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October 2018  wildlife, from the Somerset Levels

29th October 2018. Chris phoned to say that there were four Spoonbills at Steart Marshes, where they had been for some days. It was a brilliant day as I drove through a badly-blocked road into Bridgwater. By the time I reached the marshes, Chris had all but given up on me, but eventually we met at the Quantock Hide. The light was beautiful but half backlit, culminating in an almost impossiblly harsh light later in the afternoon. Fortunately the hide enables you to move round as this happens. The results were fantastic. When I got there, there were three Spoonbills right over the far side of the water (fresh), swishing away as they fed. Fortunately, they flew a little closer then, gradually, worked their way to the north, and round the corner until they were close to the front of the hide. What amazing luck! At first there was no sign of the fourth bird, then we picked it up a long way from the others. It remained aloof all the time we were there. The birds were all juveniles, less colourful than adults. They have black tips to their primaries and much less glamorous bills, a dirty greyey-pink in colour. For all that, they are glorious-looking birds, close to the size of a Grey heron. We surely were lucky to have the opportunity to watch them so close.

 Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia juvenile

Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia juvenile

Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia juvenile

Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia juvenile

Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia juveniles

Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia juveniles

Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia juveniles

Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia juvenile

Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia juvenile

The other exciting event was hundreds of Golden plover taking off at some unknown fright - perhaps a predator overhead? Typical wader flight, all turning together, changing from dark upper surfaces to palest feathers beneath, then back again, all at top speed. I defy anyone not to feel a sense of total excitement at a large flock of waders performing their manoevres.

Golden plover Pluvialis apricaria

Golden plover Pluvialis apricaria

27th October 2018. The morning was again glorious, though it rained and blew in the afternoon. My morning was spent at Catcott Lows, after crossing Tealham moor and photographing a fine adult heron waiting beside a ditch. It poised over the water, looking as if it would strike at any moment, but did not do so while I was watching. As usual a car came along and I had to move. The heron must have been hungry, as it paid no attention to me as I stopped and switched off the engine right beside it. I hope it had more luck later.


Grey heron Ardea cinerea

Grey heron Ardea cinerea

The Cattle egrets were still present on the moor. My picture shows that the younger cattle were still intrigued by them, sniffing loudly as they came near. I was told that someone has counted the largest flock seen and there were a hundred birds - quite astonishing.

Cattle egret Bubulcus ibis

The hide was wonderfully peaceful and the reeds brightly-coloured, but where were the birds? After spending some time there, I was about to go home to work on some pictures when a Marsh harrier flew towards us, harried in its turn by a crow, which just would not leave it alone. The pair flew up and over to disappear into the distance. I always find myself wondering why crows hate buzzards and harriers so much - or are they having fun in seeing how cross they can make them? Crows are singularly intelligent creatures, so perhaps this latter suggestion is the truth?

Marsh harrier Circus aeruginosus f & Carrion crow

Corvus corone corone

Marsh harrier Circus aeruginosus & Carrion crow

Marsh harrier Circus aeruginosus & Carrion crow

I met Ron coming from his car just as I was leaving. He told me he had photographed a Hen harrier Circus cyaneus here the previous day. We are lucky to be on their migration route. I am sorry that the production of pictures to join the entries has slipped recently. They take ages to download, correct, identify and insert, while the numbers taken and used seem to have risen. Don't give up. They will appear soon.

26th October 2018. Today, another fantastic glowing autumnal one. took us to Westhay Moor again. We walked up in perfect golden sunshine, the waters reflecting the deep blue sky, more ducks than perviously, though not the winter influx yet. The North Hide looked out over an empty panorama in front, hardly a bird to be seen, what a contrast with last time! Just as we were thinking of leaving, this changed. A Cormorant emerged from under the hide and gave a marvellous exhibition of how its plumage works. I took a whole series of it swimming and taking off. After that Cormorants appeared from all sides, most crossing over above, looking wonderful against the blue sky. I know that fishermen dislike them as competion, but I have always loved them, looking like some ancient pterodactyl link, marvellous oily colours marking their plumage at certain times of year. I have seldom enjoyed a session of single-species photography so much.

all pictures: Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo







24th October 2018. Romey and I took advantage of another perfect sunlit day to visit Ham Wall in the afternoon. Our walk took us up the main drove, over the bridge and on to the Avalon Hide. There were two or three others there, but there was no real activity for some while. We were thinking of moving on when this began to change. A rather distant Great white egret flew in and landed close-by. These birds do look magnificent in flight.

