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September 2019  wildlife, from the Somerset Levels

September 26th 2019. Last night I told our invertebrate group that I was standing down from organising our summer programmes, after some twenty years in the job. To give a bit of its history, in June 1990, a few of us answered a call for people interested in learning about dragonflies. John Boyd, a retired solicitor with a long history of fascination with matters natural, was offering four half days out, at weekends. Amazingly, these outings continued for the next nine years with the pool of interest widening the whole time, until John died in 1999. During this period, the knowledge we acquired was amazing and set the tone for what has happened since. The 'unofficial' meetings have never ceased, with summer programmes continuing each year. In the event, I found myself taking over the production of these, which has continued over the past 20 years. I feel the time has now come to hand these arrangements over to someone else, to bring a fresh approach. I am delighted to say that John Mason has agreed to take on this task.  Through his deep knowledge of natural history, with an ability to put it over to others, he is more than worthy to follow on where John Boyd led. However, do I intend to continue attending the meetings and recording them on the website.

Chris rang yesterday, suggesting we meet today at Swell Wood, an RSPB reserve near North Curry. The morning was somewhat overcast in spite of a fine forecast but we had a splendid outing for all that. You park just off the road in the wood, then walk fifty yards or so to a most surprising hide, with a totally open front except for a low barrier with a shelf behind, as well as bench seating. A small clearing lies in front, with a couple of tiny pools covered in branches, leaves and vegetation only a few feet away. I thought it unlikely that anything would appear, for we were right in the open, unobstructed, no glass in sight. Somewhat cheating, we had brought some bird seeds with us and put a handful or so in strategic points. Though I must point out that even when these were apparently finished, the birds still arrived. Not only birds; Chris spotted a Bank vole Myodes glareolus emerging briefly, as he had on a previous visit. I was delighted with all the species seen, although worried about the mostly low light forcing me to use a wide-open 400mm zoom lens at f6.3, at ISO 3200 for all the pictures. I think the results are astonishing considering these factors, and a tribute to the Sigma lens and Nikon D7500 camera. The most interesting to me were the Nuthatches, birds with which I am not familiar at home. Their athleticism, colour and behaviour were astonishing.

Nuthatch Sitta europaea

Nuthatch Sitta europaea

Nuthatch Sitta europaea

Nuthatch Sitta europaea

Nuthatch Sitta europaea

Nuthatch Sitta europaea

Nuthatch Sitta europaea

Next came Marsh tits, which are also new to me, at first sombre-looking but coming to life when the light caught them and uplifted their colouring.

Marsh tit Parus palustris

Marsh tit Parus palustris

Marsh tit Parus palustris

Coal tits I do know, we get them on the feeders at home, but I had not seen them performing their gymnastics in the wild so often. There were some fine pictures to be obtained.

Coal tit Parus ater

Coal tit Parus ater

Coal tit Parus ater

I am more than familiar with Great tits Parus major, of which there some numbers, so concentrated on the less familiar, but I just could not ignore a Wren which worked hard in exploring all the niches in one of the little puddles in front.

Wren Troglodytes troglodytes

Wren Troglodytes troglodytes

As I left, some sunlight appeared, but I had enjoyed every moment of the visit, while the cameara and lens proved perfectly capable of capturing the activities I had been watching. A great day out in a marvellous location.

September 25th 2019. I spent an hour at Catcott Lows this afternoon. It all looked very quiet, but there were fifty or so Cattle egrets Bubulcus ibis far out with a small bunch of Exmoor ponies - used to keep the area in good order for visiting birds. Eventually, a Little egret appeared and started fishing on the far bank of the pond. What was interesting was that it was still in breeding plumage, well after the season. They are such striking birds at any time but the plumage added to the studies below.

Little egret Egretta garzetta

Little egret Egretta garzetta

Little egret Egretta garzetta

Little egret Egretta garzetta

September 23rd 2019. We woke up again this morning to see the little deer family in the garden at the back. The light was dreadful at first, all pictures thrown away later. But, they stayed, eating a few roses but clearly nosing round everything, exploring. The light improved and some shots were useful after all. What fun.

 

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus, early light!

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus, young m

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus, camouflage?

