Day 1 – The day dawned slightly overcast but dry, as we headed south towards Somerset. Our lunchtime stop was at RSPB Highnam Woods, near Gloucester, a site renowned for Nightingale and Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. We spent a couple of pleasant hours there, walking through the woods, testing our plant, damselfly and butterfly identification skills and watching birds, until we finally got a brief glimpse of a Nightingale, having been teased for some time by its song! However the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker eluded us! We saw a selection of butterflies, including Peacock, Green Veined White and Orange Tip, as well as a Azure Damselflies. A good start to the trip, so we continued in high spirits towards Somerset.
We arrived at our accommodation late afternoon, to be greeted by our hosts with tea and cake. We all settled into our rooms and gathered again in the early evening to head into Wells, for our evening meal. We explored the city of Wells, with its magnificent Cathedral and Bishops’ Palace, before having our meal.
Day 2 – We were up bright and early to head out to RSPB Ham Wall for a spot of pre breakfast birding. The weather was cool but clear and promised to be a warm sunny day. Within about half a mile of the car park, we managed to record 50 bird species, including several Great White Egrets, not bad for 2.5 hours before breakfast! Probably the highlight was seeing a pair of Kingfishers, on an early morning fishing expedition. Some of the group identified Mike Dilger of TV fame, with his cameraman and sound recordist! So we had lots to share with those in the group who had opted for a lie in, rather than an early morning walk.
We set off again at about 10.00 and headed to Natural England’s Shapwick Heath reserve, searching for Bittern and Hobbies. One of the group saw a Bittern, something we are unlikely to be allowed to forget (!), which unfortunately eluded the rest of the group. Later in the day, we headed over to Ham Wall, for the rest of the afternoon. We saw a number of Hobbies, flying overhead, devouring Mayflies on the wing. We had excellent prolonged views of Garden Warbler singing, followed by seeing a Water Vole swimming right across one of the channels.
The remarkable thing about the duck population in Somerset, is that where back home we would see Mallards, instead we saw Gadwall. One member of our group became an expert in calling “Gadwall”, whenever we saw one! He gained something of a reputation that will stay with him, for a long time to come……
That evening we headed into Street for our evening meal, still spotting birds en route.
Day 3 – The hardy birders were up bright and early again, this time heading for the Somerset Wildlife Trust site of Westhay Moor. The day was clear and fresh as we tracked down a skulking Cetti’s Warbler. The usual Great Egrets gave us some good views as we scanned the reed beds.
After breakfast we headed for the lookout along the River Parrott, which is known for sightings of Common Crane. We were really in luck, with 8 flying over, calling as they went,
almost as soon as we arrived. So, we headed to RSPB Swell Wood to look at the heronry, with their neighbours, the Little Egrets, in the trees. People went off on different trails, with some being rewarded with views of Common Crane, plus their young and others with a clear view of the only Great Spotted Woodpecker of the trip. The ancient woodland was very special!
That evening we drove to discover the delights of Glastonbury, on our way for the evening meal. Glastonbury Tor dominates the landscape for miles around.
Day 4 – The morning dawned bright and warm as we headed back to the other half of the reserve at Westhay Moor. We were rewarded with sightings of singing Whitethroat, Hobby, Marsh Harrier and Linnet. On the way back to the bus, we decided to stop in the last hide, only to see an otter swimming across the channel, a special end to the last early morning foray.
After breakfast we decided to go back to Ham Wall, for another search for Bittern and to try and see the Garganey that were reputed to be there. Sure enough we found them in the pool at the furthest point from the car park. We had lunch in a little hide in the centre of the reserve, where we were rewarded with a view of a Sparrowhawk, flying past at low level. We sheltered there for a little while from the shower of rain, before returning to the bus. This was the only rain that we saw during the trip; usually we were wearing T-shirts by lunchtime.
We then decided to try the Hawk and Owl Trust site of Shapwick Moor on the way back but found very little activity.
So, on the last evening we walked to the local pub for a meal, just a minute away. That rounded off our time in Somerset.
Day 5 – We packed the bus and headed for WWT Slimbridge, to meet our guide, the brother of one of our party. We had 4 hours to absorb what the reserve could offer, with the hi-light being the hide opposite the Kingfisher nesting holes, where they were feeding young! The views of the feeding Kingfishers were probably the best that some of us have ever had!
So we headed north through the ever increasing traffic and torrential rain, just making it back to Bamber Bridge by 19.00, in time to return the minibus.
Overall, we recorded 88 species of bird, 7 butterflies, 4 mammals, 1 amphibian, 1 damselfly and 1 reptile. A very worthwhile trip!
A big thank you to my co-driver John Finnan for his excellent spotting and bird song identification skills, plus a thank you to the “Gadwall Kid”, (alias Ron Bartlett), John Finnan, Linda Shearwood and Graham Thomas for their contributions to this report.
Janet Wall – Field Trip Organiser