Winter 2013-14

February 27th 2014. A fine weather forecast found me driving up to the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust at Slimbridge. Once again, as it has been previously this year, it was a balance of promise and missed opportunites, expectations and let-downs. But, it proved to be a good day out and the sunshine held on until the end, with only a short period of heavy overcast. During this, to my surprise, I saw a species of small passerine new to me, on their feeder station. Several other people were beside me and they all said they had not come across this bird previously, in spite of some clearly being experienced bird watchers. They were smaller and daintier than I had expected.

The great bulk of winter ducks appear to have moved on and away. The sheer excitement of watching them hurtling overhead was missing for most species which was disapponting. That previous evening, it had been announced that most of the Bewick's swans had left the area, so I had missed those again. However, a few diligent searches dug out some portraits of the wild ducks and geese still remaining and visible from various hides.

Usually, the Tufted male is the subject of pictures but the more quietly-plumaged female repays further study. She varies a great deal in her colouring but has all the charm of the male when diving, which she does continually.

Geese are the most magical of all birds when heard on a blustery day out on an estuary, as so well portrayed by Peter Scott in so many paintings. What is so nice about Slimbridge is that they may be seen here at any time of year - yet they are totally wild creatures, difficult to believe when you almost trip over one on a pathway.

Then, typical of the time of year, little groups of male Shoveler erupted into the air, chasing a single female, providing superb opportunities for photographers.

Finally, one of the wildest and commonest of birds can be photographed at Slimbridge as well as anywhere and makes a fitting portrait to end this final day of winter.

February 26th 2014. Driving across the moors, a dark shape in a field on the edge of Mark Moor caught my eye. It was a complete surprise, a Black swan feeding with a number of Mute swans. Wherer could it have come from, although I have seen one other here, some years back? It made me think. Surely, this species would flourish here if mates were found. They cannot be that different from our native swans and would surely add to the attractions in the countryside?

Catcott had more ducks showing today including numbers of Teal Anas crecca, that have been missing recently. But I was particularly delighted to see numbers of Shoveler indulging in their spectacular courtship flights, where up to a dozen males chase a single female. My pictures show one of the males landing, followed by the drakes chasing each other on the water; an entertaining show for the watcher.

Finally, it is not always the rarities which capture the imagination. Carrion crows are seen on many of the gateposts, lurking in wait for any opportunity. Many of the Willows and Alders have been cut or blown down in recent years - part of a campaign by Natural England to remove perches for predators, to give opportunities for ground-breeding birds. When will conservationists realise that birds are much cleverer than they and will adapt to suit? All that has been achieved is the loss of many attractive trees on the field edges; and a problem for the cattle who love to shelter beneath these trees in bad or very hot weather. I remember talking to one very young official who told me the area used to have far fewer trees in the past. My pictures from the past forty years showed that this was just not true. One of my old pictures shows a long swathe of trees knocked down by a tornado that blew one morning - they were never replaced. A large signature tree in the middle of the moor, a long-term landmark, was cut down for no obvious reason and has not been replaced. A row of other trees was part of a planned removal until a neighbour threatened to sit in one until the machinery was sent away. This worked at the time, but we woke on morning some years later to find that these trees had vanished. Now, the moors are more windswept and less attractive and, sadly, all the efforts to bring back the breeding birds appear to have come to nothing. No wonder farmers are muttering about conservation taking over from the interests of people.

February 25th 2014. It is good to see visible signs of the end of winter at last. It's warmer and the birds are coming back to the moors again. It's all to do with the local heronry. This small wood is already coming to life, with Grey herons and Little egrets perched in the branches, clattering bills and flying in and out as the year moves on. It has been a curious winter, apparently well-suited to herons of all species, with plenty of water and prey driven to narrow strips of land. Yet the moors have been virtually free of these birds. Now, they have started to appear, in fast-increasing numbers. The egrets arrived some while ago, appearing from nowhere all at once. The Grey herons have recently re-appeared on the rhynes and ditches, preparing for the hard work of keeping their mates fed during the nestin season. My picture shows one catching a frog on a splashy field, shaking the water off and probably also trying to rid it of some of its slime. The whole process took several minute, with the frog wriggling strongly before finally sliding into the throat.  

