As 2021 draws to a close, the team at RSPB West Sedgemoor, Greylake and Swell Wood look back and share a favourite nature experience of the year.

Harry Paget-Wilkes (Site Manager):

Doing any early morning bird survey is always a pleasure (particularly, as if the weather is no good, you don’t go) but this year’s bittern survey in April at Greylake sticks in my mind. This survey involves venturing out at the crack of dawn (or a bit before) to listen out for the spectacular deep resonating call, called booming, given by male bitterns trying to attract females. Having walked a mile or so away from the main road along the Kings Sedgemoor drain bank, in the dark, I found myself watching a spectacular sun rise over the Polden ridge, with mist lifting from the ditches of Greylake in the foreground.  This view was accompanied by the regular, loud, booming of a male bittern just meters away from me. To top it off, as the sun rose, lapwing, redshank, snipe and distant cranes sprung into life, all displaying, singing and calling like there was no tomorrow. I managed to capture it all on video with my phone, but to my dismay the microphone was not capable of picking up the booming bittern, making it sound like it was 10 miles away not 10 meters. But perhaps that fact that I could not capture the essence of this experience on modern technology made it even more rewarding, I was just disappointed I could not share it with others.

Snipe

Paul Parmenter (Assistant Warden):

We only found 2 curlew nests on our curlew productivity work and we fenced them both. So for me the best moment was going to check on the nest changing the battery and finding at least 2 chicks! The nest had hatched and I quickly had to take down part of the fence to ensure the birds could move around freely. This was quite an emotional moment as it proved we could help get nests to hatching stage instead of them being predated. We are pretty sure some chicks fledged so with such a small population in the levels I felt that this was a hands on direct conservation success.

Helen Williams (Estate Worker):

It’s December. Crisp, cold, ice and snow. No work today. Walking along the South Drove reveal stories of dawn activities. Cranes bugle and expel breath. Cattle munch breathing heavy in the sheds. A flock of black-tailed godwits feed hunched together in a defrosted pool. 

Winter changes to spring and summer. Cowslip meadows turn a vivid shade of yellow. Curlews bubble behind me across the middle drain. Temporary pools along Fivehead drove fill with beetles diving in the muddy water. Chimney sweeper moths and brown hairstreak butterflies flutter. Iridescent long horn moths gather above the oak trees towering above the colourful meadow and confetti covered hedgerows. Hobbies chase dragonflies whilst peregrine falcons hit meadow pipits from the sky. 

Jackdaws chatter and tumble across the sky as the day draws to a close. A barn owl hunts silently for an unsuspecting vole. Bats chatter excitedly under the office roof. The swarm emerges, quickly defecating on the car windows below. Time to clean the windows again. 

Black-tailed godwits (Photo taken by John Crispin) 

Nattie Hayden (Administrator):

My best nature experience of 2021 was lying in the long wet grass in my waterproofs in the darkness listening to the sounds of West Sedgemoor waking up while I waited for the WhatsApp message to come through to the group of about six of us stationed in different gateways to say that the crane and its chick were finally on the move and which of the ‘runners’ it was heading for. We then had to wait for another message to say it was time for the runner to leap up and hurtle across the moor to chase the chick and hopefully it would drop to the ground as they are wont to do if chased and it could be tagged. I will never forget listening to the different species waking up one by one and calling into the dawn mist whilst lying there as motionless as possible looking up at the brightening sky.

Cranes (Photo taken by John Crispin) 

Nick Heather (Residential Volunteer):

In the short time I've been down here, it's amazing how many great wildlife experiences have presented themselves. However, there is one in particular that does stand out. My first trip down onto West Sedgemoor came in my second week, when we had to pollard some of the willows standing in front of the Hambridge Barn viewing hide. We were finished by lunchtime and could think of no better spot to eat our sandwiches than the viewing platform inside the barn. 

I had visited the barn once before, but this time I was truly blown away by the amount of life out on the moor in front of me. Huge flocks of golden plover shimmered as they were sent up in the distance, while equally large numbers of lapwing distributed themselves evenly around the fields. The flooded sections were filled with wigeon, teal and the ever-vocal flocks of Canada geese, while a smaller number of greylag slowly made their way through the water. Patrolling the skies above were plenty of marsh harriers, buzzards and a couple of kestrels too. Swans poked their long necks out from the sunken rhynes, a beautiful pair of stonechats sat atop the rushes in the foreground and to top it all off, West Sedgemoor's true stars, the cranes came in to make an appearance as well. 

The whole scene put me in mind of those paintings you sometimes see on the walls of a hide. The ones showing an artist's impression the reserve, depicting almost everything that you might possibly see while there. Of course you never usually see anything like that much, but this was one of those special occasions where it felt like we did! It only strengthened my belief in what a special place this is and how vital it is that we allow some space like this where wildlife can just be, without disturbance from people. 

Teal

Josh Burge (Residential Volunteer):

I joined the RSPB at West Sedgemoor this month as a Residential Volunteer. Our coppicing work in the woodland involves sawing some of the tree growth down to a height of 5-6 inches. My main hobby is birdwatching, so working amongst the leaf litter like this gave me a totally new perspective on the woodland. On one tree trunk, I found an ichneumon wasp - a rather different kind of wasp which lays its eggs inside caterpillars, using its long ovipositor almost like a syringe needle. On another I found a scale bug, which feed on sap and are normally immaculately camouflaged; this one had fallen off the sawn, shaking tree and revealed a pair of kicking back legs. Finally, walking around in the leaf litter uncovered a beautiful red fungus beneath the surface: a scarlet elf cup. Finding these woodland inhabitants felt refreshing and reminded me of all the other wildlife that live alongside birds - and upon which birds rely not only for food, but for a healthier wider environment.

Scarlet elf cup (Photo taken by Josh Burge) 

Photos by RSPB unless specified 

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