25/05/2016 ............ KOS Long Weekend in Somerset - May 2016
Our long weekend in Somerset took place between Thursday 19th to Sunday 22nd May 2016 and Sheila Blamire had prepared an itinerary that would allow us to take in a selection of the different habitats on offer in the area.
The journey down took us about four hours, including a stop for refreshments on the M5 at the excellent new Gloucester Services, and we arrived on schedule at the Avalon Marshes Centre around 12:30pm. The Avalon Marshes contain some nationally important nature reserves and the Centre's position makes a great base from which to explore them.

Our first port of call was the Shapwick Heath National Nature Reserve a large expanse of reedbeds, open water and damp woodland covering an area of around 500ha.
Garden Warblers, Common Whitethroats, Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs were all in song; a bit like Cheshire at this time of the year but, unlike our home county, Cuckoos were calling, Bitterns "booming" and Cetti's Warblers seemed to be ten a penny! Hobbies flew overhead and a local birder, who's peace we'd shattered when we arrived in the hide overlooking the Decoy Lake, told us that there were up to 50 in the area; they'd been feeding on St. Mark's flies but with the recent emergence of Scarce Chaser Dragonflies were now enjoying this more substantial food source. We started our trip list here and, after a visit lasting two hours, were already up to 54 species - a good start!

The Shapwick Moor Nature Reserve, our second destination of the day, is run by the Hawk and Owl Trust and they aim to eventually to restore it to permanent wet grassland. We added a few new species here but, after Shapwick Heath, it proved to be a little disappointing so we made our way over to the town of Street and the Bear Inn where Sheila had arranged our accommodation. It was an excellent choice, clean and well appointed, excellent food and very efficient and friendly staff - we couldn't have asked for anything more.

Day two found us heading for the hills - the Quantocks and more new territory. In good weather we began at Lydeard Hill and an easy walk around the side, following a complex of crisscrossing, well worn paths as far as the route up towards Wills Neck; the highest point of the Quantocks. The woodland to one side of the path looked ideal for Redstarts and Wood Warblers but they were reluctant to reveal their presence and we heard only the very briefest of song from the two. Other residents were much more obliging though and we had great views of Stonechats, Common Whitethroats, Skylarks and Tree Pipits, the Pipits were very active and we enjoyed prolonged views when the 'scopes were set up on their favourite song posts. Those feeling energetic enough continued onwards and upwards as far as the trig. point at the summit of Wills Neck and were rewarded with spectacular views over the Bristol Channel, Glastonbury and the Somerset Levels!

The car park for Staple Plain (Beacon Hill) took some finding but everyone eventually arrived and we set off towards the summit by way of a long, gently rising path. Bob Groom had brief views of a Harrier - possibly a Hen Harrier and Green Woodpecker was added to the trip list but there was little else around at a location where we'd hoped for species like Yellowhammer and where Dartford Warblers had nested in the recent past.
The terrain in Holford Combe proved to be challenging with a very steep climb up from the stream to the path along the top ridge which proved to be quite level through some pleasant oak and birch woodland although in mid-afternoon it was very quiet and no new species for the day or the weekend were forthcoming.

Saturday was a cloudy day with periods of light rain but despite this, from a birding point of view, it was the best of our holiday. We visited the RSPB's Ham Wall Reserve where a considerable amount of money has been spent on new hides, toilets and a small information building staffed by a warden and a team of very able volunteers. The warden greeted us on our arrival and, with the help of a large scale map, told us a little about the reserve's history, the species to expect during our visit and (importantly) where to find them!
Swifts are late this year and are still passing through the UK, the morning's rain had forced them down and large numbers were feeding over the reedbeds. Reed Warblers sang from the phragmites along the disused railway track, and it was here that we had our first Sedge Warbler of the weekend. We had Little and Great White Egrets (both species nest on the reserve) but the stars of the show must have been the Bitterns; not only were they "booming" but giving great flight views, better than we've ever seen over the years at Leighton Moss!
Further along the route a Spotted Flycatcher was watched feeding from the dead branch of an oak tree growing on the edge of a strip of woodland, it seemed quite happy there and, as with the Tree Pipit, the 'scopes allowed really good views.
From the cover of a willow screen two male Garganey showed very well; we were actually looking for a Glossy Ibis that we knew had been seen earlier in the day; no luck on this occasion but later in the afternoon Eve ventured a little further along the path and was rewarded with a good view of this rarity.

Leaving the transport at Ham Wall we took a short walk across the road to East Shapwick Heath or "The Dark Side" as one of the volunteers called it! To me it was quite an appropriate name as it was now raining and apart from 18 Black-tailed Godwits on an area of mud there was little of interest and there was a Cup Final to be watched back at the Bear!

We left for home early on Sunday morning calling in at Black Rock and Long Wood, Cheddar, midway between Street and Bristol. The route took us through the town of Cheddar and up the Cheddar Gorge as far as the little side valley where we'd find Black Rock and the Somerset Wildlife Trust's Long Wood reserve. It was a pleasant stroll as far as the entrance to the wood, a singing male Redstart posed nicely near Black Rock and Treecreeper was added to the trip list. It now began raining heavily and some of the party decided to call it a day and returned to their cars, the remnants pressed on up the valley - it was very picturesque, nothing in the way of birds but a very steep climb brought us to a level path lined with beds of wild garlic, it smelt lovely Derek! Bob recorded a Marsh Tit on the walk out of the valley, species number 84 for the trip.

Our thanks once again go to Sheila for her hard work arranging the accommodation for 15 members and putting together the itinerary, not an easy task when you consider that none of us were familiar with the area and it's wildlife.

Sheila has sent me a number of additional images from the trip - too many for this page, so they have one of their own .......Click here!

Mute Swan, Greylag Goose, Canada Goose, Gadwall, Mallard, Garganey, Pochard, Tufted Duck,Partridge sp., Pheasant, Little Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, Cormorant, Bittern, Little Egret, Great Egret, Grey Heron, Marsh harrier, Sparrowhawk, Common Buzzard, Kestrel, Hobby, Water Rail, Moorhen, Coot, Lapwing, Black-tailed Godwit,, Black-headed Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Herring Gull, Wood Pigeon, Collared Dove, Cuckoo, Swift, Kingfisher, Green Woodpecker, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Sand Martin, Swallow, House Martin, Tree Pipit, Meadow Pipit, Pied Wagtail, Wren, Dunnock, Robin, Redstart, Stonechat, Blackbird, Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush, Cetti's Warbler, Sedge Warbler, reed Warbler, Blackcap, Garden Warbler, Common Whitethroat, Wood Warbler, Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler, Goldcrest, Spotted Flycatcher, Long-tailed Tit, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Marsh Tit, Nuthatch, Treecreeper, Jay, Magpie, Jackdaw, Carrion Crow, Rook, Raven Starling, House Sparrow, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Lesser Redpoll, Bullfinch, Reed Bunting, Glossy Ibis.- 84 species

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