Thursday 15 February 2018

Somerset Levels

Four of six Bewick's Swans - Nythe. It's so nice to catch up with species that you haven't seen for many years, and Bewick's Swans kind of epitomise winter birding. Beautiful birds that are very sadly declining.
Derek and I popped up to the Levels today. I was particularly keen to have a break  from the winter 'stalemate' of Exmouth birding. I'm pretty loyal to my patch but every now and again I just want to see species that I don't normally see. Exmouth has no fresh water so the Levels provide a perfect opportunity for a change of scenery, and a variety of unfamiliar species. Ham Wall and Greylake are both new reserves for me and Derek, who is more familiar with the area than I am, was the perfect guide and companion for some late winter Somerset birding.
I was particularly keen to see Bewick's Swan, so we started at Nythe, where a wintering party of six birds was easily located. They provided great scope views but were never close enough to photograph satisfactorily.
Next we moved on to Ham Wall. I'm not used to birding large RSPB reserves, with birders milling around everywhere, but the shear number of birds present was ample compensation, and our time there was thoroughly enjoyable. I didn't count Teal, Shoveler or Wigeon but did log c100+ Tufted Duck, 100+ Gadwall, 40+ Pochard, 2+ Pintail, 9 Snipe, 28 Black-tailed Godwit, 1 Glossy Ibis, 2/3 Great White Egret, 1 Little Egret, 9+ Little Grebe, 3+ Bittern, 4+ Marsh Harrier, 2/3+ Cetti's Warbler, 1 Chiffchaff, c10+ Buzzard, 1 Sparrowhawk, 3 Reed Bunting, 1 Redpoll and a small number of Redwing.
A closed road prevented us from looking for the Sharpham Pink-footed Goose so we headed home via Greylake - another RSPB reserve, on the A361 back towards Taunton. Nothing out of the ordinary here but astonishing, close views of Teal, Shoveler and Snipe with 2 Great White Egret, 1 Little Egret, 2 Water Rail, 1 Stonechat, 1 Kestrel, c10+ Dunlin and c1100+ Golden Plover thrown in for good measure. A wonderful day's birding, in great company. Many thanks Derek.

Glossy Ibis - Ham Wall - might want to click on some of these photos.

Little and Great White Egrets - Ham Wall

Drake Pochard - Ham Wall - one of c40+ of this species seen.

Male Marsh Harrier - Ham Wall - viewed from the Avalon Hide - by far the best vantage point for this species today. Prolonged views of at least 4 birds were enjoyed, with some interaction between this bird and a female, though no full courtship today.

Above and below - 'Cream-crowned' Marsh Harriers - Ham Wall.

Great White Egret - Ham Wall - one of two or three seen here, with a further two birds seen at Greylake.

View from Avalon Hide - Ham Wall

Above and below - Snipe -  Greylake

Female Teal - Greylake - photographed from a hide. Views here are better than any I've had anywhere before. A photographer's dream!

Male Teal - Greylake

Golden Plover - Greylake - part of a flock of an estimated 1100 plus. Dunlin and Lapwing in with them but nothing rarer.


  1. Looks like a good days birding Matt...Great stuff

    1. Thanks Dave. I know you go up there quite a bit. Easy to see why. Matt

  2. I can’t believe you’ve never been to those reserves mate. An awesome day out. Looks like you had a cracking day!

    1. Hi Spencer - never done Greylake but checking back through my records I discovered I have in fact done Ham Wall - 19/2/00 - for a female Ferruginous Duck. Have done Shapwick/Meare Heath for the Hudsonian Godwit, Westhay for Penduline Tits, King's Sedgemoor for Cranes and even Catcott for Temminck's Stint. Cheers. Matt

    2. I love the levels and try to visit a few times a year simply to see the Bittern and Beardies. I too got the Godwit also had Pied-billed Grebe, Little Bittern, Red-footed Falcon and Collared Pratincole at Ham Wall. A cracking day out every time.