Tuesday 20 February 2024

Winter on the Somerset Levels (final). 9th Feb - 11th Feb 2024.

 

Cattle Egrets at Westhay Drove

I finished my latest Naturetrek 3 day tour of the Somerset Levels last week with a final successful tour with my co-host Chris Wilkinson.

The weather held out for us with good spells of sunshine and only a hint of misty drizzle late on one afternoon and heavy rain whilst we had breakfast on the first day which quickly turned into sun & blue sky by the time the plates had been cleared away!

Whilst water levels had been dropping since the floods before Xmas a few heavy downpours had raised levels once again, especially in the flooded arable fields and meadows where no pumping could take place.

The Avalon hide at RSPB Ham Wall remained out of service as the access path remained flooded.

We visited several different reserves and open areas including RSPB Greylake, RSPB Swell Wood, West Sedgemoor, RSPB Ham Wall, Shapwick Heath, Sharpham Drove etc. and ticked off 76 different species including many classic Somerset Levels specialties such as Common Crane, Cetti's Warbler, Marsh Harrier etc.

There were vast numbers of wildfowl with Teal & Wigeon far outnumbering ducks such as Gadwall, Shoveler, Pochard & Pintail. Even though this was a "Birdwatching for Beginners" event we weren't averse to spotting an odd rarity and we were thrilled to see the elusive and very rare Baikal Teal at RSPB Greylake. 

 

Baikal Teal at RSPB Greylake

 
Marsh Harrier

Drake Wigeon

Drake Teal

Once again we spent some time at RSPB Swell Wood to concentrate on woodland species and we found Great, Blue, Coal & Marsh Tits alongside Nuthatch, Treecreeper and lots of nesting Grey Herons.


Nuthatch

Grey Heron

We visited the overlook at Swell that looked down from the escarpment onto the West Sedgemoor and watched 4 Common Cranes feeding in the wet marsh. There were also 3 Roe Deer grazing in the same area. These cranes added to the 3 we'd seen earlier at RSPB Greylake so a total of 7 cranes spotted before lunch...good going!

Common Cranes at RSPB Greylake

After a filling lunch at the King Alfred Inn at Burrowbridge we headed to RSPB Ham Wall to checkout the general birdlife before the Starlings came into roost that evening.

Dusk was getting later now and it was just past 5pm when the first starlings turned up. They'd been fairly unpredictable in their roost site for most of this winter, regularly swopping between Ham Wall, Meare Heath & Shapwick Heath.

However we got it right on this evening and massive flocks flew in close over our heads to lots of whoops of delight from one & all. 

Starlings at RSPB Ham Wall

Whilst we were listening to a Bittern "booming" and getting excited one of our group watched one fly across at VP1 and managed to inform the RSPB Warden and direct him to it!

On the third day we visited Long Drove at Sharpham early but failed to see any Scaup as we did the previous week but we did see approximately 100 Cattle Egrets with a few Little & a couple of Great Egrets. As the previous visit we also saw a Glossy Ibis feeding with the Cattle Egrets.

Later in the morning we visited Noah's Lake at Shapwick Heath where we saw thousands of wildfowl, including hundreds of Pintail. We also saw Kingfisher & a brief glimpse of the longstaying Whooper Swans.

Wildfowl at Noah's Lake Shapwick Heath. 

Great-crested Grebe

Gadwall pair

After a cracking lunch at the Avalon Marshes Tea Hub we drove around Westhay Drove area and found another large flock of Cattle Egrets this time with 3 Glossy Ibis and dozens of Mute Swans.

Cattle Egrets at Westhay

Cattle Egrets at Westhay

Cattle Egrets at Westhay 

We then headed back to Ham Wall to watch the Starlings arrive and as they flew across us it became evident that they were heading West and seemed to be going toward Shapwick or Meare Heaths.

We enjoyed the spectacle of them passing overhead but missed the final moment as it seemed they'd changed their roost site yet again. It was most fortunate that we'd had amazing views the previous afternoon!

There are several more 3 day tours to come at the end of the year and some spring & summer tours as well so if you're interested checkout the Naturetrek website at...

https://www.naturetrek.co.uk/tours/the-somerset-levels

Most are based at the Swan Hotel in Wells directly opposite the cathedral.






Tuesday 6 February 2024

Winter on the Somerset Levels (contd). 31st Jan - 2nd Feb 2024.

 

Common Snipe at RSPB Greylake

Once again I had an amazing 3 days last week leading a short tour on the Somerset Levels for Naturetrek tours with Chris Wilkinson.

The weather was dry for most of the tour with little or no wind and the temperatures quite mild.

Water levels had dropped a lot since my last visit 2 weeks ago although the Avalon hide at RSPB Ham Wall is still unreachable due to flooding of the access path.

