Birdwatching Magazine Tour Report 13-16th June


13th-16th June 2019

 Tour Leaders: Stephen Moss & Graeme Mitchell

 Thursday 13th June

 A breezy early evening walk against darkening skies around the pond and orchard at Walls Farm was a nice way for our group of Birdwatching Magazine readers to get to know one another. A very vocal Blackcap was singing from the hedging and a male Bullfinch flew overhead, which was seen by some of the group. Corvids were the birds of the moment with Carrion Crows, Rooks and Jackdaws plentiful along with two Magpies – indeed, a rather obliging Jay also would put in several appearances in the garden over the weekend. While a Buzzard was being mobbed by more crows, one of the guests had a fleeting view of a Red Kite. Though already on the Walls Farm bird list, Red Kite is not a common bird in this part of Somerset, although is being seen more often, and we are pretty sure it must be breeding somewhere along the Mendips.

Guests retired to their cottages to relax before meeting up with Stephen and enjoying one of Kay’s lovely suppers.

Friday 14th June

 An early start saw us head out onto Tealham Moor, just as the rain began to hold off and the wind dropped! Amongst the many Skylarks we enjoyed brief views of a distant hovering Kestrel, pair of Pheasants and two Yellow Wagtails, while we also spotted a Curlew in the far distance. At our second stop (by Jack’s Drove), we saw House Martins, Swallows (including a juvenile), and a Meadow Pipit in song-flight. Then Graeme’s sharp ears picked up first a calling Cuckoo and then a drumming Snipe – eventually a squadron of three Snipe flew overhead. Finally, we had brief views of a female Whinchat along the rhyne, perched on the cow parsley next to a Meadow Pipit. A really good haul for this excellent site.

snipe flypast

snipe flypast

We spent most of the morning at the RSPB’s Ham Wall, one of the Society’s showpiece reserves. As usual, the car park produced some cracking birds: lots of Swifts flying low, a singing Cetti’s, a bedraggled looming female Marsh Harrier carrying prey, a Sparrowhawk and a Bittern overhead – the second visit in a row we have seen one from the car park!

We then headed along the disused railway line, where from the bridge we watched distant Cormorants and then what we took to be a male Sparrowhawk feeding on the newly-mown strip alongside the drain; it turned out to be a Cuckoo! Along the path, just as the sun began to peek through the clouds, we enjoyed views of Willow Warbler, Coots and Moorhens with chicks, and then from the first viewing platform, Canada and Greylag Geese, several Marsh Harriers, Little Grebe, Great Crested Grebes with two and five chicks, and a perched Whitethroat.

A little further on we enjoyed views of Great White Egret and heard a singing Garden Warbler, while a Kingfisher shot through (the only one of the trip). We also saw Hobbies overhead, a family party of Long-tailed Tits and Reed Buntings as we walked down to the Avalon Hide. Several dragonflies and damselflies were also enjoying the morning sun, as was a Sedge Warbler singing and displaying by the hide.

Once inside, we had brief views of a Bittern, a well-grown brood of eight Pochards and a food-pass by a pair of Marsh Harriers, followed by excellent views of a Great White Egret – our logo bird! On the way back we had excellent views of a male Blackcap along with a distant Cuckoo – but by then we were ready for morning coffee, which we timed conveniently for a rain shower – and which also produced Great White Egret, Bullfinch and a Mistle Thrush (a scarce bird here). 

We then headed south, over the Polden Hills, to a site alongside the River Parrett, where we were greeted by a singing Whitethroat and three Mistle Thrushes but not our target bird. So, we followed Mike Dilger’s instructions, and scanned to the north-east of the railway bridge over the main line from London to Penzance – and bingo – four adult Cranes in a field, giving excellent scope views as they fed. On the West Sedgemoor side there were Great White and Little Egrets together – the first time we have seen the former here.

 After our usual warm welcome from the staff at the King Alfred’s Inn in Burrowbridge, and an excellent meal, we drove back north to Catcott; there were at least eight (and possibly more) Cattle Egrets right in front of and to the right of the hide, along with Little Egrets, a breeding plumage Black-tailed Godwit (last of those heading north to breed in Iceland), House Martins and Swifts, a flypast Hobby, distant Kestrel and two Black-headed Gulls. Just outside the hide we had very close views of a singing male Whitethroat.

