insectsandflight.com
all pictures © robin williams

March 2022: wildlife, from the Somerset Levels.

March 26th 2022. Romey and I took an early look at Loxley Wood today. Early, because it has a fearsome reputation for wet, gooey tracks, and hope for signs of the wildflowers to come. The mud was not too bad, peat mixes dry off well. While our hopes for the flowers were well justified; the place a mass of white Wood anemones (Anemone nemorosa), they have taken over along the tracks as well as in internally in sheets, as far as the eye can see. The first Bluebells (Hyacynthoides non-scripta) were coming out in favoured spots also, to lend a touch of colour. Among the early insects, bee-flies were spotted in one section of the wood itself; rather surprising, as they usually enjoy open sunshine.

bee-fly, Bombylius major

bee-fly, Bombylius major

The first of the hoverflies were feeding on the edges of the main drove. It looked as if it would be up to its usual promise shortly.

hoverfly, Eristalis tenax f

hoverfly, Melanastoma scalare f

hoverfly, Melanastoma scalare f

hoverfly, Eupeodes corollae m

March 25th 2022. The Tower platform in the centre of Westhay Moor NNR proved to be an absolute winner - though this was not realised until the pictures came up on the computer. A pair of Marsh harriers were displaying in the middle of the main reed bed, though they appeared to be displaying on their own, each in turn. This display was characterised by the birds each hanging its legs down, as if they were exchanging food packets, though no such was spotted. 

Marsh harrier, Circus aeruginosus juv.

Marsh harrier, Circus aeruginosus juv.

Marsh harrier, Circus aeruginosus juv.

Marsh harrier, Circus aeruginosus juv.

Marsh harrier, Circus aeruginosus juv.

Marsh harrier, Circus aeruginosus juv.

Marsh harrier, Circus aeruginosus juv.

Marsh harrier, Circus aeruginosus juv. 

Marsh harrier, Circus aeruginosus f.

March 24th 2022. A splendid day spent periodically observing and photographing insects on the terrace flower beds. Both bumblebees and tiny hoverflies were present in spite of a cold, cutting wind. 

bumblebee, Bombus pascuorum q

bumblebee, Bombus pascuorum q

bumblebee, Bombus pascuorum q

bumblebee, Bombus pratorum q

bumblebee, Bombus pratorum q

bumblebee, Bombus pratorum q

bumblebee, Bombus pratorum q

hoverfly, Playcheirus clypeatus m

 

hoverfly, Playcheirus clypeatus m

 

hoverfly, Cheilosia pagana m

mining bee, Lasioglossum calceatum f

 March 23rd 2022. It was a pleasant day, while the season was moving on quickly. A visit to Graylake turned out to be far less than expected, as my pictures show. Clearly the duck had left the area earlier than at Catcott. On the way a heavy-set beetle crossed over the path as quickly as it could, a fine ground beetle. They used to be common carrying and frequently seen making this manouvre, but have become quite unusual in recent years.

 

ground beetle, Pterostichus madidus 

My picture of the goose is just that but the quality of the light struck me at the time. I always have a soft spot for Greylags, one of the original inhabitants of our waters. 

Greylag goose, Anser anser

On the way back I came across a marshy rhyne-edge on Tealham Moor on which were numbers of Little egrets. The pictures show their astonishing yellow 'boots' but were also remarkable for the apparent bulk of these particular birds. It is more usual to think of them as delicate little things. 

Little egret, Egretta garzetta

Little egret, Egretta garzetta

March 22nd 2022. Spent much of the day in short spells sitting on a stool in front of the terrace flower-bed, baking in the strong sun. Every so often I moved one way or another to follow the parts that was lit, not over-shadowed. Insect life is definitely on the increase, the most noticeable were two bumblebees, Bombus pratorum and B. pascuorum. I was also delighted to see a single B. hortorum, normally the most colourful and numerous of the bumblebees during Spring.

bumblebee, Bombus pratorum q

bumblebee, Bombus pratorum q

bumblebee, Bombus pratorum q

bumblebee, Bombus hortorum q

Tiny hoverflies were also much more evident, of three separate species, while bee-flies were feeding busily with all-but invisible wings. Finally, the mining bees  Lasioglossum calceatum and Andrena dorsata appeared, so not a bad selection. 

