THE Somerset Levels are still wintery, but the snow has faded and the floods have drained away...for now.
A cold, but sunny, Saturday provided an opportunity for some birding. It was wonderful to see some colour again, replacing the snow covered landscape, and on the way there were some lovely rural views.
The highlights of the morning were a 50 strong flock of redshank, a marsh harrier, a small flock of pure white little egrets, 100s of winter thrushes and 1000s of lapwings, and the good thing is that these were spotted in open countryside rather than on a nature reserve. The lapwings seemed to be quite restless moving around in great drifts.
The reserves also provided 3 great white egrets, lots of the usual winter ducks, a whooper swan and a pair of very far off black necked grebes.
View from Noah's hide on Shapwick Heath
As we were in the area in the afternoon, it seemed a shame not to watch the starling murmuration - however the starlings were not up for it and although there were the usual numbers they headed off to a new location and willfully ignored the RSPB wildlife warden.
The massive flocks were still wonderful to see and hearing the swoosh of wings is quite amazing, as they flew over and around, and headed off into the distance.
BATH looks wonderful most of the time, but in the deep snow it is presents a picture book beauty. The valleys around the town are intimate and deep, with small fields bounded by thick hedgerows and mature woodland draped over the slopes. It was great to see so many people out enjoying it - its a paradise for the sledging kids (and parents!).
The snow also brings more birds to the feeder in the garden. I get finches mainly, but tits, blackbirds, robins etc...with the blackcap pair that over winter in our neighbourhood. No bramblings this year though.
Here are a few images of our walk on Friday evening:
The locals were creative - two of the snow man come to a sticky end if you look closely...
I made a special trip out to see the hawfinch at Bruton in Somerset, as this is a lifer for me. It showed quite well amongst a flock of green finches, but the light was awful and my lens is not up to such a small bird so far away!
Thanks to the couple who were there who helped me to pin point the individual. The finch flew all around the graveyard but seemed happiest in the largest yew by the road, near the entrance. This is the yew next to the bare leaved tulip tree (?) which the finch and the green finches also used to feed in.
It felt a bit strange lurking in a graveyard with a pair of bins and a camera...but anyway these images are just proof:
For a much better image of this bird go to this link.
WHAT a great way to start 2013 - a crisp, sunny day, no work and a drive to the watery world of the Somerset Levels. As we approached over the hill we both gasped at the sight before us - a acres and acres of standing water still flooding the lower ground of the Levels, where normally you expect open fields. Many of the roads had become isolated causeways and in some places are inundated and unpassable, unless you have a 4x4 - which I don't. It made for quite a sight.
We tracked down an area of drier grassland where 100s of lapwings had taken refuge, along with starlings and fieldfares. Occasionally they took to the air.
But what we had really come to see was the winter staring roost. This now famous sight is different every time we visit; its very rarely possible to get the great swirls of birds seen on the telly but is always spectacular and exciting. There were several million individuals and a few hopeful buzzards thinking about having a starling snack. As the sunset was a rather good one it made the effort to keep out the freezing cold well worth it.