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Somerset

Kingfisher Alcedo atthis ©Nigel Blake Website

The county of Somerset covers an area of about 3,500 square kilometres in the southwest of England. While it can claim no major migration hotspots, it has a range of habitats that have attracted over three hundred species of birds, of which about a hundred species breed. As well as the very special Somerset Levels which are returning in part to their former glory. It is a county of varied habitat that attracts more birds and birders every year.

Starting with the coast of the Bristol Channel, we can find coastal mud flats around the Huntspill and Parrett estuaries, sandy beaches at Weston super mare, Berrow and Minehead and rocky cliffs at Brean Down, Kilve and Hurlstone Point, a favourite with sea watchers.

Ranges of hills start with the Mendips and stretch down to the Quantocks, Blackdowns and the Poldens. All of these have distinctive landscapes and habitats. There are many reservoirs in the shadow of the hills such as Chew, Blagdon, Wimbleball and Cheddar.

Last but not least are the Somerset Levels and Moors. Since the 1980's, large areas of peat land and other low lying flat land have been transformed by the Environment Agency working with Natural England, Somerset Wildlife Trust and RSPB. Somerset now boasts several wetland NNRs notably Ham Wall, Shapwick Heath, Westhay Moor, Greylake and West Sedgemoor. A major new wetland habitat is being created on the Steart Peninsula near Bridgwater.

Notable breeding species in recent years include Little, Great White and Cattle Egret, Bittern, Marsh Harrier, Hobby, Avocet, Nightjar, Savi's Warbler and Dartford Warbler although the last named has suffered from recent cold winters. Recent passage migrants include Spotted Crake, Pectoral, Sharp tailed and White-rumped sandpiper, Long-billed Dowitcher and Red-footed Falcon.

The mainly mild winters attract many wintering wildfowl species ranging from Bewick’s and Whooper Swan, Brent Geese to Wigeon and Pintail in large numbers, Goosander, Goldeneye and a few Smew. Woodcock arrive in numbers although they are very under recorded, Black-tailed and Bar-tailed Godwits, Golden and Grey Plover and other winter waders can be found on the flooded levels and the coast while millions of Starlings from the Continent arrive in winter, attracting in turn predators such as Peregrine, Merlin and Hen Harrier. Redwing, Fieldfare, Siskin and Redpoll are plentiful and a few Snow Buntings turn up in most years.

The Crane project is also based in Somerset. Birds from imported eggs are reared at Slimbridge and released in Somerset. Common Cranes should soon be established as another new breeding species.

For those with a wider wildlife interest, Large Blue butterflies, Otters and Red Deer can be other notable highlights of a visit to Somerset.

Top Sites

Chard Reservoir

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Chard Reservoir was once the balancing lake for the Chard to Taunton Canal. The canal is long gone but the reservoir still attracts birds including Great Crested Grebe, Little Egret and various duck species. Rarer recent visitors have included Ring-necked Duck, Red-throated Diver and Firecrest, and Lesser-spotted Woodpeckers are occasional visitors. The South Somerset District Council has erected a hide and there are footpaths through the surrounding woods where a variety of common woodland species can be seen.

Swell Woods & West Sedgemoor

Webpage

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The RSPB reserve at West Sedgemoor is an important site for wintering wildfowl and waders and breeding species such as Snipe and Redshank. The major focus for the site is to provide secluded feeding and resting places for the bird species that winter or breed on the marshes so access is restricted and views from the hide generally distant. Swell Wood is a breeding site for Grey Heron and the heronry can be watched from a hide in the wood near the car park. The RSPB also provides food for small birds in the winter and the car park is a great place to see Marsh Tit, Nuthatch and Jay as they come to within feet of the parked cars to feed.

Steart Point

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Steart is probably the best place in Somerset to see large concentrations of waders. Success does depend on being there at the correct time, which is over high tide, with spring tides being the best, as birds are pushed up out of the River Parrett and its deep creeks. From the Somerset Wildlife Trust car park, either walk to the beach and turn right or follow the road along until it becomes a footpath out to the hides. There are several hides out on the point including the amazing Tower Hide, which is part of the artistic Parrett Trail. The best for seeing the high tide wader roost are the two on the end of the point but the others can have their delights including a Peregrine or a Merlin perched on one of the posts on the salt marsh. Passage waders can be very good here and have included Wilson’s Phalarope, Kentish Plover, Buff-breasted Sandpiper and Long-billed Dowitcher. Skuas and terns can sometimes be seen from the hides as they fish in the estuary or migrate up the Bristol Channel and small parties of geese sometimes drop in to the salt marsh in winter.

