Once again I find myself pushed for time on a Friday so this could well be another shorter blog this week. It's a busy time of year for us as we push to finish all the habitat management work before breeding season begins. We have a few more sessions in the Softrak machine clearing some reeds but these are being collected in bundles and will hopefully be used to thatch the round house which is being built at the Avalon Marshes Centre, with the remainder being used to create reed screens by the new viewing structures we are replacing at Waltons.
We are making good progress here. Some of our wonderful volunteers are constructing these and we anticipate the first one to take a little longer while we get it just right and source the right materials. The others should follow on a little quicker afterwards. On that note we have now taken out the second of the screens leaving just the first one open. This will now remain open until the first of the new ones is complete to try and minimise the disruption to visitors. We aim to keep the path to the Tor View Hide open at all times.
Plenty for us to observe whilst we are working there. A cettis warbler came in really close for the second week running as the second screen was dismantled, while out in front regular sightings of both great white and little egret. We could also see one of the grey herons nests across the water. Volunteer John Crispin has been studying them and now believes we have 3 nests being constructed at present. He also managed to get this sequence of photos showing the male arriving with nesting material and then mating with the female. Thanks John:
Also in the area are both great crested grebe and little grebe, with the former showing signs of pair bonding still - a bit of head bobbing together but no weed dancing yet as far as I know. These are small signs that spring isn't far away - there's definitely more bird song around than a few weeks ago.
Listen out also for bitterns. You may not hear a proper boom but you could well hear the grunting noises they make. This is them warming up the large neck muscles so they can project that amazing sound very soon. Recent reports of grunting bitterns in the south of Loxtons, in the area in front of the second viewing platform (VP2) and the area to the north of this.
Also in the area in front of VP2 (actually in front of the small woven screens on the grass track on the other side of the drain), volunteer John Last reported seeing a water rail - lovely in itself, but this bird was actually chasing off a weasel - fascinating behaviour.
Other star birds (which may well get a mention on Winterwatch tonight along with great white egrets) are the cattle egrets. They are roosting on the reserve each night with over 150 counted regularly. They are being reported from the local area during the day at places such as Blakeway and close to Westhay Moor, as well as out on the Burtyl Road. They have also been seen on occasions in the field next to our car park - so keep your eyes open and don't assume everything is a little egret - take a closer look, you'll be able to tell the difference with a good view. Thanks to John Crispin for his shots taken locally to help you recognise what you're looking for:
The car park can be quite rewarding during a visit if you give it a bit of time. The feeders are very busy with tits and finches whilst out in the tree lines and hedgerows look out for: bullfinch, goldcrest, reed buntings, redwing, treecreeper, chiffchaff, great spotted woodpecker, robin, blackbird, pied wagtail and song thrush. Plenty of sightings of the latter this week. Thanks to John Crispin for his lovely song thrush shot:
VP1 is worth a visit. Sit for a while for a full range of rewards: frequent visits from marsh harrier, a few hundred lapwing, slightly less wildfowl this week but still: mallard, gadwall, pochard, tufted duck, teal, shoveler & wigeon. Great white egrets drop in daily to feed and we've also had reports of stonechat, peregrine, buzzard and kingfisher.
Most marsh harrier sightings tend to be on the north of the site where they are potentially seeking out their old nesting territories of the last few years. Try the Avalon Hide for closer views. Also spotted from here this week: 4 pintail on Wednesday (3 seen on Monday in front of VP2), great white egret, little egret, barn owl & bittern. Remember to check out the owl box behind the hide in the wood for tawny owls sitting outside. One was sat in the woods itself last week during a sunny spell.
Also this week: ravens seen and heard flying over on most days (several sightings over VP1 on Wednesday), siskin seen down by VP2 on the main track, firecrest reported again around the car park and on the main path between the old rail bridge and the road, kestrel seen from VP2 on Monday and sparrowhawk on Tuesday, several roe deer seen just off the reserve to the north but a couple seen on tracks close to the Avalon Hide and another seen up the side of the wood opposite the end of the wooden boardwalk as you exit the car park towards the reserve.
Sorry it's a bit more brief than usual but I hope it gives you some overview of what's been going on this week. I'll leave you with a lovely couple of shots of a moorhen coming into land with a splash this week. Thanks as always to John Crispin for his photographic contributions:
That's it for this week. Thanks for reading and have a great weekend.
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