"I've never seen so many bitterns", is a comment we've heard several times from visitors over the past couple of weeks. Females have certainly ramped up the feeding flights and spending just a short time at the first viewing platform (VP1) can bring rewards. We believe there are 2 nests quite close together with both females flying south over the main track to feed in Waltons and beyond.
I guess we shouldn't be too surprised with a Ham Wall record of 22 booming males this year with a further 3 just over our boundary, but what a wonderful success story it is - considering Ham Wall was initially created to bring bitterns back to Somerset - mission accomplished I think.
Of course we are not stopping there, we have plenty of other new colonisers to consider now with great white egrets fairly uncommon 10 years or so ago now a permanent and growing fixture at Ham Wall and the rest of the Avalon Marshes. The volunteer team have identified 43 nests across the Avalon Marshes so far this season with over 70 young between them I believe. 14 have been ringed so far and tracking them will help us understand their behaviour and what happens to them after fledging.
Cattle egrets too are still being seen locally in small numbers (with c450 overwintering this year in the local area). They quite likely also will soon be an everyday sighting given time.
This year it is the glossy ibis which is capturing everyone's attention. There are quite good n umbers in the country at the moment, with a good chance of breeding attempts somewhere (although this is likely that they will be given as much protection as possible, so we won't hear about anything significant until it's over. On Ham Wall as many as 8 have been seen this week, with VP1 often the best place.
However, with the vegetation growing as it is it's getting harder (or at least takes more patience) to get your sighting. We are still trying to work out if anything significant is happening between any of these birds. It's not an east task.
The ibis have also been seen from the Tor View Hide over at Waltons this week, so it gives you another option. Thanks to both Andrew Kirby and John Crispin for their photos taken this week including one of Andrews of a bird taking a dragonfly nymph (like the great crested grebe photo from last week's blog):
Add to these the 10 grey heron's nests in the Waltons reedbeds and an assortment of waders from VP1 this week and it's quite a busy reserve. Waders spotted include 28 black tailed godwits flying over with between 20 and 30 on the ground still, dunlin seen in flight, greenshank spotted on a couple of occasions and lapwings and redshank defending territories in front of the platform.
Lots of the smaller birds are busy too - you may well see them zipping backwards and forwards with a beak full of food. John Crispin saw this willow warbler on multiple occasions to and from a from a nest. Thank John:
That's one busy parent bird.
He also managed to photograph this cettis warbler with a food parcel for its kids too - thanks John:
Another busy parent being seen regularly is the barn owl. Best place to get a sighting is probably the Avalon Hide but barn owls have also been seen from VP1 and like last week in the field opposite the footpath entrance of the reserve on the other side of the main drain. Thanks again to John Crispin, who managed to capture this image this week:
Other birds of prey spotted this week include: buzzards - 3circling yesterday above Loxtons/Waltons, hobby seen daily including over the Avalon Hide this morning, a red kite seen chasing off a marsh harrier last weekend (22nd), plenty of action from the marsh harriers themselves with the Avalon Hide or VP1 good places to try. The second viewing platform can also offer views of them beyond the first stretch of reed and water. Tawny owls are heard calling in the evenings and occasionally in the day near the car park - perhaps the fledged youngster from our nest cam box contacting the adult, a peregrine was reported over the car park this morning and a sparrowhawk flew past VP2 on Wednesday.
Out in the reedbeds noisy reed and sedge warblers are chattering away consistently, reed buntings are calling and cettis warblers are pushing out there punchy calls. The tree lines are still filled with a sweet chorus of bird song including several warblers such as blackcap, garden warbler, chiffchaff and whitethroat. Whitethroat has been spotted frequently from the old rail bridge you walk over on the way to the reserve. Check out the cables and supporting wires from the telegraph pole.
Beyond this it's worth scoping out the edge of the small drain by the wood to look for kingfisher. I saw one again here (as last week) on Monday. A kingfisher was also spotted at Loxtons on Tuesday.
When walking along any of the paths check out the numbers of damselflies you can see in some places - very large numbers in some areas. Variable damselflies more uncommon a few years ago now seem to be the dominant species, living alongside blue tailed, azure, red eyed and common blue damsels. Look out also along the side of the main drain, particularly up by the road, for banded demoiselle. One was seen as far down as the bridge which crosses over to head towards the Avalon Hide this morning. The males are a shiny blue colour with dark bands across their wings whilst the females are a shiny green colour (no bands).
A couple more dragonfly species have now been seen too - brown hawker and emperor added to the list along with scarce chaser and 4 spotted chaser. The latter in good numbers around the Waltons Trail - maybe not as many as some years but still impressive. Here's a couple from John Crispin's back catalogue so you know what to look for - thanks John:
Also this week: swallows seen prospecting buildings around the car park, good numbers of swift over this week with a pair seen mating on the wing in front of VP1, a grass snake seen around the car park ponds, Iberian water frogs heard calling loudly - the Loxtons Trail perhaps the best place, a spotted flycatcher seen just past VP2 along the main path, cuckoos heard daily with a female seen at Loxtons on Tuesday, a mallard with 10 ducklings also at Loxtons, 2 drake garganey which took a short flight in front of VP1 on Wednesday, a little egret from the Avalon Hide this morning, a jay seen at VP1 twice this week and 2 cranes which flew over the reserve this morning.
Finally, some interesting pictures of a species we have rarely seen at Ham Wall - muntjac deer. This pair were spotted on the main track just past VP2 this week and John Crispin managed to get some photos. The last image shows the male tale flicking - perhaps not happy at John's presence. They were introduced to SE England from China in the 20th century and have slowly spread their range. They can have damaging effects in woodlands particularly to the understorey and some flowering plants such as primroses, bluebells and honeysuckle. Thanks for the photos John!
That's it for this week. There almost certainly won't be a blog next week due to the long bank holiday weekend for the Queen's platinum jubilee so it will return in two week's time. Thanks for reading and have a good couple of weeks.
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