hoverfly, Platycheirus peltatus m

hoverfly, Platycheirus tarsalis m

hoverfly, Platycheirus tarsalis m

hoverfly, Platycheirus tarsalis m 

hoverfly, Platycheirus clypeatus m

bee-fly, Bombylius major m

bee-fly, Bombylius major f

mining bee, Lasioglossum calceatum f

mining bee, Andrena dorsata m

March 21st 2022. I looked in at Catcott Lows today and was amazed to see a male Ruff, still in his winter plumage. Amazing, since I had not come across any for many years. Forty years of so ago, Ruff appeared regularly each Spring on a rush-filled and very damp field at the bottom of Tadham Moor, right up against the road. One the way back today, I looked again in detail at this same field and came to the conclusion that it appeared not to have changed at all, at least visually, the same stubble of Hard rush, really wet surface. In those far-off days they were seen every year, part of the regular calendar of local events. Why the change?

Ruff, Philomachus pugnax

March 20th 2022. Catcott Lows provided a real spectacle under the blinding Spring sunshine. I went there with the prospect of enjoying the much reduced duck population and no more. Instead, I had the fine exhibition of a female Marsh harrier putting up the duck, who then flew backwards and forwards round her, providing some unusual images.

Marsh harrier, Circus aeruginosus f & Lapwings, Vanellus vanellus

Marsh harrier, Circus aeruginosus f & Lapwing, Vanellus vanellus

Marsh harrier, Circus aeruginosus f 

Marsh harrier, Circus aeruginosus f & Lapwing, Vanellus vanellus

Marsh harrier, Circus aeruginosus f & Lapwings, Vanellus vanellus

Lapwings were busy displaying, with shrieks of joy as they did so. It is so good to see and hear this each year as the sun comes out. I completed the afternoon with pictures of Shoveler as they accumulated, then displayed on the open water.

Lapwing, Vanellus vanellus

Lapwing, Vanellus vanellus

Shoveler, Anas clypeata m

Shoveler, Anas clypeata m

Shoveler, Anas clypeata f

 

Shoveler, Anas clypeata f

Shoveler, Anas clypeata m

March 18th 2022. Dropped in to Catcott Lows late in the afternoon. Wonderful light, mostly still. Apart from lesser numbers of duck, the most notable inhabitants were snipe, standing right out in the open, most unusual for this area of water.

March 15th 2022. In real, practical terms, this is the second day of Spring. Yesterday started a complete change of weather, switching from cold, windy overcast, where you dashed from one point to another outside, to sitting on the terrace, lightly clothed in full sun. I had been caught out by this, with my equipment incorrectly set-up, producing a string of failures, though the insects were there. This morning, I was fully set up and tested. A chair was dragged out close to the front flower bed, with its vital wild Lesser celandines Ficaria verna and Pulmonaria - beloved of both solitary and bumblebees. The Nikon 7200 was attached to my Sigma 150mm 2.8 macro DG lens, the Rogue safari flash enhancer dug out and I was ready for the first day of insect photography of this new year. It turned out even better than I had hoped. I only stopped because I found my concentration level was becoming too intense, as was the sun. Bumblebees have this ability to rev up their flight muscles in colder spells. No need for that this morning, they were up and raring to go. All the bumblebees were of one species, Bombus pratorum, now known as the appropriate, Early bumblebee, all females. After looking at them both in the wild and on the computer, I am still not sure whether they were queens or workers. These particular bees have a fine yellow band across the second segment of the abdomen, but these ones were narrowed in the middle in a manner similar to that of the typical Bombus soroeensis, aptly known as the Broken-belted bumblebee (not present until May onwards). Only one of many books I own mentioned this as a characteristic for B. pratorum.

bumblebee, Bombus pratorum f

bumblebee, Bombus pratorum f

bumblebee, Bombus pratorum f

bumblebee, Bombus pratorum f

bumblebee, Bombus pratorum f

flower bee, Anthophora plumipes m

flower bee, Anthophora plumipes m

flower bee, Anthophora plumipes m

flower bee, Anthophora plumipes m

hoverfly, Episyrphus balteatus m

March 10th 2022. A chilly, blustery day greeted me with some sunshine at Catcott Lows. I had no hopes of anything special, just a need for fresh air and a quick look on the way elsewhere. One chap was in the hide but left almost immediately, after suggesting I look over the water to the extreme right. A move between bunches of rushes caught my eye - showing a largish dark bird. It was our resident Glossy ibis, spotted from the detail of its colouring on wing feathers, the same bird that I have photographed consistently for some weeks. This time I had some superb views, as it wandered in and around the clumps. I could not have wished for more perfect poses, while the distance was just right. Judge for yourself!

