Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Wild Birding in Somerset & Slimbridge

We didn't pick the best weekend weather wise for this trip but we still had a great time and great birds.  On Friday 5 February, we drove up to Slimbridge, it's been many years since we last visited this reserve when we twitched a Little Crake!  Viewing  from the Observatory, the hides and Holden Tower we had spectacular views of 1000's of Golden Plover constantly flying up and swirling around along with Lapwing and lesser numbers of Dunlin.  Other waders included a few Redshank, Black-tailed Godwit and three Ruff.  Of course there were plenty of ducks, large numbers of Wigeon, also Teal, Pochard, Tufted Duck, Pintail, Gadwall.  It was good to see Bewick's Swans and two free flying Common Cranes, though undoubtedly the latter were not "tickable"!  The other highlight of our visit was seeing White-fronted Geese, like the Bewick's Swan, now so rarely seen in Dorset.
One of the free flying Common Crane-Slimbridge
Staying at Meare, Somerset we woke on Saturday 6 February to a wild windy wet day and we were supposed to be meeting our Two Owls Group for a day on the Avalon Marshes and finishing with the Starling Murmuration.  Having seen the forecast we had swopped the group over to Sunday so the day was ours to explore and try to keep dry.  As you can park next to the hide at Catcott Lows it was an easy choice and had the hide all to ourselves and a good array of wildfowl.  The ducks, Wigeon, Teal, lots of Shoveler, Pintail, Gadwall and Mallard were close to the hide, trying to find some relief from the relentless wind and rain, though every now and then they would have a little fly about.  We also had just one Lapwing and eight Snipe flew a short distance past the hide. We finished our morning by driving to Barrow Mumps where we had scope views (from the car) of five Whooper Swans.   We then gave in to the weather.
Flight of Pintail ©Nick Hull
Catcott Lows in storm Imogen ©Jackie Hull
Thankfully Sunday 7 February, was a much calmer day and some sunshine so our group met at Avalon Marshes Visitor Centre, where the feeding station had a good variety of birds which included Bullfinch and Reed Bunting.  Our first stop was Catcott Lows and on the road to Burtle from Westhay Nick stopped the car by the side of the road to look through a flock of Little Egrets, He thought there may be a Cattle Egret with them.  He was absolutely right and very pleasing to see a Cattle Egret and an excellent start to our day.  As we approached Catcott a female Kestrel flew across the road and landed on a rotted log at the bottom of a hedge.  Unlike yesterday the ducks were much further out, the only species we added was Tufted Duck and Meadow Pipit.

We moved on to Ham Wall and a very muddy walk to the new Avalon Hide as the main footpath was closed.  It was wortVh the walk as we had at least five Marsh Harriers including an adult male and female.  Adding to the raptor list was Sparrowhawk, Merlin and Buzzard.   Fran was following the Merlin when she called out "Bittern" as one flew up from the reedbed flying a short distance before landing again.  However, though we could see where it landed and caught glimpses it did not reappear.  A Great White Egret flew across the reedbed, our first of the day.  After lunch we had a walk on Shapwick Heath with more Marsh Harriers, another Sparrowhawk and Great White Egret.  The only other additions to the list was a female Stonechat, a hand full of Greylag Geese a single drake Goldeneye and a few Pochard.

Time to carefully retrace our steps down the very muddy path at Ham Wall to the viewpoint for the Starling Murmuration.  It was raining and it was a concern that there would not be the spectacle we hoped for, but we were not disappointed.  At first we could see large numbers in the distance and wondered if we were perhaps in the wrong place, but no later they started pouring into the reedbed in front of us.  Coming from the left, the right and head on an uncountable number of birds!  They seemed to go straight into the reeds and we thought due to the rain that was it, no murmuration tonight.  The sight of all these birds in the reeds was amazing a sea of Starlings, and in the words of Mathew "it looked like a layer of topsoil"!  However they were obviously not comfortable here and they took off and swirled around and streamed off, like a pouring of birds over the trees it was an amazing spectacle to behold.  The noise I can only describe like the sound of constant running water.
You just turn your back and they're in your camera bag. ©Nick Hull

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