Ideas to liven up your birdwatching over a notional year in Somerset – no guarantees, but worth a thought…
A new year, and the list-minded will be out trying to rack up a decent total. The Steart/Stolford area is always a likely bet, with good chances of Avocets in the Parrett estuary, Brent Geese and seaduck off Stolford, and probably a Short-eared Owl or two along with raptors and masses of waders around Steart itself.
The Brue estuary is a good spot for a wintering Spotted Redshank or two, and with a bit more effort perhaps a Jack Snipe.
On the Levels all the usuals should be around, and the Starling roost will build towards its peak. Look for Whooper Swans around Sharpham, and small groups of Bewick’s Swans could turn up anywhere.
It could be another good winter for Bramblings – look for them near beech trees, and even possibly in your garden. One classic spot is in the Brendons, along the road between Ralegh’s Cross and Wimbleball Lake.
Any prolonged period of stormy weather might produce a ‘wreck’ of seabirds, particularly Kittiwakes and even Leach’s Petrels, in Bridgwater Bay.
Greylake is always a good bet for raptors, usually including Hen Harrier, as well as impressive flocks of Golden Plovers and winter thrushes, and the best chance of a wintering Ruff.
Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers will start to get active in the Quantock and Exmoor combes later in the month too.
Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers are at their most conspicuous, calling and in leafless trees. Try Bin Combe in the Quantocks or anywhere in the Horner Wood complex for the best chances.
Early migrants are on the move – coastal sites such as Stolford may host early Wheatears, and look for passage Ring Ouzels in upland areas. Sand Martins and even Swallows may appear over reservoirs or Shapwick Heath.
Wildfowl and gulls are on the move too, particularly later in the month – Cheddar Reservoir has a good track record for producing Little Gulls, perhaps an Iceland or Glaucous Gull in the roost, and scarcer diving duck and grebes. Catcott Lows is the top spot for a chance of a fine drake Garganey.
Passerine migrants pour in from the second week onwards. An influx of Red Kites has featured in recent springs, but it’s pot luck whether you find one.
The reedbeds of the Avalon Marshes come alive with the sound of Reed and Sedge Warblers, and the resident Cetti’s Warblers are at their most active and visible. The wader scrape at Meare Heath could produce a Little Ringed Plover or early Wood Sandpiper.
On Exmoor, newly-arrived Grasshopper Warblers are often unusually visible reeling from the heather. Try Horner Wood for singing Redstarts, Pied Flycatchers and Wood Warblers.
Coastal sites like Brean Down, Steart or Lilstock should produce migrants in overcast conditions, perhaps including a rarity.
Anything can happen anywhere in May, so keep a close eye on the website messageboard for the latest news, but remember that spring migrants often move on quickly. Coastal sites like Brean Down offer the best opportunities for finding your own.
Waders at Steart should include Whimbrels, and possibly a Little Stint or Curlew Sandpiper.
Shapwick Heath will host big numbers of Hobbies, while feeding flights should make Bitterns more visible later in the month, and checking the Meare Heath wader scrape should continue to reap rewards.
Finally, check your local churchyard or copse for Spotted Flycatcher – you might get a nice surprise!
Spring migration is almost over, but there are still chances to find your own goodie – Golden Oriole, Honey Buzzard, and Red-backed Shrike are all slim chances, but possible, and could turn up anywhere. Perhaps more likely is hearing a Quail calling from unimproved grassland or a cereal crop. Checking the waders at Wall Common might produce a surprise Little Stint.
Bitterns on the Avalon Marshes should be feeding young by now, and are at their most active and visible. Still, warm nights in June are perfect for seeing and hearing Nightjars – try Staple Hill in the Blackdowns, Staple Plain in the Quantocks, Stockhill on Mendip, or Webber’s Post on Exmoor.
