Late July and August are often considered quieter times on nature reserves (particularly where birds are concerned). The majority of breeding is coming to a close and many tired parent birds are recovering from the rush of activity over the last few weeks. Birds are also gathering together in large groups. An example of this is the large group of gadwall and to a lesser extent mallard in Loxtons with around 180 together with a smaller group with the Waltons section. 

The hot days have meant slightly less activity in the middle of the day but many happy visitors have come back pleased with bittern, marsh harrier & great white egret sightings - many seeing these birds for the first time. Always nice to be able to give someone a tick (for their bird list not the creepy crawly kind). 

The Avalon Hide has been a popular venue of late - maybe to shelter from the sun, but also because of the great views of Marsh Harriers and bitterns it's been providing lately. The Marsh Harriers have been busy dropping a lot of food in this week and at least one juvenile has been spotted. The amount of food being dropped in suggests there is at least one more youngster in there. 

It's a good place to spot bitterns too with a nest still active in the area although it wont be much longer before fledging I would think. Thanks to Michael Woodman and Graham Wagner who took these great shots from the hide this week:

Bittern: Michael Woodman

Bittern: Graham Wagner 

As well as enjoying the marsh harrier & bittern activity look out for the great crested grebes with their noisy youngsters constantly demanding food. Thanks to Andy Collins and Graham Wagner for the pictures of the juvenile birds: 

Great crested grebe juvenile: Andy Collins

Great crested grebe juvenile: Graham Wagner 

It's also been the place where people have most reported hobby from this week too, with sightings every day. Len Collard even managed to photograph one last Friday and has sent me in his shot. Thanks Len:

If birds of prey is your thing, then look out for the barn owls too. There have been several sightings of birds flying around in day light hours and have been seen returning to 3 different locations suggesting a good year for them - helped by the dry weather I should imagine. IF you crane your neck slightly to the left of the hide you may be able to see two boxes on the edge of the wood. One of them almost certainly contains owlets. Thanks to Andy Collins who snapped these shots of an adult bird during his butterfly survey this week, which passes close to the box:

Great white egrets visit the area in front of the hide too but perhaps one of the best places to see them is the second viewing platform. They can often be seen here in the mornings feeding and loafing about. We can't beat the 18 birds seen on the 6th July but there were 12 seen together on Monday morning. Thanks again to Michael Woodman who has sent in a sequence of 6 photos of one bird in flight:

Also another great white picture this time from John Crispin. You can see how it uses its large wings and tail to slow down to land. Thanks John:

If birds are a little less active this time of year it's a good opportunity to study the behaviour of those you can see a bit more. Early morning visits can produce lots of moments of scratching, splashing and preening as the following photos from John Crispin show - thanks again to John!

Many people at this time of year also turn their attention to the insect life with butterflies a firm favourite. During the sunny spells I've seen plenty along the main paths of the reserve - perhaps one of the best spells I've seen for some years. There are several species to look to for including: peacock, red admiral, speckled wood, large white, small white, green veined white (pictured), Small skipper (pictured), small copper, comma, ringlet, meadow brown & gatekeeper (pictured). Also seen this week out on the reserve was, surprisingly, a marbled white with added sightings of a white admiral along the main track and some silver washed fritilaries at Loxtons. Thanks to all those who sent in photos:

Green veined white: Andy Collins

Small skipper: Andy Collins

Look out also for day flying moths such as scarlet tiger and hummingbird hawk moth which has been seen in the raised beds by the car park toilets again this week.

In terms of dragonflies keep your eyes open for black tailed skimmer (pictured), southern hawker (pictured), emperor, ruddy darter, common darter & brown hawker. Thanks to Andy Collins for his shots:

Black tailed skimmer male: Andy Collins 

Southern hawker female: Andy Collins 

Plenty of grasshoppers about too. Check out the grassy areas by the car park ponds. Thanks again to Andy Collins for his shot of what I believe (happy to be corrected) to be a meadow grasshopper:

Plenty of other non-avian wildlife to seek out. This week reports of 2 weasels on the main track, a badger in front of the Avalon Hide, foxes spotted out on the north of the reserve (the drier conditions unfortunately means they are able to access more areas, grass snakes seen swimming at the Avalon Hide and from the old rail bridge on the main track, a water vole seen in the main drain close to VP1 & this roe deer buck seen out on the reserve this week. Thanks to John Crispin for his photo. He points out that it looks as though it has a 2 point antler so is not fully mature (3 point antlers):

Also this week:purple heron still being spotted over on Shapwick Heath (often around the decoy lake area), a peregrine seen from VP2 yesterday, a bittern booming although just 3 booms once yesterday from VP2 also, red kite at VP1 on Monday, bearded tits heard from the Avalon Hide a couple of times this week but also in areas close to the main track so are beginning to move about a bit (perhaps they have had a good season - lets hope so),  little grebe (pictured) and great crested grebe with young from the Tor View Hide,a water rail seen from the Avalon Hide yesterday and reed warblers singing in places but also plenty of youngsters about. Thanks to Graham Wagner for his shot of one with what looks like a peacock butterfly:

Little grebe with grebelet: John Crispin 

That's it for this week. Just before I sign off a reminder that we are running our Canoe events again this year. There are still places available for August 3rd and 4th at present but if you have no luck there we are also running a second weekend in early September, so why not treat yourself to a very different experience. Details below:

Nature by Canoe at Ham Wall

Saturday 3 and Sunday 4 August

Saturday 7 and Sunday 8 September

One hour group tours between 10 am and 3 pm

Have you ever thought what Ham Wall would look like if you were an otter? Now here’s your chance to find out – Join a qualified instructor and an expert wildlife guide on this unique opportunity to experience this amazing nature reserve by canoe! No experience needed.

Booking Essential

RSPB members £14.40; Non RSPB members £18

RSPB child members £7.20; Non RSPB child £9

All booking is online through Eventbrite: (Please note: booking charges apply)

Thanks for reading and have a great weekend!