September 19th 2019. For some reason, around lunchtime I went round to have a look at the insect logs. Surprising, because for some weeks there has been no sign of life and I really thought that the nesting season had long finished. Instead, I spotted a black and yellow wasp, bottom out, busy constructing something inside one of the holes in a log. It was a common mason wasp, seen in numbers most years, often the first and the last to be seen. Yet this year not a single one had been spotted before this date. I spent some while watching the process as it wriggled and turned with enormous energy. Eventually, I came back to find the final cap had been put on the nest hole. I really do think this is the last insect to be seen this year on the logs. One last comment is that it is an unusual specimen. Normally the last few segments of the abdomen have narrow yellow bands, as have all these wasp that I have photographed. This one just has two bands, then each segment is black, giving it a very different appearance. So much so I wondered if the identification was correct at first.

mason wasp Ancistrocerus nigricornis f

mason wasp Ancistrocerus nigricornis f

mason wasp Ancistrocerus nigricornis f

mason wasp Ancistrocerus nigricornis f

mason wasp Ancistrocerus nigricornis, final nest-hole closure

In the afternoon, Ro and I went down to Canada Lake, a place we had not visited for a long time. On the way down we came across a Roe doe in one of the neighbouring fields - so peaceful.

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus 

At first sight the lake looked laregly empty of life, peaceful, sunny and hot in the hide. But eventually it came to life. Great crested grebes appeared from nowhere, as they do; and a cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo put in a brief appearance.

Great crested grebe Podiceps cristatus

A single Great white egret fished among the weeds for a while and then vanished back out of sight. Two Marsh harriers flew in and circled rather high above the lake before vanishing into the woods and driving out a procession of birds as they did so. The light was harsh by then, silhouetting the predators but showing the intricate patterns of the wing feathers.

Marsh harrier Circus aeruginosus f

Then came the final touch, a Bittern flew straight across the front. Romey reckoned it had been sitting on the island watching us for all that time. I never dreamed we were likely to see one of these birds there and at this time of year, a fitting end to a fine walk.

Bittern Botaurus stellaris

September 17th 2019. Our last day at the house and in Wales. We decided to make the most of it by driving back home via the Llandeusant Red Kite Centre to watch these fantastic birds-of-prey being fed. It could not have been a better choice of day and time. They are fed at 3-pm during the summer and autumn. The sun shone against a cloudless blue sky, other people joined in and a good time was had by all. The farmer fed them at a few minutes after three. The kites started assembling high in the sky some minutes before this, circling, every so often dropping down to see if it was yet taking place. A lone buzzard was the first bird, dropping down and sitting in the same place while the kites went mad. Once the farmer has ladled out a bucket-load of meat scraps over quite a wide area of grass, there was an uneasy pause. The kites loooked down, but none made a move. When one individual broke the spell, the others poured after it and we witnessed some most amazing feats of aeronautical skills. None of the kites actually landed, they picked up the meat, or missed it, while still in the air. A favourite tactic was to circle quite low down, then shoot up, turn on their back and drop straight down, wings bent. These kites were not the tidy birds we had seen at other times of year, they were in varying phases of moult, their tail feathers in particular rather hit and miss, but it did not appear to fault their actual performance. What a sight! It only lasted about half an hour bfore the meat was gone and they were on their way out again.

Common buzzard Buteo buteo

Common buzzard Buteo buteo & Red kite Milvus milvus

Red kite Milvus milvus

Red kite Milvus milvus

Red kite Milvus milvus

Red kite Milvus milvus

Red kite Milvus milvus

Red kite Milvus milvus

Red kite Milvus milvus

September 16th 2019. Romey and I are holidaying in Pembrokeshire, for a few days off, in perfect weather, only interrupted by morning and evening sea-mists. Much of our time has been taken up with driving round and visiting villages and towns. It is a beautiful and delightful area to visit. This afternoon we decided to drive to Fishguard. On our way in we spotted a large waterside carpark and left the car to look at Goodwick harbour and sands. A few minutes walk to a long bank sticking out into the water made me realise that the beach in front was dotted with interesting inhabitants. Little parties of waders were feeding with frantic haste everywhere and my camera was back at the car! I noticed one chap had taken a spot sitting on a rack at the end of a slipway which ran out into the water. By the time I came back, he was gone and we took his place. It was the perfect time. The tide was coming in , and would soon reach the end of the slipway, driving the birds in with it. And so it happened. The most confiding were little groups of Turnstones and Dunlin. The former living up to their name and the Dunlin running busily from one pool to another.


