RSPB Ham wall – August 2018

I headed to RSPB Ham Wall over the August Bank Holiday weekend with a friend who wanted to try out a couple of cameras he had hired. I also had with me my new Sigma 150mm Macro 2.8, I had put it on my old Nikon D300 seeing I probably wouldn’t need to crop into the images much.  Although we had gone to go bird watching we were also trying out new kit 🙂    

We headed down to Tor hide; from previous visits we know it is a good place to spot bitterns!  There was a fair amount of activity, a marsh harrier, gadwall, great white egret, cormorant, swallow, little brown thing that flew between the reeds that I just saw out of the corner of my eye (I have no idea at all what it was!), black headed gull, moorhen, the Red Arrows flew over!, little grebe, and of course a bittern.  It took a very short flight over the reed beds, I was lucky to get a photo as by the time you had seen it, it was gone! 

After a few hours I walked back to the car park to use the facilities!  On the way I saw a mute swan and 4 cygnets and a little creature ran across the path.  I’m not sure who was most surprised, me or him, we both stopped, looked at each other briefly and he shot into the grass.  I think it was a vole but it was such a brief encounter I can’t be certain.  That will teach me for not taking my camera!

On the walk to the Avalon Hide I saw another vole! This one didn’t stop to look, he just shot across the path!  The hide wasn’t too busy when we got there but people were very spread out, it became obvious after a while that people who were there together were taking up a window each rather than sitting together to allow others to sit down. Now I do see the value of a window each because it allows you more room, however, I have always moved to sit with a companion if others come in to sit down, I just see it as polite. We had to squeeze in a gap in between a window and someone’s scope because they were taking up two windows, they were sat a good few feet away from the windows and at an angle, it was a little odd, they didn’t even acknowledge we were there!  After a while of feeling rather uncomfortable we were able to move to a window that became available.  

There wasn’t a huge number of birds about but enough to keep us occupied: little egret, great white egret, mute swan, coot, house martin, cormorant, 4 marsh harriers at once and a sparrowhawk!  The lady sat next to me noticed it at the same time and we were debating on what it was at the time.  I think it took us both by surprise sat in the water by the reeds. 

With regards to my new lens, after a bit of testing I think it would work better on my D3s, the D300 just doesn’t seem to work properly with it, it didn’t seem to want to focus, it just wasn’t right.  I normally have a wide angle on the D3s so looks like I might have to do some switching of lenses while out in the field when necessary!  Not something I like to do if I can help it, I rather dislike cleaning camera sensors!

RSPB Ham Wall – December 2018

Last year I didn’t see a starling murmuration so I headed to RSPB Ham Wall on Thursday hoping to see one.  10mins after leaving home I hit the first bank of fog, it cleared a little and at some points I saw the sun but as I got closer to Glastonbury, again the fog appeared.  The weather said it would clear around midday.  I headed out on the reserve and made a bee line for Tor View hide, to say it was foggy would be an understatement!  As I headed along the footpath, a little bird flitted into the hedgerow; a blue tit.  There were a number of people in the hide but as people moved on a seat became available.  The fog was thick but it gave a different perspective to the reserve; although you generally listen to the birds, their calls in the fog were more prominent.  I liked that the lapwing were swirling around in front of the hide and the occasional duck would slowly appear out of the gloom.  

Every now and then someone would call marsh harrier and everyone would start looking for it, it would be visible and then vanish, then appear again.  Trying to take photographs in the fog was interesting, it was a case of forgetting the ‘normal’ shots you would want to take and make them more abstract or ‘arty’.  Focusing was the biggest problem, there was just no contrast.   

As the fog lifted a little, the other birds that had been using it as a cloak slowly began to appear… kingfisher, mallard, moorhen, coot, teal, tufted duck, and gadwall were distinguishable and didn’t need to just be called a ‘duck’ anymore.   

I was heading back towards the car park for lunch when a man let me know a pair of bearded tits had been seen in the Mini marshes.  I wasn’t lucky enough to see them, they had vanished when I got there and then shortly after a sparrowhawk flew from a nearby tree, I didn’t think they would be seen anytime soon!  

The fog had thickened again so after a walk along a few of the trails I headed back to Tor View hide in the hope of seeing a murmuration.  A great white egret landed over to the left of the hide and a tufted duck swam closer to keep us entertained as the light levels slowly began to drop.  After a while of waiting a small woosh of starlings flew over head, then a little later another, as the numbers increased they would suddenly appear from nowhere the only clue they were there was the sound; like a wave breaking on a pebble shore. They dove down into the reeds in front of the hide chattering as they went. 

