Bird Watching in Somerset

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Bird Watching in Somerset

Bird Watching in Somerset

I wrote this back in January but thought I would repost it today as I say goodbye to a lovely group of Bird Watchers that have been staying here with us in Glastonbury.

They were with us all week exploring the wonderful Nature Reserves in our area and they were so pleased to have spotted 99 different species of birds while they were here(to be honest I didn’t know there were that many here in Somerset- but what do I know)

They even managed to see 2 of the Great Cranes that are now found in the wild here in Somerset after an absence of over 400 years. For more information on this project you can visit this site Great Crane Project

The group also heard the most booming bitterns they have ever heard.  If you have never heard them before – click on this link and it will take you to  what they sound like. Listen to the Booming of a Bittern

If you want to learn more about the birds of Somerset there are some great Bird Watching events, for both beginners and regular birdwatchers. If you follow the link below you will see some of the courses offered at the Avalon Marshes Centre on the Somerset Levels.  Avalon Marshes Centre

Here is my ramblings on  from January 2016

Just a few miles from us here at Middlewick lies the Avalon Marshes where you will find RSPB Ham Wall and Shapwick Heath Nature Reserves.   On a cold weekend in January I had the pleasure of taking part in an organised bird watching walk with a couple of the RSPB volunteer guides.

View of Glastonbury Tor from Ham Wall Nature Reserve

I regularly use the Nature Reserve for my marathon training runs.  I get dropped off at the end of the reserve and run back to Glastonbury along the disused railway line that runs through the lakes and rivers of the marshes. Today though instead of running through I took the time to explore the area properly and learn about the many birds that make the area their home.

6000 years ago most of what is now Somerset’s Levels and Moors was open water and reedbed.  Over time the reedbed was replaced by wet woodland and then by a raised bog. This formed layers of peat. In the late 20th century the demand for horticultural peat was high and the local peat industry expanded rapidly. Huge quantities of peat were removed from the area leaving behind a scarred landscape.

These stripped areas of land were passed on the RSPB in the mid 1990s to re-create vital reedbeds for struggling bird populations in the UK.  The land was dug out and shaped with machines and then thousands of reeds were planted by hand.

The main focus for the RSPB was to help with the threatened Bittern population in the UK.  Prized as a medieval banquet dish and hit by hunting and the loss of its reedbed habitat, the Bittern became extinct in the UK in 1886.  The bird returned to Norfolk in 1900 and by the 1950s there were 80 booming males again.  The population of the Bittern then declined again and was down to only 11 booming males when the Ham Wall Nature Reserve was established.


In 2008 all the hard work of the volunteers paid off and the first pair of Bitterns returned to the Somerset Levels.  The population has grown every year and according to this year’s figures the UK’s top county for Bitterns is Somerset, with over 40 booming males. 20 of these were in the Ham Wall Nature Reserve.

Other birds that have benefitted from the work on the nature reserve have been The Great White Egret.  I was fortunate to see one while we were on our walk and with only 35 of them in the whole of the UK that was an unexpected treat.

Great White Egret
white egret
Great White Egret

We spotted Teal, Gadwell, Shovellers, and Wigeons which are all on the RSPB Amber list as the population is in decline.


The guides who took us on our walk were so full of amazing knowledge of the birds and the area. So much work has gone into creating this natural paradise for wetland wildlife.  There is so much to see and do on the Nature Reserves and the best way to find out the latest events is to go on the Avalon Marshes or the RSPB websites.

I like the sounds of the Mr Boombastic walk to visit the Bitterns. They take place in April and booking is essential as I know they fill up quickly.


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