We visited several different reserves and open areas including RSPB Greylake, RSPB Swell Wood, West Sedgemoor, RSPB Ham Wall, Shapwick Heath, Sharpham Drove etc. and ticked off 82 different species including many classic Somerset Levels specialities such as Common Crane, Cetti's Warbler, Marsh Harrier etc. There were vast numbers of wildfowl with Teal & Wigeon far outnumbering ducks such as Gadwall, Shoveler, Pochard & Pintail. Sadly we couldn't pin down a Bittern although we did hear one "booming" on and off for most of the Friday afternoon at Shapwick Heath.

The Starlings flooded into the reserves at sunset and we had great views of their vast numbers. Murmurations were better on the first evening although we had ringside seats to watch the arrival of the huge flocks on the 3rd day when we accessed the site from the Shapwick end.

Here are a few  photos from the trip and for those clients that couldn't update their daily list I include a list of our 3rd day birds for you to add to your Species checklist.

There are several more 3 day tours to come at the end of the year and some summer tours as well so if you're interested checkout the Naturetrek website at...

https://www.naturetrek.co.uk/tours/the-somerset-levels

All are based at the Swan Hotel in Wells directly opposite the cathedral. 

The extras to add to our list were:- Glossy Ibis, Whooper Swans, Greater Scaup, Reed Bunting, Cattle Egrets (an incredible 93 of them!), Redpoll, Kingfisher, Bittern, Stock Dove, Greenfinch, Hen Harrier, Fieldfare, Merlin, Jay, Grey Wagtail & Sparrowhawk.

Here are some miscellaneous images from the tour.......

The rare Baikal Teal which I saw on day 1 but couldn't relocate again.


The rare Baikal Teal which I saw on day 1 but couldn't relocate again.

Starlings at Shapwick Heath

Starlings at Shapwick Heath


Starlings at Shapwick Heath


Starlings at Shapwick Heath


Starlings at Shapwick Heath

 
 

Starlings at Shapwick Heath

 

Glossy Ibis near South Drain at Sharpham

Drake Wigeon at RSPB Greylake

Drake Shoveler at RSPB Greylake

The church atop Burrow Mump

The plaque outside the Swan Hotel in Wells...modified to suit!

Thursday 25 January 2024

Winter on the Somerset Levels (contd). 17th -19th Jan 2024.

 

Great Egret

I spent an amazing 3 days last week leading a short tour on the Somerset Levels for Naturetrek tours.

The weather was very cold & frosty with blue skies and bright sunshine although it never reached above 4 deg C.

Water levels have dropped a bit since my last visit before Xmas although some of the hides at RSPB Ham Wall are still unreachable due to flooding and the necessary health & safety checks..

We visited several different reserves and open areas including RSPB Greylake, RSPB Swell Wood, West Sedgemoor, RSPB Ham Wall, Shapwick Heath etc and ticked off 71 different species including many classic Somerset Levels specialities such as Common Crane, Cetti's Warbler, Marsh Harrier etc. There were vast numbers of wildfowl with Teal & Wigeon far outnumbering ducks such as Gadwall, Shoveler, Pochard & Pintail. Sadly we couldn't pin down a Bittern although I did think I caught sight of the rear end of one flying amongst the reeds but not positive enough to record it!

The Starlings flooded into the reserves at sunset and we had great views of their vast numbers. Murmurations were few but the sight of all these birds against a stunning sunset will long remain in my memory.

Here are a few  photos from the trip and for those clients that couldn't update their daily list I include a list of our 3rd day birds for you to add to your Species checklist.

There are several more 3 day tours to come so if you're interested checkout the Naturetrek website at...

https://www.naturetrek.co.uk/tours/the-somerset-levels

All are based at the Swan Hotel in Wells directly opposite the cathedral. 

The extras to add to our list were:- Raven, Greylag, Goldcrest, Little Grebe, Pochard, Songthrush, Pintail, Cattle Egret & Great-crested Grebe.

Here are some miscellaneous images from the tour.......

Mostly Wigeon at RSPB Greylake

Mostly Wigeon at RSPB Greylake 

 
Teal at RSPB Greylake

Teal at RSPB Greylake 


Common Snipe at RSPB Greylake 

Water Rail on the ice at RSPB Greylake

Common Cranes at West Sedgemoor from the RSPB Swell Wood overlook 

RSPB Swell Wood overlook
Welcome to RSPB Ham Wall


Robin at RSPB Ham Wall

Goldcrest at RSPB Ham Wall

Goldcrest at RSPB Ham Wall

Greylag Goose on the ice at RSPB Ham Wall 

Great Egret at RSPB Ham Wall

Great Egret at RSPB Ham Wall

Noah's Lake at Shapwick Heath

Great Egret at Shapwick Heath 

Glossy Ibis at Westhay Moor Drove

Glossy Ibis at Westhay Moor Drove 

Unfortunately we couldn't relocate these birds during the tour but I photographed them the day before on my way to the hotel at Wells.

Group photo with the "plastic" Bittern at Avalon Marshes Tea hub.

Backlit reeds at RSPB Ham Wall

Backlit reeds at RSPB Ham Wall

Backlit reeds at RSPB Ham Wall

Sunset at RSPB Ham Wall