Trip Report 7th-9th December

TRIP REPORT: 7th-9th December 2018

Tour Leaders: Stephen Moss & Graeme Mitchell

Guests: Phil & Debbie Cox, Lynnette Cowan

Friday 7th December

 After a visit to Westhay Moor, which included Raven, Cetti’s Warbler, Lesser Redpoll, Little Egrets and Fieldfares the group met Stephen at Ham Wall well in time for the Starling roost, on a surprisingly bright afternoon. A male Bullfinch and male Great Spotted Woodpecker showed very well, while the first Great White Egrets and Marsh Harriers (of many!) appeared over the reedbeds, and Stephen briefly glimpsed a Bittern – sadly the only one of the weekend. A full rainbow signalled the odd shower, but otherwise it stayed dry, though cool!

            From viewing platform 1 there were c300 Lapwings, plus the usual cohort of dabbling ducks and three very active Little Grebes, diving constantly; and more Marsh Harriers and Great White Egrets. The first Starlings flew in bang on time at 3.38pm, just under half an hour before sunset, and more soon started to come in, performing brief but spectacular murmurations, before dropping down into the reedbed on Walton’s Heath. A male Peregrine appeared over Glastonbury Tor and headed towards the flocks, but although we saw it twice more before dusk it did not appear to attack.

            As we were watching the huge flocks of Starlings we also saw lots of Black-headed Gulls heading north towards their roost at Cheddar; a female Sparrowhawk flew low and had a go at the Starlings, and best of all at least 20 Cattle Egrets in the far distance, roosting on trees beyond Walton’s Heath. As the reedbed filled up, they began to stream over towards Loxton’s Marsh, and bizarrely, as we left it got lighter before dusk finally fell at around 4.30pm. A reasonable crowd had gathered by then, including at least 16 people from our rivals Naturetrek, led by our good friends Dominic Couzens and Matt Collis.

 Saturday 8th December

 We decided to head over to Steart on a very windy morning after an even windier night, arriving around 10am to be greeted by another full rainbow and bright sunshine. Wall Common produced lots of Skylarks, Meadow Pipits and Linnets, one Greenfinch and lots of Lapwings. Thousands of Dunlins were streaming along the tideline, along with c100 Redshanks, Turnstones, Curlews, Grey Plovers and a Common Gull overhead, plus a pair of Reed Buntings and pair of Stonechats in the bush by the car park.

Thunderbird 1 with distant cranes

Thunderbird 1 with distant cranes

We then drove over to the WWT reserve and walked out to the Quantock Hide, as lots of Lapwings and several hundred Golden Plover flew up. The lagoon by the hide was filled with Lapwings and Wigeon, one Great White Egret and a big juvenile (probably female) Peregrine showing well as it sat on the ground. Over to the north we could see three very distant Spoonbills. Outside the hide there were at least 30-40 Skylarks in a stubble field, plus

a lovely pair of Stonechats, which gave great views in the sun as they perched on treed-mace heads. From the Mendip Hide there were several hundred Golden Plover, while on the way out we saw an unseasonal singing Dunnock.

            Before lunch we walked over the bridge by Stathe Farm to take a look at a very flooded River Parrett. Graeme soon spotted our target bird: a pair of Common Cranes in the far distance, giving reasonable scope views. We also saw several Kestrels along that lane, plus five Little Egrets. From the railway bridge by West Sedgemoor we could see a Glossy Ibis on the flooded area, our eighth species of long-legged waterbird – an SBH record!

            After a splendid lunch (and for some, celebratory cider) at the King Alfred’s Inn, we headed down to Greylake RSPB, with the rain still holding off, though getting noticeably windier. A Great White Egret was hardly given a second glance (!), and there were at least 2000 Lapwings ‘murmurating’ over the fields, plus c300 Golden Plovers, on our way to the hide. At the hide itself we got amazing close-up views of Wigeon, Teal, Gadwall and some initially elusive (but eventually confiding) Common Snipe. Then Stephen spotted a very distant Short-eared Owl high to the north, which finally gave us good scope views as it flew low over the fields, being mobbed by a crow; and was then seen briefly as we left, heading south. There were at least four Great White Egrets in all.

Debbie and Phil engrossed

Debbie and Phil engrossed

            Catcott Lows was a surprise, being more flooded than the week before, and perhaps consequently far fewer birds: just a few Wigeon, Teal and Shoveler, a nice pair of (mostly sleeping) Pintails and some Lapwings. We soon headed off towards Westhay, stopping off at the South Drain (Catcott-Burtle Sluice) to watch 38 Cattle Egrets, accompanied by c20 Pied Wagtails and a few Starlings and Lapwings. Finally, we headed to Westhay Heath, seeing a Great White Egret and Buzzard en route, for a pleasant if rather uneventful walk around Graeme and Stephen’s original patch. Here we heard Water Rail, and saw two male Pheasants, a Reed Bunting, male and female Marsh Harriers and 5 Little Egrets heading towards Canada Farm to roost. As dusk fell it was time to head back to Walls Farm.

 Sunday 9th December

 We arrived at Ham Wall car park by 7.30, and reached the Viewing Platform by 7.40, just in time as huge flocks of Starlings began to exit the roost. In the mornings they don’t hang around, and so we walked quickly down to the Tor View Hide where we had brief but unforgettable views of the flocks leaving the reedbed. Graeme noticed a Sparrowhawk carrying an unfortunate Starling, which it then dropped virtually on an unsuspecting Stephen’s head, before flying off. By 7.50 it was all over!

            Wandering back, we saw 2 Little Egrets and a Grey Heron, the Sparrowhawk again, c30 Gadwalls and Coots, at least four Marsh Harriers over Walton’s Marsh, one of which caught some prey and was mobbed by aa Buzzard. Stephen also glimpsed two Kingfishers along the channel there.

            By 9.30 we had driven over to the Huntspill (with a Green Woodpecker en route in Mark), where unfortunately the winds had strengthened making it hard to see much. We did see a flock of 17 Little Egrets in the field before Sloway Lane, a Great Crested Grebe from the bridge, and Fieldfares, Redwings and a Stock Dove on the walk to the sluice. From the sea wall we could see c200 Avocets, a female Kestrel, Meadow Pipits, Skylarks, Pied Wagtails and c100 Linnets along the grassy areas above the Parrett.

The area by the Brue held c50 Canada Geese and Curlews, while we also saw a Rock Pipit, Raven and a flock of c25 Curlews near the Clyce. The Brue was rather quiet: lots of Black-headed Gulls and Redshanks.

A rather splendid (if somewhat lonely) male mandarin at Cheddar Reservoir

A rather splendid (if somewhat lonely) male mandarin at Cheddar Reservoir

For our final stop we headed up to Cheddar Reservoir (Axbridge end), where the wind had mercifully dropped. The water levels had risen substantially and the windsurfers were out, so not as many birds as last week, but we did manage to get great views of the male Mandarin as he slept! The end of another very successful and enjoyable tour with a trip list of 82 species.


Graeme Mitchell