Saturday, 29 June 2013

29th June: The South Drain

I finally saw a Little Bittern at Ham Wall RSPB today, getting a reasonable flight view this morning, I happened to be scanning the reeds with bins when it popped up so got a relatively prolonged look. There seems to have been a significant increase in activity, with at least 6 sightings today, much more than before, so maybe the eggs have hatched. The best bet for seeing them is to stand at the marked viewpoint and simply wait, try and find out from others where a bird was last seen dropping into and scan that area with binoculars as much as you can. Be prepared to wait several hours without any luck, and be aware that the bird flies so quick and low that often half the people at the watchpoint won't get onto the bird before it drops in.

On my way back, I noticed the South Drain looking particularly nice, and peering over the bridge I could see that it was absolutely chock full of wildlife:
The South Drain
Loads of Rudd
I had a bit fo fun trying to photograph Dragonflies in flight. An Emperor was holding territory on a short section of water so gave plenty of opportunities as it cruised back and forth, awesome beasties!

While watching the Dragons, a big old Grass Snake swam a short distance along the bank on the far side before disappearing down a little side channel

I'm away from the Marshes for the next 6 weeks or so, so I won't be able to post any of my own sightings or photos. I'll try and update on any particularly interesting news I hear from the area though, and if anyone gets any photos they would like to share on here, feel free to e-mail them to me at, and i'll post them up (fully credited of course).

Unfortunately this also means that I won't be running any guided walks or tours for the time being, but if you are interested in joining me from early August onwards, do get in touch and i'll see what I can do.

Happy Marshing!

Sunday, 23 June 2013

23rd June

Very windy on the Avalon Marshes today, and thus not a whole lot of birds to see or photograph. I was volunteering on the Little Bittern watch yesterday morning, didn't see the birds, but a family party of Bearded Tits were good entertainment, feeding in the reeds in front of the LB watchpoint and then flying over the path. As juvenile Bearded Tits start to fledge from the nest over the next few weeks, they should become easier to see as feeding groups rove around the reedbeds, listen out for their 'pinging' call.

Great White Egret on Meare Heath today

Friday, 21 June 2013

21st June: Wildflower Meadow

This afternoon I took a look around the Canada Farm area of Shapwick Heath NNR. The meadows here are mown for hay late in the summer, allowing wildflowers to set seed. Harvesting the hay removes nutrients from the soil, creating high plant diversity as no one species can become dominant. The meadows are a delight to see at this time of year, awash with colour, and absolutely crawling with insect life. If only all farmland could be like this.....

Beautiful meadow

Southern Marsh Orchid

Bog Cotton
Ragged Robin
Yellow Flag Iris

A quick visit to Ham Wall RSPB produced the obligatory fly-over Bittern, along with 3 Garganey, 1 Green Sandpiper and 1 Common Tern


Monday, 17 June 2013

17th June

The weekend was fairly quiet on the Avalon Marshes, which is to be expected at this time of year really. Migration is at its lowest flow of the year, so it's a matter of enjoying the antics of our resident breeding birds rather than looking out for new arrivals. Bitterns and Marsh Harriers are very active and easy to see right now, with regular flights between feeding areas and nests, keeping hungry mouths fed.
Despite this, theres often something surprising seen each day. On arrival at Ham Wall RSPB today, a pair of Common Terns were loafing around on the rafts in front of the Walton Heath screens. At this time of year, it is likely that these birds have failed a nesting attempt and moved on from wherever they were previously. Fingers crossed that they'll find our Tern nesting raft and have a go here. They eventually started some courtship behaviour, which is promising.

Courtship feeding

Looking very proud of their raft, could do with a clean though!

Giving a young Black-headed Gull some grief. The gull has already lost its
lower mandible somehow
While watching the terns, I was astonished to see an Otter pop its head up right in front of me .I had time to fire of one shot before it ducked back under the water and disappeared.

Still a few Hobbies around

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

12th June: Ferruginous Duck

Having not seen the Ferruginous Duck that turned up at Ham Wall RSPB when the Pied-billed Grebe was first present, I was delighted to bump into one today. It was out in front of the second viewing platform, mostly sleeping amongst the Yellow Flag Iris, but occasionally swimming out in to the open. It was always distant so the following are little more than record shots.
Its left eye was the striking white expected of this species, but it appeared to be missing its right eye. A Ferruginous Duck at Chew Valley Lake recently apparently had a damaged right eye, so this must be the same bird.

