Saturday 26th January 2013
Natural History Walk at Shapwick Heath Nature Reserve
After meeting in the old Peat Moors Visitor Centre on a lovely sunny morning, although still cold, 7 degrees C, and after the snow and rain had finally gone, nine members set off down Shapwick Road to the entrance to the reserve. The Peat Moors Centre site now has a craft centre, coffee/tea kiosk and an information hut run by the Natural England Agency.
On entering the reserve along an old railway track Alan Whiting reminded us that ticks which are responsible for a bacterial infection called Lyme Disease can be present during the summer months. Near the entrance are bramble bushes where White Admiral butterflies can be seen during July and August.
Going on towards the information and display boards for the ancient trackway known as the Sweet Track, mute swans, cygnets and mallard were seen in the main drain and an occasional shell of white lipped banded snails was spotted on the main track before we followed the marked route to the Decoy Hide to see water birds.
This way took us through swampy woodland where we were glad of wellington boots and where we saw crows, magpies, blackbirds and more swans with their young in the reed beds skirting the path, which was lined with oak, alder and beech trees, on one of which we spotted a very large bracket fungus. Moving on further we came to the large ponds and could see the hide ahead of us. Then we noticed stands of silver birch, some hart's tongue ferns and some gorse bushes coming into flower.
We were lucky to find the hide empty of birders when we got there, so had the hut to ourselves for about half an hour. In the reeds edging the ponds long-tailed and great tits were flitting about, and in another area at the edge a grey heron and a great white egret were spotted, only very small numbers of which have so far been seen in the UK. Immatures and adults in winter have yellowish beaks that turn black in the breeding season. On the open water many water birds were seen including coots, tufted duck, gadwall (m&f), shoveler, teal, wigeon and a few cormorant. Two smews had been seen earlier.
We took a different route on the way back eventually following what was believed to have been the route of the Sweet Track in prehistoric times and we noticed turkey's tail fungi on a rotting tree trunk. We also spotted yellow flag iris (not in flower) and the orange seeded fruits of stinking iris, even finding scarlet elf cap fungi (as seen at Chew Valley Lake). At the exit of the reserve a robin and many goldfinch were noted.
In all a most enjoyable walk, followed by some refreshments back at the Visitor Centre.