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November 2020: wildlife, from the Somerset Levels

November 30th 2020. Toddy, an old friend living near Exeter, reported bumblebee activity on his Clematis, culminating in three Bombus terrestris hard at work, one being particularly small. This infers that their nests may well be able to survive the winter. It is particularly interesting in that he reported this appearing to happen in earlier years. It has been such a strange year weather wise, that any reports are of interest, so it was good to hear from 50 or 60 miles further west.

November 23rd 2020. It was a lovely warm, sunny day again, after days of cold rain and overcast, when Romey and I walked up London drove on Westhay Moor. We came across only two other couples during a period of almost perfect calm. On the lakes in the north, we were pleased to see that migrant duck were settling in in numbers. The place has looked strangely empty during recent visits.

Shoveler Anas clypeatus m

The North Hide was open, as well as open to the air, with all windows up. Another person was upstairs while we settled in below, masks on. It was a long wait before there was any sign of life in front, though it was incredibly peaceful and beautiful in the low sunlight. Then Romey spotted movement over the distant reeds and a Marsh harrier flew towards us, wavering, striking down, quartering in that particular manner of theirs.  What I found intriguing with this particular individual was the prominent owl-like face, much like a Hen harrier Circus cyaneus. One view even showed what appeared to be white on its rump. Yet all the other indications were of the Marsh harrier. However, years of watching them have demonstated that these juvenile harriers are extremely variable and difficult to identify for certain. I have several books with numbers of flight pictures but it is unusual for any of those to be the same as the bird you are watching or photographing. As John Busby, the wildlife artist says in his book, 'Looking at Birds', wildlife guides represent the ideal, not what you actually see, as the light varies and changes round the body. 'We should not assume that one size or one plumage fits all just because a book says so. The look of each bird and even its size is unique to that particular moment'. His paintings and sketches make this all too clear, impressions with splashes of colour and a few lines bringing a bird to life so vividly. I suppose for the very experienced, the word 'jizz' sums it all up.

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.

Marsh harrier Circus aeruginosus juv.

Marsh harrier Circus aeruginosus juv.

On the way back, on the tree-line beyond a large extent of reeds, a Great white egret glowed as if lit by a searchlight, the twigs around it lit up too, perched high up on a tree, an unusual view.

Great white egret Egretta alba

November 17th 2020I slipped over to Catcott Lows this dull morning, to see how migrant ducks were settling in. They had trickled in earlier but, looking through the fence holes, it was very different. Wigeon and others were dozing in long lines along the near edge of the pond, a wonderful sight. They arrive, and winter comes to life out on the moors.

Wigeon Anas penelope m

Wigeon Anas penelope

Wild geese are the ultimate visitors to the countyside, long skeins high overhead, calling to each other. Greylag were present, fittingly, against the dull colours of the wet moors.

Greylag geese Anser anser

Greylag geese Anser anser

November 15th 2020. I suspect that this month is not going to figure largely in anyone's life in this country. Talking to other people, it shows that they are staying close to home even for their excercise. The prospect of possible mixing with crowds during the lockdown is deciding people's ideas for their destinations. I know it has a curious moral feeling to it, even where you know it is a good and resonable place to visit. Recent weather has been so bad, wind and rain, that there is already this gap in entries between dates. I will be continuing these pages, but it is likely that most of the pictures will be taken from my trail camera; in particular, recording what is going on in the garden at night. It is amazing to think that, while you are asleep, the trail down the garden is like a motorway; with Foxes, Badgers and deer moving up and down - as they have done for perhaps hundreds of years. (the trail was deeply visible when we came here over fifty years ago).

Fox Vulpes vulpes

Fox Vulpes vulpes

Badger Meles meles

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus f

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus mother & son (trail camera)

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus f (trail camera)

November 7th 2020. A mixed day in the garden. For the first time for some while, the mother Roe deer appeared, chewing the cud in her usual place, not as itchy as previously - then she vanished , without either of us seeing the moment of departure.

 

Roe mother Capreolus capreolus

A splash of colour caught our eye on an old tree in the hedgerow, a Great-spotted woodpecker, which moved nearer and gave us better views. These birds have been common in the garden but have not been seen for a couple of years. Usually, they reared a family here, so it is good so see one again.

Great spotted woodpecker Dendrocopos major

Great spotted woodpecker Dendrocopos major

Great spotted woodpecker Dendrocopos major

November 6th 2020. The Somerset Wildife Trust has announced that its reserves will stay open but that hides will be closed for this period. It is likely the same will apply to other local reserves owned by other organisations. Check before visiting.

November 5th 2020. A SECOND LOCKDOWN: Coronavirus is continuing to have its malevolent effects on us all. From midnight this evening, the Government has instituted a total lockdown across all of England, even though there are huge variations in infections and hospital admissions between different areas; ours, the West Country, being among the least affected so far. This version differs from the first lockdown but will have a huge economic effect, even though it will last only for a month. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland continue making their own arrangements. In England, schools, universities and factories will remain open, but non-essential shops will close. Pubs and restauants will close. but can operate a takaway system. We will be allowed out from our houses only to work (but do so from home where possible), to take exercise, for shopping and certain appointmentsThis regime will remain for one month.

November 4th 2020. A quiet visit to Westhay Moor in fine sunshine brought a few excitements and helped clear the stale air from my lungs. The only predator spotted was a fine Marsh harrier which spent a brief time quartering the reeds in front before vanishing back out of sight.

Marsh harrier Circus aeruginosus f

 Marsh harrier Circus aeruginosus f

A Mute swan posed beautifully on the edge of the reeds, while Gadwall were the only ducks to be seen.


Mute swan Cygnus olor

Mute swan Cygnus olor

Gadwall Anas strepera

But the oddest event was a small number of Cattle egrets flying singly over the moor from somewhere on the edge of the Isle of Wedmore. Why strange? They just looked incongruous against the hill opposite while the light caught them so part of their snowy-white wings looked black. It is always good to see these iconic birds in new parts; we want and need them to spread widely. As long as there are herds of cattle out on the fields, there are perfect feeding stations for them.


Cattle egret Bubulcus ibis

November 2nd 2020. I cannot believe another month has gone by, but the weather is good, the wind light and it is time for another visit to the North Hide on Westhay Moor. But, in spite of sitting there for an hour or more, the only bird spotted was a Little grebe, one of my favourites, tiny, perky and buoyant as a ping-pong ball. This particular bird was a strange silvery colour, unlike any other I have seen, ghostly.

Little grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis

Little grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis

On the way home, the fields alongside Jack's Drove were silvered with the shallowest of waters below the levels of the grasses, eerily beautiful. On one section, a Great white egret was fishing, slowly and deliberately, waiting ages before striking and bringing up some unseen prey. How splendid to have this splendid heron living so close. 


Great white egret Egretta alba

Great white egret Egretta alba

 




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