Thursday 30 March 2023

Somerset Levels

Wednesday 29 March

A day off from dancing so, with Richard Osman, a short drive from Weston-super-Mare over the the Somerset Levels to spend the morning at RSPB Ham Wall and time in the afternoon for a walk through Shapwick Heath to check out the far lake for the newly-arrived Sand Martins.  Following heavy overnight rain it was still falling, albeit slightly, as we headed west down the M5.  Reaching RSPB Ham Wall the ran had all but stopped and the rest of the day remained dry and overcast but with little wind.  On the other hand, no sooner had we got back to Weston-super-Mare and stopped to refuel and the heaven absolutely opened and continued to pour down for the rest of the evening and during the night!

Loxton marsh reedbed RSPB Ham Wall looking east towards Glastonbury Tor

A trio of Jackdaws as we approached the reserve and once inside straight to the feeding area to check the visitors and observed Chaffinch, Great Tit and Robin but, most noticeably, the male Reed Bunting.  Then it was off to follow the main trails visiting all hides and observation points.  Lots of calling Chiffchaff with usual passage of both Woodpigeon and Carrion Crow but reaching the first lagoon we immediately heard our first booming Bittern. To the far right a single Great White Egret, a small number of Gadwall, a few Coot and a couple of Great Crested Grebes before we noted the Cetti's Warblers' penetrating songs.

Crossing the track to check the waters on the other side we found vey many Shoveler along with a smaller number of both Coot and the occasional Mallards.  Very few Teal here but at least six Heron and a single Little Egret.  A pair of Mute Swans were seen in the distant reeds. And for all those who believed that Grey Herons were tree-nesting birds, Ham, Wall seems to have Herons that build their nests in the actual reedbed.

The Heron Ardea cinerea pair 
A sitting Heron Ardea cinerea

Spending time at Viewing Point 1 we saw another Mute Swan along with a number of Tufted Duck, Mallards and Teal.  Lots of Lapwing and more Great Crested Grebes and a Little Egret plus a pair of Little Grebes.  Both Herring and Black-headed Gulls were noted before we found the four Redshank on the far side.  Moorhen and Cormorant were added to the day's list and whilst at Viewing Point 2 we added more Heron and a couple of Canada Geese. A Kingfisher had flashed down the stream between the tracks as we approached this site. Then, as we looked out over the water, a dozen Snipe rose and swirled round above us before heading over to the back of the water.

A quartering Marsh Harrier Circus aeruginosus

Finally, it was on to the Avalon Hide where, as approached, we heard our second Bittern of the morning. Once in the tower hide we had views of Pochard, a handful of WigeonTeal and Mallard.  As with all previous views over the reserve, always a sighting of a quartering Marsh Harrier. Time to head back to the car park for our picnic lunch and passing the nearby small spinney added a lovely singing Willow Warbler.  Whilst stopping at the new bridge about thirty metres on we stopped to pass on the sighting to two visiting birders and as I turned to point to the exact place Richard, who was watching the reeds, saw a Bittern complete its somewhat laboured flight across a short stretch of reeds; lucky him!  A final look at the feeding station produced a Coal Tit and then a cock Pheasant strolled past as we ate our sandwiches.

A strange old day as I had set my target bird as the Bittern whereas Richard was desperate to see a Kingfisher.  In the end it turned out that I saw the Kingfisher and Richard the Bittern!

Lunch over, we crossed the road and entered the Shapwick Heath Nature Reserve.  Walking along the former railway line we soon added both Woodpigeon and Carrion Crow before being pleasantly rewarded by the arrival of two male and a female Bullfinch which proceeded to feed on the buds of the tree immediately in front of us. On the opposite water Pochard, Cormorant, a Great White Egret and Coot.

The next water before the bridge produced many Wigeon plus Mallard, Teal and Shoveler plus a pair of Lesser Black-backed Gulls. On the bank, a pair of both Canada and Greylag Geese. Behind us a pair of Long-tailed Tits and in the distance on both sides at least four Marsh Harriers including a trio of most handsome males. 

Male Marsh Harrier Circus aeruginosus

Next it was a turn into the trees on our left to take the track to the hides and we encountered another resting Great White Egret and then from the hide overlooking the main lagoon no less than at least 500 Sand Martins feeding over the water. On the water itself hundreds of Wigeon along with a small number of both Teal and Mallard plus a pair of Great Crested Grebes.  The occasional Cormorant passed over or came to rest and the birds regularly took to the air as a passing Marsh Harrier came looking for an afternoon meal.  Then, away to our right near the old tin hut, the appearance of a hunting Sparrowhawk.  Making our way back to the car park we added Robin, Magpie and even a "yaffling" Green Woodpecker.  A great day indeed and much enjoyed Richard's company.

Birds seen:

Greylag Goose, Canada Goose, Mute Swan, Wigeon, Gadwall, Mallard, Shoveler, Teal, Pochard, Tufted Duck, Pheasant, Little Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, Cormorant, Bittern, Little Egret, Great White Egret, Heron, Marsh Harrier, Sparrowhawk, Moorhen, Coot, Lapwing, Snipe, Redshank, Black-headed Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Herring Gull, Woodpigeon, Kingfisher, Green Woodpecker, Sand Martin, Robin, Blackbird, Cetti's Warbler, Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler, Long-tailed Tit, Coal Tit, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Magpie, Jackdaw, Carrion Crow, Chaffinch, Bullfinch, Reed Bunting.

Yet another Marsh Harrier Circus aeruginosus

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