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September 2020: wildlife, from the Somerset Levels

September 22nd 2020. The sunshine arrived again to day, accompanied by a rather chilly breeze. I needed to clear my head after too long indoors, so sat in front of the Catmint, still blooming on the terrace, usually the most reliable of all plants for attracting pollinators. I did spot a single Bombus pascuorum m but the previous numbers were not there. But, it was attracting a few tiny hoverflies. The largest of these was a Rhingia campestris but the rest were largely Melanastoma,  insects usually associated with and similar to Platycheirus hoverflies, both of which have been missing for much of the summer.

hoverfly Rhingia campestris f

hoverfly Rhingia campestris f

hoverfly Melanostoma scalare f

hoverfly Melanostoma scalare f

hoverfly Melanostoma scalare f

The last tiny insect, just a few mm long, was a parasitic wasp - at first sight either a very small ichneumon or a braconid. I thought that it would be too late to see any insects, there had been no sign on recent visits but I had a most enjoyable time with these latecomers. At the end I got up feeling really tired from concentrating on these tiny creatures, trying to pick them up in the viewfinder as they moved; there is a lot to be said for sitting down and concentrating on a single plant. I have been seeking to improve pictures taken using the Rogue Safari flash extender with the camera's built in flash and tried altering my more conventional settings to make sure that wings were at least seen in flight - it is so easy to make the insect appear apparently wingless, suspended in the air. I hope that these alterations, involving increased ISO settings, as well as alterations to the 'f' number, will take me back to what I achieved with a previous but heavy Metz flash on 'auto'. As the years move on, the need for weight reduction becomes paramount! 

ichneumon spp. f

ichneumon spp. f

ichneumon spp. f

September 20th 2020. Romey spotted the first deer as we were having breakfast. It appeared on the other side of the nearly empty pond, grazing amongst the herbage. I shot upstairs to hve a better look from the bathroom just in time to see that a couple more were part-hidden by a tree. The first one, now seen to be a very young male (buck) stayed in sight until I felt I just could not take any more pictures. Usually, I take them through the double glazing but this time the window was just ajar and I took a chance and pushed it until I could train the lens directly through the opening. The deer paid no attention - did not even look up. The light was perfect, sheer heaven. The whole experience could not have been better. Half an hour later and they were gone.

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus

young Roebuck Capreolus capreolus

young Roebuck Capreolus capreolus

young Roe deer Capreolus capreolus f

September 19th 2020. I drove over to Catcott Lows, finding it deserted by both wildlife and people. After a while, I decided to drive back across the moors, reaching Tealham Moor still in the bright sunshine that had been thre all day. After a cold morning, it had become warm and muggy. As I emerged onto the moor. there were a number of herds of cattle out on the fields, most with Cattle egrets feeding on the flies attracted to the cattle. It seemed to make no difference as to the type of cattle or their colour, varying from various shades of black and white to reds and in between. It was noticeable that the several flocks of sheep did not attract a single bird. I have spotted them accompanying the Exmoor ponies used to graze some of the reserves, but not where cattle are present.There must be a special qulity in their insects! The photographs below were all from a large herd trampling the edge of the field by Old Rhyne, a place where it is far from normal to see any wildlife.

Cattle egret Bubulcus ibis

Cattle egret Bubulcus ibis

Cattle egret Bubulcus ibis

Cattle egret Bubulcus ibis

Cattle egret Bubulcus ibis

Cattle egret Bubulcus ibis

Cattle egret Bubulcus ibis

Cattle egret Bubulcus ibis

Cattle egret Bubulcus ibis

Cattle egret Bubulcus ibis

September 11th 2020. Yet anothr exraordinary invasion by the deer family. The little male junior, growing fast, ventured closer and closer until he was all but licking the kitchen window. We gazeed at him, barely believing our luck. He did not seem the least worried by our presence, or that he must have seen us with the light on inside.

 

 Roe deer Capreolus capreolus m

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus m

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus m

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus m 

 

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus m

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus m 

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus m

September 9th 2020. The Roe were back in the garden from an early hour.  One, inevitably, settling in their favoured spot in front of the kitchen but what a state they were in! The autumnal moult is in full swing, grewat patches of hair falling out exposing an apparently black undercoat, though this will fade to grey later on. The whole process causes terrible itching, so they are constantly scratching and cannot sit still for long.

