Newsletter - Spring is (nearly!) here…
Graeme and I don’t just go birding when we take people out on Somerset Birdwatching Holidays – we also do it in our spare time! Usually that means snatching an hour or so on a Saturday morning, before our wives and children are up and about, and the weekend duties begin.
Last Saturday we had a lovely walk around our local patch, a hidden corner of the Avalon Marshes. It really did feel that spring was just around the corner, with the resident songbirds in full voice – including tuneful Robins, trilling Wrens and impossibly loud Cetti’s Warblers. Things got even better when, in quick succession, Graeme spotted a Treecreeper moving rapidly up the trunk of a tree, and then we flushed a Woodcock from the damp woodland floor.
And then we heard it – the first true sign of spring. The unmistakable metronomic notes of our earliest ‘summer visitor’, a Chiffchaff, singing its name to the world. Checking my notes when I got home, I discovered that this was the earliest singing ‘chiff’ in the six years that we’ve been visiting the patch…
The sunny day and the plethora of birdsong put us in a great mood, as spring is definitely on its way; though we should perhaps pause to remember the fantastic sightings on our winter trips, from late November through to early February. Winter is a great time to see large numbers of birds on the Somerset Levels, and this year we were treated to huge flocks of Lapwings and Golden Plovers – sometimes numbering well over a thousand birds, and occasionally being chased by Peregrines and Merlins. The sight and sound of these beautiful waders – and the patterns they made in the sky – made the trips really memorable.
Over at Steart Marshes, the new WWT reserve on the coast, we enjoyed great views of Stonechats, Ravens and three obliging Spoonbills, scarce visitors to the county which seem to be sticking around – maybe they’ll even settle down to breed here! On the other side of the River Parrett, on our coastal patch, we regularly saw large flocks of Avocets forming patterns in the air. And at RSPB Greylake, we spent time getting unbelievably close-up telescope views of Snipe and various wintering ducks. The colours of the plumage of Shoveler, Teal, Wigeon, Gadwall and Pintail was unforgettable: and the words ‘iridescence’ and ‘vermiculations’ (the wiggly, worm-like patterns on many ducks) were much overused.
Meanwhile, every trip enjoyed excellent sightings of our company’s logo – the elegant Great White Egret – and we also regularly saw small flocks of Cattle Egrets, the latest of the three egrets to colonise the area. Finally, the big winter attraction – the roost of half a million Starlings at the RSPB Ham Wall reserve – continued to astonish and delight us all. No matter how many times you see this aerial spectacle – and Graeme and I have seen it a lot – it never fails to impress.
So what can we look forward to on our spring trips, in May and June? The first, and most exciting element of spring birding in Somerset is the variety of bird sounds. From chuntering Reed Warblers to melodic Willow Warblers, Cuckoos calling out their name and Bitterns booming, we have some real treats in store. Other returning migrants include the elusive Garganey, surely our most beautiful duck; flocks of Sand Martins, Swallows and Swifts, and best of all, Hobbies. These elegant falcons hunt dragonflies over the marshes, swooping across the spring sky like giant swifts!
This year, from mid-May onwards, we’ll also be trying to hear – and hopefully see – churring Nightjars at their breeding site on the Mendips. We’ll be heading west to the Quantock Hills to look for Dippers, Grey Wagtails and the ‘western oakwood trio’: Pied Flycatcher, Wood Warbler and Redstart. And, as always in spring, you never quite know what else might turn up! So do join us for great food, interesting company and top-quality birding, in our home county of Somerset!
We still have availability on the following tours: -
Day trip Sunday 28th April (2 places)
Day trip Saturday 25th May (4 places)
Introduction to Somerset birdwatching 3-6th June (2 places)
Nightjars and mid-summer birds 19-21st June (4 places)
Introduction to Somerset birds 18-21st July (4 places)
Early autumn migrants 19-21st September (6 places)
For full details see website or call Graeme on 01934 712831 or 07890 781886