A great steart to a days bird watching

I have been a member of the Gwent Ornithological Society (GOS) for quite a few years now. I became a member as I wanted to become more involved in activities with other like-minded people who were interested in birds. I hoped that I can learn more about local birds in Gwent and also about the voluntary work that is done to monitor them, record sightings, and conservation of various species and their habitats.

When I joined GOS I got to meet some great people and learned a great deal about the good work that members of society do. A couple of years ago I was invited to present a talk about Goldcliff Lagoons to the society and a short time after that I was invited to become a committee member which I gratefully accepted.

Since being a committee member I became enlightened concerning what goes on in the background. There is a lot to do to keep society going and all of the work that is done by members of the society is conducted on an unpaid and voluntary basis.

I would recommend to any of my readers that they should join the Gwent Ornithological Society and get involved. The memberships fee is small and in my opinion, is worth it just for the opportunity to attend some of the indoor talks that guest presenters deliver for GOS throughout the year which are always very interesting.

Several society members also assist the outdoor events organizer David Brassey with leading GOS birdwatching walks at various venues throughout Gwent and further afield.

The walks are open to GOS members and non-members alike and are good opportunities to visits new places to watch birds and also to get to know fellow birdwatchers. Over the years I have learned a tremendous amount about how and where to watch birds from other birdwatchers. Usually, every birdwatcher has that little golden nugget of knowledge that can be very helpful to almost any birdwatcher for future reference.

Earlier this year I volunteered to lead a GOS walk being held at a great nature reserve named WWT Steart Marshes. It was going to be the first birdwatching walk that I have organized and led. I had visited Steart on several occasions and I felt quite confident that it would be a good day out.

Yesterday was the day of the WWT Steart Marshes GOS walk. Everything had been organized - not that much to do other than ensure the date and time were publicized through the GOS website and various social media feeds and all I had to do then was turn up on time.

I was very fortunate to be joined by quite a few friends of mine, those I have nicknamed "Blairs Posse". A number of them traveled down with me in the same car or met up with me at the main WWT Steart reserve car park. Others were traveling down separately. A number of the GOS were going to be attending and I had received several calls from other people planning to meet up with us at 9 am and join the walk.

At 9 am the reserve car park had quite a gathering of people who had arrived for the walk and others were on their way. By my reckoning, there were going to be 14 people on the GOS walk which was not a bad turnout considering there was at least an hour's journey involved for most of the attendees. 

What a great start. Things were looking really good. Even if we did not see many birds were going to have some good company. We were also very fortunate with the weather. In the early hours when we left Gwent it had been raining but as the walk was about to commence the weather at Steart was dry and even some sun was starting to push through gaps in the clouds. The forecast predicted sunshine later in the very encouraging day.

I led the group of eager and enthusiastic birdwatchers out from the car park and into the reserve proper.
The plan was to walk to the Quantock Hide first as this location at Steart overlooks many lagoons where various species of waders like. In the last couple of days, there have been some interesting sightings of the rarer kind of species such as American Golden Plovers, Baird's Sandpiper, and Spoonbills.

After a fifteen-minute walk, we arrived at the Quantock hide. The hide is split into two interior sections and in between and around them are outdoor viewing screens. I entered the first section and was stunned to see four Spoonbills busily feeding meters away from us offering incredibly close views.

My regular readers and friends will already know that I spend a lot of time at Goldcliff and I have seen Spoonbills there several times but always at a distance. That was not the case here at Steart, they were so close I had difficulty getting all the birds in the frame on my camera.

Now, this really made it a great start to the day but it was soon going to get better. I scanned the lagoon and picked out two Greenshanks and a Spotted Redshank also feeding very close to the hide and affording fabulous views.

For a time all I could hear was excited voices, the occasional whoop of joy, and the noise of lots of camera shutters rattling off.  It was nice to see lots of smiling faces and I felt a little relieved that we had some early success to the walks birdwatching.

There was plenty of other species on the lagoons. Further out were flocks of ducks including - wigeon, mallard, shovelers, and teal. In the far distance, a big flock of Golden Plovers and Lapwings could be seen roosting. Suddenly there was a huge commotion and all the birds took to the sky in total panic. A Peregrine shot like a missile across the pools only to miss its target and then settle down perched up high on one of the electrical pylons.

The end result was that the wader flock went high and dispersed throughout the reserve and most of the good stuff was now very distant.

It was a good time to now move on and explore the rest of the reserve.

Steart covers quite a wide expanse. Its showcase reserve is owned and managed by WWT and the Environmental Agency. It's a working reserve and is being used to demonstrate how marshland /estuarine/coastal habitats can be managed as flood defenses to protect and benefit the local community.

 Not only do these wetland habitats protect against global sea rises but they can also help as giant CO2 sinks and help prevent global warming. Besides all those benefits they are tremendous for increasing biodiversity in my opinion it's so nice to see land being managed positively for wildlife and for the benefit of all rather than more housing estates.