Turnstones Arenaria interpres & Dunlin Calidris alpina

Turnstone Arenaria interpres

Turnstone Arenaria interpres

Turnstone Arenaria interpres

Turnstone Arenaria interpres

Turnstone Arenaria interpres

Turnstone Arenaria interpres

Turnstone Arenaria interpres

Turnstone Arenaria interpres

Dunlin Calidris alpina

Dunlin Calidris alpina

Dunlin Calidris alpina

Dunlin Calidris alpina

Dunlin Calidris alpina

Curlew Numenius arquata

Curlew Numenius arquata

Curlew Numenius arquata

Curlew Numenius arquata

Curlew Numenius arquata

Curlew Numenius arquata

Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus

September 13th 2019. I visited Westhay Moor this morning, walking in from the west to the Tower hide, or platform, in the middle. This is a favourite spot overlooking a pond beyond which are many acres of reeds. There was not sign of birds of prey, for which this is a much-favoured spot so often, but a most beautiful heron was standing on a slight point from the solid ground, overlooking the water. It stayed absolutely stationary for more than quarter of an hour, perhaps digesting, before stirring and stretching its neck out only to freeze once more. After another period it did something I have never seen in a Grey heron, it waded out into the water until it was covered up to its shoulders. Then it plunged its head and neck down until it was like an up-turned boat. The next move was to fly off with great streams of water off wings and body. I was lucky enough to obtain a series of pictures of all this. The bird was a beautifully-marked adult.

Grey heron Ardea cinerea

Grey heron Ardea cinerea

Grey heron Ardea cinerea

Grey heron Ardea cinerea

Grey heron Ardea cinerea

Grey heron Ardea cinerea

September 11th 2019. Today I emptied the card from the camera we keep in the kitchen. Its role is important in the household. It is there for the wildlife we see through the kitchen windows and, in spite of photographing it through double-glazing, it makes a good job of it. Unless something really unusual takes place, it is used, then put back on the table until the card is reasonably full. Is this laziness? No, just a feeling that any stream of pictures is ongoing, continuous, even if days or even weeks go before it is used again. It is a record of one location only. Once a year or so it is cleared and the pictures examined. I have also included a couple of insect pictures which got lost in the transfer process. Here are some of the highlights, with dates recorded, giving an idea of what interested us through the year - a compendium of happenings.


Green woodpecker Picus viridis juv, 9-2019

Green woodpecker Picus viridis juv, 9-2019

Green woodpecker Picus viridis juv, 9-2019

I am not certain about the identity of the mouse in the next couple of pictures. Observing it, I felt at the time that it was a House mouse, but am less certain with these two pictures. It could be a Long-tailed field mouse Apodemus sylvaticus, which is known for variable fur colour. Any comment would be welcomed.

House mouse Mus domesticus, 9-2019

House mouse Mus domesticus 9-2019

This little mouse surprised us with its sheer impertinence. It was discovered on a mat outside the back door by Romey, who fetched me for a look. I thought it was bound to run away but it paid no attention to me or the camera, walking over the threshold and in for a couple of feet before just sitting there. It nibbled on a few tiny crumbs then walked slowly back out of the kitchen. To the best of our knowledge, we do not have mice in the house.


House mouse Mus domesticus 9-2019

This fox appeared late in the evening in distinctly dodgy lighting. I am almost certain it is an adult, rather thin, but not nearly so much so as a youngster we saw another evening that was really emaciated, a bag of skin and bones. We have not put out food for them but it may be feeding on grains dropped from the bird-feeders above. The young squirrels have a technique of shaking the feeder to make it drop.

