For the most part it's been a very warm and dry week on the reserve. Certainly over the last couple of days it certainly doesn't feel like February. The wildlife is responding and the signs of spring are appearing all over. We've seen leaves bursting out of buds on a few willow trees, a few butterflies have been spotted with brimstone, small tortoiseshell and peacock all seen yesterday and a lady informed me that she'd spotted a peacock this morning too. I then had a brimstone fly past me on the road near our office too.

The snowdrops by the boardwalk out of the car park at the Shapwick end are out in force as are a few daffodils here and there. 

Starling numbers are still high but are dropping off gradually. They have moved further up to the west on Shapwick heath and are nearer the Decoy area of the reserve but still worth a visit that's for sure.

There has also been a noticeable increase in bird song over the last couple of weeks - particularly earlier in the morning as birds begin to stake out territories for breeding season. The song thrush is particularly obvious as in often perches high and calls repeatedly for long periods. In the car park this morning I could also hear some enthusiastic great tits and a vocal dunnock and out on the reserve a wren singing heartily. 

Activity from certain other birds has ramped up too. kingfishers are certainly flying and calling a lot more than they were just a couple of weeks ago. This morning 2 were perched on the temporary bridge which is visible out to the left as you walk down the main track. This week they have also been seen at the Avalon Hide and at Loxtons but it's Waltons for me or the first viewing platform (VP1) where the most action is. Thanks to John Crispin for his shot of kingfisher in flight taken on an early misty morning this week: 

Marsh Harriers too are appearing more readily and seen to be spending more time distant in front of the second viewing platform (VP2) - a well marked male and a female seen this morning or in front of the Avalon Hide where as many as 7 different birds have been counted. It's no surprise to see them in this area as they have nested here for several years now and could well be staking out new nest sites.

Valentines day didn't pass quietly for the great crested grebes on site with at least 2 pairs seen displaying (on Waltons east and from VP1). The Waltons pair were huddled up together this morning and were head bobbing but spare a thought for the third bird in this area. It's been seen fishing, preening and calling but also diving on at least 5 occasions and bringing up reed as if to anticipate a weed dance. Let's hope its partner returns soon. Thanks to John Crispin for his photos of this individual taken on Wednesday:

  

I'm sure its partner would be delighted to receive such a wonderful gift. 

Another bird beginning to make itself more obvious is the bittern. After last week's first couple of boomers (albeit weak at this time of year) we have added at least another 2 this week with a quiet boomer being heard from both the Avalon Hide and within Waltons. I may have even heard one in Loxtons this morning but couldn't be certain. 

There have been a few more flights recorded this week with a few sightings from the Avalon Hide & VP2

Its more obvious cousin the great white egret is relatively easy to see on a visit. One was sat out in the open at VP1 this morning but as many as 3 were seen together from VP2 during the week. Their fine plumage will really come into its own along with the colour changes to its bill and legs as it gets into breeding condition. 

A bit like this fine looking specimen - a very elegant little egret photographed this week by John Crispin. Thanks John: 

Cattle egrets are still being seen locally with around 70 birds counted on a couple of occasions. Worth keeping your eyes open in fields when travelling in the area.

There may be many birds readying themselves for spring but we still have many of our wintering visitors here (apart from a few hundred thousand starlings). Still fantastic numbers of lapwings to be seen. The numbers vary from perhaps just a couple of hundred to well over one thousand. Yesterday, in particular, was a great day to see them with 1000+ from VP1. They were up and down several times during the day giving a great show plus adding some incredible sound to the experience at all. It was almost as if the sunshine was making them unsettled - like it's time to go off to our breeding grounds. It really was so nice to see them yesterday. 

Look in amongst them for snipe too with as many as 84 counted (although this bunch were over at Waltons in front of the screen on the right and the Tor View Hide. You can also see snipe from VP2 most days too but sometimes takes some scanning to pick them all out - they can be very well hidden. 

There was also this single black tailed godwit seen this Wednesday preening amongst the lapwing - thanks again to John Crispin for his photo:

Also spotted on one occasion from VP1 this week was a green sandpiper but your best chance maybe to go to the far end of the reserve and check out the drained pool on the right (it's past VP2). This actually belongs to our neighbour. Green sandpiper have been seen here on several occasions  this week along with a single water pipit and a grey wagtail. 

Plenty of wildfowl still present on site including the winter visitors teal and wigeon. Look out also for pochard (40 males and 17 females seen on Loxtons on Wednesday), gadwall, mallard, tufted duck and shoveler. Either platform, Waltons or the Avalon Hide should get you all of these species for your list. 

Remember to check out the tree lines at the car park and when travelling down the main track. Look out for bullfinch, goldcrest, treecreeper, redpoll, siskin and chiffchaff to name a few people have reported this week.

Also after last week's otter sightings, a few more this week too. one on Monday near the Avalon Hide at around 11.30 then 3 on Tuesday. One from the bridge on the main track, one within Loxtons and a third from the far end of the main track just off the reserve at the pools near the end. How fantastic to have this sort of activity.

Also this week: 2 roe deer seen from the Avalon Hide on Wednesday and I saw a further 2 at the back of the Waltons trail this morning, a goldeneye also seen this morning from VP2 (probably the same on reported from Noah's hide on Shapwick today, a white coot seen on Tuesday from VP2 (not reported again - seen by several people), 2 raven which flew over the reserve on Thursday with several other sightings this week from the car park, peregrine & sparrowhawk also seen, buzzards daily, great spotted woodpecker drumming in the woods behind the Avalon Hide this week and a stonechat seen in front. 

There have also been a couple of reports of bearded tits this week. I often see and hear them out on the north of the reserve where there is no public access but John Crispin recorded some from the screens facing the east side of Waltons on Wednesday (brief flights and calling) and then further birds reported from Loxtons the previous day - so always worth bearing in mind. 

Just another couple of photos to go from John Crispin. One take off and one landing:

First a juvenile mute swan attempting to get itself airborne - cant be easy to get such a big body off the water:

  

Also this black headed gull showing its one legged approach to landing:

Finally, a couple more things. If you'd like to learn more about birds and ID how about booking onto the following walk coming up soon:

Beginners Guide to Bird Watching at Ham Wall

Saturday 9 March

10 am – 1 pm

Have you ever wondered which bird is which and want to learn more? Can you tell your bittern from your blackbird, or your marsh harrier from a mallard? If not then this is the event for you. Come along and learn how to identify some of the brilliant birds that call Ham Wall their home.

Booking essential

RSPB members £4: Non RSPB members £6

RSPB child members £2; Non RSPB child £3

All bookings are online via Eventbrite

https://hamwallbeginnersguide.eventbrite.co.uk

Please note booking charges apply.

...and lastly please could you vote for us in the Countryfile Magazine Awards. We have been nominated for the best nature reserve award for the second year running and it would be lovely to win but we can't without you votes. If you could share the link to we'd be really grateful too - thank you:

 http://bit.ly/VoteHamWall

That's it for this week - thanks for reading. I'm away next week so it will be 2 weeks before the blog returns. Have a great week or so.

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