Spring 2016

May 27th 2016.  A fine day starting early in the garden. I looked out of the back window at 5.30am to see a black horde of birds queuing up to have a feed at the fatballs we put out. There were adult Rooks and several of their young; one so fat the body looked like a rugby ball.

Rook, Corvus frugilegus                                      © robin williams

Rook, Corvus frugilegus                                       © robin williams

A number of Jackdaws, smart as paint in their grey and black plumage followed.


Jackdaw, Corvus monedula                                 © robin williams

They were all very well-behaved, going for the food only when another had left. Later in the morning, these all appeared again but this time foraging on the lawn around the feeders. A beautifully-coloured Jay joined them on the lawn, followed by a Magpie, so the crow family was well represented.

Jay, Garrulus glandarius                                     © robin williams

Magpie, Pica pica                                                  © robin williams

Then a Song-thrush appeared, nowadays a real rarity in our garden and, finally, another bird we have not seen since last summer, a fine male Bullfinch.


Song thrush, Turdus philomelos                        © robin williams

Bullfinch, Pyrrhula pyrrhula m                         © robin williams

The problems we have had with squirrels continue. Yet another so-called 'guaranteed' squirrel-proof feeder, ended with its bottom torn off, letting all the nuts out. These animals are absolutely determined, prying, biting and pulling until they wreck some suppliers finest engineering solution. Now, we have a wire stretched from a tree to the wall of the house and hang the feeders from these, but how long before they take to walking along the wire and dropping down. The principal feeders are designed to foil this, with a sleeve  on which they land, which promptly slides down, blocks off the container and is supposed to make them slide off and on to the ground. I have had to raise the height of the bottom of the containers as one small squirrel managed to make an enormous leap to hang onto the perch at the bottom. You have to admire them, they never give up, are stronger than we are, and are prepared to spend as much time as is required. They have now discovered that the small birds knock out so many seeds that all the squirrel really needs to do is sit underneath and scavenge but, sadly, it seems that is not enough for their appetites.


Grey squirrel, Sciurus carolinensis                    © robin williams

I will report on progress as our war with them continues.

May 22nd 2016. As it was a lovely sunny day, another visit to Ham Wall seemed a perfect end to the afternoon. Although it should really have been the start of the insect season, it seems that birds are still the main interest. Each cold day seemed to put a complete stop to the presence of insects; there never seems to be sufficient time to get them emerging in numbers before the next cold spell. I made my way directly to the island hide in the reeds. All along the edge, warblers were singing but, as usual, it was impossible to catch more than a glimpse of a shadow until just before the hide. A song poured forth without moving away. Eventually, I spotted its shape among the reeds. A great many photographs of nothing much eventually resulted in half a dozen or so shots of the Reed warbler. The bird was reasonably stationary, but the sharp wind blew leaves and stems across the small gap through which they could be seen.


Reed warbler, Acrocephalus scirpaceus             © robin williams

Reed warbler, Acrocephalus scirpaceus             © robin williams

Reed warbler, Acrocephalus scirpaceus             © robin williams

The wind was blowing and a swirl of Swifts were thoughly enjoying themselves, hurtling up to the hide and lifting up over the top at full speed. I spent an hour trying to catch them but it was really hard work. Here are a few, but I will continue to see if these can be improved. The Tamron lens is sharp enough, and the autofocus rapid, but they eye and brain fail to co-ordinate. They can be captured far off but I need to catch them closer yet. It is a challeng to be followed on another occasion. It is staggering to think these remarkable birds do not land at all except for the period of nesting. You would think they would conserve energy, but instead they move eveywhere at lightning speed, while twisting and turning to catch their food.

Swift, Apus apus                                                    © robin williams

Swift, Apus apus                                                    © robin williams

Swift, Apus apus                                                    © robin williams

The finale to all this was a Great crested grebe taking exception to some unknown fellow, or perhaps another bird of a different species. The display of agression was extreme, with the bird taking off and pattering along just above the surface of the water, then landing and charging forward with neck stretched out in front, as if wanting to spear the unseen enemy.

Great crested grebe, Podiceps cristatus             © robin williams

Great crested grebe, Podiceps cristatus             © robin williams

Great crested grebe, Podiceps cristatus             © robin williams

May 17th 2016. I'll start by reporting that the 'Somerset Invertebrates Group' (SIG) took the sad decision this winter to close down after many years of existence. 'The problems were the usual ones of trying to persuade people to undertake the offices of chairman and other responsibilities, when the current chairman had to resign for personal reasons. In practice, the little bunch of people who attended the informal field meetings had been responsible for the only real activities in the group apart from a couple of evening meetings. When the whole question of what should happen was discussed it became clear that the group would fold for lack of leadership. A number of us regulars at the field meetings (only half of whom were SIG members) decided that these outings would continue, only under a completely independent flag, so to speak. This followed on from the origins of the field meetings.

It all started with a notice in the newsletter of the Somerset Wildlife Trust, 25 years ago, asking whether any members would like to come to a few half-day outings to learn about dragonflies. John Boyd, a lifetime naturalist, retired solicitor and charismatic teacher, was the leader. A number of us turned up and when the course finished, somehow further outings dealing with other groups of invertebrates continued and so it has ever since. When the great John Boyd died, aged over eighty, on the evening following one of our outings, it was decided unanimously to carry on in his memory, as a leaderless group of friends, though a programme would be coordinated by one person. It seemed natural for the then 'West Mendip Invertebrates group' to join in with SIG, as the latterr was designed to be an active centre for local naturalists to meet and get to know each other. We agreed with its aims and moved our little group in under their banner, running our periodic outings in much the same form. When John ran our group, the meetings continued throughout the winter and summer, each year concentrating mainly on one group of invertebrates or another. One winter we studied molluscs; next, creatures of the soil surface, such as millipedes and springtails. One year, we learned about bees, another concerning hoverflies. Gradually, the winter meetings died out as we became older (we remember sitting on Mendip eating our sandwiches under the shelter of a tree as it snowed), but a full programme of summer outings has continued ever since – in our view, something not to be discarded.

The gatherings have always been informal; each winter we decide where we would like to meet up and that is it. There is no leader, no plan other than following your own special interests. Knowledge passes from one person to another by association and over the years we have picked up many such skills. Any records are sent individually to the appropriate Trusts or national societies by people who wish to do so; there is no communal organization of this function. Some people are highly scientific, others are dedicated photographers and some just enjoy being out in the countryside. In recent years we have attracted people to our gatherings from Devon, Dorset and Cornwall, as well as our native Somerset.

The new, independent arrangements do not actually affect what we do in terms of our gatherings in the field. People are welcome to join in, to attend, but we are now much more flexible in our arrangements. If the weather is poor, we will try move to another mutually agreeable date. Decisions on this are taken by the eight friends who decided to continue the group independently; David, John, Margaret, Nigel, Robert, Toddy, Una and I. The events of each outing will be recorded on this website. Choosing future venues has gradually evolved from locations within the old County of Somerset to others in Dorset and Devon. The locations are chosen by those who live in or know the particular area. we plan to maintain our informality, without a leader and charging no subscription. We will not be proposing or running any events other than our field gatherings'.

Meeting at Westhay Moor NNR, ST45 44, VC6. It was not that auspicious a start. The weather forecast had been pretty good for the day - until the morning of the meeting. In the end it was nearly all overcast and there was a bit of rain, though fortunately we were in a hide when this happened, eating our lunch. Only four of us managed to make it, but all enjoyed themselves. Una and Margaret met John and I in the car park and we walked up to the Viridor hide. Before this, we spotted a Hobby, Falco subbuteo, flying over but sadly no more of these birds during our visit. At first, there was little to see - too chilly for the insects. But we had some fun in the hide, birds, not insects though. The real surprise was to see a Red kite, Milvus milvus, fly over. This was perhaps the last bird we expected to see. Later, we had two separate sights of Bitterns, Botaurus stellaris, darting across the water and dropping down into the reeds, as well as hearing them booming. Emerging from the shelter, the clouds lifted somewhat and we started to see more and more damselflies, mostly Azure, Coenagrion puella, but a few Blue-tailed, Ischnura elegans.

Azure damselfly, Coenagrion puella m              © robin williams

But the real prize for the day was the Hairy dragonfly. That is the insect we had been hoping to see. Twenty or more years ago it was common throughout the Levels but, in recent years, its location has become more and more restricted. John took us to the most likely spot, where he has seen them previously and by some miracle the sun came out briefly, warming the cold air. Almost immediately, one was found resting on a stem. As we watched, it shivered its wings and then took off.It is only when you look closely that the reason for its name become apparent. The fur on the thorax is much thicker than other dragonflies. I feel 'hairy' makes it sound rather ugly, 'furry' would be a kinder name for what is an extremely handsome insect.

Hairy dragonfly, Brachytron pratense m           © robin williams

Hairy dragonfly, Brachytron pratense m           © robin williams

Hairy dragonfly, Brachytron pratense m          © robin williams

Several others appeared at this time but that did not last long. The sun vanished and only the damselflies were left flittering among the vegetation. The larger dragonflies vanished. Our walk took us eventually to the Lake hide, along a ditch smothered in Cotton-grass, lighting up a dull day, as they always do.

Cotton-grass, Eriophorum angustifolium          © robin williams

En route, we came across various damp-loving beetles, including some Reed-beetles, golden-bronze and immaculate. Always I look forward to their brief appearance, often found buried head first in yellow Flags, Iris pseudacorus. There were numbers of brightly-coloured sailor beetles, with blue-black wing cases. The country name for the yellow-brown insects from the same family, is soldier beetle, though none were seen today.

Reed-beetle, Plateumeris sericea                        © robin williams

Sailor beetle, Cantharis fusca                             © robin williams

There were some sawflies on the umbels, rather earlier in the year than I had expected. These final sightings thriving and glowing in the damp conditions. Rather earlier in the year than I anticipate - though what is 'normal' this year?

Sawfly, Arge cyanocrocea                                     © robin williams

The Great-crested grebes, Podiceps cristatus, were both at the nest, one sitting on a deal of feathery fluff, which could well be very young chicks. While there, we heard Bitterns, Botaurus stellaris, booming, Once, the bird was so close it sounded as if in the hide. You could hear the intake of breath before the main sound. On the return journey, we stopped briefly to look at the Trust's raised bog project, now many years old and, apparently, starting to work, with plenty of sphagnum mosses and other acidic specialist plants. A raised bog is the precursor to peat, but that is many hundreds or thousands of years on. By then, it was blowing really cold and damp, so we left it, but promised to take a longer look in better weather.

May 16th 2016. In the morning, Maddie and I walked down the drove across Chilton Moor, not usually notable for its wildlife, surrounded as it is by farmers who are keen on shooting.

Chilton Moor, spring colours                              © robin williams

The first creature I came across was a very insistant warbler, well hidden in a newly-leaved bush. It's variable alarm notes and partial song poured out, but seeing the bird depended on patience and luck. Eventually I managed my picture, although the bird was still part-hidden.

Reed warbler, Acrocephalus scirpaceus            © robin williams

On the return down the drove, I came across a newly-hatched Scarce chaser, my first large dragonfly of the year and completly unexpected out there. Up to a few years ago, this species was, as its name suggests, really unusual, but it does appear to be spreading from its original stronghold near Bristol. Various teneral damselflies were flying along the edges of the rhyne at one favoured point.

Scarce chaser, Libellula fulva                              © robin williams

In the late afternoon, I drove to Westhay Moor and spent an hour or so in the Lake Hide. It was beautiful, and became more so as the afternoon moved on, sunny but with a deal of cold wind, fortunately not directly into the hide. The Great crested grebe's nest was still there, firmly established, with both birds present. One then swam away and vanished into the distance, not to be seen again. Clearly, it had been long on the nest, as the first few minutes were spent grooming and stretching.

Great crested grebe, Podiceps cristatus             © robin williams

A couple of Swifts caught my eye and I spent some while trying to keep them in the viewfinder to take some photos. After a while, I got my eye in, so to say, and it became less chancy, though far from easy.

Swift, Apus apus                                                    © robin williams

Swift, Apus apus                                                    © robin williams

Swift, Apus apus                                                    © robin williams

Swift, Apus apus                                                    © robin williams

A couple of Canada geese appeared from nowhere and swam really close. They are such beautiful and elegant birds.

Canada geese, Branta canadensis                      © robin williams

Walking back, I came across a newly-emerged Four-spot chaser, almost too colourful for reality, to round off a most enjoyable session.

Four spot chaser, Libellula quadrimaculata     © robin williams

May 15th 2016. Driving back through Tadham Moor, I had an exciting and unexpected moment. What caught my eye originally was something wobbling on a telephone wire crossing a field. I stopped and found myself looking at a buzzard twisting and turning to keep its balance on the thin wire in a strong wind.

Common buzzard, Buteo buteo                           © robin williams

I took some pictures of this rather ridiculous sight then suddenly the buzzard took off and flew really hard at something all-but hidden in a narrow ditch. A desperate heron sprang into the air and flew rapidly towards a hedge, hotly persued by the buzzard. Both disappeared from view and I never saw the end of the saga. I would have thought the heron was much too large a prey for the hawk but it appeared determined and, to my eyes at least, the heron flew as if the devil was after it.

Grey heron, Ardea cinerea                                   © robin williams

Common buzzard, Buteo buteo                           © robin williams

May 13th 2016. I decided to make another visit to Ham Wall, after the success of my last one. It was another fine day but this time with a very strong, cold wind, apparently keeping many birds out of sight among the reeds though there were some to be seen. Bitterns were booming in at least two places and I was lucky enough to have two brief sightings of the birds in flight.

Bittern, Botaurus stellaris                                   © robin williams

I was delighted to see a few Hobbys, though not in the numbers there ought to be at this time. Perhaps dragonflies are in short supply at present?

Hobby, Falco subbuteo                                         © robin williams

Hobby, Falco subbuteo                                         © robin williams

The notable sighting was a pair of Orange-tip butterflies mating. Whatever our other problems, there have been plenty of these butterflies, as there have been large numbers of their food plant, the Cuckoo flower Cardamine pratensis. What is not so usual is getting a picture with the orange on the male showing so well. They are known for landing and immediately shutting their wings.


Orange-tips, Anthocaris cardamine                   © robin williams

May 12th 2016. For years we have fed the small birds in the garden, with feeders in front of the kitchen and others further off on an old Quince tree. Grey squirrels, Sciurus carolinensis, have always been a problem, every so often destroying a feeder to get at the food inside, but this season they have gone berserk. We have tried several types of feeder but they have bent the lids, bitten through the netting and forced their way into all of them. In the case of a fat-ball feeder, well-designed with stout bars preventing the animals getting into the inner chamber, the only solution was to padlock the lid down, ridiculous as that may seem.

Locked feeding station                                          © robin williams

They are so strong they can force open a clip which is difficult for us to close, they bend up domed lids made of thick metal and chew through stainless steel wires, as well as chewing off any plastic perches with access to the seeds. The only solution for nut and seed feeders is to buy ones that have an outer sheath which slides down and protects the actual feeder when the weight of the squirrel is on it. As Romey remarked, 'a squirrel would make a marvellous Prime minister, so determined and clever, deterred by nothing!'

Grey squirrel, Sciurus carolinensis                    © robin williams

Grey squirrel, Sciurus carolinensis                    © robin williams

May 9th 2016. Nigel, Una and I met up with some people from the local moth group at Berrow Dunes reserve. It was a miserable grey day and the paths through the sand dunes looked most uninviting, with much litter in the bushes. Nevertheless, it served as a brief introduction back into the world of insect photography. The sand is soft and runs like water, a condition well suited to the first bee encountered, Andrena barbilabris, common in these particular conditions. I have watched them at their nests in the past and wondered at the accuracy of their navigation. When they emerged from the sand or vanished into it, which they did in a flash, no trace of the location is left on the surface, yet they come back to it without hesitation, diving straight in, the sand running in and levelling behind. Often, there appear to be no obvious land marks nearby, as in the middle of a path - a favoured spot. And we are said to be the intelligent ones! Male and female look very different; male having abundant white fur on the edges of the head and thorax, whereas the female has the front of her body covered with rich red-brown fur.

Mining bee, Andrena barbilabris m                   © robin williams

After a while, I got my eye in and started to see other insects tucked away, particularly on yellow flowers. Among these were a few more mining bees, Lasioglossum calceatum, common at many times of the year. What was notable though was that this particular one did not have the extensive red markings on the abdomen found on most males. It showed bicoloured bands instead, apparently a less usual colouring.


Mining bee, Lasioglossum calceatum m           © robin williams

Hoverflies have only just begun to appear round us and this was true here, except for one species. That sturdy fly with a beak in front of its head, Rhingia campestris, was on every white flower I found, as well as many Dandelions, Taraxacum vulgare, snuggled into the heart and sucking away at the nectar. It reminded me of the end of the summer, when they are found in every Hedge bindweed flower, Calystegia sepium. An Apple tree was covered in blossom and served as drinking fountain to many of the hoverflies.

Hoverfly, Rhingia campestris f                           © robin williams

The only bumblebee to be seen was a male Bombus pascuorum, nectaring on that solitary apple tree, incongrously set on a place where paths crossed. Was it the result of someone throwing an apple core aside after lunch? It was a mass of blossom and the main location for most insect life, although my picture was taken on a Dandelion Taraxacum vulgare just below.

Bumblebee, Bombus pascuorum m                   © robin williams

May 8th 2016. Another lovely spring day again, though with a warm strong wind. I took Romey and Maddie to start a walk from Sand back to home, while I drove on to the new car park at Ham Wall. The reserve was really busy and I wondered if I would be able to get into a hide but, as always, the crowd quickly vanished and I found myself near-alone in the island hide. As I walked along the path, at least two Bitterns were booming out among the reeds and the first bird I saw from the hide was one flying past, though it proved to be the sole sighting during the visit.

Bittern, Botaurus stellaris                                   © robin williams

Twice, Marsh harriers were spotted quartering the reeds. One settled briefly and was seen to carry something away dangling from its talons; a small but bulky object, probably a young waterbird.

Marsh harrier, Circus aeruginosus m               © robin williams

Marsh harrier, Circus aeruginosus m               © robin williams

The most numerous of the various rarities was the Great white egret. Several were seen, emerging from deep in the reeds and moving elsewhere, restlessly. The wind was so strong that they rose up vertically, like Harrier jump-jets, before gaining forward momentum. Some had traces of yellow on the bill, others were completely black - in full breeding plumage.

Great white egret, Egretta alba                           © robin williams

Great white egret, Egretta alba                      © robin williams

A surprising sight was a Black tern flying overhead, as light as a feather, riding the gusts wih complete ease. Where had this bird come from? How had it found this particular hunting ground? (I heard later that an invasion of these dramatic birds was taking place in the country).

Black tern, Chlidonias niger                                © robin williams

Grey herons were spotted at several locations around the reedbeds, often taking off and settling out of sight deep in the reeds. It was difficult to see what was going on but at least one pair looked as though they were sitting, though that does not appear to be recorded behaviour. Another pair were clearly mating, though it is late in the year for that. All rather strange.

Grey heron, Ardea cinerea                                   © robin williams

Mallard, Pochard and Gadwall were the only ducks visible today, always busy, always moving, diving or rooting round on the edges of the reeds. I particularly enjoyed watching this pair just below the hide floor.

