Somerset

Sunset over Minehead

Away on a family holiday to Somerset I took the opportunity to spends a few days visiting some of the local birding hotspots, and pick up a few lifers along the way. First stop, en route on 29th August, was at a very scenic location called Durleigh Reservoir to see a Purple Heron that has been there for some time. It was a fairly effortless lifer and I picked it up straight away from a layby alongside the reservoir. It seemed settled enough and I managed to get some video of it hunting, it using its perch as an anchor to dive head first into the water and returning to its fixed position, on this occasion without a meal. 2 Swifts feeding over was also nice to see.

Purple Heron, Durleigh Reservoir

That afternoon I went to Steart Marshes where I was hoping to find a Little Stint that had been reported there, which would be another lifer but, alas, there weren't many waders at all on what is a new scrape at Ottermampton Marsh, although I did see 2 of the Black-winged Stilts that have famously bred there this year, plus a Greenshank, Wheatear and a Yellow Wagtail.

Greenshank, WWT Steart Marshes

I spent a couple of days away from birding except for a quick trip into the Quantock Hills where I stumbled across a Peregrine nesting site. I thought the secluded cliff looked good for Peregrine and white stains down the face of it gave me a trail up to a perched Pergrine, sitting patiently. I think it was an adult bird. I had seen a Peregrine from our caravan that morning which was just below the hills and I'm guessing that bird was from this site.

Peregrine, Quantock Hills

I went over to the Somerset Levels for a couple of days and ended up doing all my birding at Shapwick Heath, which is a great site. I was hoping to see the Black-necked Grebe which had recently been reported but there was also chance of Osprey too. On the first day, 1st September, I started out from Ham Wall. It was midday so it was pretty busy. I walked the length of the reserve along a path that was once a railway track for the peat industry that was once dominant here. This path is a dead straight line through a vast wetland with a large drain, almost like a canal, on the right and Noah's Lake on the left. Great White Egrets were more abundant than Little Egrets and Water Rails could be heard all around. After a stroll up the length of the reserve to get my barings I wandered back to the action, tagging along with a friendly lady who works at Ham Wall and getting some interesting facts about the place, one of which was that this site holds a significant proportion of the UK Water Rail population. Alongside Noah's someone pointed out an Osprey which was perched on one of the dead trees in the lake and tearing away at a fish it had just caught prior to my arrival. The Black-necked Grebe could be seen from the "officially" closed hide I was told, so I went off to find it. In the hide the grebe was very quickly pointed out to me, and I watched the little black and white ball of fluff diving for food and observed its distinguishing features as much as a could, but it was always distant.  Feeling fairly exhausted I headed off, stopping off once or twice, and being certain I heard Bearded Tit in the reeds, but I didn't know if they were present here so I didn't inquire further. I'm pretty sure I saw Bittern too but it was heading away from me and quickly out of sight. After a quick chat and mutual twitter follow with Cliff, I headed to my airbnb lodgings for the night.

Black-necked Grebe, Shapwick Heath

The following day, having enjoyed the previous day's trip so much, I set off early for Shapwick Heath, arriving about 6.30. I was first into the Noah's lake hide, but closely tailgated by a gentlemen with a massive lens who was clearly very knowledgeable on the area. I'm thankful to him for pointing out a few bits and providing some interesting facts about the site. An Osprey perched up on a dead tree had a blue ring with the letters JJ6 on it. This bird, aka Doddie, is one of three birds that fledged this year from Loch Arkaig in the Scottish Highlands as part of a Woodland Trust scheme, and is apparently famous for being one of very few Ospreys that fledge in Scotland and are seen elsewhere in the country on migration. It's great to see migration in action like this, and it's obvious why these birds inspire people so much - there were many here to see it. Another bird that was pointed out to me was a Bittern, which was very distant but impressive nonetheless. A Marsh Harrier was signalled as it came straight towards us, and I found the Black-necked Grebe again. Finally, and one of my highlights, a panic amongst the Coots led me to enquire whether there could be an Otter on the hunt. The next moment a call came that there was an Otter and I got a very brief glimpse of its head as it failed miserably to catch a meal. After hearing some fascinating stories of Otters preying on all sorts including Little Egrets and even Bitterns I headed off before the reserve got too crowded.

Osprey JJ6, Shapwick Heath

I spent the rest of the trip by a wooden bench alongside Noah's lake which provided some great birdwatching. I finally got to see Bearded Tit, another lifer (and only a lifer now because of my overly strict and inconsistant application of my vague and poorly defined rules for ticking new birds; I had previously seen and heard them at Dungeness, but the views were poor, so I didn't record them). They were very active and I could hear their distinctive calls frequently. On one occasion they flew into some reeds just a few feet away, although as soon as I tried to position myself for some pictures they flushed and flew back to the other side of the drain and into the reeds. A Whinchat looked a bit out of place as it popped up, firstly on the footpath, then on some reeds just in front of me at the edge of the lake. Whitethroat, Sedge Warbler, Reed Warbler and Marsh Harrier were also seen here.

Bearded Tit, Shapwick Heath

Bearded Tit, Shapwick Heath

Whinchat, Shapwick Heath

After 5 nights and 3 lifers in Somerset I set off for home, feeling a tad envious of those who can call this their patch (what a great place Bridgewater would be to live!), but also a sense of satisfaction that I'd grown a bit as a bird watcher.


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