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planning a trip to the Avalon Marshes

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Old Monday 14th August 2017, 10:55   #1
gordon hamlett
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planning a trip to the Avalon Marshes

Hi,

I'm visiting the area in mid September and plan spending a day on the Avalon Marshes. I've never been to the area before. Does anyone have any recommendations as to how to approach this complex of reserves?

Are some reserves better in the morning or the afternoon because of the light and/or wildlife?

How should I apportion my time between the reserves? Which are 'must-sees? Which are only worth visiting if you have the time?

I'm guessing that we'll start off at Ham Wall unless you know better, but what then?

Thanks in advance

Gordon Hamlett - Author of the Best Birdwatching Sites in the Scottish Highlands
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Old Monday 14th August 2017, 12:27   #2
ClarkWGriswold
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Hi Gordon.

I'd be tempted to start at Ham Wall as you say. Shapwick Heath is accessed via the same car park. I usually head into Ham Wall and spend a little time at Viewing Platform 1. Next the Avalon Hide which often gives great views of Marsh Harriers and then down to Viewing Platform 2. Keep your eyes peeled as Egrets/ and Bitterns can fly by at anytime.

I'd then backtrack to Shapwick and spend some time in the new (dreadful) hide. Check out the scrape as there's often something interesting there. Then I'd head down to the hide at Noah's lake which is to the left of the main path.

It's a compact reserve and pretty self-explanatory - once you find the car park Keep an eye on the Somerset Ornithological Society website for recent sightings.

If you have time I'd drive over to Westhay (c15mins) as there have been Night Herons seen there.

Hope you both enjoy. It's one of my favourite areas.

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Old Monday 14th August 2017, 12:38   #3
amears
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A few extra ideas in addition to those from Rich:

Noah's hide is best in the morning for light especially on bright days. It can be magical at dawn...

On Ham Wall, make sure you bird the lagoon in front of the second viewing platform from the grass track on the north side of the canal. You'll find several access points along there that sometimes give superb close views of things like GW Egret and allow proper checking of any muddy margins.

It's worth walking beyond the Noah's turn off at least for c100m. Feels like you're leaving the best areas but several rarities have been seen along there over the years.

Greylake and Catcott are also within striking distance, sure there are details on the web.
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Old Tuesday 15th August 2017, 08:42   #4
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Thanks to you both for advice. The lips are being licked and the anticipatory juices are already flowing as I write this.

Gordon
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Old Tuesday 15th August 2017, 11:27   #5
amears
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And a few more thoughts crossed my mind.

Bearded Tits can pop up anywhere but if I was after them on any one day, I'd certainly spend some time in Avalon Hide.

If you have plenty of time, the grassy footpath network south of the main path on Ham Wall is worth exploring, especially the track running south with Tor hide just to the west. Something really good will be found down there one day...

We still have a resident Glossy Ibis but it can be hard to find at the moment with so much vegetation. Best bet is the second viewing platform lagoon on Ham Wall but it gets around so keep your eyes open for it anywhere.
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Old Tuesday 15th August 2017, 18:55   #6
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Be aware that thieves operate in the area - our car was broken into at Westhay back in January. Don't leave anything in it. We got most of our stuff back (found in local ditches) except a Swarovski scope. :(

