AFON trip to Somerset

Somerset Levels ~ 1st - 2nd February 2014 ~ 

Although I am not yet an official member of AFON (for those of you who do not know, A Focus On Nature is a network for young conservationists aged 16-30), I was invited to take part in an event that was being organised in the Somerset Levels for the weekend.

We were very kindly invited to stay in Stephen Moss' cottage, which was the perfect base for the weekend and very nice to return to after a long day's birding.

Day 1:

On Saturday we started off in the Ham Wall car park where we divided into two teams. Our plan for the day was a birdwatching challenge followed by lunch and then heading to Shapwick Heath to watch the Starling murmuration.

My team, which consisted of Joe, Thea, Abbie and Evan headed to Ham Wall RSPB to do our challenge, meanwhile the other team, consisting of Ed, Simon, Bob, Leanne and her friend had Shapwick as their stomping ground.

Our first Marsh Harrier (Circus aeruginosus)

After 3 hours of walking and birding, our team headed back to the car park to catch up with the other team and see how they'd got on. However, due to a sudden downpour, they had decided to wait it out in a bird hide before walking round to the visitor centre for some lunch. Our team drove round to meet them at the café and, getting there before them, bought the last two jacket potatoes and some bacon sandwiches to satisfy our stomachs.

A Rainbow that appeared 25 minutes after we
entered the hide at Shapwick.

When the other team arrived we were excited to compare our lists and see who had recorded the most species, alas, the other team made us wait until they'd finished their food. Once they'd finished, there was a quick drum roll and then Simon and Joe revealed the scores - my team had managed 43 species, while the other team had amassed an impressive 48 in total.

The weather when we sat down in the hide at Shapwick.
The weather after being in the hide for 30 minutes.

After some cheery banter and jeering had been exchanged, we decided to start walking to the hide at Shapwick where we would wait for the murmuration to happen. However, after waiting in the hide for a while, we noticed that the Starlings were gathering in large numbers but in the very was not looking good! We waited a while longer; a few large flocks flew over once the light had pretty much gone and a few Marsh Harriers throughout our time in the hide were the only things to keep us occupied.

One of the smaller groups of Starlings that made their way across the reed bed in a hurry - heading to Ham Wall!

Despite the fact we'd not seen the anticipated spectacle, it was still nice to chat to the other AFON members, and to Stephen who joined us for a while.

Once the light had almost gone, a few larger flocks flew
over the hide - the noise they made as they whooshed
over was incredible!

Only once the light had well and truly gone from the sky did we head back to the cars and then to Stephen's cottage where we got ready for dinner, relaxed for a while and then had a delicious dinner with all the AFON members, Stephen, his wife and their 3 lovely children. After this we chatted for a while and then retired to bed, exhausted from a great day and looking forward to the next.

Another one of the large flocks - the light had almost completely
gone by this point but I still wanted to capture the flocks and
their movement, so this image has had quite a lot of post-processing
done to it!

Day 2:

After a quick breakfast of toast and jam we headed to Westhay Moor where we were hoping to run a photography workshop for members of the public. Unfortunately, nobody turned up so we just went round the reserve as a group, getting to know each other and offering one another advice on everything from cameras to tripods to lenses. We spent most of the day wandering around, stopping at each of the hides for a while. The highlights were a distant Great White Egret, Marsh Harriers, Raven and Bittern which showed superbly.

A panorama from Westhay.
It was quite windy so I tried to capture that with
the movement of the reeds. 
Another landscape shot from one of the hides.
Marsh Harrier (Circus aeruginosus) 
Marsh harrier hunting over the reeds (Circus aeruginosus) 
Teal (Anas crecca) flying over the reeds after being flushed by
the Marsh Harrier (Circus aeruginosus)
The wind picked up quite a bit and so once again I tried to
capture this with the motion of the reeds.
Goldfinch on teasel (Carduelis carduelis)
The male and female Marsh Harries that flushed the Bittern in the images below.
Portrait view of the Bittern (Botaurus stellaris) in flight having been
flushed by the Marsh Harriers.
Landscape view of the Bittern (Botaurus stellaris) in flight having been
flushed by the Marsh Harriers.
A Buzzard (Buteo buteo) which perched on a dead tree outside one of the hides
Marsh Harrier flying amongst a frantic flock of Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus)

Following this, we decided to give the Starling murmuration another go to se if we would be any luckier; only this time we headed to Ham Wall. The conditions were perfect, the light was excellent and our decision payed off - within the hour, huge groups of birds has started to form and thousands more were joining them by the second.

It was a truly incredible sight to witness, and one that I most certainly won't be forgetting in a hurry! We were treated to spectacular 'murmurs' and the birds performed amazingly until they finally descended into the extensive reed bed. Once the birds had settled in the reeds, the rest of the team decided to call it a day and head home; so we said our goodbyes and thanked everyone for an awesome weekend - but it wasn't quite over for me.

After the rest of the team had gone, I waited at the same spot for a little while longer before deciding to walk further up the path to see if there were any more birds around. The further along the path I walked, the louder a peculiar noise became. At first I wasn't quite sure what it was, but then I suddenly realised that it was actually the Starlings themselves chattering away amongst the reeds!!

I walked down a path that went right alongside one of the reed beds where the birds were roosting and just stood there, in complete awe and amazement at the sound being created. In all honesty I could have stood there listening to the birds all night but after some persistent nagging from my mum, we headed back to the car, drawing to a close our wonderful weekend in Somerset!

I would just like to take this opportunity to thank everyone involved, especially Simon and Joe for organising the weekend and Stephen and his wife for their wonderful hospitality and lovely dinner!

Some of the Somerset AFON team

As always, thank you very much for reading and you can keep up to date with my activity on FacebookFlickrTwitter and my website here.

1 comment:

  1. I'm glad you enjoyed our lovely county, Josie. It's good in the summer, too!