Hi everybody - I hope this, slightly different blog today finds you all safe and well. Things have changed very quickly in the last week or so and as I hinted in my blog on Monday much of the information I gave is already obsolete - in fact it lasted just a few hours with the new Government announcements on Monday night.

I have copied and pasted Abbie's message (our last blog post) which followed this announcement as I think it sums things up pretty well:

Following the latest clear instructions from the Government for us all to remain at home apart from a limited number of allowed activities, we are closing our reserve to visitors until further notice.

This means we will close our car park, toilets, hides and the Mini Marshes to the public at Ham Wall and the car parks and hides at Swell Wood and Greylake. These measures are on top of the existing closure of our Welcome Building and toilets at Ham Wall.  It is with great sadness that we ask people to refrain from visiting the RSPB, to help us restrict the spread of coronavirus.

Our efforts will now move to helping the millions of people spending time at home. We are determined to do our bit to try and help connect people with the amazing wildlife to be seen in gardens or from balconies or windows, and offer some hope and joy in these difficult times.

Over the coming days and weeks, we will also be helping people to share their wildlife encounters and provide ideas for things they can do for wildlife close to home. Follow our Facebook, Twitter and Ham Wall and Greylake blogs.

Thank you for your support, our work to save nature will continue in these challenging times.

I, like many of you now, am working from home - doing what I can here to help the RSPB and its work. I'm very much missing the reserve as I'm sure many of you are but this will all be worth it in the end once we get through this when we can really appreciate what we've been missing.

In the meantime, we must think of new ways to engage with you - the most obvious sticking to what we can see in our gardens or work on some themed blogs and using some of our stock photos - I can now access many of these thanks to Abbie.

If there's anything you'd like to know more about just let us know and we'll do our best to answer.

Rest assured the wildlife will be fine without us for a while. Nesting will continue, songs will be sung and young will be raised, just as always - there will just be some gaps in our records as we are unable to survey.

Thanks to Mike Pearce who managed a photo of nesting marsh harrier on his last visit before the closure:

One idea I had, was to start talking about certain migrant birds - it's that time of year after all. In a way I was actually beaten to it by an RSPB England blog looking at the differences between Swifts, swallows and house martins: take a look here: https://community.rspb.org.uk/ourwork/b/rspb-england/posts/swift-swallow-or-house-martin-which-is-it-what-s-the-difference-and-how-can-you-tell

What inspired my choice of subject? Well, I'm almost certain I heard a swift in Meare on Tuesday after I had the sad task of locking down the reserve car park. That familiar scream is what I heard but I was driving at the time so It's possible I was mistaken. It's certainly a sound I associate with spring and one which brings a massive smile to my face. The aerial skills these birds possess is incredible and with the screams ...the sheer joy of flying

Swift catching lunch: Graham Wagner

We also had a message from Dudley Wilcox who lives in Evercreech in Somerset saying that he had seen a swallow flying over his garden - so there are one or two out there. I'm just making do with a few house sparrows at my garden currently, but I'm looking forward to seeing my first one - anybody else seen their's yet? We'd love to hear from you.

We had them nesting in the education shelter at the car park 2 years ago - perhaps this year they will return?

Couldn't resist this photo from John Crispin 

....and perhaps the more traditional swallow photo.

A close relation - the sand martin has, of course, already arrived - traditionally the first of this group of birds to do so each year. The very earliest of these in some years have had to deal with some pretty serious weather conditions - with March snow storms last year and the previous year I think. The gamble will have paid of for most this year, missing the gales and most of the heavy rain to what, this week, is wonderful spring weather.

Before the reserve closure groups of over 100 birds were being seen over the reserve and it's quite possible that they are pouring into the country now and I'm just not there to see it. In terms of ID they are slightly smaller than house martins and swallows although whizzing around this would be quite hard to go. Take a look at the colouration first: grey brown above and white below, no streamers on the tail like the swallow or obvious white rump like the house martin both of which are much darker - almost black, above.

Sand martin - John Crispin 

Another relation is of course the house martin - you may be lucky enough to have them nesting on your homes or out buildings. If it has been very dry before they arrive there may be a lack of mud for them to build their nests. You could help them by keeping a few areas a bit damper to give them a boost.

I'm going to include one more bird in this section - one not even closely related - the hobby.

Usually arriving in late April and May they can, by their shape and behaviour be mistaken for swifts - that familiar sickle shape and aerial prowess make them a joy to watch. At the Avalon Marshes we are lucky to witness wonderful numbers passing through with hobby often coordinating their arrival with the emergence of the early dragonflies such as hairy dragonfly and later the many thousands of 4 spotted chasers we get on the reserve. 

So next time you are out in your garden, or undertaking your one, form of permitted exercise each day, take a look up occasionally and you never know what you might see.

Remember also some birds are migrating out of Britain too - this can often be at night where they may feel safer from predators. A few nights ago I stood in my garden and heard the whistling of wigeon in the darkness - they were heading north thankfully so their compasses were working. 

In future bogs I will be looking at what nature I can find in my garden and what you can do to help wildlife where you live. My garden is small, but there are some simple things we can all do to help wildlife - literally on our doorstep. I think taking any small solace from the nature around us is really important right now. Let us know what sightings you have at home or what you are doing for nature where you live. 

Thanks for reading everyone. Please follow the guidance and keep you, your families and communities safe. 

Have a great weekend

Anonymous