Annabelle Strickland writes: “What a fabulous day we had – 14 members of Devon Birds met at Ham Wall car park at 0930. John Crispin, our RSPB guide for the morning, gave us all a good overview of where we would be going, what birds to look out for, & how we should behave in the “off piste” areas! He explained some of the history of RSPB Ham Wall, how the 500 acre site had been acquired from Fisons in 1997, all the work carried out to date, current projects and future plans for continuing improvements, new scrape etc to the reserve.
The Mid-Devon Group at Ham Wall Visitors’ Centre
We were fortunate with the weather as it had been raining on the way up on M5, but cleared up as we arrived and the rest of the day was largely sunny albeit rather chilly.
John showed us some otter markings under the bridge as we entered the Ham Wall Loop. Moving along we entered a normally padlocked gate and into the private areas of the reserve where he pointed out the nesting area for Kingfishers. We then saw a large number of Gadwall in flight and John advised to look at the white square on the trailing edge (same on M & F) and a ‘grey looking bird’! Amongst the reeds we heard a number of Bearded Tits and then saw a pair flying over the reeds in the sunlight which was very exciting especially for me as never seen one before. A Sparrowhawk was spotted nearby and Cetti’s heard. There were also Moorhen, Jay, Kestrel, Long Tail Tits, Cormorant, Coot, Heron, Stonechat, Lapwing, Great White & Little Egret, Shoveler, Water Rail heard (at end April a Water Rail survey is carried out on the reserve), Little Grebe etc. There had been 7 GW Egret nests this year and 3 of the young ringed. We moved on along paths where John explained the various pieces of machinery, reed cutters, pumps etc. The reserve is keen to use the chopped reeds for compost, guaranteed to be free of Himalayan Balsam etc, ultimately selling to general public. The reeds are planned to be utilised for thatched roofing. On to the Avalon Hide where 2 Glossy Ibis flew over and a Bittern and Marsh Harrier were seen. Moving along we spotted a Peregrine chasing ducks in flight with apparently no luck despite a Harrier joining in.
As we stopped at Waltons East (where we would return late pm for starling murmuration) we had another flypast of the 2 Glossy Ibis – elegant and a wonderful sight. Then back to the car park where John said his farewell and received a unanimous warm thank-you from us all. It is definitely good value to have local guide here. We had our lunch break in the carpark sitting in the sunshine.
In the afternoon, we walked into the Shapwick reserve. At the new Tower Hide we had a wonderful view of 300+ Lapwing flying – what a wonderful sight! The 2 Glossy Ibis were on the water opposite together with Green Sandpipers, Snipe (6-10), Little Egret and then the excitement of an Otter swimming in front of us. The Heron and Egrets were totally unperturbed by its presence.
We then walked on to Noahs Hide and were treated to a wonderful view of a Bittern just a few feet in front of the hide amongst the reeds together with a beautiful Grey Heron. One of the group then spotted a Kingfisher sitting on the reeds in front of us diving for fish. We enjoyed watching Wigeon, Greylag Geese, amongst many others on the water.
We waited until 5pm to return to Waltons to watch the starling murmuration which was well worth the wait. Oh boy what a treat when it all started! There were at a guess 5,000 coming in from all directions and gathering up and dropping down into the reeds. Digby Greenhill said “this is worth getting out of bed for”. Suddenly a military helicopter flew over and up they all went but a great sight for a second time of them all descending into the reeds. Apparently, they descend in order – female at bottom of reed then male with kids on top.
6 of us stayed overnight in Glastonbury to enable an early start at Steart the next day. A nice coincidence was running into John Crispin again who was there with his ‘bazooka’ of a camera on a lovely vantage point overlooking the breached sea defences. We had another really good day birding seeing huge numbers of Shelduck, Common Gulls, Avocet, Wheatear, Skylark and 1 Swallow before our return home.
All photos by Tom Wallis (click to zoom)
Bittern in flight
Flock of Gadwall