Catcott Lows is gradually losing its excess water, small clumps of rushes and grass at last showing above the surface. This was celebrated by the snipe reappearing in some numbers. They are amazing birds, virtually invisible until they move. Looking out fom the hide, at first there is a desert in front, then a hint of movement and a striped rush becomes a mark on a back of a bird. Once you get your eye in, ther are numbers of snipe out front.

February 23rd 2014. Sitting in the study, answering my e-mails, and something caught my eye. A Green woodpecker was just outside the window which goes right down to the ground, banging away at the grass, p-aying no attention to me inside. This is something which occurs most years. Has it something to do with last years' young not yet with experience of  the perils of life?

February 21st 2014. Catcott was full of sunshine this afternoon but the ducks were scatterrd widely over the waters, apparently few in number. That is until a ring-tailed Hen harrier came sailing over. Then a great host of ducks rose up and became three large flights, among the many Wigeon, Pintails and, at last, numbers of Teal. When they settled, they dispersed and it again looked as if there were none around. Walking Catcott Fen with the dog, an egret flew across - only when the picture was opened and enlarged in the computer was it exposed as a Great white egret. Without anything to give scale, and far enough away that detail is not seen, they look remarkably similar to their smaller cousins.

February 18th 2014. I went outside to collect the post this morning and heard a woodpecker drumming. We are very familiar with the sound of the Great spotted woodpecker as it breeds nearby and visits the nuts at our feeding station. But this was different, quieter and another tempo. Then I spotted the bird, a tiny, sparrow-sized woodpecker which we have not seen since 1972, following the loss of all our Elm trees. The Lesser spotted woodpecker is now a rare bird which makes it an exciting find. My picture shows it as I last saw one so many years ago, not  brilliant shots but they are big enlargements from the original negative. It is such an unusual bird that I have put in several pictures; but it was far too elusive for me this time.

February 16th 2014. Those poor people suffering floods in different parts of the country must be in despair. Yesterday, and the night before, we suffered the most horrendous winds and torremtial rain, quite terrifying, while some places recorded winds of over 100mph - hurricane force. Yet today was absolutely perfect, near calm and with hours of sunshine.

I spent it visiting Westhay Moor NNR and, in particular, the Lake hide. It proved to an interesting morning, starting well with the sight of a Great white egret, Egretta alba, in the reeds at the side of the private lake opposite the hide. It was an oasis of calm, with perfect reflections in the water. At first, I thought there was little activity, but gradually it  came to life, though there few of the normal host of ducks. The most notable incident was the appearance of a Bittern which flew towards the hide and then over it, giving a great opportunity for some unusual pictures. These birds are common on nearby Shapwick Heath and Ham Wall, but less so on this reserve.

A pair of Great-crested grebes were busy courting and in the course of this taking umbrage at the presence of any other birds on the water. The pictures show instances of the agressive behaviour of what I assume to be the male. Later, a Kingfisher must have perched briefly on the roof, the distinctive song pouring out for the moment. These lovely birds are often seen flying pas the hide.

I have been bemoaning the absence of one of my favourite birds, the Cormorant, at this reserve in recent years so was especially pleased to watch on adult planing in and landing. This bird was in full breeding plumage, with silver head and a prominent white spot at the back of the body - so striking and handsome.

My day was completed by seeing a Water rail fly off from where it had been feeding on the flooded path leading up to the hide.

February 11th 2014. The Whooper swans have reappeared. Six of them were out on Tadham Moor, half a mile east from Tealham, feeding neck down again, in shallow floods.

February 9th 2014. Candi, Romey and I dropped into Catcott Lows after our walk and someone with a telescope points out what appears to be a most unexpected visitor sitting on a post at the edge of the reeds. I could not believe my eyes, a Hobby busy preening itself and looking round at the ducks out in the middle of the water. It is an incredibly early date for this falcon, well before the first dragonflies hatch. The end of April is the usual time. Sadly, the bird was very far-off, reflected in the picture down below.

(Nigel Milbourne looked at the pictures later and suggested that it was in fact a Peregrine falcon, Falco peregrinus. On looking at the various pictures again, and also at the date, I must agree with this. Sorry to have misled people, but is good to learn from an expert).

