Somerset May 2011

Somerset May 2011

Saturday – car packed and off we went to Somerset leaving an hour early so we could take our time. Destination was a holiday cottage near Shepton Mallet (Elevenscroft) and arrival planned for around 12:30 ish. The weather was not too promising with showers and wind but traffic light – or it was until we got onto the M5 near Bristol. It took us two hours to get near Bristol (130 miles) and a further two hours to travel the 37 miles to our destination. Not sure why we chose to travel on a bank holiday weekend – or even why we were going on holiday. Probably only having to take 4 days holiday was part of it!
So we ended up arriving on time when we should have been early! Friendly welcome from the owner and then we were left to unpack the car and settle in. Cup of coffee and then off to the local Tesco to stock up for the week. Rain and then more rain as we walked down the main street in Shepton Mallet and had a sandwich in a little coffee shop.
This was supposed to be a butterfly holiday and we were planning to visit a local site but the weather meant that we had to shelve that idea and settled back into our cottage. Outside the kitchen window the owners had thoughtfully place 4 bird feeders in a tree so the window was opened and camera set up on a tripod – fantastic kitchen hide! Bird species seen (from the kitchen window) were blackbird (pair), blue tit, great tit, greater spotted woodpecker, nuthatch, chaffinch, jay, magpie, robin.

Evening spent watching a fantastic team (Barcelona) win the champions League!

Sunday - despite the forecast not being too good was sunny (or bright at least!) but not warm enough for butterflies yet so we made a decision to visit RSPB Westhay and had a wonderful walk along the volunteer constructed boardwalk surrounded by the sound of warblers of all sorts – will have to learn the songs for identification as we heard but could not see many. They pop out for the briefest of seconds before disappearing back into the reeds. Not much to see from the hide (we would have liked to see the storks)

From Westhay we travelled a few miles towards Shapwick Heath where we found the Avalon Marsh Visitors Centre where we had a hot drink and a wander around. We ended up making a bird box as they had an activity day there! Then we had a wander along through Shapwick Heath Nature Reserve and had our lunch in a hide watching swans and grebes. We spotted a Hobby on our way back to the car and also passed the Sweet Track carefully preserved under the peat (there is a replica of part of it in the Peat Centre). Then the sun came out and magically so did the dragonflies and butterflies (common blue and meadow brown) along with the most fantastic chorus of marsh frogs.
After a visit to Glastonbury Tor (and yes we did walk to the top – 512 feet in total) with fantastic views over three counties we returned home for another lovely tea watching the woodpecker and nuthatch on the garden feeders.

Monday – forecast said heavy rain all day but when we opened the curtains we were greeted by fog! Then it did rain after breakfast – clearly no butterflies today either! There was a pair of greenfinches on the feeders along with a wren and sparrow. Not good for bird watching so we decided to head to Weston Super Mare for some seaside therapy! Rain eased a little so we walked along the front and to the new Grand Pier – really good on a wet bank holiday! Nice (covered) walk and then games and rides at the end. Spent a couple of fun hours in there! Walked back to the tourist information office and picked up a leaflet for a cider shop and museum so off we went there. Bought some gifts to take home and sat in a pub car park for lunch. Decided to visit Wells in the afternoon as it was still raining – good decision as Wells is a lovely city (the smallest in England) and only one smaller in the UK (St David’s in Wales). Spent a long time in the wonderful cathedral (you can take photos but have to buy a permit for £3 – well worth buying) and when we came out of the cathedral the sun was out and it turned into a lovely warm afternoon. However tea beckoned so we went back to the cottage to make our plans for the following day – weather is forecast to get better each day through the week so high hopes of butterflies tomorrow.

Tuesday arrived with sunshine! We set off for Priddy Mineries with the UK Butterflies locations in our Tom Tom and duly arrived at the location – this appeared to be a random spot along the main road! No parking so we asked a garage if it was ok to leave the car in the layby opposite his garage. Finding a footpath which looked like it went in the right direction we marched up to where we thought the Mineries were, and we must have found them as we met two ladies who confirmed this. They too were looking for butterflies so we exchanged species! Lots of small pearl bordered fritillaries, common blues, small coppers, small heaths and in areas with lots of flowers we saw good numbers of butterflies including the aforementioned species along with orange tip, red admiral, painted lady, large skipper, speckled wood, green veined white, large white (first of the year for us) and green hairstreak. The ladies told us of a Forestry Commission car park so we walked back down a wider track to the main road and car and relocated to the Forestry Commission car park for lunch. Walking along the forest tracks afterwards we found a lot more small pearl bordered fritillaries, common blues, small heaths, green hairstreaks, small coppers and large skippers. We also chatted to a man who had been photographing dragonflies near a large pond. A lovely day in sunshine and warmth.

Wednesday was a day which started with sunshine so we went towards Ubley Warren and found it just as the sun went behind the clouds! So with no sun and no butterflies and a cold wind blowing we drove to Westhay Moor RSPB site to find sunshine! A we were there anyway we visited all the hides (having lunch in one of them) and saw a few mallards and a swan family. We did hear a bittern booming but all the birds seemed to have vanished! As it was sunny we decided to go back to Ubley Warren just to find the sun disappeared as we started our walk. I then tweaked a calf muscle so that was the end of Wednesday! Back to the cottage and plenty of TLC for my muscle and early to sleep! Thursday is supposed to be sunny and warm and we plan to try and find some Wood Whites.

Thursday - we managed to find some directions to Staple Common where Wood Whites had been seen this year. We found the location from the Butterfly Walks of Somerset book and indeed the Forestry Commission sign said Staple Common. However no wood whites – we met a farmer looking for his cattle who confusingly told us that is was not Staple Common at all and we needed to be in a car park at Staple Hill! Needless to say we saw none there either so we ended up at Buckland Wood – a lovely place with loads of butterflies. Many common blues but also brimstone, speckled wood, red admiral, dingy skipper, brown argus, large skipper, meadow brown, green hairstreak – the marsh fritillary must have already finished as were grizzled skippers but it is a lovely place to visit. Ended the day in Taunton and as it was later than usual had a nice meal at the local Wetherspoon!

Friday is the last day and as there was a great forecast we set off to Collard Hill for Large Blues. Maybe better luck than today with the Wood Whites! Yes – spent a wonderful few hours in full sun with Sussex Kipper, Bill from Wales and then met Matthew Oates! Large blues a success and got some cracking shots but no open wing shots as the sun was too strong!

After baking on the hillside we went to Street for a coffee at Wetherspoons and then ended up at Clarks shopping village before going back to Priddy Minories where the small pearl bordered fritillaries would not shut their wings (wanted an underwing shot) but saw several (even at 7 it was still 25 degrees!). Also small copper, small heath, common blue, brown argus, large skipper and dark green fritillary.[/size]