We headed to the Mendip Hide and scanned the salt marsh. This consists of a large expanse of marshland that borders the River Parret and has lots of muddy tributaries that only become flooded on very high tides. A sharp-eyed member of the walk soon picked out a pair of Marsh Harriers that were quartering the wetlands. Another good sighting when you consider that these raptors are rarer than Golden Eagles.

Eventually, we arrived at a viewing point on the River Parrett. It's a large total river and very similar in some respects to the River Usk where it eventually meets the Severn on the other side of the channel. It was low tide so there was lots of mud and in the distance, a small flock of Redshanks, Curlews, and ducks had gathered. In the past, I have viewed large flocks of Dunlins and Knot in this location.

Before we knew it three hours had passed and it was time to start wrapping up the walk - well for a few of us, the "Blair Posse" had other ideas and were planning a day out and were in no rush to return home.

The GOS chairman Keith Roylance had to head off on a search and rescue mission by the sound of it as his fellow traveler appeared to have gone AWOL looking for a Baird's Sandpiper that was rumored to have now been seen near a Tower located miles way at Steart Point. ( He was found later and incredibly managed to walk to the Tower and back!)

We said our farewells and went in our separate directions

The "Posse" then went back into the reserve intent on doing some more birdwatching at the Quantock Hide and beyond.

After a pit stop at the Quantock hide, we decided to go and find this mysterious Tower where the Bairds had apparently been seen.

To reach the Tower we had returned to the reserve car park and use the cars to travel to Steart Point. I had never been further than the beach car park previously but yesterday discovered that three further car parks can be used by visitors to the reserve. The final car park belongs to a wildlife trust and is the closest to the Tower Hide.

The posse had to walk about a mile and a half from the car park to the Tower Hide. The weather was glorious, with blue skies and the sun beating down on our backs. When we reached the Tower Hide it was a bit of a letdown.

Certainly, it was an impressive piece of wooden architecture but it was positioned a long way from the birds. Great if you have an expensive high magnification scope but not really that good for people with binoculars and particularly not suited to photographers. It did offer a nice view of the estuary. The birders that were patiently sat up in the hide told us they has not seen the Bairds at all. To be honest, even if it had been showing it would be very difficult to view clearly from such a great distance.

Instead, those of us who still had some energy left checked out a new hide that has been built further into the point.  The views here of Bridgewater Bay were much better but the tide remained out. The highlight there was seeing a female Merlin.

After a rest, it was time to march back to the car park as high tide was approaching and also sunset in a couple of hours - and I was keen to return to WWT Steart and enjoy the last rays of the sun there instead.

We stopped at Steart Beach on our return journey. Great views were had of the estuary and Hinkley Point. One of the posse spotted a solitary  Grey Plover close to the shoreline which was nice.

I put the drone up at a respectful distance from the reserve and managed to get a few aerial shots of Steart Point and the wider area. It really is massive.

For a time sitting on the beach, enjoying a good bit of banter with my friends was total bliss. We were all probably aching from that epic walk to the Tower and more than likely a few of us could have finished the day sat there. However I had other ideas, I wanted to return one last time to the Quantock Hide.

So we got our things together and for one last hoorah made one final visit to the Quantock Hide for sunset. The sun put on a spectacular show and list up the lagoons a lovely orange. 

A huge surprise was the sighting of a Brown Hare that was feeding close to the water's edge. That was a really good sighting to finish the day off.

In my opinion, the walk was a great success. It was fabulous to have a nice number of people attend. We saw over 40 + species of birds and lots more besides including dragonflies, a stoat, and a Brown Hare.

Whilst seeing the birds was great, the good company was the best part and I am really thankful to everyone who attended and making the day very special.

Bird Species List

  1. Starling
  2. Buzzard
  3. Wood Pigeon
  4. Raven
  5. Goldfinch
  6. Robin
  7. Dunnock
  8. Little Egret
  9. Grey Heron
  10. Spoonbill
  11. Spotted Redshank
  12. Greenshank
  13. Redshank
  14. Oystercatcher
  15. Wigeon
  16. Teal
  17. Mallard
  18. Shelduck
  19. Sparrowhawk
  20. Kestrel
  21. Curlew
  22. Golden Plover
  23. Grey Plover
  24. Lapwing
  25. Dunlin
  26. Green Woodpecker
  27. Reed Bunting
  28. Greenfinch
  29. Cormorant
  30. Shoveler
  31. Peregrine
  32. Black Headed Gull
  33. Lesser Black-Backed Gull
  34. Skylark
  35. Meadow Pipit
  36. Pied Wagtail
  37. Stonechat
  38. Blackbird
  39. Cettis Warbler
  40. Magpie
  41. Carrion Crow
  42. Linnet
  43. Merlin

Other species of note-

  1. Devils Coach Horse Beetles.
  2. Migrant Hawker Dragonflies
  3. Common Darters
  4. Stoat
  5. Hare
  6. Shaggy Ink Cap Mushroom


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