Thursday, 4 February 2016

Winter Swans In Somerset

I have a real soft spot for wildfowl, especially geese and winter swans. On Tuesday afternoon I noticed on the web that a Southlake Moor on the Somerset Levels had both Bewick's and Whooper Swans. Having not seen either for a good few years I was immediately tempted, and when I googled where Southlake Moor was - not that far away at all - I was even more tempted! 

I know many birders who don't really 'get' winter swans - big white birds that, let's be honest, 90% look like Mute Swans.  But for me they are just so emotive, a real symbol of winter. When I was at Spurn, the sight of a flock of Whoopers flying south over the North Sea on a cold November morning, heading for their winter retreat (probably Norfolk), was one of the greatest spectacles of the year.  And living down here in Devon now, I don't see many of them any more.  So, Wednesday morning came, and without thinking twice I was loading up the car and off to Burrowbridge...

Burrow Mump

I parked up in the car park just below the mump, where I was greeted by a vast expanse of water...

Wildfowl haven

...and the stunning sight of eight Whooper Swans on the very nearest bit of it!  I couldn't believe my luck at just how close they were, especially considering how much water they had to choose from...

All eight Whoopers, five adults and three immatures

Such an awesome sight

A phone-scoped pic

Not the usual view of a Whoopers bill

They were absolutely top value, frequently calling to each other, wing flapping - completely and utterly fulfilling my winter swan-needs. And then it got even better...

Scanning further afield I picked up two more adult Whooper Swans with Mute Swans on the flood up towards Burrow Wall Farm, and then spied six more winter swans even further away - these were looking Bewicky.  I jumped back in to the car and tried looking at the flood water from the village of Stathe...

Success!  A short walk along a public footpath gave me an excellent view point where six adult Bewick's Swans were in full view. Unfortunately they weren't as close as the eight Whoopers but nevertheless great to see, especially as there are so few in the UK this winter...


Phone-scoped Bewick's showing the bill pattern

I know they're naff pics but I just can't help posting them!

So that's the swans dealt with, but this place was about so much more!  I was absolutely staggered by the sheer numbers of wildfowl present, really jaw-dropping.  There were easily 8-10,000 Wigeon spread around, along with c500-800 Pintail, a thousand or so Teal, c250 Shoveler and a few Gadwall.  I can tell you this is quite something when you are used to looking at no more than 300 Wigeon day in day out! 

So many ducks!

This spectacle really opened my eyes. I am such a dedicated patch birder, and have been for so long now, that the bird scene here completely sculptures my birding. Checking a flock of 300 Wigeon say two or three times a week is my birding, I scan through them once or twice, nothing rare, job done. Flipping heck at Southlake Moor you could scan the Wigeon daily for a month and still not find a lurking American Wigeon! 

And that's got me thinking, does this mean I have become a lazy birder? Am I so settled in a birding routine that I am no longer (to quote the very sadly recently departed Martin Garner) 'pushing the boundaries', or my boundaries anyway...

I think I need to embark on a few more off patch forays...


  1. don't know if you are aware of just how recently Southlake Moor was created/restored...

    (a slightly loony Daily Telegraph columnist alleges that flooding it caused the somerset floods!)


    1. Hi Ed

      That is a really interesting article thanks for sharing it, didn't realise it was this new!

      Yes of course it was this that caused all the flooding, not all the trees and hedges we have taken up, replacing with tarmac, bricks and tightly packed arable soil! The Gov could spend trillions on flooding and still never stop it, we just need to reverse the damage we've done to our planet...which will never happen!

      Sorry for going off on one there!

      All the best,