Sunday, 12 February 2012

Somerset Levels. 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th February 2012.

2nd Feb. A detour to WWT Slimbridge for a short visit was made before heading onwards to the B&B in Glastonbury and a couple of days birding on the Somerset Levels. I was surprised how many cars were on the car park being a weekday and on such a cold day. A lot of people must have been around the 'Collection' area (or keeping warm in the restaurant) as it was fairly quiet along the pathways to and in the hides. On the way to the Rushy Hide the Wildfowl took flight but whatever set them up was not spotted, it was so cold (cold being an understatement) when looking through the hide windows that it literally made your eyes water! Highlight birds on and around the water were Pintail, Shelduck, Teal, Greylag and Canada Geese,Shoveler and the delightful Bewick's Swans, such a graceful looking Swan. Viewing from the Martin Smith hide there were good numbers of White-fronted Geese and Barnacle Geese, though distant good scope views were had of them as it was such a clear day. Lapwing, Wigeon and Teal were also viewed here in great numbers but I did not see any Golden Plovers which was a little disappointing as I had been looking forward to seeing at least a! From the Holden Tower we could again see the Geese and on a grassy bank at the side of the hide were 100,s of Wigeon. A Peregrine flew to what we were told is it's favourite perching tree, a very nice sighting of it in flight! There was not enough time to walk to the remaining hides but there is always another day to enjoy this splendid reserve.
The B&B in Glastonbury was perfectly situated on the edge of the town. Blackcap (m), Blackbird, Robin, Blue & Great Tit were regularly seen in the front garden of the B&B. A short walk down the road part of the Abbey Ruins could be seen, it looked atmospheric when the snow began to fall on the 4th of Feb.
3rd Feb. On arrival at RSPB Ham Wall a Chiffchaff was spotted as it searched a grassy embankment, good to see, hope it stays safe during this long cold spell. Ham Wall is a super reserve, this was my second visit here and again in the cold but unlike my last visit not windy which was a blessing! Highlights at Ham Wall were Goldcrest, Goldfinch, Chaffinch, Robin, Blackbird, Long-tailed Tit, Blue & Great Tit, Redwing, Collared Dove, Teal, Wigeon, Pintail, Gadwall, Tufted Duck, Lapwing, Mute Swan, Buzzard and Marsh Harrier and 2 Roe Deer. The aforementioned species were seen in the morning and after a short visit to NNR Shapwick Heath we returned to Ham Wall in the afternoon and after a lengthy wait was lucky to see a Great White Egret and 2 Bitterns! Late afternoon people were starting to arrive for the Starling Roost, having been told by an RSPB volunteer that the Starlings are tending to go straight down in to the reeds and at quite a distance coupled with the fact that I was starting to feel the cold after a long day outdoors we did not stay and wait. We were told the Starlings to date number approx one a half million this winter, which is approximately five million down from last winter. No doubt due to the milder winter..well what was a mild winter!! We had seen a Starling murmuration here last year, which was awesome, so did not feel aggrieved by not staying. A walk after lunch was taken at Shapwick Heath, Redwing, Common Snipe, Cormorant, Heron, and a Marsh Harrier were seen in a short space of time.
4th Feb. Aller Moor was on the agenda this morning to hopefully see some of the Common Cranes that have been reintroduced into the Somerset Levels and Moors. Mute Swans and a Redwing were the first sightings followed by a Robin, Lapwings and a flyover Common Snipe then two Cranes were spotted flying at a distance! They landed in a field at a fair distance but good scope views were had of them, then I found two more Cranes even further away! There is a range of habitats including grassland and supplementary sacrificial crops left by farmers for them. I have since read that Roe deer and thousands of Starlings have been seen feeding in the Barley alongside the Cranes also Skylarks, Fieldfares, Redwings, Meadow Pipits, Peregrines, Short-eared Owl, a Ring-tailed Hen harrier and Brown Hares! Good to read of such great results!
4th Feb. RSPB Swell Wood is a reserve we happened upon just a short drive from Aller Moor. It has the largest colony of breeding Grey Herons in South-West England - more than a 100 pairs and a small number of Little Egrets also nest there. There are a few feeders on the small carpark which were stocked up well but I also put down some seed and watched Blue, Great, Coal and Marsh Tits, Nuthatch, Wren, Chaffinch, Blackbird and Robins of which at one point there were 5 in view, Great Spotted Woodpecker was also a welcome sight. A hide a short distance away was almost wall papered with literature and posters of birds, it was clear to see that this reserve is well looked after. Nice to find a little gem of a reserve as this one clearly is. A few snow flakes began to tumble from the sky...the start of more to come.
4th Feb. RSPB Greylake was a reserve I had looked forward to visiting, a pity that the snow had started to fall more steadily. Once arable farmland the RSPB have created miles of new ditches and shallow water-filled gutters, dug out numerous scrapes and put in structures to keep the water level high. Well today the water was frozen solid! The only birds on the ice were two pairs of Mallards and a pair of Mute Swans. A Common Snipe flew over and 3 Buzzards were seen on distant fence posts and a distant Kestrel was hovering, the RSPB volunteer in the hide had his scope on a Hen Harrier but within seconds it had gone down before I had my scope anywhere close to it. Never mind a confiding Water Rail was a delight to see as it searched around for it's next meal alongside a side hide window, I was told that it must be the most photographed Water Rail ever. Binoculars were not needed as it was so close! I placed bird seed on a gatepost next to the car park, the takers were Robins, Blue & Great Tits, Chaffinch and a Pied Wagtail that was so territorial with the seed, the only bird to stand up to it was a Blackbird!
With the snow starting to 'stick' it was time to head back to Glastonbury, well after a visit to Clarks Village and a bit of retail therapy! Many flocks of Starlings in trees, on barn roofs and hedgerows were seen throughout the trip. On the journey to and from Somerset and whilst travelling to reserves numerous perched Buzzards were also seen on farm gate posts and hedgerows, the cold weather no doubt bringing the Buzzards closer to the roads in readiness for any road kill. A most enjoyable trip to Somerset, I just wish the weather had been a little warmer! I am thinking that a Spring visit to the Somerset Levels would be interesting and a touch milder perhaps.


  1. I'm just a little bit jealous! Sounds like you had a great time. Nice pictures too.

  2. Hi Pam, looks like Somerset was great, probably colder than Scotland! Some great photos and sightings. We are back from Scotland, will update my blog tomorrow or Tuesday.
    We went to the levels last spring and it was great, we are already booked again for this year

  3. Thanks John, it was great!

    Thanks Tom. I reckon it was colder than Scotland, I have never been so well wrapped up against the!
    I look forward to reading about your Scotland trip.

  4. A briliant trip report Pam,I have really enjoyed a good read while having my morning coffee! You saw some good species didn't you? I love your wintry pics especially the scenic shot with the Marsh Harrier and the Mute Swan raising it's neck towards the arrival of the snow! Super new header pic too,the Tor is a great backddrop to it!

  5. I am glad you enjoyed the read and images Ruth, thanks for your kind comments.
    I was well pleased with the species seen over the few days there. The Tor is very visible on the horizon when driving just a few miles away from it and it does make as you say a good backdrop to a photo. I have yet to walk up to the Tor, maybe one day, though it would have to be a warm sunny!