The Whooper swans appear to have left at last. There is no sign of them on Catcott Lows or Tealham Moor. We have greatly enjoyed their presenc and hope it will be repeated next year. The floodes seem to suit them perfectly. They like to graze under water, while floating in a normal position so the grass is at neck depth. It is strange to see ten or so all looking quite normal but apparently head and neck less.

February 7th 2014. The hide at Catcott Lows was empty for the moning when I visited it. I could see why when I opened the shutters; the ducks were scattered over a very wide area and all appeared to be asleep. But, I soon found out where our Tealham Whooper swans had gone, as a group of ten were sleeping ahead of the hide; clearly the same set of between eight and twelve we had been watching for such a long period on our moors. It seems that Whooper swans have increased their numbers in Britain at the same time that Bewick's populations have decreased.

The swans slept and most of the ducks were doing the same, while I was almost nodding off when, with no warning the ducks all took off with a roar of highly-stressed wings. I caught a glimpse of the Peregrine, Falco peregrinus, that caused this, but it was out of sight in a second though it came back for a second pass, evidently without success. The ducks circled and settled, lifting again without actually touching down - the air of excitement was almost tangible.

February 3rd 2014. It was a simply horrible grey, damp, overcast, drizzly day yet the moors suddenly were alive with egrets again. Somebody must have pressed a switch saying, breeding season! I counted 21 on Tealham and Tadham Moors just by driving down Jack's Drove where, before, not one had been sighted for some while and then only as single birds. Spring must be closer than we feel and think although there was no sign of egrets or herons when I drove past our local heronry. It is a cheering thought.

February 2nd 2014. Maddie and I spent some while exploring the various areas of the Catcott complex as it is now developing. It was a grey day with a wicked wind but we managed to get a better idea of what is going on. Winter clothing is so effective at keeping the elements at bay nowadays. The complex, if that is the right word, consists of Catcott Lows, a very large field which floods in winter, Catcott Heath, an area of Bog myrtle scrub, and the newest area, Catcott Fen, which is a large area of reed s and open water made up from old peat diggings.

After all the rain, the drove up to  Catcott Heath was very muddy in parts -even the peaty soil could not get rid of all the water. But there were parts where there were signs of many deer having used the path. The slots shwed them running as wel as auntering along. I have not seen a deer there in amny recent visits but there was proof that they were present in numbers. The heath has always been interesting for insect life but there are signs that the Bog myrtle scrub is smothering out much of the other herbage.

January 30th 2014. It appears to be settling into another few days of dreadful weather. We cannot but think of those poor people looking out over 25 square miles of deep floodwaters which have become part of their lives for the last month. One village on the Somerset Levels, Muchelney, has all their food and fuel delivered by boat, others have abandoned their houses to the waters. Farmers predict that their grass will not regrow after these floods - the second year running. We can only hope that calls for dredging the rivers will now be heeded, together with other plans to absorb the waters further upstream, but politicians forget their pledges only too quickly once the immediate problems appear to have vanished.

Our own floods on Tealham and Tadham Moors are rapidly disappearing. The pumping station is running full bore and the basic structure of the land is reappearing, although it is all completely waterlogged. However, being peatlands, it will not stay like that once the rains stops for good. We have been told that the rainfall in the West Country during January is the highest recorded. At present, the water is still deep enough to keep our Whooper swans happy, together with numbers of Canada Geese and Black-heaqded gulls. The sounds of these birds floats up from the moors during the quieter periods of the night.

Chatting in the garden, in spite of insistant drizzle, and noticed my first queen Bombus terrestris of the year.

January 24th 2014.  Sitting in my study this morning, I was amazed to see a Fox trot past the window only a few feet away. This has happened before, as we have a well-worn badger and fox path which passes nearby. I know they are reprobates but they are such beautiful animals when seen close.

