Gone fishing on the Avalon Marshes

The Bank Holiday Osprey

One of the most iconic fish eating birds of prey out there has to be the Osprey. An absolutely amazing species that breeds in the United Kingdom but it migrates all the way to the far shores of West Africa where it winters.

The Osprey is perfectly adapted for feeding on fish. It has large slender wings to give it maximum lift in order to carry large fish out of the water, spiked feet with two toes that cans swivel backwards to grip the caught fish and oily feathers that shed water quickly. A marvel of evolutionary engineering.

It took me 48 years to see my first Osprey. They are a rare sight. In several places in the UK they breed but I have not had an opportunity yet to visit one of these locations. At this time of year they begin their long migration journeys south. En-route they tend to have a number of "pit stops" to feed and put on weight for the longer flights they have to endure. 

Reservoirs, lakes, rivers and coastal areas can be the type of habitat that the travelling Ospreys choose to make a stop. They usually hang around for a few days and on some occasions longer before continuing their migration.

On Friday the "Three Amigo's" ( Paul, Nicola and me) were trying to decide where to do some Bank Holiday bird watching. We had heard about an Osprey that was showing well at Shapwick Heath in Somerset. 

Shapwick is a reserve that is adjacent to the fantastic Ham Wall reserve and both are part of the wider Avalon Marshes. Shapwick consists of large expanses of wetland habitats that consists, of reens, canals, marshes, lakes and reed-beds.

It did not take long for us all to agree that we should try our luck out and hope that the Osprey hung around long enough for us to see it. Their was also a good chance we would see lots of other species too as the area is almost always good for Great White Egrets, Hobbys, Marsh Harriers and Bitterns.

At the crack of dawn on Sunday morning we made our way to Somerset. On arrival we marched so quickly from the car park to the hide at Noahs lake that it would make the Royal Marines proud. Between us we were carrying more camera kit than the average Jessops store has and soon enough we were entering the hide huffing and puffing full of excitement.

Inside it was full of birders and toggers.  Immediately I was greeted with a friendly face. Chris one of my birding pals from Goldcliff was already on plot. He was all set up but struggling to aim his lens past the shoulder of a wide boy sat in one of the hide windows. I must admit the place was full but more could have got a better view if people had squeezed up a bit more. In the end by being a little cheeky and asking some people to move up we all managed to get accommodated nicely and best of all view the Osprey.

There it was perched on the biggest perch. Bobbing its head as if eyeing up how far its next target was going to be. The weather was good, hot and sunny but there was a lot of haze that caused big issues for me. Heat haze is hated by photographers. Many camera struggle to find focus correctly and the pictures look blurred especially when your subjects is over a 100m's away.

Just look at those yellow eyes.

The view however was good and the Osprey was busy having a look around and preening.

Then it took off.  Up into the air it soared gaining height to about 300 meters above the water it looked down , turned and then dropped down like a missile then at the last minute talons extended hit the water and went straight under with a big splash. 

Its a big bird and looks amazing in flight

On the look out

Talons extended just about to make a big splash.


Heaving out

A successful catch

Beating its wings hard the Osprey heaved the fish it had caught up out of the water and then began to fly back. Unfortunately it chose the most furthest away perch it could find to eat its prey.

The eating post for the day.

It repeated this several times. Sometimes it returned to the big perch but mostly it settled at a good distance from us. Awesome is a word that just about sums up all that.

Happy with seeing the Osprey we headed off to Ham Wall.

 I always enjoy a walk around the Ham Wall. It has two very well placed hides. Tor View is built out into reed-bed that sits between two stretches of open water. This hide is often good for Water Rail and Great White Egrets. Neither put in an appearance but I did find some beautiful Red Admiral butterflies basking on a screen in the sun. This species of Lepidoptera were in abundance along the path to the Tor hide.

Red Admiral

Red Admiral perched on the top of a screen along the path to Tor View

Eventually I made it to the second hide known as the Avalon hide. Here visitors are treated to wide panoramic views of Marshland that is a good place to regularly see Marsh Harriers and Bitterns.

The Three Amigos had split for a short while and  was planning to meet Paul and Nicola in this hide. However they were no whereto be seen but there was another friendly visitor instead a birder named, Sarah had decided to visit for the first time and was hoping to see a Bittern.

Well as luck would have it we would be joined by my fellow amigos and shortly afterwards a Bittern flew in and perched at the edge of the reeds. It was great to watch it and I must admit it does blend in even with the green reeds.

Bittern perched at the edge of the reeds at Avalon

Bittern reflection.

A couple of Marsh Harriers put in their customary appearance and there were a couple of Great White Egrets fishing in the lake in front of us. They are huge compared to their cousins the Little Egrets and it was good to see both species alongside each other. The great big yellow bill of the Great White is also quite distinctive to tell them apart.

Great White Egret screaming at a Little Egret that was in the reeds.

Female Marsh Harrier

In the end all four of us decided to head back to see the Osprey again - this time , at least for the day it was four Amigos rather than three. En route Paul entertained us with his wit and "Dad" jokes :)

There were a lot of dragonflies on our return journey. I saw Emperors and lots of Hawkers.

I was able to capture a couple of pictures of a Common Darter and maybe a Ruddy Darter .

Common Darter

Not sure if this is a Ruddy?

Our second visit to Noahs lake was entertaining as the Osprey remained fishing regularly but the light was now in our face and shocking for photography. I think we saw it fish five times and only on one occasion did it miss. The fish were relatively small and looked like Rudd or perch.

One interesting aspect of behaviour we did watch was that after feeding the Osprey would fly from its feeding perch trailing its feet into the water skimming just above the service. I think it was cleaning the fish scales and slime form its talons.

Osprey skimming the water cleaning its talons

After a good couple of hours of Osprey watching the four amigos became three again. It has been a good day "gone fishing" enjoying nature in good company.

We headed home to Wales but stopped at Aust Wharf on the way. The plan was to chase down the sunset and capture a few pictures. After I unintentionally forced Nicola and Paul to carefully negotiate a small bridge like the tightrope. As it turned out it was a wide bridge and they had nearly fallen in a reen and for no reason had tip toed across ( lol I blame just having one good eye and it was getting dark) we ended the day watching the sun go down.

Top marks to Paul and Nicola who at times make me look like an amateur with the quality of their pics, decided to  take some shots of me posing stoically silhouetted against the setting sun.

 A great ending to bank holiday weekend that I enjoyed with good company and plenty of wildlife ;)
Copyright of @nicnacnoopixs and my thanks

Copyright of Paul Joy and my thanks.

Panoramic of the sunset. The Prince of Wales Bridge to the left and looking towards Sudmouth.


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