Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Reverse Murmuration

Reverse Murmuration, Morning Flight, Dawn Explosion, Rolling Thunder.......Call it what you like, the Starlings leaving their roost is every bit as impressive as the famous evening murmurations. I had a bit of a go at taking some video of it at Ham Wall RSPB this morning, with the new Tor View providing a brilliant viewpoint pretty much right in the middle of one of the major roost sites. I completely failed to capture the magic of the moment, but hopefully its enough to encourage a few folk down to see it for themselves.

Later in the morning, a brief burst of sunshine provided some lovely light and the usual birdy suspects all put in an appearance. The mild winter so far is a bit of a bore, we really need a proper cold snap to push over some more interesting wildfowl, a Smew or two isn't too much to ask for christmas it it?


Little Grebe


Grey Heron
Water Rail
And finally, this duck was at the 2nd viewing platform. I think it's a Mallard X Pintail hybrid, but would welcome any views confirming/challenging that.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Noah's Hide

While we're still in that slightly strange autumnal period when all of the breeding birds have left and the winterers are only starting to arrive, the resident species of the Avalon Marshes are quietly putting  on a show to visitors. 
Noah's Lake is one of the oldest and largest patches of open water on the marshes, and with its established aquatic communities is a a favoured feeding spot for wetland birds. Over the last few weeks, herons, bitterns and egrets have been fishing close to the edge of the lake, providing some great photographic opportunities.

Unfortunately, the hide overlooking Noah's Lake is rather small and this weekend I arrived a little too late to get a seat (distracted by a late Garganey on Meare Heath on my way down) and so I had to take my photos from the back of the hide which was slightly awkward.

Great White Egret and admirers

At least 3 Bitterns gave nice fly-bys

Kingfisher on a favourite perch

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Jack Snipe

The highlight of the last few days on the Avalon Marshes was a Jack Snipe that I was surprised to see feeding out in the open on the drained lagoon at Shapwick Heath NNR. This smaller cousin of the Snipe is much rarer, and in Somerset usually only seen in flight when flushed from coastal marshes in the winter, so it was a delight to watch in the evening sun.

Jack Snipe on the right, note the dark central crown, a useful feature if no
Snipe are present for size comparison
Natural England have down a great job of keeping water levels down on the lagoon and there are loads of waders making use of the mud and shallow water, mostly Lapwing and Black-tailed Godwit, with several hundred of each present, also 7 Ruff and c30 Snipe at the moment

Lapwing and Snipe

Grey Heron, Ruff, Lapwing and assorted ducks

The Great White Egrets have been feeding in front of Noah's Hide a lot recently, giving great opportunities for close up views, the best i've had of this species in Somerset.


landing gear down

And Little Egrets showing similarly well
The big story on Avalon Marshes each winter is of course the Starling murmurations. On Saturday evening there were about 10,000 birds present, but as they arrived in small groups they simply dropped straight in to the Meare Heath reedbed to roost, without their famous aerial display. As numbers build we should get more of a spectacle, I can't wait!!

Saturday, 13 September 2014

13th September

The last few days have mostly been spent driving around Somerset from one meeting to the next, but I managed to squeeze in a fair bit of birding on the way too, mostly at my favoured haunts of the new WWT reserve at Steart and the Avalon Marshes, but also a couple of other sites I don't get to quite so frequently:

 A stop at Curry Moor was most pleasant, this area is a fine example of the 'working' part of the Somerset Levels, so different from the Avalon Marshes. There weren't many birds around apart from ridiculously abundant Grey Herons, but brief Whinchat and Hobby were nice. This area comes into its own when it floods in winter and becomes a haven for wildfowl.

At Steart I had a good early morning walk along the beach at Wall Common, hoping for some migrants in the bushes. There had definitely been an arrival overnight, with plenty of Willow Warblers, Blackcaps and Sedge Warblers, a few Wheatears and Whinchats, and even a Goldcrest feeding amongst the Hawthorn berries, a very autumnal sight. Shortly before high tide, the waders that feed on the mud in Bridgwater Bay gather on the beach and can give great views. Amongst the many Dunlin and Ringed Plover were 5 Little Stint and 2 Curlew Sandpiper.
Curlew Sandpiper

Little Egrets

Kingfishers at a tidal pool, Sea Aster flowering below them
Little Stints

Dunlin and 2 Curlew Sandpipers

And finally on to Shapwick Heath NNR where the Meare Heath lagoon has been pulling in really good numbers of waders, one morning there I had 94 Knot, a great count for this inland site, and the Black-tailed Godwit flock had risen to 176, its only a matter of time before an american wader joins them....

The Great White Egrets were squabbling as usual...

...much to the consternation of the godwits!

Kingfisher posing nicely on Meare Heath bridge

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Migration on Portland

Yesterday I ventured out of Somerset for a day of birding on the Isle of Portland, in Dorset. Jutting out into the English Channel, Portland is one of the 'migration hotspots' of this part of country, and the Bird Observatory near The Bill is focal point of birding activity. At this time of year, as breeding birds and their offspring head South for the winter, large numbers can often be seen feeding up before  crossing the channel, and off-course rarities from Europe and further afield are frequently seen.
With light North-easterly winds, and low cloud, conditions were good for grounded birds and I saw a good variety of migrants, mostly common species like Whitethroats, Willow Warblers and Blackcaps, but also a few less common like Redstart, Pied Flycatcher, Whinchat, Tree Pipit Yellow Wagtail.