Westhay Moor Nature Reserve

Webpage

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This reserve is part of the Avalon Marshes, a complex of interlinked wetlands including Catcott Lows, Shapwick Heath and Ham Wall, forming one of the most important wetland areas in the southwest. Westhay has open water, reed beds and scrub, and a remnant of raised bog habitat, and attracts a wide variety of wetland birds. It regularly has wintering Bittern and one winter hosted a pair of Penduline Tits that enthralled hundreds of birders as they decimated the reedmace heads in search of food. Visitor numbers have reduced as the focus has shifted to Shapwick Heath in particular, but Westhay is still well worth a visit. Wintering Goosander and Goldeneye are regular and the woods hold Siskin and Redpoll in winter and a variety of warblers in summer.

Shapwick Heath & Ham Wall

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These two superb reserves (run by Natural England and the RSPB respectively) are the centrepiece of the Avalon Marshes project, which has created new and extensive wetlands out of old peat diggings. Much patient effort has attracted Bitterns and Bearded Tits to breed, and the mosaic of reedbeds, open water, scrub and damp woodland holds a wide variety of other breeding species. Winter wildfowl are another draw, and a scrape on Meare Heath (part of Shapwick Heath reserve) is drained down in spring and autumn to attract passage waders. The two sites have an impressive list of rarities to their name, including (to name but a few) Little Bittern, Squacco Heron, Glossy Ibis, Whiskered Tern, Green-winged Teal, Red-footed Falcon and Red-necked Phalarope (not to mention the Booted Eagle!) In recent years the huge Starling roost has attracted large crowds late on weekend afternoons in winter (a time best avoided unless the Starlings are your aim). It’s also a great place to see Otters, though sightings are still far from guaranteed. The reserves are accessed along the old railway line either side of the car park at Ashcott Corner. In 2012 30 male Bitterns were booming across the marshes and many pairs bred as did two pairs of Great White Egrets that successfully reared four chicks!

Catcott Lows Reserve

Information

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This reserve is superb for seeing wintering ducks. The hide by the car park offers views across a flooded area of fields which can hold large flocks of Wigeon, Lapwing and Mallard with good numbers of Gadwall, Shoveler, Teal, Pintail and a few diving duck in the main channel. In spring, Garganey are regular and wader passage can be very good when water conditions are favourable. Good numbers of Whimbrel and Black-tailed Godwit are regular and rarer migrants may include Wood Sandpiper and even Temminck's Stint. Marsh Harrier, Hen Harrier, Hobby and Peregrine regularly hunt over the area. A second hide is visible across the field, and following the drove out to this hide in winter is a good way to find flocks of Redpoll and Siskin. Grasshopper Warblers can still sometimes be found in this area in summer.

Cheddar Reservoir

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Lying at the foot of the Mendip hills this is an almost circular concrete bowl. There is virtually no marginal vegetation but when the water level is low a muddy shoreline and gravelly islands become exposed. This is a very good winter waterfowl site, with a good selection of duck species, and large populations of wintering Great Crested Grebe and Coot. Goosanders roost, and Black-necked Grebe and Great Northern Diver are almost annual; other diver and grebe species turn up occasionally too. Because of its position and depth it is often one of the last stretches of water to freeze over and in hard weather can be spectacular: in winter 2009-10 the species list also included Black-throated Diver, Ring-necked Duck, Ferruginous Duck, Red-crested Pochard, Smew, Ruddy Duck, and Scaup. The gull roost occasionally attracts white-winged gulls, and it is a good place to visit after violent storms in the autumn and winter when wind blown species such as Grey Phalarope or Long-tailed Duck may be seen. It is often used by migrating terns for a short stay in spring or autumn, and sometimes by passage waders when water levels are low. Sailing and windsurfing occur on weekend afternoons and on Wednesdays so these times are not the best for birding. No permit is required.

Brean Down

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Brean Down is caused by the westward extension of the hard Mendip limestone into the Bristol Channel. It is a steep climb from the car park to the footpath on top of the down and it is not recommended for those of a weak disposition. The path then goes along the top of the hill and gradually falls until you reach the old fort at the end. The promontory is a good place to see spring and autumn migrants though it is hard work to do it thoroughly and regularly. Rock Pipit can be seen foraging among the cliff-top plants and Peregrines are often seen overhead. Sea duck can sometimes be seen off the point along with passing terns and skuas in the right wind conditions. From the inland end of the down you can look into the estuary though the views are distant.

Berrow

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The reedbed between the golf course and the beach has Bearded Tit and Water Rail. There are extensive stands of Sea Buckthorn that often attract winter thrushes and have a fair population of wintering Blackcaps. The beach is good for waders and has been host to rare migrants such as Short-toed Lark.

