insectsandflight.com
all pictures © robin williams

 

March 2021: wildlife, from the Somerset Levels

March 31st 2021. The fine weather continues, still with a bite to it, but enough to bring out the first of the early insects on the terrace in front of the house - south-facing.

bumblebee Bombus hortorum q

bumblebee Bombus hortorum q

mining bee Lasioglossum calceatum f

mining bee Lasioglossum calceatum f

March 30th 2021. Another fine session on the terrace, a slow increase in the numbers of insects.

flower bee Anthophora plumipes m

mining bee Lasioglossum calceatum f

hoverfly platycheirus clypeatus m

March 29th 2021A perfect day with wall-to-wall sunshine; 18° on the car thermometer. I walked from London Drove to the central platform on Westhay Moor, sadly without seeing any birds, but most enjoyable. There was a brief moment by the water when a buzzard appeared close-by, very sharp, but the light had some strange effects.

Common buzzard Buteo buteo

The Pussy willow catkins are in full display, brilliant with golden pollen, the bushes standing out as if lit by searchlights but sadly there was no insect life on them. A number of bees are supposed to specialize on them.

Pussy willow Salix caprea

Coming back over Tealham Moor was different; A flight of Cattle egrets (Bubulcus ibis) flew westwards, startlingly white against a brilliant blue sky.

Cattle egrets Bubulcus ibis 

Another shocking white object catching the eye under a dull sky was a Great white egret (Egretta alba) surging into flight in the middle of a field - how wonderful to have these large birds out on the open moors.

Great white egret Egretta alba

On Tadham Moor, three buzzards (Buteo buteo) circled over the road, spiralling up on a thermal over the dark tarmac. There was no sign of life at the heron wood; I suspect the population is very much reduced at present, though that is only a feeling.

Buzzard Buteo buteo

Further on, a lone Grey heron (Ardea cineraria) stood like a statue alongside the ditch bordering the road, waiting for the right moment, endlessly patient. To complete the picture, a couple of Little egrets (Egretta garzetta) searched the bottom of the ditch, only briefly glimpsed. Spring is becoming evident at last. (during the news, we were told that the cold weather would resume over Easter!) In the meantime, we must make the best of it. 

March 28th 2021. A great deal goes on at night, in the early morning and evening, about which we know little. While I hope to relate pictures to a specific day in the future, the last few weeks have not been reported fully for technical reasons. I am taking the opportunity of putting in various pictures of Roe deer that may be of particular. The first shows an old doe feeding on Spanish bluebell leaves - a particular favourite - within a few feet of the trail camera at the top of the hill.

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus f

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus - trail camera in early morning

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus f - next to the trail in early morning

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus m - coming up the trail near midnight

March 26th 2021. As the warmer weather persisted, we decided on a walk along the old railway line at Westhay Moor. Very pleasant, but where were the birds in this famous reserve? Stopping by the first platform, I was shocked to see there was not a single bird in sight; something I have never come across at any time of year. The only notable bird-event was the sound of a distant Bittern booming (Botaurus stellaris). In the late afternoon, I spent a few minutes in the front garden photographing a less than usual bumblebee with my Nikon 70-300 lens, amazingly sharp in close-up.

bumblebee Bombus jonellus f

March 25th 2021. I had a quick look at Catcott Lows, though keeping outside the hide. Looking through the pierced wooden fence alongside the hide, I was shocked to see a near-empty pond, with no signs of more duck in the reed-beds beyond. Stranger still was seeing the water level right up, while the grassland in front was now mostly bare soil. I had expected to see waterfowl all along the edge, as is normal at this time of year, though a small party finally appeared. I did manage a few photographs to cheer me up, but left without any incentive to look in again. The most notable event was to spot Pintails in with the Wigeon

Pintail Anas acuta & Wigeon A. penelope

Shoveler Anas clypeata & Wigeon A. penelope

Lapwing Vanellus vanellus, courtship flight

Greylag goose Anser anser

March 24th 2021. A calm, but lightly overcast day, good for a visit to Westhay Moor. It is a popular destination for dog-walkers, leaving their cars in the newly-refurbished car-park. I went to the area near the central open platform, now closed because of coronavirus, watching the open water from its edge. Almost immediately, three separate Marsh harriers appeared, hunting over the vast area of reeds, but that was itNothing else happened while I waited, until I became too stiff standing on the one rather soggy spot. It is so good to see the harriers, even if only for a few brief moments.