January 19th 2014. Today was supposed to have the best weather for several days, so decided to visit the Wildfowl Trust at Slimbridge, thinking that the visiting wildfowl and swans would be at their peak. The weather certainly stood up to its forecast, with fine winter sun until early afternoon. But there was also a peak of people; the place was heaving with visitors. I was told that there had been both national and local programmes talking about the Bewick's swans and this, and the weather, accounted for the visitors. Be that as it may, it turned out that many of the hides were completely full, with people waiting to get in for a look at the wild birds out on the fields and marshes. One hide had a complete line up of expensive 500mm lenses filling every window space and the noises of the motor drives almost drowned out the sounds of the birds. One person had a very high speed drive and must have taken ten or twenty shots of everything he turned his lens on. I am glad I do not have to go through his pictures in the evenings ahead. 

But the sad and strange thing was that there were virtually no ducks, geese or swans flying inside the grounds and pens. Normally, you would expect a continual stream of birds coming in, circling around or leaving. Thinking about this later, it would seem that the large numbers of people may have put them off and maybe the normal hordes were out on the river. In recent visits, I have noticed that these wonderful flights have gradually diminished, losing one of the greatest spectacles of the winter. However, it has also been noticable out on the great Somerset Levels reserves how the numbers of visiting ducks seem to have diminished in the last couple of weeks or so. Could there be a connection?

I was delighted to see a couple of Common cranes flying over in the distance and, later, wandering up and down at the back of Rushy pen. From the several brightly-coloured rings on their legs, they were birds raised here, put out on the Somerset Levels and then returned - a great sight. I only wished I had seen them closer, the colouring on the feathers is amazing.

I did manage to photograph a small flight of Bewick's swans dropping in and show them here as a comparison with the Whooper swans shown earlier on Tealham Moor.

It is also interesting to turn the lens onto our own humble crows. They are particularly active here at Slimbridge, with a large rookery at one end. Jackdaws are also numerous and offer some interesting flight shots.

As the afternoon drew in, a number of Shelduck flew in, dark against the gathering clouds - a fitting end to the visit. Shelduck are particular favourites of mine and often perform at this later time of day.

January 18th 2014. We walked around the edge of Catcott Fen this morning. Sadly, some unpleasant person had dumped a large load of wood and building rubble, and parts of what looked like a shed or room, all over the access track. It was possible to walk round it, but no vehicles would be able to pass. This behaviour is an increasing menace in the countryside, affecting many areas,  because the fees for off-loading on an authorised site have risen once again.  You hope that the perpetrators can be traced by any writing or codes left on the material, though often that does not happen. Some of the stuff dumped elsewhere, consists of bags of apparent household waste which is collected free from houses. Why? The extraordinary thing is that they deliberately dump it in the middle of tracks and small roads, not even bothering to put it on the side so people can get through.

The new reserve looked lovely in the glow of the sunshine and it was good to see a snipe disturbed from a ditch and no less than four buzzards circling overhead. A welcome sign of what is to come.

January 14th 2014. The Whooper swans have risen to a round dozen on Tealham Moor. There are also a great many Mute swans swimming around in the middle of what were fields, together with numerous Canada geese.

I know that Canadas are seen as a nuisance in parts of this country, but they never occur in such numbers here. I see them as truly beautiful birds that add to the wildness of the area. The sound of their calls at night are eerily beautiful, even more so when the sounds of Whoopers drift up and blend with them.

At lunchtime, I heard a loud hum in the garden and saw my first bumblebee of the year, a queen Bombus lucorum. What was strange was the particular species; normally Bombus terrestris is the earliest.

January 13th 2014. A bitty and rather unusual day with very changeable weather, ending in rain and wind again. We went to Catcott this morning, but parked and went straight on to the newer part, Catcott Fen, to walk the dog. The other day, I said that there was little sign of wildlife here, in spite of the splendid reed beds and clear pools. It is good to see the hard work put in by the Wildlife Trust coming to life at last. Today, I was delighted to see a large flight of Teal take off from one of the larger pools and give a great aeronautical display as they circled, dipped, rose again and circled once more,  before landing further off. They  are among the most exciting of all ducks to watch, tiny and flying like waders, with the same habit of turning in perfect harmony to change from light to dark silhouettes.

Later, crossing Tadham Moor in less happy weather, something caught the corner of my eye and I stopped - for once there was no other traffic on this narrow road. A Buzzard sat on a narrow spit of land near the edge of the road, surrounded by water. Life is be restricting in dull, flooded conditions and it must have been searching for earthworms brought to the surface by the conditions. It was fascinating to watch this bird in such different conditions.

