Sunday 20 November – Somerset Levels Leader: Charles Martin

On a bright morning of sunshine and showers nine of us set off on a meandering visit to Ham Wall, pausing at the first viewpoint and boardwalk en route for the Avalon Hide on the far side of the reserve. During our wanderings we saw and/or heard 40 species ranging from smaller birds such as Bullfinch, Goldfinch, Reed Bunting and Stonechat to a “giant” such as a Great White Egret looking elegant with its bright yellow winter beak. In common with other reserves in the area, winter migrants have been slow to return this year. At Ham Wall and nearby Shapwick Heath, however, duck numbers have begun to increase during the past couple of weeks and we were delighted to see flocks of brightly coloured Wigeon with, here and there among them, the subtle tweed plumage of smaller groups of Gadwall. From the boardwalk near the first viewpoint we spent some time trying to count the line-up of some ten Snipe (there might have been many more there), superbly camouflaged and almost invisible as they roosted among the clumps of dead reeds on the fringe of a small island. Throughout our wanderings we had frequent views of circling Marsh Harriers, the creamy markings on the heads of the females showing up clearly in the bright sunlight. On one occasion their predatory silhouettes alerted a large flotilla of floating Wigeon, sending them wheezing and whistling in alarm as they dashed for cover to the nearby reed bed. This had been a morning full of the interest and variety so typical of Ham Wall Reserve. And I haven’t even mentioned the starlings! (Thanks to Charles for leading.) Charles Martin