I recently visited the Ham wall and Shapwick Heath reserves with my spiritual shaman Kestrel. Although, I don't usually keep a track of how many species I see in a day, only keeping track of new species seen, I thought it would be fun to count how many I saw in a day, on this occasion.
I have got increasingly better, at identification on my own, including calls. However, having someone like Kes, who is a seasoned pro certainly makes it easier. We set out onto the Ham wall reserve fairly early, we were very lucky, as within a five minute walk from the road, we saw my first Bittern in flight, which circled right over us.
As the sun came out, St. Marks and Hairy Dragonflies emerged, Kes said this was a good sign we would see Hobbies today. We saw a male and female Marsh Harrier displaying, which is an excellent sign, as they haven't nested at the Ham Wall site yet to date.
From the first hide we saw Heron nests with young, Great Crested Grebe, Great White Egret (the only site where they nest in the UK) We could also hear Marsh Frogs calling all around. However, they are notoriously difficult to see. On the way to the second hide Kes pointed out a Swan on her nest and we also witnessed her turning the eggs. I also saw my first ever Reed Bunting.
From the second hide we saw a second Bittern fly overhead and land in the reeds nearby where it was possibly nesting.
As we left the hide and followed the path Kes spotted a Hobby overhead catching and eating St. Marks fly and Hairy Dragonfly on the wing. This was another first for me and within a matter of minutes there were three all over the same patch.
As the sun came out, it was also a good day for butterflies we saw Orange-tip, Speckled wood, Green veined, Brimstone, Burnett Moth, Common white, Cabbage white as well as Blue tailed and Common blue Damselfly.
As we strolled from Ham Wall to nearby Shapwick Heath we saw Cetti's Warbler, Reed Warbler, White Throat, Dunnock, Black Cap, we also saw at least four more Great White Egrets on the wing over the reserve.
On the Scrape at Shapwick Heath a great place to see Waders, there were Black tailed Godwit, Gadwall, Mallard, Pochard and Kes also managed to spot two Ringed Plover, another first for me.
At the first hide on Shapwick (Meare Heath) as we sheltered from the rain with a whiskey tea, with a few of the kind of birders I avoid (real tree camo, gigantic cameras trying to compensate for something) the others informed us there hadn't really been much around today.
Within about ten minutes two Great White Egrets swooped in to land on the water and started catching fish right there. Whilst fixated on these I heard someone call "Otter!" A dog Otter, another first for me was swimming right towards the Egrets, it sort of sized them up, saw how big they were, changed its mind and swam off. As the Otter left, so did the Egrets one by one. No sooner had they gone than a Hobby flew in, lovely full view. within two minutes a Bittern flew in from the opposite direction, next a Kingfisher darted past. Just when we thought we couldn't get any luckier a male and female Marsh Harrier started displaying in the distance. All of the reserves most famous species in a matter of minutes.
We left and we walked to the Noah's lake hide, where we saw three different types of gull and some wigeon.
Opposite the hide is a viewing platform facing a known Marsh Harrier nest site. Male and female were displaying over the nest site and occasionally coming to rest on bushes in the distance. When one of them flew along the tree line, it disturbed a pair of buzzards one of which was almost entirely white. They then set about having a four way aerial display battle.
One bird we had heard, but had eluded us all day was the Cuckoo. On the walk back past the scrape we stopped to watch a Lapwing trying to fend a Crow away from its nest site. Just as we were about to leave Kes spotted a Cuckoo flying along the back tree line. The Cuckoo (another first for me) then flew straight towards us and right over our heads calling all the time, amazing. Just as we were thinking what an end to the day a second
Cuckoo darted out chasing the first territoriality.
We ended the day over 50 species, loads of firsts for me, including my Otter. Sat in the Railway Inn with a pint of Gorge Best from the cheddar brewery.