Glossy ibis, Plegadis falcinellus

Glossy ibis, Plegadis falcinellus

Glossy ibis, Plegadis falcinellus

Glossy ibis, Plegadis falcinellus

Glossy ibis, Plegadis falcinellus

Glossy ibis, Plegadis falcinellus

Glossy ibis, Plegadis falcinellus

Glossy ibis, Plegadis falcinellus

Glossy ibis, Plegadis falcinellus

Glossy ibis, Plegadis falcinellus

March 8th 2022. It was another damp and chilly afternoon at Catcott Lows. I spent much of it concentrating on a lone Great white egret fishing in the middle of the reeds. In the end I became almost hypnotised, as the bird nodded forward, rocking as it went, in an effort to find something to eat, however small. During the time there, there was no trace of success as far as I could see. I found myself totally concentrated on this movement in the reeds, though I did not think anything would happen. Eventually, the egret itself agreed and it flew off to a more promising area.

Great white egret, Egretta alba

Great white egret, Egretta alba

Great white egret, Egretta alba

Great white egret, Egretta alba 

March 6th 2022. As I left Catcott Lows, after a freezing half hour or so in strong face-0n winds, I thought I hadn't taken anything worthwhile. However, the computer showed a pleasant, if not outstanding, set; the sort that gets ignored so often in favour of the exotic. Perhaps the most interesting, if not of any quality, was the Glossy ibis. This was taken, as so often recently, at great distance, skulking behind the grasses and reeds. It has been with us for a really long spell, well over a month, delighting many. It seems there are two more ibises elsewhere. Let's hope a pair meet up!

Glossy ibis, Plegadis falcinellus

Wigeon, Anas penelope

 

Wigeon, Anas penelope

The first signs of Shoveler courtship were spotted today; this can be very active at times, usually a number of drakes chasing a single female in very fast flight. In fact, during the spring, a quite different mode of flight is adopted, noisy, splashy and quite deliberate, even for those short individual flights that land almost as soon as they set off.  

Shoveler, Anas clypeata 

It is unusual to see Cormorants on Catcott pond, so shots were taken as it appeared just behind one of the small islands. Note the start of the more colourful breeding plumage starting to appear at this stage.

Cormorant, Phalacrocorax carbo

Cormorant, Phalacrocorax carbo - start of the dive

March 3rd 2022. Catcott Lows hide was near full, but I was delighted to see Ron, who I had not met up with for a long while, as well as Chris and Graham. It was a variable day, overcast and sunny as the gods allowed. Quite a lot was going on, the Glossy ibis, Plegadis falcinellus, was still there, although right over to the back, where it remained beyond the reach of lenses. The most interesting for me were a couple of Great white egrets, which eventually rewarded me with a flypast, close to where I was sitting. Both birds were showing the first signs of spring plumage, one more than the other. The tip of his bill was darkening , while green was flushing round his eye. Later, when he landed, he showed his first barbed decorative back feathers.

Great white egret, Egretta alba

Great white egret, Egretta alba

Great white egret, Egretta alba

Great white egret, Egretta alba

March 1st 2022. The first day of Spring. After breakfast, I was sitting in my study writing this diary when I looked up to see a Roebuck, his antlers still in velvet, move up from the hedge below to stand right in front of the window. Because of the slope of the ground, these windows start level with the grass outside, so I was eye-to-eye with this magnificent creature. The light was on, presumable leaving me quite clear to the buck, yet he appeared to look right at me. He moved closer to the window, perhaps six foot or so away. All at once, he lowered his head, started twisting and squirming, it looked as though he was about to charge towards me, then I realised he was seeing himself reflected, a potential rival? This took place over a few minutes, before he relaxed, strolled off to the top. It was only a brief visit, with him walking back past the window again in a few minutes. Of course, my camera was out of reach, and I dared not move, but I will never forget those few minutes, so close to a wild buck completely at ease with himself.

The terrible invasion of Ukraine continues with Putin's Russians failing to make their early conquest, as they had hoped, but there is ominous news today, a 40 mile long armoured column is making its way towards the capital, Kyiv. The world is stepping up its contribution to the country but there are no military moves against Putin except from Ukraine. It is a terrible and scandalous situation for which there is no excuse; a bully attacking a peaceful country with enormous forces. In the past, Ukrainians have been the leading overseas viewers of this website; we send our sympathy and good wishes to these brave people.