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all pictures © robin williams

 

February 2021: wildlife, from the Somerset Levels

February 25th 2021. Another complete change. We woke to mist which cleared later in the morning to give us a still, warm, sunny day, perfect in every way. Perfect indeed for a walk up Daggs Drove on Westhay Moor, left past the introductory hide,  and then north to The near-open raised platform in the middle of the reeds and scrubland. I was on my own, leaning on the rail, the wind blowing gently in my face, still crisp and chilly enough to feel its bracing nature. It must have been nearly an hour before something happened, but it was so peaceful and tranquil that it was not noticed. The reeds were a pale golden colour, intensely white clouds backed the edge of the ridge at Mudgely opposite, while the tiny houses looked as though they could be picked off and set down alongside. This waiting eventually paid off. First, some Greylag geese (Anser anser) flew past in a burst of sound, then a couple of Grey herons carrying nesting materials in their beaks, crystal clear on the camera monitor.

Grey heron Ardea cinerea 

Finally harriers appeared. One floated towards me, closer, before turning off to the side. This was followed by a couple of Marsh harriers playing with each other high in the sky, practising the later stages of courtship, or was it rivalry? Only closer examination of the pictures will reveal who or what they are.

Marsh harrier Circus aeruginosus juv., m

Marsh harrier Circus aeruginosus juv., m

Marsh harrier Circus aeruginosus juv., m

Marsh harrier Circus aeruginosus juv., m

Marsh harrier Circus aeruginosus f

It felt so good to be out at last, and find that there was life outside the narrow bounds within which we have been confined both by the virus and the recent dreadful weather. A distant Bittern (Botaurus stellaris) was booming on the eastern side of the reed-bed - my first of the year. On the way back, a Wigeon drake floated on almost invisible water. Clouds like mountains contrasted with fine silver birches (Betula pendula).

Wigeon Anas penelope m

Birches and cloud

February 23rd 2021. After yesterday's complete calm, we woke to really strong winds soughing through the boundary trees; reports for the area were for up to 40mph. A walk to the top of the garden took me to the upper trail camera, though there was little on it. No doubt our animals are sensible enough to make for a more sheltered area out in the moorland woods. I have not entered many pictures recently, so decided to add a selection from recent times to show that activity does carry on throughout much of winter.

 

Badger Meles meles

Fox Vulpes vulpes

Fox Vulpes vulpes

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus f

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus f, outsie the study

The picture below shows an early morning spot where the camera has to select between night and day, making a rather strange choice in the early glim - neither the absolute dark or the full-colour light.

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus in the orchard, at the top

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus f, the old lady, mother of the family

February 22nd 2021. What a delightful change! The sun shone all day and there was not even a hint of a breeze. The flood waters, still hanging on below in spite of frantic pumping, reflected the grasses and trees perfectly without a waver in their images. It was perfect for a walk, so for London Drove on Westhay Moor, parking by the Lake hide. It was a saunter, rather than a walk, simply enjoying the fresh air and the warmth. I thought there would be a deal of wildlife out by now. but that did not prove to be so. We still cannot go into the hides, so the most favourable places are shut off, but surely the year is far enough off to expect harriers (Circus spp.) as well as many duck. but the place was all but empty. No birds of prey and few duck. It was good to hear the distant whistle of Wigeon (Anas penelope) or the marvellous musical calls of a number of Canada Geese (Branta canadensis). It gave a hint of what should be to come; it was a great walk. I bumped into Graham on an outing after months of lockdown. He reported a similar lack of birds. At home, I brought the lower trail camera in to have a look at its pictures. There were a great deal of those, over 700, but these whittled down to 18 fox portraits after applying quality and other checks, not a sign of any deer over the past week or so of these rain-soaked nights.

February 17th 2021. There was a brief flash of sunshine in an otherwise endless overcast and heavy rain this morning. A glimpse of butter-yellow and I found myself looking at my first butterfly of the year; a male Brimstone (Gonepteryx rhamni) - the first sign that spring may eventually re-appear.

February 12th 2021. We were visited by a Great spotted woodpecker this morning. It stayed around into mid-afternoon, entertaining us greatly. He was no casual visitor to the bird-feeder, instead concentrating only on various bits of dead wood, with a full display of acrobatics. Such wonderful colours in this grey, freezing weather. The brilliant scarlet beneath lit him up like a searchlight.