RSPB Radipole – April 2017

My second day at the coast was spent at RSPB Radipole.  I had seen online the locations where certain species had been seen on site so I had an idea of where I wanted to go. I headed out towards the new screen.  Having never been to Radipole before I was a little puzzled by the number of people with shopping bags – it all became clear when I realised there is a housing estate on the other side; what a lovely route to walk into town. It was an overcast day and I soon realised on arrival at the screen that I should have been better prepared and worn more layers! The wind was blowing in the right direction to come straight through the viewing slats!

The Marsh Harriers were active, with three riding the thermals at one point.  They didn’t come over the screen on this occasion, staying on the far end of the site, it was lovely to see them gliding gracefully across the sky, I kept thinking about the houses that look over the site wondering if the people there stop to watch.  There were a couple of Little Egret and a Grey Heron who were constantly moving around feeding in front of the screen. 

I finally saw a Cetti’s Warbler, I had been hearing them all day but they are so difficult to locate.  I saw something fly into the base of a bush, I got down to its level and could just see it though the twigs and leaves.  It isn’t a great photo, but it is the first one I’ve actually seen! I would have thought there must be about 15 on site.

When visiting an RSPB site I always have lunch in their Café, that most of the sites have, I think it’s a great way to help fund the charity and also help local suppliers; they always use local produce where possible.  The food, drinks and especially cakes are always of a superb standard ☺

It was sad to see that the Mute Swan next to the Discovery Centre no longer had eggs, there was a Mallard sat on the nest when I was there. I don’t know why they were gone but I did hear someone say it could have been rats and later during the afternoon I saw a Brown Rat so I guess that could explain it.  I liked seeing the Hooded Merganser trying to take control of the waters and chasing the Tufted Ducks at every turn.  He has now been living there for 10 years, he obviously found a good home when he flew off course all that time ago.  

Late afternoon I headed to the concrete bridge to watch the Swallows over the reeds.  I saw something out of the corner of my eye, got the camera lined up, took one shot and it was gone – it was a Bearded Tit!  Unfortunately it had a reed in front of it but I am still please with the shot, it’s the first picture I have managed to get of one actually in reeds!  RSPB Leighton Moss is a great place to take pictures of them on the grit trays.  The Swallows were not so easy to get a shot of!    

My full sightings list:
Birds: Gadwall, Canada geese, Marsh Harrier, Moorhen, Swallows, Grey Heron, Little Egret, Mallard, Coot, Teal, Magpie, Great Tit, Cetti’s Warbler, Carrion Crow, Tufted Ducks, Herring Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Great-crested Grebe, Dunnock, Bearded Tit, Hooded Merganser, Blackbird
Mammals: Brown Rat 
Butterflies: Speckled Wood

RSPB Ham Wall – June 2016

RSPB Ham Wall - Glastonbury TorAs part of ’30 Days Wild’ I set out for the day to visit RSPB Ham Wall. I had heard of Ham Wall because of the Starlings they get in winter but I knew little about the site.

I had read the RSPB’s recent sightings blog posts before heading out so had an idea of what it was possible to see and where they might be. Obviously Bittern was at the top of the list!

It took me longer to get there than anticipated, I’m sure the satnav took me the scenic route! The car park is beautiful with wildflowers between the parking bays. I’d just stepped out of the car and heard a chap say ‘there’s a bittern flying overhead’ I caught a quick glimps – a shape moving in the distance.

Access via the main path wasn’t available due to work on the bridge so I followed the diversion signs and headed towards Tor view hide. On route I stopped at some of the screens to see what was about. A gentleman pointed me in the direction of a screen where a heron was nicely posing.

RSPB Ham Wall - BitternThe hide was quite busy when I got there with only a couple of seats spare. As people left I moved to a seat with a better view. The girl sat next to me was a regular to the site and amazing at spotting bitterns flying over the reeds, my first proper bittern sighting was thanks to her 🙂 There were plenty of other birds to watch including the incredibly cute Coot chicks.

After a couple of hours I moved onto Alavon hide for a quick look. There were a pair of Marsh Harriers constantly in the sky along with a Great White Egret on what looked like its nest.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time there and look forward to heading back there in the Autumn to see the Starlings 🙂

My full list of sightings for the day:
Birds: Bittern, Mute Swan, Mallard, Cormorant, Grey Heron, Great Crested Grebe, Tufted Duck, Coot, Great White Egret, Little Grebe, Hobby, Buzzard, Swift, Marsh Harrier, Pied Wagtail
Insects: Stag beetle