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April 2019  wildlife, from the Somerset Levels

30th April 2019. Our invertebrate group held its second summer meeting at Westhay Moor this morning, John M, Nigel M, Chris H and I met at the main car park, where our friend Kevin from the Somerset Trust and Babcary Meadows was able to fill in on what was going on in the reserve. Our first dawdle was at the end of the track by the induction hide, searching among the banks of nettles and on nearby Dandelions. Our first Hairy dragonfly was spotted here, then numbers of Variable blue damselflies, the odd bumblebee, social wasps and some hoverflies, among which were some less than usual species. It may sound  like a bonanza but there were very few actual insects, just a reasonable variety.

Hairy drgonfly Brachytron pratense

Variable blue damselflies Coenagrion pulchellum

bumblebee Bombus pascuorum m

hoverfly Anasimyia lineata f

hoverfly Eristalinus sepulchralis f (note spotted eyes)

Cream-streaked ladybird  Harmonia quadripunctata

Pine ladybirds mating Exochomus quadripustulatus

The hide yielded nothing except a most beautiful Vespula wasp starter nest.

social wasps nest Vespula spp. f

We split up after that for a while, after lunching on the main drove where the Trust has installed some amazing wooden sculptures of Starlings on a large log. They are complete cartoons, just suggestions, but are clever enough to fool you until closer. I went with a couple of others to look at the 'Mire', where the Trust has a long-term regime which should eventually lead to the production of new peat. The first thing we saw was a mating pair of Green tiger beetles on the dusty path.

Green tiger beetles mating Cicindela campestris

Nearby there were some small circular holes in the path so I decided to erect my stool and watch what might happen. One was very active, containing a predatory larva of a Green tiger beetle. When it comes to the surface, filling the hole completely, it resembles a 'man-trap', with spikes and jaws. This remarkable creature waits until it is alerted by vibrations, leaps up and catches anything of a reasonable size.

Green tiger beetles larva Cicindela campestris

As I sat watching this, other tiger beetle appeared all round me, scurrying, then pausing as if to think, then rushing on to the next pause. The colouring of all these beetles was much less intense than those seen a Ubley Warren on top of Mendip. I wonder why? I feel that they are extremely well camouflaged in this particular habitat.

Green tiger beetle Cicindela campestris

While we were doing this, Chris was lying down with his long-focus lens photographing a most co-operative Wheatear, producing some of the best action shot I have seen. I left the others in the Mire and could not resist the lure of the nearby Tower hide and its possible Hobbys, for which I had brought a 300mm lens in my rucksac. There were not many around but it proved interesting.

Hobby Falco subbuteo

Hobby Falco subbuteo

28th April 2019. Romey called me into the orchard this afternoon. A Manna ash tree Fraxinus ornus was bathed in sunshine, the day was warm and Romey had noticed a mass of insects all over it. I thought perhaps it was because the tree was in flower but it turned out that the majority of the insects were actually on  the leaves. The sap from a cut in the bark is sugary and said to be the source of the biblical saying, 'manna from heaven'. Clearly some of this sugary taste must also be on the leaves judging by the the attraction to so many hoverflies and lesser numbers of bees. The principal hoverfly, with dark golden metallic thorax, was Epistrophe eligans, unmistakable with its bright, dark golden thorax and mainly yellow legs (earlier I misidentified this as an Eristalis, which has similar makings on the abdomen. These were particularly dark specimens. Peter B spotted this and kindly let me know). A goodly selection of other hoverflies was also present, together with two different solitary bees.

hoverfly Epistrophe eligans m

hoverfly Epistrophe eligans m

hoverfly Dasysyrphus albostriatus m

hoverfly Syrphus ribesii f

hoverfly Xylotes segnis m

mining bee Andrena haemorrhoa f

mining bee Andrena nitida f

25th April 2019. For various reasons I missed out on visiting Steart Marshes during the earlier period of brilliant sunshine. I had heard that there was a great deal of wader activity in front of Quantock Hide and its magnificent fresh-water lake. Chris took some magnificent pictures then and I felt I simply had to see what it was all about even if the weather was not perfect. The wind was quite strong and sun came and went through my visit, mostly not out. A shingle bank faces the western side of the hide and it was this that took most of my attention. I suspect it may have been an artificial addition but it is very much a part of the lake and its scenery now. A number of Avocets were nesting in the shingle, as was an Oystercatcher and Little ringed plovers Charadrius dubius, though I only saw one of the tiny little waders. It was a wonderful visit, made even more so by meeting Brian S. in the hide.

