Our Avalon Marshes tour is always one I look forward to. The reserves of RSPB Ham Wall and the neighbouring Shapwick Heath never fail to produce spectacular birdlife. The Somerset reserves are easily the best reed bed habitat in the south west! So, our group of six, guided by Brad and I, arrived after a three hour drive from Hayle at Ham Wall around 0945. As soon as we alighted from the minibus, birds were all around us. Blackcaps and Garden Warblers were singing from the surrounding trees and a Mistle Thrush (new bird for me at the reserve) flew over, Swallows and Swifts were overhead. After a quick loo stop, we headed onto the reserve. Viewing from the first bridge gave us our first look at the numerous Great White Egrets, Swifts, Gadwall, nesting Cormorants and Mute Swans. More Blackcaps, Whitethroats, Cetti’s Warblers, Willow Warblers, Chiffchaffs and Garden Warblers sang from every tree and bush and as the first reed bed came into view Sedge and Reed Warblers were more evident. The open water here held smart male Pochard, nesting Great-crested Grebes, Coot, Moorhen, Little Grebe and Tufted Duck. And our first booming Bittern! The first (of many) Marsh Harriers drifted past as we got to the first viewing platform. Birds here included a large flock of superb summer-plumaged Black-tailed Godwit, two Ruff, Lapwings, Little Egret, more Great White Egrets, Shoveler and a fly over Great Spotted Woodpecker.
At the next hide we added Water Rail and Hobby to our day list. The rail was very elusive with its chick in the reeds and the Hobby was distant. Fortunately, Hobby numbers increased throughout the day and we had some superb views of up to six birds together during the afternoon. We then headed off to the elevated Avalon Hide. Along the path we stopped to watch adult Great Spotted Woodpeckers at the nesting hole and a family of Treecreepers also showed at very close range. Luckily, we reached the hide just as it started to rain! Just a shower though and the only one we had all day. The first Bittern of the day gave us a very brief view as it flew a short distance over the reeds and dropped in and unfortunately not all the group saw it! Bearded Tits remained elusive and were only heard but not seen on this trip. Male and female Marsh Harriers showed at very close range quartering the marshes in front of us.
After lunch back at the visitor centre, we headed onto the Natural England managed reserve of Shapwick Heath. The reserve is literally over the road from Ham Wall so no need to move the minibus! A superb male Bullfinch greeted us at the entrance with a small flock of marauding Long-tailed Tits. Plenty more Blackcaps and Garden Warblers sang along the main track giving us the opportunity to compare the very similar songs. Another Bittern stayed airborne a little longer this time allowing all the group to catch a glimpse. We usually do much better for Bittern sightings but while we heard lots of booming, sightings were very few and far between. There are some fantastic new hides on the reserve all giving views of different habitats. The open water at Noah’s hide was surprisingly empty though, but the panoramic view allowed us more fly by Harriers and Hobbys and a Cuckoo was heard but not seen. We ended the day seeing 61 species of Bird!
Avalon Marshes have something for everyone! On previous trips here we have seen Barn Owl, Little Bittern, Glossy Ibis, Cattle Egret, Garganey, Savi’s Warbler and mammals like Roe Deer and Otter. We will certainly be returning for a couple more trips next year so keep an eye on the Tours and Excursions page on the website.