Mallard, Anas platyrhynchos                              © robin williams

A couple of Dabckicks, the old name for Little grebe, were extremeley active, every so often bursting into life and scittering along the surface, semi-flying. Nearby, a mother Coot ushered her babies out of sight into the reeds. Other Coots, not just predators,  are often a danger to the tiny ones.

Little grebe, Tachybaptus ruficallis                   © robin williams

Coot, Fulica atra                                                    © robin williams

Finally, at last, I saw a couple of Hobbys, Falco subbuteo, a bird known to be present but always 'somewhere else'. People talked about seven or eight in the air at once, but not for me. At this time of year they are the iconic birds for these wet moorlands, sometimes occuring in large numbers - 50 or 60 in the air at once - but not this season.

May 6th 2016. It is good to report that my insect 'flats' are becoming really active at last. I spotted the first, very small, black Crossocerus digger wasp exploring a minute hole in a log. But the rest were all male Osmia bicornis mason wasps, frantically flying from hole to hole, hoping to find an emerging female. Their long antennae are well-suited to exploring and tasting the air for chemical signs of the female.

Mason wasp, Osmia bicornis m                          © robin williams

We dropped into the hide at Catcott Lows, not really expecting to see anything - the area is looking more and more forlorn as the birds leave for their summer distinations, but there was a pleasant surprise right in front. A Greylag goose flew in and landed close by, allowing a series of pictures showing its landing technique.

Greylag goose, Anser anser                                  © robin williams

Greylag goose, Anser anser                           © robin williams

Some way off, a heron landed and immediately started some serious fishing. Although part-hidden in the reeds, it was fascintaing to watch it dart down and collect a fish, eventually swallowing it after a deal of re-adjustment.

Grey heron, Ardea cinerea                                   © robin williams

Grey heron, Ardea cinerea                                   © robin williams

May 4th 2016. I have been having a great deal of trouble with a camera and lens, lasting through much of the winter, so took the shorter Tamron 70-300 lens for an evening walk at Ham Wall. A bit of a joy really, not lugging around the heavier 80-400 lens and really much more suitable for birds in flight. It was a lovely time of day, the sun blazing away though, as usual this year, with a chilly breeze blasting away. Although nothing notable was seen, it was a most enjoyable and succesful time, which must be repeated in future. My destination was the island hide in the middle of the reed beds, which always has the potential. As usual, I was surprised to see so many Pochard out on the water, as they are less visible elsewhere round here. The water depth must be just right for them.

Common pochard, Aythya ferina m                   © robin williams

Judging from the numbers, it appears to suit Tufted ducks equally well. They are such jolly little ducks and always smart as paint.

Tufted duck, Aythya fuligula                              © robin williams

Cetti's warblers, Cettia cetti, were shouting out at us really close-by, but there was never a glimpse. Reed and Sedge warblers, Acrocephalus schoenobanus, were singing everwhere, such a wonderful accompaniment to late sunshine.

Reed warbler, Acrocephalus scirpaceus             © robin williams

A Grey heron, Ardea cinerea, was nesting on an island clearly visible from the hide, though standing like a statue for most of the time. The final touch was a male Blackbird serenading the evening on the walk back to the car.

Blackbird, Turdus merula m                               © robin williams

In the morning, I was out admiring the Spanish bluebells in the beds in front of my study when the first Honeybee appeared. They seem to be particularly fond of this flower and often make their first appearance when they are in full flower. I know that we are supposed to hate these flowers and, instead, plant our native English bluebell, but those in our garden arose many decades ago when my wife was given a single bulb. Since then it has spread all over the garden and is impossible to eradicate. In those days, people were not aware of the risks for our native species.

Honeybee, Apis mellifera w                                 © robin williams

May 3rd 2016. Bird productivity is at last stepping up, if the sights at Catcott Lows are anything to go by. No one was in the hide and three pairs of Greylag geese were just in front, happy and undisturbed, almost certainly there were others further away. With them were at least fifty tiny goslings. Later, I met someone who had counted sixty the previous day.

Greylag goose, Anser anser                                  © robin williams

Greylag goose, Anser anser                                  © robin williams

Just as I was about to leave, I saw a distant commotion in line with Glastonbury Tor. It was a male Marsh harrier being harassed by crows and later by a lapwing. It is surprising how such a large bird is so upset by the smaller crow, but it is, diving and twisting in an effort to throw it off. They do not appear to actually hit each other, but the harrier is definitely uncomfortable. Crows have a similar effect on the larger buzzard. Eventually the crows gave up and the harrier flew on towards us, only to swerve away over the nearby trees. My first picture shows Glastonbury Tor in the distance.

Marsh harrier, Circus aeruginosus m                © robin williams

Marsh harrier, Circus aeruginosus m                © robin williams

April 27th 2016. Really cold but sunny, the Lake hide at Westhay Moor turned out to be more interesting than at the first impression of empty waters. After a few minutes, a Great crested grebe appeared in front, then I caught a glimpse of another over to the far right, hunkered down and still. The grebes were nesting at much the same distance as last year but part-hidden by branches when seen from the hide. The first sighting was of a grebe collecting nesting materials to add to the already well-established structure. From what we saw last year, this process continues throughout the nesting period. Perhaps the nest loses bouyancy and has to have added amounts to keep it at the right height.

Great crested grebe, Podiceps cristatus             © robin williams

All the ones I have observed appear to be floating free, perhaps anchored to something below the surface. It is fascinating to observe the various types of material, from long, thin stalks to flatter, shorter vegetation. After handing over the new pieces, the grebe changed its tactics, diving for longer and longer. Sometimes coming up with some minute animal too small to identify, but eventually emerging with a much larger fish which took some effort  to turn and swallow.

Great crested grebe, Podiceps cristatus             © robin williams

Great crested grebe, Podiceps cristatus             © robin williams

Great crested grebe, Podiceps cristatus             © robin williams

Great crested grebe, Podiceps cristatus             © robin williams

There was no sign of the grebe taking food to the sitting bird. My feeling is that they take turns at each task - sitting, constructing or feeding. I had a great time watching the birds, so colourful and photogenic. There were next to no ducks left on this and the next door lake, just one group of two or three male Mallard chasing a female, as they do incessantly at this time of year. None of them had any peace, settling only to take of again almost immediately.

Mallard, Anas platyrhynchos                              © robin williams

Just as I was about to leave, stiff from sitting too long, a Hobby appeared briefly, before dashing off across the reeds to the next door waters. This is the first for the year for me, although others have been reported. It seems rather an early date by normal standards.

Hobby, Falco subbuteo                                         © robin williams

At home, the single mason bee male Osmia bicornis, was still searching the logs, but no others were spotted.

April 26th 2016. A real spring day, but still with a bitter wind knocking back the temperature to a low figure. Nevertheless, the real sping feeling came from watching a Mallard duck leading her brood of seven ducklings along a rhyne. They are so buoyant it would appear impossible to hold them below the water surface.

Mallard ducklings, Anas platyrhynchos           © robin williams

Not long after this cheerful sight, I came across this unusually richly-tinged buzzard. It did not seem too worried by my stopping and switching off the car engine, allowing me to take a number of shots showing how flexible its neck is. The tamer buzzards at this time of year generally prove to be last year's young. 

Common buzzard, Buteo buteo                           © robin williams

Common buzzard, Buteo buteo                           © robin williams

It was also the day when I spotted the first Osmia bicornis mason bee exploring the logs of the 'FLATS'. It was a miserable-looking, scrawny specimen, far from the glowing insects we see normally at this time of year. I suspect the really cold wind cutting past the corner of the house may be responsible.

April 24th 2016. We are half-way through the official period of spring but you would not gues it from today. Sunshine, yes! But the wind so cold I found my myself walking the moors in full winter kit - waterproof and, more important, wind-proof top garment, fleece hat with ear-flaps pulled right down. The Great white cherry, Tai haku, is in full flower yet there is not a bumble bee on it. There has been the odd afternoon when they came but did not last long. This tree with its mass of dead-white flowers has always been the great nectar source for our spring bumblebees. What effect will this have later on in the summer?

April 23rd 2016. We visited Jessica and family today, making that marvellous journey up and over the edge of Exmoor to their house at Instow, on the north Devon coast. The trees were starting to green up, in various shades of pale green and the scenery was at its very best. The day turned out to be virtually cloudless with continual sunshine - perfect. However, as so often this year, the wind was freezing. Nertheless, we enjoyed a truly bracing walk on the endless sands in front of the village. The tide was out, the sun shone and people were out enjoying themselves, many with their dogs. Most were content to stay on the really dry portion,  but we wandered down to the edge where a little flock of Oystercatchers fed their way along the shallows. It is good to go down to a coast such as this, with miles of open sands and inlets. Inevitably, the birds seen are different to those in our own area. An Ostercatcher is a common bird, but not on the Somerset Levels. I really enjoyed photographing them feeding and flying past along the tide's edge. The colour of the their beaks and the stark black and white plumage are indeed spectacular. I was interested though to see that a number of the birds had greyer, rather than black backs - presumably the first year birds, though my reference book does not mention this.

Oystercatchers, Haemotopus ostralegus           © robin williams

Oystercatchers, Haemotopus ostralegus           © robin williams

Oystercatchers, Haemotopus ostralegus           © robin williams

Oystercatchers, Haemotopus ostralegus           © robin williams

April 19th 2016. I was lucky enough to spend a while on Tealham Moor watching a Cattle egret walking steadily closer, while equally lucky that no cars came along to disturb it. Comparing this bird with others seen in the past, it is clear it is in full breeding plumage. Let's hope one of a different sex turns up and it breeds once more, as it has in the past. The special features are the little tuft of white beneath the bill, the distinctive egret plumes on the back and the plumes hanging off the back of the head. Unlike the Geat white egret, the bill remains yellow throughout the year.

Cattle egret, Bubulcus ibis                                    © robin williams

Cattle egret, Bubulcus ibis                                    © robin williams

By comparison, a fine Little egret strutted along near it, showing the much longer head plumes and black beak. Although the Great white egret is generally recognised as having a yellow beak, for a short period in spring this can also go black, causing confusion, unless there is a some feature to lend scale.

Little egret, Egretta garzetta                                © robin williams

Little egret, Egretta garzetta                                © robin williams

Walking the dog along Chilton moor drove, it was good to see the the catkins appearing on the various willows along the drove. Even more pleasing was to watch a queen Bombus lucorum bumblebee feeding on the nectar and pollen on offer. We have been vry short of bumblebees so far this year.

Bumblebee, Bombus lucorum q                          © robin williams

April 17th 2016. A morning spent in the main hide at Greylake was most enjoyable, sunny, but with the inevitable cold south-west wind cutting through the open shutters. Again, there did not appear to be much activity but enough to make the visit worthwhile. At first I shared the hide with another couple, but by the end it was really starting to fill up with people pouring through the door, or queuing for a place at a window. The first real sign of life was the cheerful sound of Redshanks in the distance, one eventually coming quite close. Such a beautiful bird.

Redshank, Tringa totanus                                    © robin williams

Redshank, Tringa totanus                                    © robin williams

Redshank, Tringa totanus                                    © robin williams

A couple of Lapwings provided some spectacular aerial displays but then one landed just in front and enabled close scrutiny of the marvellous array of colours when this bird is in its full breeding plume - not visible unless you are really close.

Lapwings, Vanellus vanellus                               © robin williams

Lapwings, Vanellus vanellus                               © robin williams

The most notable sight was a Garganey swimming across the pond with a little knot of other duck. He went on to join a female on the spit of land in front. Catcott and Greylake are regular stop-offs in spring migration. The male is so instantly recognisable with his long white face stripe.

Garganey, Anas querquedula                               © robin williams

Garganey, Anas querquedula                               © robin williams

A solitary pair of Lapwings gave some superb display flights and eventually one settled just in front, showing off such splendi colours. On the way home, it was good to see the Cattle egret was still on Tealham Moor. An egret had been killed on the edge of a rhyne so I was glad to find out it was not our unusual visitor. It was so easy to spot from the extraordinary wal with head bobbing back and forth, like some species of parrots.

April 16th 2016. The Lake hide at Westhay Moor seemed to be completely devoid of life at first but was so peaceful I decided to stay for much of the afternoon. Although it never looked anything other than virtually deserted, in fact I had a fascinating afternoon. The highlight was a distant view of an Otter swimming across from west to east. At first glance, it looked like a large snake. It would be quite easy to imagine it as a Loch Ness monster if there was nothing to lend scale.

Otter, Lutra lutra                                                   © robin williams

Otter, Lutra lutra                                                   © robin williams

Then a pair of Great crested grebes appeared, clearly in the early stages of courtship - the female arranging some pieces of weed, in a circle round her. These lovely birds have astonishingly rich colouring when seen close.

Great crested grebe, Podiceps cristatus             © robin williams

Great crested grebe, Podiceps cristatus             © robin williams

Great crested grebe, Podiceps cristatus             © robin williams

In the distance, a Bittern, Botaurus stellaris, boomed every so often, with no indication of direction or how close it might be. Every so often a Cormorant would fly in, circle once or twice and then move off again.


Cormorant, Phalacrocorax carbo                         © robin williams

As I walked back along the track, a glowing tree caught my eye, the absolute picture of spring.

Spring, Westhay Moor                                          © robin williams

April 15th 2016. The total revision of the site continues apace. A great deal of work has gone into making it easier to read, with clearer pictures and revised content. A COMPLETELY NEW page has been added to the site today, while another has been revised throughout. Click on WHY HOW & WHAT? (new) and SITE CONTENT (revised).

Crossing Tealham Moor this afternoon, there were numbers of Little egrets Egretta garzetta but, somewhat apart, one looked different. At last, my first sighting of the Cattle egret I had been told was on the moor, near Rattling Bow bridge. Apart from the buff tinge to the head and much shorter beak, the most obvious difference was its method of walking. This one behaved rather like a domestic chicken, strutting along, with its head bobbing backwards and forwards - quite distinctive.

Cattle egret, Bubulcus ibis                                   © robin williams

Cattle egret, Bubulcus ibis                                   © robin williams

Cattle egret, Bubulcus ibis                                   © robin williams

On the way back, I disturbed a buzzard sitting by a ditch but it only flew a few feet before settling down in the grass, probabaly digesting its last meal. I took a few pictures but then was lucky enough to photograph the buird taking off and flying away.

Common buzzard, Buteo buteo                           © robin williams

Common buzzard, Buteo buteo                           © robin williams

Common buzzard, Buteo buteo                           © robin williams

April 8th 2016. Two considerable rarities have been reported from Tealham and Mark moors, though I have seen neither. They were certainly there and have been for a few days but unfortunately I have been stricken by the 'flu bug. The two were White stork, Ciconia ciconia, and Cattle egret, Bubulcus ibis. The egret has bred in the locality but it seems there is only a single bird present. The stork is a great shock. I would have loved to see this magnificent bird, perhaps next to a Grey heron, Ardea cinerea?

Grey heron, Ardea cinerea                             © robin williams

April 2nd 2016. A fully updated gallery has been  uploaded to 'Bumblebees in Somerset'. Click on BUMBLEBEE ID GALLERY. Clearer photos have replaced the majority of the original images, making for easier identification.

On a walk in the morning, the place was alive with Little egrets. We went down Jack's drove, Maddie and I, and a litttle knot of white birds fluttered off ahead of us, lifting and settling, time and again. The main group was six birds strong but there were others, making at least ten in open sight. Clearly, preparations for nesting are well under way. What was interesting was to see the egrets feeding as a group. For much of the year they seem to prefer the more solitary life.

Little egret, Egretta garzetta                               © robin williams

Little egret, Egretta garzetta                               © robin williams

March 31st 2016. A glorious spring day with cloudless blue sky over the house and, finally, the first sighting of a male Anthophora plumipes dashing from flower to flower. The characteristic high-pitched hum drew me towards it, hovering in front of the pink and blue flower of Pulmonaria. This first sighting is always, for me, the defining moment, saying spring has arrived.

mining bee, Anthophora plumipes m     © robin williams

March 28th 2016. I spent a fascinating half hour at Catcott Lows watching and photographing a Great white egret. I had just about given up in the hide and thought about packing up, for there were few birds on the water and most of those a long way off, when the egret flew from the side and ended up right in front, though still some way off. Gradually it came closer and I could see more and more detail. It is difficult to determine if it is a young non-breeder or if it was just coming into its breeding plumage. Behind the eye the skin was apple-green but there did not appear to be signs of the long plumes on the back, while the bill was still bright orange - goes black when in full breeding state.

Great white egret, Egretta alba                           © robin williams

Great white egret, Egretta alba                           © robin williams

Great white egret, Egretta alba                           © robin williams

Great white egret, Egretta alba                           © robin williams

On my way home, I stopped and watched no less than three Great white egrets feeding within fifty yards of each other. I never dreamed that I would see that day. Round here, we have become used to seeing them, and watching their spreading into new areas. It is sobering to hear how exciting it is for others from further afield, who are thrilled with the sight of one in the distance, never having seen one before. They are such glorious, stately birds, even bigger than a Grey heron, Ardea cinerea. A lone Little egret, not yet in breeding plumage, looked chalk-white against the slightly cream-tinged Great white.


Little egret, Egretta garzetta                          © robin williams

March 25th 2016. At last, the final batch of insect flight pictures  for the past year has now been installed in the galleries. The total current number is 440, after the last batch of 70 or so. A more comprehensive caption system is also  being added to make the information more useful - including group, scientific name and sex - in a more obvious form. Click on Insects in Flight Gallery.

We are delighted with the most recent additions to the garden. Rooks have built two nests in the tall Norway maples on the edge of the drive. It started a couple of days ago when we noticed a group of these large, noisy black birds flying in and out of a couple of the trees.

Rook, Corvus frugilegus                                       © robin williams

Within a remarkably short time, a nest made of twigs appeared, looking frail and untidy but proving durable.

Rook, Corvus frugilegus                                       © robin williams

There was a great deal of disputes during the day so it was no surprise to find another nest in a nearby, but different tree. Will there be others? For a couple of years Rooks nested in a young wood at the top of the hill but then these gave up. Hopefully, this new mini-colony will continue into the future, though they have chosen positions where human activity is considerable.

March 23rd 2016. We have just changed the bird feeder from Sunflower hearts to black Sunflower seeds and this has brought a complete change of behaviour in our Goldfinch visitors.

Goldfinch, Carduelis carduelis                           © robin williams

With the Sunflower hearts, the birds ignored a nearby Niger seed feeder; changing to the black Sunflower has seen them largely ignore that feeder and congregate back on the Niger seeds they always used to prefer. The Black sunflower and Sunflower hearts are identical inside and nutritionally, differing only in the colour of the outside husk.

The lake at Catcott Lows at first appeared largely empty of wildlife; just a few lonely-looking ducks sleeping to one side. In front, I spotted a little group of birds I could not identify, with beaks hidden in their plumage, shapeless, with blended-in colours making them completely camouflaged against the background. A few miinutes later, this little knot stirred and showed themselved, to my surprise, to be Black-tailed godwits.

Black-tailed godwit, Limosa limosa                   © robin williams

Black-tailed godwit, Limosa limosa                   © robin williams

These elegant birds separated and started feeding around the reed clumps in front. These godwits were more highly coloured than most of the birds seen at Greylake the other day. It was noticeable that there was quite a variation in size and bulk between one set of birds and the others. I suspect this reflected the two sexes, though which was the larger I have no real idea. My reference books do not mention anything on these lines.On the way home, via Tealham Moor, there were numbers of Little egrets across he fields, edging the ditches and wet gripes. Most were too far to photograph, just admire for their dead-white plumage, now with long head feathers and delicate plumes hanging over the back and tail. One fine bird paid no attention to me when I stopped, and gradually walked closer, giving splendid views of the strange yellow feet, like shoes, on the end of the black legs.

Little egret, Egretta garzetta                               © robin williams

Little egret, Egretta garzetta                               © robin williams

March 19th 2016. The last week has seen increasing activity at the bird feeders outside the kitchen window. At last Goldfinches are regular visitors, some to sunflower seeds, some to the niger seeds they normally prefer. This morning was notable for the arrival of a male Reed bunting, the first of the winter, in nearly full breeding plumage. In recent years they have become more numerous, but not this year.

Reed bunting, Emberiza schoeniclus m           © robin williams

Wandering along at the bottom of Jack's drove on Tadham Moor, it was good to see a queen bumblebee nectaring on willow catkins - a true sighn of spring that even our weather is not able to put off for ever.

Bumblebee, Bombus lucorum q                          © robin williams

March 17th 2016. The morning was fine and nearly still, and I had an hour or so to spare. It seemed the perfect time to visit Greylake once more - maybe the last real chance before all the waterfowl disperse to their summer breeding haunts.

Walking to the hide, I spotted a small group of birds flying past and focussed on the screen. Fantastic, they were four Cranes above, circling up to gain height in a thermal. Up and up, till they all but vanished, then gliding on north-eastwards, probably to Slimbridge, their known alternate feeding area. These huge birds gave little feeling of their real size, so high in that blue sky.

Common cranes, Grus grus                                 © robin williams

Common cranes, Grus grus                                 © robin williams

In the hide, conditions were perfect, but what had happened to all the birds? The answer came as I opened the shutter, the sound of a motorised strimmer close-by. One after another, two people marched along the peripheral fence starting and stopping, disturbing the duck and sending them off to the furthest point, though still within the reserve. Every so often, hundreds of duck burst into the sky in that part, looking like a cloud of mosquitoes. Eventually, the first worker worked his way over to the far end and the duck, accompanied by a large flock of Black-tailed godwits, flew back towards the hide, settling mainly over to the northern edge, a popular gathering marsh.

Black-tailed godwits, Limosa limosa                 © robin williams

Black-tailed godwits, Limosa limosa                 © robin williams

Black-tailed godwits, Limosa limosa                                                 © robin williams

This was not to last long, as the second worker walked back down towards us, but gave a period of great activity, with ducks coming and going. I was struck particularly by seeing groups of Wigeon, Anas penelope, hovering for quite a while, before finding room to land. I had not seen such behaviour previously. I was concentrating on one group when a streamlined shape shot past - though rather distant. The predator, a Peregrine, did not seem to excite the ducks as they normally do, just passing through on a flat and direct flight to some distant destination.

Peregrine falcon, Falco peregrinus                     © robin williams

March 15th 2016. I had few hopes when I visited the hide at Catcott Lows, a bitterly cold wind and mainly overcast skies did not promise much, but I was passing by. There were ducks still present, quite a number really but were somewhat further away than I had hoped. They were very restless and someone told me why. Two peregrines were sitting on the very far edge of the reserve and, every so often, flew over to drive all the waterfowl and waders into the air. A Kesterel, Falco tinnunculus, was also moving around periodically. I was just about to pack up and go home to a warm house, when one of the Peregrines appeared but, ignoring the many duck below, instead chased after a snipe which jinked and dashed away in front of it. Curiously, the ducks barely stirred while this was goinfg on. I followed the birds, snapping away, but never saw the end of the chase, the two of them disappearing over a hedge. The photographs are not technically great, but serve to illustrate and remember an extraordinary moment.

Peregrine falcon, Falco peregrinus                                                   © robin williams

Peregrine falcon, Falco peregrinus & Snipe, Gallinago gallinago     

© robin williams

Coming back over Tealham Moor, I was amazed to see a Great white egret reasonably close to the road and even better, the bird continued, unfazed, when I stopped and lowered the window. This splash wet field is where I have seen it before in the last week or so. Perhaps it is settling down to breed nearby?

Great white egret, Egretta alba                           © robin williams

Great white egret, Egretta alba                           © robin williams

Great white egret, Egretta alba                           © robin williams

March 14th 2016. Romey and I had been taliking about going down to the Axmouth marshes on the southern Devon coast. It was a perfect day with endless sunshine but I fear we had left it a touch late in the year. There was only a limited number of birds to be see, if you dont count the many seagulls. The draw for me was a hide set in the middle of a large pond, with a well-sheltered wooden bridge for access. At the right time, this must teem with waders and ducks but today they were limited to a few Teal, Anas crecca, and a good few Shelduck, already settled into pairs. I was delighted to see these and enjoyed photographing them preening.

Shelduck, Tadorna tadorna m                           © robin williams

From there we walked down to another, higher hide, overlooking the estuary. Here there were masses of gulls together with a few Curlew, Numenius arquata, bubbling away but rather distant. At this point a couple of Oystercatchers flew down and preened themselves in front of the hide, making for enjoyable watching.

Oystercatcher, Haematopus ostralegus            © robin williams

Oystercatcher, Haematopus ostralegus            © robin williams

The hide is right alongside a great tourist attraction, a tramway that runs alongside the reserve, literally just below the hide, to nearby Seaton. This enterprise caters for all sorts but, periodically, runs special bird-watching outings, stopping every so often and with an expert guide. We must try and organise ourselves to go on one of these, they sound fun. Access to the marshes is excellent. Turn off the main Lyme Regis to Exeter road (A3052) turning south at the village of Colyford and driving towards Seaton until a cenetary is seen on the left hand side with a notice telling you to drive through to a parking area and footpath to the marshes (SY247 905). What could be better.

March 12th 2016. Driving along the moors today I came across this wonderful egret, on a field in Tealham Moor. It is in nearly full breeding plumage, with plumed head and long filligreed feathers along the breast, worth pictures at any time. Numbers of these birds have appeared recently, preparing to breed in Heon wood on Tadham moor no doubt. They are surprisingly wary of people and cars, taking off in a moment but, delightfully, this one stayed while I watched.

