Postcards from the Sedge

A little bit of life on the Levels…

WESTHAY 1/1/22

A grey day in January, a new year. Bedecked in suitable clothing, we reacquainted ourselves with the outdoors after too long lazing in front of the TV and gorging on the last remnants of Christmas fodder.

Within a few minutes of walking, we saw the old favourites, swans, mallard and white beaked coots dipping for pondweed. Four cygnets circled the island hide, large and unwieldy, rhythmically stretching their long legs from beneath them like a stiff yogi holding a pose. The reeds are now a pale yellow, dying back and clearing the views along the water’s edge. Overhead, a cormorant moved slowly, like an iron bar bending against the grey sky.

We walked on, through Viridon hide where the gadwalls were feeding in pairs on the pond. Their initial grey outlines are deceptive: through the camera lens their feathers swirl, a myriad of patterned layers. A robin chirped loudly to my right, sharply chastising me for admiring such a dull bird when his chest is so berry-bright and beautiful.

We continued walking north, on the corner of the track we caught a glimmer of black, white and red. Two woodpeckers, similar in colour and size, both moving fast, a repetitive game of chase and tag through the treeline. A knowledgeable birder recommended a trip to the north hide to see the goosanders. We walked on, through the ankle deep muddy lanes and further. As the light faded, four mute swans flew overhead with a deep beating rhythm, perfect in their symmetry, pure white wings and graceful arcs.

Hidden by the wooden screen, we swept the surface of both ponds and found crested grebes, some bright, white-chested shovellers and a tree full of cormorants and egrets, roosting like ornaments on a Christmas tree. As I lowered the lens I heard a near flap of wings. No more than ten feet from me, a great white egret spread it’s feathers and lifted in an almost ungainly haul over the water.

The north hide pond caught the last rays of warm sun. A marsh harrier hunted in the distance and we made our way back under the darkening sky. We missed the goosanders, but it’s a good excuse to return for another day of birding on the Somerset Levels.

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