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November 2019  wildlife, from the Somerset Levels

November 28th 2019. We woke again this morning to find out little family of Roe deer feeding in the back garden. This time they stayed late, until past nine-o-clock. A sign, surely, that they are content with the surrounds and look upon it as a safe haven. The two youngsters are growing rapidly. It cannot be long before they are thrust out into the world on their own. The antlers on the buck are starting to appear through the two bumps between the ears. When I looked at the pictures I thought that mum and the does looked a bit skinny. Are they finding enough food? Then I realised that mum was looking older in her new coat, the skin looser on the flanks. She certainly does not look like the delicate younger Roe, but altogether heavier, with definite signs of wear. She is attentive to her young. It was interesting to see them eating head to head, enjoying each other's company, as we did.

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus

 Roe deer Capreolus capreolus

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus f & young m

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus

A fine sunny morning with a relatively soft south-west wind had developed and I was out at Greylake by 10:30. The reserve was quite busy by the car park but much reduced by the time I had walked out to the hide through walls of golden reeds. The duck were present in numbers, squatting down on the lawn in front, with few gaps between the birds, while off to the north, the water was packed with yet more. Wigeon were the most numerous, with Shoveler, Teal and Mallard. What a glorious sight.

Mallard Anas platyrhynchos

Black-tailed godwits were present but far-off, with the always numerous flights of Golden plover and Lapwings, the latter everywhere, the former almost out of sight. While it good to study the birds while on the ground or on the water, the best views and pictures came when the periodic eruptions took place. Most of these were notable in that no-one could see reason for the disturbance. One was definitely caused by a distant Common buzzard and another perhaps by a similarly distant Kestrel, but several by nothing obvious. I had a great time and left just as the wind increased - always a trial at Greylake - and clouds started to diffuse the marvellous light.

 Grey heron Ardea cinerea

Shoveler Anas clypeata

Shoveler Anas clypeata

Shoveler Anas clypeata

mixed duck Anas spp.

mixed duck Anas spp.

 Wigeon Anas penelope

November 21st 2019. Visits outside have been few and far between with the wet, cold, windy weather we have been undergoing this month. But I have tried to keep up with what is going on by snatching a while to go and sit in the hide at Catcott Lows. At least it has a roof and cars may be parked alongside. I try to combine watching with walking but Catcott does not meet with that wish - it far too easy and comfortable! Each visit brings exposure to more and more duck, with other species added in as they build up. This time, the odd ones out were the 9 Black-tailed godwits which circled numbers of times before settling in their usual place, far over and beyond.

Black-tailed godwits Limosa limosa

Altogether three different Great white egrets were fishing and occasionally came close enough to photograph. But the Wigeon were the stars of the show, quarreling, whistling and generally looking colourful, a number already paired up.

Wigeon Anas penelope

Wigeon Anas penelope

Wigeon Anas penelope

Wigeon Anas penelope

Walking back down the path between screens of Typha, I had a surreal experience as a Great white egret flew in and settled among the reeds, only yards away. Moving, I disturbed the bird, but it did not seem too worried as it flew on its way.

Great white egret Egretta alba

November 19th 2019. I had a most enjoyable and productive walk on Westhay Moor today, ending up at the North hide on London drove. There was a brisk feel to the day, but the sunshine was only intermittent. The reeds glowed with their autumn colours. The wind was light - a perfect day for wildlife and peeople, though there were few of those about. I was fortunate as, for the first half hour, there was no sign of life at all, but this changed. A juvenile Marsh harrier appeared, in that dull plumage that makes it all but anonymous, impossible to sex and a problem for identification. But, it gave a splendid display as it crossed and re-crossed in front of me. I was able to photograph most views of its plumage for later study. What was noticeable on this particular bird was the owl-like feathering on the face, more readily seen in other species of harrier.

Marsh harrier Circus aeruginosus juv.

Marsh harrier Circus aeruginosus juv.

Marsh harrier Circus aeruginosus juv.

Marsh harrier Circus aeruginosus juv.

Marsh harrier Circus aeruginosus juv.

Duck remained absent until a couple of Tufted drakes flew in, such handsome and cheerful birds.

Tufted duck Aythya fuligula m

One the way back, I watched a Great white egret fishing with the water up to its chest. I had not realised they would venture so deep with varying conditions available.

Great white egret Egretta alba

November 18th 2019. We woke to find our little family of Roe deer in the garden above the house; clearly they find it a safe and convivial place to visit. Do they live with us, or next door with even more space? I have set a trail camera on a fencepost to try and find out more about them.The light was dreadful, although the odd ray of sunshione was struggling to appear at times, but they stayed around for some while. The mother kept separate from the twins but kept a close eye on them. They have grown so much that it must not be long before she sends them on their way.

