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January 2020

February 2020: wildlife, from the Somerset Levels

February 29th 2020. First, I must apologise for the gaps in this account. Romey and I have both had long-lasting illnesses, bad at times and less so at others, leading to other priorities at the time. As with this set of writings, I will be updating photos as soon as possible - the pictures following on as concentration improves.  Today, is a fine example of the disruption, with long periods of sitting in an armchair broken up by sightings of deer in the garden above the house. I grabbed the camera and followed them as they lived their life in front of the lens, quite unfazed by some activity elsewhere. The deer were 'our' little family of three Roe - mother, male and female youngsters, instantly recognisable. The day turned into solid sunshine for the majority of time and they look happy as they browse and doze. I follow with a selection of pictures from this period.

Roe Capreolus capreolus young f

Roe Capreolus capreolus young f

Roe Capreolus capreolus young m

Roe Capreolus capreolus sleeping mother

Roe Capreolus capreolus young f

Roe Capreolus capreolus young m

Roe Capreolus capreolus young f

February 26th 2020. As the morning settled in, our Roe family arrived and immediately vanished from view as they browsed the roses and other shrubs - useful in shaping them I am sure. Conditions were difficult, the brightness and shadow making for much high-contrast photography. This was the first outing of a Nikon lens I had just bought. It has a fearsome reputation for sharpness and is extremely light. This tiny, lightweight lens is the Nikon 70-300 f4.5-6.3 P version. I am still getting used to the outfit, but it seems excellent and will be staying in the kitchen attached to an old but effective Nikon D7100 camera, ready for anything that visits the garden.

Roe Capreolus capreolus young m

Roe Capreolus capreolus youngsters

Roe Capreolus capreolus young f

Roe Capreolus capreolus young f

Roe Capreolus capreolus mother

February 25th 2020. I made a brief visit to Catcott Lows and was treated to one of the buzzard fly-pasts that have become a feature of recent days. The bird hides out of sight behind the pump-shed then takes off and hunts the shallows or a nearby field.  Clearly, this is a successful strategy.

Common buzzard Buteo buteo

Common buzzard Buteo buteo

Common buzzard Buteo buteo

Common buzzard Buteo buteo

Common buzzard Buteo buteo

Of course, as always at Catcott, there were duck, masses of them, many lining the front of the water, asleep or quarelling. But above all else they flew, periodically taking off and circling round in little groups, a marvellous sight.

 

Wigeon Anas penelope m

Wigeon Anas penelope m

February 23rd 2020. A walk was needed. Ham Wall has a dry main path along the old railway line, which is always enjoyable. The main event when I reached the Tor View hide a heron dropping into the reeds nearby. This was a prelude to a courtship display and eventually what appeared to be mating obscured, quite decently, by the surrounding reeds. I took many pictures but trust these show the spirit of what happened. The place is an annual location where herons nest among the Typha, a distinctly unusual event I believe.

Grey heron Ardea cinerea

Grey heron Ardea cinerea

Great crested grebes were very much in evidence, clearly building up to courtship, though the birds remain solo. I love it when they grow their crests and start puffing them out, particularly impressive head-on.

Great crested grebe Podiceps cristatus

February 22nd 2020. Westhay Moor is always a pleasant walk. This time I parked in the main car-park and walked into the reserve from the east, through piles of chippings lying along much of the trail, where wardens had been thinning numbers of young trees before they cut out the light too much. I turned north to the island platform in the middle of the reeds, parked my rucksack and set up the outfit on a monopod. The platform has little shelter from what is always a keen wind, but sometimes it is worth the walk. You look over many acres of Typha reeds which are known to be nesting grounds for marsh harriers. Sometimes you stand there, getting colder and colder, with nothing flying, but today was nore successful. Both male and female harriers appeareed in the distance, whirling up togetther, then dropping down into an anonymous patch of reed in the middle. Perhaps a future nest site?. Eventually one flew quite close-by, quartering the reeds, an uplifting sight. The harrier had a distinct ruff around its face, not generally portrayed in bird books.

