Somerset Another Wonderful Tour For Two With Superb Birds 28 June To 2 July 2021

Hungary Bittern by road

Great views of Bittern were just one of the many highlights of our Somerset Tour for Two.

We met Paul and Shirley at Slimbridge WWT reserve, in Gloucestershire early afternoon on the 28th June and after lunch set off to see what birds were on the reserve. To reach the “wild bird area” we passed through the collection of captive ducks and geese and it was amazing to see species from all over the world and learn about some of the conservation work being done by the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust to save these charismatic species. From the two hides we visited we enjoyed watching lots of Avocets, Black-tailed Godwits, a near breeding plumaged Ruff always a thrill to see, Common Sandpiper, Lapwing and a moulting drake Garganey. A super start to our five day Tour for Two and we hadn’t even reached Somerset yet.

Moorhen chick at Slimbridge WWT on day one - photo by Paul on the tour.

We then headed out to the Seven Estuary and some pools behind the seawall where we had heard a pair of Black-winged Stilts had been showing on and off. It was a little tricky to find the spot and once we did we soon realised why the birds were not in view much of the time. The seawall which would have provided great views over the pools where the birds had been seen was being reconstructed so out of bounds to the public. A footpath on the east side did provide a limited view of some of the pools so we scanned from here. Avocets and Lapwing were breeding here and there were Reed Warblers and Reed Buntings too but no stilts sadly. Time was ticking by and Paul and Shirley decided to head off to the hotel as they had seen Black-winged Stilts many times before and had been up since very early in the morning. As we were in separate cars at this point we decided to hang a little longer and we were rewarded when one of the Black-winded Stilts flew in and landed in view – wonderful those legs are just insane on a bird! We also saw Little-ringed Plover as we waited for the rarity to appear. In the evening we all enjoyed a superb Indian meal close to our hotel in Wells in Somerset – a real fine dining experience with the most delicious food.

We enjoyed seeing a lot of Common Whitethroats on this Tour for Two - photo by Paul.

On the 28th of June we visited the Somerset coast as the weather forecast wasn’t great and we thought it might be drier near the sea. Luckily it was and we visited a new nature reserve for all of us Steart Marshes another WWT site and a huge one at that. It is amazing to see nature conservation on a landscape scale like this with huge areas of marshes and lagoons created and protected for wildlife. A series of hides overlooks the reserve and there are plenty of trails to explore this amazing area. On the pools were breeding Avocets and it was wonderful to see Common Ringed Plover next to Little Ringed Plover not often you see them side by side. Checking through a flock of roosting gulls produced four Mediterranean Gulls amongst their commoner cousins. A Marsh Harrier soared over and plenty of Reed Warblers, Sedge Warblers and Common Whitethroats to see. A Yellow Wagtail was a lovely bird to see as we don’t often see them back home in North Wales. On the nearby beach a flock of Curlew were already back for the winter, perhaps failed breeders?

After a pub lunch we headed back inland as the weather had improved and visited the Somerset Levels – a huge low-lying area of freshwater marshes with many nature reserves. Highlight here was a Bittern seen in flight over a reed bed where Cetti’s Warblers sang and Great Egrets flapped about over the reeds along with Marsh Harriers and Hobby swept back and forth hunting for dragonflies what a superb place!

Bittern and two Great Egrets share the same pool - photo by Paul.

On the 30th we drive the short distance to RSPB Ham Wall Nature Reserve where we marvelled at the huge area of habitat created here – vast reed beds and pools. We soaked up some of the best ever views of Marsh Harriers, enjoyed watching at least six Hobby over the reserve what a treat that was. Great Egrets seemed to be everywhere and again the views were just superb! Bearded Tits proved much trickier to see though their “pinging” calls were heard from deep in the reeds a good few times, just some brief views were had. We were very lucky at the second view point we visited when we spotted a Bittern in the reeds opposite our position. Amazingly this often so secretive bird just stayed there and we had fantastic views through the Leica telescopes for ages! It was lovely to be able to share the sighting with other visitors to the reserve who loved seeing this wonderful bird. The same pool had up to three Great Egrets fishing in the shallows and sometimes these could be seen in the same scope view as the Bittern just fantastic. We were all really impressed with RSPB Ham Wall and the Somerset Levels so much to see.

