November 2017 - autumn, from the Somerset Levels

November 30th 2017. Another visit to Greylake but this time it was so cold that I, and several others, gave up after three-quarters of an hour in mid-morning. It looked marvellous, mostly sunny but with some really dramatic backgrounds on the horizon, but an arctic wind was the culprit. The car showed 6º degrees but everone agreed that windchill took it well below 0. Until I got home and looked at the pictures on the computer, I thought I was to be disappointed but, no, the colouring and ducks made it all worthwhile. I was greeted by a fine drake Shoveler quite close in front, not in complete finery but not far off. It was so good to see him, the first for my winter, beautiful and active.

Shoveler Anas clypeata m

The stars of the show were flights of duck disturbed by a falcon somewhere behind the hide according to some newcomers. They went up in wave after wave, circling and settling only for seconds before resuming their flight. Most were Wigeon Anas penelope, but with numbers of Common teal Anas crecca and many Mallard Anas platyrhynchos.

Wigeon Anas penelope

 Wigeon Anas penelope

Wigeon Anas penelope  & Common teal  A. crecca

 Wigeon Anas penelope  & Common teal  A. crecca

Wigeon Anas penelope

Wigeon Anas penelope  & Common teal  A. crecca 

Wigeon Anas penelope  & Common teal  A. crecca

Probably there were some other species but it all happened so quickly, so vibrantly, that they faile to register. It was wonderful to hear the chatter of the teal and lovely, liquid whistles of the Wigeon drakes. These are forgotten during summer but summon up the excitment of winter when they return. On the way home, body heat restored by the cr heater, I dropped into Catcott Lows to see if the harriers Circus spp. were there close to the hide- no such luck, though one was glimpsed in the far distance. But, just before giving up, a fast and furious flight of waders appeared and gavea fine exhibition of aerobatics. Black-tailed godwits are regular visitors to Catcott and Greylek in the winter but it is always good to see them. These were all in the ghostlike winter plumage.

Black-tailed godwits Limosa limosa

Black-tailed godwits Limosa limosa

November 25th 2017. I met Chris at Catcott Lows in early afternoon. It seemed to good a chance to not have another look at the Hen harrier - if still around. At almost exactly the time of yesterday's visit. it turned up again, but did not come as close. The pictures do not reflect great quality but do show an interesting incident. Someone pointed out exactly where the harrier landed in a line of reeds and I was focussing on that point to see if I could spot it through the viewfinder. A Carrion crow flew close and dropped in just as a distinctive wing appeared above the vegetation. This triggered the two leaping into the air, the harrier apparently driving the crow down - the opposite to normal crow/bird-of-prey relationship. They ended flying out of sight, still quarrelling.

Hen harrier Circus cyaneus & Carrion crow Corvus corone corone

Hen harrier Circus cyaneus & Carrion crow Corvus corone corone

Hen harrier Circus cyaneus & Carrion crow Corvus corone corone

November 24th 2017. Maddie and I went for a walk round Catcott Fen over lunchtime, a glorious day, little wind and lots of open sunshine. It could not have been better. On the way back, decided to have another look at Catcott Lows, to see how the flooding was progressing. The hide contained a couple of people who clearly had been there for some while. Graham, from Westhay, who I had not seen for some while, had a bad knee, but still managed to sit there and photograph what was going on, with success. At first there semed little activity apart from Greylag geese Anser anser, a few Mute swans Cygnus olor and a distant Great white egret Egretta garzetta. Then it all changed. A Marsh harrier Circus aeruginosus hunted across the reed beds at the back, a buzzard Buteo buteo, and a Raven Corvus corvus scrapping with the harrier - though it was the harrier having a go at the Raven rather then the more usual the other way round. This was all fascinating but then another harrier appeared, still rather far off but, while turning, revealed itself as a 'ring-tail' Hen harrier.

Hen harrier, Circus cyaneus

These harriers are real rarities, their breeding population under continuing pressure. However, we see these harriers fairly often, usually at this time of year, presumably birds on passage, always a thrill. They are the most harrier-like of the clan, with strongly marked and shaped faces like an owl. This bird gave a wonderful display of its floating, twisting, light-as-air flight as it hunted the reeds, disturbing flights of snipe Gallinago gallinago wherever it passed over.

Hen harrier, Circus cyaneus

Hen harrier, Circus cyaneus

Hen harrier, Circus cyaneus

Hen harrier, Circus cyaneus

November 18th 2017. I opened the door to my study only to have a queen Bombus terrestris bumblebee shoot in, explore the inside and fly out again. This seems an extremely late date for this insect, in this part of Somerset. A fine sight though.

November 17th 2017. A beautiful, near perfect day, still;, blue sky and wall-to-wall sunshine. It seemed the ideal time for another visit to Greylake. The hide was busy with photographers in the main but someone fitted me into a good spot at the front and I found myself sitting next to my Catcott friend, Ron, who I had not seen over the summer months. I was rapidly filled in on the events of the morning - he had been there since 8 - including an incursion by a Peregrine falcon Falco peregrinus and Marsh harrier Circus aeruginosus earlier. As I arrived, the largest numbers of duck had been to the east of the hide on relatively newly opened up areas of water. There were more Wigon than I expected. In front of the hide, it looked as if there were fewer but of couse the scrun and reeds hide more than are obvious, as may be seen when they take off in a fright.

