The magical movements and acrobatics of a million roosting Starlings. Bitterns. Huge congregations of wintering wildfowl, Lapwings and Golden Plovers. Birds of prey; amongst them the possibility of Barn Owls, Marsh and Hen Harriers, Peregrine and for the very fortunate Merlin. These are just some of the possible highlights on offer at this special expanse of seasonally inundated lowlands that spans 650 square kilometres between the Quantock and Mendip Hills. This ancient habitat, that until recently had fallen victim to drainage and other modern farming demands, has now been restored to much of its former glory by the RSPB and other conservation bodies. It is a heartening modern-day conservation 'success story'!
The Somerset Levels, a magical expanse of seasonally inundated lowlands that spans 650 square kilometres between the Quantock and Mendip Hills, is a conservation ‘success story’! An ancient habitat that, until recently, had fallen victim to drainage and other modern farming demands, has now been restored to much of its former glory by the RSPB and other conservation bodies. Indeed the area supports such a rich variety of plant and birdlife that it is under consideration for status as a World Heritage Site.
Our visit is timed to coincide with the massive flocks of wildfowl that gather here during the winter, when internationally important numbers of Wigeon, Gadwall, Teal, Pintail and Shoveler are present. Another species found here in vast flocks is the Starling, made famous in recent years by BBC coverage. A dusk outing to watch hundreds of thousands of birds swirling over their roost sites makes for breathtaking viewing. The other star attraction of the area is the Bittern. Habitat creation has, in recent years, attracted several breeding pairs, and in winter these are joined by migrants, giving us a good chance of seeing one standing among the reeds or flying across the vast reedbeds.
There are small numbers of wintering raptors such as Short-eared Owl, Merlin, Peregrine, Marsh Harrier and Hen Harrier, and in recent winters it has been possible to watch Great White Egret alongside Little Egret with regularity. This superb bird bred in the UK for the first time in 2012 and chose the Somerset levels in which to do so, such is the extent and quality of the habitat. Another bird which we will hope to encounter is the Common Crane which has been re-introduced here as part of the Great Crane Project. It can be unpredictable as to their whereabouts but many have been lucky.
Otters do occur on the Somerset Levels, though few are lucky enough to see them on such a short visit.
There is a very special quality to the landscape and wildlife of the Somerset Levels, and there are wonderful views across Glastonbury Tor, Deer Leap and Wookey. Indeed a visit here in winter can offer a host of rewards, so please do join us on this ever-popular Naturetrek short break!
• Enjoy the aerial artistry of a million-strong Starlings as they gather at dusk prior to roosting
• The optional opportunity to return at dawn to watch the Starlings emerge from the roost
• Bittern, Great White Egret, and Bearded Tit regularly seen
• Special effort to find the Cranes which have been re-introduced to the area and now breed.
• Birds of prey including Marsh Harrier and Peregrine with large concentrations of wintering wildfowl & waders
• A 3-star hotel, with award-winning restaurant, beside the cathedral in the historic market town of Wells
• Led by expert naturalist guides
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Présente le mardi et vendredi toute la journée
2021 - 397 €
Fri 8th Jan - Sun 10th Jan 6 2021
Fri 15th Jan - Sun 17th Jan 2021
Fri 22nd Jan - Sun 24th Jan 2021
Wed 3rd Feb - Fri 5th Feb 2021
Wed 8th Dec - Fri 10th Dec 2021
Wed 15th Dec - Fri 17th Dec 2021
2022- 397 €
Fri 7th Jan - Sun 9th Jan 2022
Fri 14th Jan - Sun 16th Jan 2022
Fri 21st Jan - Sun 23rd Jan 2022
Wed 2nd Feb - Fri 4th Feb 2022
Wed 7th Dec - Fri 9th Dec 2022
Wed 14th Dec - Fri 16th Dec 2022
Accommodation: A comfortable 3-star hotel, with an award-winning restaurant, in the historic market town of Wells; all rooms have private facilities.Food: Breakfasts and 3-course evening meals included in the price.
What's not Included?
* These tours are operated by Naturetrek (ABTA Y6206) for which Nature et Terroir acts as agent.
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Dave has been a keen naturalist for over 35 years and loves nothing more than sharing his knowledge with others. His interest in birds started at a very young age and before long he wanted to learn more., so he trained to become a bird ringer. Dave was soon the youngest ringer in the country and found that it gave him an insight into the close-up world of birds that many never get to see. A keen ear ensured that the world of birdsong was Dave's next passion. Working in the travel industry for many years, Dave has taken over 75 foreign trips to 54 countries and this experience is invaluable every time he raises his binoculars, wherever he is! Dave developed an interest in butterflies and dragonflies many years ago. He also has an infectious enthusiasm for moths, and Dave now takes his moth trap with him on many of his trips. Dave has an Honours Geology degree so is well qualified to advise on rocks and geomorphology as they affect both the landscape and wildlife. As a keen visitor to many bird observatories, Dave has a particular fascination with sea-watching - he was the first to start watching from the now famous Sheringham seafront in the 1970s. Conducting Breeding Bird Surveys, being the county Glow-worm co-ordinator and organising the Atlas Survey are just a few of the activities Dave is involved in. Somehow he also finds time to be an active member of his community, being on the Parish Council, Chairman of the Village Hall Committee and Governor of several charities.