Lots of habitat for Reed Warblers on the Somerset Levels - photo by Paul.

Another wonderful pub lunch went down very well indeed at the King William Inne sitting outside in the sunshine and we even added a species to the growing trip list as a Raven flapped over “cronking”. Catcott Nature Reserve next where we bumped into our friend Stephen Moss and shared views of a four-spotted chaser dragonfly by the car-park. Great to catch up with Stephen and he very kindly suggested some other areas of the Levels that might be worth a look. From the hide at Catcott we had amazing close views of a Great Egret fishing really close to our position and looking great in the warm sunshine. A Marsh Harrier hunted here and flushed Lapwings into the air. Then a real stroke of luck as a Cattle Egret flapped over the marsh third species of egret for trip. We explored some more marshes nearby but didn’t add a lot though always fun to visit new areas.

Great Egrets were a regular feature of this wonderful tour - photo by Paul.

On the 1st of July we drove south from Wells to a woodland where a heronry contained not only Grey Herons but Little Egrets and Cattle Egrets all nesting what a fantastic spot! Wonderful to hear the amazing sounds made by the egrets on their nests rather like Donald Duck being held under water! The woodland also held Green Woodpecker, Nuthatch and a lovely Spotted Flycatcher that showed off for us. But there was more to this place, a view point on the edge of the wood gave a vast panoramic view over the Somerset Levels and Ruth quickly spotted the bird we hoped to see – Common Crane! Two of these majestic huge birds were walking through the marshes below us and through the scopes we had pretty good views of these fantastic birds that now breed again here on the Levels after a very long absence.

We then drove north to Chew Valley Lake where we enjoyed a lovely lunch overlooking the lake in the glorious sunshine. Not a huge number of birds on the lake but we did enjoy watching a female Goldeneye with four very cute chicks diving close to our view point. Three Green Sandpipers were lovely to see too and a distant Red Kite was also new for the growing trip list.

Paul and Shirley were keen to have a look around the beautiful and historic city of Wells so we then headed back there. It really is a lovely little city, the smallest one in England. It is also known to us as the location for the filming of a favourite comedy film of ours – Hot Fuzz – and we recognised many of the streets and buildings from the film and brought back very funny memories. Paul and Shirley took some lovely landscape photographs of this very beautiful location – great thing about our custom Tours for Two is that we can tailor the tour to be perfect for you!

Our last morning, the 2nd of July, we visited nearby Shapwick Heath Nature Reserve and luckily it was another beautiful day – no rain all trip – so lucky. This is a reserve adjacent to RSPB Ham Wall so is pretty similar with vast reed beds and areas of open water. We watched Great Egrets fishing in the pools alongside their smaller cousins the Little Egret, enjoyed more wonderful Marsh Harriers and again glimpsed Bearded Tits. Good to see Great crested Grebes with well grown young here and hear plenty of Blackcaps singing in the surrounding scrub. All too soon it was time to head for home we all had long journeys ahead of us.

A huge thanks to Paul and Shirley for making this Tour for Two so much fun and for joining us on this new trip which we all think is well worth repeating. We would love to put together a perfect custom Tour for Two anywhere you would like to enjoy great birds and wildlife. We have run our popular Tours for Two in the UK to North Wales, Norfolk, Suffolk, Somerset, Yorkshire, Isle of Mull and overseas including Borneo so if you have an idea for a custom Tour for Two do just drop us a line and we can do the rest!

Of course a wonderful way to see more birds is to join one of our Birdwatching Trips and learn a lot about the birds you are enjoying too. We have tours suitable for all from beginners to experienced birders that are seeking particular species. Just drop us a line here and we can arrange a perfect custom tour for you!

We look forward to enjoying wonderful birds with you as soon as it is safe.

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