Leave it to the Experts


It was going to be a quick one today. James was away down south and the day wasn't looking good. Fancying a bit of company I invited that perennial favourite Mr Riley along for the ride. Greylake was his choice with a quick stint over to see if we could spot the Cranes.

We met at the carpark and headed over to the raised hide. All was quiet. The dabblers were all having a rest, no sign of a Peregrine and only two brief glimpses of a female Marsh Harrier were the raptor contribution. Ok there were lots of ducks to see especially Pochard, Teal and Shovelers but no Tuffties. Even before we got to the hide we were dive bombed by a pair of Snipe. They're everywhere! I was on a mission to get a decent shot of one. You'll see from below how successful I was! Of other note was a calling Bittern, probably the resident pair and a solitary Great White Egret.

Mr Riley had a new toy given for his seventieth birthday. Congrats David. I then had to spend a few minutes sorting his setting out on the shiny new Canon SX420. That took me back to his first week in work with me when I had to show him how to use his computer. Oh happy days!

But wait, there was an interesting bird about! Scampering in between the sleeping ducks was a familiar sight. A Red Shank in fact a pair were about all the time we were there.

Red Shank a bit far away

Little Egret fly-through

There were footsteps on the board walk..... Mr Riley and I were in casual conversation, as you do, and I payed little attention. As the steps entered I turned and to my surprise it was none other than Robin Morrison. He of exceptional talent and gear and winner of awards and published to boot but probably best known for the inaugural 'A day with' interview post we did a few months ago. It's been a while since seeing him and we caught up a bit. He was there for the Garganey that had been reported. We set off on a mission to find it. That didn't last very long and we were soon back chatting and looking aimlessly about in vain hope.

Coots getting territorial.

The other Red Shank was wandering up and down right in front of the hide

Wonderful birds are the Peewit Even in the drab light the colours were on show

David was insistent that I take this shot. It's from the lower hide.

Robin then gave us a test. An ID of a bird facing awn, hunkered down (As James would say) and only half visible.

We pondered for a while then quickly came to the conclusion it was a Shoveler as can be seen from the pic below. That was the highlight!

As we all prepared to leave we had another visitor. Quite an esteemed and respected fellow along with his good wife. It was Jeff Hazel. Unfortunately I've never really chatted to him even though I've seen him often around the levels. Our main point of communication was a little spat over Little Bitterns a few years ago but I'm sure all is forgiven. Nevertheless I have the highest regard for him. He knows what he's looking at and has been a prominent member of the SOS for many years. You can find Jeff on Twitter at @levelsbirder. Needless to say a couple of hours later I had a Tweet from Robin saying that Jeff had spotted the Garganey. Best leave this sort of thing to the experts ay!

As for the Snipe? They'll wait for another day. As for the Cranes? The only thing we saw over Aller and Othery way was Robin driving home passed us. Still a good day though. Can't complain. Oh and thank's again for spotting the Garganey Jeff.


It ain't half hot mum


We never seem to get much time these days here at EFRS towers. Other stuff, the weather, domestic duties etc. We managed to snatch a few hours at Hamwall to day and were determined to make the most of it. James was very keen to get back out on the bikes so we made plans to meet at VP2 nice and early. I got there for 7:45 and settled down to wait. It was quiet but things had already started to kick into action for the day. A Greater Spotted Woodpecker was being very annoying as he hammered away on a tree but always on the other side. My nemesis returns again!


While waiting for Godot I meandered in my mind of how the season is changing yet again. The days a little longer, the mornings a little lighter and in particular I say the same thing in the first spring / summer blog every damn year. I should change the record one of these days. All this despite the fact it was very dark, very grey and not particularly warm. Well what do you expect Andrew, I thought to my self, it's only bloody March. You'll be wanting to seeing Sand Martins and Swallows above your head in a minute. I looked up and bugger me if there wasn't dozens of Sand Martins fluttering about above my head. While watching them I spotted the tell tail tale of a Swallow. Bit early but shouldn't complain. It ain't hot yet.

First of the year for Sand Martins

Next it will be the ones I'm dearly waiting for the Swifts and Hobbies!!

The Great White Egrets weren't too fussy about getting close either.

A Raven 'escorting' a Buzzard on his way

So there I was at 7:30 still waiting for James to cycle up. Then a text saying he was near VP1. I mounted my steed and headed up to him. Another 10 minutes later he comes plodding along on foot. His bike was bust again. No suprise there. I was rather excited to spill the beans to him as I had purchased an something off of Ebay to try out. Allow me to digress for a moment please.

