Sunday, 6 November 2016

Lower Woods in Autumn

TODAY a walk round GWT's Lower Woods, to catch up on autumn colours and to get some fresh air was the plan, and so wrapped up and prepared to brace the mud we trooped off.  As it happens the mud did not materialise and the streams in the woodland were barely flowing, I expect due to the recent dry weather.

Considering how dog friendly and beautiful this woodland is, there really were not many people there and although busier then ever (10 cars!) you rarely bump into anyone whilst walking around.  Maybe they're all paying £9 each to get into Westonbirt*! (*please note that Westonbirt is brilliant and does lovely refreshments).

At this time of year there's no amazing and distracting wildflowers carpeting the woodland floor, so your attention is drawn elsewhere; of course currently that's the wonderful yellows, browns and oranges of the leaves, but also the trees themselves.  This is when the fallen leaves alert you to the species above: oak, ash and hazel dominate - but the bright yellow field maple leaves give away the species amongst its fellows - and then the leaves of the wild service tree lead your eye from your feet to a spindly bare branched (and slightly ugly) tree above.  I also found holly, alder, wych elm and hornbeam (the later for the first time).

There were not many large fungi evident, but this unusual specimen caught my eye; I think that its a grey coral fungus.

Back to the Levels

LAST weekend the weather was balmy, calm and kind - and now look at it!  Anyway, that gave me a chance to hunt down a special bird, reportedly frequently showing on  SWT Westhay Nature Reserve: the bearded tit (or "reedling" as its now known).

This is quite an elusive quarry and although the calls were frequent and near, only once did the specular male show himself - but boy it was worth the wait.  Apparently its easier if you visit early in the morning - but really...?


Locally common, and in this case very tame, this male reed bunting worked hard to extract the reed seeds, which I expect are from now on are ripening worth the effort.  His black face is mottled with the brown of winter plumage, but with the white and chestnut shades he is certainly a handsome chap.

Moving up the road to Ham Wall RSPB reserve the now familiar great white egrets were feeding in the shallow waters between the large areas of reed.  The fields in the area also host flocks of little egrets and, although I was not able to find it, a cattle egret at the moment.

Like so many herons and egrets, the Levels seem to suit them well and they are thriving here.  It is strange that such large exotic birds seemingly have been able to burst onto the scene - but maybe the lack of persecution has at last started to work in these species' favour, and with wetlands being managed to meet their needs its a positive picture.  I hope that soon the cranes will be a common sight...

I was quite surprised to see that where the reed bunting was there the reeds seem to host this fungus - it is so common I did suspect that it was not a problem as the reeds growth seems strong:

The extended warm weather meant that there was a good number of dragonflies still on the wing - I suspect that one week on this is no longer the case.

On Ham Wall the starlings are now amassing, and sitting in a small hide directly in their flight path was an mazing experience.  They rushed at me at eye level, or just above, then altered path at the last moment with a whoosh over head, an excited chatter and multiple plops!  There were thousands and thousands of them and they stream in endlessly to rush down to an area where the noise is almost deafening.  They must go quiet eventually, but I've never stayed long enough to witness that.

Saturday, 2 July 2016

From birds to butterflies

AS the seasons roll on, and in spite of the poor weather, the natural cycle of rearing young and insect emergence is unstoppable.  At this time of the year butterflies and dragonfly spotting takes over from the birding side of nature watching as the birds fall quiet.  They're still there, but busy themselves with feeding their young and keeping a low profile in many cases.  But these alternative quarries are just as exciting and often as spectacular.  The rare white admiral butterfly provides a tropical feel to rides lined with honeysuckle and bramble, as it haughtily floats between canopy and under-story, whilst the prolific meadows team with brown butterflies, and darting damselflies and dragonflies.

Ringlets squabbling in midair
White Admiral

3 marsh harriers

Sunday, 5 June 2016

Late spring in Somerset

THE Levels were heaving with life yesterday; everywhere you looked there were birds searching for food for their young, flitting amongst the lush foliage heavy with blossom or amidst the emerging greenery of the reed beds. Warblers sang heartily from every perch and insects filled the air - we were even dive bombed by a great diving beetle a one point.

However photographing these birds was not so easy - here are the record shots mainly from the day.  The lovely photo of the cuckoo nearby got away as I had the wrong settings on my camera - ugh!

Thank you to the birder on SWT Westhay who alerted me to the male bearded tit before I managed to spot it.

Bearded tit (reedling)

Reed buntings calling from willow branches helped create a unique wetland soundscape.

We headed for a second reserve but pulled over as the area felt perfect for cuckoos and my intuition was rewarded almost immediately with this calling male.

A quick visit to RSPB Ham Wall, yielded this bittern amongst other delights, although I did not realise that there was a rare heron to be seen - oh well maybe Ill just have to go back!

Friday, 3 June 2016

Smooth newts from our garden pond

For Dad: 09/08/26-27/05/16 - who supported my love of natural history from when I was young to the present day.  Thanks Dad. RIP.

Saturday, 7 May 2016

Bunking off work...

A rare day off and I took advantage of the nice weather by going to the Somerset Levels (no surprises there then!).  I was really hoping to see otters but no luck this time.

The summer warblers were on full song although I'm yet to hear a grasshopper warbler.  There were a number of hobbies chasing the newly emerged dragonflies.  The bitterns were generally spending the day stuck to one spot with the exception of one individual who flew so close it felt like it was coming into the hide; no one was prepared with their camera so we all just have to remember the moment.


An incredible noise from the reeds suggested a waterrail, but I noticed this nest with two red headed chicks and realised that it was just a moorhen mother trying to distract me...

This jay was up to no good!  I saw two cuckoos from the same spot and later had a reasonable view of a calling male in the distance.  One of the first pair made that strange bubbling call.

There were a few common butterflies around - this I suspect is a small white.

The levels would not be complete without regular sightings of marsh harriers, such as this one below which gave us quite good views.

Another target species for this trip was a white-throat - I've still not managed to get the shot that I want however but I'll keep trying...

Just taken off...

The grebes and herons were very active, with a couple of heron nests easily viewed from one of the hides.  The heron chick was huge and extremely persistent.

Reed bunting male
As mentioned the bitterns were elusive, although booming regularly; this is the only shot I managed to get - well at least it proves that they are there.

Isn't spring great!