Somerset is a county in South West England which borders Gloucestershire and Bristol to the north, Wiltshire to the east, Dorset to the south-east and Devon to the south-west. It is bounded to the north and west by the Severn Estuary and the Bristol Channel, its coastline facing southeastern Wales. Its traditional border with Gloucestershire is the River Avon. Somerset's county town is Taunton.
The county covers an area of about 3,500 square kilometres in the southwest of England. It's a rural county of rolling hills such as the Blackdown Hills, Mendip Hills, Quantock Hills and Exmoor National Park, but also has a large flat expanses of land including the Somerset Levels which are liable to winter flooding. The county has many rivers, including the Axe, Brue, Cary, Parrett, Sheppey, Tone and Yeo. These both feed and drain the flat levels and moors of mid and west Somerset. In the north of the county the River Chew flows into the Bristol Avon.
While it can claim no major migration hotspots, it has a range of habitats that have attracted over three hundred species of birds, of which about a hundred species breed. As well as the very special Somerset Levels which are returning in part to their former glory. It is a county of varied habitat that attracts more birds and birders every year.
Starting with the coast of the Bristol Channel, we can find coastal mud flats around the Huntspill and Parrett estuaries, sandy beaches at Weston super mare, Berrow and Minehead and rocky cliffs at Brean Down, Kilve and Hurlstone Point, a favourite with sea watchers.
Ranges of hills start with the Mendips and stretch down to the Quantocks, Blackdowns and the Poldens. All of these have distinctive landscapes and habitats. There are many reservoirs in the shadow of the hills such as Chew, Blagdon, Wimbleball and Cheddar.
Last but not least are the Somerset Levels and Moors. Since the 1980's, large areas of peat land and other low lying flat land have been transformed by the Environment Agency working with Natural England, Somerset Wildlife Trust and RSPB. Somerset now boasts several wetland NNRs notably Ham Wall, Shapwick Heath, Westhay Moor, Greylake and West Sedgemoor. A major new wetland habitat is being created on the Steart Peninsula near Bridgwater.
Notable breeding species in recent years include Little, Great White and Cattle Egret, Bittern, Marsh Harrier, Hobby, Avocet, Nightjar, Savi's Warbler and Dartford Warbler although the last named numbers suffer in cold winters. Recent passage migrants include Spotted Crake, Pectoral, Sharp-tailed and White-rumped sandpiper, Long-billed Dowitcher and Red-footed Falcon.
The mainly mild winters attract many wintering wildfowl species ranging from Bewick’s and Whooper Swan, Brent Geese to Wigeon and Pintail in large numbers, Goosander, Goldeneye and a few Smew. Woodcock arrive in numbers although they are very under recorded, Black-tailed and Bar-tailed Godwits, Golden and Grey Plover and other winter waders can be found on the flooded levels and the coast while millions of Starlings from the Continent arrive in winter, attracting in turn predators such as Peregrine, Merlin and Hen Harrier. Redwing, Fieldfare, Siskin and Redpoll are plentiful and a few Snow Buntings turn up in most years.
The Crane project is also based in Somerset. Birds from imported eggs are reared at Slimbridge and released in Somerset. Common Cranes are niow established as another new breeding species.
For those with a wider wildlife interest, Large Blue butterflies, Otters and Red Deer can be other notable highlights of a visit to Somerset.
The reedbed between the golf course and the beach has Bearded Tit and Water Rail. There are extensive stands of Sea Buckthorn that often attract winter thrushes and have a fair population of wintering Blackcaps. The beach is good for waders and has been host to rare migrants such as Short-toed Lark.
Brean Down is caused by the westward extension of the hard Mendip limestone into the Bristol Channel. It is a steep climb from the car park to the footpath on top of the down and it is not recommended for those of a weak disposition. The path then goes along the top of the hill and gradually falls until you reach the old fort at the end. The promontory is a good place to see spring and autumn migrants though it is hard work to do it thoroughly and regularly. Rock Pipit can be seen foraging among the cliff-top plants and Peregrines are often seen overhead. Sea duck can sometimes be seen off the point along with passing terns and skuas in the right wind conditions. From the inland end of the down you can look into the estuary though the views are distant.
