The one that got away

A brilliant Easter Sunday morning out with Stephen down on our coastal patch near Huntspill.

It was a beautiful still morning, not a breath of wind, blue skies, warm sunshine and birds everywhere.

Our first spot was a beautiful kingfisher sitting nicely a short distance from the bridge over the Huntspill River. It was radiant in the bright sunshine. We knew it was a male, as it had no red on its bill, however what it did have was sand on the end of its bill - interesting we thought - probably been excavating a nest-hole? It shot off up under the bridge then darted away up a nearby rhyne to continue its excavations. Reed warblers were chuntering every hundred yards or so, and a single sedge warbler sang from the middle of a hawthorn bush absolutely covered in blossom. What a cracking little bird it was with a most distinctive light coloured eye-stripe. This stretch of the river always puts up good warblers at this time of the year, and a loud burst from a Cetti’s confirmed that point. The Huntspill is of course a bit of a fraud as a river, as it is not a river at all, as it was constructed as a reservoir for an ammunition factory in nearby Puriton in the early 1940’s. I may have told you that already - Keep up 007.

Stephen enjoying the high tide

Stephen enjoying the high tide

Along at the sluice where the Huntspill enters into the River Parrett we saw that the tide was very high - exceedingly high. It is hard to imagine the difference in appearance this makes to this stretch of coastline with the water gently lapping high up onto the grassy bank, rather than the usual muddy river we have come to know and love. The Parrett this morning was a wide and graceful river winding its way inland to Bridgwater and beyond.

At first there were not many birds on the water other than a few teal pairs and several dozen shelduck. Overhead a skylark was lost in the sunshine but its song drifted down all around us. It was as if Vaughan Williams was conducting his orchestra in the still morning. The peaceful moment was broken however by the appearance of quite the largest ship I have ever seen on the Parrett. It was the ‘Arco Dart’ a 68 meter long dredger. Not the most elegant vessel to sail the seas it has to be said, however I guess dredgers are not built for their looks. The Arco Dart is a purpose-built ‘D’ class trailing suction hopper vessel which is designed to extract sand and gravel from the seabed. It clearly was making good use of the extremely high water to plough its trade, or to get into position to do its business. The rights and wrongs of dredging is not the purpose of this blog, so let’s get back to the birdwatching.

The Arco Dart

The Arco Dart

Further on we got our first wheatear of the morning and a splendid large flock of passage whimbrel - we counted 35 in number. These smaller cousins of the curlew had stopped for a rest en-route to their breeding grounds in the Faroe Islands, Iceland or even further in the high arctic.



On the walk back, retracing our steps we picked up another wheatear and a swallow which we thought confirmed that the world was indeed still turning and that migration was still in full swing.

We past a splendid dense thicket of bushes, hedging and trees which I always think will produce a rarity, but as yet for me it hasn’t, although it never fails to disappoint and is always worth checking out. Stephen said let’s check for butterflies and quickly we saw a couple of lovely orange tips and a large white - very nice they were too, clearly enjoying the sunshine as much as we were. Blackcaps were singing from deep within, a bullfinch hopped along the edge with a nice pair of linnets for company, and atop of the highest tree a greenfinch wheezed its soft call to whoever wanted to listen. These were all very familiar calls for us both, then as often happens you hear something different…

What’s that? I asked Stephen, straining to focus on a new and unfamiliar call. I must admit I thought is was a yellowhammer or a finch of some sort, but I could not place it. Then Stephen nailed it straight away as a lesser whitethroat.

Over there….

We followed the call over a style and along a scraggy hedge with larger hawthorns - ther bird kept one step ahead of us, and was always out of sight. Or were there two birds? Now it’s calling a hundred yards further on. We worked the hedge up and down, but did we see it? Did we heck. I still haven’t seen a lesser whitethroat. But it was great fun nonetheless, trying to track down the little blighter.

Back home I googled the call while it was still fresh in my head, and it was definitely the bird we heard.

I may have to go back again tomorrow and try again.

Graeme Mitchell