The Avalon Marshes are teeming with wildlife at the moment and Ham Wall is a massive part of that. Some wonderful sightings reported this week across the reserves with cattle egrets, cranes, great white egrets galore, bittern, garganey & even 2 black winged stilts which spent a couple of days at Catcott Lows.
The 2 stilts were first seen on the raft in front of the Loxtons screen on Sunday (26th) where they landed briefly before taking off again. Volunteer John Last was on hand to get a sighting - probably only the second or third sighting for the reserve so a rare treat.
Just a few wading birds around at the moment on Ham Wall with a couple of lapwing still present from the first viewing platform (VP1) and occasional sightings of black tailed godwits with 6 flying about yesterday.
There are some very active parent birds at the moment with hungry mouths to feed. A noticeable increase in bittern sightings suggests that now we have active nests in certain places on the reserve. The Avalon Hide is one such place where they could well come into conflict with the marsh harriers in the same area - some fascinating interactions can occur when they nest close together. A visitor also reported seeing 3 in a chase over Waltons on Wednesday. Most likely 2 males in pursuit of a female. Thanks to John Crispin for his shots of a bittern coming in to land in the reed beds, taken this week:
Also a shot taken in April of a bittern swimming - it's been recorded and photographed a few times here but I'm yet to see this myself. Thanks to Mike Heriot-Payne for sending in his shot:
Marsh harrier activity has been interesting this week too with at least 2 males and 3 females being spotted. The Avalon Hide is a prime place to watch them but also from the second viewing platform (VP2) where yesterday several food passes were witnessed. At least one was missed altogether, while another was dropped. The two birds then locked talons & tumbled to the ground. Another food pass was caught by the female but then the male went for it again before flying off - fascinating stuff to watch.
In the same area a lesser black back gull caught a coot chick and gobbled it up - an easy mouthful for such a bird.
Plenty of other young birds haven't been gobbled up yet and can be seen all around the reserve. Particularly nice to see so many broods of pochard around - at least 3 females seen with broods around Loxtons this week (broods of 7, 4 & 1) but also seen elsewhere.
The great spotted woodpeckers in Central Wood (the wood on the way to the Avalon Hide) must have fledged. Visitors reported no activity there yesterday - the parent birds have been very busy for a while and the timings seem right. Thanks to Graham Wagner who took these shots earlier this week - I shall miss these noisy birds on the way to the hide. The pictures show both mum & dad feeding.
Do loiter a while in this area though as there is plenty more to see. Keep your eyes open for treecreepers which are still seen regularly along with blackcap. Also whilst walking around the wood to the hide look out for the 2 young tawny owls which have been sat up in the branches sunning themselves this week. If you can't see them here look back from the hide to the box on the edge of the wood to see if you can see them there.
Other youngsters you could see include mallard - a group of 11 well grown youngsters (almost adult sized from the Loxtons screen), whitethroats - 5 adults and 3 young seen between VP1 and the next bridge and several great crested grebe pairs with youngsters - particularly in the Waltons section. These shots were taken on Tuesday from the Avalon Hide however. Thanks to Graham Wagner for his photos of grebes with 5 hungry mouths to feed:
Also a shot from John Crispin of great crested grebe in flight. Something you don't see that often. I always have to double take when I see it as it's not something I immediately recognise in flight. Thanks John:
Our other more prominent youngsters are the young blue tits in our nestcam box. You can still see them on our TV screen in the Welcome Building at the car park but you may have to be quick - they look like they are nearly ready to go. Sorry for the poor picture -I just snapped it quickly on my phone yesterday, but it gives you the idea:
When you're at the car park cheek out the little garden behind the screens. It's a great example of what you can do for nature in such a small space. Plenty of birds using the feeders - blue tit, great tit, chaffinch, goldfinch, robin, blackbird, dunnock and even great spotted woodpecker have been spotted around the feeders this week.
Look up whilst at the car park too: frequent flyovers from great white egret, every day at the moment, most likely feeding flights for youngsters but also this week at least 2 sightings of red kite and numerous hobby sightings. The bulk of hobbies have gone throughout you can still see a few - 8 were recorded last weekend but single birds have been seen daily from both platforms and over Waltons. Plenty of dragonflies for them to eat - in particular the 4 spotted chaser - hundreds around Waltons in particular but look out also for broad bodied chase, black tailed skimmer and emperor and a few hairy dragonfly still on the wing.
There does still seem to be an influx of swifts and house martins both seen in good numbers on Wednesday - they were flying low over our heads along the grassy footpath next to the main drain as the insects were driven lower by the rainy weather. Good sightings of swift then followed on Thursday too. My feeling is that I've seen far fewer swallows this year so far - although one or two can be seen each day at present.
On any walk along the main track the trees are still full of passerines: blackcaps, willow warbler, goldcrest, song thrush, blackbird, chiffchaff, chaffinch goldfinch to name a few all adding their bit to the chorus. I've also started seeing larger groups of long tailed tits once again. I believe they start nesting quite early so these are like to be family groups joining up. I always enjoy seeing these little birds. Thanks to Mike Tucker for his shots of long tailed tits taken on Sunday (26th):
One unmistakable sound you'll hear will be the cuckoo. They can still be heard calling throughout the day with favourite perches around Waltons and Loxtons usually. You may even be lucky enough to see one perched or in flight. Thanks to John Crispin who took this great shot on the reserve this week:
Of course there is plenty of non avian wildlife around too: I often run into (not literally) roe deer whilst driving around the reserve - often north of the Avalon Hide on the banks there and the Iberian water frogs can be heard croaking loudly - even louder during the sunny spells. Young fox cubs have again been spotted around the wooden boardwalk which leaves the car park to the reserve - a few reports in recent weeks suggests the earth isn't too far away.
Plenty of insects to take a look at including butterflies: brimstone, speckled wood, green veined white is all I've seen - but I've only spent 2 days out on the reserve this week and it rained a lot on Wednesday so I'm sure you can get a better list than me. Also some great beetles to look for if that's your thing. So many interesting shapes and colours. Ali Blaney the Warden took this shot of a wasp beetle yesterday during her bittern survey:
Common frogs & toads can often be see too as can the odd grass snake. One was reported swimming in front of the Tor View Hide this week. As were 3 otters reported on Saturday 25th by visitor Paul Dunham. It was only a week or so earlier that Paul had already seen 3 together from the same location. I think I mentioned it in my blog. Lucky you Paul and thanks for sending in your shots:
Otters: Paul Dunham
Also this week: 5 shelduck flying over the reserve yesterday, kingfishers seen at Waltons, the old rail bridge and the Avalon Hide, male garganey seen at both VP1 & VP2 this week, barn owl spotted from VP2 early this week, kestrel seen distantly from VP2 yesterday, water rails showing well from the Tor View Hide, great white egrets seen flying over the reserve and feeding too - VP1 is one favoured spot and noisy but illusive cettis warblers around the site. Thanks to John Crispin who took this lovely shot of a cettis warbler this week:
That's it for this week. Thanks for reading and have a great weekend.
We spend 90% of net income on conservation, public education and advocacy
The RSPB is a member of BirdLife International. Find out more about the partnership
© The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) is a registered charity: England and Wales no. 207076, Scotland no. SC037654