Bittern by the Marshys

For those who know me you probably heard me saying I like Marsh Harriers. In fact they have become my favourite raptor species.

I have been told that they are so rare that there are even more Golden Eagles in the UK than Marsh Harriers which is quite something.

Last year I saw my first "Marshy" as I call them at Goldcliff Lagoons. Since then I have become obsessive about watching them and love it when they show up. However they appear to have gone to ground of late and become quite a challenge for me to find on a regular basis.

However, there is a location in Somerset, the RSPB Ham Wall reserve where they are pretty much resident all year around. I first visited the reserve last year with some of my birding pals and was smitten at once with how much wildlife was on site. As well as being quite well known for its Marsh Harriers the reserve also is famous for the amount of Bitterns that can be seen.

With this in mind and some time to spare this week I decided to head across the Seven yesterday and venture South to chance my arm at getting some pictures of the Marshys and perhaps the odd Bittern or two.

Despite the muggy wet weather ,life at the reserve continued apace with lots of activity to watch. The reserve had few people on site which personally I love as it means there is a lot less disturbance.

The Marshys were very active. They maintained a wary distance from the hides but put on quite a performance in front of the superb Avalon Hide. This hide is large, spacious and very well situated with panoramic views across the marsh land. Its here that the Marsh Harriers appear to have made camp. So too have the Bitterns.

On a number of occasions I was fortunate to get a flypast from the Marshys. They have amazing eyes. Dark black pupils surrounded by yellow.

Male Marsh Harrier 

The male was very busy all day. Hunting, gathering nest material, mobbing bitterns and bringing food (mainly unlucky ducklings) to the female.

Male Marsh Harrier 

Dinner delivery

The female would often sit on top of a bush that has a good view of the surroundings and called insistently out to the male bird. He would often return after a hunting sortie and then drop the chick he had caught to the female in mid-flight and she would catch it.

Whilst I was being entranced by all the Marshy activity I got rather surprised to see not one, but four Bitterns that took to the sky at the same time. They appeared to be rapt up in their own aerial feud chasing one another and getting all territorial by the looks of it.

Four Bitterns


The Marshys and Bitterns show no neighbourly love for each other at all. Apparently they will predate each others young if given half a chance. This results in some serious animosity and the Harriers spent a good part of their day mobbing the Bitterns which resulted in some angry exchanges.

Bittern V Marshy

When I wasn't watching the Marshys and Bitterns I took time out around the reserve to see what other feathered residents I could find.

I have never seen so many Great White Egrets in my life. Magnificently big white birds that looks as if they should be in some swamp in Africa rather than marshland in England.

Great White Egret

Whilst in the Tor View hide I heard a loud noise that sounded like a squealing pig. After looking in the reeds I found a Water Rail skulking about. It got quite comfortable being watched by me and started preening on a mound of dead reeds.

The plumage is beautiful on this shy rail and I was very pleased to get some nice pictures.

Water Rail

There were plenty of other birds to observe. The Reeds were full of the noises of Reed and Sedge Warblers who occasionally made an appearance perched at the top of reeds. Cettis blasted out their calls from the undergrowth but remained hidden away,apart from quick dashes between cover.

Sedge Warbler

Reed Bunting

Reed Buntings were in abundance but no Bearded Tits seen on my visit.

A few waders were on site - Black Tailed Godwits, Lapwings and a Ringed Plover.

Lots of other species including - Gadwall, Porchard,Mallards and Tufted Ducks, Dabchick, Great Crested Grebe, Mute Swans, Cormorants, Grey Herons, Canadian Goose, Little Egret, Greater Spotted Woodpeckers and Sparrowhawk.

All in all I had a great day out and met some really nice people who were good to have a chat with and were kind enough to share their knowledge and love of nature.

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