Avocets Recurvirostra avosetta

Oystercatcher Haematobus ostralegus

Littlle ringed plover Charadrius dubius

Black-tailed godwits Limosa limosa

This visit was a perfect foil to my first ever sight of Avocets. Still at school, I volunteered at Havergate Island in Suffolk where Avocets had been found breeding for the first time in England. I stayed in a hut on the island and we were supplied by boat. I have never forgotten the sight of those black and white waders on the island (See DIARY, Wildlife in the 40s and 60s, Chapter 5, 'A Week on Havergate Island').

Avocets Recurvirostra avosetta

Avocets Recurvirostra avosetta

Avocets Recurvirostra avosetta

Avocet Recurvirostra avosetta

Avocet Recurvirostra avosetta

Avocet Recurvirostra avosetta

23rd April 2019. The long-awaited start to our more formal insect hunting. A few of us met this morning at Great Breach Wood on the Poldens at the first meeting of our summer season of the Somerset and West Country inverts. It was warm, 22 or 23 for most of the time, although the sun was more intermittent than present. Tony T. came from Gloucestershire, Peter B. from Dorset together with his wife Jane. Chris H. came from Taunton, with John M. and I from around Wedmore. I suppose it could be described as a quiet day, as one of us did, there was no notable recording of species but it was a fine day out. The tracks into the woods are always duller than expected, mostly due to a lack of flowers on the track edges. The surrounding tall trees suck up the light. One of the crown jewels of the area is a long-established clearing. This was smothered in flowers, Primroses Primula vulgaris, Cowslips Primula veris, False oxlips Primula veris X vulgaris, Bugle Ajuga reptans, Comon dog violets Viola riviniana and numbers of Dandelions Taraxacum vulgaria amongst others.

Cowslip Primula veris

False oxlip Primula veris x vulgaris

Common dog violet Viola riviniana

However, insects were not particularly numerous, although of interest. The Dandelions were hosts to Lasioglossum mining bees, buried deep in the heads. Round the base of trees, in the scrubby undergrowth, Nomada flava cuckoo bees were searching for the nests of their potential hosts, flying in that strange and characteristic zig-zag that gives away their presence once you get your eye in. The last find in this particular spot, the clearing, was a Holly blue butterfly in full colour.

Mining bee Lasioglossum spp. f

Cuckoo bee Nomada leucopthalma

Holly blue Celastrina argiolus f

We had been talking about bee-flies, saying how suitable the habitat seemed, when we started to see Bombylius major dodging around various clumps of flowers. They are such amazing little creatures, so fast between flowers, then hovering so steadily as they feed, that you cannot believe they are not standing on the petals. We left this beautiful area, determined to lunch out on the scarp face at the end of the main track. This is an amazing part where the soil is eroded in such a way it looks from afar like a sandstone face. Somehow the erosion is contained into a characteristic shape, seen fronm the road as you drive south. It does not appear to collapse into major landslides, or to change its area obviously over the years. There are small pockets of minor erosion that are particularly attractive to insects, little cliff faces a few inches high, with many holes of nesting bees and wasps. These were the particular places upon which we concentrated after eating. No-one spotted any of the inhabitants of these holes going in or out, but the bee-flies were extremely active and it was these we concentrated our attention upon. It turned out there were two species present, the common Bombylius majo,r with a dark edge to its wings, and the less usual B. discolor, with spotted wings.The latter are described generally as rare, yet here we had both perfoming next to each other in considerable numbers.

