As always it’s a busy time here at Ham Wall, so busy that Steve is out in the Softrak today cutting reed rather than blog writing (we’re a bit behind due to mechanical issues early on and bad weather not helping!)  I’m therefore taking the blog reins for today to provide a brief reserve team update, exciting bearded tit news and some sightings highlights from the week.

Habitat management

Reed cutting work on the islands in Looks Low (in front of the first viewing platform) is almost finished and we’re hoping to be out of there and into Waltons reedbed opposite next week. We just need to do some final cutting along the front edge nearest the viewing platform to fully open up the views, we can then start pumping some water in from the compartment to the west of that where we need to bring the water level down. This is where Steve is cutting as we speak, ready for a contractor to come in and carry out some re-modelling of that area.

In Waltons we’ll be cutting the island nearest the railpath as well as opening up views from the screens and Tor View Hide. Work party days are Wednesday and Thursday as usual next week plus a Sunday work party, we’ll let you know if cutting is taking place on these days but luckily there is always plenty of space elsewhere at Ham Wall to enjoy the quiet ambience!  

In other work party news, the car park wildflower islands have had their first big cut and clear of the year. We carry out this work in an effort to create a meadow habitat that will enhance the site with a diversity of plants. This will in turn provide home for a wide range of invertebrates.

To achieve this there has to be regular mowing to control over-vigorous plants and reduce nutrients to suit the wildflowers.  Some areas are left uncut to provide winter habitat for all those invertebrates.

The replacement fencing work around the edges and islands is also now complete. The posts and rails replace the short marker posts that were sometimes difficult to spot from the driving seat!

Thank you to all the volunteers involved in the car park work, it’s not the most exciting area of the reserve to work in (although you do see some very interesting wildlife even from there!) but as always it’s tackled with a smile and enthusiasm and it now looks good and ready for the upcoming busy winter season.

Bearded tits

On to my exciting bearded tit news!  Yesterday we carried out the first of two autumn bearded tit surveys across Ham Wall. The weather forecast had been looking decidedly iffy for quite a while but as we drew closer it improved ever so slightly, although certainly not top conditions for a bird survey that relies quite heavily on nice sunny weather and still conditions to listen out for ‘pinging’ calls.

The decision was made not to cancel but waking up Thursday morning to heavy rain and gusty winds wasn’t ideal! However driving to work the skies cleared and by the time we started counting at 8.30am we had absolutely perfect conditions.

For the survey itself, each surveyor has a different transect route to cover, walking along and recording birds seen and heard as they go, with timings, numbers and as much information as possible. The record sheets and maps are compared afterwards to ensure (as far as possible!) that birds are not being double counted and a final total is totted up.

There were only 11 of us to cover the whole reserve yesterday so there wasn’t much time to pause but what a morning we had. Our total count of bearded tits across Ham Wall was 288 individual birds, which is a big increase from last years count (100 in September) and even beats the previous record count of 236 in 2017.  Stunning views of bearded tits were had by (almost) all of us and it was a fabulous morning out on the reserve.

If you want to try and see a bearded tit too, try and pick a nice still, sunny day in the next few weeks to come to Ham Wall and make sure you know what a bearded tit sounds like – it’s the easiest way to pick them out by hearing their ‘pinging’ call first and stopping to look. With luck they’ll be moving about as they were yesterday, try the first viewing platform or the canal bank as most of the bearded tits were recorded on the northern side of the reserve. Ask in the welcome building for guidance on the most up to date sightings and good luck!

Latest sightings

Apologies that this is a very brief recent sightings section this week, particularly as there wasn’t one last week either due to us supporting the climate strike action.  Apologies also to anyone who has sent images to Steve, this was a last minute blog takeover and I don’t have access to them. I’m sure Steve will try and include them in next weeks blog if possible.

This week has seen some exciting new arrivals that have stayed put for a few days now and visitors are getting great views. I am of course talking about the juvenile black-winged stilt that arrived Saturday along with two spoonbills.  These have been visible from various points along the canal bank and from the second viewing platform. The compartment they are in, Phase 1, has some good areas of mud showing which is pulling in waders such as lapwing (175 counted on Saturday) and of course our egrets and herons. We’re managing the water level in Phase 1 closely too, given the amount of rain we’ve had recently, to ensure these great conditions remain.  Two ruff were recorded in here on Saturday and green sandpiper are being seen regularly.

I don’t have any images of the black-winged stilt unfortunately but John Crispin has provided some of the spoonbills - thanks John!

This photo shows them allopreening (preening each other) it would seem the hard to reach areas such as head and neck

This photo shows the lead bird with a black first primary feather P1. Juvenile birds have black tips to their primaries, maybe a bird just coming into adulthood?

Elsewhere volunteer Dean reported two common terns during the bearded tit survey yesterday and we’ve also had reports of sandwich tern flying through this week. I had a wheatear in Looks Low yesterday, the compartment in front of the first viewing platform. It was perched up on a mound on one of the reed islands.  Loxtons was reported as the place to be for long tailed tits yesterday!

Look out for sand martins feeding and flying through the reserve, there are still some around and also look out for snipe preening and feeding in the surface vegetation seen from the Avalon Hide:

Common snipe from Avalon Hide - John Crispin

Kingfisher seem as active as always and in the sunnier times you can still hear chiffchaff singing away. Plenty of water rail calling at the moment, particularly noted around Loxtons.

Finally, I particularly enjoy listening and looking for grasshoppers and bush-crickets and when the sun is shining there are plenty of both to find at Ham Wall.  Here's a lovely rufous grasshopper from the reserve, note the white-tipped clubbed antennae that help identify it as rufous!

Have a great weekend everyone!

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