Marsh harrier Circus aeruginosus f, wingtip lit up

Marsh harrier Circus aeruginosus f

At last bumblebees are starting to appear in the garden. I spent a long period sitting on the edge of the terrace peering at the various flowers already out; chilly but worth every moment. Bumblebees overcome the cold by vibrating their flight muscles to bring up the heat - a great ability at this time of year and in our climate.

bumblebee Bombus pratorum q

bumblebee Bombus pratorum q

bumblebee Bombus pratorum q

bumblebee Bombus pratorum q

March 21st 2021. It was completely still today, a change from recent high winds plucking at you as you walk. It was warm on the terrace, though slightly clouded. A small bumblebee was spotted searching the spring flowers - time to get out the macro camera for the first time this year. A male Anthophora plumipes flower bee was seen dashing madly from one flower to another, hoping to find a female; unlikely for a week at least, but always hopeful in this all too short season. I sat on a garden chair, hanging over the flower-bed, camera ready, watching bumblebees flying out of the flower-bells at last. The moment I had been longing for as spring struggled into existence. The favoured flowers were early pink and blue lungworts (Pulmonaria) bursting out all over the beds in front.

bumblebee Bombus terrestris q

bumblebee Bombus terrestris q

bumblebee Bombus terrestris q

bumblebee Bombus terrestris q

bumblebee Bombus terrestris q

March 19th 2021. The deer were  back again first thing this morning, but soon vanished over the top of the hill. The object that gives them away is the white powder-puff at the back, the rest of the coat vanishes into the background. We now know there are seven active Rook's nests above us, most at the unstable top of tall, thin trees. At least one contains feeding young, though there must be others. Soon, the leaves will keep them completely hidden. I have just finished reading a most fascinating book bought on a whim - part of an unconscious effort to continue my education during these difficult times, 'This is Planet Earth', published in the 'New Scientist Instant Expert' series. It gives varying answers to exactly what the title implies; geology, life, oceans, atmosphere and so on. Above all, it is beautifully written and readily understood, without dumbing down - a credit to the team of scientific writers. Particularly appreciated is to see various possible alternative situations set out - what can or can not be done.

March 18th 2021. A perfect spring day, the flowers looking marvellous, little wind. As soon as the curtains were drawn, Romey spotted three Roe deer above the house. They vanished when a friend arrived and walked up to look at the orchard. But, amazingly, a solitary Roebuck was seen wandering around above, before settling down for a rest. He stayed until it started to became dark, sitting behind the big Bay-tree. The deer have been absent for a fortnight, with no sign of them at night either. Perhaps the heady times of courtship have driven them off. So good to see them once again.

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus young m

March 15th 2021. A really beautiful day, some wind but otherwise warm and sunny, the perfect time for another visit to Westhay Moor. Events of the day delayed this until late in the afternoon, but the pleasant conditions survived. I made my way to the middle of the reserve, arriving quickly at the main drove and the long line of super-silver Birches. On one of those, a Robin was singing its heart out - I consider this song to be as fine as any in a garden. I managed some pictures showing the effort that goes into this performance.

