ALL VISIT TO THE SOMERSET ‘LEVELS’
WEATHER: bright sunny day, some cloud later. Quite windy all day. Temp 15 – 22C
The ‘levels’ were calling and I had to answer! I arranged to meet my Welsh buddy Nigel at Ham Wall and Richard & Linda along the way. The latter two are good friends from Kent and are on holiday in Somerset for a few days. We met up with Nigel in the car park at Ham Wall at 7:30am and set off along the main track towards the main viewing platforms. We noted our first Great Egret from the small bridge along with Great Cormorants, Mallards, Mute Swans and a distant Marsh Harrier. Next a flock of 24 Cattle Egrets flew across the far side of the marsh, wow, that was good and unexpected.
Richard and Linda
It then took quite a while to move much further because there was so much activity in the shrubs along the main track. We watched a small group of Blackcaps feeding on ripe Elder Berries, Nigel found a Lesser Whitethroat and both Willow Warbler and chiffchaffs were flitting around. In fact, a Willow Warbler was singing from the behind the shrubs. A couple of Garden Warblers also appeared and from Viewing Platform 1 we watched a family party of Common Whitethroats and in the reeds we saw a Reed Warbler.
Well, what a great start to the day, within 30 minutes we had seen 7 species of warblers, amazing really. Then Richard saw a bird flying in the distant and Nigel identified it as a BITTERN, the bird flew towards us and then right across our bow, I think Richard got some decent flight shots.
Big Nigel with Richard and Linda in the background
From the viewing platform we could not see much open water so we took the track up towards the second viewing platform, along this track there are three small view points which overlook some large pools with muddy island. Dozens of Common Coots, Mute Swans, Mallard and Gadwall fed in the deeper water whilst Shoveler and Teal dabbled in the shallows with Moorhens on the shoreline. We counted 3 Little Egrets, a single Great Egret and then 7 Black-tailed Godwits walked into view. Linda also got onto a Green Sandpiper before we moved onto the next view point.
looking out from one of the smaller viewing points
Eventually we reached the Viewpoint No. 2 and had some great birding from there, we saw 13 Great Egrets, two Little Egrets, 3 Green Sandpipers and another two Black-tailed Godwits. Whilst we were there we also had two more BITTERN sightings (both distant and in flight), Nigel then found two Bearded Tits in the base of a clump of reeds and at least 3 Marsh Harriers quartered the reeds during our stay.
Little Egret with Black-tailed Godwits
some of the 13 Great Egrets seen from Viewing Platform 2
We heard a Cetti’s Warbler and a Jay during the latter part of our outward journey and then once back on the main track we turned back towards the main entrance. A lot of noise came from the oak and alder trees, we took a while to locate a family party of Goldcrests which were joined by Blue & Great Tits. As we walked back to the car park we had a Hobby sighting and then we found another large group of birds in the willow scrub.
the track to Shapwick
Our second Lesser Whitethroat sighting came as we watched more Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs, a Long-tailed Tit flew across the track with a party of Blue Tits and we saw another Reed Warbler. At the car we made use of the picnic benches to eat our lunch and drink cups of coffee supplied by Nigel. We had two more sightings of Hobby whilst we ate and we enjoyed our time in the lovely sunshine.
For the first part of the afternoon we walked across to Shapwith Heath to scan Noah’s Lake for more ducks, as we walked along the main track we stopped to scan the open water on Meare Heath. Many Mallards and Gadwall fed out on the water but there was nothing new to add to our list. Then a Sparrowhawk flew across the edge of the water and went straight onto our list.
Noah’s lake was only viewable from the main track because the hide was closed due to Covid restrictions, we could not see too much of it but we added Greylag Goose and tufted Duck to the day list.
After another cup of coffee at the car park picnic site we drove around to Catcott Low nature reserve, our route took us through Burtle and on the last section of road we saw a flock of Cattle Egrets in a field with a small herd of cows. We counted 31 Egrets and from where we stood we could see even more on the reserve near the hide.
some of the 31 Cattle Egrets seen near Burtle
Once in the hide we settled to watch a good number of Cattle Egrets as fairly close quarters, we counted over 60 egrets and together with the 31 birds seen in the cow field our total came to our 90 Cattle Egrets, that is truly amazing!!
Cattle Egret just about to devour a female Emperor dragonfly
a moulting Northern Lapwing
We stayed in the hide for another hour or so and enjoyed the egrets as well as a Hobby which flew very close to us at one point. A Common Snipe was flushed by one of the cows and a few pairs of Lapwings ran around in the long grass and before we left a Great Egret dropped into the marsh.
a view from the hide at Catcott
We left the reserve at 4:30pm, it had been a great day out, lovely weather, great company, superb birding and Nigel’s coffee was excellent.