Monday, 26 May 2014

Somerset Levels in late spring

ANOTHER trip out to the Somerset Levels and some off-track exploring meant that the ticks had a field day.

The May blossom is fading and the cow-parsley in the hedgerows is certainly past its peak.  The meadows are now high with maturing grasses and with them yellow flag irises and thistles line the damper areas.  These cattle were doing their best to chomp through the vegetation.

My efforts to photograph a singing reed warbler took another small step forward - at least I had one in my line of sight this time, but more effort required I think...


On many of the lakes the water lilies are in flower.  The leaves flick up as the breeze whips across the water and makes it quite hard to spot other movement - such as the elusive otters.

Bitterns, little egrets, nesting cormorants, hundreds of swifts and two scything hobbies were the highlights of the birding day.  The great-crested grebes were very active - pursuing the fish in their underwater sorties only yards from where I was watching.

Anything edible about?

There are clouds of insects out now.  This interesting pied moth alighted on a cow parsley - only when you examine the image do you start to notice how many other wee beasties there are around.

My wanderings lead me to a chattering tree - the sure sign of a nesting woodpecker; usually a great spotted woodpecker.  The male and female took it in turns to feed the noisy young, who were ecstatic when they heard the adult in the near vicinity.

The less disturbed waterways (rhynes) are brimming with aquatics, damselflies and dragonflies.  This dainty water violet produced an impressive miniature forest of pale flowers rising out of the water.

Some small areas of bog exist still, where the peat has not been extracted.  The example in this small field (below) supports a large colony of cotton grass, but as a habitat this is rare in the area.

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Wiltshire Cotswolds beauty

ONE of our favorite places to walk locally is a small valley near Castle Combe in Wiltshire and last weekend it was at its sparkling best.  The area is in the southern most tip of the Cotswolds and hence the bedrock is limestone.  Clear streams cut through deep valleys - with the ByBrook being the main one.

As many of the slopes are too steep to cultivate they are put down to permanent pasture.  Sheep and cattle graze the grassland and produce a flower rich sward full of interest and beauty.

The area supports a number of SSSIs and is home to green hairstreak, adonis and chalkhill blue butterflies, native crayfish and dippers, as well as all the normal wildlife that you would expect of such a place - it is quite idyllic really.  When we visited, Butterfly Conservation were on a field outing on West Yatton Down SSSI, with permission from the landowner.

At the start of our walk the valley bottom supports typical meadow species (MG5b) including yellow rattle and pignut.  These merge into more calcareous grassland (CG2/3) characterised by the presence of salad burnet and upright brome.

The slopes are rich with flowers

Mature ancient woodland and hawthorn hedges are interspersed between the grassland.  Some coppicing has been carried out and the ground flora of ramsons, dog's mercury and orchids have benefited.

The hawthorns were dripping with their pungently aromatic, white flowers.

Once upon a time the valley had a working mill and this has affected the layout of the water course.  These Devon Red cattle were enjoying the cool of the pool below a weir.

I heard the dipper and pointed my camera and clicked the shutter - I caught just one rather blurred image:

The area changes through out the seasons and so another visit will be on the cards very soon.

Merged image of the hillside

Monday, 19 May 2014

A Wessex Weekend

THIS weekend's exploits included Iford Manor, Wiltshire, Arne and Swanage in Dorset and finally a visit to a valley just south of Castle Combe, Wiltshire (the next blog). We certainly put the miles in.

It is hard not to be charmed by the chirpy and constantly active grey wagtail like this one on the river by the Manor.  Here the wagtail is close to the water, chasing after the many insects swarming around the surface.

The bridleways are now full of white cow parsley, hawthorn blossom and ramsons.  This is a composite photo:

At the wonderful Dorset coast the colour of the sea was amazing and the bright thrift flowering on the cliff tops was a sight.

Near Swanage there is quite a healthy breeding seabird population, including a number of guillemots.   This guy was taking a bath and looked quite hilarious.

A chirping green finch caught my attention as they seem to have become quite scarce around us.  It did not make up for the lack of Dartford warbler at Arne though.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

RSPB's Ham Wall and Shapwick Heath NNR - spectacular

FOR exciting wildlife experiences, RSPB's Ham Wall nature reserve and Shapwick Heath NNR rarely let you down, and last Sunday was no exception.

The bird life there is fantastic and it is possible to get quite close up to capture images.  Large water birds, such as this cormorant below, thrive, although the cormorants former nest site is no longer used, I expect due to high water levels.


For once, however, I took a different approach and looked carefully and patiently at some of the small ditches and found them to be just as full of life as the trees, dense shrubs, open water and reed-beds.  There were many small frogs and also smooth newts - the one in the photo below was laying eggs.  A number of dragonflies have also now emerged and these are fresh and unblemished.


However, once again the stars of the show were the bitterns and a very close marsh harrier.  They seemed to be very active and quarrelsome, wheeling around the in the air in a slow chase.

Swifts, a Hercules and two bitterns (at the bottom)
A little egret:

Black-tailed godwits:

A beautiful marsh harrier quartered the reedbeds hunting for a meal: