Trip Report 28-30th January 2019

TRIP REPORT: 28th-30th January 2019


Tour Leaders: Stephen Moss & Graeme Mitchell

Guests: Peter & Frances; Wendy & John; Penny & Anthony; John and Philip


Monday 28th January

 After rendezvousing at Walls Farm, we had an introduction to the flat ground of the Somerset Levels by leaving the relatively lofty heights of the Isle of Wedmore to cross Tealham and Tadham Moors. Soon we spotted many Mute Swans and Lapwings on the flooded fields, along with plenty of Redwings and Fieldfares. A single Little Egret was seen along with a Mars-Bar-winning spot by Frances of a Green Sandpiper bobbing in the bottom of drainage ditch, or a ‘rhyne’ as they are known in Somerset. A single Great White Egret and a cock Pheasant were the other birds of note seen before we arrived at the Somerset Wildlife Trust reserve at Westhay Moor. Here on the first pond were Gadwall and a fine Great Crested Grebe. As we skirted the pond several Long-tailed Tits followed us through the willows. Two Ravens croaked overhead above the raised bog (or mire) and a rather obliging one-eyed Buzzard was seen on a roadside fencepost before we left to meet Stephen at the RSPB reserve at Ham Wall.

 At Ham Wall, the clouds began to clear and the wind dropped, promising a fine evening as we walked along the disused railway line into the reserve. On Walton’s Heath, just before the first viewing platform, we saw four Snipe and plenty of Lapwings, Teal and Shoveler. From the viewing platform we were greeted with large numbers of seven species of duck (Teal, Gadwall, Shoveler, Wigeon, Mallard, Pochard and Tufted – many from Siberia), at least 500 Lapwings (all ‘pee-witting’ frantically), and a flock of 30 Golden Plover; and from the screen opposite, a pair of Great Crested Grebes in full breeding plumage and lots more Lapwings overhead, as well as the usual symbiotic (or maybe parasitic) relationship between Gadwalls and Coots!

Conscious of time, we then headed back towards Shapwick and Meare Heaths, stopping only to get distant scope views of at least 50 Cattle Egrets roosting in the distant trees along the southern edge of the reserve. The first flock of Starlings came in from the south-west by the bridge by Noah’s Lake at 4.40pm, and that uncorked a real flood of birds from all directions over the next 20 minutes or so, all massing in the skies and trees at the back of the reedbed but still not landing. Several Marsh Harriers also floated overhead, along with a number of Great White Egrets – maybe 10 in all – heading west towards their roost. At about 4.55pm the Starlings finally started pour down into the reedbed, at one point chased by a small male Peregrine, without success (as usual!). As we walked back we noticed a very obliging Great White Egret next to a Grey Heron – both poised to strike. On the way back, some lucky people had brief views of a Short-eared Owl on Tealham Moor.

After relaxing in the comfortable cottage accommodation and at Poplar Farm we all gathered in Walls farmhouse for drinks, canapés and a wonderful three-course meal followed by cheese that Kay had prepared. Much fun was had swapping birdwatching stories with everyone enjoying the bonhomie until 10.

Tuesday 29th January

 An easy drive across to the WWT reserve at Steart Marshes, and we had hardly got out of the vehicles before the ‘car park rule’ kicked into action: Kestrel, lovely male Stonechat and singing Cetti’s Warbler. On the way to the Quantock Hide, large flocks of Lapwings and Golden Plovers flew up and over our heads – the contrast between the wing-shape and overall appearance of the two species very apparent.

From the hide itself we saw plenty more Lapwings, lots of Shelducks, Wigeon and Teal, four Dunlin, a Redshank and brief views of a Merlin, shooting through the panicking wader flocks but not attempting to strike. We then noticed a large white bird in the distance, which proved to be not just one but all three young Spoonbills (the other two had been hiding in a ditch), accompanied by a Grey Heron and a passing Little Egret. Three Roe Deer also ran across, while on our way out we had great views of a Buzzard perched on a post, followed by two Ravens on a pylon.

