Somerset has been blustery, muddy and wet, and some of the low-lying farmland is waterlogged but thankfully all is very far removed from the flooding that stopped people in their tracks. This year the elements have conspired more than ever to provide a fabulous winter hotel on the Somerset Levels for the best of wild bird guests that you could hope for.
Flocks of winter visitors have been checking in at the RSPB nature reserves that are integral to the beautiful and unique Somerset levels. I started at Swell Woods near Curry Rival and there, with wellies on and camera at the ready, my first encounter was an RSPB warden who explained that this particular site is home to over 100 nesting herons – but not till April! He not only took the time to talk to this most ignorant of birdwatchers but actually took me to the RSPB office at a farm just a couple of miles away and there another world was opened up to me. An impromptu meeting with the Visitor Services Manager gave me a wonderful glimpse into the world of conservation and directions to my next port of call.
The sky was sailing past at speed but the waters at the RSPB’s Greylakes Reserve near Glastonbury were lying fairly calm beneath a momentarily bright blue sky. A second chance encounter had me hooked, another complete stranger who took the time to share his binoculars so that I came away having seen, first hand and up close, Snipe, Curlews, Teal, not to mention thousands and thousands of mallard ducks. I had just missed two swooping Marsh Harriers – with wingspans to die for (literally if you are a sitting duck) and a Kestrel. Sorry to go on but it didn’t stop there – walking back to the car park along a watery channel, seven elegant swans swam alongside, just a yard away from me, in a genteel line, that is until they reached the patches of fresh green weed that were lunch! The incredible noise they made gobbling it up would have had me sent from the table in disgrace as a child. My unknown mentor politely explained that what I thought was a sparrow at the feeding table by the car was a Reed Bunting. I am definitely going back – I must remember about the herons too.
Driving back across the levels, every now and then a dot to dot of white swans stood out in the green of the landscape. Then, as a grand finale to the day, dipping and eddying like an airbourne shoal of fish, a tight ball of starlings tumbled in the sky in a breathtaking acrobatic display. The Somerset Levels certainly did this new ornithologist proud.