Another successful trip report
SOMERSET BIRDWATCHING HOLIDAYS TRIP REPORT
28th and 29th April 2018
Tour Leaders: Stephen Moss & Graeme Mitchell
Guests: Lynette Cowan (Sat & Sun); Paul Nash and Shona Brown (Sat)
Saturday 28th April
After breakfast, we took a walk around Graeme and Kay’s field at Walls Farm, listening to birdsong. Almost immediately three Hobbies flew low and fast overhead – an incredible and very unexpected sight, which promised well for the day ahead! The garden produced a good variety of singing resident birds, including Wren, Robin, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Blackbird, Song Thrush, Goldfinch, Chaffinch, Greenfinch; and two migrants, Chiffchaff and Blackcap. Swallows also swooped overhead, with Jackdaws and three Stock Doves.
We then drove across Tealham and Tadham Moors, stopping occasionally to scan the now mainly dry fields. However, a cool wind kept things fairly quiet, though we did have good views of a Little Egret with its yellow feet and splendid breeding plumes, and also saw large flocks of Mute Swans with one Canada Goose, a brief view of a Whitethroat, and a Grey Heron. At the heronry at the end of the moor we got views of herons and egrets coming in and out, a cock Pheasant, and heard many more birds – including a fine Willow Warbler singing its ‘down-the-scale’ song.
Moving on, we stopped briefly at Sweets Peat and Science Museum (and tea room!), where we saw a Raven overhead, and then headed across to our local patch, the Somerset Wildlife Trust reserve at Westhay Heath. Almost immediately we heard – and then saw – a Garden Warbler, one of no fewer than eight warbler species we heard and/or saw here, in just an hour (the others were Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Willow, Whitethroat, Sedge, Reed and the incredibly loud yet elusive Cetti’s). We also heard a calling Cuckoo and at least one booming Bittern, but sadly failed to see either of these tricky birds. A male Marsh Harrier – seen twice – was some compensation, as was a female Sparrowhawk soaring high, 2 Great White Egrets in flight (one very close), a pair of Coal Tits, a smart male Reed Bunting and flocks of Swallows, Sand Martins and House Martins. Other wildlife included a lovely male Roe Deer, as well as the only butterflies of a cool weekend: Green-veined White and Peacock.
After an excellent lunch at the Sheppey Inn, Godney, we said goodbye to Shona and headed to Ashcott Corner, the starting point for walks into Shapwick and Meare Heaths and the RSPB’s Ham Wall reserves. The former produced some memorable birds – and moments: a close-up scope view of a singing Garden Warbler in his usual spot, a sleeping male Garganey (it then woke up!) on Meare Heath pool – a new species for Graeme – along with Teal, Pochard, Gadwall and a Great White Egret. A flock of Sand Martins flew overhead.
We then moved to Noah’s Lake, where four Hobbies hunted very low over the back of the water. Then we saw a pair of Great Crested Grebes doing the ‘Penguin Dance’ (carrying weed and standing right up ion the water like bowling skittles!) – the first time Stephen remembers seeing this in fifty year’s birding.
On the way back, we saw three splendid Garganey (two males and a female), and the first Swift of the year with some Sand Martins overhead. Bitterns were booming throughout.
For our final stop of the day we walked into Ham Wall, and enjoyed lots of birdsong, a pair of Little Grebes, very close views of a Chiffchaff, a huge flock of up to 500 Sand Martins, Great White and Little Egrets; also, wonderful scope views of a very static singing Wren!
Then we had a real surprise: county bird recorder Julian Thomas had just identified a Mealy Redpoll, feeding on the ground just by the gate to the Tor View Hide. This larger version of our Lesser Redpoll is also confusingly known as ‘Common’ Redpoll, though it is very scarce in the UK and extremely rare in Somerset, with only a handful of previous records. We had amazingly close views as it fed, showing its gorgeous salmon-pink throat and breast, bull-necked shape, pale tramlines down the back, a buffy-white wing bar and the red forehead that gives the species its name. Later we saw it briefly with a Lesser Redpoll, which looked much smaller, slimmer and browner. A wonderful encounter.
Buoyed by this we walked over to the Avalon Hide, where we saw a male Marsh Harrier, and on the way back we saw a Hobby overhead, then Stephen and Graeme glimpsed a Kingfisher, but sadly the others missed it!
Sunday 29th April
Sunday dawned cool and breezy, and though the sun sometimes threatened to break through it was less fine weather than yesterday, contrary to the forecast! We started at the Brue Estuary, where the tide was falling. Graeme saw another Kingfisher (which we both missed!) on the Brue, then we walked along the path towards the Parrett, seeing lots of Swallows (flying very low), Linnet flocks and singing Skylarks (and one on the ground), as well as at least 6 Wheatears. On the estuary there were a few Shelducks and Redshanks, and three splendid Whimbrels (one eating a crab very effectively); plus at least 5 Little Egrets, two Ravens overhead and a Stock Dove.
We then drove to West Huntspill church, where we enjoyed brief views of the nesting Cattle Egrets (in full breeding plumage) in the heronry in the Old Rectory garden; also, herons and Rooks. In the churchyard we heard (and briefly saw) Goldcrest, plus Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler, Blackcap, Chaffinch, Wren, Greenfinch all singing, amidst a carpet of bluebells.
A brief stop at the Axbridge end of Cheddar Reservoir produced a pair of lovely Mandarin Ducks, at least 500 Sand Martins, Great Crested Grebes and a Song Thrush; then for our final stop of the day we took a stroll through King’s Wood, between Cheddar and Winscombe on the edge of the Mendips, where we had views of a female Blackcap and finally our target species, a Nuthatch, which led us a merry dance before finally sitting right above us!
STEPHEN MOSS & GRAEME MITCHELL