Having just returned from Mull, Dad obviously had the taste for being away, and promptly booked a week down in Minehead, a favourite location of his (and Mum's). Getting time off so soon after Mull wasn't going to be easy, so I settled for a plan of a night (Sat) down there on the first weekend, and maybe, if possible, a return trip later in the week.
To make the most of it, I set off early on the Saturday to beat the traffic and also give myself a fighting chance of seeing a spotted crake which had been providing amazing views at a new site (for me), RSPB Greylake. Not far from Shapwick Heath, so finding it wasn't too hard, though I did use the old SatNav.
Walking from my car, I asked a local birder if it was still around and was relieved to hear positive comments, and within 5 mins, I was rounding the corner on the boardwalk, to the small drained lagoon, in which the bird was feeding.
I foolishly asked where it was, scanning the far reeds, only for someone to point down in front of me! It was too close to focus on! Thankfully it backed off, and I bagged a few shots.
I have seen one before at Upton Warren, but not this close.
It wasn't bothered at all with the people milling round, chatting and the machine-gun shutters. It'd pop out of cover, grab some sort of food, and then scuttle off again. The morning light wasn't great, and backlit the crake, but I managed to recover them for decent results.
It eventually vanished into the reeds, not to be seen again until dusk. I had left well before then, after chatting to Carl (made a change from me nearly treading on him). I headed back to Shapwick Heath, one of my favourite reserves.
Again, I spoke to a birder who was leaving, and he mentioned that he'd seen bearded tits. I didn't realise they had them there, and was very pleased to see a few small flocks of them floating between reed beds. Sadly never close enough for shots, they provided a moment to savour, and an excuse to plonk down my gear for a rest!
The locally bred great white egrets stayed distant too, though a bittern kindly went for a circular flight.
Good to see, after they failed to show up locally this past winter.
With not much else coming close, I headed back to the car and trundled over to Minehead to meet up with Dad. I had heard about an osprey on the way there, but I have plenty of shots of them (even though I was missing one locally!!), so decided not to bother.
A quick chat with Dad, and I zipped off up North Hill, which is another favourite location, and where I spent hours chasing Dartford warblers years back.
No warblers that I could see, though I did see a group of stonechats, which is always good.
And I saw (and heard) small flocks of crossbills, though couldn't get close. Unlike the ponies which were grazing up there - they were easy to get shots of. Not that I'm overly interested in them...
That was it for the day and I spent the rest of it examining the bottom of pint glasses, through Cornish and Somerset ales. Very nice!
Sunday morning, and I dragged Dad up North Hill. Again, we found stonechats though this time nearer Hurlstone Point. Such a lovely spot, and while we sat there, a mass of ravens gathered over the headland - must have been close to 50 odd. Cronking away, spiralling down, chasing each other. Was quite a spectacle.
Dunster Beach is another great spot for photography, though also a favourite for dog emptiers. We saw a few wheatears around, but quite large flocks of linnets were milling around the edges of the beach, feeding on the seed from the wildflowers and shrubs growing in the sand. Mostly they kept away, but odd ones seemed to break from the crowds, and provided photo opportunities.
I also saw a vibrantly coloured male around, but could only manage record shots of him. Dad got him close up, later in the week, the jammy so and so.
And so it was time to head home. A short break but I was determined to come back.
I did. Booked the Friday off, and headed down on Thursday afternoon. Joined Dad for an afternoon pint, and then hit the pubs once more, for some more ales!
The next day, we shot down to Dunster Beach once again, paid the parking fees and set off looking for what Dad had seen during the week. He'd seen masses of linnets, wheatears and even a dipper! We tried for the latter first, but no sign of it. Wheatears though - they were everywhere...
And coming close too - right up to us, when we stood still. Great little birds.
A wander along the beach provided more chances with linnets, though the males had vanished. Hey ho.
There were also plenty of pipits around, both rock and meadow varieties. And yet more wheatears... and who can refuse a photo of them?
Back to the end by the stream / outflow, and I wandered down to the beach now the tide had gone out. It is a man made channel, but the end is sort of stepped, and allowed me to stand beside it, with the water at eye-level to me, and hence get shots of the wagtails feeding on it, from the sort of angle, you'd normally need a wetsuit to get.
And most pleasing, there were grey wagtails present too.
Such vibrant birds, often overlooked (by me) as they live in the same habitat as dippers.
Sadly the dipper failed to show up, so guess what? I took yet more shots of wheatears. Masses of shots of them!
We headed up North Hill for the end of the afternoon, hoping to catch up with some DWs, but despite having 3 of them flitting between gorse bushes near us, they never broke cover long enough for a shot, and I consoled myself with more shots of stonechats.
After a quieter night on the pop, I was out early and after discovering the spotted crake had left, I tried Shapwick again, but aside from a half decent view of one of the great white egrets, nothing else showed or came close, and I headed home again.
Somerset is always a pleasure to visit and while I tend to visit in Spring, it reminded me that it has plenty to offer at this time of year too.