Catcott Lows Reserve
This reserve is superb for seeing wintering ducks. The hide by the car park offers views across a flooded area of fields which can hold large flocks of Wigeon, Lapwing and Mallard with good numbers of Gadwall, Shoveler, Teal, Pintail and a few diving duck in the main channel. In spring, Garganey are regular and wader passage can be very good when water conditions are favourable. Good numbers of Whimbrel and Black-tailed Godwit are regular and rarer migrants may include Wood Sandpiper and even Temminck's Stint. Marsh Harrier, Hen Harrier, Hobby and Peregrine regularly hunt over the area. A second hide is visible across the field, and following the drove out to this hide in winter is a good way to find flocks of Redpoll and Siskin. Grasshopper Warblers can still sometimes be found in this area in summer.
Chard Reservoir was once the balancing lake for the Chard to Taunton Canal. The canal is long gone but the reservoir still attracts birds including Great Crested Grebe, Little Egret and various duck species. Rarer recent visitors have included Ring-necked Duck, Red-throated Diver and Firecrest, and Lesser-spotted Woodpeckers are occasional visitors. The South Somerset District Council has erected a hide and there are footpaths through the surrounding woods where a variety of common woodland species can be seen.
Lying at the foot of the Mendip hills this is an almost circular concrete bowl. There is virtually no marginal vegetation but when the water level is low a muddy shoreline and gravelly islands become exposed. This is a very good winter waterfowl site, with a good selection of duck species, and large populations of wintering Great Crested Grebe and Coot. Goosanders roost, and Black-necked Grebe and Great Northern Diver are almost annual; other diver and grebe species turn up occasionally too. Because of its position and depth it is often one of the last stretches of water to freeze over and in hard weather can be spectacular: in winter 2009-10 the species list also included Black-throated Diver, Ring-necked Duck, Ferruginous Duck, Red-crested Pochard, Smew, Ruddy Duck, and Scaup. The gull roost occasionally attracts white-winged gulls, and it is a good place to visit after violent storms in the autumn and winter when wind blown species such as Grey Phalarope or Long-tailed Duck may be seen. It is often used by migrating terns for a short stay in spring or autumn, and sometimes by passage waders when water levels are low. Sailing and windsurfing occur on weekend afternoons and on Wednesdays so these times are not the best for birding. No permit is required.
This relatively new RSPB reserve covers part of Kings Sedgemoor and consists of seasonally flooded grazing marshes with some stands of reed and reedmace. Good in winter for wildfowl and raptors (including regular Hen Harriers), it is managed to provide habitat for breeding waders and Yellow Wagtails, now scarce in the county. Scarcities already recorded include Green-winged Teal and Spotted Crake.
To say that Hurlstone Point is one of Somerset's premier sea-watching spots is not saying much if you are comparing it to Pendeen and on some days even Tring! It is, however, the best place to add seabirds to your Somerset list and is a nice walk even if you see nothing. You must park in the car park at Bossington, which is the closest approach by car, then walk to the sea, turning left then climbing uphill until you reach an old building along the cliff path. Some people watch from here; the hardier souls climb down from here until they are nearer sea level. Like Brean, this is not for the faint-hearted. While the birds are not prolific, they are all possible. In spring, Wheatear and Black Redstart are often seen along the cliffs here.
Shapwick Heath & Ham Wall
These two superb reserves (run by Natural England and the RSPB respectively) are the centrepiece of the Avalon Marshes project, which has created new and extensive wetlands out of old peat diggings. Much patient effort has attracted Bitterns and Bearded Tits to breed, and the mosaic of reedbeds, open water, scrub and damp woodland holds a wide variety of other breeding species. Winter wildfowl are another draw, and a scrape on Meare Heath (part of Shapwick Heath reserve) is drained down in spring and autumn to attract passage waders. The two sites have an impressive list of rarities to their name, including (to name but a few) Little Bittern, Squacco Heron, Glossy Ibis, Whiskered Tern, Green-winged Teal, Red-footed Falcon and Red-necked Phalarope (not to mention the Booted Eagle!) In recent years the huge Starling roost has attracted large crowds late on weekend afternoons in winter (a time best avoided unless the Starlings are your aim). It’s also a great place to see Otters, though sightings are still far from guaranteed. The reserves are accessed along the old railway line either side of the car park at Ashcott Corner. In 2012 30 male Bitterns were booming across the marshes and many pairs bred as did two pairs of Great White Egrets that successfully reared four chicks!
Steart is probably the best place in Somerset to see large concentrations of waders. Success does depend on being there at the correct time, which is over high tide, with spring tides being the best, as birds are pushed up out of the River Parrett and its deep creeks. From the Somerset Wildlife Trust car park, either walk to the beach and turn right or follow the road along until it becomes a footpath out to the hides. There are several hides out on the point including the amazing Tower Hide, which is part of the artistic Parrett Trail. The best for seeing the high tide wader roost are the two on the end of the point but the others can have their delights including a Peregrine or a Merlin perched on one of the posts on the salt marsh. Passage waders can be very good here and have included Wilson’s Phalarope, Kentish Plover, Buff-breasted Sandpiper and Long-billed Dowitcher. Skuas and terns can sometimes be seen from the hides as they fish in the estuary or migrate up the Bristol Channel and small parties of geese sometimes drop in to the salt marsh in winter.
Sutton Bingham Reservoir
Sutton Bingham Reservoir is a moderately large expanse of water privately owned by Wessex Water, however there are a number of vantage points around its shores. Interest has declined in recent years due to increased recreational activities on the water, but it still attracts commoner winter wildfowl and rare ducks have been noted among the more common species whereas Mandarins have become a feature in recent years having successfully bred at the site. Spring or autumn passage usually turns up at least one passing Osprey, and if water levels are allowed to drop during the summer months the reservoir can attract passage waders in August and September with Common Sandpipers being especially numerous. The site also provides opportunities to see several warbler species, including the occasional Cetti's Warbler. Facilities at the reservoir include a car park with toilets at the northern end from where you can follow the water's edge to the hide at the south of the reservoir. Dogs are not permitted on site. The site list stands somewhere in the region of 225 species.
Swell Woods & West Sedgemoor
The RSPB reserve at West Sedgemoor is an important site for wintering wildfowl and waders and breeding species such as Snipe and Redshank. The major focus for the site is to provide secluded feeding and resting places for the bird species that winter or breed on the marshes so access is restricted and views from the hide generally distant. Swell Wood is a breeding site for Grey Heron and the heronry can be watched from a hide in the wood near the car park. The RSPB also provides food for small birds in the winter and the car park is a great place to see Marsh Tit, Nuthatch and Jay as they come to within feet of the parked cars to feed.
Webber's Post & Horner Wood
Webber's Post car park looks out over a fantastic vista of wooded valleys and high moor land tops. A visit in May, when the migrant woodland birds have arrived and the trees are alive with the songs of Wood Warbler, Pied Flycatcher, Redstart and Tree Pipit is a memorable experience. You can either park in the car park and walk down the footpath into the valley below, or there is a car park at Horner in the valley bottom. You can then follow the footpath up along the stream where Dipper and Grey Wagtail are often seen. This is also a good spot for all three of the woodpecker species although you will need luck to see Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. The trees around the upper car park attract Redpoll, Siskin and Crossbill. Further up onto the moors, Whinchat and Grasshopper Warbler can be found, though Red Grouse is now extinct and Ring Ouzels occur only on passage . Dartford Warblers have colonised in recent years, but recent harsh winters have taken their toll and they are currently hard to find. The valley below the car park also holds the majority of the British breeding bat species.
