The Heron Capital of Britain

A birdwatching trip to Somerset always includes a visit to the Avalon Marshes complex, one of the largest lowland wetlands in Britain. It is a collection of closely linked nature reserves that are rightly considered to be world-class for its wetland birdlife, certainly rubbing shoulders with the likes of the Camargue , Coto Donana, and the Everglades.

We like to call it the ‘Heron Capital of Britain’.

Not only do we see common Grey Herons, but now it is an everyday occurrence to see the two egrets; Little Egret and the wonderful and large Great White Egret. We now also have Cattle Egrets which we know to nest in a heronry on one of our regular birdwatching sites.

The big success of course has been the Bitterns, with a reported 55 booming males across the Avalon Marshes in March of this year (2018). We don’t see these secretive birds on every visit, but we do see them on most visits. Often it is just a brief glimpse as they flap up into the air from the middle of a reed bed to then flop back into the reeds a hundred metres later. Sometimes we get lucky and we see this well camouflaged bird standing at the edge of the reeds with its head pointing straight up motionless, secure in the knowledge that its feather pattern makes it invisible from any predator or prey, or indeed any lurking birdwatcher.

There was great excitement last summer when there was confirmed reports of breeding Night Herons – they are so rare and precious that all has gone a bit ‘hush-hush’ on any repeat breeding.

In addition there are other vagrants that turn up like Green Heron, Squacco Heron, Little Bittern, Glossy Ibis, Spoonbill and Purple Heron – but let’s be honest, these are so very rare that mere mortals (like me) have got no chance.

Until that recent day when we had a very jolly group of birdwatchers from Canada and the Isle of Man, who were having a lovely time looking at Great White Egrets, Little Egrets, and even some obliging Bitterns…. when I noticed something rather strange in a nearby tree - a rather oddly coloured heron with a particularly long stripy orange neck, beady eye and a pretty lethal looking bill.

Oh my goodness, this is something different. My heart was pounding - I think it’s a bloody Purple Heron, but I am reluctant to take credit for it until Stephen positively identifies it.

“Stephen have a look at this, it’s got a really purple back”

“That’s why it’s called a Purple Heron Graeme – It’s something to do with the name!”

The Avalon Marshes are definitely the 'Heron Capital of Britain’ now – well they are for me.

 Purple Heron (not the one we saw - ours was up a tree)

Purple Heron (not the one we saw - ours was up a tree)

Graeme Mitchell