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September 2018  wildlife, from the Somerset Levels

September 27th 2018. Una, Margaret, John and I met at the Exminster Marshes car park in Devon at 11-o-clock this morning, grid reference SX95 87. It was a perfect autumn day, not a cloud in the sky, lasting like this all day with little breeze. It could not have been better weather to enjoy a day out in this fascinating place. When we reached the location, we drove right out to the end of the lane, where we found a second carpark tucked under the banks of the Exeter ship canal. We decided to follow this lane back  towards Exminster for a while. A large sunlit patch of ivy was covered with Common wasps, clearly from a nest somewhere near. A few yards away we found the source tucked out of sight beneath the herbage. The wasps were everywhere, a popular place being on the patches of blackberries, even though they were well past their sell-by date.

Common wasp Vespula vulgaris w

Common wasp Vespula vulgaris w & Colletes hederae f

In amongst the wasps we found a single mining bee Colletes hederae feeding on the same ivy. Surprisingly, it appeared to be the only one, perhaps the earliest out of the normal nesting multitude that specialises on these late flowers.

Ivy bee Colletes hederae f

Ivy bee Colletes hederae f

On the other side of the road, there was a large open, rough, pasture on which were feeding numbers of Canada geese Branta canadensis, precursors of the hordes of several species of geese that will be arriving soon on this much-favoured site, well worth another, later visit.

Canada geese, Exminster marshes

Rather than continuing down the lane, we decided to return to the carpark and go up onto the towpath beside the canal, walking towards the coast. The canal is quite beautiful, wide, tranquil, with clear water beneath which we spotted some small Perch Perca fluviatilis. At one point, we came across a very small ichneumon searching a flower with great diligence. It must have been quite frustrating, as the insect population has almost vanished, no doubt as a result of the long summer drought. I spent an inordinate amount of time watching this little drama, apparently without any success for the insect.

ichneumonid f

ichneumonid f

We lunched at a point marked on the map as 'Viewpoint', though the large pond to which it must referred was a great distance away. Below us, a metalled lane lead on to a distant pub. It was in constant use by cyclists, ranging from red-hot racers to families with tiny children, an ideal day out. After lunch and long conversations, we walked back to the carpark and sat down on the edge of the canal. John and decided to walk on along the towpath towards Exeter. At first there was nothing, absolutely nothing to be seen, then we came across some Michaelmas daisies Aster novi-belgii in flower, with a few bumblebees and one or two hoverflies feeding. We also came across a small caddis fly on the waterside vegetation. Studying pictures did not produce any identification (though Peter sent me an ID later).

Caddis fly Limnephilus lunatus

Beyond this, we stopped at a 'swim', where the herbage has been cut back for fishermen to stand. It was there that I managed the best pictures of my day. A Migrant hawker started hovering close-by, seemingly as interested in me as I was in him. It was marvellous, the dragonfly would dash off, but had a compulsion to come back to much the same spot.

Migrant hawker Aeshna mixta m

Migrant hawker Aeshna mixta m

Migrant hawker Aeshna mixta m

My camera was fitted with a 150mm macro lens plus a 1.4X converter. In effect, this furnished the Nikon D7100 camera with a 315mm lens. It turned out to be the perfect 'dragonfly' combination used in conjuncture with the Rogue Safari flash magnifier, which utilises the camera's built-in flash. It proved to be the perfect ending to a perfect day. If we had seen nothing, we would have enjoyed the walk; everyting else was a bonus.

September 24th 2018. Decided to have a look at Ham Wall, as the weather was reasonable, to see whether any of the winter birds had arrived. But the finest moments came on the way over Tealham Moor. I spotted a long, lean shape on the gate at the bottom of Jack's Drove. At first sight it looked like a small Osprey, the white head shanding out in the sunlight. In fact it was the most beautiful buzzard I have ever seen, with a great deal of white plumager and lovely patterned sides to its wing covers. It was an immature bird and just sat there, giving me time to admire it before it flew off. What a treat.

Common buzzard Buteo buteo imm.

Common buzzard Buteo buteo imm.

Common buzzard Buteo buteo imm.

Ham Wall was not at its best when I reached it. The best sighting was a distant bittern, flying across the background of Glastonbury Tor. I have had next to no sightings this year, whereas a man standing near me said he had seen dozens, including three in the air at once.

Bittern Botaurus stellaris, in front of Glastonbury Tor

The other pictures were of cormorants, which are among my favourite birds, so sinuous and graceful in the water and enormous in the air.

Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo

Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo

September 11th 2018. I drove out to Shapwick Moor, the Hawk and Owl Trust reserve, wondering why I was going - though it was one of the invertebrate group's planned visits. There was a heavy, dark grey cloud hanging over the moors, and it threatened rain later. In fact, it proved an interesting visit and the rain held off until after lunch, by which time we had been on quite a walk. As I drove in, Unà was waiting for me in the splendid car-park offered by the Trust. It was good to see her after her extremely busy summer. As far as invertebrates were concerned, it was not notable. This problem is one that has become increasingly clear recently, there are very few flowers anywhere. This was particularly so on the walk westwards along the curiously-named Rhyne Drove. This is a wide metalled track much used by dog-walkers, actually just outside the reserve boundaries. As I have seen previously, this has interesting hedges and verges on each side which offer fine habitat for many insects - not so today. Nothing moved. We turned north across the reserve along Kent drove and the character of the edges changed to softer herbage, but still few flowers. We found one or two common hoverflies, several specimens of a tiny ladybird and the occasional spider. While the hoverflies are common, though Epistrophe diaphana does seem outside its main phase earlier in the year, but they are among the few and, always, beautiful creatures.

hoverfly Epistrophe diaphana f

hoverfly Episyrphus balteatus f

hoverfly Helophilus pendulus

This tiny little ladybird is virtually the only species I have come across this year. Ten or fifteen years ago, ladybirds were common. I have photographs of eleven species in my files, and it was not unusual to come across six or seven different ones during an outing; now, you are lucky to see a single specimen of one. Where have they all gone? Do they spend their whole life hiding deep in the foliage? Have they they all died out?

22-spot ladybird Thea 22-punctata

Although looking like winter, in fact it was quite warm, 21°, with plenty of humidity. Just before we turned north we were watching large flocks of Goldfinches Carduelis carduelis in a line of Willow trees, first showing their presence by coninuous chatter, when a falcon flew right overhead, really close. It was relatively small, but definitely a male Peregrine Falco peregrinus. The pale undersides distinguishing it from the dark chest of a Hobby Falco subbuteo - our first thought.

Peregrine Falco peregrinus  - an earlier photo

Towards the end of our walk north, we spotted a small herd of Ruby red bullocks feeding to the west. White shapes nearby looked familiar. They were too far off to see much detail, but the bills were definitely yellow-gold. They were Cattle egrets Bubulcus ibis, becoming familiar on the moors over recent weeks. We walked on into the Barbara Handley hide which conveniently looked over where they were, and was much closer. Here we had really clear views of the birds and their hosts as they fed their way across our front.

Cattle egrets Bubulcus ibis

A careful count revealed at least thirty birds, though others may have been hidden behind the cattle. The way this invasion of Cattle egrets has spread itself round the moors is quite extraordinary. Clearly the countryside here suits these birds perfectly. My last picture is of a butterfly; surely in the final stages of its year as well as life.

Small copper Lycaena phlaeas

September 10th 2018. Dog walking is our main activity at present. During these, if I am lucky I come across some interesting birds, usually when driving out to a favoured spot on the moors. It was a good day this afternoon. A buzzard posed beautifully on a post, giving me time to focus and compose. At this time of the year, juvenile buzzards have not fully learned their innate distrust of humans. I do not know why, it later goes on to change, as no-one shoots them round here? But it is the time to grab a few picures of the birds, with their apparent co-operation. Generally, it is possible to recognise individuals from their varied plumage. Their juvenile state is shown by the few fluffy flank feathers, as well as the yellow skin edging the mouth.

Common buzzard Buteo buteo immature

Common buzzard Buteo buteo immature

Common buzzard Buteo buteo immature

Further on I came across a real rarity - a Kestrel! It is difficult to imagine this bird as a rarity, but that is what it has become - a red-letter day when you see one on the moors.

Kestrel Falco tinnunculus immature male

 When I reached home, another buzzard shot over the house and was also captured on 'film'; another juvenile, changing gradually to adult plumage.

Common buzzard Buteo buteo

Earlier, Maddie and I looked in at Catcott Lows and caught a solitary Lapwing feeding along the edge of the pond.

Lapwing Vanellus vanellus

September 7th 2018. There were an unusual number of white shapes on a field off Jack's Drove on Tealham Moor today. They were scattered around and among a herd of young bullocks. As I drove closer, I saw one pick something off the muzzle of one of the youngsters. It was a flock of 25 to 30 Cattle egrets, the orange-yellow beaks giving their identity immediately, together with the typical behaviour around cattle. How marvellous to see this on the moors, so unexpected, although there have been one or two around during several winters recently.

Cattle egrets Bubulcus ibis

September 5th 2018. The Somerset Wildlife Trust has excelled itself at Catcott Lows by digging a pond with a couple of islands, right in front of, and close to, the main hide. This will certainly be a great success, though it is clear it brings with it associated problems. It will change the dynamics of the area completely, as this was the place where so many of the surface-feeding ducks would venture close to the hide, feeding in the shallows. Another problem may be the effect on the capacity of the hide. Already this is near bursting point, before the season has even started, though this may be the novelty factor. The reason for this is the atraction of Cattle egrets appearing to take advantage of the new habitat. In the last couple of years numbers have been building up during the winter, followed by a good few arriving in the middle of summer, feeding on and around the grazing cattle introduced to the reserve at this time. Now, there have been as many as 30 birds preeening and gathering on the main island, as shown in my pictures below. As I crossed Tealham Moor, a flight of a dozen more of these beautiful birds flew over, so numbers must be over 40 or so already. The ones on the island were a mixed bunch, some clearly young birds with dark beaks. 

Cattle egrets Bubulcus ibis

Cattle egrets Bubulcus ibis

On the way back, a most beautifully-coloured buzzard posed superbly, before lifting off and soaring over a field being cut nearby. There seems to be a brief period each year before the year's young start being frightened by our presence, or the rumble of cars. The yellow at the back of the mouth indicatetes its youth.

Common buzzard Buteo buteo juvenile

Common buzzard Buteo buteo juvenile

September 3rd 2018. Romey was looking out of the kitchen window and noticed some movement in front underneath the bird feeders. A pair of ears appeared and she realised she was looking at a mouse, something you never see in the open ordinarily. She called me over and I managed a series of these most unusual pictures. We used to have mice in our garage, which is attached to the house. They made a terrible mess and nothing seemed to get rid of them. Then I spotted an advertisement for an ultrasonic device that plugged into an electric socket, since when we had had no more problems. It is said to drive mice wild, so hey leave of their own freewill. It has worked. So, I suspect the picture is of a genuine outside-dwelling mouse. Previously I thought they were mainly to be found indoors or in barns, but research shows they are just as much free-ranging as other mice.

House mouse Mus musculus

House mouse Mus musculus

House mouse Mus musculus

It seems  impossible, but I then went to Slimbridge, spent an hour there and came away with a photograph of a honeybee and nothing else. There were no wild birds anywhere other than crows Corvidae and Greylag geese Anser anser. I guess it must be accepted that there really will be litlle to see at this time of year, even if their website describes numbers of interesting waders as being present.

Honeybee  Apis mellifera

 


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