Great spotted woodpecker Dendrocopus major

Great spotted woodpecker Dendrocopus major

It is so good to see birds in the garden, we hear them in the tree tops, but none seem to want to visit our bird-feeder at this vital time. I must go out and see if there is anything wrong with our latest feeder.

February 9th 2021. It seems that a White-tailed sea-eagle (Haliaetus albicilla) has taken up residence on the moors for a few days. Nigel e-mailed me with this news, while Tim D. told me that while walking his dogs early in the morning he had seen this huge bird down below. It is said to have a wing-span of up to eight feet, quite enormous, particularly when seen in flight. I looked, without great enthusiasm in this poor weather, but have spotted no sign so far. The deer were not spotted in the garden today - very cold with a strong easterly wind  - but there was much activity during the night, both from the top camera and the lower one on the main trail. The pictures continue to improve.

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus f

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus f

Fox Vulpe vulpes

Fox Vulpe vulpes

Fox Vulpe vulpes

Fox Vulpe vulpes

It appears there is nothing to gain from moving either camera. My latest strategy is to set the cameras to take four rapidly-spaced shots at each contact, thus ensuring that at least one is somewhere near the centre of the frame. This worked really well, so at last I feel the settings are right for both cameras. We had a few fine snowflakes at one stage but they did not settle. Other parts of the country have had considerable snowfalls and are expecting more. Still no signs of the few local small birds taking to our new bird-feeder.

February 8th 2021. I put one of the cameras up at the top of the orchard, where there was a clear trail leading up to the fence. I had some luck the other day but this was a revelation. I must have just hit the sweet spot. The deer were not on the trail but feeding around it. I only photographed one fax (Vulpes vulpes), but the deer gave a real night-time display. The rather weird, pale sets of leaves are daffodil (Narcissus pseudonarcissus) and Spanish bluebell leaves (Endymion hispanicus) catching the light.

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus f - the first sighting

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus f - What was that?

 

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus f

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus f

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus f - finale

February 6th 2021. The camera revealed that my new trail through to the west, was  made almost entirely by Rabbits (Orictolagus cuniculus), as indicated yesterday. I am astonished, it is so well worn yet the Rabbits have only been in the ascendancy quite recently, perhaps two or three months. The deer who I saw walking in and out of of the same spot yesterday were also recorded, but from their behaviour it was clear they were not regular users of that path. The speed that they came back indicated they had never been through that way at all - with its open way on the other side of the hedge. That camera has been moved now up to the top of the orchard, where various moves were recorded a few days ago. The other camera, on the main trail, showed Roe coming in and out during the night, but quite early in the morning they were all back with us once more. One sat fifty yards or so up the bank and stayed right through to when it was virtually dark. The first picture below shows the new Roebuck early in the morning, when the sun has risen but not enough to trigger the daylight sensor on the camera. The next one is of the same Roebuck in the daylight version of the trail camera, which has separate lenses, for night and day.

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus m (trail)

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus m (trail)

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus f (trail)

February 5th 2021. A fascinating day. The whole family of deer were there first thing, lying down on the bank behind the house. They stayed much of the day, every so often getting up and wandering around, then back to their prior spots. Eventually, it became necessary for us to go into the back, with washing to be dried on the line, while I needed to adjust one of the cameras. The deer moved off, vanishing after flittering off behind a couple of rose bushes. It is extraordinary how they can vanish behind what appears to be a mere tracery of twigs. Romey went back to the house and the little family reappeared from nowhere, looking down towards where she vanished, before settling back again on the bank. When I went up, they paid little attention at first, looking up as the back door was opened, but not moving. First one and then another stood up and trotted further up and out of sight, but with no sign of worry. I lost sight of them then and assumed they had slipped out to next-door. I sorted out the camera, walked up to the top and, to my amazement, saw the four deer appear fifty yards or so below me. One of them was clearly aware of my presence, looking intently straight at me. I needed to move down the slope as it started to rain quite heavily. The deer turned and went over to the trail at the point where the camera was set up, then filed out through a much-used tunnel in the hedge into next door. I walked on down and, to my amazement, they again reappeared a couple of minutes later and trooped down to just above the house, one of them looking over her shoulder at me as if to say, 'try not to look at us, we need to be here'.