Hurlstone Point

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To say that Hurlstone Point is one of Somerset's premier sea-watching spots is not saying much if you are comparing it to Pendeen and on some days even Tring! It is, however, the best place to add seabirds to your Somerset list and is a nice walk even if you see nothing. You must park in the car park at Bossington, which is the closest approach by car, then walk to the sea, turning left then climbing uphill until you reach an old building along the cliff path. Some people watch from here; the hardier souls climb down from here until they are nearer sea level. Like Brean, this is not for the faint-hearted. While the birds are not prolific, they are all possible. In spring, Wheatear and Black Redstart are often seen along the cliffs here.

Webber's Post & Horner Wood

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Webber's Post car park looks out over a fantastic vista of wooded valleys and high moor land tops. A visit in May, when the migrant woodland birds have arrived and the trees are alive with the songs of Wood Warbler, Pied Flycatcher, Redstart and Tree Pipit is a memorable experience. You can either park in the car park and walk down the footpath into the valley below, or there is a car park at Horner in the valley bottom. You can then follow the footpath up along the stream where Dipper and Grey Wagtail are often seen. This is also a good spot for all three of the woodpecker species although you will need luck to see Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. The trees around the upper car park attract Redpoll, Siskin and Crossbill. Further up onto the moors, Whinchat and Grasshopper Warbler can be found, though Red Grouse is now extinct and Ring Ouzels occur only on passage . Dartford Warblers have colonised in recent years, but recent harsh winters have taken their toll and they are currently hard to find. The valley below the car park also holds the majority of the British breeding bat species.

Sutton Bingham Reservoir

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Sutton Bingham Reservoir is a moderately large expanse of water privately owned by Wessex Water, however there are a number of vantage points around its shores. Interest has declined in recent years due to increased recreational activities on the water, but it still attracts commoner winter wildfowl and rare ducks have been noted among the more common species whereas Mandarins have become a feature in recent years having successfully bred at the site. Spring or autumn passage usually turns up at least one passing Osprey, and if water levels are allowed to drop during the summer months the reservoir can attract passage waders in August and September with Common Sandpipers being especially numerous. The site also provides opportunities to see several warbler species, including the occasional Cetti's Warbler. Facilities at the reservoir include a car park with toilets at the northern end from where you can follow the water's edge to the hide at the south of the reservoir. Dogs are not permitted on site. The site list stands somewhere in the region of 225 species.

Greylake

Webpage

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This relatively new RSPB reserve covers part of Kings Sedgemoor and consists of seasonally flooded grazing marshes with some stands of reed and reedmace. Good in winter for wildfowl and raptors (including regular Hen Harriers), it is managed to provide habitat for breeding waders and Yellow Wagtails, now scarce in the county. Scarcities already recorded include Green-winged Teal and Spotted Crake.

Contributor

Julian Thomas

Assistant County Recorder

Somerset Ornithological Society

julian.thomas@somersetbirding.org.uk

Martin Sage

Volunteer Warden - Natural England & RSPB

Westhay nr. Glastonbury

jmsage@btinternet.com

County Recorder

Brian Gibbs

23 Lyngford Road, Taunton TA2 7EE

01823 274887

brian.gibbs@somersetbirding.org.uk

Number of Species

Number of bird species: 352

County Bird - Goldeneye Bucephala islandica […at a dinner marking a Somerset Ornithological Society anniversary, Peter Scott, who was the guest speaker, drew a Goldeneye on his napkin and everybody thought that it would be a brilliant symbol for Somerset!]

Useful Reading

A History of the Birds of Somerset

David K Ballance 372 pages, 40 colour plates, 2 maps. Isabelline Books 2006

ISBN: 0955278708

Buy this book from NHBS.com

Where to Watch Birds in Somerset, Gloucestershire & Wiltshire

by Ken Hall & John Govett 3rd edition Helm ?Where to Watch? series. 2004 ?14.99p
See Fatbirder Review

ISBN: 0713666145

Buy this book from NHBS.com

Guides & Tour Operators

Click on WAND for tours, guides, lodges and more…

Birding Pal

Information

Local birders willing to show visiting birders around their area…

Somerset Birder

Tour Operator

I am a full time professional wildlife consultant and experienced birder, and am also keen to act as a bird guide for visiting or inexperienced birders. Visitors may wish to see particular British species, or just spend some time at a popular site or habitat…

Avalon Wildlife

Guide

Joe Cockram - Guided Walks and Private Tours on the Somerset Levels - I was born and raised in Somerset, and have been birding on the Avalon Marshes since I was 8 years old. Now 26, I have spent much of the past 10 years working on nature reserves around the UK, including such legendary sites as Titchwell Marsh, The Farne Islands and Blakeney Point. I have also recently completed a Batchelors degree in Ecology and Wildlife Conservation at Bournemouth University. Between work and studies I have travelled the world extensively, mainly on birdwatching trips, you can read about my global adventures on my other website Joe’s Birding Blog.