Great white egret Egretta alba

A Marsh harrier flew in from the right, across our field of view and on to hunt over a farmyard. This one was a male, but it was replaced in the sky by four young female harriers which played together for quite some while, likely this year's family.

Marsh harrier Circus aeruginosus

They were joined by a couple of Little egrets who turned back to join in the play; all this high above the reeds. Below, a Common buzzard Buteo buteo sat on the very top of a strange-looking, tall, thin, striped pole - remaining so during the whole of our visit, paying no attention to the fun overhead.

Marsh harrier Circus aeruginosus & Little egrets Egretta garzetta

There were a few duck around, Mallard Anas platyrhynchos, Common teal Anas crecca, Gadwall Anas strepera and some handsome Shoveler drakes Anas clypeata, but there were no signs of the migrant hordes arriving. A Sparrowhawk appeared from nowhere, so quickly I could no even get it in the viewfinder as it flew over us. Walking back, an extremely unconcerned Grey heron was fishing the banks of the rhyne and let us approach really close. We watched it eat a fine Perch - wonderful colouring!

Grey heron Ardea cinerea & Perch Perca fluviatilis

Close by the carpark another female Sparrowhawk flew close overhead, giving some close and unexpected views to end a splendid visit.

Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus f

Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus f

Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus f

Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus f

19th October 2018. It is another quite superb, sunny, windless day. Perfect for another visit to the North Hide at Westhay Moor NNR. Romey and I strolled along the track from the Lake Hide admiring the sheer beauty of the scene, acres of reeds, sheets of water, amazing colours. The view from the hide was astonishing - a convention, a cornucopia of herons was scattered around in front of us, including Great white egrets, Little egrets and Grey herons. The picture below shows just part of this gathering. As I walked up to the hide, there was a large gap in the surrounding reeds which shelter the path from the water. I felt sure the birds would fly off, but they paid no attention whatsoever.

Great white egret Egretta alba, Little egret Egretta garzetta, Grey heron Ardea cinerea

Although all were scattered in front, I concentrated on the incredibly spectacular Great white egrets. They made perfect models, as they fished, took short flights across the pond or simply dozed in the warm sun, with only the lightest of breezes ruffling the surface. Feeding must be really good here, as the birds spent little time on this occupation. Were most of them simply digesting earlier meals?

Great white egret Egretta alba, Little egret Egretta garzetta

Great white egret, Little egret, Grey heron 

Great white egret Egretta alba

Great white egret Egretta alba

Great white egret Egretta alba

The very last sight before we left was of a couple of Cormorants coming in to land, virtually the only other birds we had seen while we were there. Romey simply couldn't believe the sight of so many glorious white birds in a hide where previously she had seen nothing.

 Cormorants Phalacrocorax carbo

18th October 2018. It has been a glorious sunny day, as it was yesterday and hopefully will be again tomorrow - unseasonably warm and enjoyable. It was not good staying at home; too many thoughts and memories. So a walk up from the Lake hide at Westhay Moor to the North Hide seemed a sensible thought. I found Graham there, looking over a largely empty landscape. And so it remained until I was getting ready to walk back. A heron circled and finally dropped down close in front, on the edge of the reeds. The lighting was quite perfect and I took far too many pictures, but the opportunity was not to be missed.

Grey heron Ardea cinerea

Grey heron Ardea cinerea

A brief stay at the Lake Hide, as the light gradually dimmed, yielded only one item of interest. A strange-looking white bird with extensive black at the wing-tips baffled me for a while. Looking at the pictures I took, it became clear that this was not some new rarity, but a Little egret. The black markings were shadows cast by the very low sun. How careful you have to be with identification!

Little egret Egretta garzetta

Driving back through Tadham and Tealham moors on Jack's Drove, I was amazed to see a couple of Cattle egrets just over the far side of the roadside ditch. They were dodging in and out of the shadow cast by a bullock in the field. They paid no attention to the car and did not shift even when the engine was switched off. They are part of the local landscape now - everywhere and anywhere.

