insectsandflight.com

February 2018 - wildlife, from the Somerset Levels

February 12th 2018. Walking down the track leading to the North Hide on Westhay Moor, it could not have been a better start to the visit. Brilliant sunshine, with great clarity, made up for a strong, cold north-west wind. Waters interspersed with great sheets of golden reeds were guaranteed to cheer the heart, though waterfowl were all but absent on the way, until the large lake was reached where there are always swans Cygnus olor. The hide looks out over a large sheet of water edged with reeds which stretch out as far as the eye can see. Ducks were few, though small groups of Shoveler were busy,  as they usually are. Some were already paired off, others joined groups of noisy males trying to intimidate each other. Individuals took off, flew a few yards and settled again, fussily grooming themselves as if to show they were serious, though appearing somewhat embarassed by it all.

Shoveler Anas clypeata m

Shoveler Anas clypeata m

Little parties of Wigeon were present at the start of the visit, but these males gathered themselves together, took off and left. I was sorry to lose the sound of their whistles, such a cheerful background tp any bird-watching by water.

Wigeon Anas penelope

Much of the time was spent enjoying the antics, and aerobatics, of three Marsh harriers. At first they were patrolling the very back of the reeds, too far away to see much more than their wavering flight, every so often dropping down below. They gradually moved forward towards me, and I started to see detail through the viewfinder.

Marsh harrier Circus aeruginosus f

Marsh harrier Circus aeruginosus f

Marsh harrier Circus aeruginosus f

Marsh harrier Circus aeruginosus f

Marsh harrier Circus aeruginosus f 

The final stages came as they rushed past the hide. The wind caught them and they were over and past in seconds. It was difficult to keep up with this but fortunately a number of succesful pictures were taken.

Marsh harrier Circus aeruginosus f

Marsh harrier Circus aeruginosus f

As I walked back along the track, the dark clouds started to roll in and a lone Cormorant flew across.


Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo

February 7th 2018. It has been a glorious day, the wind from the south west but fortunately not too strong; the hide at Greylake is famous for chilling its visitors in winter. The best light is in the morning and it was superb, crystal clear for as far as the eye could see, the water as blue as you get. Ducks were everywhere, packed together like sardines in a can, many sleeping. The great majority were Common teal, with the odd Shoveler Anas clypeata, numbers of Wigeon and a smattering of Mallard.

Duck massed on Greylake

Common teal  Anas crecca

Common teal Anas crecca f

Mallard Anas platyrhynchos m

The best I can do is let the pictures speak for themselves. I could not stop pressing the shutter release as opportunities presented themselves. At first I could not get into the main hide, there were so many enthusiastic visitors, instead sitting in the much more open raised blind. This gives a somewhat slanting view across the lines of main interest - quite different.

Common teal Anas crecca, Wigeon Anas penelope, Shoveler Anas clypeata

Eventually, people started streaming away and I found a good seat right at the front, and started to view the ducks really close.

Common teal Anas crecca & other duck

Gradually I became aware of Wigeon among the throngs, bulkier, beautifully-coloured, grazing non-stop on the watery vegetation and grass.

Wigeon Anas penelope

The occasional Common snipe Gallinago gallinago appeared briefly, only to vanish immediately it stopped moving. At one stage a Peregrine Falco peregrinus flew lazily across the hordes, though with no obvious interest. The ducks immediately leapt tinto the air with a roar of stressed wings and gave a fine  but short display. They were not too obviously impressed with the predator, settling almost immediately.

The eruption, duck disturbed by a predator

The eruption, duck disturbed by a predator

Full of all-too fresh air and sunshine, I walked back along the track to the carpark, through the large reed bed surrounding it, when I spotted a Kestrel hovering low down, part-obscured by the fronds of the reeds. It paid little attention as I drew nearer, occasionally moving to take station over some selected spotspot. Its head remained in the same position relative to the ground whatever position the body and wings took. She, for that was what she proved to be, was clearly determined to mine the reeds for its meal and I left it still hunting, but in the far distance.

Kestrel Falco tinnunculus f

Kestrel Falco tinnunculus f

February 5th 2018. I walked down the long drove to the North Hide at Westhay Moor. It was perishing cold but a beautiful sunny day. Everything sparkled. There few birds on the great sheets of water passed by, a number of Canada geese Branta canadensis, Mute swans Cygnus olor everywhere, and a few Goosanders Mergus merganser, regular visitors to the largest lake. As I approached the hide, walking down the causeway, a Sparrowhawk appeared high overhead and I managed a quick, all-too distant shot as it dropped in a steep stoop. The speed of its drop was really something.

Sparrowhawk stooping Accipiter nisus

The visit was taken over by harriers thereafter. It proved an uncomfortable visit, as a cold north-east wind blew straight into the open front. Eventually the stay was cut short by a growing awarenes that my core was becaoming shrammed, but not before some exciting moments. None of the harriers came close, so the resulting pictures are the result of considerable enlargement, but worth showing I believe, because of their significance. The first sighting was a female Marsh harrier far over the huge expanse of reeds. She appeared as a shadow in the distance, rising and falling as harriers do, floating low over the tops, dropping down periodically, gradualy working towards me, but so slowly.

Marsh harrier Circus aeruginosus f

This held my interest for some time. Although distant, the telescope of the viewfinder tracked progress and I felt I was part of the hunt.

Marsh harrier Circus aeruginosus f, a part of the landscape

Later, three harriers flew in over the hide and then showed themselves in a rather closer part of the reed bed. I was surprised that one turned out to be a juvenile male Hen harrier, whereas the others were Marsh harriers. The Hen harrier flew more or less straight down wind and eventually out of sight, few histrionics in his behaviour.

Hen harrier Circus cyaneus

Although when they first appeared, all three looked as if they were playing, the Marsh harriers were the ones that continued this early display behaviour, soaring up into the sky and coming together as they dropped, continuing this until their flight took them out of sight.

Marsh harriers Circus aeruginosus m & f

February 1st 2018. January has been one of the most unpleasant months, wet and windy with little let-up. Today, the new month hopes for improvement, with overall sunshine for at least the next couple of days. Although there has been so much rain, often for most of a day, the earlier floods have dropped out on the moors. The pumping station must be working flat out. In view of all the recent concerns about general flooding I cannot but think that there must be a better solution than driving all our plentiful winter waters down to the sea as soon as it appears. There has been talk elsewhere about holding water in newly-revived wetlands. Here we have an existing wetland in the form of the Brue valley moors, yet it is not being utilised in any reecognisable manner. Houses are extremely few and raised above the surrounding grounds. During winter, the fields are empty with cattle inside. There seem few problems in instituting some innovative thoughts to keep much of the water in the ground - instead, the pumps start immediately it rains. We have a nationally-needed resource, use it.

 

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