Trip Reports

CloudBirders

Trip Report Repository

CloudBirders was created by a group of Belgian world birding enthusiasts and went live on 21st of March 2013. They provide a large and growing database of birding trip reports, complemented with extensive search, voting and statistical features.

Places to Stay

Click on WAND for tours, guides, lodges and more…

Old Orchard House - Glastonbury

Accommodation

Modern comfortable home offering a warm welcome, log fires, maps, books, newspapers and high quality evening meals…

Packhorse - Allerford

Accommodation

The Pack Horse is situated in Allerford, a picturesque National Trust village within The Exmoor National Park and takes it name from the ancient Packhorse Bridge it sits beside.

Gurney Manor Mill

Accommodation

Gurney Manor Mill Bed & Breakfast is an Old Watermill and Barn conversion alongside a stream with rural views and wildlife. We are close to several bird reserves along the Somerset coastline.

Sage Farm Cottages - Westhay

Accommodation

Westhay is surrounded by National Nature Reserves and the area of the Somerset Levels is well known for wildlife including rare species such as Marsh Harrier, Barn Owl, Bittern and Otter. The spectacular Westhay starling roost is regularly featured on TV wildlife programmes…

Wall Eden Farm

Accommodation

Wall Eden Farm is set in seven acres, on the edge of the Somerset Levels, offering a selection of 6 luxury log cabins for your next self-catering holiday. Each cabin has been designed to be fully accessible…

Organisations

Somerset Ornithological Society

Website

Rob Grimmond - SOS Secretary & Webmaster. The website for all your birding needs in Somerset, including a sightings message-board, site guides, details of indoor and field meetings, and links to other sites maintained by local birders and wildlife photographers…

Cam Valley Wildlife Group

Website

An independent wildlife conservation group covering Midsomer Norton, Radstock and surrounding villages. Its aims are: the conservation of local wildlife, promoting awareness and understanding of wildlife, encouraging enjoyment of wildlife…

Somerset Environmental Records Centre

Website

The Somerset Environmental Records Centre (SERC) is the centre of reference for all information relating to wildlife and biodiversity in Somerset. It maintains an up-to-date record of sites, habitats and species found in the county and makes the data available for decision making, conservation, research, monitoring and education…

Somerset Wildlife Trust

Website

Address: Fyne Court, Broomfield, Bridgwater, Somerset, TA5 2EQ. Tel 01823 451587 Fax 01823 451671 Email enquiries@somersetwildlife.org - We have a simple aim – to safeguard the county`s wildlife and wild places for this and future generations. Help us achieve this aim by becoming a supporter…

RSPB - South Somerset

Website

The aim of it is to inform members and non-members of the activities of South Somerset Group. It will be updated regularly with What's On, Field Trip Reports, Fund Raising and other interesting items of News…

Reserves

Sutton Bingham Reservoir

Webpage

Satellite View

Sutton Bingham Reservoir is a relatively small area of water situated about 5 miles to the south-west of Yeovil in Somerset, England. Created in the 1950`s the reservoir provides water for the surrounding area, as well as good habitat for a number of birds and other wildlife, and recreational pursuits, including sailing and fishing. Whilst the northern end of the reservoir is set aside for these past-times, the southern half of the reservoir is a designated wildlife reserve, complete with hide…

Chard Reservoir

Website

Satellite View

Chard is a small town in Somerset, England, UK. These pages are an introduction to the reservoir at Chard and some of the wildlife that may be found there. The reservoir is only about a mile from the centre of Chard town and so is regularly visited by local people. The surrounding meadows are much used for dog walking. That said, the site is actually well hidden from all but the closest houses and many shoppers in Chard may be completely unaware of the existence of this substantial (20 hectares) stretch of water.