bee-fly Bombylius major f

bee-fly Bombylius discolor f

The flies were mostly engaged in one part of their strategy, collecting dry sandy or stony soil on the tip of their abdomens, for which these particular eroded areas were so suited. It seems that the last couple of segments of the abdomen have been modified to form a cell in which the tiny particles may be stored. The flies look as though they are sitting stationary on the soil while collecting but closer look will show that they are balanced just above the surface with rapidly vibrating wings, making it very difficult to see the wing-markings. One or two were seen carrying out the next stage of their behaviour. The flies lay an egg into the mass of sand on their tail, fly up to a nest hole of a solitary bee and hurl the mass into the hole with remarkble strength and accuracy. I have watched this process for long periods in Dorset, with B. minor the performer. Photographs taken at the time showed the process in great detail. My photographs shown below illustrate parts of this behaviour. I have indicated the organs used in collection. I took a large number of photographs of their activity but only a few illustrate the points described. It is difficult to ensure that the focus exposes the area beneath the tail, as well as catching the light. I enjoyed this concentration on a couple of species of related insects, trying to piece together what was happening.

bee-fly Bombylius discolor f

bee-fly Bombylius discolor f

bee-fly Bombylius discolor f

bee-fly Bombylius major f

bee-fly Bombylius major f

bee-fly Bombylius major m

21st April 2019. Easter Sunday, yet another perfect day which transpired to be the hottest ever Easter recorded in Britain; a glorious day of continuous sunshine, no wind and sparkling colours. I strolled up to the North Hide at Westhay Moor hoping for rather more activity than there has been recently. Walking up, the variety of greens in the newly opening leaves were quite superb, from palest tints to altogether stronger colours. A Pussy-willow Salix caprea in the distance was picked out from the surrounds as if spotlit, its dense flowers creamy, with a hint of palest green. I spent an hour or more there, cool in the hide, enjoying the scene in front. There only two species that made an impression though. Early on, a fine male Marsh harrier flew across briefly, the resultant photograph giving an unusual view. However, that was the only glimpse of a harrier.

Marsh harrier Circus aeruginosus m

Most of the time was spent watching Great crested grebes with their family. At first it was one adult with two young, then it was joined by a second with one baby. Clearly they split duties, feeding in opposite directions. When they met up, there was a reiteration of their courtship dance. Clearly they were very pleased to see each other.

Great crested grebe Podiceps cristatus

Great crested grebe Podiceps cristatus

Great crested grebe Podiceps cristatus

Great crested grebe Podiceps cristatus

The babies are growing fast, quite independent, but you would not have guessed this from the noise they made. All the time I was there, the babies kept up a loud and insistent chirping, though the adults appeared to pay little attention. One baby was slightly bigger and spent its time tryinjg to nuzzle one of the adults, only breaking off to chase off the others every so often.

Great crested grebe Podiceps cristatus

The smallest spent much of its time a couple of feet away from the group, but appeared healthy and well fed. I only saw the adults feed the young once, bringing a small fish to one of them. This may be a sign that they are catching prey already. I saw them dive several times. I spent some time trying to catch that moment when the adult emerges from a dive and eventually managed a possible shot.

Great crested grebe Podiceps cristatus

I should round off this day by telling what happened in the garden, where I had been expecting to photograph insects in late afternoon - the perfect time for this activity. In spite of the very pleasant heat, there were next to no insects to be seen, as there have been for so long. This should be the prime time for bumblebees, hoverflies and solitary bees to be active feeding on pollen and nectar. The flowers are there, Primroses Primula vulgaris, Pulmonaria, Spanish bluebells Endymion hispanicus and many other popular nectar sources, yet I saw only one bumblebee, a few hoveflies and no solitary bee. This situation really is worrying. Each year has become progressively worse, this one appears particularly so. Looking back at the diary a year ago, there were lots of pictures of insects, stretching back for some time. It is a pity to spoil such a lovely day with an observation such as this, but that is the fact.

20th April 2019. Today's offering is a bit of a mixture of insects, some have been taken today, others a day or so before. It makes sense to combine my efforts in the one day. They imply an increase in insect activity, but only a minimum. I had to search hard to find these, although the conditions might have been expected to offer a bonanza.

19th April 2019. This day's visit to Greylake confirmed the remarks about this site at this time. The Little grebe was back in the main ditch and that was it. From what I could see it was collecting food and materials for a nest on the far side of the water. Dramatic shots.

Little grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis

Little grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis

I dropped into Catcott Lows on the way back and was surprised at the results. I had expected nothing. Greylag geese were present everywhere; it is well-known as an important breeding site and they were gathering for this. I only saw one family with tiny babies, the rest were just starting, including a couple photographed after mating.

Greylag geese Anser anser

Greylag geese Anser anser

Greylag geese Anser anser

A Great white egret in breeding plumage provided the final pictures at Catcott, flying deceptively slowly towards me before settling down to intensive feeding.

Great white egret Egretta alba

Great white egret Egretta alba

Great white egret Egretta alba

On the way home, a Grey heron provided a splendid close-up of its head which pleased me particularly. There have been few out on the moors at a time when they should have been everywhere, feeding their mates in the heronry on Tadham Moor.

Grey heron Ardea cinerea

18th April 2019. At last I saw some movment on one of the logs outside the study. Not much, but something, but rather strange for all that. The insect was one of the mason bees that might well have been active at this time of year, but it was out of sequence, here at the wrong time. It was a male Osmia caerulescens, normally emerging well after the well-known Osmia bicornis with its red tail.

mason bee Osmia caerulescens m

But, it was a most important find for me. I realised that  a male of this species was easily recognised without any elaborate keys. The picture shows its striking green eyes quite clearly. The criticism applies also to my own keys, which require updating now. O. caerulescens is most frequently shown as dark, virtually hairless. This is a newly-emerged specimen, showing masses of golden hairs and a distinctly golden metallic skin, with no trace of the blue tinges mentioned by many. The blue lends the insect its scientific name, but the blue colouring actually applies only to the females - most distinctive. If it has green eyes, lives in or around holes in wood, it is a male caerulescens. A bit of searching the flower beds yielded a few more pictures.

cuckoo bee Nomada flava f

hoverfly Platycheirus scutatus m

Sloe bug Dolycoris baccarum

17th April 2019. I went for what may well be the final visit to Greylake this season. Nearly all the duck had gone, just leaving numbers of Mallard squabbling in the shallows.

Mallard Anas platyrhynchos 

Mallard Anas platyrhynchos

But, the first bird I spotted close-by was a Redshank. This is their time of year, their calls echoing across the background. I was told by someone that there were two pairs but I would have guessed at several times that in distant reaches. They are so delicately beautiful, subtly marked, it is always a pleasure to see them, but each year at this time I hope I will be lucky. Unfortunately I only had a minute or so watching it on the edge of the water before it vanished to join its fellows elsewhere.


Redshank Tringa totanus

What followed was equally exciting. A swirl of bubbles in the closest part of the ditch, among the vegetation and stalks, was the first sighting of a very confiding Little grebe. It was difficult to photograph for much of the time, as it popped up for only a few seconds and was usually partly-obscured by stalks. It was most enjoyable trying to pit my wits against this bouyant and very mobile little bird.

Little grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis

Little grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis

Little grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis

On my way back on the track, a buzzard sailed close overhead but against a most harsh part of the sky. I stopped at Catcott Lows on the way home and was rewarded only by a heron landing on the waters edge. Water levels are dropping revealing that the islands are badly eroded. It is unlikely they will last more than another year, being made of peat.

Common buzzard Buteo buteo

Grey heron Ardea cinerea

15th April 2019. The pictures that follow are a compendium of images taken from the camera that lives in the kitchen. I decided to open the files today, as the battery needed charging. This camera has recorded a variety of birds, mammals and events over the years. I know that if it was not there I would regret it and miss something really fascinating. it is perhaps worth mentioning that all these pictures have been taken through double-glazing. It shows how perfect is the finish to the glass that next to no distortion takes place. The woodpecker actually banged on the window to draw attention to his presence.

Green woodpecker Picus viridis m, 4-2019

Green woodpecker Picus viridis m, 4-2019

Green woodpecker Picus viridis m, 4-2019

Jay Garrulus glandarius, 2-2019

Wood pigeon Columbus palumbus, 4-2018

Goldfinches Carduelis carduelis, 11-2018

13th April 2019. Romey and I walked down London Drove on Westhay Moor, calling in on a couple of hides on the way. It was sunny but windy. The wind itself was not the fault but its direction. It was much easier to photograph the birds from behind, than obtain a decent pose in flight. The North Hide was rather cold because of the north-easterly wind. Gadwall and Coots Fulica atra were busy with a rather unusual method of feeding, snapping away ahead of themselves with their beaks only part-submerged.

Gadwall Anas strepera m

Gadwall Anas strepera m

Gadwall Anas strepera m

Gadwall Anas strepera m

A fine Greylag goose caught my eye when it took off with a loud burst of goose-talk. There are numbers of these large birds in the area at present, their voices a background to various patches of water.

Greylag goose Anser anser

Finally, well-cloured male Marsh harrier appeared briefly and I managed a couple of pictures at a reasonable angle. Not a very unusual set of birds but beautiful and with interesting behaviour.

Marsh harrier Circus aeruginosus m

Marsh harrier Circus aeruginosus m

12th April 2019. Loxley Wood is a most beautiful area on the Polden hills owned by the Woodland Trust. Romey and I decided to take advantage of a glorious day and see whether Spring was yet showing in its depths. So far there has been little sign of the insect world coming to life, at least in the garden and on the nearby moors. Was this still true, or would there be a kinder picture in this beatiful area? I have history in Loxley Wood. Many years ago, after the Trust had taken on the wood, we were asked as a group to look it over, see what was there and determine what might be done for wildlife in the longer term. That first visit was a disaster for finding insects and birds. There were none, two or three insects were spotted, that is all, but we were able to offer some longer term advice. Over the years much has now been done to improve the wood both for walkers and wildlife. The Trust has done an amazing job. The main path has been widened, mown periodically and the scrub on the edges cut down. Paths have been opened up all the way round the wood and across the centre. Gradually, old conifers have been removed and natural regeneration been allowed. Increased light has had an extraordinary effect. Bluebells were present in patches wherever you look, while the edges of the path are studded with Wood anemones Anemone nemorosa and Primroses Primula vulgaris, with Violets Violaceae beneath them, buried like jewels among the undergrowth.

Bluebell  Hyacinthoides non-scriptus

The place was alive with birdsong, something you have to go far to find nowadays. I wish I knew the various species from their songs, I am afraid it is too late now, but they are widely varied and from larger numbers of birds than are generally found in even the best habitats round the locality. It was glorious to hear as we wandered along the path. Most of the surrounding trees were just dusting with the faintest green, set off every so often by a solitary tree already fully out in brilliant colour. Light still poured down even in the heart of the wood, encouraging flowering profusion all along the sides of the main path. In parts, the Trust had cut back the undergrowth and some of the trees to give wider clearings, now studded with Bluebells, anemones and Primroses. For the first time this year there were hoverflies.

hoverfly Epistrophe diaphana m

hoverfly Eristalis pertinax f

hoverfly Platycheirus spp. f

hoverfly Platycheirus albimanus m

At the end of the main track, where it splits into two others circling the outside of the wood, we found numbers of cuckoo bees, as we had on a previous visit, though of a different species. These were the colourful Nomada goodeniana, with brilliant orange antennae and legs. They all appeared to be males, no doubt just emerged and searching for females.

cuckoo bee Nomada goodeniana m

cuckoo bee Nomada goodeniana m

cuckoo bee Nomada goodeniana m

I was surprised that we only saw a single rather shabby bee-fly and only at this point. Conditions appeared perfect for them, particularly the huge clumps of Primroses everywhere. When we reached home, I found much better conditions for insects. Various bumblebees were feeding in the front flowerbeds, while a good few Bee-flies were darting here and there, ideal for a few pictures.

bumblebee Bombus pascuorum

bee-fly Bombylius major

bee-fly Bombylius major

Finally, to cap it all, I found the first of the mason bees, a rather scruffy specimen, was exploring potential nest holes at my 'flats', searching for the first females to emerge.

mason bee Osmia bicornis m

10th April 2019. Chris and I met at the Ham Wall car park just after lunch, finally coming back at around 5-30, after a fine walk round parts of Shapwick Heath, taking in the Tower, Meare Heath, Noah's and the Seventy acre hides and all parts in between. We saw a number of Marsh harriers although none were particularly close, but most enjoyable to watch and photograph. These pictures are part of the scenery, rather than concentrating solely on the birds. It was clear that it is now the breeding season. The activity was around where a nest is believed to exist or is the centre of focus for each pair. We were particularly surprised to find that the water levels on the scrape have not been adjusted to suit waders this year. As a consequence, there was not a sign of the muddy island so beloved by waders and others. Why? Without this, what is the point of the splendid Tower Hide? There will be little to see. Noah's Hide was empty except for one other person for a while. There was little to be seen and what there was, was at some distance; a sure sign that the previously numerous duck were away on their various migrations. There is a new hide opposite, or at least a much improved version of what used to be a blind. Seventy acre hide is now fully enlcosed, with proper glass shutters, overlooking the vast acres of reeds which reflect its name. I had never seen much from the old blind but we were lucky this time. A pair of Marsh harriers were either nesting or close to taking that decision, often dropping down to the same location. The  slightly hazy sun made the reeds blaze with colour, and picking out the particulary bright, tri-coloured plumage of the male, the main protagonist for the early part of our stint.

Marsh harrier Circus aeruginosus m

Marsh harrier Circus aeruginosus m

Marsh harrier Circus aeruginosus m

When the female appeared, she was also richly plumaged, positivly glowing as she twised and turned in flight. I think of the female harrier as a dark bird with little to relieve it other than the pale head. This bird, in its own way, was as bright as the male.

Marsh harrier Circus aeruginosus f

Marsh harrier Circus aeruginosus f

Marsh harrier Circus aeruginosus f

Moving on to Meare Heath Hide, I found that had also been improved, better shutters, smartened up. As we arrived, a pair of harriers were flying in front, but that was the last glimpse we had. Eventually, the increasing wind and cold drove us out and back to the cars after a most enjoyable outing.

8th April 2019. A walk on Ham Wall was disappointing. Most of the wildlife seemed to be out of sight. A Bittern Botaurus stellaris boomed a couple of times in the extreme distance, a Marsh harrier Circus aeruginosus appeared in much the same area for a few seconds and that was it. However, I did enjoy photographing one of those Coot incidents where one sudenly atacks another. Lots of splashy water and birds scittering along the surface.


Coot Fulica atra

Coot Fulica atra

The last picture is of a Coot emerging from a dive. Like others, I have spent time and effort to see what happens at this moment.

Coot Fulica atra

6th April 2019. I visited Westhay Moor today, meeting Chris at the North Hide. We went on to walk through the reserve, visiting the Tower hide and the Lake hide en route. For much of the time it was rather overcast, but we had a rewarding and enjoyable visit, seeing harriers at two of the venues, Great crested grebes and their young as well as others. At the North Hide, we watched an unusual male Marsh harrier, his tail feathers almost pure white, extremely handsome. He was most active, diving, hovering, floating over the reeds, never in the same postion for more than a few seconds. He had so much white on wings and tail as to appear like a ghost at times.