Fox Vulpes vulpes 7-2019

This mining bee is so distinctive. I see someone who has been giving English names to this group called it the Grey-banded mining bee - very appropriate, though some of the other species have some rather strange appellations.

mining bee Andrena denticulata f, 8-2019

I have never seen this beautifully-coloured hoverfly before. I am quite certain, as I would never forget such brilliant colours. I hope it may turn up again.

hoverfly Criorhina berberina var. oxyacanthae, 5-2019

September 9th 2019. I was sitting in my study, busily entering the events of the previous day when I looked and saw one of the young Roe only a few feet away. I could not believe my luck when I managed to retieve the camera without disturbing it. I spent half an hour in his company - for the small bumps of growing horns could be seen on his head - photographing through the double-glazing, without apparently affecting the quality of the pictures. It was a most extraordinary time, one I will never forget. The dark backgrounds are not because of flash. They were all taken in natural light but the backgound fence was deep in shadow, giving this dramatic appearance. The little deer paid absolutely no attention to me, looking round the Walnut tree lawn, picking rather vaguely at some foliage and, eventually, stood there and started chewing the cud. As it started to rain more heavily, he moved under a sheltering bush and continued this chewing. The light was on in the room and he must have been able to see me but made no sign that he had done so. I felt so privileged. Eventually it was me that broke the spell, as I had to go outside to fetch something. At first he stayed put, then caught a more direct look and shot off to look for the rest of the family - though I did not spot them again.

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus juv. m

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus juv. m

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus juv. m

 Roe deer Capreolus capreolus juv. m, chewing the cud

 

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus juv. m, chewing the cud

 

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus juv. m, chewing the cud

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus juv. m, chewing the cud

September 8th 2019. Early this morning, Romey called out from our bathroom that looks out over the back garden that I should come out and have a look. To our astonishment, a family of Roe deer were busy eating the roses, mother and two youngsters. She was really moth-eaten in appearance as she was moulting out of her summer red into the grey-beige of winter.

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus f (mother)

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus f (mother)

The young ones were already mainly in winter dress. For us this was particularly astonishing, the last time we saw them in the garden was 2006, since which time the population of Roe deer out on the moors has been decimated by poachers. We used to see bands of up to a dozen at a time, nowadays we rarely see any. The light was poor but I still took a number of useful pictures of this happy event.

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus juv. f

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus juv. m

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus juv. m

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus juv. m

They remained for quite while before moving up into the orchard and away from sight. Later this same day I went down to Catcott Lows for half and hour, fairly late in the afternoon, and watched a lone Great white egret fly in, then gradually work its way towards my location. I managed to take a whole series of pictures of this beautiful bird in its winter plumage, including shots of it catching tiny fish. How do they manage to exist on such minute prey?

Great white egret Egretta alba

 Great white egret Egretta alba

 Great white egret Egretta alba


Great white egret Egretta alba

Great white egret Egretta alba

September 4th 2019. John M. and I drove down to Steart for the final meeting of the invertebrate group this year. Because of bad weather, we had moved our outing from the previous day to this one. We were rewarded with a deal of sunshine, but punished by an extremely strong wind from the west, also by the fact that three others had to pull out because of other arrangements. In spite of the wind making photography all but impossible, we had a most interesting and enjoyable day, including visiting a part we had not seen before. At home, I found I had photographed at least twenty five different species and seen even more. All this was rather unexpected, but we made the most of this last meeting of the year. We have been so fortunate in that all thirteen meetings have gone ahead and sunshine has been the key note for nearly all. We parked at the main car-park and left the car there all day, coming back to eat our sandwiches. The splendid area in front of the car-park was being strimmed ready for winter, a sad sign of the passing of the seasons. Earlier, it had been a riot of amazing colours and a great attraction to insects. In the morning, we took the path towards the Quantock hide, but never actually reached it, spending our time pottering slowly along, then off to the area on one side where a number of insect-nesting complexes have been established. At this point there is a large bank of dead grrass, where the Trust has been dumping grass removed elsewhere to improve conditions for wildflowers. Here we found it was alive with grasshoppers of various species. John spent some while looking for and identifying these, which included Short-winged coneheads Conocephalus dorsalis, Field Chorthippus brunneus, Lesser Marsh Chorthippus albomarginatus and Meadow grasshoppers Chorthippus parallelus and even a good view of a Roesel's bush-cricket Metrioptera roeseli, though it was not very cooperative for the photographer.