Wigeon Anas penelope, crowded together round the start of the reeds. Seen through the Typha

Wigeon Anas penelope, the moment of an erruption


 Wigeon Anas penelope

Finally, a picture taken as this starling flew across to join its many comrades. While it is beautifully streamlined, it is more torpedo-bomber than fighter, bulky, a load-carrier, although capable of high-speed manoevres.

Starling Sturnus vulgaris

November 13th 2017. I have been wondering whether Greylake had started to see its winter visitors yet. It was a bright, if windy, day so drove over. There were so many cars in the park that I had a job finding the last parking space. The reason turned out to be a visit by nineteen members of a bird club. Both hides were packed with people but eventually I managed to find a place on one of the side benches with a reasonable view in front. I must say it was good to see Wigeon feeding on the lawns in front, even if in relatively limited numbers. It was great to hear the whistling of the males as they conversed with each other. There were a few Shoveler on the water, which was otherwise mostly empty of life.

Wigeon Anas penelope

Shoveler Anas clypeatus

Clearly the new season is on its way and soon we will see the great spectacles that are normal for this place. A few ducks errupted every so often to bring a sense of excitement with them. Snipe were present in quite large numbers, flying to and fro between patches of reeds or circling in flights high overhead. One snipe must have been sitting in plain sight but only revealed itself when it shifted position slightly. It is only too easy to lose a view even though you know exactly where it is sitting, so excellent is the camouflage.

Common snipe Gallinago gallinago

A splendid diversion for the watchers was a little female Stonechat which gradually moved closer, perching on the heads of the reeds - such delicate colouring.

Stonechat Saxicola torquata f

A Marsh harrier Circus aeruginosus was spotted briefly, right at the edge of vison, but vanished quite shortly to everyones' disappointment. 

November 10th 2017. The weather does not seem to know what to do with itself. As I write, late in the evening, it is again raining hard. Earlier, it was a perfect sunny day. In the morning, the garden came toi life again with the bird feeders needing topping up regularly. There have been days when no birds visit, but that has changed. A most unusual visitor - though that may seem strange - was a Starling. We have not seen one in the garden for eighteen months, prior to that large numbers were seen regularly. This one was really curious, coming right up to the kitchen window and peering in, quite unfazed by my face so close.

Starling Sturnus vulgaris

Our Coal tit was back once more, in and out of the sunflower seed feeder like lightning. This is an irregular visitor here.The regular little family parties of Long-tailed tits have also become a rarity. The odd one appears on its own and has a look and then off. We miss them.

Coal tit Parus ater

Long-tailed tit Aegithalos caudatus

A Green woodpecker fed along the bank and a Great-spotted woodpecker flashed in and out for a quick look. Usually regular, there have been long gaps without them this year.

Green woodpecker Picus viridis

Great spotted woodpecker Dendr0copus major

A solitary Rook has taken to spending half and hour most days, parading up and down the lawn. Almost certainly this is connected with the fuss being made by other Rooks inspecting and discussing last year's nest sights. A Rook still seems and incongruous bird with the little ones around it.

Rook Corvus frugilegus

A couple of Goldfinches briefly appeared recently. Extremely common a year or so back, they have all but vanished this year.

Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis

Apart from the slowly reducing number of garden visitors, reported happening over many years, it is wrong to draw conclusions based on a year or so. The natural world has various visions, short-term fluctuations depending on local conditions, as well as long cycles which only become obvious after many years of observations. Graphs may be boring but they do show up long-term trends remarkably well. Locally, we can only report on the day's events.Finally, my picture shows a Collared dove, one of a number that piled into the garden this day. Prior to that the succesful breeding results of the summer were gradually decimated, as discusse3d earlier in this diary. Killed, wounded, sick, we did not know, but here is another generation. They are soothing birds, bringing a sense of peace with them.

Collared dove Streptopelia decaocto

In the afternoon, after walking Maddie, I dropped into Catcott Lows to see how the reserve was coming on. Waters were visible, or at least the start of the rising water-table, though no signs of the arrival of the winter ducks yet. Larger flocks of Starlings were present, twitchy and always on the move.

Starlings Sturnus vulgaris

Starlings Sturnus vulgaris

These were followed by Fieldfares Turdus pilaris, first of the winter migrant population. It was good see these, but there was nothing else.


Fieldfares Turdus pilaris

Fieldfares Turdus pilaris

November 4th 2017. I have started a processs of updating and refurbishing older gallery pictures, many of which were processed before the modern methods used by Pixillion for conversion to jpegs was in use. The first of these is Anthophera. A new section has been started and the images previously used in Mining bees have been deleted, replaced in the new section with pictures developed from the original RAW or slide material. Please click on Insects in flight.

November 3rd 2017. Romey called me into the kitchen today. 'There's a bird on the seeds i've never seen before - similar to a Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs, but much brighter. Besides, it's unusual to see a Chaffinch on the seeds; normally they're ground feeders.' The bird stayed on the feeder long enough for a picture, before dropping down to the ground and feeding among the small scattering of Chaffinches, so much brighter than them. While adming its smart colouring, this Brambling was the first either of us have ever seen, which makes it specially interesting.

Brambling Fringilla montifringilla m

Brambling Fringilla montifringilla m

Later, a strange phenomenon was seen over large parts of the country. In the middle of the afternoon, the sky turned to copper and the sun to briilliant red and gold. People remarked they had never seen such a thing in long lives. Here is my version.

Afternoon sun



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