Westhay Moor Nature Reserve
This reserve is part of the Avalon Marshes, a complex of interlinked wetlands including Catcott Lows, Shapwick Heath and Ham Wall, forming one of the most important wetland areas in the southwest. Westhay has open water, reed beds and scrub, and a remnant of raised bog habitat, and attracts a wide variety of wetland birds. It regularly has wintering Bittern and one winter hosted a pair of Penduline Tits that enthralled hundreds of birders as they decimated the reedmace heads in search of food. Visitor numbers have reduced as the focus has shifted to Shapwick Heath in particular, but Westhay is still well worth a visit. Wintering Goosander and Goldeneye are regular and the woods hold Siskin and Redpoll in winter and a variety of warblers in summer.
23 Lyngford Road, Taunton TA2 7EE
Number of Species
Number of bird species: 352
County Bird - Goldeneye Bucephala islandica […at a dinner marking a Somerset Ornithological Society anniversary, Peter Scott, who was the guest speaker, drew a Goldeneye on his napkin and everybody thought that it would be a brilliant symbol for Somerset!]
A History of the Birds of Somerset
David K Ballance 372 pages, 40 colour plates, 2 maps. Isabelline Books 2006
ISBN: 0955278708Buy this book from NHBS.com
Where to Watch Birds in Somerset, Gloucestershire & Wiltshire
by Ken Hall & John Govett 3rd edition Helm ?Where to Watch? series. 2004 ?14.99p
See Fatbirder Review
ISBN: 0713666145Buy this book from NHBS.com
Guides & Tour Operators
Joe Cockram - Guided Walks and Private Tours on the Somerset Levels - I was born and raised in Somerset, and have been birding on the Avalon Marshes since I was 8 years old. Now 26, I have spent much of the past 10 years working on nature reserves around the UK, including such legendary sites as Titchwell Marsh, The Farne Islands and Blakeney Point. I have also recently completed a Batchelors degree in Ecology and Wildlife Conservation at Bournemouth University. Between work and studies I have travelled the world extensively, mainly on birdwatching trips, you can read about my global adventures on my other website Joe’s Birding Blog.
Local birders willing to show visiting birders around their area…
CloudBirders was created by a group of Belgian world birding enthusiasts and went live on 21st of March 2013. They provide a large and growing database of birding trip reports, complemented with extensive search, voting and statistical features.
Places to Stay
Gurney Manor Mill
Gurney Manor Mill Bed & Breakfast is an Old Watermill and Barn conversion alongside a stream with rural views and wildlife. We are close to several bird reserves along the Somerset coastline.
Packhorse - Allerford
The Pack Horse is situated in Allerford, a picturesque National Trust village within The Exmoor National Park and takes it name from the ancient Packhorse Bridge it sits beside.
Sage Farm Cottages - Westhay
Westhay is surrounded by National Nature Reserves and the area of the Somerset Levels is well known for wildlife including rare species such as Marsh Harrier, Barn Owl, Bittern and Otter. The spectacular Westhay starling roost is regularly featured on TV wildlife programmes…
Wall Eden Farm
Wall Eden Farm is set in seven acres, on the edge of the Somerset Levels, offering a selection of 6 luxury log cabins for your next self-catering holiday. Each cabin has been designed to be fully accessible…
Cam Valley Wildlife Group
An independent wildlife conservation group covering Midsomer Norton, Radstock and surrounding villages. Its aims are: the conservation of local wildlife, promoting awareness and understanding of wildlife, encouraging enjoyment of wildlife…
RSPB South Somerset Local Group
We were established in 1979 as Crewkerne LG (altering our name in 2011) and currently have over 240 members. We pride ourselves on being a friendly group of people who appreciate not only birds but all aspects of natural history.