 Lesser marsh grasshopper Chorthippus albomarginatus

One exciting find, notable because they are normally impossble to photo, because they are so nervously active, was a small black spider-hunter wasp.

spider-hunter wasp Anoplius nigerrimus

The insect 'dormitories', made up with decayed wood, bamboos and many others, were not showing any signs of life, fitting in with what I have noted at home. It would be worth coming back a month or so earlier to see whether they were as successful as they should be. They were several of these, quite large, approximately four foot cubed. Along the violently tossed clumps of flowers by the pathway, there were fair numbers of hoverflies, mostly larger Eristalis or tiny, slender Sphaerophoria.

hoverfly Platycheirus peltatus f

hoverfly Cheilosia scutellata f

hoverfly Sphaerophoria rueppellii f

hoverfly Melanostoma scalare f

hoverfly Syrphus ribesii f

hoverfly Xylota sylvarum m

After lunch we decided to explore part of the area we had not been to before. I think that Stockland Marshes is a fairly recent addition to Steart. It must be privately owned, as the paths around it are 'permissive'. The entrance to this area is in the car-park and takes you either round the area or into the middle and back. The leaflet does not show all this, so I suspect these others have been negotiated recently. The paths are part wide stoned  or green ones indicated by signs. We followed the outside path to get a better idea of what it was all about. The centre is wild wet heathland, with one main area of water, together with a number of small pools. A couple of these have viewing platforms. The predominent plant of the day was Hawkweed Oxetongue Picris hyracioides, with its prickly leaves and yellow flowers, closely followed by Water mint Mentha aquatica. Other prominent flowers were Common fleabane Pulicaria dysenterica and Ragwort Senecio jacobaeaAll are attractive to a variety of insects. In spite of the really gusting wind, there were numbers of butterflies present. Amazing creatures, so flimsy-looking, yet able to fly

Common blue Polyommatus icarus m

Brown argus Aricia agestis pair

Comma Polygonia c-album

Small copper Lycaena phlaeas

in these conditions. I had just been saying to John that there were no signs of any solitary wasps when he called my attention to a black and yellow insect on a Water mint head. It was one of my favourite digger wasps, Ectemnius continuus. I took far too may photographs of it, but it was so photogenic and so active as it searched the florets for nectar.

digger wasp Ectemnius continuus

digger wasp Ectemnius continuus

It was round this stage, still on the hard path, that I came across the tiny Andrena and Lasioglossum mining bees, just a few on each clump of yellow flowers, but consistent among each.

mining bee Andrena minutuloides m

mining bee Andrena minutuloides m

mining bee Lasioglossum malachurum m

Of the bumblebees, virtually the only individuals were the lovely but common Bombus pascuorum. I thought this picture would serve to round off a thoroughly interesting and enjoyable visit.

bumblebee Bombus pascuorum

By this time the wind had increased even further and it was quite a bit colder so we pressed on back to the car, but still intrigued by the potential shown by this splendid wetland area.

September 1st 2019. Romey and I had a most enjoyable day out among the Catcott complex, starting with a walk up to the Tower hide at Catcott heath via the boardwalk and past the Trust's experimental pits. These latter are no longer sighnposted but I am sure records exist concerning their initiation and progress over the years. As I understand it, many years ago, almost at the start of the local Trust, it was decided to dig a shallow pit each year and see how succession of plants and insects would occur. I don't think new pits have been dug recently but it is a most interesting idea and contains much data if recorded properly. At present it is a riot of growth, with many flowers, and is the stamping ground for many hundreds of darters and other dragonflies. As you walk, a wave of darters proceeds in front of you.

Bittersweet  Solanum dulcamara

Common darter  Sympetrum striolatum m

Southern hawker  Aeshna cyanea m

Migrant hawker  Aeshna mixta m

Migrant hawker  Aeshna mixta m

As is normal for us, the Tower hide brought no views of anything on the water or over the reedbeds. However, it is incredibly peaceful and undisturbed, lovely to sit and just look over it all, but apparently largely empty of wildlife. Why? Let's hope that time will improve this, though it is a good few years since the area was dug out and constructed in its present form; apparently ideal. From there, we moved on to Catcott Lows where we were treated with astonishing views of the Cattle egrets, said to be well over thirty in number, though outliers in the reds may well bring that up further. We saw them squabbling in the shallow and in flight when a distant buzzard Buteo buteo set them off. We thoroughly enjoyed the spectacle.

Cattle egret  Bubulcus ibis

Cattle egret  Bubulcus ibis

Cattle egret  Bubulcus ibis

Cattle egret  Bubulcus ibis

Cattle egret  Bubulcus ibis

 



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