Monday, 15 April 2013

Herons Above in Swell Wood

After a conversation with *Gary (*Bird watching friend who, only yesterday, saw a hoopoe), I used the  wonderful after-work daylight to seek out the Swell Wood RSPB reserve near Langport where there is a heronry. I have never seen heron's on their nests and was imagining a waterside tree top with 5 or 6 nests, a combination of rookery meets 'lost world' pit of the pterodactyls perhaps. Apparently, according to the hide posters,  this is one of the 10 largest heronry's in the UK with often over 100 nests. I had not imagined that there would be so many and the 77 nests currently occupied were remarkably hidden in the tree tops but with the leaves yet to bud, in this cold start, the canopy of sticks was clearly scattered with herons sitting, perching and squawking. The first thing that I became aware of, as I approached the hide in the middle of the wood, was in-fact the noise, a combination of clattering beaks and raucous calling that reminded me of busy wildfowl centres and parrot enclosures. As I sat on my own, looking into the setting sun at the silhouetted branches and birds, the noise and bawdy interaction was consistent. There were birds flying from branch to branch, birds facing off or conversing on nests, crouched on tree branches, flaring their head crests and striding precariously, with their huge wings outstretched, tottering from thin branch to branch.

It was actually quite like a rookery with the the large sticky nests punctuating the canopy of high tree branches and birds noisily calling from one lofty position to another. I was surprised at how far we were from the water but I suppose only a mile or so, from the rivers Tone and Fivehead further down the valley, and the rather elevated position perhaps allows the herons clear site out over the farmland and a clear flight path into the nesting canopies. The wood itself was also full of grey squirrels and a multitude of small birds and woodpeckers and it was familiar and enjoyable just to sit calmly in amongst the trees but with the ever present squawking and with the large birds occasionally flying amongst the trees it also felt quite unfamiliar. I don't think I've ever seen more than 3 herons together, or ever sitting in trees, and I certainly didn't expect to see the nesting area shared by little egrets. Exciting to see new interesting things so close to home and I'm sure I'll be back regularly, perhaps early in the morning next time with the children and when the sun is behind me.

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