Good to be back in the swing of things this week after taking some time off last week. Thanks to Ali for filling in with an excellent blog. 

Last week was a difficult week for me as my father sadly passed away on the Monday. Taking some time off really helped but I also find the solace and wonder of the reserve and company of my colleagues and volunteers a real comfort too. 

I also seemed to notice more how life and death happens every day on the reserve, particularly at this time of year. Not only does much of the wildlife have predators to deal with or the difficulty in finding enough food for themselves and hungry youngsters but the weather has been awful for much of the month.

This week's had it all from torrential hail storms, high winds, rain and yesterday for what felt like the first time this month glorious sunshine. 

It certainly seems to have affected our dragonfly species - particularly the 4 spotted chasers. At this time of year I would expect to see thousands around the Waltons Loop. Up until yesterday it was pretty much single figures. A quick drive around this morning brought me 30 or 40 individuals. Better but still poor. Hopefully, a few days of heat and sun will turn things around. 

Cool mornings have given people an opportunity to take photos of the few they find. Thanks to Mike Pearce for his shots taken this week: 

Plus thanks to Alan Wood who sent me a shot of a female broad bodied chaser. One or two of these can also be seen on the reserve:

  

Just a few hairy dragonflies can be spotted too. Thanks again to Mike Pearce for his photos - first photo is the male, second the female. Lets pray for some better weather to help these guys out: 

Cool mornings can mean it takes a while for these to warm up or if just emerging a while to dry out completely before taking to the wing. For some, life is very short and they are taken by birds such as the great spotted woodpeckers at the back corner of the Waltons trail. The youngsters are very noisy and were still there this morning despite the efforts of the adults this week to encourage them out. I don't think it will be long now before the fledge.

Plenty of people are getting photographs of both adults often with a beakfull of food or young birds poking their heads out of the hole. Thanks to both Alan Wood and Graham Wagner for there shots taken over the last couple of weeks:

All 5 above from Alan Wood.

Graham's photos show the adult birds taking out the trash from the nest to keep a clean home. The male is the bird with the red making on the back of the head, which is absent in the female. Juveniles will have a red crown when you see them.

Insect life is critical to the survival of many of the birds. Heavy rain and hail storms not only make young birds cold and wet but insects and caterpillars get knocked out of trees, fail to complete life cycles or just generally become harder to find. 

There was quite a flurry of activity by some ducks and other water birds after the hail storm on Monday - perhaps feeding on insects knocked into the water.

On Monday evening just before our evening survey the skies were full of swifts, swallows and martins over the reserve making the most of the drier spell with insects perhaps more active and flying a little lower than usual. It was quite a sight. 

Mortality of birds is quite a concern when the weather is bad. Chicks need to be fed but need to be brooded too to keep warm. Inevitably sometimes it fails. An example of this is with the great white egrets where we had 35 nests at one point. It's now in the mid twenties and the weather will have some part to play in this as well as some inexperience from first time adults and other factors.

2 successful attempts have been made to ring young egrets in the last week or so. On the first attempt just one out of 3 chicks had survived in that nest.

They are an easy bird to spot though with several birds flying directly over the car park each day and many being seen feeding at the first viewing platform (VP1). 

VP1 is also one of the best places to spot bitterns with several flights and interactions between birds seen from here this week. We believe that there is at least one - perhaps 2 nests in this area but also a marsh harrier nest which has led to a bit of conflict between the two as they protect their nest sites from each other. It's really interesting behaviour to witness if you are lucky enough.

Both marsh harriers and bitterns can also be seen from the Avalon Hide at the moment with 4 marsh harriers being spotted together up there today (most likely from 2 different nest sites). This female bird was seen carrying nesting material into one of our nest sites (there are at least 3) this week. Thanks to Sandie Andrews for her photo:

.....and a further photo of a male taken by Graham Wagner at Waltons - thanks Graham: 

The activity of both marsh harriers and bittern suggests they have youngsters. They have been known to predate each other at the early stages hence the hostility.

Predation happens a lot whether it's lesser black back gulls gobbling chicks or crows stealing eggs. I witnessed crow sitting in the reeds from the woven willow screens just past the Avalon Hide turn. It was staring intently in and then kept dropping down inside the reeds, almost certainly stealing eggs or taking young chicks. Sad to see but it's part of what happens I guess. 

As if the poor reed warblers haven't got enough to deal with, with a long migration, cuckoos laying eggs in their nests and the horrible weather. Plenty of time to try again but perhaps in a new location or the crow will be back.  Reed warblers seem to be pretty abundant in the reedbeds so that's good news. Look out also of course for cettis warbler, reed buntings and sedge warblers too. Thanks to Alan Wood for his sedge warbler photo:

Plenty of birds have fledged young already though with broods of mallards seen in Waltons, young great crested grebes in Waltons and from VP1 and plenty of broods of cygnets and goslings seen around the reserve. Also juvenile bearded tits seen by many of our volunteers who were out surveying for bitterns yesterday. It's always good news to hear this. Your best chance of a sighting is along the grassy path on the other side of the drain or from the Avalon Hide where someone saw some yesterday. 

Look out for the whitethroat opposite VP1 who is nesting in the brambles and of course listen out for the many warblers in the trees here and along the main path. Great numbers of blackcaps along with willow warbler, chiffchaff and garden warbler. There have also been sightings along the main track of spotted flycatcher (near VP2), bullfinch (on way to VP1), goldcrest and all the usual familiar tits, finches, song thrushes, blackbirds and robins. Thanks to Graham Wagner for his long tailed tit photo and Mike Pearce for his shot of a robin and whitethroat, which looks to be carrying a willow seed:

Along the grassy track I've been seeing a roe deer in the same place for several days. She doesn't look unwell but it got me thinking that maybe she has a youngster nearby - it's certainly the right time of year for her. We were both just feet away from each other on Monday and just looked at each other for a couple of minutes before she moved off. She didn't seemed concerned with me at all. Thanks to Mike Pearce for his roe deer shots that he captured at a different location this week: 

Also a possible report of 2 muntjac on the road near the reserve on Monday night. 

Also this week: a wigeon still being seen from VP1 on occasions, saw it myself yesterday from the grassy track a bit further up (obviously decided it was still winter here and shouldn't migrate yet),  a few hobby being seen (VP1 in particular), a merlin seen from the Avalon Hide today, ravens seen flying over, buzzards daily, grey herons still nesting in Waltons reedbeds with noisy youngsters, cuckoos heard daily with occasional flights, garganey reported from both Waltons and VP1 and a swimming grass snake which had a long swim in Waltons yesterday.

I'll leave you with argumentative pochards from Graham Wagner, feeding bumblebee (early bumblebee I think - correct me if I'm wrong) from Mike Pearce  and a colourful hoverfly from Sandie Andrews:

Thanks to all who contributed pictures and information this week. Thanks for reading and have a fantastic bank holiday weekend - summertime starts here

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