Our final stop of the day was near the village of West Huntspill, were the sun came out just as we arrived. We had great views of nesting Grey Herons (one chick still in the nest), Little Egrets (lots of chicks in the tree) and a flyover Cattle Egret, as well as five Stock Doves feeding in the area beneath the heronry, with lots of noisy Jackdaws, and a low-flying male Sparrowhawk carrying prey. One more surprise on the way home: a male Marsh Harrier being mobbed by a Magpie near Bason Bridge.

Saturday 15th June

We headed (via Bridgwater) straight to Steart WWT reserve, on the west side of the River Parrett. On a bright and breezy morning, we walked swiftly to the hide, but not before a very obliging pair of Ravens had flown past, called, and one landed on a nearby pylon. Sedge, Reed and Cetti’s Warblers and Reed Buntings were all in full song, along with lots of Goldfinches and a few Linnets (including a stunning male) and Swifts.

From the side Quantock hide there were several distant Avocets with chicks (though nothing like as many as before, a close Oystercatcher, a Dunlin (in full breeding plumage) and five Ringed Plovers; from the front hide we saw a Roe Deer and a Grey Heron being mobbed by a pair of Avocets. Then, just before we left, a pair of Little Ringed Plovers flew in; one settled on what appeared to be a nest. The Mendip Hide was, as usual, waterless and fairly birdless; there was a single female Marsh Harrier perched in the distance. On our walk back we enjoyed amazingly close views through the scope of a singing male Reed Bunting.

We had our usual coffee stop at Wall Common, but apart from hordes of singing Skylarks and great views across Bridgwater Bay, we saw very little here.

After lunch at the Plough at Holford (with our only Greenfinch of the trip) we once again enjoyed much better weather than expected as we walked up the beautiful Hodder’s Combe. At the usual spot we came across our first (of several) Wood Warblers – a calling female – giving us all what our American friends call ‘warbler neck’.

 The further we went up the Combe, as it opened out into the characteristic open oak woodland by the stream, the more birds we saw. First, brief views of a Grey Wagtail and Dipper; then a singing male Wood Warbler, singing Goldcrest, a stunning male Redstart feeding on a foxglove-covered spit in the stream (being chased off by a Robin), and a male Pied Flycatcher nearby.

A wee beauty..

A wee beauty..

Further up still, more Grey Wagtails (including youngsters), male and female (and one young) Pied Flycatchers – some in and out of nestboxes, and a flock of House Martins overhead. Finally, a brief view of a Treecreeper, and good views of Nuthatch and a Great Spotted Woodpecker. The Combe had done us proud – and it was back for another lovely meal from Kay!

Sunday 16th June

Our final morning saw a change of plan: having cleaned up on the woodland birds we decided to give King’s Wood and Cheddar reservoir a miss and instead headed back south to the Avalon Marshes.

En route, as we crossed over Tealham Moor sharp eyes spotted some geese, which turned out to be three Egyptian Geese – a rare bird in Somerset and Stephen and Graeme’s first for the county. As a bonus, we finally got good views of a splendid male Yellow Wagtail and its curious-looking mate: a drabber bird with a blueish head and pale eyestripe, and a fascinating history – this is a hybrid between Yellow and the continental Blue-headed Wagtails, known as the ‘Channel Wagtail’.

Down on the marshes, this time we went in the opposite direction to Shapwick and Meare Heaths. Once again, the weather was much better than we expected, and we enjoyed more great views of Marsh Harriers, plenty of singing Whitethroats, Emperor dragonflies, Swifts, Buzzards, and a Great White Egret. From Noah’s Hide we saw 65 Mute Swans, a distant perched Hobby, and the usual wildfowl on Noah’s Lake, while Graeme and Stephen flushed a Garden Warbler on our way back.

Finally, we headed over to Cheddar where we bought some excellent cheese and saw yet another Grey Wagtail, then back to Walls Farm at the end of a very productive trip.




Graeme Mitchell