SPRING 2014

May 28th 2014. The second SIG meeting of the year took place today. It had been raining steadily ever since we got up and there was only a slight chance of it improving but I knew at least one other person was planning to attend, so set off rather reluctantly over Mendip. Our destination was Hollow Marsh, off Faringdon Gurney. We had been there before and knew it was a most beautiful spot with fantastic wild flowers and shrubs, as well as a great many species of insects. But the one obstacle was the drive to it. The lane petered out after a few houses and turned into a really pot-holed part-stoned drove with huge pools of water all along. Driving along in first gear for what must have been a mile of this, I reached a huge pool in the road beside the right-of-way we were seeking. Margarete was already there and then John M turned up to complete the trio. Others of our usual bunch had undoubtedly looked at the weather and given up. Most have further to go than we three. 

We followed the path into a very dank wood before emerging into the large clearing that was the reserve. In spite of the damp overcast, it was beautiful, with masses of flowers everywhere. To start with there were virtually no insects to be seen but gradually, as the morning went on, the rain stopped completely and it started to warm up. One of the first insects we spotted was a Beautiful demoiselle, the first of many found along a narrow stream near-hidden under umbel growth, though no other dragonflies or damselflies were to be seen.

Then we started to see a few hoverflies, including Melanostoma scalare and Syritta pipiens, as well as a small hoverfly with golden hair on the thorax, which I am trying to get identified. I think it was probably a Cheilosia. Eventually, John identified it from a specimen as Platycheirus rosarum (which knew previously as Prophaena rosarum -  how confusing name-changes can be). This well illustrated the problems of identifying from photographs. This insect has two prominent white markings on its abdomen but these were hidden under a dark wing-cloud. We also came across an unuasual hoverfly, though it has been spreading in recent years. An overbright Rhingia turned out to be R. rostrata. This insect used to be confined to parts of the Cotswolds in our part of the country, but has spread across Somerset now. My picture was taken on an earlier occasion. It was good to see these insects, as hoverflies have been notable for their absence.

I was also pleased to see a couple of Squashbugs by the stream, as I have seen few bugs over the past couple of years, whereas they used to so common. Close by these, we found two species of weevil. One is illustrated below, while the other, almost certainly Phyllobius argentatus, was there in numbers but virtually impossible to photograph on the marshy edge of the stream, without getting stuck. There was also a splendid fresh specimen of a mayfly, firmly settled on the edge of a ditch, though we saw no others during our visit.

I was looking at what I knew as a Snipe-fly, and was told that John knew it as the Down-fly, from its habit of sitting head down on tree trunks. It is good to come across local names like this, it brings it all to life.

However, we all agreed that the latest fashion for inventing more and more absurd English names has gone too far. This particularly brought to mind when a body such as the Bumblebee Trust continues to use these names on their own, without adding the scientific name; making a mockery of what they are reporting in the newsletter, if you do not happen to know that recently-invented name.

Flowers are not my strongest point, but the other two are good botanists. I was particularly struck by the colours of the Bitter vetchling and enjoyed some of the grasses and plantains, including the Ribwort plantain, Plantago lanceolata, which became subtly beautiful as the flowers emerged.

After thoroughly enjoying the last hour of warmth and insects appearing at last, we had our sandwiches and realised it had been a most enjoyable morning. Then the rain started again and home seemed a sensible choice.

May 26th 2014. Maddie and I went to the southern end of Chilton Moor this morning. It was mostly overcast, but warm and still. Looking ahead, on this most peaceful and empty of areas, I saw something sitting on a gatepost. It did not appear to pay too much attention to us as we drew nearer. Clearly it was sitting on something and pulling at it every so often, though not apparently with great enthusiasm. My picture revealed the prey as a young rabbit, of which many are appearing everywhere at present. Just how large is better shown by the picture in flight (a poor picture but showing what I mean). It must have had a real weight underneath it.

A herd of cows being driven along a lane led to me diverting along Tadham Moor and stopping by the heronry. As I got out of the car, luckily carrying the camera with a 300mm lens, a Grey heron tumbled out of a tree, twisting and falling into amazing contortions. I had arrived at the exact time a young heron had embarked on its first flight. I had not imagined it would be so unskilled or adventurous. In the next quarter of an hour, several more of these youngsters sailed into the air - most of them more soberly than the first. Looking up at the tree-tops, there were several more youngsters testing their wings, without venturing out. The perfect time to visit!

The first picture shows what is a common sight at the moment, a young heron starting to get the feel of flight without actually taking off. The other two are taken at the very moment when one actually stepped off its secure world for the first time. Side-slipping and tumbling must have frightened it but within a few moments it had 'found its feet', so to speak and gained the confidence it needed.

May 21st 2014. In recent years, one of the most noticable events has been the disappearance of Cuckoos from the general countryside. We used to hear them all round us in spring and early summer. People began to comment that they had not heard a Cuckoo at all duing the year and we realised they really were vanishing. Local wetland reed-beds had been their last strongholds but this year there are signs that the birds are a bit more abundant. We have heard them from the garden on several days while today, while walking round Catcott Fen and Heath, I heard several and eventually saw one fly across the Fen. Let us hope this shows a revivival, not false hopes for it is the true sound of summer in England.

May 16th 2014. Driving across Tealham Moor, a heron was disturbed and flew off but landed on a gatepost ahead. Stopping the car did not seem to worry it and it went through an elaborate process of shaking and tidying its feathers before settling down. Behind it, across the moor, Glastonbury Tor may be seen in the background. There are still one or two herons in the heronry but most seem to have flown so perhaps this one was relaxing after the hard work of keeping nestlings going.

May 15th 2014. Today was the first of the Somerset Invertebrate Group (SIG) informal field meetings. We met at the car-park for Smitham Pool, on the road between the Castle of Comfort and East Harptree. From there we walked through the forest until Smitham Pool and Chimney appeared in front. This old mine-working is very pretty, although the pond itself is always brown with sediment as so many dogs bathe in it. Six of us turned up, 2 Johns, Nigel, Tony, Margarete and myself and had a most enjoyable, if uneventful, day in hot, largely windless sunshine. In spite of the fine weather, few insects were to be seen but there were some to comment on. A  pair of Broad-bodied chasers, Libellula depressa, patrolled the water and came back to settle for periods near one end. In the shrubby edge, Large red damselflies were present in small numbers and that was it - somewhat disappointing. Micro-moths were present in large numbers round midday, flashing metallic colours as they flew, disappearing when they landed. A number of Adela reaumurella indulged in spectacular displays, dancing in the air round the ends of the gorse bushes. 

One unexpected sighting was a lizard sitting in the middle of a bush, although this heathland habitat is well-suited to these creatures.

Perhaps the most unexpected thing was the almost total lack of hoverflies. We had expected they would be out in numbers at this time. However, one unusual species was spotted sitting on a leaf. Ferdinandea cuprea is found on Mendip, but in few places and with few insects. The marking on the thorax, combined with the golden hairs, is unmistakable.

We did come across one curiosity, a 7-spot ladybird, with two differently coloured wing cases. I suspect this may not be as harmless as it seems, as it quite frequently stuck out one wing, always on the same side, as if it wanted to fly off.

A few interesting birds were spotted; Siskins among the pine trees, a Sparrowhawk soaring high over head against a deep blue sky, a Jay popping in and out of the forest and Common buzzards. This rather disappointing tally of wildlife did not take away from an enjoyable outing with a great deal of catching up after a long winter. 

May 14th 2014. The first of the little black wasps appeared exploring the 'flats' logs at last. Usually they appear ealier than this. This particular one is one of the larger at around 6mm, and possibly the commonest.

May 12th 2014. Maddie and I were walking down the long tunnel of greenery on the drove through Catcott Heath when a slight something caught my eye and I found myself looking at a Roe buck in the shadowed undergrowth. Luckily it seemed a fascinated by me as I was with it. I managed two or three pictures before he strolled off. He was in velvet, as the picture shows but the amazing fact is that the light was so poor,  the picture was taken at 1/60th second, hand-held, without support. What miraculous stabilisation systems exist now! It is by no means perfect, but reasonably sharp and a fascinating record. The dog did not appear to notice the deer, something I have commented on before. Perhaps their scent is not strong?


May 11th 2014. Two interesting events took place today. In the morning, over breakfast, we watched a Great spotted woodpecker anting on the lawn. This is normal with Green woodpeckers, Picus viridis, but I haven't seen it with the former and, enquiring from Nigel, he had not come across it either. The woodpecker spent several minute industriously hammering away before moving to our nut container.

In the afternoon, I went over to Blagdon Lake with Nigel Milbourne to look for some terns that were visiting the lake on passage. Intermittent sunshine illuminated a really stormy lake, with considerable gusts of wind. Nigel reckoned there were three Arctic and one Common tern fishing that day but only the Arctic terns were busy where I was standing, by the Lodge. It was wonderful watching these frail-looking birds manoevering in the really fierce gusts of wind, particularly since I had seen no terns for a number of years. Photography was difficult, even my superb Nikon system would not always lock on to the birds when they were down against the dark waters and criss-cross patterns of waves. It was a question of taking every opportunity of catching them close, but against the sky. Swifts, House and Sand martins were also indulging in this low-level display of flight control, so it proved an enjoyable, if chilly, experience.


May 10th 2014. I spent much of the morning sitting beside the flats, and in particular the bamboos, watching the Osmia bicornis flying in and out with loads of pollen. The females have suddenly appeared in numbers and clearly like my old bamboos, although I had been thinking of replacing them, they look so tatty. Many have been there over twenty years. It is an amazing privilege to watch all this activity so closely. It is the best theatre there is.

May 9th 2014. It is extraordinary to find that in the garden today there are only three sources of insect activity, in spite of warm sunshine for much of the day. Admittedly there is a strong north-westerly wind, but the garden was quite sheltered today. Two or three Broad-bodied chasers appeared on one flower-bed during the morning, all brilliantly golden in colour, while the flats were active with mainly female Osmia bicornis mason bees, bringing piles of bright yellow pollen.

I also have two active bumblebee nests, one in the study roof and the other in a a bird nest pocket in the porch. Both are occupied by Bombus hypnorum. The strange thing is that, in the surrounding garden, there is no sign of any bumblebees or hoverflies - an unheard of situation at this time of year in such fine weather. I really am beginning to believe the dire warnings about pollination.

May 4th 2014. I have not been as active with photography recently, partly because of the rather startling lack of insects in spite of more warm sunshine, though tempered with cold east winds, and partly because I have been concentrating on a new project.

On going through a bunch of old papers in my study drawers, I came across a short book I wrote many years ago about my experiences bird-watching in the early years after the Second World War. These were taken from diaries and notebooks kept at the time. On re-reading them, it was fascinating to see how events and wildlife has changed over the years. It seemed to me that this formed a counter-balance to current events, and worth putting into this modern diary section to extend my total recorded experiences.

So, it has now been inserted. Go to 'Peregrine, Wild geese and Avocets'. It is due for some more editing but, more important, the gradual addition of sketches of some of the wildlife made at the time. These drawings, mainly pen and ink, are not great works of art, sometimes more like cartoons, but show my reaction to seeing the creatures at the time. I found the whole process of copying the words and digging out the sketches from notebooks fascinating. I trust others will also.

May 3rd 2014. I walked down to what we have always referred to as the 'deserted village' on Tadham Moor. This area of woodland and scrub now, was once the site of twelve houses clustered round a farm. These are said to have been abandoned at the end of the 19th century as people were affected by the changes in the economy, many of them emigrating to America and other destinations. Now, the only traces are small piles of stone hidden under great patches of bramble or, more easily recognised, the odd cultivated apple or plum tree springing up incongrously in the grasslands. One of our favourite walks has always been down to the bottom of the drove, then turn east, along a wonderfully peaceful 'covered' drove. Our family term for this came from the fact that trees lined each side of the drove, sheltering it fom the worst of the winds on these open moors. Droves were originally made as grass rides, with a ditch each side, to give common access to the many differently-owned fields that arose when the closures were instituted in the early 19th century. Last year, to our dismay, we found that large sections of this drove had all their trees cut down, changing its whole nature.

Today, I took Maddie down the drove on a beautiful sunny day and was delighted to see that it might not be as bad as we had at first feared. Wood chippings had been spread along the drove where tractors had worn deep grooves, while many of the stumps were showing signs of re-growth, albeit as multiple shoots. Will whoever cut them down be tempted to flail these before they attain any height? Only time will tell. We supect the Wildlife Trust may be responsible, as they seem to be going through an orgy of tree-cutting among their reserves, chopping down apparently-healthy trees all over the place. They do own one of the large fields on one side of the drove.

However, the banking on either side was now alive with flowers of all colours, while butterflies were chasing each other among them, and bumblebees sipped the nectar.

I hope this will make up for the loss of cover for deer and wildlife, as well as the increased effects of winds on the cover and herbage. Change is always suspect and often unpleasant and there are times when you wonder what were the motivations of those who undertake it.

April 30th 2014. I dropped in to Catcott Lows this morning, after walking Maddie, to find a bunch of cars outside the hide and a cheerful lot of bird-watchers inside. The reason for this visit, at what is otherwise a very unproductive time, was the presence of a number of Garganey on the reserve. This often does does happen at this time of year - a few years ago there was a pair of these smart duck really close to the hide. This time we were not so lucky. The birds were a long way off and often hidden behind the grass fringes showing above the water now the level has gone down. One pair were closer thaan the others and I concentrated on trying to photograph them; not as easy as it sounds. Many of the pictures showed the drake with his head under water, as he dipped in and out. The delay in the modern shutter is small but quite definitely still there. My pictures are the result of quite some enlargement but do, I think, show the essential features of the birds. The drake, in particular, is very striking, though a small duck, and well worth the search. I trust I may have further opportunities to see them, hopefully much closer.


April 24th 2014. It has been fascinating watching the flats outside the study come to life this morning as the weather warms up. Numbers of male Osmia bicornis (previously called Osmia rufa, a name much better suited to its immediate recognition and causing some confusion generally; the newer name refers to the tubercles on each side of the mouth of the female, used in smoothing down the mud when constructing their nest cells) were flying from hole to hole in the logs hoping to meet a female, though none were yet lucky. The time is too early for these.

I spotted the first mason wasp of this year, an Ancistrocerus nigricornis male searching the holes also, but it gave up after two or three attempts and flew off. However, it is good to see the increased activity and variety and I look forward to spending time watching the activity in our little urban conerbation of logs and bamboos - always endlessly entertaining


April 18th 2014. Maddie and I walked around the edge of Catcott Fen this morning, one of our favourite walks, along a broad grass drove. Right at the start, I noticd a series of rings appearing in the water up against some emerging reeds. The waves increased in strength and then a head appeared moving purposefully out. This apparently small head was deceptive, as a long body and tail dwarfed this. The Otter was not a big specimen, but each time I see one I realise how long the body and tail are in proportion to the head. Sadly, it was quite far off, and the pictures reflect that. So, the fen is slowly coming into it's own, with this first sighting, and that of a Roe deer in the distance some minutes later, as well as earlier sightings of harriers. It bodes well for the future and is very exciting personally. Otters have become much less seen over the past two or three years. I suspect that this arises from the sheer numbers of people visiting the reserves where, several years ago, they were so often spotted.

April 15th 2014. It is good to report that the first of the Osmia bicornis mason bees started appearing at the 'flats' a couple of days ago but today have appeared in greater numbers - perhaps five or six males going from hole to hope looking for emerging females. These latter are unlikely for another week or so, by which time the males will be bedraggled and exhausted.

April 14th 2014. The warm, balmy weather has started to really bring out the insects at last. Hoverflies and bees are flying to the Lungwort, Bluebells and Primroses in rapid flights. I settled down in front of a favourite flower-bed, comfortable and warm on a garden chair, and had a good session of flight photography. Among the most active were Bee-flies, all Bombylius major. There are condiderable variations with these insects. There are two main types, large ones with very bright colours and much smalle,r dark insects, some nearly half the size of the largest.

Honey-bees were particularly active at the Bluebells and I took many pictures, trying to catch the moment just before landing in the bell. Mining bees were also visiting the Bluebells and Grape hyacinths which appear to have a great deal of pollen of a dirty grey colour.

The first of the tiny, slender Cheilosia hoverflies were busy testing the flowers, though it was likely they were males in search of possible newly-emerged females, judging from the short time they were at each flower or leaf.Later, I briefly touched on Catcott Lows after walking the dog but there was ittle to be seen, such a change from the earlier flocks of Wigeon and other ducks. Coming back, I stopped by the heronry on Tadham Moor and watched the Grey herons sitting on their nests at the front of the wood. Every few minutes one or two adult birds flew in or out, offering great opportunities to get flight shots leaning over the car parked on the road.


April 12th 2014. I took a party of photographers from the Nature Photographic Society to Ham Wall NNR this afternoon. It was rather sad that this turned out to be the one poor day of three during our biennial conference. The other two were beautiful sunny, warm days - but then we were inside looking at photographs and listening to talks; while this one is heavily overcast with a bitter wind. Nevertheless our visitors enjoyed their walk. Bitterns were booming round the reed beds and some amongst us had not heard this before, so this was great thrill. We went out to the new hide and watched several Great crested grebes fishing, with Common pochard staying further away.

From there we walked down to the Meare heath scrape for a look at the waders. Black-tailed godwits, Dunlin, Redshanks and even a Little ringed plover were feeding in the shallow water but much of the colour was sucked out by the overcast.

Much more excitement amongh the embers came when a pair of Marsh harriers started their display flights over a large reed-bed to the south, dropping down fifty feet or so in a few seconds, whiffling down like geese.  The first Swallows and House martins of my year were present in good numbers - a sign that we are marching towards summer even if the grey skies do not infer this.

April 9th 2014. Driving across Tealham Moor this morning, I came across what I had hoped for at this time of year. A Grey heron was sitting beside a roadside ditch fishing, absolutely concentrating on this and determined not to be put off by my drawing up nearby and switching off the engine. This what you hope to see, a sign that the heronry is busy and the adults are feeding the young, or the sitting females.

April 8th 2014. Although the moors were still freezing in the strong easterly wind, the garden was sheltered and a few insects appeared after lunch, including the bee-fly shown below and a fine Bombus hypnorum queen; both of these being the first for this year and very welcome in that role.

 

April 6th 2014. The recent freezing winds have stopped the insects dead in their tracks. I had high hopes a few days ago, but those have died with the cloud and overcast but, most particularly, the wind. Cold-weather gear is need out on the moors  when walking the dog. But, whatever else may happen, flowers continue to appear, quite regardless of weather. Tealham Moor has several fields that are now smothered in Kingcups (Marsh marigolds). Many years ago, one such field was so full of Kingcups it was almost impossible to walk without crushing the flowers; this year we are nearly back to the same situation. I like especially the heavy bunches hanging own over a ditch. At least they show spring is here, even if nothing else points to it.



April 5th 2014. I was driving round the lanes this morning and thought I have never seen displays of Blackthorn like those out there today. It is so prolific in parts that the impression is of an all-white world. Though not absolutely dead-white, as I remember it in the past; there is much more cream in the overall colouring this year. But what a display!

The picture below shows a Wren singing in a sprig of Blackthorn - a singularly spring moment.


April 4th 2014. Romey and I, with Maddie our dog, decided to visit Loxley Wood this afternoon. This is a Woodland Trust place on the Poldens, beyond Shapwick. I visited it years ago when it was first taken over by the Trust and had a good look round with others. Then, It was an old wood with lots of conifers among a small amount of broad-leaved trees. Access was through a narrow path running through the middle and a number of overgrown paths wandering off to either side. We found little or no life on that fist visit. Today showed some change, though plenty of spindly conifers were still to be seen, many had been removed. The central path is in course of serious widening with signs of considerable benefit from the increased light. Masses of Wood anemones were the special feature throughout the woood, wherever some light could penetrate. In the slightlier shadier parts, Common violets were having a succesful time. They are small, but like little jewels in close-up.  

Another feature, undoubtedly benefitting from the greatly increased light, were numbers of huge clumps of primroses, especially among the stumps where trees had been chopped down. Insects had not really started, just the odd hoverfly and one or two bumblebees.

Clearly the Trust are taking their time to effect changes, thinking carefully about what to do. Their policy is to keep their woods open to the public, as well as leave fallen wood in place but even with this policy it must be right to let in light in part of the wood. This will benefit all types of wildlife in the end. We had a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon and will be coming back to see other times of year.

March 31st 2014. All the signs are that spring has arrived at last, the Pussy willow is in full bloom, with bees and hoverflies searching the catkins, though still in tentative numbers. It seemed a good time to have a look at Ham Wall NNR where I heard that some important changes had been going on.

Walking down the old railway line, which is the track in from the Shapwick end, the reeds were bright in the weak, hazy sunshine and there, apparently in the very middle of them, was the new hide on which they have worked so hard this winter.

At the first, westerly, viewing platform, a track leads down onto the flat wetlands and the first three viewing shelters (blinds) but, instead of ending there, a new track went on south through the reeds and alongside the water, eventually leading up into the new hide, which is raised up quite considerably and offers fine views over open water to more reed beds. It is beautifully made, though I must comment on one aspect. Instead of having a blank wall behind the watchers, the hide is open on all sides, This is wonderful for people, but will the birds be scared by the sight of only partially-screened movement within? Time will tell. I presume the principle is that wildlife will became used to seeing this movement eventually? Walking there, I was surprised to see a flock of over 100 Black-tailed godwits fly over westwards; a most wonderful sight which I had not associated with this reserve previously. Later I heard that the same-sized group had been seen feeding on the scrape on Meare Heath.

Not a great deal of wildlife was to be seen but gradually they appeared and made their presence known. I was partularly surprised to see numbers of Common pochard on the water and even among the reeds. These are diving ducks normally associated with deep water. I had assumed that much of this was shallower but clearly it suited them well.  

Canada geese were much in evidence, paired off and agressive to others. I know that many people look down on these geese as a thoroughgoing nuisance. This is true elsewhere, but in moderate numbers as round here, they are a welcome, as well as very beautiful, addition to the countryside. They have striking looks, are full of character and have the usual charismatic goose-calls that can make the hairs on the bak of the neck stand up in the right circumstances. They are fine additions to out local Greylag gees, Anser anser.

March 30th 2014. A strange mixture of a day, really warm on the terrace where a fine queen Bombus pascuorum was visiting the lungwort flowers but with a biting wind on the flat moors. I walked down to the Lake hide at Westhay Moor but saw nothing on the water at all. All the duck seem to have vanished from that part.

On the way there, walking up the drove, I watched a Blue tit feeding  from an Alder, twisting itself into every known position to get at the insects or other food it was feeding on - most entertaining.


March 25th 2014. A warm, still morning on the terrace brought a brief glimpse of the first Anthophora plumipes of the year. This always seems to me to be the first sign of real spring, rather than the one defined by the calendar.


March 23rd 2014. I watched a queen Bombus hortorum feeding on a flower bed just off our sheltered terrace. It was really sunny and many more insects should have been present, but an icy wind blew acrosss the moors making it feel like deep winter again. It is good to usher in a new insect season but the main protagonists are great clouds of non-biting midges which have emerged today.

March 21st 2014. Today was a real red-letter day for wildlife. A brisk walk with Maddie around Catcott Fen showed how important winter clothing was, in spite of bright sunshine. The moment the car door was opened, we were blasted with a strong, icy wind which continued for much of the day. The straw-coloured reed-beds looked magnificent against the blue sky but there were few birds to be seen, only  pair of swans and a couple of Mallard.

The hide at Catcott Lows was empty to start with as, apparently, most of the water was. Two small islands of vegetation were full of huddled bodies and that was it. A couple more people turned up, one with a good telescope, and started to scan the area better than I could through the camera. A rather disbelieving, 'That can't be a Crane' turned out to be correct. It was a young bird mostly grey in colour, with the multiple coloured rings of the Slimbridge rearings, but, sadly, kept right over the other side of the water, among clumps of grass and rushes. My poor little 400mm lens had not much hope of photographing it until it eventually flew, though still keeping in the same area, before eventuallly flying off towards Shapwick Heath and Glastonbury Tor. For me, it was a real five-star moment, the first Crane to have been seen landed on the Levels north of the Poldens, except for a party seen flying high overhead last year. Clearly, it has been a matter of where, rather than when. Their release site is on Sedgemoor, south of the Poldens, and it has just been a matter of time as their numbers increase over the years.

But this was not the only event of this day. Tucked away among the ducks on one little islet, were numbers of Black-tailed godwits, showing up really well when something disturbed all he birds and they took off, before landing again. A bonus was the fact that many were in their red breeding plumage. People have been surprised they have not turned up here at an earlier date.