While checking the small quarry adjacent to the observatory I found a Nightingale skulking around the bushes, not a bird that gets seen on Portland very often. It stayed in the quarry for the rest of the day, giving frustratingly brief views to those who waited long enough.

Best bird of the day was an Ortolan Bunting which flew over my head as I walked back through the Top Fields towards my car, I had been hoping for one of these all day and finally scored right at the very last minute! 

Ortolan Bunting




Willow Warbler

Friday, 29 August 2014


Every autumn the Meare heath lagoon at Shapwick is drained down by Natural England to provide shallow water feeding habitat for migrating waders and ducks, and we usually get a good selection of species throughout the season. This year has started well;

On the scrape this afternoon were 4 Green Sandpipers, 1 Curlew, 5 Ruff, 4 Dunlin, 2 Curlew Sandpipers, 2 Black-tailed Godwits and 3 Snipe, alongside the resident Great White Egret and Water Rail, and rapidly building numbers of duck, with Teal growing in abundance in every day as they arrive from the far North. Thanks to the South Drain separating the path and the scrape, the birds are always a bit too distant for DSLR photography but phonescoping just about allows record shots:

Dunlin and Black-tailed Godwit

Curlew Sandpiper

Green Sandpiper and Snipe


And finally, the biggest news of the week, work resuming on the new Ham Wall car park, hopefully to be ready by the time the 'starling season' starts in November!

Monday, 25 August 2014

Little Bitterns

Seeing as how news and photos have appeared elsewhere on the internet (and it was the worst kept secret in Somerset anyway) I might as well share my photos of Little Bittern on here. As expected, they were present at Ham Wall RSPB again this summer, with up to 4 'barking' males recorded. No females were seen so breeding hasn't been confirmed, but having spent some time monitoring them last summer I know how difficult they can be to see, so it wouldn't surprise me if they were more successful than thought. In any case, having 4 males return is fantastic news, and even if no chicks were raised this year, the colonisation is most definitely still on.

I was fortunate enough to be guiding on a very early morning with a gentleman who was down in the county for Glastonbury festival and wanted to squeeze in some pre-work birding. We happened to be looking at a patch of reeds just as a male flew across and disappeared in, after a few minutes of 'barking' he flew back across giving us an extended flight view and the opportunity for a few quick photos.

These photos were taken at 5:38am ( I did say EARLY!), so i'll blame the lack of daylight for the horrendous quality, 1/100sec isn't really suitable for a small flying bird.....

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Late August

The end of summer is generally regarded as one of the worst times of year for birding in Somerset, breeding birds are lying low and have even started to migrate South, wintering birds have yet to arrive, and we're not exactly in the best spot (geographically speaking) to score much in the way of passage migrant rares/scarce. Fortunately, our 'birding benchmark' is so high, that even at the quieter times of year, there's still plenty to see, and i've had a couple of brilliant days guiding this week, here's a few highlights of the things that stuck around long enough to photograph:

A family party of Bearded Tits were the first birds we clapped eyes on at Shapwick this morning, they sat up and even gave superb scope views before 'pinging' off over the reeds
Bearded Tits
There are still a few Hobby about, this one at Westhay this afternoon, and the few locally bred youngsters should be seen around now, fresh from the nest
 Swifts are leaving the country en-masse at the moment, so enjoy every one you see, you may not get another until next May!
We do get a few grounded passage migrants, this Wheatear at Steart WWT last weekend
 And 3 Whinchats showing nicely from the hide at Catcott this afternoon
 Post-breeding Great White Egrets all over the place, saw at least 7 in less than an hour this morning!
Great White Egrets

And of course, a bird that has become a welcome annual visitor, a magnificent Osprey breaking up its migration with a few days on Noah's lake.

We're back off to the Southern Levels and the coast again tomorrow, so hopefully will have more great sightings to report!!

Monday, 4 August 2014

Autumn begins!

One of the highlights of this breeding season on the Avalon Marshes was a pair of Common Tern that nested at Ham Wall RSPB. 2 young fledged from the nest (remarkable given the odd place they nested), and these were flying around the back of Noah's with one adult. The other adult gave a nice low overhead flight at the second viewing platform Ham Wall.

Also at Ham Wall were 2 Hobby and 1 Peregrine (my first there since the Spring), 2 Green and 1 Wood Sandpipers, though these went down at the un-viewable North edge of the reserve, hopefully somewhere where the new hide (starting development soon i'm told) will overlook.

Over at Canada Lake, a Great Crested Grebe family were showing off nicely in front of the hide. The chick seemed to be having a great time practising new found diving skills, but the only fish it was getting were being bought over by the parents.

And the surest of signs of the arrival of Autumn, the first reed cutting operation of the season at Ham Wall, this will provide nice feeding habitat for ducks in front of the first viewing platform, and open the views up nicely too!