 We had timed our coffee break at Wall Common to be at the ideal time – a rising tide – but even in the car park (again!) we had Greenfinch, a passing male Pintail, Curlew and, later on, a Raven. Along the tideline there were several thousand Dunlins and smaller numbers of Knot and Grey Plover, with one Turnstone higher up the beach. Just before we left we spotted several Brent Geese off the coast at Stolford – too distant to tell if they were pale- or dark-bellied though.

 We then headed back inland, to Aller Moor, at Stathe, where at our usual spot we found two family parties of Common Cranes, each consisting of two adults and one well-grown youngster (plus a wooden decoy!) Some decided to accompany Graeme to see the monument to King Alfred and his cakes at Athelney; the rest of us opted for the warm and very hospitable King Alfred’s Inn at Burrowbridge, just below Burrow Mump.

Following an excellent lunch, we headed back north to Greylake, where the car park produced the usual small birds (and a Reed Bunting) and the hide gave us shelter from the rain: and great views of feeding Snipe (like sewing machines), and hundreds of Teal, Wigeon, Shoveler and at least a dozen Pintail, with a Great White Egret overhead as we left.

At another (slightly less comfortable) hide at Catcott we enjoyed more great views of Wigeon, Teal and Pintail, a flock of about 70 Black-tailed Godwits, and very distant views of a perched Peregrine – possibly the bird of the tundra race calidus (a visitor from Lapland or Siberia). The Peregrine didn’t appear to want to be out in the rain, and neither did we – so we grabbed a welcome coffee/tea and cake at the Avalon marshes Visitor Centre.

Fortified by this, we headed along the road and track from the western end into Shapwick and Meare Heath; a very different feel from the other end – wilder, and with plenty of birds, including several Marsh Harriers and an obliging Great White Egret flying along the path by the drain ahead of us. This time – probably because of the rain – instead of the usual crowd of 200+ people we were the only observers of the Starlings – which came in right over our heads and then did some lovely murmurations before finally settling down. 200 Jackdaws and a late Peregrine (which may have caught a Starling) were a bonus, as were a hooting Tawny Owl, calling Water Rails, and singing Wrens and Cetti’s Warblers, and very brief views of a Woodcock, as we walked back at dusk. Graeme transported all guest to the Swan pub in Wedmore where everyone enjoyed a tasty meal and good company.


Wednesday 30th January  

 The day dawned cold and bright, through with a low-lying mist over the Mendips that was still there when we arrived at Cheddar Reservoir. As well as the usual vast flocks of Coots, and smaller numbers of Cormorants, Great Crested Grebes (some starting to display), Tufted Duck, Pochard and Black-headed Gulls, we also had good views of the lone drake Mandarin, and scope views of Common and Lesser Black-backed Gulls.

 We then took a coffee break in Cheddar Town Centre, and walked towards the gorge; on the large pond at the base we enjoyed great views of a singing Dunnock and a winter-plumage Grey Wagtail, its yellow under-tail showing what a bad name that is! The sun had come out, allowing us to look up the gorge and see Jackdaws, Ravens and Feral Goats, while early birdsong included Great Tits, Robins and a distant Goldcrest. We also enjoyed a visit to the Cheddar Cheese Company, where there was much buying and tasting of cheese!

 A short drive to Cheddar Woods, on the southward slope of the Mendips, and the car park rule was on overdrive: at least four Nuthatches, flying to and from to the feeder in the garden at the bottom of the path; together with three Coal Tits doing the same, and a splendid male Bullfinch showing off his plumage while feeding. A walk up a rather muddy slope, into the mist, produced a few singing birds (Great Tit, Wren, Robin, Nuthatch and our only Mistle Thrush of the trip), as well as a few Redwings feeding on the forest floor, a Song Thrush, and on the way down (after a rather disappointing foggy ‘view’ from the top), a brief sighting of a Jay, after which the tour concluded.








Graeme Mitchell