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Somerset is now the best place in Britain to see – and get great views of – some of the country’s most sought-after bird species. The Avalon Marshes are the heron capital of Britain, with up to seven species breeding there.
Great White, Little and Cattle Egrets float over the reedbeds, or fish in the watery ditches known as rhynes. Bitterns, too, are often glimpsed as they fly low over the reeds – they are easiest to see in late spring when they are feeding their young. In May and June, you can watch Hobbies chasing dragonflies, Marsh Harriers performing their sky-dance and Cuckoos calling over the reeds.
In the nearby Quantock and Mendip Hills, we’ll enjoy a chorus of birdsong, while on the coast almost anything can – and does – turn up. At a time when much of Britain’s birdlife is in decline, Somerset offers a truly awesome birding experience.
We at Somerset Birdwatching Holidays pride ourselves on our attention to detail: we take a maximum of seven clients in our special vehicle (christened Thunderbird One), and offer luxury accommodation, splendid food and convivial company. With naturalist and author Stephen Moss and keen birder Graeme Mitchell as your guides, this holiday is ideal for birdwatchers at any level, from complete beginner onwards.
Our unrivalled knowledge of some of Somerset’s best-kept secret sites, and their birds, means you’ll get unforgettable views of some of Britain’s most charismatic species. We love showing people not just the birds and other wildlife of Somerset, but also the history and culture of this unique county and its myriad landscapes: from hills, to coast, to those magical wetlands. So please join us on a relaxing, enjoyable and above all memorable tour.
STEPHEN’S TOP 5 SOMERSET SPRING SPECIALS
GREAT WHITE EGRET Our star species – and the proud logo of Somerset Birdwatching Holidays – is one of Britain’s greatest conservation success stories. Having arrived on the Avalon Marshes less than a decade ago, these stately white herons now breed in large numbers, and sightings are absolutely guaranteed.
BITTERN Or ‘toasted heron’, as one local schoolboy named it. One of Britain’s most elusive species, the Bittern has made an extraordinary comeback, from just 11 booming males in the 1990s to more than 50 now on the Avalon Marshes alone! We’ll keep a sharp eye out for these charismatic birds as they appear momentarily on the edge of a reedbed, or fly overhead.
CRANE Europe’s tallest bird – and one of its most spectacular – can be surprisingly hard to track down in this huge wetland, but we’ll check out the latest reports and hope to connect with flocks of these stately waterbirds in the fields around West Sedgemoor.
HOBBY This elegant falcon returns from Africa in late April, when flocks gather over the marshes on fine spring days. We’ll keep a constant eye out for these speed merchants as they hawk acrobatically for insects in the skies above.
CATTLE EGRET Europe’s smallest egret first bred in the UK on 2009 – guess where? Yes, Somerset! Since then flocks of more than 50 birds have been seen, lending a touch of Africa to the West Country. We’ll visit a local heronry where the birds breed, and hope to see them as they fly in and ou
FACT FILE SOMERSET:
Spring Spectacular Choose from two dates, each with two-and-a-half days birding and three nights DBB – • Fri 10 May to Mon 13 May • Mon 3 June to Thu 6 June
DETAILS: All accommodation is en suite in luxury converted cottages or an adjacent B&B, and the holiday price includes dinner and drinks, self-service breakfast, pub lunch, all transport during your stay, and the services of our guides Stephen and Graeme. Group size maximum 7 clients. PRICE: £565pp (deposit £100) Single room supplement £75pp
Tour Leader Stephen is one of Britain’s best-known naturalists, authors and wildlife TV producers. His TV credits include Springwatch, The Nature of Britain and Birds Britannia, while his many books include Wild Hares and Hummingbirds, The Robin: A Biography, and Mrs Moreau’s Warbler: How Birds Got Their Names. Stephen moved to Somerset 12 years ago with his young family, and loves showing people the bird and wildlife wonders of his adopted home.
GRAEME & KAY MITCHELL
Your Hosts Graeme and Kay Mitchell ran a specialist holiday company for 25 years, taking thousands of people around Britain and the wider world to visit gardens and historical attractions. Having settled down with their family in Somerset two decades ago, they founded Somerset Birdwatching Holidays in 2017. Graeme’s guiding skills and Kay’s wonderful cooking make them the perfect hosts for your stay.
DAY 1: Arrive mid-afternoon at Walls Farm, near Wedmore. After settling in, you can use the heated swimming pool or spot the birds in the garden, orchard and around the pond, before enjoying a Welcome Dinner and looking ahead to our planned excursions.
DAY 2: Optional pre-breakfast walk, in a mixed woodland on the nearby Mendip Hills. After breakfast we’ll head down to the Avalon Marshes, and spend the morning exploring this wetland wonderland. In May or June this will be heaving with birds: we’ll look for Hobbies hawking for insects, Bitterns flying over the vast reedbeds, Marsh Harriers displaying and hunting, and up to three species of egret.
Great White Egrets now outnumber their smaller cousin the Little Egret, and we also hope to see the latest colonist, the Cattle Egret. RSPB Ham Wall is also alive with songbirds – up to nine species of warbler can be seen in a single visit – while the marshes are also excellent for insects, notably a wide range of dragonflies and damselflies. After lunch at a local hostelry, we’ll explore some of the hidden corners of the Somerset Levels, including Stephen and Graeme’s local patch, before returning to Walls Farm for a convivial supper.
DAY 3: Today we’ll head for the ‘wild west’ – the Quantock Hills and the Somerset coast. The beautiful oakwoods of the Quantocks are home to a trio of summer songsters – Redstart, Wood Warbler and Pied Flycatcher – while we’ll also look for Dipper and Grey Wagtail on the rivers and streams. We’ll time the tides to get the best of the exciting new WWT reserve at Steart Marshes, home to breeding Avocets and a wide range of waders and wildfowl. We’ll return to Walls Farm for our final dinner.
DAY 4: After breakfast in the cottage, we’ll spend our last morning visiting any sites we haven’t managed to get to already, or searching for target species we may have missed. Options include heading to the southern half of the levels to look for Cranes, visiting Stephen and Graeme’s coastal patch for migrants and waders, or simply returning to the wetland wonderland that is the Avalon Marshes.
Please note: itineraries are given only as a guide. The locations visited may vary, according to the weather and tide times, and the species we are hoping to see.