You can never predict when a rare bird will turn up at the reserve and while we are always delighted to find rare species on site, it is particularly frustrating for both us and our visitors when they appear during a time like this!  

Some of you are probably wondering the best way to see the river warbler safely during Covid-19 as well as where to go when you arrive, and some may be wondering what a river warbler looks like. This blog aims to cover all of this and hopefully make everyone’s visit safe and enjoyable.  


What is a river warbler and what does it look like?  

A rare visitor to the UK with on average just one record a year with this bird being a first for Somerset. Typically breeding across central and southern Europe to southwest Siberia and northwest Kazakhstan, it is a rather nondescript brown warbler. Dark with a plain brown back, faintly streaked breast, and pale belly.  

Usually very shy or skulky and hard to spot, other than when singing. Found in dense low bushes often near marshes. The song is a sharp, continuous, and almost machinelike "dzi-dzi-dzi-dzi-dzi-dz."   

Unfortunately, I haven’t managed to get a photograph of it myself to show you but there are some great ones on eBird on this link or have a look at some of the great photos and footage that is being shared by other visitors on social media. 


Where can the river warbler be found?  

The river warbler has been seen singing regularly on a pile of brash on the grass path side of the canal near the turning to the Avalon Hide 

Please adhere to guidance on social distancing and hygiene and be considerate of each other to ensure that everyone can view the bird safely, as well as being able to pass along the path.  


Plan your visit carefully: 

  • We have a large car park but there were times today (Saturday 5 June) that we were at capacity so please be prepared to come back later or on another day if we are full. Please do not park on the road – be considerate of our neighbours and the need for emergency vehicle access at all times.  
  • The car park opens at 5 am and closes at 10 pm. Overnight parking is not permitted. An alternative Natural England car park can be found outside of these times at Shapwick Heath, Ashcott Corner on the opposite side of the road.  
  • Parking is £3 or free for RSPB Members. Payment taken by credit or debit card. RSPB members should display their membership cards on their dashboard for free parking in the Ham Wall car park.  
  • Maintain social distancing at all times. If the viewing spot is busy, please wear a face covering unless exempt to keep yourself and others safe. Remember that you must wear a face covering in our hides and toilets too. 
  • Be considerate to other visitors – this may mean observing the bird for less time than you would normally want to view for, or not getting the perfect photograph on this occasion, to enable other visitors to safely take their turn and maintain social distancing. The grass paths are narrow in places, so you may need to move aside to allow other visitors to pass through the area or shorten your dwell time to enable others to see the river warbler. 
  • Try to visit outside of peak times, weekends and lunchtimes are often out busiest times of day.  
  • Be mindful of the sensitive habitat around the viewing location, please stick to the paths. The reeds are also home to other species that make their home here at Ham Wall and some of them could be busy raising families in the very same area as the river warbler is in. 

The Royal Photographic Society has produced a useful 'Nature Photographers' code of conduct' which gives guidance around photographing nature and highlights the laws which apply while doing so. This is a useful resource for not only beginner and experienced photographers, but anyone who enjoys watching wildlife. The link to the code can be found here: 

There is lots of other great wildlife on site for you to watch while you wait if the viewing spot is busy when you arrive. From booming bitterns (look to the skies for them flying too) to hunting marsh harrier and fishing great white egrets. For further information about what has been seen lately visit our other recent sightings blogs here:  

Please be considerate that there will be visitors on site who are not aware of this rarity and may be expecting the reserve to be quieter than it currently is.  

If you are not interested in seeing the river warbler please do be aware that the site and car park may be busier than usual while the river warbler is here, so you may wish to plan your visit for a quieter time.  

Thank you all for your continued support and if you have not already, please do consider joining or donating to help fund the work of the RSPB, so we can continue to improve our habitats and reserves for both people and wildlife at this difficult time. For the latest from RSPB Ham Wall, you can follow our Facebook and Twitter pages.