quite common here but to see one swimming is always nice. One was seen, as last week, from the old rail bridge on the main track. The adder (far less common) was seen on the other side of the drain on the grassy path early this week. We also found a grass snake skin yesterday attached to the modular floating blocks we use to make bridges to access the reedbeds ready for reed cutting. The bridge is now ready to go - just need to be sure any breeding/nesting has finished before we access. As we will only be cutting the short sparse growth on the islands in front of VP1 we should be ready to go on Aug 1st. This should begin to open up views once again. It'll be a bit dry until we've finished so bear with us for a month or so. Once we're done we'll get water levels back up again.
Barn owls have again been reported this week - particularly from the Avalon Hide. We believe they had an okay year with 3 active nests although the pattern with barn owls this year seemed to be that they had big clutches of eggs early on which hatched but then ended up with just one or two chicks making it through.
The Avalon Hide has also been a good place to spot hobby this week but they have also been seen from both viewing platforms during the week. Thanks to John Crispin for his shot of a passing hobby:
One of our specialities is the great white egret. They have had another great year in the Avalon Marshes. I'm not sure of the exact figure of fledged birds but it's over 30 I believe - fantastic stuff. It means large groups of them can be seen on occasions and the mornings at the second viewing platform (VP2) are one of the best chances. 13 seen together on Monday morning.
There are also still broods of ducks to see too. This group of gadwall were seen with their mother by Giles Morris in the main drain yesterday. Thanks Giles:
Also this week: ravens seen over the car park on Tuesday and 3 seen tumbling over in the air this morning, both blackcap and willow warbler heard singing at the car park, kingfishers seen from the old rail bridge to the left and within the Waltons section, sparrowhawk seen flying with prey from VP1 yesterday headed to the wood to the west, a family of water rails spotted under the Tor View Hide this morning and lesser whitethroat spotted this morning between the bridge and VP1 by volunteer Dean Reeves but also seen closer to VP1 earlier in the week by volunteer John Last and the photographed by John Crispin - thanks to all.
That's it for this week, thanks for reading. I hope you enjoy a slightly cooler weekend - perhaps a good time to pay the reserve a visit !!
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