Sunday, 26 March 2017

Ham Wall 25/3/17: Grass Snake, Glossy Ibises and Bitterns

Hello all,
After a busy few weeks (there will be a post to come about the BigBang Science Fair!), it was good to get outside at the wonderful RSPB Ham Wall in the Somerset Levels.

Saturday's visit coincided with a binocular and telescope day; despite the small range of binoculars on show, I am pleased to say that there is a noticeable difference between the £200 RSPB binoculars and the RSPB HD binoculars (£400). The image is noticeably brighter and sharper, with very little colour fringing around the edges.
Anyway, without further ado, the birds and reptiles (!) on show were, without a doubt, the stars of the day...

The day was unseasonably warm, but the wind was distinctly chilly, especially in the Avalon hide, which seems to have been designed to be cold and blustery! Grumblings aside, Spring was definitely in the air, with a flock of 20+ House Martin and 10+ Sand Martin going over our heads at Viewing Platform 1. Chiffchaffs were calling pretty much all the way from the car park to the Viewing Platform, where there were also all of the common duck species: Wigeon (still here from Winter I suppose), Teal (Winter lingerers!), Mallard, Tufted Duck and Shoveler, with a few Gadwall and Pochard also there. Coots and Moorhens are easily overlooked, but seem to love making a cacophony of noise in their many scraps.

The Avalon hide, in all its blustery glory, was hugely productive. In the space of around 30 seconds, a Bittern made a short flight right in front of the hide, two Marsh Harriers flushed the ducks off the water in front of the hide, then the two Glossy Ibis raced overhead; all of this was too quick for anyone to photograph! In the midst of the action, two Great Crested Grebes were still trying to display and dance!

Once things had calmed down a bit, (and the Bittern had made another 3-second flight) we decided to head back to the car park for a spot of lunch. As always at Ham Wall, however, something distracted us. The two Glossy Ibis had landed at the first viewing platform, and were preening next to a splendid Great White Egret in breeding plumage. Needless to say, it made for an excellent photo that shows the scarcity-pulling power of Ham Wall!

After lunch, we decided to try the Loxtons area, where there had been the large Starling roost in the Winter. At the path leading to the  Loxtons trail by the first Viewing Platform, it was fortuitous to say the least that I had decided to try and track down a calling Cetti's Warbler, because it was in a nearby channel that I saw something swimming. A piece of litter? Well, it has a head and is swimming, so probably not, An eel? No, too long and too slender. A snake? Closer. A Grass Snake? Spot on. Sure enough, completely out of the blue, within a few metres of me was my fist wild reptile, a swimming, metre-long Grass Snake. A large crowd had soon developed,  with the excitement comparable to a national twitch! It had swum about ten metres in the channel, but by the time anyone else arrived, it was slithering up the bank! Fantastic!

The best from the Tor View area was a Little Grebe, which  seems to be able to go underwater, then surface 20 seconds later, but 40 metres away! A large species of water beetle was also seen mating in the car park pools.

I will leave you with some photos from the day!

These top three show the wonderful Grass Snake!

The ever-faithful Glossy Ibis

One of the many Marsh Harriers
Mating water beetkes

Great Crested Grebe


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