Robin Erithacus rubecula

Robin Erithacus rubecula

I reached the central platform, still closed to the public, and made my way through the reeds to the edge of the water. I have spent many a time in previous years sitting on the same spot photographing Hobbies (Falco subbuteo), but this time it had become an unstable, muddy, wet patch of ground. Almost immediately, a Marsh harrier (Circus aeruginosus) appeared, flew round the back, then came back really close, half-diving. The ground betrayed me. I have this vivid vison of the harrier, and all its detail, but I was swaying and could not hold the camera steady enough for it to catch focus. Such a missed opportunity, but a wonderful memory. Coming back, I stopped at the bench on the metalled drove and was almost knocked off my feet by the sheer volume of a Cetti's warbler's song in a willow beside the bench. I even managed to get a glimpse of this moderate-sized bird slipping across the branches. How does it produce such explosive volume and even more continue during for much of the day?   Earlier, I spent a while sitting on the terrace hoping to see some insects on the various spring flowers. I spotted a queen Bombus terrestris, almost immediately, followed by a couple of tiny little workers of the same species - a sign they had been out for a little while at least.

bumblebee Bombus terrestris

March 12th 2021. I had a splendid walk to the central platform on Westhay Moor, bathed in sunshine. Unable to go onto the hide because of recent extra regulations, I took the path down the side into the reeds at the water's edge. After a rather chilly period balanced on a muddy shore, three separate harriers appeared and performed some distant aerobatics before one ventured closer - worth all the discomfort. The results were better than I had expected. Using a high ISO pays off with modern cameras, the 'grain' is almost invisible, while the images are steadier, hence sharper. 

Marsh harrier Circus aeruginosus f

Marsh harrier Circus aeruginosus f

Marsh harrier Circus aeruginosus f

Marsh harrier Circus aeruginosus f

March 8th 2021. I went down to Sweet's café for a takeaway lunch box and was on the return journey when I realised that the herons were starting to build their nests in the wood on Tadham Moor. Spent a short while photographing their comings and goings before driving home with a still-hot lunch. It is a perfect sign of the season's change, a landmark in life on the moors.

Grey heron Ardea cinerea

Grey heron Ardea cinerea

Grey heron Ardea cinerea

Grey heron Ardea cinerea

March 7th 2021The day was fine, but of much greater interest was the harvest from the lower trail camera during the night. I must have the settings right at last, at least as far as camera placing is concerned. The pictures were mostly close-up, showing detail in the fur as they dug or paused for a moment. What the camera does not cope with is quicker movement at night; blurring occurs only too frequently. The camera flash is 'dark', said to be invisible to mammals, so it does not cause any disturbance. The fact is that some of the creatures meander through the constriction in the ancient trail, others trot past vigorously. As far as I can tell, I have the flash power set at its maximum, which determines power at the extreme. Lesser amounts of power are set by the sensor within the available total.

 

Fox Vulpes vulpes

Fox Vulpes vulpes

Fox Vulpes vulpes

Fox Vulpes vulpes

Fox Vulpes vulpes

Badger Meles meles

Badger Meles meles

Rabbit Oryctolagus cuniculus - a strange silver colour

March 3rd 2021.  There was much deer activity in the orchard today, though we did not see any of it directly. These pictures were taken by the trail cameras; the secret with these is where you place the camera, its height, the angle from the sun and the position on the trail. The black and white picture shows the old doe entering the garden near midnight.

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus f

The others, taken on the upper camera in the orchard, show a wonderfully peaceful scene as the deer graze around the camera. It is interesting to see two apparently full-grown bucks feeding together.

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus

March 1st 2021. The winter seems to have flown past or, at any rate, the physical time of winter. The present wildly changing weather looks as though it will continue unseasonably cold and overcast - not exactly the first day of spring. Our Wild Daffodils (Narcissus pseudonarcissus) are all out in glorious numbers. The first Lungwort flowers (Pulmonaria officinalis), beloved of bees, are appearing, together with Primroses (Primula vulgaris), so it must be happening! But the greatest joy is the lengthening-out of the day. It is light in the morning when the curtains are pulled back, while it does not vanish again until 6-30 in the evening - increasingly noticeably each day. It is good to watch the Rooks over breakfast. They are a real example to us. The gales of the last few days destroyed much of their nests, which had survived unscathed since the previous season. Undaunted, they have rebuilt several and they are being used for their proper purpose. One particularly solid survivor in a large Ash tree (Fraxinus excelsior) has young already. I watched grubs being brought in by one of the family. They are a noisy lot, but add great character to the place. We hope they will remain with us.

Rook Corvus frugilegus

Rookat the top of the hill - super-constructors