Don't be put off - the Ham Wall/Shapwick area is top notch. At Catcott the car park is right outside the hide! Light better later in the day here.
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Old Thursday 17th August 2017, 18:01   #7
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HI Gordon, I have been birding in Somerset for almost a year now, so am discovering it still, under the guidance of my new partner , a lifelong Somerset birder. I hail from Norfolk. I love the Scrape at Shapwick and don't find the new hide too terrible, lol . Best to park at Ham Wall to access Shapwick, as people have had things stolen from their cars at Shapwick. I have been struck by the volume of Great White Egrets at both Ham Wall and Shapwick, compared with Norfolk. Also the volume of Cattle Egrets. In Norfolk I was used to seeing single GWE's and CE's . I had 8 Cattle Egrets fly into Shapwick , fantastic . The breeding success at Ham Wall and Shapwick is heart warming. If you wish to hook up with a local whilst you are down in the area, I could ask my partner, Steve Curtis, or if you have any specific queries I could put you in touch with him,
best wishes, Carol
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Old Thursday 17th August 2017, 18:19   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Carol Rushton View Post
HI Gordon, I have been birding in Somerset for almost a year now, so am discovering it still, under the guidance of my new partner , a lifelong Somerset birder. I hail from Norfolk. I love the Scrape at Shapwick and don't find the new hide too terrible, lol . Best to park at Ham Wall to access Shapwick, as people have had things stolen from their cars at Shapwick. I have been struck by the volume of Great White Egrets at both Ham Wall and Shapwick, compared with Norfolk. Also the volume of Cattle Egrets. In Norfolk I was used to seeing single GWE's and CE's . I had 8 Cattle Egrets fly into Shapwick , fantastic . The breeding success at Ham Wall and Shapwick is heart warming. If you wish to hook up with a local whilst you are down in the area, I could ask my partner, Steve Curtis, or if you have any specific queries I could put you in touch with him,
best wishes, Carol
Always good to have local advice. Welcome to the Forum btw Carol

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Old Thursday 17th August 2017, 18:31   #9
Carol Rushton
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Smile

Quote:
Originally Posted by ClarkWGriswold View Post
Always good to have local advice. Welcome to the Forum btw Carol

Rich
Thank you , Rich
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Old Friday 18th August 2017, 08:47   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Carol Rushton View Post
HI Gordon, I have been birding in Somerset for almost a year now, so am discovering it still, under the guidance of my new partner , a lifelong Somerset birder. I hail from Norfolk. I love the Scrape at Shapwick and don't find the new hide too terrible, lol . Best to park at Ham Wall to access Shapwick, as people have had things stolen from their cars at Shapwick. I have been struck by the volume of Great White Egrets at both Ham Wall and Shapwick, compared with Norfolk. Also the volume of Cattle Egrets. In Norfolk I was used to seeing single GWE's and CE's . I had 8 Cattle Egrets fly into Shapwick , fantastic . The breeding success at Ham Wall and Shapwick is heart warming. If you wish to hook up with a local whilst you are down in the area, I could ask my partner, Steve Curtis, or if you have any specific queries I could put you in touch with him,
best wishes, Carol
Thanks for that Carol, much appreciated. I agree with you about the numbers of egrets etc in Norfolk, but then it does has other compensations - just ask Rich who had six or seven lifers on his first visit a few weeks ago.

Cheers,

Gordon
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Old Tuesday 29th August 2017, 17:54   #11
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HI Gordon,
Steve and I were at Shapwick last Sunday. We watched were watching an osprey eating a fish in a tree. Also enjoyed 5 hobbies. Noah's track is currently closed. A word of caution for you, we were both surprised to see how little water there was on Meare Scrape area. There was 1 Common Sandpiper, 1 Green Sandpiper, several blackwits and 1 snipe . Also a lot of hirundine movement. Today there is a Pectoral Sandpiper there.
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Old Tuesday 29th August 2017, 18:26   #12
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By way of further information, The Somerset Birding Forum, recent sightings section is also a useful tool for supplying most helpful up to date information, Gordon . Under this link : http://somersetbirding.org.uk/forum/viewforum/7/
Steve and I also visited Westhay on Sunday, we did not see the black-crowned night herons , which have recently bred here, although did hear a very interesting call.

Steve and I hope that you have a great trip to the Avalon Marshes and do let me know if you would like me to set up for you to have a chat with Steve. He is not the most computer literate of people, so a telephonechat is probably best .....

best regards
carol
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Old Wednesday 30th August 2017, 08:46   #13
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Thanks for the updates Carol, much appreciated. If you see any interesting birds between now and our visit, please nail them down <big grin>

We're counting down the days to mid September. It seemed that everyone we spoke to over the weekend couldn't wait to tell us how brilliant the place is.

