Sunday, 6 February 2011

Cranes, bitterns and swans: Tour leading on the Somerset Levels

It's a bit of cliche saying every day is different, but this week couldn't be more true.
At the beginning of the week is was freezing (again!) and I was doing a few dinosaur workshops before finishing paperwork in the office on Tuesday.

Cranes in flight
Tuesday evening, Wednesday and Thursday I was tour leading for Naturetrek on the Somerset Levels. Myself and Charles Martin took sixteen clients down to the Levels to experience this unique habitat and see some great wildlife. We weren't disappointed, especially as the temperature had risen well above freezing and most stretches of water were ice free. Highlights included seeing sixteen cranes (as part of the Great Crane project), thousands of wigeon, one hundred pintail, Bewick's swan and brief glimpses of bitterns! We also watched seven roe deer in a ploughed field and a fox quartering the field where the Bewick's swans were feeding, perhaps with high expectations of catching one! The starlings showed in their millions (although they decided to roost on Shapwick instead of Ham Wall), while six bright great white egrets fed in the reeds at Ham Wall. We were staying in the wonderful surroundings of the Swan Hotel in Wells with Wells Cathedral in view from the bar. Brilliant food and service as always.

Can you  spot the snipe?

I was then back to the university on Friday catching up on e-mails, giving a dinosaur workshop to nursery children in Knowle West and various meetings in the afternoon.

Yesterday I paid a visit to Slimbridge WWT to help a friend film a showreel - we got there early and made our way to Puddleduck Corner where the ducks and geese were just having their morning feed. It was fun (and noisy) being surrounded by lots of red-breasted geese, Hawaiian geese and bar-headed geese! On our way, the otters must have been hungry as all four were fidgety and coming very close while nuzzling each other on the other side of the glass.

I'd never realised just how big Rouen ducks were - at Puddleduck Corner they have a collection of different types of domestic ducks such as Khaki Campbells, call ducks, runner ducks and Rouen ducks. The huge, long, breast bone of the latter made them look incredibly mis-shaped and awkward - a feature bred to produce lots of meat no doubt.

The filming went well and as we finished a small flock of siskins flew into the nearby alders.
Meanwhile, from the Rushy Pen we could see the two wild scaup snoozing, Bewick's swans were trumpeting, and as we left  a few hundred wild white-fronted geese flew overhead!


  1. Ed,

    I've never seen the starlings on Somerset Levels, only those that used to roost at Temple Meads Station. Why do we no longer see them there?

    I've found this site which gives some very good information for the Somerset levels viewings. What would you say was the latest date to go? Presumably dusk would be the most appropriate time of day.

    Dave Fear (Hanham)

  2. The authorities did as much as they could to stop the starlings roosting at BTM station. It also coincided with their general decline. Gradually since then they've either disappeared through mortality or moved to other places such as the Levels. The show will continue till the end of Feb/beginning of March and dusk time is best (although get there an hour before as they can come in early. Worth checking where they are by popping into the Peat Moors Centre, Shapwick (they have a map on the Natural England office) or phone the starling Hotline, 07866 554142. As we edge closer to spring the starlings peel away back to Russia and eastern Europe.

    Best wishes


  3. Hi Ed, at Greylake in November Rob collis and I counted over 50 snipe in similar habitat to the one you photographed. Sadly no Jack Snipe. The Swan Hotel is as you say, worth resting at after a day on the Levels, good coffee and biccies.