Wednesday 22 March 2023

Oriole Birding - Forest of Dean & Somerset Tour - Day 3 - 15th March 2023

It had been very cold overnight and there was a heavy frost on the playing fields and just a few redwings huffing cold breath into the still air.  Greenfinches were wheezing around the Speech House car park as we packed up and de-iced the van.  I had decided that Goldcliff would be given a miss in favour of the other side of the Bristol Channel and headed down to Chepstow and then over the bridge and down to Bridgewater so that we could get to Steart Marshes before high tide.  The weather was a complete mixed bag on the drive down but we still added a few species to the trip list including Rooks, Herring Gulls and a couple of M5 Cattle Egrets!

The usual wiggling took us to the car park passing Yellowhammer and a some Redwings in the lanes before a squidge across the salt marsh to the cobble bank over looking the sea.  Skylarks sang all around despite the dreary conditions and Meadow and Rock Pipit, Linnet and Reed Buntings were all seen as we crossed over.

The tide was most of the way in but there were still flocks of Curlew to be found along with Turnstone, Oystercatcher, Dunlin, Grey Plover and Redshank to at long last give us some waders.  Shelduck bobbed offshore and a couple of Kestrels and Marsh Harriers were seen over the fields. 

Grey Plover, Turnstone and Redshank - Andy Buck

Back at the main car park we headed off into the light spitty rain towards the Quantock Hide encountering a fine pylon Raven on the way along with Cetti’s Warblers, Reed Buntings and a few explosive Redwings.

The first Marsh Marigold was in flower and I pointed out the Cigar Galls of Lipara lucens – a small fly whose larva live inside the Phragmites stems and cause the plant to react accordingly.  It is a little like the moth larva wiggle of Stigmella aurella on Bramble as once seen you can’t unsee it and will find almost without thinking!

Marsh Marigold 

Lipara lucens - Andy Buck

Lipara lucens

Similarly the exploding heads of Greater and Lesser Reedmace (it is not Bullrush!) contained the larva of Limnaecia phragmitella and those of Teasel, one of the two Endothenia species of moth larvae.  The guests can certainly say that we did not only do birds!

Endothenia sp

Limnaecia phragmitella signs

Down at the hide the very same immature Spoonbill that I saw in January was still dozing out front but amazingly was joined almost immediately by a fully plumed adult that circled. We retreated into the hide for a more comfortable view and watched both shuffle positions before the characteristic snoozing position was taken up.

Spoonbills - Andy Buck

Spoonbill - Andy Buck

Three immaculate Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits in full breeding finery were out front along with Redshank, Oystercatchers and about 50 Avocet but not one Lapwing.  The Little Ringed Plovers eluded us but we did have four Golden Plover fly over.  The ‘missing’ dabbling ducks of Teal, Gadwall and Shoveler were added too.

Avocet  - Andy Buck


Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits and Redshank

Avocet and Teal



Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits 

Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits and Redshank

I always have a cursory look through the big gulls but was not expecting to find a very smart 1w Caspian Gull on the Spoonbill island.  I ticked off all the salient features with my crew and the two hide guides before we continued on our way.

1w Caspian Gull

Two Brown Hares fed silently in the meadow behind the wicker hare sculpture and Stonechat popped up briefly in the rain while a female Kestrel diligently hovered for her lunch.  She was very wet and I only hope that she caught something and could seek some shelter.

Brown Hares

Wicker Hares



Back at the van, Sam the warden came over to ask about the Caspian Gull.  Thankfully he saw it later. A new Somerset bird for him and the first site record.  Apologies to any locals for not getting the news out. 



A fairly direct route back through Bridgewater took us onto the M5 once again and a little further south before cutting into towards Langport and Swell Wood.  It was raining again but we persevered with the upper woodland path (I could not face the road hill!) as it said that there was a view point.  They lied as the trees have obviously grown a bit since the map was made but despite the obscured view and treacherously muddy track we managed to see seven Cranes including two in the same spot as January and at least five Great White Edots and two Roe Deer out on Sedgemoor.

Cranes - Andy Buck

Despite the rain there was some time for botany with a few Primroses and Lesser Celandines in flower along with singles of Sweet Violet and Bluebell.  The fly mine of Chromatomyia aprilina on Honeysuckle was new to me.



Lesser Celandines

Chromatomyia aprilina on Honeysuckle

Great Spotted Woodpeckers were drumming and Green Woodpeckers were yaffling but I was delightfully surprised to hear the drumming of a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker too, coming from the main section of the wood.  It was just too dreary and damp to pick out on the tall Ash trees but it was a pleasing and educational encounter none the less.

We all managed to get back to the van without incident although we may have been transporting some of the forest floor mud around with us by then.  Margaret and Dave had found the Heronry hide and its feeding station and we joined them for a relaxing sit down with a host of small birds coming into feed.  There were the expected five Tits including sneezing Marsh Tits and greasy Coals and along with the Nuthatches there were Treecreepers actually coming to the logs for suet pellets that had been put out which was not something I had seen before.

Treecreeper - Andy Buck

Treecreeper - Andy Buck

Coal Tit - Andy Buck

Long-tailed Tit - Andy Buck

Up above Grey Herons noisily came and went from their seemingly flimsy canopy nests and Rooks and Jackdaws added to the cacophony. Two local photographers told us they had seen the male Lesser Spot just here the previous week!

The heronry

On now to Greylake passing two more brief Cattle Egrets near Aller (could not stop) and a few roadside Great Whites, Ravens and Buzzards before arriving at the little car park.  We were the only ones there.  A pleasant hour was spent watching the Teal, Shoveler, Wigeon, Gadwall and Pintail from the hide although the vast numbers of January were somewhat depleted.  At long last we found a couple of Lapwings and there were several camo-Snipe amongst the peat clods while about 70 Golden Plover flew to some further fields.

Shoveler - Andy Buck

Teal - Andy Buck

Shoveler - Andy Buck


Wigeon, Teal and Gadwall

Great White Egrets moved to and from and at least seven were seen including a fine breeding adult with a black bill and partially coloured legs.  It is odd how much small the bill looks when it is dark and completely changed the profile of the bird in flight and on the deck.

Great White Egret  - Andy Buck

Water Rail called from several spots and Cetti’s were half-heartedly singing as the drizzle increased and the temperature dropped.  The warm and inviting Swan Hotel in Wells beckoned although parking around there is something of a challenge but at least where I ended up gave me the chance to walk past the moat surrounding the imposing Bishops Palace before checking in.

Oh and the walk from the Coachhouse Rooms to the Reception was somewhat long and convoluted...

No comments:

Post a Comment