Marsh harrier Circus aeruginosus m

Marsh harrier Circus aeruginosus m

Marsh harrier Circus aeruginosus m

Marsh harrier Circus aeruginosus m

The grebes had vanished from this part completely, but there was a deal of activity by Gadwall. They were picking something tiny from the surface of the water with lightning fast dabs. I suspect they may have been gall midges surfacing as they hatch. There were great clouds of these insects around.

Gadwall Anas strepera m

At the Tower hide, chilly from an increasing breeze, the gloom came down further but we were cheered up by the sight of another, or was it the same, pair of grebes and their young. The babies were quite a bit larger, still on their parent's back, but then they do grow fast at this stage. Tiny Roach were being brought to feed them. However this did not always work out. A rather larger fish was brought in and offered. The babies paid no attention and eventually the other adult rejected the offer also, leaving the bringer of the gift to swallow it.

 

 Great crested grebe Podiceps cristatus

Great crested grebe Podiceps cristatus

Great crested grebe Podiceps cristatus

One or two Marsh harriers were seen, though the wind direction made photography a problem - you do not want all shots of the birds going away from you. Another large predator turned out to be a dark buzzard, which circled overhead and then blew away with the wind.

Common buzzard Buteo buteo

Greylag goose Anser anser

The Lake Hide was largely empty, as it so often is nowadays. I don't think it has recovered from when a line of larger trees were cut down a few years back.

I feel I must comment on a most remarkable book I have just finished reading. I bought 'Raptor, A Journey Through Birds', by James Macdonald Lockhart, purely on a whim, seeing it in a catalogue I had been sent. Each chapter is headed by the name of a predator bird, Honey buzzard, Kestrel, Osprey and so on. The author describes his journeyings down the length of the British Isles searching for these birds. In combination with this he takes you through rather similar journeys made by William MacGillivray (author of 'A History of British Birds'. in five volumesd) in 1819 onwards when he walked from The Outer Hebrides and Orkney to London in search of birds. It is a remarkably succesful formula, bringing out the real feelings towards predators of both men. The writing is superb. This book deserves to be as important as 'The Peregrine', by JA Baker which took us by storm in recent years.

3rd April 2019. Some important changes have been made to the whole website. In each section links (in blue) are now found at the head of each page, instead of the bottom. This applies to each month in the Diary, all parts of Photography, Hymenoptera, Insect 'flats', and Bumblebees, as well as Home. This change will make it easier to follow on from one sub-section to another, or from one month to the next in the Diary.

At last, the garden may be coming to life in insect terms. Whether this will work out properly depends on whether flower pollen/nectar coincides with insect needs. With the changing seasons, this may be a continuing problem. I have seen a queen bumblebee visiting flowers when it is pouring with rain and the temperature was 8°C. This is quite possible with bumblebee internal heating systems but cannot be considered normal - desperation? This morning, a couple of bee-flies were whizzing around in periods of sunshine, while both male and female Anthophora plumipes were also busy at the same time. Hoverflies were not spotted then.

bee-fly Bombylius major

mining bee Anthophora plumipes m

1st April 2019. Romey and I decided on a later visit to Ham Wall, to see if that would bring more wildlife on and around the waters. Sadly, this made no difference. In spite of it being a superb day, little breeze and wall-to-wall sunshine, there was little sign of life. On our way to Avalon hide amongst the reeds an extremely distant Bittern Botaurus stellaris boomed a couple of times and that was that. We have heard of constant booming on other days and much sighting of the birds. Luck I suppose! A few distant common duck were spotted, though few close by us. A Marsh harrier Circus aeruginosus made a distant and desultory visit for a very short period. The only cheerful creatures close in front were wonderfully colourful Great crested grebes.

Great crested grebe Podiceps cristatus - the start of a dive

Great crested grebe Podiceps cristatus

Great crested grebe Podiceps cristatus

Great crested grebe Podiceps cristatus

A fine walk but not much for wildlife watchers, yet everything seemed to point to perfect conditions. Were the birds having us for 'April fools'?

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