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus, the mother

Although I had not seen a great deal on my last visit to Greylake, it seemed worth another look on this superb, fine, sunny, virtually windless day. I say that but, as usual, Greylake managed to bring a chill every so often when a touch of breeze got up. Walking through the reeds on the way in was a joy, so beautiful, peaceful, so much promise of what you hope will come shortly. I had to wait  for a while to get a place on a bench but that did not seem too much of a burden. There were few birds to be seen except those hunkered down on the meadow-strip in front, mostly fast asleep. I set up my ancient monopod, camera and lens and looked over the autumn colours in front. Every so often a great cloud of birds swirled up in the far distance - Golden plover Pluvialis apricaria disturbed by an equally distant predator. This happened several times but I was never able to pick out the perpetrator; perhaps there was none, they may have been minded just to ease their muscles, or the sheer joy of flight? This large flock is a permanent inhabitant over much of the winter, though usually far off.

Golden plover Pluvialis apricaria

Then everything started to liven up. First, Wigeon and Mallard swam out onto the water in front and started some early display moves. The Mallard males separated out from the rest and started pushing and shoving, aggressively confronting each other, then Wigeon began the same, but in a much more gentlemanly manner.

Mallard Anas platyrhynchos m

Mallard Anas platyrhynchos

Shoveler were already paired off, some engaging in a feeding method peculiar to these duck. They swam in a circle, touching each other the whole time, disturbing the water round them continually. Presumabley this brings food to the surface? This went on for long periods, making it seem almost formal, a part of courtship. Interspersed with this were some really violent fights between the drakes.

Shoveler Anas clypeata m

 Shoveler Anas clypeata, swirling

Shoveler Anas clypeata

Shoveler Anas clypeata

Increasingly, the general body of duck appeared more jittery, erupting every so often; serious interuptions taking the birds high into the air, circling before landing. On one occasion, it was a Merlin Falco columbarius flashing over at high speed, a creature so tiny against everything else, but enough to set them off. The Merin was far too rapid for me to catch with the camera, but it was splendid to see.

mixed duck Anas spp.

mixed duck  Anas spp.

mixed duck  Anas spp.

A Kestrel Falco tinnunculus hovering high over head had a similar effect, not usually sufficient to cause such a fright. The final burst was caused first by one, then three Common buzzards Buteo buteo, but they were very high in the air. Then we noticed that accompanying these was a  larger bird, with longer, sharper wings - a Red kite. Kites are rarities in Somerset, but it appears they have been seen in this area with some frequency recently. It would be superb to add these to our local lists. There seems no reason why this should not be so; they are present in large numbers in southern England.

Red kite Milvus milvus

November 17th 2019. Wigeon are increasing in numbers at the pond on Catcott Lows. The water has spread beyond its bounds, so you cannot see where deep and shallow join, indicated by the types of duck and where they are feeding.They were very restive this day, though none of us spotted a predator above. There is a deal of excitement when numbers of duck erupt for no obvious reason. The spray flies, water covers some of the action as it is flung up. If there is a proper 'fright', the birds circle and circle, settle, then shoot up again almost before they have settled on the water. I suspect they enjoy the adrenalin boost as much as anyone.

Wigeon Anas penelope

Wigeon Anas penelope

Wigeon Anas penelope

Wigeon Anas penelope, 'off again!'

Wigeon are the most numerous but not the only duck. Mallard appear to be growing in numbers in recent years and are, of course, our native ducks, seen the whole year round. Although cross and bad-tempered, the males are among our most handsome of duck, doubly so when the light catches their green heads - though not so often in this grey period of the year. The other thing to delight in is the growing number of Lapwings here at Catcott, even if not reaching the outer moors so widely. They, like herons, are the very spirit of the wetlands and have been sadly missed in recent years. Many years ago, flocks numbered thousands, not so now.

Mallard Anas platyrhynchos

Lapwings Vanellus vanellus

November 13th 2019. Ham Wall once again. Two reasons; the walking in this wet weather is largely on stone surfaces, the Marsh harriers are flying again. As good an excuse to get out as any, even in such poor conditions. The harriers duly performed but, as usual, at a distance but at least worth recording, I feel, a memory of the day.

Marsh harrier Circus aeruginosus f

Marsh harrier Circus aeruginosus m & Carrion crow - the spoiler

 

Marsh harrier Circus aeruginosus f - near-perfect camouflage

November 12th 2019. A time for geese. Catcott Lows was teeming with them this afternoon, calling, chatting, pulling up greenery from the waters. The light was poor, but the company good. There is nothing quite like geese to bring cheer to a day. Read Peter Scott's books and this will become even clearer.

