Having only ever had a taster of the Somerset levels from a brief Saturday visit earlier in the year and with no autumn holiday previously booked, it seemed like a great place to get away too for a few days as a change of scenery without having to travel too far. My previous visit to the RSPB’s Ham Wall reserve had been late on a March afternoon and although promised much, the weather came in and sightings were at a minimum. So having the opportunity to visit again with a bit more time on my hands was a promising prospect.
Unfortunately the weather was very similar to last time with most afternoons grey and overcast, although this time the wildlife on show was a lot more obliging. Working a 9-5 weekday job doesn’t often bring the chance of visiting reserves during the week. But oh how I wish I could do that more often, there were hardly any people around and those that were, were there for the wildlife and not to walk the dog or keep the kids entertained like the usual weekend crowd I encounter.
It didn’t take too long as I entered the reserve before I got a glimpse of a Somerset levels specialist, a very brief flyover by a Great White Egret, always an elusive tick in north Hampshire. It seemed like I was gorging myself on reed bed dwellers as a few minutes later the first of at least half a dozen Marsh Harriers wheeled its way over the tops of the path side standing reed.
With Marsh Harriers in my sights and well within camera range, I quickly headed down to the Tor View hide, situated smack bang in the middle of the reedbed. With great views across the levels to Glastonbury Tor and almost a 360 degree vantage point, it was the perfect place to scan for Harriers.
As the afternoon went on Marsh Harriers of different ages both male and female glided effortlessly over the rows of reed. Hunting and hovering like beautiful angels of death, hanging motionless in mid-air as they sought out prey. I longed for some better light, it never came, but I really couldn’t complain about the great views these majestic birds of prey were giving, all just metres out from the hide.
As light levels dropped even more and the prospect of tens of thousands of Starlings starting to arriving to roost, the adult female was joined by a stunning creamed capped, slate-blue winged male, who happily alarmed the resident Teal as he joined the fray. Dropping down low enough on occasions so I could capture his cracking plumage.
The Marsh Harrier wasn’t the only species making regular flights over the stands of reed, Ham Wall is a great place to see Bitterns and I was not let down from the Tor View hide as several made extremely short flights from one stand of reed to the next. Appearing only inches above the cover as they swiftly disappeared amongst the next band, it was real if you blinked you missed it kind of birdwatching and It took me a little while to get a clear shot as anticipating the movement was the biggest challenge.
There was plenty of other waterfowl on display throughout the afternoon, with Great crested Grebe, Tufted Duck, Shoveler, Teal, Mute Swan and plenty of Cormorants alongside the ever present background exploding soundtrack song of the Cettis warbler. I even managed to catch the thousands of Starlings coming into roost, unfortunately they didn’t feel too much like performing and dropped down into their roosting spots with minimal fuss. There is always next time!
All in all a nice couple of afternoons spent enjoying some of the levels finest species. I can’t wait to get back there again soon and hopefully in some better light to enjoy the awesome aerial displays of the Marsh Harriers and maybe catch a better view of the Starling murmuration.
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