Somerset Environmental Records Centre
The Somerset Environmental Records Centre (SERC) is the centre of reference for all information relating to wildlife and biodiversity in Somerset. It maintains an up-to-date record of sites, habitats and species found in the county and makes the data available for decision making, conservation, research, monitoring and education…
Somerset Ornithological Society
Rob Grimmond - SOS Secretary & Webmaster. The website for all your birding needs in Somerset, including a sightings message-board, site guides, details of indoor and field meetings, and links to other sites maintained by local birders and wildlife photographers…
Somerset Wildlife Trust
Address: Fyne Court, Broomfield, Bridgwater, Somerset, TA5 2EQ. Tel 01823 451587 Fax 01823 451671 Email email@example.com - We have a simple aim – to safeguard the county`s wildlife and wild places for this and future generations. Help us achieve this aim by becoming a supporter…
Chew Valley Ringing Station
Chew Valley Ringing Station is located in North Somerset just north of the Mendip hills on the southwest shore of Chew Valley Lake and on the A368 road midway between Bath and Weston -S- Mare, between the villages of Bishop Sutton and West Harptreeâ€¦
LNR Chard Reservoir Nature Reserve
Chard is a small town in Somerset, England, UK. These pages are an introduction to the reservoir at Chard and some of the wildlife that may be found there. The reservoir is only about a mile from the centre of Chard town and so is regularly visited by local people. The surrounding meadows are much used for dog walking. That said, the site is actually well hidden from all but the closest houses and many shoppers in Chard may be completely unaware of the existence of this substantial (20 hectares) stretch of water.
NNR Shapwick Heath National nature Reserve
This magnificent and varied nature reserve covers over 500 ha at the heart of the Avalon Marshes (part of Somerset’s Levels and Moors). Shapwick Heath National Nature Reserve (NNR) is part of an area that's steeped in history and is a superb place to watch wildlife, whether it’s an elusive bittern, an otter lurking in the reed beds, or the swirling flocks of starlings that come to roost in winter.
The fields here used to be arable farmland, but now they are being looked after so that they are ideal for wetland birds and other wildlife. We have put in structures to keep the water levels high and have created miles of new ditches and shallow water-filled gutters, and dug out numerous shallow pools or 'scrapes'. Now you can see lapwings, snipe, curlews and redshanks nesting here in summer, as well as yellow wagtails, skylarks and meadow pipits.
RSPB Ham Wall
Here you can enjoy a newly created wetland, which provides a safe home for many rare species including water voles and otters. In spring the reedbeds are alive with birdsong and in autumn you can see kingfishers flashing up and down the ditches. Bitterns are seen regularly all year-round.
RSPB Swell Wood
The ancient oaks of Swell Wood are part of a continuous strip of woodland extending some 10 miles (15 km) along the ridge from Langport to the Blackdown Hills. It has the largest colony of breeding grey herons in south-west England - more than 100 pairs and a small number of little egrets nest here. Between March and June is the best time to come and see the spectacle.
RSPB West Sedgemoor
West Sedgemoor is part of England's largest remaining wet meadow system. Set among the Somerset Levels and Moors, it has the largest lowland population of breeding wading birds such as lapwings, snipe, curlew and redshanks in southern England. In winter, the controlled flooding on the wet meadows attracts birds in their thousands - ducks such as wigeons, teals, shovelers, pintails and mallards, and wading birds such as golden plovers, snipe and lapwings.
SWT Catcott Complex Nature Reserves
The Catcott Complex is a great place to visit. Whilst the Lows play host to hundreds of birds from November to March, the Great Fen has the addition of a new four-metre high Tower Hide.
SWT Westhay Moor Nature Reserve
Westhay Moor is a beautiful nature reserve to explore with its shimmering lakes and reed beds, birds singing and signs of life all around. This reserve is home to the UK's first breeding pair of Night Heron on record.
