I peer out of the bird hide’s window, trying to pinpoint the source of the guttural, dinosaur sounds that are filtering through the woodland and see, in the very tops of the oak trees, a dozen giant, grey birds sitting in the branches and tending their messy stick nests. It is early in the season, but Swell Wood contains the largest heronry in the south-west and in April, when breeding is in full swing, there will be over a hundred Grey Heron nests here.
Through the binoculars, I watch a heron raise its beak to the sky and add its own clacking song to the soundscape. Herons, so at home on the flat, open lands of an estuary or marsh, or standing motionless on a river bank, seem cumbersome and out of place here amongst the tangled trees. I hold Izzy up so that she can see and let her play with the binoculars, but she is restless, so we move on, following the woodland trail and pausing at a viewpoint, where we look out over the mist-veiled levels. It is because of these wetlands that the herons are here at all. They are their hunting grounds, where they find frogs and fish and eels to feed themselves and their young.
It is far to cold to stand and stare for long, so we continue to squelch through the thick, sticky mud and come across a clump of butter-yellow Primroses. All around us, woodland birds sing and occasionally, a distant heron croaks. We glimpse another one through the gap in the canopy as it flies overhead, its huge wings outstretched, its neck folded up, making its whole body appear angular and strange.
Back at the car, we sit in the car park and try to warm up. Whilst Izzy eats cheese and I munch my way through several Easter biscuits, I watch the birds on the feeders. The car acts like a hide and the birds go about their business just a few metres away, unconcerned by our presence. Besides the ubiquitous car park Robins, there are Blue Tits, Coal Tits, Blackbirds, Marsh Tits, Great Tits, Wrens and flocks of squabbling Chaffinch visiting the peanuts. I could sit and watch for hours, but it is getting late, so I start up the engine and the birds vanish, disappearing back into the woods.
- Blue Tit
- Coal Tit
- Great Tit
- Grey Heron
- Marsh Tit
The path to the heronry hide and viewpoint is suitable for buggies, but the remaining 900m circular, signposted walk through Swell Wood (near Taunton, Somerset) was extremely muddy and definitely not! The heronry is most active between February and April.
Other places to see a heronry
- Cleeve Heronry, Somerset
- The Trentham Estate, Staffordshire
- Queens Park, Rochdale
- Pwllhelli, Gwynedd
- Powderham Castle, Devon
- Middleton Lakes, Staffordshire
- Stanley Park, Lancashire
- Lower Moor Farm, Wiltshire
- Walthamstow Reservoirs, London