Cattle egret Bubulcus ibis

Cattle egret Bubulcus ibis

Cattle egret Bubulcus ibis

 Cattle egret Bubulcus ibis

17th October 2018. Sadly, Maddie died this afternoon, after a gradual but fortunately not too lengthy illness. She was very old, fifteen, perhaps sixteen, and her lungs had given out. She was a wonderful friend, and had a good life in the near ten years she lived with us. Before that, she was with the RSPCA for two years, after producing and being taken in with her litter.  we have no real idea of her history prior to that but believe her previous owners could not cope with the influx of her large new family. When we went to West Hatch to try to find a rescue dog, we chose from a series of pictures. On selecting 'Madison', the RSPCA people looked doubtful, "She dislikes men." We still wanted to meet her; she seemed so right for us. She was no sooner brought into the room, than she rushed over and licked me on the ear - and that was that! We collected her a few days later and she leapt into the car without a care. She will be sorely missed; the house seems strangely quiet and empty.

Maddie on Tealham & Tadham Moors



13th October 2018. I could not keep away from Catcott when the sun came out again, after a really stormy night and morning. Ever since the excavation of the new pond, there has been a wealth of wildlife attracted to the area. Cattle egrets were again flying in and out, even though there were no cattle in sight. The wind was really strong and very warm, unseasonal for this time of year. This made for some exciting photography - the birds hanging in the wind, dipping and rising.

Cattle egret Bubulcus ibis

Cattle egret Bubulcus ibis

Cattle egret Bubulcus ibis

In many ways, the final picture is the most interesting. The egret is just about to chomp on a pair of mating Migrant hawkers Aeshna mixta, it is possible to distinguish some colouring on the original RAW file, brown face on the female dragonfly and some dark blue on the male's tail. Strangely enough, my companion in the hide had just been telling me how he had taken a similar picture some days previously. I only found out about the dragonflies when I enlarged the picture on the computer.

Cattle egret Bubulcus ibis, with Aeshna mixta prey

As I was leaving, Nigel M, who I had just met in the hide, called out that a Peregrine Falco peregrinus had landed in the distance, too far off for anything other than a very poor record shot with my lens. Interesting to see it out here with such a paucity of its usual prey. It bodes well for later in the winter. However common Peregrines may become, they remain lords of the moors, always worth spotting.

10th October 2018. I made a brief visit to Catcott Lows, on the way to a nearby walk. When I sat down, I was surprised to see a dozen or so Cattle egrets on the islands or nearby, as well as more feeding around a herd of cattle in the distance. It was good to see the differences from the Little egret Egretta garzetta, remembering my observations yesterday. The Cattle egret has a much larger head in relationship to a more stubby body, with a much shorter beak. The Little egret is more obviously elegant and delicate, with lengthy, needle-sharp beak - both species are beautiful in their own way.

Cattle egret Bubulcus ibis

Cattle egret Bubulcus ibis

Cattle egret Bubulcus ibis

Cattle egret Bubulcus ibis

On the way to Catcott there were at least twenty egrets feeding beside a herd of bullocks, right next to the road. They lifted when a vehicle passed, but settled back immediately. If you want to see these egrets, take your pick of our moors, they are liable to turn up anywhere there are cattle bunched together.

9th October 2018. Another beautiful, cloudless day, demanding a further visit to see if the elusive Osprey Pandeon haliatus still around. I ended up by making two visits; one in the morning, another in late afternoon. Alas, no sign of the bird, though someone saw it early in the morning. In the afternoon I met someone who had been told by one of the wardens that the Osprey had left the area at last. Time will tell. I saw little in the morning, other than a splendid Great white egret Egretta alba sitting high up in a tree looking round, keeping a keen interest in what was going on round it, as if studying its realm. The afternoon visit to the North Hide was more productive . For the majority of time I was on my own, upstairs. It was incredibly peaceful; a few somnolent ducks and three Little egrets Egretta garzetta. I have seen so many Cattle egrets Bubulcus ibis around in recent weeks, it felt as if we had lost the Little egrets. None were to be seen in their usual haunts on the moors. This afternoon I had a real action display from these egrets. They were feeding on the shallow edges of the water, among the flooded reed bases, and deeper among the reeds. It was fascinating watching their behaviour. Particularly surprising was their diet. These quite large birds were catching tiny fish that barely overlapped across their beaks. I had a wonderful opportunity to watch them nearby. In some parts the colouring was particularly fine, with golden-brown tints on the water.