Further on, I again stopped when a Kestrel lifted off and hovered above me. Some difficult wriggling out of the window brought the bird into focus - such beautiful patterns of wing feathers!

January 11th 2014. Another perfect day, if anything even better than the previous ones, with sunshine and next to no wind giving perfect reflections in the floods. It was very much the time for taking pictures of a remarkable landscape. I had stopped the car to admire this when I saw the head of a raptor sticking up above part of the bridge over the North Drain. Winding the window down disturbed the Kestrel and it took off. 'Better luck next time', I thought, but my luck was in. He soared up and hovered above, awkward to position the camera because of the windscreen pillar, but I did manage it. It is wonderful to see the very different positions of the wings as it stabilises its head to pick out movement below.

On my way back I had been keeping an eye out for unusual looking swans, as I had been told there were twelve Whoopers around the moor for a couple of days. Going east over Rattling Bow bridge, I came lucky. Eight of these lovely swans were feeding on a flooded field to the left. The eight I saw were probably the extended family of three adults and four youngsters, plus one other, that I had also been told about. It is wonderful to see wild swans on the moors again. Thirty years and more ago, these same fields were regular haunts of up to 70 Bewick's swans, Cygnus columbianus, that spent much of the winter with us, but have since vanished. Most nights, they could be heard calling over the house as they flew off to roost on a reservoir.

January 7th 2014. The moors around here looked at their finest today. The overnight rain died down early and the sun came out and stayed until mid-afternoon. Unlike further over the other side of the Poldens, on Curry Moor with its devastating floods, said to be five or six feet deep; Tealham and Tadham floods are not threatening. Instead, they are beautiful, drawing in walkers and others to enjoy the spectacle. Looking down from the hill, part of the Isle of Wedmore, the extent of the water is amazing, spreading this side of the Poldens as far as the eye can see - a great silver flood which turns the moors into an inland sea.

For people on the hill above, it is like living on an estuary. Down on the moor, Jack's Drove bisects the middle, running south - in spite of the name, it is now a proper tarmac road - and this was under water for fifty feet or so, but still passable. On either side, the only sign that the floods are shallow are gates standing above, and fringes of vegetation edging the hidden ditches - a remarkable sight. 

January 6th 2014. What a change! Although the wind remained strong for much of the day, for much of the time it was brilliantly sunny - a real pleasure to be out. Once again it was dog-walking, interspersed with time in the hide at Catcott Lows. Maddie enjoyed her run down the drove to Catcott Fen, although as usual there was little bird life to be seen. The area looks as if it has been there in its present form for years but actually it is barely a year old. Much digging and earth moving has produced acres of Typha reeds with large areas of open, deeper water, but birds do not yet appear to have taken up residence. Perhaps time is needed for the balance of nutrients, underwater plants and water composition, to settle down into a permanent state. I am sure it will come, but at present the much more mature Catcott Lows and Shapwick complexes hold the attraction and are stuffed with waterfowl.

Catcott Lows had masses of duck spread over the now extensive waters and several species were present in some numbers. Wigeon are by far the majority but Pintail numbers were much increased though only a small percentage of the whole. Shoveler numberts have also increased and they are showing signs of the start of the courtship season, with numbers of drakes chasing single females  in rapid and excited flight - a great sight.

January 5th 2014. An incredbly stormy day left the ducks on Catcott Lows tossing and windswept. There were really large numbers over the widespread waters, product of days of heavy rain, but they sensibly spent much of their time with beaks tucked into their back feathers fast asleep. My pictures were taken int he late afternoon gloom and are not examples of the art of photography but do show how much detail the modern camera holds even at high ISO settings. I hope they also give an idea of the excitement of wildfowl in the roughest conditions. Wind speeds were said to have reached 70mph during the day and gusts were really rocking the hide.


January 1st 2014. Sadly for me, there were no real celebrations on New Year's Eve yesterday; instead an uncomfortable time with a stomach bug. Today, I resumed life - all is well once more and Maddie, our dog, is looking forward to another wet and soggy walk out on the moors. For the last couple of days we have had very strong winds and continual heavy rain.

I would like to offer the best for the new year to what I have been surprised to find out is an international band of fellow enthusiasts. I will try and follow with more innovations, as well as the continuing saga of local visits and events. Happy New Year.

December 29th 2013. The lake hide at Westhay Moor was much-reduced in duck numbers once more; however it seems they may be much more widely spread - probably present in larger numbers than we imagine. Teal were clearly everywhere, hidden behind reeds or in the next piece of water, given away by the constant chatter, high-pitched and gentle. It is only when you see them beside a Mallard, that you realise just how small they are. Nevertheless, as my picture shows, they are solid muscle; capable of fantastic vertical take-offs and high-speed flight. 

December 28th 2013. In spite of it being a dull day, there were numbers of visitors to Westhay Moor today. I spent an hour and a half in the Lake hide and enjoyed its peace and tranquillity, though birds were not plentiful around the hide itself. I think the same applied here as it has at Catcott and Greylake. There is so much floodwater around, there is nothing to keep the birds in their usual bounds. There were large numbers of duck - heard and not seen - but they were mostly round the corner, so to say. What was enjoyable, was the Coot courtship; a violent and frequent affair. There were many Coot around and every so often they would erupt; anything up to a dozen bursting into flight and chasing each other across the water in flurries of foam - most entertaining for the watcher but no doubt very frustrating for the birds. 

Another spot of entertainment came from a bunch of some of my favourite ducks. More than any other, Tufted ducks seem to go around in parties which stick together. They are most entertaining; diving and bobbing up again covered in beads of water on their oily feathers, always bright and aware. In flight, they are amongst the most attractiv duck, solid, with rapidly beating wings, highly manoeverable and always part of a group.

One specially pleasing  moment, repeated a couple of times, was the sight of a Kingfisher, Alcedo atthis, shooting across the front of the hide at high spedd, looking as if it had been shot from a gun. 

December 26th 2013. The hide at Greylake was completely deserted when I arrived this morning, in spite of the fact that the car-park was virtually full. Opening the windows, revealed masses of water but there was so much, that tradional open water and grazing areas were thoroughly blurred. Because of this, the waterfowl were widely scattered and remained settled, few flying. I was about to leave, when I started searching the small peninsular of black peat and rough planting just in front. This is a favourite spot for Snipe normally - though I had seen no signs of them today. However, there came a slight movement on the edge, a flash of paler colour. and I realised there were several of these super-camouflaged birds hidden among the vegetation.

The next picture has only just been added - well after it was taken at this date. I wanted to be quite certain of identification, which had been queried by others at the hide. This particular bird had been hanging round a spit of land to the left for a few days but I had not seen it until this day. Most people seemed to feel it was a rather pale Redshank, Tringa totanus, but I was sure it was the Ruff others had talked about. My pictures show the bird in a number of positions and at first my reading varied from Redshank to Ruff at first. The bill and leg colouring and shape of the bill looked Redshank but the back feathers were typical Ruff. Then further study revealed a typical Ruff bill. Eventually, I came down on the side of Ruff and this was confirmed by Alan Ashman, who certainly knows his birds. The most intriguing thing was to find these two waders look so similar at particular stages of plumage, something I would not have imagiined previously.

December 22nd 2013. A quick visit to Catcott Lows in the late morning showed the water denuded of its wildfowl. The strange disappearance of the usual hordes of Wigeon continues. Why? The night brought much more rain and the water level was definitely higher, but not apparently enough to explain this phenomenon. Another visitor said that Greylake reserve had also had days where there were virtually no ducks in sight. A Marsh harrier, Circus aeruginosus, was briefly seen in the distance while someone else said there had been three juveniles present earlier - the story of my life! The only pictures I took were of an excitable and very active Pied wagtail at the edge of the water, always a welcome sight.

December 21st 2013. A sizeable batch of pictures of Mendip has been added to Local landscapes - Mendip. It is now divided into two sub-sections, 'Levels and Moors' and 'Mendip' and should help with ideas of where to visit.

December 19th 2013. Catcott Lows hide was full of observers this morning, but the duck were much reduced in numbers - a trend touched on by people there. I was delighted to see a little gang of Pintails leaping into the air, circling in front and then landing again, repeated several times and a sure sighn that the hormones are stirring again. They are such delightful and neat birds - always immaculate.

