Thursday, 22 June 2017

Local patch 11

In June, when the days are as long as they can be, RSPB Ham Wall hosts its annual yoga evening. Last year we were washed out, postponed to a chilly July evening when we creaked our way through the exercises and wrapped up in warm fleeces at the end.

This year we unroll our mats under a blistering sun and quickly seek out the shadier spots. We meet in a small clearing between the elder and alder and willow. Our gentle-voiced instructor suggests stretches and shapes and we put some of the movements together into routines. It is a quiet and peaceful activity. We focus and breathe deeply and let our minds spin. There is the fresh, green smell of plants and leaves and, once on the ground, the warm, mineral scent of the black earth. Beneath our feet the ground has a forgiving, flexible feel. Peat retains water like a vast, vital sponge. We are standing on precious ground. The peat is the remains of ancient mosses and sedges, laid down thousands of years ago. It is formed very slowly and torn up in a heartbeat, and so the reserves of the Avalon Marshes protect it as an endangered habitat.

The sound of the breeze in the reeds is Ham Wall in an earful! It sighs and scrapes and hisses; there is a rustling in the secret depths as the creatures settle for the night. Watery birds gabble and cluck on the pools and in the rhynes. Coots and ducks are fussing and splashing. A cuckoo calls in the distance and, from time to time, a single booming bittern punches the air. The sedge warbler's rambling conversation is the soundtrack of the evening, with Cetti's warblers joining joyfully. Marsh frogs warm up their voices and start their croaky evening song.

We turn our faces to the sun and concentrate on our senses. I visit Ham Wall often, always keen to know the latest sightings: what is about? What will we see today? Visitors ask, 'what can I see and where can I see it'? We fuss with our binoculars or cameras or telescopes, aiming for better views and sharper pictures. How marvellous, then, to spend time with our eyes shut and our ears and hearts open.

Ham Wall is a feast for all the senses.

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Local patch 10

A large green woodpecker was yaffling from deep within our walnut tree yesterday. Welcome friend - we haven't seen you here before. More secretly, a huge family of wrens were being acrobats. In the morning they were winding through the stalks of the broad bean plants, picking and pecking. Later in the day I saw them trapezing in the rampant rose on the old wall. I really must cut that back once the flowers have gone ... and the wrens ... and the hips.

Saturday, 10 June 2017


Thank you BBC Wildlife magazine: Blogger of the week this week! There are so many gorgeous local patch blogs to choose from, it's nice to think someone is reading this one!

Saturday, 3 June 2017

Local patch 9

On duty this week at ravishing RSPB Ham Wall. We open up the visitor centre and brew a pot of coffee. The hot drinks are popular, as are the flapjacks and brownies.The car park is full early. The mini marshes area is bristling with long lenses, hopefully scoping for the exotic red footed falcon which is hawking among the hobbies.

Ham Wall is marvellous for all kinds of beasties. Dragonflies emerge as the morning warms up: hawkers and chasers and darters. It is a stronghold of the four-spotted chaser, large and easy to identify: all golden wings and those big black spots. During the morning, I have conversations with lots of dragonfly people and determine to learn more.

The new sightings board makes exciting reading at this time of year. The water rail has chicks on the nest, marsh harriers are commonplace as they dip and tip in the soft air, quartering along the edge of the reeds. And everyone has good views of bitterns today. The great white egret plies backwards and forwards across the car park all morning and our beautiful glossy ibis is a regular tick for lots of happy birders. The cattle egret completes our trio of white egrets; smaller than the little egret, he is much rarer. The yellow legs and yellow beak are distinguishing features.

The warblers continue to make their presence known, Cetti's and chiffchaffs shout loudly from the trees around the car park. There is a cuckoo calling regularly all morning. Goldfinches shimmer and tinkle from the feeders behind the visitor centre.

For many people, the presence of our exotic species is overshadowed by one much loved bird - showing regularly all morning. The barn owl is hunting in full daylight along the rhynes and meadows on the reserve.

Halfway through the morning, a visitor approaches from his car,
'I don't say this often,' he says, ' but you have the most stunning car park!' It's true, the meadow planting between the bays is marvellous; right now full of waist-high ox eye daisies.

Ham Wall is simply the best place to be ...