21 March 2010


Great weather today, so I took a trip down to Somerset.

Ham Wall
The beginning of the day was the most thrilling by far. I arrived at 8.00am and shortly thereafter setup my scope at the first viewing platform. I had a look for the Firecrest en route, but didn't see or hear it.

Within 45 minutes I'd seen:

- FIVE Bitterns. Two pairs and a single bird flew in from different parts of the reserve and landed in the same patch of reeds. FIVE! I think that counts as overcrowded in Bittern circles... This was by far my best ever view of Bitterns in flight. I managed to get my scope on one bird as it flew close by. A truly glorious sight. An additional thrill was the sound of Bitterns booming all day.
- A female Marsh Harrier hunting. Again, I got my scope on it. Lit by the rising Sun it showed me just why it's my favourite bird. Spectacular. The light head like the helmet of a fighter pilot scouting the reeds for its target.
- Three Buzzards soaring high above. Through binoculars, when lit by the Sun, they were just delightful. Epic! I took a terrible photo:

Shortly after leaving the platform I encounted a Cetti's Warbler hopping through a nearby (five, six yards away) small tree in plain view. This was - by far - my best ever view of this elusive bird. Images from the Collins Bird Guide flew through my head and made themselves a perfect match for the bird flitting about obligingly infront of me. Fantastic! I saw three Cetti's during the day, but this was the only really good view. I must've had a clear view of it for nearly a minute.

Saw my first Chiffchaffs of the year, too. It seemed to be one tree, one Chiffchaff! Lovely to hear their song. Many birds afforded great views as they sang their hearts out.

Other birds of note at Ham Wall were Goldfinches, Greenfinches, Reed Buntings, Wigeon, Wren, Gadwall, Coot, Canada Geese, Lesser Black-backed Gulls, Tufted Ducks, Pochard, Great Crested Grebe's (displaying), Mute Swans, Great Tits, a Grey Heron, Dunnocks, Teals, Cormorants, Mallards, a Great Spotted Woodpecker, Little Grebe, Long-tailed Tits, Chaffinches, Little Egrets, Blue Tits, Robins, Woodpigeons, Crows, Jackdaws, Rooks, Shovelers, two Greylag Geese and sparing numbers of Lesser Black-backed Gulls. Probably some other common birds, too!

The three Glossy Ibis were seen on the reserve well before I arrived. Unfortunately I did not see them today. One for the future.

Shapwick Heath
I moved across to Shapwick Heath. Amongst many of the birds listed ^above^ I encountered a second (in three days) Great White Egret! Amazing. Great views of this bird - perhaps better than from Ashleworth Ham on Friday morning.

After a long stint in the Noah Hide (not suited for scopes!) I finally laid eyes on the female Long-tailed Duck. It barely spent more than a few seconds above the surface before diving again. I watched it go about its business for fifteen minutes or so; a great lifer. Love to see a male, though.

Other birds seen at Shapwick Heath I didn't see over at Ham Wall were Black-tailed Godwits, three Redshank (one in full summer plumage - startlingly bright legs!), Long-tailed Tits, a sole (and elusive) Cattle Egret, many Goldeneye, a Pied Wagtail and some Lapwing.

The Godwits were particularly good. There were c.25 birds feeding in the same pool as the Great White Egret. At one point they all sprang into flight. As they flew in formation, twisting and banking, I got great views of their undersides and upper parts. Wonderful views, as if the Collins Field Guide had come to life. When feeding, they spent so much time with their rears in the air I was able to check to inspect their black tails individually. No Bar-tailed birds were present. Of course, the same process of elimination could've been applied to their bills. Their legs were mostly submerged.

At Greylake RSPB - early afternoon - I had hoped to see the two Spoonbills that had been there in the morning. As I arrived I had a splendid view of a Marsh Harrier playing havoc with the ducks and moving the (at least 15) Little Egrets to flight. I thought to myself - "Great!"

As it turned out, the Spoonbills had been showing well at the hide immediately before that (probably as I pulled into the car park), and the Marsh Harrier had spooked them - causing them to flee. I could not relocate them in the hour that followed. Curses.

Hinkley Point
Last stop... Hinkley Point. Tired now.

I parked at the Power Plant and walked out to the coastal path. A little further than I had expected! Thickening cloud had blotted out the sunshine by now, but I had still hoped to bag my first Wheatear of the year out here. As it turned out, I did not. That will certainly come soon, however. Suddenly they're being reported everywhere!

I knew that yesterday (and today at high tide - mid-morning) there had been one Velvet Scoter and a few Purple Sandpipers seen out here... however my visit was well beyond high tide and so I was not hopeful of landing the Purple Sandpipers (previous experience having taught me low tides are poor wader fare). The Scoter, well it would either be about, or it would not. A thorough scan of the beach, rocks and water proved me quite right re: the Purple Sandpipers, and neither was the Scoter present. This was 5.00pm and I'd been in the go since 7.00am - so I didn't walk all that far along the coast to be honest. I'd excuse myself a slip (although I'm pretty sure they weren't there)... and my thoughts were drifting towards the drive home. And food.

Just as I was about to leave I did get some reward and consolation... a nice female Scaup diving just offshore. I was particularly pleased with this, as I'd found and identified it all by myself. Very pleasing.

Velvet Scoters and Purple Sandpipers will just have to remain as pleasures yet to come. I'm disappointed to have missed them, but not worried. I can feel myself getting more and more proficient with each trip now. Very encouraging.

Hinkley also had three Oystercatchers, two Little Egrets, eleven Wigeon, many Herring Gulls, Rooks, Jackdaws, Crows, a Goldfinch, a Wren, Chiffchaffs... and lots and lots of Rabbits.

So all in all a pretty good day. I missed Glossy Ibis, Firecrest, Velvet Scoter and Purple Sandpiper... but bagged FIVE Bitterns, two Marsh Harriers, a Great White Egret, a Cattle Egret, a Long-tailed Duck and a female Scaup. Could be better; could be worse!

This photo taken on the beach before I took to the coastal path:

115 birds now.

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