Tour Report 25-27th July
SOMERSET BIRDWATCHING HOLIDAYS TRIP REPORT
25th-27th July 2018
Tour Leaders: Stephen Moss & Graeme Mitchell
Guests: Allen Moore, Pat McAllister, Bill & Jocelyn Shoichet
Wednesday 25th July
After settling in at Walls Farm, we made a swift late-afternoon visit to Westhay Heath – otherwise known as ‘The Patch’.
Graeme took Allen and Pat round as a quick pre-supper introduction to Somerset birding. They started by checking out the lagoon close by the rather noisy peat-processing plant. One Great White Egret was seen along with up to 13 individual Little Egrets. This was followed by a good view of a Green Sandpiper that took off and circled round to our left. Two Great Spotted Woodpeckers were seen at the top of a dead tree, and a rather impressive female Marsh Harrier quartering over distant reed beds.
Walking round the Patch there were many Gadwall and Mallards, Cormorants and Grey Heron. Going down the birch and oak avenue were Blue, Great, Coal and Long-tailed Tit activity. The badger set looked occupied (judging by the fresh digging and fresh poo). Above the North Drain were Swallows, Linnets, and a single Bullfinch. A calling Reed Bunting was heard but not seen, and a passing male Marsh Harrier was spotted in the distance. Returning to the car, we heard a Treecreeper from one of the large oaks, a single burst of Cetti’s Warbler song was followed by squeaks from a hidden Water Rail, A Reed Warbler moused through the reeds – heard, but not seen by all.
Other birds seen were Carrion Crow, Rook and Goldfinch.
Home by 7.00pm, passing Stephen cycling in splendid evening sunshine en route to Walls Farm and a lovely supper prepared by Kay.
Thursday 26th July
We began the day at the Natural England reserve of Shapwick and Meare Heaths (part of the larger Avalon Marshes complex), where despite the late date we heard Blackcap and Chiffchaff still singing. On the bushes along the path we came across mixed tit flocks and Blackcaps feeding on the berries, when a flock of 17 Black-tailed Godwits flew overhead. Several juvenile Reed Buntings were seen along the path, while Meare Heath pool hosted large numbers of Gadwall and Coot, several Little Egrets and a passing Sparrowhawk.
A second Sparrowhawk was seen briefly on the start of Noah’s Lake trail, as well as a Great White Egret and a very brief view of a distant Bittern. Entering Noah’s Hide, we found a group of photographers present, looking at c120 Mute Swans, Great Crested Grebes, the usual ducks and a very obliging Bittern, which stood out on the edge of a small promontory in full view. There were up to 8 Great White Egrets at the back of the lake, another Bittern flew past, and then we saw a real rarity: an adult Purple Heron perched at the top of a sallow to the right of the hide – showing its yellow eye, dark crown, serpentine neck striped with yellow and orange and purple sheen to the upperparts. This is a scarce visitor to Somerset: Graeme’s first and Stephen’s second ever in the UK. As far as we know it was not seen after that day, so we were very lucky! Leaving the hide, we heard calling Bullfinch, and saw a Mute Swan family with eight cygnets along the drain.
From 11am we entered Ham Wall, passing a Moorhen with two chicks on the car park pool, and then seeing a Little Grebe with a single chick. Four Snipe flew up (seen only by Allen!) and we saw a number of Little and Great White Egrets – rapidly becoming a very easy bird to see here! From the Avalon Hide there were 3 Great Whites and 4 Little Egrets, and a female Marsh Harrier rebuilding her nest; also, we heard a Water Rail calling. Black-headed Gulls were hawking for insects in the sky above, and a Raven calling overhead.By now we had already seen 7 species of ‘dragons and damsels’, and 7 butterflies including the scarce Brown Argus, showing the neat row of orange spots along the rear edge of its upperwing.
After a splendid lunch at King Alfred’s Inn, Burrowbridge, we then stopped off briefly at Pibsbury, near Langport, where we walked along the River Yeo looking at the distant fields towards Muchelney Abbey for the flock of Common Cranes, which had been reported a few days earlier. Sadly, we didn’t see the cranes, but were rewarded with a passing Kingfisher, 2 Sand Martins, passing Swifts, and a horde of Banded Demoiselle damselflies, the males of which were fluttering low over the water (their folk name is ‘water butterflies’) – a beautiful sight. Tired with the relentless heat, we then returned via Collard Hill to admire the views, to Walls Farm, after a very productive day in the field.
Friday 27th July
A prompt start enabled us to get to Steart Marshes WWT, but to our dismay the view from the Mendip Hide was like the Sahara Desert! We walked quickly over to the Quantock Hide, where there were flocks of Avocets flying around, guarding their delightful chicks against the danger of passing gulls. A pair of Shelduck, a Grey Heron, several Little Egrets and flocks of Black-headed Gulls (including juveniles) were on the water, while we glimpsed a distant Little Ringed Plover and Redshank, after which a Green Sandpiper flew through.
We then noticed three Yellow Wagtails fly in, and had reasonable views of one, before returning to the car park where a Kestrel was being mobbed by crows. At the second car park Allen spotted a juvenile Whinchat – quite a surprise here, which have good views in flight and perched. On Wall Common, the first butterfly we saw was, ironically, a Wall Brown! The tide was a bit far out, though we did see Oystercatcher, Curlew, Ringed Plover and lots of Shelduck.
After lunch in the Horner Woods café, in the far west of the county, we took a walk along Horner Water. Late July is a very quiet time in woodland, and it had just begun to rain, so we weren’t hopeful. Yet the woods actually came up trumps with Nuthatch, Marsh Tit (among a mixed flock of tits) and young Song Thrush, fishing Heron and Grey Wagtail along the river – but sadly no Dippers.
We ended with a grand total of 83 species – just one short of our highest-ever haul! Maybe next time we can beat the record!