More thinking about water level manipulation this week, back down at Ham Wall in Somerset. Reedbeds can be dull one-dimensional places for the visitor. Wet reedbeds in particular have just a few specialist species, most are generally difficult to see. This was evident at Ham Wall; Bitterns boomed and occasionally flew by, Water Rails squealed, Bearded Tits pinged and Reed Warblers jiggy jig jigged, but good views of any were few and far between. The open waters held a few common birds; Great Crested Grebes, Dabchicks, Pochards and Tufted Ducks, all with broods.
Another range of waterbirds prefer a more open, shallower habitat within the reedbed, and this can be created by keeping water levels lower and opening up the reed by grazing or cutting. One such area held Garganey, Shoveler, Gadwall, Little and Great White Egrets, Redshank, Lapwing and a migrant Dunlin. The margins of these open areas also provide good feeding areas for the likes of Bearded Tits and Bitterns.
Ideally for the visitor, a reedbed reserve should be multi-dimensional: having both high viewpoints over and into the pools, and low, close viewpoints into the reedy habitat. In addition, a mosaic of diverse habitat structure, created by water manipulation and grazing will help get the most out of a site for both wildlife and visitors.
Ham Wall continues to impress, with the key reedbed birds increasing in number and the tantalising prospect of colonisation by a greater range of southern species.