Wednesday 11 January 2023

Heading West - 6th-9th January 2023 - day 3 & 4

8th January:

The weather forecast the previous evening was ominous and had in fact got worse over night but we all reconvened at 9am at Swell Wood near Langport to the south and overlooking Sedgemoor.  It was already threatening but it was actually dry so we quickly headed out with Martin as our local guide.  The steep sided wood was hopping with small birds and we quickly added Marsh and Coal Tit to the tally along with Treecreepers, Nuthatches and both Woodpeckers while Ravens and Rooks moved overhead.

The view out over Sedgemoor was magnificent and was even bathed in some surprisingly sunlight and no sooner had we obtained the view than the bugling of Cranes reached us and bounced around the trees.  Two were quickly picked up feeding alongside the made drive that ran away from us.  The larger male was very edgy and kept looking up and seemed most displeased by the trio of Roe Deer that crossed their field.  We watched these agile mammals leap the perimeter ditch from a standing leap with no effort whatsoever. Six more were scattered around the edge of the woodland fields.

Cranes (top right) and Roe Deer

Roe Deer

We descended the long sloping road and turned right onto the footpath north.  Bullfinches called from the hedge and Fieldfare and Redwings were in the Mistletoe clad trees.  The floods were occupied by avian islands of Lapwings and flotillas of Wigeon and Canada Geese but we could only find Mutes with the Swan flock.  

The Burton Pynsent Monument

Unsurprisingly there were Great White Egrets dotted about and I reckoned on seven during our visit along with a few Grey Herons and Little Egrets.  Another pair of Cranes obliged but we could not find the flock of 50 seen by two very muddy joggers who passed us going back up the hill.

Cranes in their landscape

Great White Egret

Suddenly the sky was full of birds as wave after wave of waders and ducks took to the air.  We estimated that at least 5000 Lapwing were making up the majority along with hundreds of Golden Plover and small flocks of Dunlin and Black-tailed Godwits.  Peregrine were the protagonists and I think that we had at least three birds making a nuisance of themselves with both adults and immatures seen well.  We all commented that it was the best inland winter wader spectacle any of us had seen in years.  Lapwing flocks in the south-east like this just seem to be a thing of the past.

Dark flocks of wader-like Teal twisted and jinked low of the floods and a flock of about 150 Pintail linked up with Shoveler and Wigeon groups to avoid and confuse the predators.  Marsh Harriers were constantly on view and Common Buzzards of various hues were perched up on posts and in the odd large Willows while Sparrowhawk and Kestrel kept the raptor theme going .

A glance south revealed that our previously dry morning out was about to become anything but and we opted to turn about and head back to at least limit the amount of time spent getting cold and wet!  One of the Cranes chose this point to pop out on the path behind us and bugle at our departure.  Snipe erupted from the fields and a solitary Skylark was our first and Stonechats dotted the gates.

It got very dark

And Mammatus clouds once again

It was a very wet trudge back and the road back up into the wood to the car park is a killer but we all made it.  With skies clearing again we opted out of a coffee and cake stop in Langport (where the river looked set to overflow into the village) and wiggled on to Greylake.  It stayed dry during our visit and the screen overlooked a scrape literally teaming with Teal, Wigeon and Shoveler.  There was no sign of the Green-winged Teal and I envisaged finding the Baikal Teal back for the winter but alas it was due to be refound the next day in Wales!


The Lapwing numbers here were if anything even more impressive than at Swell Wood with hundreds just in front and two vast flocks way off on either side numbering into the thousands.  Upwards of a thousand Golden Plover were also seen and two adult Peregrines were once again the cause of so much aerial disruption.  


Great White Egrets were everywhere and I reckon that there may have been nine in the immediate area including the fields just before we arrived.  A Cattle Egret was seen distantly around a farmyard and Marsh Harriers patrolled but did not seem to spook the birds closest to our position. 

Meadow Pipits and Reed Buntings popped up from the grasses and Cetti’s Warblers and Chiffchaffs were in the reeds as we walked back to the car park where the Tits, House Sparrows and Starlings were attending the numerous micro bird tables positioned around the edge. 

Lunch was called and still it remained dry although we could see rain in the distance all around.  Ravens kronked over our heads and a wisp of Snipe zig-zagged through.   After a conflab we opted to head to Steart Marshes on the Bristol Channel where we might be able to pick up some more waders and possibly a Short-eared Owl if we were very lucky.

The 30 minuted rive initially took us through the area where we had seen the vast Plover flocks and unsurprisingly a couple more Great White Egrets were noted before we hit Bridgewater where the weather turned once again and we found our selves almost in the dark but once at Steart the weather gods decided after a few minutes that we would be allowed another gap in the clouds.  Frankie led us down to the Quantock Hide were yet more Lapwing and Golden Plover swirled around – I reckon we saw over 10,000 of the former during the day.  