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus f - on the way in

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus - on the way out again

As I continued, they flowed away in front and vanished round the front; my last sight of the day. I checked over one of the trail cameras that had been sitting for the past week by the well-worn path edging the garden. Some 360 pictures appeared on the computer when it was processed. Eventually over 100 usable images were set aside, showing how busy the trail is in the animal world. Our deer figured well in these during the dead of night to early in the morning, when the daylight lens took over with colour pictures.

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus f

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus f

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus f

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus f

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus f

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus m

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus f

It is comforting in these difficult Coronavirus times, where we see no-one else, to think that there is a hidden world of activity outside that we would never have guessed existed. In addition to our usual large mammals we photographed Grey squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis), Rabbits (Orictolagus cuniculus), Wood pigeons (Columbus palumbus), Jackdaws (Corvus monedula) and Blackbirds (Turdus merula).  

February 3rd 2021. The deer arrived early and stayed until it started to darken. The really interesting point was that the little family of three had been joined by a buck with half-grown antlers heavy with velvet. I feel the only interpretation is that he is the boy-friend! He tended to stay a little apart during the day; the three sticking together, sleeping on the bank above, while he pitched about twenty yards away.

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus m

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus f

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus young buck

In late morning we had to take our rubbish to the dump. As I walked to the car, I heard the really loud, hollow metallic sound of a woodpecker; definitely not the normal Great spotted (Dendrocopus major). As I came closer to the tree where it appeared to be at work, a tiny, sparrow-sized bird ran up the trunk, stopped, then the same sound rang out. This bird was a Lesser spotted woodpecker (Dendrocopus minor), a real rarity nowadays. Many decades ago, before the local Elms (Ulmus procera) were devastated by disease, these woodpeckers were definitely present in the garden. I show an earlier picture, because I did not have a camera available today. How could such a tiny bird produce such a high volume of sound? But, from past experience, many decades ago, I know it produces this 'different', quite distinctive, hammering sound.

Lesser spotted woodpecker Dendrocopus minor

February 2nd 2021. The deer were in and out again, during a really variable day. During part of the morning, it looked as though fine weather would last for ever; then heavy rain fell, ending with a damp and heavily overcast day. It was quite a sight looking over the moors, water spreading across the area as far as the eye could see, only ending as the land started to rise again towards Polden. This sight is such as has been here for at least part of the winter for hundreds of years. Our ancestors would have recognised it as inevitable as the sun rising. They planted willows along the edges of the droves, so they could find the hard ground between. Remnants of these pollards remain today, though few now. As well as marking the roadways, they provided material for garden sticks, fences and other uses; nothing was wasted. The tale goes that one famer used to go to market in his horse and trap, which would be seen later coming home with the farmer fast asleep in his seat, the horse making its way back along the marked tracks until it stopped outside the famhouse. I had put one off the trail cameras beside a well-worn track in the orchard; leaving it a day or so. I have identified a number of tracks up there and wanted to see what might be following them. At the top of the rise, the track divided into two, while another ran up the east side, disappearing though the fence into the open field above. The first stint showed there were both Foxes (Vulpes vulpes) and Badgers (Meles meles) using the trail. The second, the camera strapped round a tree, was more productive yet, with Roe deer, Foxes, Badgers showing, plus Rooks (Corvus frugilegus), Rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus), Grey squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis) and what looked like a large Rat (Rattus norvegicus) eating an apple. It really is amazing to see what goes on in our garden, a place which appears largely empty during the day. From what we see, the deer are our usual little family. Their sleep must be interrupted, as they were captured on film two or three times during the night. No wonder they seem so happy to settle down during the day and snooze now they feel the area is not hostile.

February 1st 2021. As I was finishing my porridge at breakfast, three Roe deer thundered down from above, galloping at full-speed. Two followed the main trail down, the third came straight towards me before jinking off to join the others. I imagine they had been spooked by something and they would vanish down onto the moor. Not a bit of it. Romey called to say they were in the front garden, two of them grazing, the third sitting behind them. They wandered round for a bit and eventually one was spotted walking towards my car, fifteen feet or so away on a slither of lawn. The other two were all but hidden by a nearby rose-bush. When they were first seen during that gallop they must have been very damp, for they looked almost dark brown, chunky. Soon they dried off to the normal, paler, neutral grey of winter. (Sometimes they are  a very pale grey, really ghost-like, unlike those this winter).


Roe deer Capreolus capreolus f

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus f

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus f

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus f

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus f