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December 2019  wildlife, from the Somerset Levels

December 31st 2019. The Roe have vanished at last. I suspect it is because the floods in front have fallen quite distinctly. Maybe they came to us when the water moved into the woods where they normally live? Time will tell. As I had to take a grandson to the bus at Bridgwater, I decided to make the best of the fine, warm, last day of 2019 and drive on to visit Steart marshes on the coast. My destination was the freshwater lake overlooked by the Quantock hide. This is approached by an enjoyable walk through hillocks, young bush plantations and grassland, normally dry. Not this time; parts of the path were lightly flooded and distinctly muddy, but still the area was approached with anticipation; blue skies, little breeze and everything sparkling-fresh. But, disappointment, or at least surprise. At first glance, all that could be seen were individual ducks lightly scattered over the area and comparativly few in number. I enjoyed the peace of sitting there, quartering the field of view, but it was not what had been expected. The hide notebook spoke of Spoonbills Platalea leucorodia the prevous day, as well as Avocets Recurvirostra avosetta and others. As I was pondering this, a great eruption took place on the horizon; hundreds of Golden plover, with a couple of Common buzzards in amongst them, shot up into the sky and milled around for some while. I didn't see any success for the buzzards but it certainly frightened the plover.

Golden plover Pluvialis apricaria & Common buzzards Buteo buteo

Golden plover Pluvialis apricaria

Golden plover Pluvialis apricaria

Eventually they settled back into a long string at the far edge of the lake, where they so often sit and sleep. They are well-known visitors at this time of winter. It is a lovely place, and the walk back was pleasant - excercise and a few birds in combination!

 Golden plover Pluvialis apricaria

December 28th 2019. It goes on! The Roe deer appeared once more, later in the afternoon, just as we arrived back from a session at Catcott Lows. Romey called us into the kitchen and we watched the three Roe settling down quite widely separated from each other and started either dozing or chewing the cud - such a peaceful scene. When you see them together, it is interesting to see how old and bulky the mother looks, so different to the slim and elegant children.

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus young m

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus young m

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus young m

 

 Roe deer Capreolus capreolus, the old mother

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus, the old mother

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus young f

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus young f

 Roe deer Capreolus capreolus young f

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus young m

December 23rd 2019. Our little family of Roe are back this morning, staying until quite late, though the light was not that good. Last night I heard that they had been seen in the gardens of two of out neighbours, so they seem to realise they have a comfortable sanctuary here.

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus young m

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus f

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus f

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus 

In the morning, I visited Greylake with my sister who was down from London for the celebrations. It was a fine day and for once the hide felt at least respectably warm, or rather not quite cold. What little wind there was, was in the back, rather than the more usual south-westerly at the front. Walking up the path I followed a joyous little group of Long-tailed tits that went just ahead in the reeds.

Long-tailed tit Aegithalos caudatus

Reaching the hides, there was disappointment. The huge amount of rain over the past few days had seen the population of ducks spread widely over the whole area of flooded grassland, as if there were none to be seen. I had fully expected to be showing her the usual vast hordes of duck at least, but there was little to be seen. We scanned the surrounds and eventually came up with a few pictures but otherwise it was most enjoyable. The first thing to be spotted was a Grey heron perched rather awkwardly on a gate past. It would have been good to see it toerpedo down but it was gone in a moment of our inattention, though caught flying across our front.


Grey heron Ardea cinerea

Grey heron Ardea cinerea

 Grey heron Ardea cinerea

Jilly spent her time searching for snipe. One of these was quite close and showed its camouflage well, so easy to lose among the reeds. Others were further off, out in the open, in with lines of duck - most unusual.

Common snipe Gallinago gallinago

Common snipe Gallinago gallinago & Mallard Anas platyrhynchos

Common teal Anas crecca f

December 21st 2019. A fine day out at Ham Wall. The flood waters surrounded Tor View hide, set in the middle of golden winter reeds. This is a place that sometimes disappoints, with nothing to be seen, but at others surprises with the variety and numbers. It was excellent today and brought a real surprise. An immature Bewick's swan Cygnus columbianus, with patchy plumage, flew past, alerting the world with a brief couple of trumpeting notes, otherwise I would have missed it. Photos confirm the identiy, but are not of good enough quality - snatched as it vanished. Marsh harriers hunted over the reeds a couple of times, as they have been in recent weeks. It seems as if there is a regular pair setting up here. Their presence is indicated by an explosion of duck as they come closer, showing unexpected numbers of the latter.

Marsh harrier Circus aeruginosus f

Marsh harrier Circus aeruginosus f

A Great white egret put in a close appearance before settling in the reeds opposite - the bench part-way along the causeway to the hide is a particularly good spot to stop and look.

Great white egret Egretta alba

Great white egret Egretta alba

Great white egret Egretta alba

Great white egret Egretta alba

The day was completed by duck, as it so often is at this time of year. Shoveler spent a great deal of time taking off and landing again after a long circuit. The flight usually consists of a solitary female heading a number of males, but some have already split up into pairs. Gadwall are much more staid, often settling under the lea of the reeds, keeping together as already-chosen pairs.


Shoveler Anas clypeata

 

Shoveler Anas clypeata m

Gadwall Anas strepera m

December 16th 2019. Catcott Lows on a rather dull afternoon, uplifted by an immature Merlin landing on a post nearby, where it rested for a while, probably digesting. Such a dinky little bird, but just as fierce a predator as any other. I don't know whether it has been this particular bird, but a Merlin has been seen a number of times over the past week or so. For me it is a distinct rarity, usually only seen so briefly seen as it flashes by.

Merlin Falco columbianus imm.

Merlin Falco columbianus imm.

Merlin Falco columbianus imm.

As is becoming usual, a Great white egret appeared, settling beside a troop of sleeping duck and starting the slow process of fishing alongside. This involves wading with the water half way up its legs, then stirring the water continually with its feet, often emerging with some minute creature.

Great white egret Egretta alba

Our last excitement came when a Kingfisher was spotted, extremely distant, sitting on the very top of a reed, glowing in the intermittent sunlight. It stayed for some while. Then, as so often occurs, it had vanished - just a memory of brilliant colour.

Kingfisher Alcedo atthis

December 14th 2019. Harrier day at Catcott Lows. Not brilliant light, but it showed up shapes and attitudes well.

Marsh harrier Circus aeruginosus f

Marsh harrier Circus aeruginosus f

Marsh harrier Circus aeruginosus f

December 13/14th 2019. I decided to make this entry a single event, though it occurred over two consecutive days (in reality the complete 48 hours, if we had been able to have continue watching during the night). The story of our little family of Roe deer continues and becomes of even more interest, as we have just had a couple of days where they have spent the whole time within the garden. We are delighted to see them; they appear to trust the area as safe for them. Romey had to to go up to the washing line; fortunately this was close to the eastern edge, whereas the deer were tucked under the shelter of the opposite hedge. Yet astonishingly, they did not stir as she went back and forth.

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus young m

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus young m

Later, I went up also, but rather closer to them; they rose and trotted further up, with little sign of haste; within minutes they were back at their previous position. To our astonishment first one, then another, settled down on the ground and started chewing the cud. Eventually, one of them went to sleep for a while, eyes closed, while another kept watch.

 

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus

 Roe deer Capreolus capreolus

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus mother, completly relaxed

The next morning, they were still there, snacking on various small flowers. The previous day had not been very bright, with rather poor photographic conditions; this morning the sun came out and I had further opportunities in better light; the pictures looking better even in the RAW state.


Roe deer Capreolus capreolus

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus young m

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus young f

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus young f

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus young f

Near lunch-time, the deer disappeared for a few minutes, reappearing in the front garden, still completely relaxed, nosing their way round the flower beds and under the edging. Soon they were back behind the cottage and so it went on all the day. Quite amazing.

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus, mother & youngster

The mother looked as if she had had a hard life, wrinkled, head shorter than previous adults, but she had done a first-class job of looking after her two youngsters, now coming up to her size but much more streamlined, delicate, smooth. Now is not the finest time to see these creatures, still showing signs of the change into winter coat, but this may be why the mother looked the way she did. What a marvellous experience, one we will not forget.

In the afternoon, visited Catcott briefly. Lots of Wigeon, mainly sleeping and preening.

Wigeon Anas penelope m

December 9th 2019. I walked up to the North hide at Westhay Moor this afternoon, on a perfect, sunny day with little breeze. On my way there, I stopped and phographed some Starlings on Tealham Moor. There are masses of these iconic birds on the moors at the moment. They lift in waves in front of the car, settling for moments, then lifting with a roar of wings. The camera autofocus did an amazing job of freezing the motion and retaining plumage detail. Later in the day these birds gather in tens of thousands out on one of the big reed beds (the RSPB offer a Starling hot-line on 07866-554 142 which gives an idea of where the great massing is likely to take place that evening). As the sun drops down, little parties of Starlings pass over head at speed and they all gather for the famous 'murmuration'.

Starlings Sturnus vulgaris

Starlings Sturnus vulgaris

The walk was delightful, cold, clear and almost windless. Dressed properly, it was perfect. The reeds were caught by the sun, golden. On the big lake, to the north end of London drove, a few Goosanders Mergus merganser were fishing by the island. The camera was in the rucksack and I argued for the hide instead of getting it out for a picture. On my way home, they had vanished. When I reached the North hide there was absolutely nothing to be seen, which put strength into the argument never to let a chance go by. But the waters soon came to life and I had a varied and interesting visit, though no signs of the harriers Circus aeruginosus. As usual, there were many Cormorants flying in to a roost on dead trees in some water just visible in the distance. Occasionally, one would land but did not stay long. I rather like the picture of one diving or emerging, I am not sure which, as I was too interested in capturing the moment rather than looking at detail.

Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo

Gadwall were much in evidence, some already paired off, others flying in and out, so beautiful in their understated elegance.

Gadwall Anas strepera m

Gadwall Anas strepera

The grand finale was provided by a great flight of Greylag geese arriving in a chattering bunch; such an evocative sound.

Greylag geese Anser anser

Greylag geese Anser anser

Greylag geese Anser anser

December 6th 2019. Overcast and windy, Catcott Lows did not look its usual sheltered self, but provided some interesting pictures above the choppy water.

Catcott Lows with Mute swans Cygnus olor

Wigeon were whistling over the wide spread of water, every so often the calling rising to a crescendo for no apparent reason. At other periods the sound from them is a soft and subdued high conversation, in combination carrying a long way. It may be early, but it was clear that thoughts were already moving to courtship, even though not all birds were into their full breeding plumage.

Wigeon Anas penelope f

Wigeon Anas penelope f

December 4th 2019. I spent the afternoon walking up London drove on Westhay Moor to the North hide. The reeds were at their most colourful, glowing.

Westhay Moor NNR, from Tower hide

As the pictures show, it was a glorious sunny day with virtually no breeze, making for some wonderful reflections.

Gadwall Anas strepera m

Gadwall Anas strepera

Mallard Anas platyrhynchos  m

Moorhen Gallinula chloropus

There was nothing particularly spectacular, but a splendid series of common birds in flight. I had hoped to see Goosanders, as a small gathering of these spectacular and beautiful birds spends much of the winter on the largest of the sheets of water, but a search had realed no sign of them. Then, as I walked back something caught the corner of my eye, I swung the camera and managed to catch some in flight. Fantastic luck!


Goosanders Mergus merganser

December 3rd 2019. Catcott once more! There is so much activity there, but it is also a good spot for meeting friends. It is difficult to stay away, though dog-walking and other activities cut visits short. After a while, you are looking for the unusual, rather than the 'normal'. So the number of pictures taken is often relatively few.

Wigeon Anas penelope

 Wigeon Anas penelope

Wigeon Anas penelope

December 2nd 2019. This is a time for making what you can from commonplace photography; not of seeking rarities, looking for moments portraying behaviour in common 'friends'. There may not always be success, but it can keep you on your toes looking for colour and shapes in everyday events. Catcott is now a classic place to watch such happenings. Ever since the pond was dug, the habitat has encouraged a variety of behaviour among its inhabitants. Mudddy peat, shallow splashes, deeper waters and even areas deep enough for diving ducks to feed, provide perfect opportunities for the watcher, whatever the weather. These are a few examples of what I mean. It is now an all-the year-round venue.

 Lapwings Vanellus vanellus

 Wigeon Anas penelope

Wigeon Anas penelope

Wigeon Anas penelope m

Wigeon Anas penelope

Wigeon Anas penelope

Wigeon Anas penelope

Common teal Anas crecca m

Common teal Anas crecca m

Common teal Anas crecca

 


 

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