insectsandflight.com
all pictures © robin williams

October 2021: wildlife, from the Somerset Levels

October 30th 2021. Almost the first thing seen on visiting Catcott this afternoon was a harrier being harassed by a crow. They seem to be really active and obnoxious at present - still, they make striking pictures.

Marsh harrier, Circus aeruginosus m & Jackdaw, Corvus monedula

This time it was the Wigeon that made the main story; they were particularly active, landing and taking off, chasing each other on the water, at the same time making that glorious double whistle so characteristic of this time of year.

Wigeon, Anas penelope m

Wigeon, Anas penelope m

Wigeon, Anas penelope m

Wigeon, Anas penelope m

On the way back, I noticed a Kestrel hovering ahead of me, just above the road, which was fortunately empty of traffic. It was concentrating so hard, it did not notice me even when I stepped out of the car to take a long series of pictures. Gradually the bird dropped down until it was just in front of me but what is so noticeable in those pictures is that whatever is happening to the body, wings or tail, the head remains at exactly the same angle, each identical to the previous one. It must have absolutely iron control over its flight muscles and the others controlling its attitude. What an amazing few minutes!

Kestrel, Falco tinnunculus

Kestrel, Falco tinnunculus f 

 Kestrel, Falco tinnunculus f 

Kestrel, Falco tinnunculus f 

Kestrel, Falco tinnunculus f 

Kestrel, Falco tinnunculus f 

Kestrel, Falco tinnunculus f 

Kestrel, Falco tinnunculus f 

Kestrel, Falco tinnunculus f 

Kestrel, Falco tinnunculus f 

October 27th 2021. A mixed bag of a day, high winds, sun and overcast, continually variable. Catcott looked really dead when I reached it. Another chap in the hide said ot had been like that for ages. The safari started well with a splendid Great white egret feeding right in the open on Tealham moor. There are more of these beautiful birds spreading out over the fields at present. At this time of the year their plumage is utterly sleek, looking as if the camera has not recorded detail, until you look at the eye, in perfect focus.

Great white egret, Egretta alba

At Catcott, duck were starting to appear in large numbers. Heavily overcast, it was perfect for their camouflage to lose them in the rushes and edges of the pond. Amongst the many Wigeon were one or two Gadwall and the first Shoveler I have spotted this year, not quite in full breeding plumage but near.

 Shoveler, Anas clypeata m

Wigeon settle themselves in the vegetation at the edges of the pond. My picture shows how well their colouring camouflages them, breaking up the bulk of their bodies. Even the bight colouring of the drakes merges perfectly.

Wigeon, Anas penelope

The most interesting moments came when a shadow came from over the hide and dashed over the pond in front. The fine female Sparrowhawk looked like a ghost, pale and grey, travelling at speed. The miraculous focussing system on the camera stopped it in its travels though rather it was rather distant. This bird was carrying out its favourite mode, dropping over a hedge or building to catch potential victims unaware, though she was not successful this time. As she did so, a great storm of duck took off and circled, and circled - far more than were suspected previously.

Sparrowhawk, Accipiter nisus f

Sparrowhawk, Accipiter nisus f

October 21st 2021. In theory it was going to be a perfect autumnal day, sunshine throughout. My morning visit did not work out that way though. Much of the time it was clouded over at Steart Marshes, on the coast. The rest of the day turned out as promised. My destination was the Quantock hide, overlooking a large area of fresh water much loved by waders and others. I had hoped to see the five Spoonbills Platalea leucorodia that have been showing themselves off for some days but they had been seen flying off earlier that morning. There were various ducks sparsely represented, but I was hoping for waders. The only ones to be seen were Golden plover, but in large numbers on the southern shore opposite the hide. At first they all sat firmly in long rows on the edge of the shallows, but eventually something set them off - even larger numbers revealed themselves as they all took off and circled round. It was a glorious sight but the light did not reveal as much of their colour as I had hoped. 

Golden plover, Pluvialis apricaria

Golden plover, Pluvialis apricaria

 

Golden plover, Pluvialis apricaria 

 On the way back, Tim D's field on Tealham moor had a whole crowd of Canada geese feeding on the shallow lake formed after recent rain. This field seems to have a special property just right for ducks and waders, keeping wet when other surrounds are long dry. A buzzard flew over as I was stopped there watching, bringing to mind that even these birds are no longer as frequent as they were. They are such variable birds, from dark to almost white - beautiful.

Canada geese, Branta canadensis

 

Common buzzard, Buteo buteo

Later, in the afternoon I had an urge to visit Catcott Lows. Perhaps it was the sun tempting. This second burst of birding proved really worthwhile. The moor was bathed in sun, not too contrasty. What is seen is however completely misleading. Alan has been photographing the area from a drone and showed us an overhead picture of the whole moor. Instead of the pond and deep-water ditch being the only water, it showed a complete patchwork of grasses, reeds, scrub and water, the latter being in the ascendency. No wonder flights of duck are hidden for much of the time. Wigeon were the dominant species by far. My photographs concentrate of them, so beautifully coloured, showing off over darker parts of the sky.

Common wigeon, Anas penelope 

Common wigeon, Anas penelope 

Common wigeon, Anas penelope 

 

Common wigeon, Anas penelope 

 Common wigeon, Anas penelope 

A lone Marsh harrier appeared and was busy quartering the open grassland when one of its great enemies appeared. The Carrion crow just would not leave him alone. It must be intensely frustrating for the harrier but showed up some wonderful flying skills from both birds.

Marsh harrier, Circus aeruginosus m

Marsh harrier, Circus aeruginosus m & Carrion crow, Corvus corone corone

Marsh harrier, Circus aeruginosus m & Carrion crow, Corvus corone corone

Marsh harrier, Circus aeruginosus m & Carrion crow, Corvus corone corone

October 16th 2021. I had another extraordinary hour at Catcott Lows, late in the afternoon when the sun broke through periodically after a deal of cloud. Gadwall were crowded in with the Wigeon and performed perfectly when circling overhead, the wonderful pencilling on the drakes catching the light perfectly as they passed overhead. As usual, they flew as pairs or trios, unlike the Wigeon who were there in increasing numbers and flew as a flock - togetherness being the order of the day.

Gadwall Anas strepera

 

Gadwall Anas strepera m 

Gadwall Anas strepera m 

Gadwall Anas strepera

Gadwall Anas strepera 

 A Marsh harrier joined in the fun, driving the Wigeon into the sky. I like the pictures with the predator and ducks in the same frame. Later, this same bird quartered the reeds for some while though not obviously with any success.

Wigeon Anas penelope 

Marsh harrier Circus aeruginosus m & Mallard

 Marsh harrier Circus aeruginosus m 

Marsh harrier Circus aeruginosus m 

Marsh harrier Circus aeruginosus m 

Marsh harrier Circus aeruginosus

October 15th 2021. I cannot resist Catcott Lows in this present spell of fine weather with next to no wind. This visit was notable for the first signs of winter chill - not for us but from the arrival of the first Wigeon. Inevitably they are the concrete sign that it is chilling on the Continent and the great mass of winter duck will soon be on the way. Some of the drakes were losing their summer plumage while one or two are all but in full breeding plumage. The pleasure is increased by the lovely double whistles accompanying them. 

Wigeon Anas penelope

Wigeon Anas penelope

Mallard Anas platyrhynchos

Mallard Anas platyrhynchos

The final sighting was a distant, lone male Marsh harrier. It's appearance demonstrated a novel method of bird-watching. Each time the harrier passed near the pond, the Wigeon all looked up into the sky but more noticeably yet, all the males started whistling. No need to keep an eye on where the predator was, just listen, then focus and press the button. 

October 14th 2021. Catcott calls once again; late afternoon can be a magical time, whether there are birds or not. Alan, Andrew and I were the sole inhabitants of the hide and were treated to a perfect display from a buzzard which went from perching on the lone pole to the south and a very uncomfortable-looking perch on the slender pole supporting the solar panel on the hut. This fine-looking bird flew across between the two points a couple of times as well as  quartering the reeds. I started with several interesting pictures with the bird seen through some out of focus fence posts. They concentrate the view perfectly, though rather far off.  

Common buzzard Buteo buteo

Common buzzard Buteo buteo

Common buzzard Buteo buteo

Common buzzard Buteo buteo

Common buzzard Buteo buteo

 

Grey heron Ardea cinerea

Cattle egret Bubulcus ibis 

October 13th 2021. A superb day spent out on Westhay Moor, the first part at the Tower Hide on London Drove.

Westhay Moor National Nature Reserve

Here, the main interest was a Great crested grebe in winter plumage, probably the year's brood judging by the fluffy feathering. It was fascinating watching it as it dove into its plumage in an orgy of cleanliness which lasted for well over half-an-hour, then resumed again later after a longish pause. This brought  some beautiful poses. I just could not stop pushing the button.

Great crested grebe Podiceps cristatus

Great crested grebe Podiceps cristatus

Great crested grebe Podiceps cristatus

Great crested grebe Podiceps cristatus

Great crested grebe Podiceps cristatus

Great crested grebe Podiceps cristatus

The only other picture of note was a Moorhen scuttling across the pond in a fury of activity cased by another bird.

Moorhen Gallinula chloropus

On the way back down to the car a movement was seen, a fat, pale-coloured frog that froze long enough for a picture in it's grassy cave. You do not see as many adults as there used to be.

Common frog Rana tempoaria

I thought of going home but decided to divert down to the Lake Hide, an old favourite of mine. I was so pleased I had. Almost as soon as I sat down in the empty hide, a harrier appeared and I was treated to a splendid display as he passed back and forth across the reeds in front, wavering low down, then soaring up before banking and down to the hunt again. They are such elegant fliers, never a feather out of place, held up on an invisible cushion of air, of which they are such masters, floating for much of the time.

Marsh harrier  Circus aeruginosus f

Marsh harrier  Circus aeruginosus f

Marsh harrier  Circus aeruginosus f

Marsh harrier  Circus aeruginosus f

Marsh harrier  Circus aeruginosus f

Marsh harrier  Circus aeruginosus f

Marsh harrier  Circus aeruginosus f

October 11th 2021. When the bedroom curtains were pulled open, a sheet of white mist billowed over the moors below, with the top of the Polden hills crystal clear beyond. This was the first truly autumnal day on the Levels, a time immemorial where cattle apparently walk with heads or legless bodies showing. In half an hour it was all gone, revealing a clear, bright sunny view which persisted through the day where we could see. I decided to re-visit Westhay Moor to see if I could have another glimpse of the Bearded reedlings. In spite of being told that they were to be found at several points in some numbers, I had no luck. During my walk up Daggs Drove, said to be the focal point, my best link was a solitary 'ping' in the middle of a large reed-bed. I talked to others met on the drove and they reported the same. This was possibly due to thick cloud covering Westhay Moor for most of the visit. According to Romey, our moors maintained the sun during all this time  Never mind, the walk was enjoyable. My only pictures were were of darters.

Common darter Sympetrum striolatum m

Common darter Sympetrum striolatum

Later, I climbed into the car once more and made for Catcott Lows, which I found empty of people, though a very quiet couple came towards the end of my quite lengthy stay. It was lovely there, peaceful, warm, the water in front absolutely still - perfect conditions. I cannot claim it was bustling with wildlife, nor were there visits from rarities, but it was interesting, as well as peaceful. I suppose the only 'rarity' was a lone female Kestrel, a bird that has moved from abundance in the area to an unusual sight in a few short years.

 

Kestrel Falco tinnunculus f

Kestrel Falco tinnunculus f

Kestrel Falco tinnunculus f

Otherwise, all were common, local birds, but fascinating for all that. 

Grey heron Ardea cinerea

Grey heron Ardea cinerea

Mute swan Cygnus olor

Mute swan Cygnus olor

Mute swan Cygnus olor

Gadwall courtship Anas strepera m

Gadwall Anas strepera, subtle beauty

On my way back, Tealham and Tadham Moors yielded more interesting moments with egrets taking the stand. A pair of Cattle egrets were, unusually, the only birds in attendance with a herd of bullocks. A couple of Great white egrets fed right out in the middle of a field where Jack's Drove crossed the road completely unworried by my stopping and watching them from the car. It is good to see them spreading out cross the countryside. How much yellower they are than the intense white of the Little egret.

Cattle egrets Bubulcus ibis

Great white egret Egretta garzetta

Great white egret Egretta garzetta

October 9th 2021. Another perfect autumn day, brilliant sunshine, virtually no wind. Kevin told me the other day about the invasion of Bearded reedlings, or Bearded tits as I had long known them, so I was determined to try and spot them. The island hide off the drove up from the Westhay Moor car park was the focal point. I reached there after searching each side of the drove, no luck. The hide brought no more luck. Then I started chatting to another chap who could no longer hear their call but had very sharp eyes. I heard the characteristic 'ping' just as we saw a small bird fly across the water into the reeds close to me. The reeds shook and I pointed the lens in that direction. There was a shadow in the viewfinder and a series of pictures were taken of which two are shown below. The quieter-coloured female was clearly shown, such an exciting moment after all these years. My previous sightings were on the Norfolk Broads when I was sixteen and in Holland thirty years or so ago.

Bearded reedling Panurus biarmicus f

Bearded reedling Panurus biarmicus f

After a reasonable time in the hide, I decided to go on to the tower platform in the centre of the main reed-bed to see how the Marsh harriers were doing. Looking back, I think I should have stayed where I was, but there were on or tow interesting events. A Marsh harrier did appear but way up above, where it was being mobbed by a crowd of the crow family. These smaller bullies just would not leave it alone. They must have driven it up, it is most unusual to see a harrier very far off the ground.

Marsh harrier Circus aeruginosus and Jackdaw bullies 

A Gadwall was captured as it erupted from beneath - most unusual for a surface-feeding duck. Could it have been attacked from below?

Gadwall Anas strepera f

Finally, after studying the acres o reedbeds in front, hoping to locate where the harriers may be nesting, a heron flew in, tiny against the background, and disappeared beneath the reeds, possibly another ground-nesting heron as I have come across elsewhere in the area.

Grey heron Ardea cinerea 

October 6th 2021. After terrible storms for a few days, today was miraculous, crystal clear air in bright sunshine, with moderate breeze. I seized the occasion and drove over to Westhay Moor NNR. Kevin was in the car-park and told me about what was around, in particular there were Bearded reedlings Panurus biarmicus in large numbers (though you have to be there in the morning to actually see them). I made my way to the tower hide (platform) where I had extraordinary luck in that, as I climbed the ladder, a Marsh harrier flew across the front reasonably close, providing me with some memorable shots.

Marsh harrier Circus aeruginosus juv.

Marsh harrier Circus aeruginosus juv.

Marsh harrier Circus aeruginosus juv.

The only insects I spotted were butterflies. Everything else has vanished or hidden itself. They appear so delicate but survive later than most and manage to cross the seas on long journeys. 

Speckled wood butterfly Pararge aegeria

October 2nd 2021. It is much colder, after a very unseasonal September with continuous above-average temperatures. Apart from various darters and a few butterflies, nothing else is flying, even the last of the bumblebees.

Common darter Sympetrum striolatum m

It is always sad when you realize that you will be without the insects for a few months, the macro lens put away once more. Apart from the three egrets, there will be a gap when birds do not take up the slack, a somewhat dead period of the year. Long periods of rain and high winds have kept us indoors recently and it seems will continue into the future. It is a shame there is little to report at this time except how nice a good pub meal was today under the shadow of Brent Knoll. Pints of beer taste better as the cooler weather strikes.