 Little egret Egretta garzetta

Little egret Egretta garzetta

Little egret Egretta garzetta

Little egret Egretta garzetta

8th October 2018. I decided to follow up yesterday's experiences with another visit to Westhay Moor, to see if the Osprey Pandion haliatus was still around. Found a group of other photographers and birdwatchers who told me that it had been seen perched up on a distant tree early in the morning; then it flew purposefully away to the south west and was seen no more. And so it proved. Nothing more was seen of it while I was there. Sad, but I was lucky to have managed to photograph the bird yesterday. As there were others to notify me if the Osprey reappeared, I walked the few yards down to the North Hide and settled in downstairs. Marsh harriers Circus aeruginosus were present but remained far off the whole time, periodically popping up above the distant reeds. It was a perfect sunlit day and the view in front was superb, masses of water, acres of reeds and brilliant colouring, with a few ducks swimming around and cleaning their feathers at the edge of the reed-masses. A sense of movement caught the very corner of my eye and a Bittern Botaurus stellaris flew straight across the front of the hide. It was not as brightly-coloured as others I have seen previously - perhaps one of this year's young?

Bittern Botaurus stellaris

On the way home I spotted a few Cattle egrets Bubulcus ibis feeding beside some bullocks on Tealham Moor. They have really spread themselves round on the moors and settled in as if it really is home.

October 5th 2018. I had one of the most interesting days I can remember, on a visit to Westhay Moor NNR. Chris had sent me some pictures of an Osprey which had been on the moor for some days, so decided to go and have a look. It was on the big sheet of water opposite the North Hide, attended by a few other watchers and photographers, including Alan, Andrew and Graham. It seems the Osprey has been living and feeding in this area for well over the week. As I reached the group, someone pointed the bird out, a long way off on the other side, perched high in a tree - digesting? We stood there for some while, then the bird appeared, flying slowly over the water. It vanished behind a patch of trees obscuring the view, only to reappear with a fish under its belly, said to be a Perch Perca fluviatilis, though it was difficult to make out more than bright red fins beneath. I also had a picture of it carrying a more slender, darker fish later on; though the picture was not good enough to see enough detail for identification.

Osprey Pandion haliaetus

Osprey Pandion haliaetus

Osprey Pandion haliaetus

Osprey Pandion haliaetus

Osprey Pandion haliaetus

After this wonderful display from this fabulous bird, I did not think anything else would happen, but i was wrong. My car was parked beside the Lake Hide, so when I reached it, it seemed sensible to look in for a few moments. This changed to a much longer period as I came across a small group of Marsh harriers Circus aeruginosus playing above the reedbeds - there is no other way to describe it.

Marsh harrier Circus aeruginosus f

Marsh harrier Circus aeruginosus m

Marsh harrier Circus aeruginosus m

Marsh harrier Circus aeruginosus m

Marsh harrier Circus aeruginosus m

Marsh harrier Circus aeruginosus m

Marsh harrier Circus aeruginosus m

The finale came when a Great crested grebe appeared and started fishing right in front. Its best catch was a sizeable Perch which took quite a deal of swallowing.

Geat crested grebe Podiceps cristatus with Perch Perca fluviatilis

October 2nd 2018. Dropped into the Catcott Lows hide very briefly this afternoon. A dozen Cattle egrets Bubulcus ibis were feeding among a small herd of bullocks. It's good to see they are still around.

October 1st 2018. Romey, Maddie and I decided, on a whim, to drive down to Catcott Lows, to see whether the new pond had brought anything with it - without any real hope at this time of year. The first thing we saw was that a perch had been stuck into the edge of the water, on the closest spot by the edge, an upright branch with side shoots. Clearly someone was hoping to attract Kingfishers, who love this sort of perch. Within minutes, a fine female Kingfisher flew across the pond, then back and onto the perch. What a marvellous sight, the bird glowed with colour. Lots of pictures were taken; the first, we hope, of many others.

all pictures, Kingfisher Alcedo atthis f




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