Saturday 21 November – Steart Marshes

17 Members gathered in the new WWT Steart Marshes car park on a crisp, clear, sunny but extremely cold and very windy Saturday morning. We were met by two friendly assistant WWT wardens, Joe and Chloe, who gave us a brief but very informative overview of the 500 hectare site with its myriad salt and freshwater lagoons and its ever changing tidal coastal marsh at the frontier of Bridgwater Bay. We set off along the wetland walkway on our way to the very spacious Mendip hide, spotting a Stonechat on a fence post en route. Numerous small groups of thrushes flew over, mainly Fieldfares. The windows in the new hide were very swish, stiff to open but held up by hydraulic rams. There were some good screens outside which allowed clear views across the lagoons. Some of the many wintering Shelduck were feeding on the exposed mud and there was a lone Little Egret on the far bank and a Curlew plodded across the mud. There were lots of Lapwing and we had the first of many sightings of flocks of Dunlin dazzling us with their fluttering semaphore flight, wheeling around showing dark then snow white plumage sparkling in the sunshine, enough to confuse any marauding raptor. Our group then split into two, some walking out to the coast to see the breach site and the rest going to the other adjacent hide overlooking small lagoons, hosting more Lapwing, Black-tailed Godwit and lots of duck including Shoveler, Teal, Wigeon and Mallard. There was also a good view of a solitary Snipe. Not too many birds were seen out on the edge of the saltmarsh and estuary, more Dunlin, a Redshank and overflying Shelduck. A flyover Stock Dove and lots of Meadow Pipits, a Skylark, two Pied Wagtails and a Grey Heron showed well on the walk back to the hide where the two groups came back together. A Kestrel sheltered on the far bank from the stiff breeze.

After lunch we drove to the Natural England car-park in Steart village for the second part of the visit. In the car park numerous House Sparrows and a few Blue and Great Tits showed well. From here Brian Gibbs and Brian Hill from the Somerset Ornithological Society led us on the northern path overlooking the marshes and the breach area. Unfortunately, it was a neap tide so at high water there was more mud than water and therefore not many waders had been driven off the estuary. There were still lots of good birds to see including Ruff and Redshank with a single Spotted Redshank amongst them, but these were distant birds and a scope was essential. This was a wonderful day out at this exciting new WWT site, which will adapt and change greatly over the next few years as the habitat responds to its new tidal life, slowly being colonised by salt tolerant plants. Thanks to Joe and Chloe and the two Brians for showing us around and to Nick Hawkridge for keeping the list which consisted of 48 species seen or heard. Rob Miles