Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Early May on the Somerset Levels - no snow!!

We started on Ham Wall RSPB reserve and were soon listening to warblers! The first ones we encountered were blackcap, willow warbler and chiffchaff, all of which we eventually heard and saw very well. The next warblers along the footpath were a splendid garden warbler and a showy whitethroat. We had also heard and seen robin, chaffinch, wren, blackbird, song thrush and great tit.

Great white egrets seem to be all over the place, sometimes we could see four or five in the air at the same time! As we reached the reedbeds there was a change in tempo as the relentless beat of the reed warbler and classical-style blast of the Cetti’s warbler were heard regularly. On the first few bits of open water we were lucky enough to see mute swan, coot, moorhen, mallard, tufted duck and pochard. Then came a funny noise from the drainage ditch – it turned out to be this little chap!

male Marsh Frog

We then walked down through the reed beds where we had a great view of a reed warbler.  At the first hide we were treated to a spectacular show of agility in a blustery wind by a male marsh harrier!

male marsh harrier

After that we headed onto the second viewing platform, on the way however we were distracted by the flying antics of several hobby over the reedbed, mixing in with the swifts. We could see them catching insects in their feet and passing them to their mouths – great stuff!
Accompanying the reed warbler now was the deep booming bass of the many male bittern calling from the reeds.

At the viewing platforms there were many more new birds for us! The mud was exposed here, so waders were plentiful with whimbrel, ruff, ringed plover, lapwing and wood sandpiper all being seen. There were also several new duck species for us – gadwall, wigeon, shoveler and three garganey. A glossy ibis was asleep with the mute swan, but he soon woke up and started flying round with all the other birds when a chinook helicopter flew low over us!

We carried on to a couple of viewing screens where we had closer views of the garganey and brilliant views of the glossy ibis! We were now also hearing cuckoo regularly and it wasn’t long before one flew across out path.

We walked down to the new Avalon hide, passing a sedge warbler who was hidden in the reeds, only his fast buzzing song giving him away.

At the hide we saw a great crested grebe, some distant buzzard as well as another male marsh harrier. Star bird however was the juvenile tawny owl sat in the owl box entrance in the wood!

On our way back to the track we saw a great spotted woodpecker briefly in a tree before it flew off.
At lunch a kestrel was hovering over the carpark.

Hovering kestrel

The afternoon was spent on Shapwick Heath. The top target was a kingfisher, which we saw well going in and out of his nesthole. There were lots more chances to listen to and compare various warblers and blackcap seemed to be everywhere!

We picked up a common sandpiper from Noah’s Hide, saw another fine male marsh harrier and had brief views of a male reed bunting before the rain set in. A memorable marsh harrier day!

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