Ferruginous Duck and Great White Egret together!
A sight more likely to be seen in Romania than Somerset
Also, there were 5 drake Garganey, in various stages of moult, and a flyover Green Sandpiper.

Sunday, 9 June 2013

9th June

I've had a busy weekend with clients enjoying the summer wildlife and perfect weather on the Avalon Marshes, so don't have a whole lot of photos from the last few days (I don't carry my camera while guiding, feel it would be a little rude!). The birds certainly put on a good show, and we saw all the specialties, with Bitterns and Marsh Harriers in particular putting in plentiful appearances, and various warblers being surprisingly co-operative.
For my guided walk yesterday afternoon, I was joined by the lovely folks from Pool House B&B in Woolavington, on the South-western edge of the Avalon Marshes. They were keen to get to know the area better as they are perfectly placed for guests who wish to explore the nature reserves here.

Here's a few quick piccies from between tours:
standard Bittern view these days

Broad-bodied and Four-spotted Chasers sharing a perch 
Part of a big shoal of Roach in front of Noah's Hide, Shapwick
Heron food!

Friday, 7 June 2013

7th June

I was down at Ham Wall RSPB volunteering on the Little Bittern watch before dawn today. Didn't see any sign of the birds, unsurprisingly really given their secretive nature, but there was plenty else to see. it's amazing just how much activity there is so early in the morning.

(regular) Bitterns were everywhere, long before the sun was up, a croaking sound high in the sky was eventually traced to 6 birds together circling over the reserve, an amazing sight.

3 of the 6 dropping back down (ISO 12800, 1/20th!)
A few flights later in the morning were in slightly better light.

This Hobby was bombing around at 0440, presumably after moths and bats

Up to 4 Kingfishers in front of the viewing spot kept me entertained for the morning

Thursday, 6 June 2013

6th June: Little Bitterns at Ham Wall RSPB

This morning, on Twitter, the RSPB announced the news that a pair of Little Bitterns are again breeding at Ham Wall.

In order to prevent disturbance to the birds, the trail around Walton Heath has been closed off, please respect this. In any case, the best way to see the birds is to view over the reedbed to the South of the main path, just before the 1st viewing platform. The birds spend most time down in the reeds so the only way you may get to seem them is by seeing a brief flight low over the top of the reeds. Flights are few and far between though, so you will need to wait a long time to stand a chance.
As an indication of how difficult they are to see, I haven't seen them yet, and i'm on the reserve pretty much every day, though admittedly I don't usually have the time to wait for hours.
In previous years the birds have been most visible later in the season when they are feeding well grown young, so if you really want to see them, I would advise holding off a few weeks until they are more active.

Now that the new is in the public domain, i'll try and provide updates on here on how viewable the birds are, and the best tactics for seeing them if a pattern develops.

If you do go to try to see them, best of luck!

Monday, 3 June 2013

3rd June

The breeding season might have been delayed by the cold weather earlier in the season, but it seems as though the birds on the Avalon Marshes have timed their nesting to perfection. The last few days have seen a sudden boom in the number of young birds leaving the nest, co-inciding nicely with the perfect weather at the moment. Eggs and small chicks are fairly safe from wet, cold weather as the adults are able to shelter them comfortably, but the bigger the chicks grow, the harder it becomes to keep them all covered. Young birds often have soft, downy feathers, which are great at keeping them insulated, but don't keep the rain out very well, so if they are too big to use their parents as an umbrella, they can get wet, chill, and die. 
Fortunately, just as the birds are now leaving the nest, we have a nice settled patch of hot dry weather, and hopefully a lot of the chicks will have developed their thicker, more water-repellent feathers by the time the rain returns. Here are a few little-uns that were enjoying the sun today:

Cetti's Warbler


Great Crested Grebe, hitching a ride on mums back!
Other sightings from a brief visit to Ham Wall RSPB this afternoon:

2 Garganey
3 Marsh Harrier
2 Cuckoo
1 Great White Egret
3 Hobby
2 Bittern

One of the Bitterns

Sunday, 2 June 2013

2nd June

Summer very much in full swing on the Avalon Marshes today:

Swarms of flies showing why so many birds live in the area

Four-spotted Chaser

drake Pochard

Reed Warbler

Mute Swan in a meadow

There was no sign of the Wood Sandpiper at Ham Wall RSPB this morning, though at least one drake Garganey was at the 2nd viewing platform, and a few Hobbies had gained height very rapidly in the calm conditions.