Canada geese Branta canadensis

Canada geese Branta canadensis

Greylag goose Anser anser

Greylag geese Anser anser

November 10th 2019. It is frustrating, but sometimes the weather ought not to put you off. This month has been such as to despair about going out with a camera at all, yet recent outings show that must be resisted. Modern equipment does far better than we have any reason to believe, or deserve. The pictures may not be masterpieces, but they do show behaviour that might otherwise be missed. Ham Wall was far from perfect this afternoon, wind gusting viciously at times, cold, with the light lifting and falling. In other words, it was a challenge, and at least took me away from the computer and into the very fresh air. Almost as soon as I arrived at Tor View hide on Westhay Moor, busy with people coming and going, I had my first bit of luck. A Sparrowhawk flew straight at me, lifting over the top at the last moment. I was still unpacking the camera when the moment arose but managed to catch a few shots, though not as steady as I might have liked. These birds are far from easy to photograph out in the countryside as they rarely seem to settle, so every chance must be taken as it arises.

Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus f

Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus f

Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus f

As has happened recently, one of the resident Marsh harriers appeared for two or three quick passes, not close, but performing well. The more I photograph these elegant birds, the more I hope to see. I long for the really close view, but enjoy their aerobatics wherever I catch sight of them. Both male and female were present, but only the female came close enough for my purpose.

Marsh harrier Circus aeruginosus f

Marsh harrier Circus aeruginosus f

November 8th 2019. Back again to Catcott Lows but this time what a different picture! The ducks have started arriving from overseas. The wonderful extended whistles of Wigeon were a background to everything. The great majority were Wigeon, with a few Shoveler Anas clypeata and the odd Teal Anas crecca. Before long, they were disturbed by a female Marsh harrier who flew across and even among them, a dark, looming shadow above and around. I was surprised at how little they reacted, lifting off but, settling quickly, without their usual, continual circling after such an encounter. The grey geese were still there. This time enjoying the sunshine, a cheerful sight.

 Greylag geese Anser anser

Greylag geese Anser anser

It was good to look across at a well-occupied sheet of water, full of duck going about their business.

Wigeon mainly Anas penelope

November 5th 2019. On my way home, I called in at Catcott Lows for a brief visit in the afternoon. Such visits are more and more constrained after the recent change of daylight settings and this was definitely in that category. The light was poor, so I concentrated on the largest birds present in some numbers. Greylag geese, one of my favourite birds, were everywhere - feeding on the grass in front, spread across the area. I had some fine views while listening to them chatting quietly to each other.


Greylag geese Anser anser 

 Greylag geese Anser anser

Greylag geese Anser anser

Greylag geese Anser anser

Ever since I saw my first Wigeon, they have been one of my favourite duck. Close-up, the female is as attractive as the male, though in a much more subtle manner, with paterned brown and grey feathering. The characteristic drawn-out whistle of the male cannot be missed, with his bright yellow and red head, and pencilled flanks catching the eye. They are the most numerous of our ducks at Catcott.

Wigeon Anas penelope f

Wigeon Anas penelope m

Wigeon Anas penelope m

Wigeon Anas penelope f

The final act of my visit took place when the light was fading, clouds gathering overhead as they do each evening at present. A female Marsh harrier flew over in front, then right through a cloud of ducks erupting as she appeared. Although rather distant, the sequence brings back the usual excitement as a predator arrives - for me as well as its potential victims.

Marsh harrier Circus aeruginosus f

Marsh harrier Circus aeruginosus f

Marsh harrier Circus aeruginosus f

Marsh harrier Circus aeruginosus f

November 1st 2019. A walk across Ham Wall brought little with it; enjoyable, but empty of all except the usual comon ducks. Among these there were plenty of Gadwall. Why comment on this? When we first arrived in the area many, many years ago, Gadwall were rare ducks, worth recording, unusual to photograph. Now they are amongst the commonest duck in many nearby parts. So understated in their plumage, yet so beautiful in close-up.

Gadwall Anas strepera

November 3rd 2019. Romey and I drove over to Ham Wall, delighted to be doing so, as my car had blown up recently and its replacement is now fully operational - another Volvo, but much younger than the previous one. A Great white egret gave a demonstration of its manoeverability and flight skills as it moved around the waters in front of the Avalon hide.

Great white egret Egretta alba

Otherwise, the waters were still only occupied by resident birds, no obvious signs of the incoming hordes. Next stop, on a superb, bright day, was the Tor View hide set in the middle of reeds and water. I had the camera in a rucksac and foolishly did not unpack it, so missed a female Marsh harrier's first appearance just in front. But I did drag it out and caught some of its moves, always worth watching.

Glastonbury Tor from Ham Wall

Marsh harrier Circus aeruginosus f

Marsh harrier Circus aeruginosus f 

 

 

 

 

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