Sunday, 23 February 2014

Starling spectacular in Somerset

THERE are still thousands of starlings overwintering on the Somerset Levels, but they make us watchers work hard for our thrills.  They stream in in vast numbers, but it is really tricky to know where its best to go to see them.

From the Ham Wall RSPB nature reserve there was a great view last Saturday evening, although somewhat distant.

As the huge flocks flies overhead their collective wing flapping creates a spine tingling whoosh, but its not a good idea to look up with your mouth open - if they get frightened its carnage!

As they settled down they seemed to escape the attention of the marsh harriers, but there were still some great wheeling formations:


A cup for elves

IF you're a small being with magical skills, ambivalent towards humans and capable of either helping or hindering us, then this is what you might use to drink from:

Scarlet elf-cup fungus

Spring is not the time of year when you might expect to see fungi 'fruiting', but in fact there are quite a number of notable species, such as morrels and jelly ears that do appear now.  

This Scarlet elf-cup (Sarcoscypha coccinea), which I found on Saturday, is an attractive species which is easy to identify and looks a little like discarded orange peel, although red...

Great Crested Grebes know its spring

TODAY I was particularly hoping to capture the grebes' wonderful spring dance.

In their breeding finery the pairs drift around feeding whilst the male calls out with a sound that is a mixture of a bark and a honk - it resonates across the water with an eeriness which is hard to describe.  The call states his territorial intentions and seems to do it for the ladies too!

Just occasionally the couple go face to face and bob and turn their heads to the prelude to the main event.  They then seemingly lose interest and both dive off to gather weed.  Finally they swim back together and rise breast to breast in exultation, waving their weedy trophies in the air whilst they magically tread water - standing high.  Its quite a sight and is a sure sight of imminent Spring.

Now if there were just a little nearer (250yds?) then I would get some great images too.


Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Same place, same bird, still lovely...

NOW I know that to some people this may seem like a classic LBJ, but to me the female reed bunting is a wonderful little bird.  The males are still in their winter plumage without the fully black head highlighting their white mustache, whereas the females seem to be ready for the new season.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

High waters on the Somerset Levels

INCREDIBLE sights on the Somerset Levels yesterday, with (as we all know) massive, deep flooding.

View looking north to Bridgewater

I wanted to take a look myself to explore the extent of it all, and so went all the way to Burrow Mump and Burrow Bridge where the news media are; the Police were being interviewed when I was there by TV.

There is an obvious beauty to the scene, but tragedy for the home owners.  The Somerset Levels was a land used in Summer as it used to flood in winter, but of course man's management of the water was supposed to stop that, as far as is feasibly possible anyway.  There is SOOOO much water it is uncertain to me how much investment would be required, but I suppose if the Dutch can live below sea level we can.  It makes for some exciting wildlife watching and some tricky navigation in the car!

The weather was amazing - I am not sure that I remember being in stronger winds, which whipped up the water like a little sea.  There were occasional gusty showers but mainly bright sunshine.

I popped into Greylake RSPB Reserve - this is totally inundated so I was only about to take pictures from the entrance.  I had some sunflower seeds which I put out on the bird tables and was able to get some great closeups of common birds such as the reed buntings, chaffinch, great tit, starling and dunnock.  The female bunting has wonderful, warm brown colouration.

Female reed bunting

From a platform looking over the reeds I spotted this wonderful male marsh harrier:

There were huge flocks of lapwings wheeling around with golden plovers mixed in amongst them.  They moved between dry spots restlessly.

I went onto Ham Wall and was amazed to see virtually no-one else was there.  I met a local wildlife enthusiast in one of the viewing areas and exchanged interesting stories about what wildlife the area had to offer.

Heron returning to next site in front of Glasto Tor

From the top of slippery, steep side Barrow Mump the view was biblical.  I just managed to capture this image of a local man from Street doing his best to windsurf in the really tricky conditions:

An exciting day.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

One otter and millions of starlings

TODAY saw the launch of my new lens (yippee) and how better to christen it than on an otter watching afternoon.  The same location that has provided the last three otter sightings did not disappoint and yes - there he was again (sorry Gary).  Although only a quick and far off appearance, it leaves the killer shot of another day whilst maintaining my 100% record.

Along with a large number of others (including Martin Hughes-Games) and after a short visit to Catcott Lows I then went off to Ham Wall to watch the winter murmuration.

The day had been perfect throughout and the evening was bright and still.  The starlings took up a position some way off, but did provide a wonderful vision as they filled the sky towards Glastonbury Torr and thoughtfully flew out of the sunset and across the moon.

Great-crested grebe
The grebes were in their summer finery and the two individuals on the lake were chatting away to one another.

Long-tailed tit