Firstly, apologies for there being no blog last week. I was poorly and therefore unable to get into work. I'm back now though - not sure about fighting fit but I'm feeling better. As always, there is plenty going on at Ham Wall and now that spring is well and truly here we are certainly seeing the changes on the reserve.

We've had some lovely sunny days this week and there seems to have been an increase in insect life which can only be good for many of the bird species on the reserve. Butterflies in particular have been pretty abundant this week - in particular peacocks but also: small tortoiseshell, red admiral, brimstone,speckled wood, green veined white, orange tip & comma have been spotted on the wing.

In terms of bird life, this time of year is always interesting as you get the tail end of the wintering birds and the beginnings of the new arrivals for a new breeding season. Since I last wrote we now have several singing blackcaps along the main path through the reserve to join the already present chiffchaffs as the dawn chorus begins to build. Also this week reports of our first sedge warbler & whitethroat.

The whitethroat was reported in the bottom of an ivy covered tree near the first viewing platform (VP1), whilst above it a singing blackcap was present but also a late redwing gobbling berries. This redwing was photographed by Graham Wagner last week doing exactly that - thanks Graham:

Also a few redpoll seen before they move off for the summer. Some seen along the main track but also in Central Wood - the woodland before you get to the Avalon Hide. Also on the main tack this week: song thrush singing high from a perch, goldfinch, chaffinch, goldcrest bullfinch, great tit, log tailed tit, wren, blackbird, robin, blue tit and treecreeper - the latter two photographed by John Crispin and Graham Wagner respectively. Thank you both for sending them in:

It's not just along the main track where we have the hangers on from winter and the new arrivals. In the open water I could still hear wigeon calling this morning and there have been plenty of teal reported throughout the last week. It's not unusual to still have a few at this time of year but I would think they would be gone within the next couple of weeks or so. Joining them this week we have had a few garganey. They have been seen in a few places around the reserve but the best places to check out are probably the second viewing platform (VP2), the Tor View Hide & the Avalon Hide. Thanks again to John Crispin & Graham Wagner for their shots taken over the last fortnight:

Male garganey with a pair of shoveler: John Crispin 

Male garganey in flight: John Crispin

Garganey pair in flight: John Crispin 

Garganey pair taking off: John Crispin 

Garganey pair swimming: Graham Wagner 

Garganey pair taking off: Graham Wagner 

If you head to the Tor View Hide there are plenty of other wonderful sights to keep you entertained too. Keep you eyes open for the nesting grey herons. One nest in particular is quite obvious. Look out also for great white egrets - a pair seem to be taking an interest in this area too (pictured below) and also for marsh harriers quartering over the reeds.

The pictures below were taken on Sunday 24th from the Tot View Hide. Thank you to David Slater for sending them in and to John Crispin for his shots of them landing in the reedbeds:

Great White Egrets: David Slater

Great White Egrets: John Crispin

At the hide stay quiet and keep searching for water rail. A few have been spotted there lately with 3 individuals being spotted in a ten minute period at one point. One of these individuals was photographed by Graham Wagner - thanks to Graham for the shot:

On Tuesday an otter was spotted here with a fish and it has also been a good place to find kingfishers in recent weeks. It's also that time of year when cettis warblers are a bit more willing to show themselves as they sing from their territories to attract a mate. Thanks again to Graham Wagner for his shot taken from the Tor View Hide:

Great crested grebes are also busy in this area with at least 2 pairs being seen regularly. The pair which had a nest failure from VP1 have been seen mating again and have built a second platform much nearer the back this time and now seem to be sitting for a second time. This nest is a bit more difficult to see but lets hope they have success this time round. Such elegant birds and fascinating to watch as they reaffirm pair ponds with head shaking and weed dancing performances.

Thanks to Graham Wagner for this lovely shot of a pair from the Tor View Hide this week:

Great crested grebes: Graham Wagner 

Thanks also to John Crispin for his shot of great crested grebe coming into land on the water. Note also the similarity of the foot shape with that of the coot in the next picture. These lobed feet, so called, as they are edged with lobes of skin which expand and contract as the bird swims.

Bitterns are of course booming now. I'm still waiting to hear the final figure for the booming bittern count which took place last Thursday (21st) but it looks to be about on a par with previous years. We still have a second count to undertake in a couple of weeks and the higher total will be the one submitted for our records. Ham Wall and the pockets of land surrounding us produced 18 males against a total of 19 for last year. 

They can be heard from all corners of the reserve including Waltons, Loxtons, VP2 and the Avalon Hide so lots of opportunities. There have been a few flights and appearances by these birds. This should increase as time goes on and males begin to chase females for mating and other males to see them off. This can produce multiples of birds at times with groups of 3 or 4 quite common. My record is 7 together but it's 12 to beat I'm afraid. Sightings this week from the back of Waltons (Wednesday), just to the south east of Waltons (photo by John Crispin), VP2 (several) and the Avalon Hide with 2 together earlier in the week and one sitting out in the open yesterday (28th) - Photographed by David Slater. Thanks to John & David for their photos:

Bittern in reeds: John Crispin - it's most likely a male given the blue lores around the bill.

Bittern from the Avalon Hide: David Slater

The Avalon Hide has, in recent years, been the best place to see Marsh Harriers on the reserve and this year could be a similar story. Lots of activity has been noted with birds showing real signs that they will breed in this area once again. Thanks to David Slater for his marsh harrier shots taken this week: 

Lapwing often use the fields beyond the reserve boundary to the north (where the Avalon Hide looks towards) for breeding and just occasionally - depending on which areas we have managed over the winter and how the water levels lie we get attempts on the reserve too. We are hoping to be able to control water levels better in a field to the left of the Avalon Hide (by the factory) and have installed a different water control feature to improve things. Lets hope it works. Lapwing have been seen displaying in front of VP1 this week and also in the cut area on the left as you look from the old rail bridge. We will be keeping this area dry this spring and summer to try to suppress the reed growth before re-cutting, clearing out ditches and channels and then re-wetting in the autumn. This should provide us with a rejuvenated reedbed which the slowly recolonises the area giving us a different dimension to our habitat

Also this week: 2 raven which flew over the reserve calling on Monday, a white stork which flew over the reserve on Tuesday morning at about 9am, stoat & weasel seen running across the main path this week, roe deer seen out on the reserve near the Avalon Hide on at least 2 occasions, snipe seen on the cut island in front of the 3rd screen at Waltons (thanks to Graham Wagner for his photo:

A single black tailed godwit from VP1 on Monday, over 20 buzzards seen across the reserve on Tuesday including one which perched on the gatepost to the left of the old rail bridge, a buzzard and a sparrowhawk on the same thermal yesterday from VP1 and another sparrowhawk from the Avalon Hide on Wednesday, a tawny owl using our camera box the beams back into the welcome building at the car park for several days last week and this (not there the last couple of days though), several drumming great spotted woodpecker around the reserve including along the main path where jays have also been seen (thanks to Graham Wagner for both his shots):

Cattle egrets are still present in the local area with a count of 97 made recently, a grass snake seen basking in the ponds at the car park over the last couple of weeks and bearded tits seen in the south east corner of Waltons yesterday - they have also been spotted near the Avalon Hide recently. 

Thanks to those who contributed there wonderful photos this week. One last one to finish of a mute swan taken by David Slater at Waltons this week:

That's it for this week. Thanks for reading - have a great weekend !