The midsummer doldrums, but plenty of time to find those last few breeding records for the Atlas (sorry, couldn’t resist the plug). Waders start moving south again, so sites like Wall Common and Durleigh Reservoir are worth a visit – Green and Common Sandpipers are the most likely at this time, but there are chances of a number of other species too.
Midsummer storms can produce some good seawatching off Minehead, Porlock Weir, or Burnham-on-Sea (over high tide) – there are a few recent July records of Storm Petrel, for instance. Wandering terns are also possible – Noah’s Lake has a good recent track record, or try the coast between Steart and Hinkley Point.
We think of August as being summer, but for many birds it is the start of autumn migration. Waders predominate, and Steart and Meare Heath are worth a visit or two – Curlew Sandpiper and Wood Sandpiper are just two of the species you might see. Some passerine migrants start moving back through too – Yellow Wagtails, Wheatears and Redstarts are all likely, and if you’re really lucky an Aquatic Warbler might appear in the reedbeds at Steart.
It’s a good month for Spotted Crakes – Greylake and Meare Heath are likely spots. Don’t forget seawatching, in the right conditions – skuas might get blown up the Bristol Channel or come overland from the North Sea.
Our summer visitors are leaving us in droves, but they can put on some great shows as they go. Check out Stolford, Dunster Beach and Huntspill Sea Wall for good numbers of Wheatears, Yellow Wagtails, Skylarks, pipits, hirundines and the like. Wrynecks can turn up anywhere along the coast, and regularly in gardens inland too.
Wall Common and the Brue estuary are good bets for Curlew Sandpipers and Little Stints among other passage waders. Inland, Meare Heath will be the best wader spot if water levels allow.
September is the best month for seawatching if conditions are right, though it is unpredictable. Strong northwesterlies can bring Leach’s Petrels and Grey Phalaropes close in off Burnham over high tide. All four skua species are possible and last year we also had a good influx of Sabine’s Gulls.
The stream of passerine migrants slows as many birds have already departed, but this is the rarity-hunter’s favourite month. Coastal sites will usually offer the best rewards - Brean Down has some top-class October rarities to its name. Lilstock is just one place that has hosted an increasingly regular rarity, the hyperactive Yellow-browed Warbler. For passage Ring Ouzels and Firecrests try the path up to Hurlstone Point late in the month.
Visible migration along the coast from Brean Down to Huntspill can be very rewarding, though it helps immensely to know the calls as birds belt overhead – Brambling, Twite, Hawfinch, Woodlark and Lapland Bunting are all possible.
Inland, the arrival of ducks and waders might bring in something interesting too. Try Greylake or Steart for a returning Hen Harrier or Short-eared Owl.
It’s not quite winter yet, though winter thrushes should arrive in numbers. Black Redstarts could appear anywhere – Brean Down Cove and Stolford are regular haunts. Rare visitors from further east often appear late, too – our only Pallas’s Warbler and several Richard’s Pipits have been found in this month.
Wildfowl on the Levels and wader flocks around the Parrett Estuary start to increase rapidly and offer some spectacular sights. As does the Starling roost in the Avalon Marshes which should also attract raptors.
Seawatchers’ minds turn to divers and the hope of a storm-blown Little Auk or perhaps a Velvet Scoter or two. Try Minehead or Porlock Weir, or for seaduck, Hinkley Point.
This is the best month for Snow Buntings along the coast – Stolford and Dunster Beach both have a good track record.
It’s another Waxwing year. Taunton always seems to get at least one flock in influx years, but last time around towns from Frome to Minehead shared in the fun. Check out any areas of berry-bearing trees or shrubs – supermarket car parks are traditionally favoured sites, so you might even get a nice bonus while doing the Christmas shopping.
It’s also a good month for divers – try Minehead or other points west for regular Red-throateds and an occasional Black-throated or Great Northern. The latter also regularly turn up on Cheddar Reservoir, which will also almost certainly host a Scaup or two and perhaps something rarer like a Black-necked Grebe.