Nine members set off in Bluey ( the Congresbury Community Transport minibus) on the day after gridlock on the roads due to fans trying to reach the Glastonbury Festival. Happily, with Graham driving us we encountered no problems and met our tenth attendee in the RSPB car park. After making use of the new ‘comfort’ facilities we headed out to Ham Wall hearing a few warblers still singing on the way. A viewpoint gave some a glimpse of a Glossy Ibis, with a much better view of a Great White Egret. Ham Wall and adjacent Shapwick Heath reserves are the only site in the UK where this large white Heron breeds.
We made our way to the Avalon hide, with its individual chairs, which has a panoramic view of the extensive reed beds. A pair of Great Crested Grebes were nesting in front of the hide and provided plenty of good viewing. Marsh Harriers also had a nest in the area and we were treated to almost non stop action, particularly from the resident male. He was hunting almost continuously and eventually captured a small mammal but his young didn’t seem to want it! Eventually, with much calling one of his ‘wives’ (he has two – harriers are often polygamous) flew in and took it from him. Two (of his) recently fledged juveniles put in an appearance as did his second ‘wife’ and another male from another pair. All of this was explained to us by Sandy who has been monitoring the marsh harriers for many years.
All too soon it was time to return to Bluey for our picnic lunch after which we set off in the opposite direction to Shapwick Heath. There were lots of feeding Swifts here, more Great White Egrets and then a Hobby hawking dragonflies showed us it’s breathtaking flying skills. After that a rest in Meare Heath hide provided more Harriers including a perched female and a last a steady fly past from a Bittern. Bitterns were down to a dozen pairs in the 1980’s; now there are 40 pairs on the Somerset Levels. In 1971 there was just a single pair of Marsh Harriers nesting in England; now there are 400 with about eight in Somerset. Both species have been saved as breeding birds in the UK by major conservation programmes.
Our thanks to Congresbury Community Transport for allowing us to use Bluey and to Graham for driving us so comfortably.