Not the best week, weather wise on the reserve it has to be said. Fewer visitors, not surprisingly and a little less activity as wildlife hunkers down out of the rain. During rainy spells though insects are flying lower and this brings swifts and hirundines (swallows and martins) much lower too. Yesterday, at around 10am the skies over Waltons and around the first platform (VP1), was full of birds - swooping, soaring and feeding - it really was quite a display.
I was stood by the truck as swifts flew very close to me, on a couple of occasions seeming like they were heading straight for me and might hit me - these experts know exactly what they are doing though and swooped up at the last second. A real wow! moment though.
Hobbies too were quite noticeable and you could pick them out amongst the other birds. They have been known to take hirundines, although are better known for eating insects - particularly dragonflies - which seem fairly absent at the moment, but given the weather that's no real surprise. You could still see hairy dragonfly or four spotted chaser and the first broad bodied chaser has also been seen this week.
Damselflies are about in greater numbers with large red, azure, variable and blue tailed all spotted this week along with the first spot of red eyed damselfly.
In terms of butterflies, I've seen several peacocks in sunny spells along with: brimstone, small white, green veined white, holly blue, speckled wood and orange tip. Remember, if you can leave your lawn or an unmown patch of lawn for invertebrates (It's "no mow May" ). Even "weeds" such as dandelions and buttercups provide a good nectar source for many insects. Thanks to Mike Pearce for his shots of orange tip. One on a dandelion and the other on a buttercup:
There are plenty of smaller flying insects about for feeding birds and you may often see birds carrying food to hungry chicks. Warblers are very busy, with blackcaps singing from all over the place and one or two garden warblers hidden amongst them - songs are very similar but a visual ID between the two is very easy. Chiffchaff are present along with willow warblers and the whitethroat opposite VP1.
In the reedbeds cettis warblers are very loud and now becoming harder to see and you can't help but notice the constant chattering of reed warblers from the reedbeds with the odd sedge warbler thrown in. Many have been heard imitating other birds again in their songs this week with the bearded tit one of the favourites. Thanks to Sandie Andrews for her shot of a reed warbler in full flow this morning:
....and a sedge warbler for comparison - thanks Sandie:
Bearded tits themselves have been spotted around the reserve but more often than not it's on the northern side of the reserve with limited access. Try a slow walk along the footpath side of the main drain and stop every so often to give yourself a chance. Quite a few groups of juvenile birds have been seen this morning by staff on a survey which is fantastic news. I heard some near the Avalon Hide this morning whilst finishing the final preparations for the hides to reopen on Monday in line with Government guidance.
Marsh harriers are once again nesting in front of the hide but you can see them from both platforms quite frequently. A well marked male dropped down in the reeds (distantly) in front of VP2 this morning and the female with the missing wing feathers came out. This is a known pair and almost certainly nesting here. A male was also seen carrying nesting material on the north of the reserve this morning.
At VP1 a separate pair can be seen - beyond the open water. We've had lapwings in the VP1 area and they have been seen chasing off the marsh harriers on a couple of occasions. Thanks to John Crispin who sent me these shots of the feisty lapwings giving chase:
He also captured this shot of the male chasing a female (not the resident female).
....and this shot of the resident female. Thanks John:
Also from VP! this week - varying numbers of whimbrel seen with 15 seen this morning and at least 25 yesterday which flew over our heads in the rain before dropping in from of the platform, 2 male garganey spotted earlier in the week, great crested grebes as well as mallard, gadwall and the odd great white egret doing a spot of fishing.
In Waltons you are more likely to see pochard, shoveler and tufted duck along with mallard and gadwall. Little grebes can also be seen alongside great crested grebes, some of which have youngsters in tow (VP2 also).
Grey herons can also be seen (but heard more than anything) in the reedbeds of Waltons - there are some pretty noisy youngsters here. It has been a good place to spot hobbies too although the numbers seem to be dropping off a bit now as many birds have passed through.
Perhaps the most obvious nest we have is that of the cormorants towards the end of the reserve in the dead trees on the left. Thanks to Alex Montacute who sent me in his shot. This was taken a couple of weeks ago now so the young cormorants will have grown quite significantly and they have survived all the high winds and rain. Great shot Alex:
From an obvious nest to an obvious bird - the great white egret. It's hard not to see one on a visit to Ham Wall these days and with 35 nests in the Avalon Marshes we are sure to see many more both here and around the country as they spread their range. They seem to use most of the reserve and are frequently seen flying over the car park too.
Bitterns are obvious for their noise at this time of year and May is a good month to try and get a sighting as males chase females (or chase off other males) and females work hard making feeding flights to feed young. This kind of behaviour will continue well into next month, so there's plenty of time.
Little egrets are just seen occasionally really - particularly at this time of year but Sandie Andrews did manage to get this lovely shot of one on the reserve tis morning - thanks Sandie:
Cattle Egret have been seen locally again this week but it's usually out in the surrounding landscape. When you're travelling towards the reserve check out any local fields with cattle - you never know!
Another close cousin, the great crane, has been spotted once again this week with reports of 2 flying over on both Sunday and Monday so keep your eyes peeled and check out the sky high up if you can, you never know what's up there. Apart from cranes we've had red kite, buzzard, raven and even an osprey (reported over Shapwick this morning) flying very high over the reserve this week along with martins swallows and hobby when it has been really sunny.
Remember to check out all the tree lines on the way to the main part of the reserve. Apart from the many warblers, you'll perhaps see: goldcrest, goldfinch, chaffinch, long tailed tit, great tit, blue tit, song thrush, blackbird, bullfinch (seen this morning between VP1 and VP2), treecreeper (I heard this in a similar area to above), wren and of course robin.
They are a favourite for many people and we have a couple of quite tame birds on the reserve who will happily take your food. One at the car park and one near VP1?Waltons screens. They can also be quite protective and pretty fierce. Volunteer Mike Pearce witnessed this altercation between 2 robins this morning and sent me a couple of picture. The second one in particular is a real treat. Thanks Mike:
And now for a more serene moment from Sandie Andrews as graceful mute swans feed their young on the calm waters of Ham Wall. Thanks Sandie...
Of course we all know swans can be quite protective too. On the Monday evening bird survey a couple of swans with young were quite put out having to move from the path at Loxtons but did eventually after much hissing and grumpiness.
Evening is an interesting time as light fades and birds gradually quieten down. The Iberian water frogs got very noisy in Loxtons from the screen at one point and others on the survey were lucky enough to see barn owl, tawny owl, badger, otter and bats as well as all the usual suspects.
Also this week: kingfisher seen from the old rail bridge on the main path, a peregrine seen from VP2 this morning, great spotted woodpeckers in a nest hole close to the far bridge on the long loop trail, buzzards seen daily, cuckoo daily from VP1 this morning, VP2 yesterday and can be heard from the car park and jays spotted along the main path.
I'd better leave it there for this week - I'm running out of time. thanks for reading and have a great weekend.
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