RSPB - Ham Wall

Webpage

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Lots of wildlife has already been attracted to the land we have restored since 1994. Marsh harriers, garganeys and reed buntings breed here and water voles, otters and dragonflies can be seen on the open water…

RSPB - West Sedgemoor

Webpage

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This reserve forms part of the Somerset Levels and Moors, one of England's largest remaining wet meadow systems. Large numbers of wading birds breed here and the winter floods attract Bewick's swans, and thousands of teals, wigeons and lapwings…

North Somerset Levels & Moors

Website

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The North Somerset Levels and Moors is an extensive area of low-lying wetland adjacent to the Severn Estuary between the Mendip Hills in the south and Bristol to the north. It is an area rich in irreplaceable natural and historic heritage…

Chew Valley Ringing Station

Website

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Chew Valley Ringing Station is located in North Somerset just north of the Mendip hills on the southwest shore of Chew Valley Lake and on the A368 road midway between Bath and Weston -S- Mare, between the villages of Bishop Sutton and West Harptree…

Shapwick Heath National nature Reserve

Webpage

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This magnificent and varied nature reserve covers over 500 ha at the heart of the Avalon Marshes (part of Somerset’s Levels and Moors). Shapwick Heath National Nature Reserve (NNR) is part of an area that's steeped in history and is a superb place to watch wildlife, whether it’s an elusive bittern, an otter lurking in the reed beds, or the swirling flocks of starlings that come to roost in winter.

RSPB - Greylake

Webpage

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In winter, the land floods and flocks of lapwings, golden plovers and other wading birds arrive. You can also see wigeons, teals, shovelers and Bewick's swans at this time of year. There is lots of other wildlife to see here too including dragonflies, water voles, otters and roe deer. There is a boardwalk which meanders from the car park to the hide and provides excellent disabled access.

Blogs

Tim Farr's Birding BLOG

Blog

Whilst I've been a keen birder for many a year, I have always managed to get by with a scribble on a scrap of paper and have never bothered to make a proper note of what I've seen. So here it is, my blog! A list of all things, especially birds, that I've seen whilst out and about…usually with my wonderful wife, Ellie…

Newton-St-Loe Birding

Blog

Wildlife & Fauna in Newton St Loe and (walkable) surrounding areas, plus the odd day trips around the UK. Latest Sightings of birds & nature in our local countryside…

Joe's Birding Blog

Blog

The Avalon Marshes are producing some fantastic birding at the moment. You shouldn't be reading about it on here though, you should be looking at my new website www.avalonwildlife.co.uk for all the latest…

The Elite Fast Response Squadron

Blog

A site by two guys, James and Andrew, with an odd sense of humour and their adventures while bird watching around the Somerset Levels then posting on our BLOG and some of our favourite pictures. We call ourselves the Elite Fast Response Squadron or EFRS for short. Why the EFRS? Well we have the ability to travel with speed and agility to most of the Nature Reserves within our scope with the aid of bicycles. While cars may be faster on the road the bicycles can go places that cars cannot and faster than on foot.

George's Wildlife Diary

BLOG

Bird sightings for Weston Super Mare and the surrounding areas, and nature in my local patch.

Other Links

Somerset's Birds of Prey

Website

All images on this page are record shots of wild birds, as the quality reflects…

Chew Valley Lake Birding

Website

Chew Valley Lake, ten miles south of Bristol, is the largest reservoir in south-west England. This website contains regularly updated news and information on its birds and wildlife.

Somerset Birder

Website

This web site is devoted to birding and natural history. The site has a bias towards Somerset birding in the UK, but hopefully this is not all that will appear here.

Photographers & Artists

Photographer - Chris Trott

Gallery

I have been digi-scoping for about 6 or so months and the pictures included represent some of my best efforts up to now…

Photographer - Simon Mackie

Gallery

This web-site's primary roll is to showcase examples of Simon's work…

Photographer - Paul Bowyer

Gallery

Mostly British birds and rarities plus trip reports…

Bird Photographs - Tim Taylor - Wild Imaging

Gallery

UK bird and other photography by Tim Taylor…

Photographer - Rob Chase - L & R Wildphoto

Gallery

Wildlife of Somerset & further afield. Specialising in birds & mammals, Rob Chace is also a keen naturalist. Find galleries, equipment reviews & more at L&R wildphoto.

Photographer - Tim Taylor

Gallery

I'm a 48yr old hobby photographer living in Somerset, UK with my wife and two children. I grew up in Hong Kong which is rich in wildlife and spent a great deal of my time outdoors. Particular interests then were snakes and 'creepy crawlies' but I remember watching the black kites circling the skyscrapers and pursuing their pigeon prey…

Photographer - Carl Bovis Nature Photography

Gallery

I'm an amateur nature photographer from the beautiful County of Somerset in the UK. I use a Nikon D7000 with a 70-300mm Nikkor VR lens, almost all my shots are handheld! I've always loved nature, especially birds, and digital photography is a fantastic way of sharing the beauty I'm lucky enough to see around me every day!