Little egret, Egretta garzetta                               © robin williams

Little egret, Egretta garzetta                               © robin williams

Little egret, Egretta garzetta                               © robin williams

Little egret, Egretta garzetta                               © robin williams

March 10th 2016. This really has been the first real day of spring - cloudless blue sky throughout and the chill in the wind diminishing as the morning wore on. A visit to Catcott Lows showed an empty carpark and hide. Clearly, lots of duck were there, out of sight, but not out of sound, as I walked over to the door. Opening the shutter gave an exraordinary view of ducks really close in front and, among them, closer still, several Black-tailed godwits feeding as if there could never be a time like this. They were quite deep in the water, leaning forward to stab their beaks repeaterly and rapidly downwards, like a mechanical tool, engine-driven. Teal and wigeon surrounded them. They showed just how large these elegant waders are.


Black-tailed godwit, Limosa limosa                   © robin williams

Black-tailed godwit, Limosa limosa                   © robin williams

 

Black-tailed godwit, Limosa limosa                   © robin williams

Black-tailed godwit, Limosa limosa                   © robin williams

Black-tailed godwit, Limosa limosa & Wigeon © robin williams

Black-tailed godwit, Limosa limosa & Wigeon © robin williams

Black-tailed godwit, Limosa limosa                   © robin williams

After the weeks of a largely empty reserve, there were large numbers of duck all over the water - wonderful. This was particularly well illustrated when some hidden predator drew many of them into flight. Curiously, the godwits paid no attention to the scare, continuing their frantic feeding close by in front. I supect they may be feeding up after a long migratory flight. A bit later, movement caught the edge of my vision, before a Great white egret flew right across the width of the waters, a splendid sight, followed later by a Little egret.

Great white egret, Egretta alba                           © robin williams

Little egret, Egretta garzetta                               © robin williams

After breakfast I had watched birds coming to our food containers and thought how they varied in their approach to the business of feeding. Great and Blue tits, Parus major & P. caerulescens, dash in from a nearby bush, dart into the container, take one grain in their beak and dash back for safety. Goldfinches, Carduelis carduelis, who have just come back into the garden after vanishing for much of the winter, take a very different approach. They sit on the perch and continue feeding for some while, as do House-sparrows, Passer domesticus, when they are around - rare nowadays. Chaffinches, Fringilla coelebs, never eat from the feeder, preferring to pick up grains spilled on the ground. On the peanuts, Blue tits in particular take their time, sitting inside the cage that protects the nuts from the squirrels, and pecking away. Long-tailed tits, Aegithalos caudatus, seem to be able to twine themselves around, inside the outer cage and have a real go at the nuts. Goldfinches have taken to feeding on Sunflower hearts, rather than the Black niger they always used to prefer, though one or two have have gone back to their old love. All this adds to the fascination of watching them going abou their daily business, a real privilage.

March 3rd 2016. Little egrets are starting to appear in numbers out on the moors, some in full breeding plumage, other still in winter guise. I do wonder where they go to at other times. They are seen at the reserves, but only in modest numbers or not at all.

Little egret, Egretta garzetta                         © robin williams

Over Catcott Lows, Quite large flocks of Lapwings were the only birds in flight this morning. Several times, they surged into the air, as if disturbed by something above but I could not pick out what. They seemed to be nervous, but the remaining ducks were not disturnbed from their slumbers, or occasionsal fights and disturbances while triggering the early stages of courtship.

Lapwings, Vanellus vanellus                         © robin williams

Every so often, I feel worth mentioning a bit of kit that I have found particularly useful. The first is the use of a diagonal sling for carrying long lenses in particular. I saw an advert for one some while back and was given one for my birthday  and have found it invaluable for two reasons. If you are walking some distance, yet want your camera to hand for quick shots of birds seen en route, it can be tiiring to carry it in one hand by its straps. (I always use two short straps clipped together for normal use) The diagonal strap clips onto these by a pair of quick releases that slide up and down the main section. My Optiech strap has its usual trademark rubber neck pad to reduce the effective weight of the whole. This strap fits conveniently over the passenger's headrest, saving the camera and lens from damage if the brakes have to be applied heavily, yet leaving the camera available for a quick picture through a window. The second gadget is a jelly-like patch which glues onto the camera release button. Prodot reduces camera shake amazingly when firing the shot. The patch seems to stick on however roughly treated yet, surprisingly, it can be removed and used again. I have no connection with these firms, just as a satisfied user. As the years go on, you collect your own list of useful gadgets, wishing you had known about them earlier. See Photographic techniques.

March 2nd 2016. Another visit to my favourite Catcott Lows further tested the new lens, again with favourable results. I concentrated on catching some portraits of duck behaviour before these birds moved out to their summer destinations, for there are clear signs that duck numbers have fallen considerably. It has been a strange season really, Catcott certainly has not had the numbers we expect normally, particularly Wigeon, Anas penelope, although Shoveler continue to increase - such colourful and characterful birds.

Shoveler, Anas clypeata                                  © robin williams

Shoveler, Anas clypeata                                  © robin williams

Shoveler, Anas clypeata                                  © robin williams

Only once did a predator cause the ducks to take off, though I did not spot which it was. Always it is surprising to see how hidden numbers of ducks appear from nowhere when this happens.

Wigeon & Shoveler, Anas penelope/clypeata © robin williams

March 1st 2016. An unexpectedly better day found me photographing an extremely unworried heron by the side of the road on Tealham Moor. Even the thudding of the diesel engine as I stopped alongside, did not seem to worry the bird, or the sudden silence as I switched off. It strode up and down the ditch, catching something, however small, with each stab of its bill. It was a great opportunity to try out my new lens and the results appear to justify my faith.

Grey heron, Ardea cinerea                             © robin williams

Grey heron, Ardea cinerea                             © robin williams

My excellent Nikon 70-300 VR lens, so perfect for birds in flight, finally packed up after well over ten year's service. It could be repaired, but the quoted costs were horrendous. I had read a number of reviews of the latest stabilised 70-300 Tamron lens, which costs less than repairs to the other lens, in spite of being brand new, so decided to give it a go. It looked and felt just like the Nikon lens, the same sort of weight and bulk, and appears at least as, or even sharper. I hope I have made the right choice, rather than paying twice as much for a new Nikon lens identical to the one I had just had to throw away. From there, Maddie and I went on to walk round the outside of Catcott Fen but starting further down the road than usual. There were some exciting new views when from this perspective but not a bird appeared in the sky. It is difficult to see why, but this marvellous area of reeds and water has not yet attracted the bird population it promises. Deep in the reeds you hear the deep croaking of a few Gadwall, Anas strepera, but that is all.

Catcott fen                                                        © robin williams

On the way back over Tealham, a large white egret caight my eye. Within a hundred yards of each other, two Great white egrets were feeding out on one of the splashy fields. These fine birds are spreading in the area. Last year was the first time I had spotted one on these moors.

Great white egret, Egretta alba                     © robin williams

 

Winter 2015-16


 

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