Birdwatching Magazine Tour Report 3-6th June
Monday 3rd June
A pleasant dry evening led to an impromptu visit to Tealham and Tadham Moors as an introduction to the Somerset Levels.
We had hoped to see Yellow Wagtails, but they did not show – if they were there, they were well hidden in the mass of yellow buttercups that now cover the moors. We looked back to the ‘Isle of Wedmore’ rising above the low-level moors with the distant Somerset landmarks of Brent Knoll (449 ft), Crook Peak (627 ft), the Wells TV mast (1000 ft) and Glastonbury Tor (521 ft). These landmarks of the county would follow us over the next three days.
Birdlife was quiet at first with just a resting Buzzard and a passing Grey Heron. Further along the moor, at Jack’s Drove, we were surrounded by singing Skylarks, along with Goldfinches, Reed Bunting and Linnets. A rather obliging Meadow Pipit sat for a while in a nearby tree giving good views through the scope. One of our sharp-eyed group got on to a splendid male Marsh Harrier which, after quartering the moor before us, headed towards the North Drain, whereupon it was chased away by a most anxious Curlew.
Just before the rain set in, we had a quick stop by our local heronry. Several herons came and went into the canopy, whilst below Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff and Whitethroat sang.
There, we had a nice exchange with an interested local farmer who was asking if we had seen any ‘eaglets’. “Ooh arr, there be many of these ‘eaglets’ on the levels nowadays!”
However, supper was calling, so we headed back to Walls Farm to meet Stephen, for a wonderful meal prepared by Kay.
Tuesday 4th June
We made a prompt start after breakfast and stopped off briefly on Tealham Moor, where we heard countless Skylarks and watched a pair of Buzzards – one pale, one dark – perched on a fence. We could hear a Cuckoo calling in the distance, and at Jack’s Drove saw a distant Kestrel and passing Stock Dove, before we headed off for the main venue of the morning., RSPB Ham Wall.
As soon as we stepped out of the van, we could hear Chiffchaff, Blackcap and Reed Warblers, and Greenfinch, while a Great Spotted Woodpecker was on the feeder and at least 50 low-flying Swifts were overhead. Then a Bittern flew past – at the same time as one of our party, who sadly had never seen one, was using the excellent facilities!
We walked up onto the old railway line which bisects the reserve, and immediately heard both Blackcap and, for comparison, Garden Warbler, though the latter proved annoyingly elusive, only giving brief views. Graham had brief views of a Kingfisher, while we all saw a singing male Whitethroat through the scope, perched obligingly on some cow parsley. By then we had heard singing Cetti’s Warbler and a distant Willow Warbler, and a calling Cuckoo, and seen Marsh Harrier and a breeding plumage Little Grebe – and we hadn’t even reached the first viewing platform!
From there we enjoyed views of Little and Great White Egrets, along with Pochard and Gadwall, a Great Crested Grebe on the nest and Canada and Greylag Geese. On the pool opposite there were a pair of Great Crested Grebes with no fewer than five chicks.
Walking down to the Avalon Hide we enjoyed a family party of Long-tailed Tits and great (if as always brief) views of a splendid male Kingfisher perched on some reeds by the pool. From the hide itself, we had great views of several more Marsh Harriers and Great White Egrets, and a second brood of five Great Crested Grebe chicks – four of them on their parent’s back while the other caught fish to feed the fifth chick! On our way back we enjoyed views of the Cuckoo calling on a dead tree in the distance.
After a welcome coffee in the car park we headed down across the Poldens, to the southern part of the levels, to search for the elusive Cranes – which unfortunately proved just that. However, we did enjoy good views of a singing Whitethroat and a Stock Dove in front of the van. Then, after a swift visit to the Alfred Memorial at Athelney, we stopped for lunch at his (and our) favourite pub, the King Alfred Inn at Burrowbridge, just below the famous Burrow Mump (a kind of miniature Glastonbury Tor!)
After lunch (during which it rained quite heavily) we headed back north to the Somerset Wildlife Reserve at Catcott Lows. From a fairly crowded hide we enjoyed excellent views of several broods of Greylag Geese (one with 7 young), at least 60 Black-tailed Godwits of the Icelandic race, Little Egrets, a Marsh Harrier and several fairly distant Cattle Egrets; along with a nice singing Sedge Warbler.
