Two Owls Birding's visit to the Somerset Levels reserves of Ham Wall, Shapwick and Greylake was arranged for Sunday 25th March, with the aim to hear and see Bittern and of course all the other great species the reserves have to offer.
Jackie and I, joined by Margaret decided we would B&B the night before to give ourselves a chance to do a little scouting around before the Sunday group arrived. We made our first stop at RSPB Greylake and found lots of waterfowl were still present and loads of Reed Buntings and listened to Bearded Tits "pinging" and a brief sighting. Then it was on to RSPB Ham Wall for a short walk to confirm the Bitterns were booming which indeed they were and that the Great White Egret were breeding again. So after our recce we headed off to the B&B then the pub for dinner and an early night as the clocks were going forward.
Quite replete from our full english breakfast we met the group in the Ham Wall car park on what looked like it was going to be a very nice day weather wise and indeed it was. Birding started in the car park with Chiffchaff and Robin singing, Long-tailed Tit, Chaffinch, a Kingfisher and Bittern flying over and a pair of distant Buzzards. We all headed out towards the Avalon Hide checking off many of the commoner species on the way. Jackie spotted one of the early spring flowers thats often overlooked but its one of her favourites as it shows spring has arrived, Coltsfoot at the side of the path.
Coltsfoot - Ham Wall © Nick HullAngie started well with picking up a Lesser Redpoll flying over which briefly stopped in an Alder. I picked up a Bittern flying along behind the trees and the group called another overhead, bringing our count to three before we had really started. A little further on we stopped and looked over the Great White Egret nesting area where we could see at least six nest locations and seven birds present.
Great White Egret landing at nest Ham Wall © Nick HullWe also heard a few of the groaning calls that they make which is quite different than that of Grey Heron. Other calls we heard here were the whinnying song of Little Grebe which seemed to accompany us all around the reserve. Here we also had two Kingfisher one chasing the other that came "peeping" past us a couple of times.
Stopping at the first viewing platform we checked out the pools where I was able to explain about the black bill and about the salmon pink upper tarsus on a summer plumaged Great White. Also explaining that a yellow billed bird would be a first summer bird and wouldn't breed until next year. I was then checking through the waterfowl, Mallard, Teal, Shoveler, Moorhen, Coot, Little Grebe and I came to a Gadwall standing with a smaller duck to its right. It was at roost head tucked but I could just see a pale blue-grey side panel and white supercilium, a male Garganey.
Whilst getting everyone on to the summer visitor a Bittern flew up and away to our right our fourth, then we had a series of 'booming' from three different birds excellent. Scott picked up a small flock of Lapwing leaving the marsh with a single Black-tailed Godwit heading off east.
Great White Egret - Ham Wall © Nick HullWe then made our way on to the Avalon hide we had another look at the Garganey from the screen on the way but though a tad closer it still stayed asleep resting after its long flight. Reaching the the hide Angie had a brief view of a Bearded Tit a lifer for her whilst the rest of us were watching male and female Marsh Harrier quartering their territories. We checked out the owl box but none were on show so after a while with little happening we walked back via the second bridge and then on to the car park for a late lunch. We were happily entertained from our picnic bench by a day flying Pipistrelle bat working its way up and down the tree line, though he disappeared after a short while.
Drake Shoveler flyby Ham Wall © Nick HullAfter lunch we headed out on to the Shapwick reserve, here we repeated most of all the species seen in the morning but Noah Lake was a mass of waterfowl Wigeon by far predominated with Pintail, Gadwall, Mallard, Teal, Little and Great Crested Grebe, Mute swan, Greylag and Canada Geese in lesser numbers also there was a few Lesser Black-backed Gull present. From the hide behind that looks over the very large read bed we had our closest views of a male Marsh Harrier of the day, though by the time I got the camera ready it had moved further away.
Male Marsh Harrier Shapwick © Nick HullAfter an hour or so on the Shapwick reserve we headed back to the cars and made the short drive to RSPB Greylake, another wetland reserve though more wet meadow and reedbed than reedbed with open water. Here we watched a multitude of Reed Buntings coming in to the feeding stations in the car park along with Chaffinch, House Sparrow, Blue and Great Tits to name a few.
Male Reed Bunting - Greylake © Nick HullWalking out to the hides we had close views of Shoveler and Teal and a distant Great White Egret. Entering the main hide and looking out on to the wet meadow there was large number of Wigeon and Teal and lesser numbers of Pintail, Shoveler and Mallard, a scattering of Lapwing and Snipe. We also recorded our first Little Egret, Redshank and Dunlin and a large flock of Golden Plover put on an aerial display when flushed off fields further west, we also had our first Kestrel of the day here.
All to soon our time was up and we had to walk back to the cars and start our journey home but not quite finished as walking back to the car Martin managed to spot a Bearded Tit. We said our goodbyes and all went our own ways, however Mick and Angie decided they were going to go for a longer walk around the reserve as they were staying over in Glastonbury. We were well on our way driving home when we received a call from Angie who excitedly said she had to call as they had just had two common Crane fly over them as the reached the car park after their walk, her second lifer of the day.
Wigeon outside the hide Greylake © Nick Hull