Shelduck, Redshank and Avocet were new additions as was an immature Spoonbill that was initially dozing before waving round its pink spatula. 


Another hide to our left but Frankie said that the Mendip Hide was always quiet and in fact challenged me to find something notable!  Carrion Crow and Pheasant did not quite cut it, or even Sparrowhawk, Marsh Harrier or Stonechat but two quartering Short-eared Owls certainly did and a hunting female Merlin eluded most of the party but the adult male that flew in front of us and even perched up for a short while certainly did not!

Feeling suitably pleased with ourselves we ambled back passing a gleaming leucistic Starling decked out in coffee and cream on the way as it whizzed through with a small group of darker cousins. I wonder if it has been seen at all at Ham Wall?

We then drove a little further down the road to another car park that gave us access to the sea. Three Greenfinches greeted us in the car park and Reed Buntings, Skylarks and Meadow Pipits were out in the salt marsh as we cut across to the stony beach.

The view was stunning with shining lines of waders sparking across the mud of Bridgewater Bay, white waves rolling across the shallow water half a mile out, Burnham-on-Sea seafront gleaming and Brean Down looming out into the sea with Wales a haze to the north west.

Flat Holm and Brean Down in the distance

Behind us behind the new Hinkley Point power station cranes the sky was bruised inky black but we once again had a sunny window and some light rain that produced an epic double rainbow.  Dunlin, Knot, Grey Plover and Curlew were the main waders present along with a couple of Redshank but nothing else but it was a fine spot to round the day up and there were some quality cobbles to search through while we stood and looked around.

Having survived the weather we called it a day and went our separate ways albeit with just one last Great White Egret on the drive back out of the reserve meaning that we had seen them at every site we visited.  Our drive back to Glastonbury was swift and we were accompanied by snaky lines of Starlings heading west into the Avalon Marshes for the night and it seemed a fitting end.

9th January:

There is always a going home day. I had toyed with the idea of venturing south-west down to Colyford for the long staying Isabelline Wheatear but it would take me even further away from home and the trek back along the whole south coast afterwards did not appeal so I opted to cut straight across to Pool Harbour where Peter had pointed me in the direction of Lytchett Fields in the North west corner where a viewpoint may give me the outside chance of a White-tailed Eagle.  It was a wiggly but pleasant journey through the rolling hills and valleys of Dorset before arriving on the outskirts of Poole where after some initial parking confusion I ended up heading out for a short walk (wade?!) down to the Rock Lea viewpoint.

Unfortunately the tide was full in and the sun (pesky globe!) was straight into my face but I still had a pleasant visit (my first since the 1992 Purple Heron).  A flock of preening Black-headed Gulls were on the fields with a couple of Herring and Common Gulls while Redshanks poked around the edges of the flood.  A lone Dunlin and four Black-tailed Godwits were also seen here and Greenfinches attended the discreet bird feeders with other usual fayre.

Black-headed Gulls

Two Green Sandpipers flew along the bay edge and disappeared around the bend and I had two sightings of Water Pipit which was a bonus.  Two calling Kingfishers left me with the female perched up on a gate before she started diligently hunting the wet field from the barbed wire fence. 


I scanned for errant Eagles but only picked up Buzzards, Marsh Harriers and Ravens, and a Great Crested Grebe and 11 Wigeon were the only birds on the water but I was quite content to stand and listen and pick up Chiffchaff, Grey and Pied Wagtails and a female Bullfinch that I eventually found nibbling on Blackthorn buds. I sloshed my way back to the car and then headed east to the New Forest.

It all went a little pear shaped here as the previously glorious weather became cold and breezy with icy rain showers so I diverted to Eyeworth Pond (FEP for those of you who know) for lunch where there were no Mandarins at all!  A fine drake Goosander was unexpected though.  The car park still attracts plenty of small birds and it is well worth taking some seed with you if you visit as the Tits, Robins, Chaffinches and Nuthatches are sure to put on a show.

Goosander and Mallard

Marsh Tit

Marsh Tit

Blue Tit

I was originally contemplating a visit south of the A31 to look for the Pig Bush Great Grey Shrike but two locals at FEP had spent all day down that way and seen nothing – not even a Dartford Warbler but I had to resist commenting on the fact that one of them had performed a full mud face plant at some stage during their outing.  With grey skies I decided to retreat and head for home as at least I would hopefully escape the horrors of the M25 and after adding a final Great White Egret from the M27 it was plain sailing from there on with just occasional Red Kites and Buzzards to break the two hour of traffic free monotony.

1 comment:

  1. Well done Howard, I'm off to Somerset Levels tomorrow.