Great White Egrets at Shapwick Heath Nature Reserve, Somerset Levels.

Great Scott – it’s a Great White Egret!

Natural England’s Shapwick Heath Nature Reserve, near Glastonbury, on the Somerset Levels is abuzz with excitement. For amongst the reeds and rushes of this watery avian paradise in the West Country, Great White Egrets are nesting for the very first time on record in the UK.

Great white egrets are from the heron family and are the same size as the grey heron – their more common cousin who we see reguarly in British wetlands, river and lakesides or balancing on the edge of our fishponds. Unlike the grey heron however the great white egret is completely white, as its name suggests and is larger than little egrets, matching the grey heron for stature with an impressive wingspan in flight.

Shapwick National Nature Reserve, Somerset Levels

Shapwick Heath National Nature Reserve

More commonly found in mainland Europe, great white egrets have been found visiting the UK in increasing numbers in recent years, concentrated mainly in the south and south east. Now, for the first time, a breeding pair have been recorded on the Avalon Marshes down on the Somerset Levels and patient visitors will be rewarded with sightings of these beautiful birds flying in to tend their nest and chicks.

I was fortunate enough to have a sighting of one of the nesting pair during a visit to the reserve recently and managed to get a short video of the egret in flight returning to the nest which I’ll be uploading soon. Unfortunately, the clip is not as close or as clear as I would like but it does if nothing else, give you an idea at least of the beauty of the environment the egrets have chosen as their nest site.

If you have a budding birder or wildlife enthusiast in the family, why not take a trip down to the Shapwick Nature Reserve and combine some bird watching with a walk along the flat, well made path from the car park at the visitor centre.The path is great for pushchairs and buggies and there are toilet facilities and basic refreshments at the visitor centre. The great white egrets can be spotted by the patient from the main path and there is an information station where you can take a seat or look through the binocolurs trained on the nest area for a closer viewing. Alternatively you can visit one of the hides to watch for a huge variety of other wildfowl or otters.

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