Field Trip Report – 9th December 2023 – Ham Wall

RSPB Group visit on Saturday 9th December 2023 to Ham Wall and Shapwick.

Report by Lucy Starling with photographs by John Rowles

Ten members joined me at around 11am on a very windy but thankfully dry and bright day after more overnight rain. There was no access to any of the hides due to unprecedented high amounts of flood water on site. It was therefore very much a linear east/west birding walk-about along the old railway line through the reserve.

During the first two hours before lunch we saw possibly up to 8 different Marsh Harriers, males and females. The wildfowl were looking splendid in full breeding plumage, many paired up. There were high numbers of Shoveler and Gadwall, interspersed with Teal, Wigeon, Tufted and Mallard and a lone Little Grebe and a Great Crested Grebe. Parties of Lapwing drifted overhead during our meander towards Viewing Platform 2 where there was a mixed flock of Greylag and Canada Geese. A Marsh Harrier drifted really close to us and disturbed a small group of Snipe into flight. In this area, up in the tops of the alders, we came across a small party of Lesser Redpoll. Some of the group also found a few Siskin. Other passerines recorded included Chaffinch, Great Tit and Robin and I was fortunate to catch sight of a Kingfisher in flight being at the head of our party. Little birdsong to be heard at this time of year and also because of the strong wind, however, I could clearly hear Blue Tit alarm calls as we ate our sandwiches by our cars, and caught a glimpse of a male Sparrowhawk flying low and away from me, not far off the ground, clearly in hunting mode.

We wandered over to Noah’s Hide on Shapwick after lunch, joined by two more members, where there was a flock of probably around 1000 Wigeon. Scanning through I could locate small groups of Pintail and a distant Great Crested Grebe near some Mute Swans. Marsh Harriers caused some disturbance enough to alarm the Wigeon to emit their distinctive whistling call.

Back at the car park we took a break as more cars were getting parked up for the starling murmuration towards dusk, with sunset just before 4pm. The roost the previous evening, and a few weeks before that, was on Waltons, the other side from Viewing Platform 1 (VP1).

Initially, a few small parties of Starlings drifted in, west to east over Waltons and Loxtons, sometimes performing some “shaping” movements before disappearing towards the Avalon hide area. Some of my group remained at VP1 but I wandered with others towards Waltons before returning to VP1 because we could see birds flying over to settle in the reeds. The “murmuration” we saw was principally over the trees at the back of the open water in front of the VP1. What immediately struck me was the size of the roost, numbers well down on last year. Nevertheless, it was a wondrous sight and sound as the birds noisily began to settle in the reeds and bare-branched low bushes that became a black mass in the ever fading light as we returned to the car park.

I recorded 39 species seen and/or heard, including only one song burst of a Cetti’s Warbler at 4.30pm; about time!!!!!