March 16th 2014. A wonderful sunny day, as it has been for several days but, equally, with a very strong wind which must explain the apparent lack of insects. In the garden it is really warm, sheltered by a row of tall trees. Primroses and lungwort are out in large numbers, but there is nothing feeding on these flowers which are usually so attractive to bees and hoverflies. Even bumblebees are sporadic, seen only as the odd one, rather than the dozens that might have been expected in such weather. Duck-days are definitely on the way out, as they fly off to their summer destinations, so now I look forward to changing lenses back for insect photography but first these cold winds must disappear.

March 14th 2014.People may wonder at my recent obsession with herons but I make no apology. We have had a summer where they have been rarely seen on the moors. They are such an important and prominent part of our local wildlife that, when they are missing, there seems to be a real blank in the neighbourhood. At this time of year, and particularly this year, they appear again in numbers, seen fishing on part flooded fields, or in roadside ditches. Romey reorted seeing several on one field when she took the dog out for her walk and no less than fifteen Little Egrets, Egretta garzetta, in one small area. I could not resist this particular heron, seen fishing on Tealham Moor, only a short distance away from our local heronry on Tadham Moor. There you can watch the herons from the road, flying in and out with food for their sitting mates, communicating with clacking bills. Earlier, the birds fly in carrying sticks for the nests.

March 12th 2014. Catcott Lows has become emptier each day, and that is not just the birds. Bird-watchers are notable by their absence also. It feels odd to rollup at the hide and find no cars there. The reason is fairly obvious when you go inside. There are much reduced numbers of ducks out on the water and they seem to spend most of their time sleeping. Though, it is surprising the numbers that seem to emerge from who knows where when a predator flies overhead. The majority are now Wigeon but a good fringe of Teal has been building up in recent days. My pictures were snapped during an hour watching these birds.


 March 8th 2014. A few bumblebees appeared in the sunshine this morning, particularly on the Lungwort flowers, but an even greater sign of spring was the bright yellow arrival of two male Brimstone buterflies. Daffodils are well and truly out and the first of the Magnolias with scattered flowers. Paradoxically, when the sun goes down it is colder than it has been for much of the winter.


March 5th 2014. The herons and egrets are truly back with us again. Wherever you look, out on the open moors, , they are busy fishing out on the ditches and shallowly, splash-flooded fields. They pause for long periods, head down, completely still, then strike like lightning. When they do strike they always seem to catch something - a frog, fish, eel or rodent. All this activity is a sure sign that the nests on Tadham Moor are starting to become active again, as can be seen when driving past the wood.

March 4th 2014. I walked the length of Catcott Fen and Catcott Heath this morning. Spring really had arrived, with balmy air and bright sunshine, and the first real feel that perhaps we have ended this ghastly wet with the start of this new month. One clear sign of this, was heralded by the mewing sounds of buzzards coming from high above. Two of them eventually circled into view and drifted down-wind towards us, coming closer and closer, showing the detail of the under-wing markings. Ever since my childhood in Devon, buzzards have been my favourite bird; from the time when I lay on a hill and looked down to see more than a dozen circling down below me. In those days, buzzards were confined to  hilly country, now they are commonplace on the flat moorlands of Somerset; a real bonus in these decades where so many of our birds have diminished in numbers or even vanished entirely.

The walk took us past the old Heath reserve, which is still under water in many places, the roots of the Myrtle bushes waterlogged and paths dangerous to walk. At the end of the drove, the countryside opens up into wet green fields, with the edges of Canada Lake visible in the distance, though sadly all access is denied from this end. It was wonderfully peaceful as the dog and I sat on a rusting pipe by the side of he drove. On the way back, we saw Badger paw prints and Roe deer slots in the peat, but there were no other sights or sounds of wildlife - or indeed people. I was intrigued to see the first concrete presence of the promised tower hide in the form of hefty uprights silhouetted against the reeds and sky. It should be a great asset when completed.

March 1st 2014. Starlings are always in the news here in Somerset, ever since the BBC gave so much publicity to to their mass roosts in the reed beds of Westhay Moor and elsewhere. At this time of year they are preparing to migrate back to the Continent and this brings concentrations in trees all over the place. Our garden had one such gathering today, the birds settling in an Ash tree for a good gossip, or so it seemed from the sheer volume of sound. There is a sudden silence and the whole flock erupts into the sky.


Winter 2013-14


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