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January 2020

February 2020

March 2020: wildlife, from the Somerset Levels

March 27th 2020. For once the bitter wind dropped somewhat, allowing the bright sunshine to warm the flower beds, as well as the old orchard. A few bees and bumblebees appeared, brightening the place immediately. A Lesser celandine Ficaria verna, of which there were a great many, was host to the first mining bee I have see this year,

mining bee Lasioglossum leucozonium f

then I spotted the bee I had been hoping was already out. Anthophora plumipes is a most unusual specialist, one of the flower bees. The female is black and could easily be mistaken for a bumblebee. The male is beige-coloured with a hard, pale yellow face looking like a shield. Both of these bees fly extremely rapidly between flowers, jinking and barely touching base. They also have a most distinctive high-pitched hum in flight. They have not been as numerous in recent years. The worry is that they are now emerging out of sync with their flower hosts, mainly Lungwort Pulmonaria officinalis.

flower bee Anthophora plumipes m

I followed a couple of bumblebees from flower to flower, capturing some with their probosces, normally tucked away inside the mouth; fully extended, they are used to suck nectar from the host-flowers. They  are such splendid creatures and so important for pollination of fruit, crops and garden flowers.

bumblebee Bombus pascuorum

bumblebee Bombus pascuorum m

bumblebee Bombus pascuorum m

bumblebee Bombus pascuorum

bumblebee Bombus pascuorum

March 27/28th 2020. We looked out of the kitchen window and saw quite a large, cuddly-looking, brown animal, like an oversized Water vole Arvicola amphibius. It was not until it moved that we saw what identified it properly - a long, bare rat-tail. I have seen rats before, when we kept ducks, but they did not look like this, furry, blunt-faced. Our old rats were like the popular concept, sharp-faced, with short fur. As you can see, this did not fit that description. This Common or Norwegian rat Rattus norvegicus has long fur (part of it missing on the rear where something must have attacked it). It paid no attention to us at all, nibbling rapidly under the grass beneath the bird feeders, clearing up most thoroughly after the less-conscientious birds. It sat there nibbling like someone pounding a typewriter.


Norwegian rat Rattus norvegicus


Norwegian rat Rattus norvegicus

Norwegian rat Rattus norvegicus

I know why it was there. Recently, I have been putting some of the bird food on the ground as a thank-you for the Rooks Corvus frugilegus that have built eleven nests at the top of some tall trees. Perhaps I had better stop this, we do not want to encourage a rat population, but this creature is most entertaining and clearly better at digging out the best of the sunflower hearts than the better-fed birds. Though it will be as well to keep a close watch on what happens.

March 24th 2020. The deer were active today, arriving early and staying in the sunshine for much of the day. Surely this cannot go on for much longer? She does not have any obvious sign of being pregnant and the young are growing fast. Eventually, the family must disperse, though this may not be until the summer. We hope we will see more of them, even if only glimpsed through the leaves occasionally.


Roe Capreolus capreolus f


Roe Capreolus capreolus


Roe Capreolus capreolus


Roe Capreolus capreolus

Roe Capreolus capreolus 

Roe Capreolus capreolus f

March 23rd 2020. As you might have expected, Coronavirus has affected us, or at least the way we live. For the past couple of weeks we have voluntarily stayed home, isolated ourselves from contact with the outer world as well as our family, for we are in the vulnerable category at least by way of age. Fortunately Fiona, one of our daughters, lives nearby and is shopping for our food, which is an enormous help. The internet is invaluable for items we are unable to source locally. It is an eerie feeling, realising that nearby walks, or visits to nearby nature reserves, are no longer possible, while a visit to even an empty hide is quite impossible because of possible infection from surfaces. We have to ensure we are not in contact with others, or space where others have been recently. This isolation is said to have to last at least three months, while there is talk of several times that length - but that is a truly nightmare situation. The government is gradually assuming responsibility for payment for those who lose jobs or are affected by closures of firms, but how long can that keep going? Firms are being paid to keep workers on where possible. Schools have been closed, many people have to stop work to look after the children. Isolation with no garden and several young children must be a nightmare. So much is being done, yet people continue to ignore advice to self isolate; television showed pictures of hordes of people on beaches in Cornwall and elsewhere during this past super-sunny weekend.