Wessex Water: Sutton Bingham Reservoir
The reservoir offers an opportunity to see a wide range of wildlife. There is a short, easy walk along a section of the western bank which will take you through traditional hay meadows, rich in wildlife, to a viewing point. Our visitor guide describes the many plant, bug, butterfly, bat and bird species you may encounter along the way. The site is visited by passing osprey in the spring and autumn and nesting facilities have been added for a variety of birds. Access for groups to non-public areas can be organised by the ranger.
WWT Steart Marshes
Welcome to WWT Steart Marshes - a wild, wetland landscape for the future that helps people and wildlife adapt to climate change. Rising sea levels are putting the squeeze on our coast, so WWT and the Environment Agency have created Steart Marshes – one of the UK’s largest new wetland reserves. Hundreds of hectares of saltmarsh and freshwater wetlands buffer homes and businesses from rising sea levels, and provide habitat for a rich mix of wetland wildlife including otters, egrets, owls waders and wildfowl.
Joe Cockram - Joe's Birding Blog
The Avalon Marshes are producing some fantastic birding at the moment. You shouldn't be reading about it on here though, you should be looking at my new website www.avalonwildlife.co.uk for all the latest…
George Henry - George's Wildlife Diary
Bird sightings for Weston Super Mare and the surrounding areas, and nature in my local patch.
James & Andrew - The Elite Fast Response Squadron
A site by two guys, James and Andrew, with an odd sense of humour and their adventures while bird watching around the Somerset Levels then posting on our BLOG and some of our favourite pictures. We call ourselves the Elite Fast Response Squadron or EFRS for short. Why the EFRS? Well we have the ability to travel with speed and agility to most of the Nature Reserves within our scope with the aid of bicycles. While cars may be faster on the road the bicycles can go places that cars cannot and faster than on foot.
Tim Farr - Tim's Birding BLOG
Whilst I've been a keen birder for many a year, I have always managed to get by with a scribble on a scrap of paper and have never bothered to make a proper note of what I've seen. So here it is, my blog! A list of all things, especially birds, that I've seen whilst out and about…usually with my wonderful wife, Ellie…
Wayne & Lauren Tucker - Newton-St-Loe Birding
Wildlife & Fauna in Newton St Loe and (walkable) surrounding areas, plus the odd day trips around the UK. Latest Sightings of birds & nature in our local countryside…
Chew Valley Lake Birding
Chew Valley Lake, ten miles south of Bristol, is the largest reservoir in south-west England. This website contains regularly updated news and information on its birds and wildlife.
North Somerset Bird Of Prey Centre
North Somerset Bird Of Prey Centre https://www.nsbopc.co.uk Website At the North Somerset Bird Of Prey Centre we offer the chance to watch and interact with some of nature's greatest avian predators. From Hawks and Falcons, to Eagles, Owls and Red Kites. There are opportunities to get up close with these amazing animals, hold them, take photographs and even watch them fly in our own display arena.
Somerset's Birds of Prey
All images on this page are record shots of wild birds, as the quality reflects…
Photographers & Artists
Bird Photographs - Tim Taylor - Wild Imaging
UK bird and other photography by Tim Taylor…
Photographer - Carl Bovis Nature Photography
I'm an amateur nature photographer from the beautiful County of Somerset in the UK. I use a Nikon D7000 with a 70-300mm Nikkor VR lens, almost all my shots are handheld! I've always loved nature, especially birds, and digital photography is a fantastic way of sharing the beauty I'm lucky enough to see around me every day!
Photographer - Paul Bowyer
Mostly British birds and rarities plus trip reports…
Photographer - Rob Chase - L & R Wildphoto
Last update 2014 - Wildlife of Somerset & further afield. Specialising in birds & mammals, Rob Chace is also a keen naturalist. Find galleries, equipment reviews & more at L&R wildphoto.
Photographer - Simon Mackie
This web-site's primary roll is to showcase examples of Simon's work…