Sunday, 26 October 2014

23rd October 2014 - The Pallid Harrier dip in Somerset

Following the successful trip to South Wales on Monday, the week faded a little bit. Tuesday and Wednesday mornings were spent at Westport; Wednesday being especially good at Westport with one of the best mornings birding there for quite a while. Viz mig was in full flow with a personal record count of 3245 Woodpigeons over. There were lots of other decent birds seen, with stuff like Brambling, Raven, Linnet, Nuthatches, Rooks, Siskin, Cormorants - all birds you don't see often down there. It just shows when it starts going quiet nationally, there's always your local patch to fall back on. You just have to drop down your lists a little bit. 

The end of the week was approaching and we needed a trip. There were two choices basically. A SIBERIAN STONECHAT in Hampshire (but nothing else down there to see at all), or a PALLID HARRIER in Somerset. 

We decided on Somerset and a return visit to Steart Point. We'd seen the wintering Temminck's Stint there in 2013. Now, the area had been re-developed since and it was a brand new reserve called Steart Marshes WWT. We skipped Westport and headed straight down the M5 again. A short drive through Weston-super-Mare and we headed out onto the point itself. At first the roads were unfamiliar and we didn't recognise the area. Then we drove past a caravan park and still the signposts weren't saying Steart. In fact, they were saying Brean. I started to feel a little bit uneasy and decided to stop and check my phone as to where we were. 

The lads took it quite well, and 40 mins later we were on Steart Point parking up in the brand new reserve car park. The slight detour to the headland above Steart wasn't planned but it was good to explore the area. We now know there are two peninsulars on the Somerset coast and I'm sure that will come in useful one day.

As I said before, Steart Marshes WWT is new. The car park is brand new, all the signs and posts were immaculate. The information boards are well presented and the staff we spoke to were very pleasant. The paths were well laid out. There were toilets but no visitors centre yet. There is just one slight problem with the reserve though - there's hardly any birds there.

We stood next to the Mendip hide and joined the small crowd and scanned over the newly created marshes. There were a few Little Egrets to look at. And that was about all. After about half an hour of standing by the side of the hide, standing on the bank being buffeted by the wind, sharp-eyed CJW made a startling observation. There were birders sat inside the hide. We assumed that because everyone was stood by the hide that it was shut. I tried the door and it opened. We sat down out of the wind and set our scopes up. Unfortunately, the only window space left was a large window that wouldn't open. And the glass was foggy. But we coped. 

We sat there all morning. The highlight was finally seeing the Great White Egret as it showed briefly in one of the channels. We found a few Shoveler and Mallard, a few Canada Geese flew in, several flocks of distant waders flew across. We even saw a Merlin. But the juvenile PALLID HARRIER was missing.

Our visit sort of summed up the week. Sadly missing something. If there had been birds to look at, it might have made the visit better. But there wasn't. It's hard to think of a more birdless place that we'd visited recently. We didn't, despite searching, even see a Coot. But where as other WWT have been built around areas of wintering geese and swans for example, Steart is a man made flooded area by an estuary. The notice boards only list the estuary waders as birds you are likely to see. I'm sure it will develop and birds will start visiting it...eventually. Maybe if the PALLID HARRIER had put on a show, we would have enjoyed the visit a little bit more.

Then, at 12:55hrs, as if the god's above were laughing at us, news broke of just the sort of bird we had dreamed of this week. A YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO had been found at Porthgwarra. We were half way there. It would only take us about three hours to get there. It would leave us with a couple of hours of light and, as we all know, American Cuckoos rarely survive into a second day. Then incredibly news came of a BLACK-BILLED CUCKOO on North Ronaldsay. The hurricane of Tuesday was finally producing the goods. 

Unfortunately, I had to be back home by 18:30hrs to baby sit. It was the only night of the week that my good lady was going out. There was nothing left to do. We headed for home.

No photo's were taken today as we didn't see much. So here's a bird I saw 23yrs ago, on the 18th October 1991. I'm sure some of you younger readers will enjoy them. And I was the second birder to arrive on scene. And I'd been twice before with WJL following rumours of one being present. And I didn't charter any planes to see it. In fact, I didn't have to leave the city boundaries!