Trip reports

Field Trip to RSPB Ham Wall and Shapwick Heath Nature Reserve

Marsh Harrier (female), close up of head

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Sunday the 7th May was the International Dawn Chorus Day which was being broadcast from Ham Wall, Somerset, our destination for the day.

Nine of us assembled at the RSPB car park but, I have to say, not at dawn! As we strolled off in the direction of the first scrape the low booming of a bittern could be heard and in the distance a cuckoo was calling.

Around us in the hedgerows, blackcaps, willow and reed warblers were calling with fleeting glances of them, also the explosive call of a cetti's warbler was heard. In the sky, hobbies, swallows and swifts were seen.

The first scrape did look rather sparse though we quickly picked out shoveller, gadwall, little egret and a great crested grebe on its nest. A bittern leisurely flew over the reeds giving us excellent views. We heard the iconic call of bitterns all day but only saw that one bird.

Marsh harriers, male and female, quartered over the reed beds on the next stretch of water, also widgeon, black-headed gulls and a lone lapwing. We soon had the spectacle of a glossy ibis dropping into the scrape, looking slightly prehistoric in flight, and spooked two greylag geese from the reeds.

We decided to cross over the canal making our way to the Avalon Hide, nothing to be seen until two marsh harriers glided over the reeds. Arriving back at the first scape. a great white egret flew in. Then, making our way back to the centre for lunch, a whitethroat was seen.

We regrouped after lunch and crossed over to Shapwick Heath, reaching the large scrape and scanning across the mud for waders. We picked out the black-tailed godwits in various stages of breeding plumage.
Suddenly a group of thirteen cattle egrets swooped in.....only to be spooked by a marsh harrier, though then quickly returned, this time with only eleven birds which carried on feeding. We also saw a group of greylag geese emerging out into the open.

We pushed on to check out the hides, the first of which overlooked a large expanse of water. The hide was full, everyone loves a kingfisher, and the bird flew constantly below the hide collecting food. We moved down the track to a viewing platform, once again enjoying the close views of a marsh harrier, such a graceful bird. On returning to the car park we all agreed it was well worth crossing the Severn Bridge to the Somerset Levels. The day was pleasantly warm with a day's total of more than forty-five birds.

-Hugh Harrison