Marsh harrier Circus aeruginosus juv.

Marsh harrier Circus aeruginosus juv.

Marsh harrier Circus aeruginosus juv.

Febrary 20th 2020. Catcott Lows was in a state of wild waters, fanned by truly wild winds, but with periodic sunshine to increase the drama. The hide rocked as blasts tore across.

Wigeon Anas penelope f

Wigeon Anas penelope f

 Wigeon Anas penelope m

Shoveler Anas clypeata & Wigeon A. penelope f

February 19th 2020. We had another remarkable day in the garden with the little Roe family. They were there as we came down to breakfast, and only left at the time of demi-darkness, when a dog-walker went  along the boundary hedge. The deer spent much of the day lying down, dozing. Every so often one or the other would get up, stretch and search for some particular morsel. Romey was particularly pleased to see handfuls of Spanish bluebell leaves vanishing into their mouths. The plants are the bane of her life, introduced in the fom of one or two bulbs forty or more years ago, and rampaging everywhere in beds, lawns, anywhere they can stake a location. At this time of year, the deer are distinctly scruffy, particularly the mother with her moth-eaten coat - nothing like the identification pictures in books! The young male has quite prominent antlers growing under the velvet; surely it will not be long before he is off on his own?


Roe deer Capreolus capreolus, young m

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus, young m

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus, young doe

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus, young doe

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus, the mother

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus, young doe

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus, young m

February 18th 2020. Another highly-productive visit to Greylake. At first it looked a loss, but gradually built up - or did I get my eye in? I left eventually, full of enthusism and glowing images. Everything was happening but no predators came near us. An early plus-point was a Goldcrest in the car-park. I photographed blind in dreadful shade, but one of a number was the only one that came out. Sheer luck.

Goldcrest Regulus regulus

After that it was all ducks, all ducks in flight. They were very skittish, erupting in floods of spray. The wind was more than brisk, which seemed to inspire them out of their usual sleep-mode - very much what I wanted.

Gadwall Anas strepera

Gadwall Anas strepera

Gadwall Anas strepera

Wigeon Anas penelope

Wigeon Anas penelope

Wigeon Anas penelope

Common teal Anas crecca

Common teal Anas crecca

Common teal Anas crecca

Shoveler Anas clypeata m

February 13th 2020. I had a marvellous time at Catcott Lows; lots of duck, strong winds and more action than usual. I was able to concentrate on my favourite subject, ducks in flight, close-up. First though, was the rather unusual sight of a single Black-tailed godwit among a crowd of ducks. It betrayed its presence immediately, as it never stopped feeding, pumping its beak into the ooze for food. This contrasted with the sleeping duck, who did not seem the least disturbed by this. In front, were the usual numbers of Wigeon, with many of them on the bank, grazing. Up to now, much of their time has been spent dozing. Are they building themselves up for the frenzy of courtship?

Black-tailed godwit Limosa limosa, Common teal Anas crecca & Wigeon A. penelope

Wigeon Anas penelope m

Wigeon Anas penelope m

Wigeon Anas penelope 

Wigeon Anas penelope

Wigeon Anas penelope

February 12th 2020. A lively day out at Greylake, at first sight rather dull in spite of the many duck present. Recent rain has brought a great deal of water into the reserve. Areas previously seemingly solid, are now wet, the grass piercing the surface around the sleeping hordes. For me, it was the day of the snipe. They were everywhere, not so much sleeping or feeding, but flying from point to point, often in flights of a dozen or more birds. The wind was strong; snipe are solid little birds and go like rockets with the wind up their tails.