Born and raised in his beloved Devon, Matt is an ecologist and naturalist with a special interest in birds and protected UK mammals including Hazel Dormice and Otter. He studied Zoology at the University of Reading and completed a Masters in Ecology before going on to a career as an ecological consultant based in Bristol, a role which saw him counting Red-breasted Geese in Bulgaria and Egyptian Vultures in Azerbaijan. He later worked for Avon Wildlife Trust establishing the 'My Wild City' project whose vision of nature-rich cities involved converting nature-devoid spaces into wildlife havens. Matt is now a full time freelance ecologist and wildlife educator, running wildlife identification training courses across the southern counties for the British Trust for Ornithology, RSPB and the Wildlife Trust. He also leads guided nature walks in his home county of Devon and completes protected species surveys for various infrastructure projects. When not working he enjoys spending time on his bike training for triathlons and has a particular passion/obsession for all things Swifts - you have been warned!
Please note that the itinerary below offers our planned programme of excursions. However, adverse weather & other local considerations can necessitate some re-ordering of the programme during the course of the tour, though this will always be done to maximise best use of the time and weather conditions available.
Your tour leader(s) will meet you at the Swan Hotel at approximately 18.30pm in time for dinner. Beforehand, you will have a short introductory talk outlining the programme for the next couple of days and some of the birds we will hope to see.
Days 2 - 3
The Somerset Levels
We will deliberately keep a flexible programme in order to make best use of the prevailing weather conditions and to maximise our chances of seeing key species. Our time will be divided across various sites all within easy driving distance of each other and our hotel. The whole area however is good for wildlife and there is every chance of ‘bumping’ into something interesting at any point as we drive along quiet minor roads between sites. A hunting Marsh Harrier maybe or a perched Peregrine. Our tour leaders know the area extremely well, and will make decisions on the day as to exactly where we will go. Some of the areas we are likely to visit are described below.
Willow trees and the now converted flooded peat-diggings are characteristic of the landscape here, and the resulting wetland pools and reedbeds provide superb habitat for ducks, waders, swans and herons. There are tracks running alongside many of these habitats, and there should be plenty of bird activity as we stop at a scrape, viewing point or a lakeside hide. It is worth keeping a careful
eye out for Bitterns – their cryptic plumage never makes them easy to see but with numbers boosted in winter with continental birds we will be keeping a sharp eye on any reed beds. Large congregations of wildfowl assemble in the lakes and pools and we’ll be hoping to see good numbers of Gadwall, Teal, Wigeon, Pintail and Shoveler, along with the possibility of wintering Goosander or Smew. Little Egrets can be seen throughout the year and, in recent winters, Great White Egrets are being seen more and more regularly. Marsh Harriers are often seen patrolling the reedbeds and marshes for prey and Peregrines are often patrolling overhead. Some of the smaller birds we’ll be looking out for include Siskin and Redpoll that enjoy the alders that line many of the paths.
As we bird the levels and moors we’ll be constantly on the alert for the explosive call of the Cetti’s Warbler, one of the most distinctive and easily recognisable bird songs of this area.
There’s a small population of Otters here, and we may see signs of them such as spraint as we explore the area.
The gathering of hundreds of thousands or over a million Starlings is one of the famous sights of the Somerset Levels and we’ll aim to make an evening visit to coincide with their swirling flights as they assemble and make a spectacular aerial display over the marshes and moors before dropping into their roosts. The exact location of these dynamic gatherings is unpredictable as it can vary from one evening to the next; however, we’ll be in touch with local sources as to their whereabouts, and this will give us the best chance of watching this stunning visual feast. If we are lucky we may see the birds attempting to evade avian predators – a truly stunning sight!
Greylake & King’s Sedgemoor Drain
We will explore this area that can be excellent for Golden Plover, Lapwing and wildfowl such as Shoveler, Teal and Wigeon. Water Rail may be heard and seen at any of the sites around the levels and waders such as Redshank, Dunlin, Snipe and possibly even Ruff will be looked out for here. This area is also one of the most reliable sites in the area for Hen Harrier and Merlin.
West Sedgemoor and Swell Wood
West Sedgemoor is one of England’s largest remaining wet meadow systems. During the winter the area floods and this attracts large flocks of Teal, Wigeon, Lapwing and waders including Golden Plovers. There is also a heronry here where over 120 pairs of Grey Heron nest. Breeding activity will be well under way in February and we will hopefully have the opportunity to watch courting and nest building birds from a well-positioned hide.
In Swell Wood we will have the opportunity to search for some woodland birds with Marsh Tit and Nuthatch being quite abundant here and many other tits and finches coming down to the feeders.
With the Somerset Levels being such an extensive and varied habitat it was decided that this would be the site to release the Common Crane back into the West Country. The “Great Crane Project” is still ongoing and we hope on this tour to find and watch these beautiful and majestic birds. We will have local knowledge and information and with luck we hope to be able to locate them which is always a special sight.
After dinner on Day 2 there may be an evening slide show with your leaders giving an informal, half an hour presentation on the topic of their choice. On our final day (Day 3) we will finish birding in the late afternoon, in time to arrive back to our hotel in Wells in the early evening between approximately 1700-1730pm.