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!

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Little Tern Success

I'm now back in Somerset after a successful season in Dorset wardening the Little Terns nesting on Chesil Beach. We had 33 pairs nest, with a total of 50-60 young birds fledging, the most in the monitored history of the colony! 
Here's a few pics of young birds, taken from the Fleet Observer at the end of the season. 

I managed a few trips back up to Somerset for some guiding in-between my shifts on the beach and was pleased to see that the birds here have been doing as well as their Dorset counterparts, a pair of Common Tern have even fledged 2 young on Ham Wall, the first breeding record for the reserve!

Plenty of Bitterns flying around, with more 'boomers' than ever this year

Egrets everywhere, as usual

2 Black Swans, most unexpected visitors (from a broken cage rather than Australia)

Great Crested Grebe, the stripy head shows this to be young bird

Juvenile Marsh Harrier, one of many reared this summer

and another