Common snipe Gallinago gallinago

Common snipe Gallinago gallinago

Common snipe Gallinago gallinago

Common snipe Gallinago gallinago

February 7th 2020. A fine day, the wind coming from the east rather than the regular south-west, implied a good day to visit Greylake once again. With these conditions, unusually, the hide was warm. Normally it is freezing when any wind comes from the south or west. There were a great many duck spread over the open waters, with hundreds more on the dry spit of grass in front. Wonderful, nevertheless far from the numbers of a few years ago. This was well-illustrated when some unseen predator drove them all into the air at once. There were large numbers, but not the great blanket of ducks that darkened the sky all over previously. However, I had a great time photographing teal as they disported themselves close in front. They are such extraordinary little duck, amazingly coloured and ultra-rapid once they take off. Superb subjects.

Common teal Anas crecca f

Common teal Anas crecca m

Common teal Anas crecca m

Common teal Anas crecca m

Common teal Anas crecca m

There were few snipe today. My picture illustrates their natural camouflage. It took me a great deal of time to locate these two, losing them when I took my eye off momentarily, lucky to find them again.

Common snipe Gallinago gallinago

February 5th 2020. These pictures were taken over a period of three days but could have been at any recent time at Catcott Lows. I dropped in a number of times for short periods, when the weather cleared sufficiently. The scene was much the same, rows of Wigeon along the near shore-line of the pond, mainly asleep but occasionally bursting into brief periods of aggression, a sign of the forthcoming breeding season. It has been an odd period, much warmer than usual, often 10-12°C or even more. The ducks came in late, not in the numbers seen in colder winters, while predators do not seem so frequent or active. When they do, there are some wonderful sheets of disturbed water, rocketing duck and a confusion of colour - but not the huge flights of a few years ago.

 Wigeon Anas penelope

 Wigeon Anas penelope

 Wigeon Anas penelope

 Wigeon Anas penelope m

 Wigeon Anas penelope

Wigeon Anas penelope m

The grand finale was a Great white egret drifting in across the reeds before landing in their depths, a common sight for us nowadays, but a thrill for those who have never seen them before.

Great white egret Egretta garzetta

February 4th 2010. Although time is short at present, I try to drop in on Catcott Lows as often as possible - often meeting friends with the same idea. Almost the first bird I saw, apart from a great many grazing and sleeping Wigeon, was a Water pipit. I don't know whether these birds are unusual, but Catcott is the only place I have seen them. An understated little bird made more so by its habit of hiding in the undergrowth and shadows as it feeds.

Water pipit Anthus spinoletta

I took a few more shots of Wigeon cleaning their plumage, sleeping or quarrelling, always fascinating and attractive.

Wigeon Anas penelope m

Wigeon Anas penelope m

Wigeon Anas penelope

Wigeon Anas penelope m

On the way home, I came across this splendid adult Grey heron, paused for a few minutes on Tealham Moor. Such lovely colouring and sculptured feathers.

Grey heron Ardea cinerea

February 3rd 2020. A beautiful day, during which the deer spent the whole time in the garden soaking in the warmth. As the sun came up, the three were silhouetted against the skyline. The mother and male youngster remained up there for the whole of the day. The doe teenager sauntered down and settled in really close to the cottage, on the edge of the pond, but on this side. Most of my pictures are shown full-size, using a 300mm lens. It was glorious to see this beautiful creature so close and to watch it sleeping, stretching, scratching and generally pottering about.

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus, young doe

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus, young doe

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus, young doe

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus, young doe

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus, young doe

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus, young doe

February 1st 2020. I spent part of this new day, in every sense, walking on Westhay Moor. It was not terribly productive, but yielded a few images by the end. It was a lovely walk, though the sunshine was intermittent, clouds dulling the colour in an instant as they appeared. A very light breeze left one or two patches of complete calm, always good for the photographer. A lone Great white egret floated across in front. Normally there are several around.

Great white egret Egretta alba

I never tire of looking at Gadwall, at first so dull until the eye catches the subtlety of their plumage.

Gadwall Anas strepera m

Gadwall Anas strepera f

There was little to be seen at the North hide until a distant Marsh harrier started hunting, far off. He drifted from one side to another, disturbing a few duck but appeared so uninterested, that he might just be enjoying causing a disturbance. Eventually the ducks gave up reacting to its presence.

Marsh harrier Circus aeruginosus m

 



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