As for this diary, while I will miss the end of the winter and spring bird seasons, insects are starting to make their presence known in the garden, I will do my best to record what is happening in a much circumscribed area. More insects appeared today than I have seen for a long while. Here is a selection of  today's crop.

bumblebee Bombus terrestris f

bumblebee Bombus pascuorum m

The next picture shows the less usual colouring for Bombus pratorum. Some very small workers develop with this dark coat in place of the more usual colourful one. I did not pick up the identification until it was on the computer. It just looked unusual as the shutter clicked.

bumblebee Bombus pratiorum w

,

mining bee Andrena bicolor f

The next picture caused some head-scratching. At first glance, one of the normal run of Eristalis, but then it looked slightly different. It didn't look like other specimens of Eristalis intricarius I've seen in the past but the hairy abdomen was the key. The species is known to be variable.

hoverfly Eristalis intricarius m

Some of you may have noticed that all the pictures vanished from the site yesterday, for no apparent reason; terrifying to those who manage a site such as this, with hundreds of pictures. All that was left was a caption and a curious little logo. Tim and I worked on this without result, then he found that an extra step had been introduced in a vital route controlling our presence on the internet. Tim managed to remove this step and, to our relief, all is well once more. As may be imagined, it is an intricate, large website which takes a deal of understanding. I can only say, thank goodness for the bulldog nature of Tim, who refused to give up.

During this enforced period of 'idleness', I have gone through the whole website and brought all the parts up-to-date. The revision date is noted at the top of each section. That is not to say that there are no spelling mistakes - they creep in regardless of how many times they are checked - but hopefully the facts are correct. In particular, the sections on 'photography' reflect my current views on equipment and its use.

March 21st 2020. We are well into lockdown proper for Coronavirus and the weather has at last improved, with warm sunshine. For the first time a few insects have appeared in the garden, the forerunner a beautiful, if battered, Peacock butterfly. Wild flowers start to glow in the light, primroses Primula veris, celandines and violets Viola spp. catch the eye, scattered throughout the long grass and the lawn.

Peacock butterfly Aglais io

Sweet violet Viola odorata

Snake's head fritillary Frittilaria meleagris

Lesser celandine Ficaria verna

March18th 2020. I walked up Daggs drove on Westhay Moor and into the heart of the reserve, to the Tower platform set in the middle of great reed beds, with water in front. I spent an hour standing in a cold wind and managed to upset one of my knees as a result. I had hoped to see harriers Circus spp., known to nest in this area, but only a briefest glimpse in the distance. But there was quite a bit of activity in the water in front. A couple of Great crested grebes wound in and out of the reeds, forming wonderful patterns in the water, occasionally bursting out and trying a rather desultory effort at courtship.

Great crested grebe Podiceps cristatus

Great crested grebe Podiceps cristatus

A Grey heron lifted off and flew past showing all the detail you could wish as it did so. I never tire of herons. They are such elegant characters, the original inhabitants of these wet moorlands.

Grey heron Ardea cinerea

Grey heron Ardea cinerea

On the way back, I caught a glimpse of a dark shape flickering through a fringe of weeds, a Cormorant standing quite still on a short post like an oriental statue. It seems early for it to be in full breeding plumage, with pale head and a big circular splash on the side at the back, superb.

Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo

Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo

My last picture is not in for its artistic merit. It is there because it is the first waterbird I have seen since the new part of Westhay Moor has been excavated and opened up. It is at the London drove entrance to the moor, on your right as you walk up. Mostly it is bare clay and raw peat banks, but clearly something exists for the egret to stand and fish there. It was there when I entered and still near the same spot when I left, which must be good news.

Great white egret Egretta alba

March 16th 2020. The deer reappeared in the garden this morning but kept up above most of the time, just glimpsed among the trees. They stayed, one or the other wandering down every so often, to give us a closer look, lying down companionably.

Roe Capreolus capreolus young f

Roe Capreolus capreolus young f

For some while now we have been visited by a fine cock Pheasant, glowing with colour. Unlikely to be the same one that has visited us every year, he looks very similar and behaves the same, even trying to get into the glass front door. He stands for ages outside it, then resorts to rapping on the glass. One year he had a female with him, while another year he was accompanied by another cock but of a completely different colouring. We look forward to his, or his re-incarnation's, presence.

Pheasant Phasianus colchicus m

A few other birds came into range in the garden today. The Jackdaw is less seen, but remarkable for his strange pale eyes when he is spotted. A large flock of them congregate at the entrance to our lane. The Chaffinch is shown because he is such an image of Spring.

 Jackdaw Corvus monedula

Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs m

March 9th 2020. I recorded wildlife in two separate locations this morning. The object of the visit was to see what was happening at Greylake at this time. It was very windy, cold, with most duck keeping their heads down but worth the ultimate effort eventually.

Common teal Anas crecca

Common teal Anas crecca m 

The waters were higher than last time, with much of the normal central lawn just a sheet of water with grasses emerging through the surface. No raptors appeared. On the way back, I was rewarded by a shot of a Great white egret on the splashy moorland fields.

Great white egret Egretta alba

Later, I came across two Great white egrets feeding on Tealham Moor, where they have become a fixture on the splashy fields in the last couple of weeks.

March 8th 2020. A quick drop-in to Catcott Lows brought its own rewards, Wigeon at leisure. Maybe not staying with us for much longer. Treasured memories until next winter.

Wigeon Anas penelope

Wigeon Anas penelope m

Wigeon Anas penelope m

March 7th 2020. We had another superb day watching our Roe-family enjoying the garden in every way. What I most remember was a shot I did not take - the three of them lying down on a banking, each a few feet apart, perfectly at ease over a long period.

Roe Capreolus capreolus young m

Roe Capreolus capreolus young m

Roe Capreolus capreolus young m

Roe Capreolus capreolus mother & daughter

March 6th 2020. After some recent foul days, it was good to wake to a colder, brighter day. The deer were back with us once more but, apparently, only the mother and juvenile doe. The old girl spent over half-an-hour standing quite still, on the upper of a few steps leading to the old 'orchard', looking over the house and garden. The only movement was her head scanning the area. Where was the young buck? Has he had an accident, or was it the inevitable time when he goes his own way? Eventually she turned and walked up to join her daughter and on, to vanish over the top. Later, I walked up London drove to the Tower hide on Westhay Moor. There was not a great deal of activity but the pictures I took were just right, Great crested grebes in variety, Gadwall and a fine Great white egret flying overhead, its wing-feathers pencilled against the pale sky.

Great crested grebe Podiceps cristatus

Great crested grebe Podiceps cristatus

Great crested grebe Podiceps cristatus

Great white egret Egretta alba

March 3rd 2020. On opening the bedroom curtains, the three Roe deer were there once again. This time much closer, munching happily on flowers and prickily roses. How do they do this? Why don't they get hurt by the really viciious thorns of these particular varieties?

Roe Capreolus capreolus young f

Roe Capreolus capreolus young m

The day was glorious; little breeze and continuous sunshine. The three of them spent from then until near-dark with us, completely relaxed. I walked down to pick up something from the gate and found myself looking sideways at one of them under a hedge. She did not move while I was in sight, although she had moved by the time I reached the same line of sight on the return. They treated the garden as their playground for the day; at one moment feeding, then settling down to chew the cud. For quite a while the three sat on the edge of an old pond, dozing a few feet apart each fom the other.

Roe Capreolus capreolus mother

In spite of the prominent white-patched rumps, it is amazing how well camouflaged they are. Slipping behind a latticework of rose stems, they vanish from sight. They drift through shrubs or patches a grass, like grey ghosts.

Roe Capreolus capreolus young f

Roe Capreolus capreolus young f

Roe Capreolus capreolus young f

Roe Capreolus capreolus young f

Roe Capreolus capreolus young f

They were there, then were gone as the evening turned dimpsy-dark at last. Aren't we lucky to live with such companions?

March 1st 2020. Spring at last - even the weather forecast seems to back the season up. Early this morning, Romey woke, drew the curtain in the bedroom, and was astonished to watch 'our' little Roe doe trot down the drive and turn onto the lane. There are many advantages to the lighter mornings. This was one of those that will not be forgotten.



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