One thought. When I was nobbut a lad, everyone referred to the 'Somerset Levels'. Do the locals like/use the name Avalon Marshes or do they still call them by something different?
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Old Wednesday 30th August 2017, 09:47   #14
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AFAIK no-one calls them the 'Avalon Marshes'. But I may be wrong (now 17 years since I left there).
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Old Wednesday 30th August 2017, 10:38   #15
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Hi

I spent a couple of days at Ham Walls, thanks to Rich's advice. The glossy ibis was showing really well on both days at the first viewing platform. Marsh harriers from both the Avalon hide and across the section to the south of the main track. I also had a close encounter with a kingfisher which flew straight in front of me across a path. I highly recommend the reserve :)
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Old Wednesday 30th August 2017, 15:50   #16
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My understanding is that the Somerset Levels are far more extensive than the Avalon Marshes. The latter just cover the marsh areas west of Glastonbury and centred on Shapwick (so include Ham Wall, Catcott, etc). This ties up with info here: http://avalonmarshes.org/

I certainly use the term,
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Old Monday 25th September 2017, 09:11   #17
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Thanks again for all the help.

We started off at Ham Wall. Loads of tit flocks - mainly long-tails, plus lots of calling chiffchaffs and a few blackcaps.

Quickly found the glossy ibis at view point one, plus a selection of great and little egrets and had the first of about a dozen kingfisher sightings, more than we get in Norfolk in a year. Loads of great spotted woodpeckers about too - at least ten seen.

Spent some time in the hide near vp1 - bearded tit reed and sedge warblers. Good to see the sedgies still around - numbers were well down in Norfolk this year and they shipped out early. A couple of Sparrowhawks (4 seen in total) and the first of 20-odd buzzards.

Off down to vp2 where we found snipe, a green sandpiper and a few ruff. Then Chris saw a wader flying round which eventually landed and proved to be the pectoral sandpiper that had been around for a week or so. (Incidentally, we found another at Cley yesterday). The return walk added a black-tailed godwit, a few dunlin and another six ruff. Missed a common sandpiper. Went to the Avalon hide but nothing new.

Returned to the car for lunch and decided to head over to Shapwick Heath. Big mistake. A guy in the tower hide made it perfectly obvious that we were not welcome there. He'd been watching the area for 30 odd years and didn't want to share his knowledge with incomers or point out where the birds were. He was quite happy to talk to another local though so we gleaned a bit of info by the tried and tested method of earwigging.

He managed to suck all the joy out of not just birding but life instead so we left the hide, accidentally kicking his tripod on exit. Walking back to the car park, a bittern flew over our heads, out view to the guy in the hide so yah boo sucks to him.

Decided to spend the rest of the afternoon sitting in the first hide again, drinking the dregs of the coffee. More kingfishers, lots of squealing water rails and another close bittern flypast. Were entertained for an hour or so by three hunting hobbies. Met some nice Somerset birders as well, though most of the people we spoke to were visitors like ourselves.

All in all, a fantastic place and well worth the drive down - about 90 minutes from our cottage in the Forest of Dean. Not quite as good as Norfolk though <big grin>
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Old Monday 25th September 2017, 15:44   #18
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Glad it was worthwhile, Gordon. So sorry to hear about Mr Miserable. I'm afraid we do have one or two out there but lots of us are very friendly! Am tempted to ask for a detailed description of the character but perhaps not worth the bother...
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Old Monday 25th September 2017, 17:41   #19
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Sounds like you had a good visit Gordon. Shame about that birder but you always get one

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Old Tuesday 26th September 2017, 22:16   #20
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Pleased that you enjoyed your visit, Gordon.

Best wishes, Carol
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