On Saturday my friend and I decided to take a mental health day down on the Somerset Levels – our go to place when everything is getting too grim. There’s been a lot said and written about the effect being ‘in nature’ has on people’s mental health and I know for me being out in the countryside walking or bird watching is soothing and meditative. It switches your mind off, gives you a reboot. The news lately has been so unremittingly grim – I know we’re lucky to be able to walk away from it for a while. Sometimes you just have to.
In his book ‘Where to go to watch birds’ from 1986 John Gooders dismissed Shapwick Heath as being ‘mostly destroyed by the commercial extraction of peat.’ It’s a NNR and was taken over by Natural England toward the end of the 80’s. I’ve been going there for almost that long and have watched it develop into this gloriously diverse habitat, teaming with life. It’s one of the best places in the country to see the starling murmerations in the winter- a wildlife spectacle everyone should try to experience at least once in their lives. And now, in Spring it is full of birds, nesting, feeding their young, generally hanging out. As well as Shapwick we went to Ham Wall, the RSPB reserve on the other side of the road- another stunning reserve which has developed so much in the past few years.
So – what did we see?
Glossy Ibis – recently taken up residence in the area. A beautiful and exotic bird to see in the June sunshine.
Lots of godwits – not sure what sort.
Lapwings – a bird from my childhood. We used to have clouds of them flocking in the wheatfields of Bedfordshire, not so frequently seen these days and not in such numbers.
A deer in the path back to Ham Wall, watching us from the other side of the canal.
There were lots of chicks of various sorts, including lots of cygnets of various sizes.
And so many Marsh Harriers – I remember how excited I was the first time I saw one of these here, several years ago. Now they are everywhere and I see them every time I go.
As well as the birds photographed we sat and watched a barn owl quartering the marshes for a while, gliding across the reeds with its distinctive round white head. While we were watching a cuckoo flew over, kindly making itself known with its song. And of course there were the persil white Little and Great White Egrets – another natural success story.
It’s a stunning place, full of life and diversity, soothing troubled minds and taking us back to ourselves. We left at sunset – nearly 10pm, and had to drag ourselves away.