For our final visit of the day we drove over towards the coast to west Huntspill, where we enjoyed great views of Grey Herons with three well-grown young, lots of juvenile (and a few adult) Little Egrets, and brief views of a Cattle Egret flying overhead as we left the lovely medieval church.
Wednesday 5th June
We headed (via Bridgwater) straight to Steart WWT reserve, on the west side of the River Parrett. Here, despite the strong breeze, we heard singing Cetti’s, Reed and Sedge Warblers, and the male Reed Bunting with a rather odd voice.
From the Quantock Hide we enjoyed excellent views of breeding Avocets (one sitting on eggs, the rest with chicks), and at least three adult Little Ringed Plovers (and one small and rather vulnerable-looking chick), along with a single Oystercatcher and a few Swallows gathering mud. There were also lots of Shelducks and a distant Kestrel. At one point a heron flew over the scrape and was mobbed by a score of Avocets! On the way out we saw a close Little Egret, brief views of a Cetti’s, and a pair of House Sparrows courting.
Down at Wall Common we enjoyed our usual coffee stop, accompanied by posing male Linnet, Sedge Warbler and Whitethroat – once again proving Mrs Moss’s rule that all the best birds are in the car parks. We walked across ‘Skylark city’ (as Wall Common should perhaps be renamed) to gaze at the sea as the tide was heading out: at least 20 Little Egrets, a Dunlin and a couple of (Common) Ringed Plovers, along with a distant Great Black-backed Gull, the only one of the trip. We also saw a Brown Hare here just before we left, and a female Pheasant on the way out.
Lunch at the Plough in Holford was followed by a brisk walk up the beautiful Hodder’s Combe, as the sky began to cloud over. Very soon after we began, we came across a female Wood Warbler amongst the usual Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps, which we watched with cricks in our necks as it gleaned insects by fluttering above our heads. Soon afterwards we came across a more obliging female Goldcrest doing the same, a little lower down, and a male and female Blackcap in the holly.
As we turned the corner and the wood opened out by the bend in the stream, we came across a flurry of birds, including a male Pied Flycatcher and a pair of Redstarts, both of which were collecting food for young somewhere nearby. We enjoyed great views of the splendid male, before retreating. Even though the weather was getting worse we saw a family of Coal Tits, a Mistle Thrush, Swifts and House Martins overhead, a pair of Grey Wagtails, a baby Robin, singing Song Thrush and best of all, a pair of Pied Flycatchers going in and out of their nestbox. We also heard a stuttering Cuckoo and saw another pair of Redstarts, while Graeme saw a Raven.
By then the rain was getting heavier so we beat a hasty retreat and headed home!
Thursday 6th June
For our last morning, we first headed across to Stephen and Graeme’s ‘coastal patch’ – the ‘3 Rivers’ of the Huntspill, Parrett and Brue. By the River Huntspill at Sloway Lane we saw a Greenfinch singing, a male Linnet, and briefly heard Cetti’s and the elusive Lesser Whitethroat from hedge on the south side.
We then drove up to the sluice, and on the River Parrett saw Shelduck, 2 Redshank, 3 Curlews and steady passage of Swifts heading south; heard a Cuckoo (the first we have had here since 2017) calling from the other side of the river. On the grassy area above the river there were about 200 corvids (mostly Carrion Crows along with a few Rooks); two Little Egrets; and lots of Shelducks on Steart Point and Oystercatchers on Stert Island. As we walked back, we glimpsed a female Blackcap; then heard a Lesser Whitethroat, which after several frustrating fly-pasts eventually showed very well on top of a bush! This was a lifer for Graeme, and much appreciated.
We then headed up to King’s Wood, outside Cheddar, where we enjoyed excellent views of Nuthatch and Coal Tits and briefly heard a calling Treecreeper. Cheddar Reservoir was very quiet: though the Oystercatcher on the jetty by the sailing club was I believe the first this year – rarer there than Grey Phalarope, apparently!
A swift stop in Cheddar to buy some of their eponymous cheese produced a single Grey Wagtail, before we headed back to finish the tour at Walls Farm.
TOTAL SPECIES: 87