At one stage a Little egret flew in and landed fairly close to one side but it was restless and took off immediately, allowing for a number of shots as it went. One pose shows a most odd hunched period in its flight and well illustrates its yellow 'boots', always amazing to people who have not noticed this before.

A harrier did finally appear flying alongside and over the hide, catching us all out. My pictures were all out of focus but the markings showed it to be a male Marsh harrier, Circus aeruginosus. Tealham and Tadham moors were starting to flood after the overnight rain and should start to show some of the winter visitors over Christmas.

December 12th 2013. Richard Duckett was out on Tadham Moor with his digger this morning, clearing the ditches. Following behind the digger, a tail of young Grey herons were searching for prey, mussels and eels, among the soil being deposited on the bank - just like gulls following a plough. Sadly, they flew off a few yards as my car came near. A picture of them all searching was what I had hoped for, but portraits of one of them are shown below.

Catcott hide was full with watchers and the numbers of duck were even greater, as were the Lapwings. I could only stay a short while, but did manage to photograph one of my favourite birds, a Black-tailed godwit, unusually close by, for they are very wary birds.

December 9th 2013. 20+ pictures have been added to the Birds in Flight Gallery. The majority are in 'Waterbirds 2', with some in 'Birds of prey'.

Popped into Catcott Lows hide a couple of times before and after dog-walking. Most of the time it was bright sunlight giving heavy contrast, which makes for difficult photography, but the views sparkled. There were very large numbers of Wigeon spread over a wide area, with a sprinkling of other ducks.

My other shot shows a couple of Shoveler, one of my favourite ducks, especially in flight. It is rather surprising to see two females together - usually there is a male attached.

December 5th 2013. A rather strange day. For some while I had been wanting to visit Greylake RSPB reserve in the morning but events had conspired against it. This morning seemed perfect, cold with little wind and strong sunshine, and at last I was walking into the old hide. There was not a soul there and the wind was starting to blow into the open window but, sadly, there was little to be seen. It has the reputation for a great many duck at this time of year as well as numbers of predators in attendence. There were some Wigeon in sight, but none on the water, while the usual snipe had hidden themselves completely. Eventually I was rewarded with a solitary female Teal swimming down the ditch in front and climbing out to preen. Such a quietly-coloured and well-camouflaged duck, until the green and white speculum flashes open.

Fortunately, the morning was not yet finished and Catcott Lows was on the way home. The hide was full and the water in front had many duck, mainly Wigeon, but with Shoveler, Mallard and Teal among them. But, there was no movement - they were all fast asleep or feeding close to their own groups. At one stage a ring-tailed Hen harrier, Circus cyaneus, appeared, but right at the back - too far for pictures. The only eventual excitement was provided by a large flock of Lapwings which swooped up and down , landing momentarily, then taking off again. My pictures also gives a glimpse of Glastonbury Tor in the background as well as a solitary Golden plover.

December 3rd 2013. I had to drive to Wells today and decided to go the cross-country way, via Westhay Moor. It was teeming with rain, so left my regular 'big' camera behind but, as always, had a Fuji bridge camera tucked away in a locker - just in case! It was fortunate that I had, as I spotted a buzzard sitting on a fence post by the side of the road. I pulled up, switched off the engine and it still did not budge. The photograph shows it dripping with rain, looking thoroughly miserable. Several pictures were taken, but only this on came out, a real tribute to one of the new breed of low-cost, bridge camera. It was taken at the full 500mm focal length, hand-held at 1/50th second and is quite reasonably sharp, recording a fascinating moment.

December 1st 2013. Officially winter is here at last, but still it is sunny for part of the day. Yet another quick drop into Catcott Lows - the birds are still crowding in. This time the draw was a Hen harrier hunting among the vast breakfast table available to it. Once, it crossed in front of the hide while I was there, but noone managed to catch it in focus, so quickly did it blast past. But further off, I managed a shot as it put the duck up. Whether a young one or a female, I cannot tell.

A fine meadow pipit displayed itself on the fence outside the hide, popular as a look-out for many small birds. It is good to see one of these as they have largely vanished from the moors near me in recent years.

Autumn 2013

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