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus

Later, Jack's Drove took me over a smiling countryside as I drove to Catcott Lows in the afternoon. I had a most pleasant hour there, but the only action came when a flock of Lapwings leapt into the air for no apparent reason, tearing backwards and forwards in an apparent frenzy. Perhaps there was some predator high in the sky? It is amazing that a few of these birds represent a special occasion, many years ago we could have expected thousands on the same area - and out on all the moors.

Lapwings Vanellus vanellus

Lapwings Vanellus vanellus

Lapwings Vanellus vanellus

Gadwall Anas strepera m

Gadwall Anas strepera f

A small herd of Exmoor ponies is now employed to keep the herbage on the reserve at a satisfactory level and mix. They are beautiful creatures, distinguished by their 'mealy' mouths and are well able to withstand any weather we have here on the Levels - Exmoor is a much harsher place..

Exmoor Pony grazing

Coming back over the moor, there was a large herd of cattle by the side of the road - with lots of white birds in amongst them. I only had a brief period to photograph them, as cars were coming through from the other direction, but enjoyed seeing a sizeable flock of  fifty or so Cattle egrets which eventually took off like snowflakes against the blue sky.


Cattle egret Bubulcus ibis & friends

Cattle egret Bubulcus ibis

Cattle egret Bubulcus ibis

September 8th 2020. Today's visit was to Ham Wall. Romey and did not expect to see much on such a grey and overcast day, though a surprisingly warm, muggy one. Our aim was a walk to stir us into action again. There were few people around, though the hides were still closed. Instead of going down to Avalon hide, in the middle of the reeds, we turned left and skirted the water. Everything has grown like mad recently, so views of the water were hidden much of the time. Coming back, we sat down on the first platform not expecting anything as there was no sign of water in front, just endless ranks of reeds blowing in the wind. What a surprise when a Grey heron landed close-by, paying no attention to us, even when I moved to give a better view through the camera.

Grey heron Ardea cinerea

Grey heron Ardea cinerea

Grey heron Ardea cinerea

September 7th 2020. The Roe deer were back this monring and stayed for some while, long after you might have expected them during broad daylight with people moving around. The poor things were in the middle of their autumn moult, involving much scrtching and combing. The bright red summer coat gives way to very dark patches which quickly fade to pale, ghostly grey - though not yet. Hopefully, they will soon be elegant again.

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus

Roe deer Capreolus capreolus

Later, off for another look at Catcott Lows on a bright but breezy day. There was no sign of the expected Cattle egrets Bubulcus ibis, but a Great white appeared and gradually came nearer. It was good to see its fishing methods so clearly. It would trawl the shallows, stirring the water with trembling feet, to stir up the mud and disturb suitable prey. It was successful on most occasions, but seemed to rely on the smallest of creatures for a diet. This bird had lost its exotic breeding plumage, but replaced it with a super-streamined, sleek, white silhouette, lovely to watch in action.

Great white egret Egretta alba

Great white egret Egretta alba

September 5th 2020. I spent the day in the garden at home, partly gardening and part by the logs. I watched for ages but only came across a couple of the little black digger wasps. The most interesting was a Crossocerus with a large head that often appears at the end of the season.

digger wasp Crossocerus annulipes

After lunch, I sat by the brilliant blue Catmint so beloved by the bumblebees, with some enjoyable results.

bumblebee Bombus pascuorum m

bumblebee Bombus pascuorum m

bumblebee Bombus pascuorum m

September 4th 2020. A wonderful, fresh and sunny morning was perfect for settling down alongside the 'flats'. At first nothing, then a trace of movement glimpsed out of the corner of the eye and I noticed a tiny black Crossocerus wasp, the first of a number still searching for nest holes, bringing prey or consrtruction materials. It was good to see the season continuing after recent cold, wet days.

September 3rd 2020. We woke to a duller morning but when we opened the curtains in the bathroom to see the Roebuck sitting in his favourite spot, but this time in softer light, giving a totally different appearance. It was a fascinating day throughout. A family of three deer appeared early on and spent much of the moring mainly dozing. Our old friend, the now grown-up male, had settled down in his usual place and soon fell fast asleep, waking periodically but perfectly happy in our surrounds.

Roebuck Capreolus capreolus m

Roebuck Capreolus capreolus m

Roebuck Capreolus capreolus m

Roebuck Capreolus capreolus m

September 2nd 2020. During a drowsy mid-afternoon, looking out of a bedroom window, I was asonished to see a couple of Roe Capreolus capreolus slip out from behind a bush in the garden and walk off down past my study. It was made even stranger by the fact that Romey had just been for a walk round the garden. No pictures I am afraid, no camera with me. The slightly larger deer was a female. I think the smaller was our usual young buck.


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