While flicking through stuff on Youtube I noticed in the suggestions section a few videos on military rations. Always one for a bit of history I clicked. This led me onto a whole new world which I had no idea existed. Apparently there is a whole subculture of people who hobby themselves with trying various MRE's or Meal Ready to Eat or army field rations to you and me. They range from countries across the globe and far back in time from WW2 K rations and bully beef to modern day North Korean cold weather survival packs. All very interesting stuff. They can be quit entertaining in themselves. If you want to see for yourself I can recommend Steve1989 MREinfo Why on earth did I buy it you ask? Well it was a field test to see if they could be included in a little expedition for half the ERFS (me) and everybody's favourite RSPB volunteer Lee Dutton when we venture up to the Isle of Mull in May. I thought they would be a good thing to have for lunch while up in the wilds.

I couldn't wait to try the US 2016 MRE that I had purchased. My choice was limited being Veggie but they are out there. One side note you will be pleased to know that the British standard MRE is highly rated amongst the connoisseurs of these things. I persuaded James to try it out so we headed for a suitable patch. We had to do this properly. I did ask at the RSPB visitors centre if I could dig a Fox Hole but they weren't too keen.

Simulated Battle Field conditions.

2000 calories of Uncle Sam's finest and a bottle of water

Not a bad spread

My rather cool pop-up cup

Now the really cool point to this particular MRE is it's little bag of chemicals which reacts with water to produce heat and so warming the main meal and the coffee. You slide the two in between the sachets, dribble the water into it, slosh it around a bit, turn down the end and slide it into the sleeve provided. Leave for 12mins and you have a piping hot meal and drink. Perfect! All well and good until you realise you had slid the fruit salad pouch into the heater instead of the pasta and sauce. Luckily it was only a few second but could have been a mission failure moment. With the pouches swapped we turned to the starter. Crackers and peanut butter. It is American after all. We shared it and considered it rather good. I'm not a lover of Peanut butter but this stuff was better than the ones we get here. Not over dry. Next the fruit drink made from a powder. Again yes it was very nice and not sweet at all. Next was James' favourite the roasted almonds. Yep I'd eat them again. So now for the main course the pasta and sauce with vegetable bits. I slid the pouches out and, oh! It was about body temperature. It didn't work. The drink was cold as well. It ain't hot yet! We tucked in nevertheless. Oh well never mind! It was nice even being cold including the drink. I have to day I was very surprised particularly how nothing was overly sweet or salty. There was even a little sachet of hot chilly and lime to spice things up. You also get a spoon, a wet while, a couple of chewing gums, salt and spoon finally some toilet paper. We both enjoyed it. Am I thinking of taking them to Mull and subjecting Lee to them? Hmm probably not. A pastie in the pocket would do just as well for hardy Welshmen like us. What do you reckon Lee?

UPDATE! I HAVE BEEN INFORMED BY LEE THAT THERE IS A SPAR AND A COOP ON MULL. PASTIES IT IS THEN!!! (Kind of takes the fun out of it but probably will be healthier)

The main (It tasted better than it looked

Cold coffee

The desert (Also tasted better than it looked)

James: Andrew was getting rather carried away with his rations.  Whilst he was marveling at the little sealed bags I took a brief trek to the water edge.

 Robin interested in Andrew's dinner

 This Grebe was more interested in fishing...

 Erm... Chaffinch, Dunnock.  Not sure

 Coot doing that odd flat thing they do

 Aahh we all love a Tuftie

Arty Coot

Digression over with we got on with the day and headed for the Tor Hide.

A Jay passing through

Lots of Tuffties about at the mo along with Gadwall and Pochard

Snipe fly over at Tor Hide

The Great Crested Grebe were getting in practice for the coming dance-off's

James was running out of time so we headed to VP2 to Finish things off. On the way as he jogged along to keep up this my cycling he stopped dead. He had spotted a mink on the opposite bank. It was munching on it's own MRE a fish. It sat there for ages with no fear until it had pushed  its meal into its burrow. He was a big one probably a fully grown male.

Mink with MRE

 A face only a mother could love


Noisy Canada goose

James' time was up and he had to head off. I stayed for an hour or so with little save the ever changing visitors resting and looking and moving on. There must have been a dozen different groups in the time I was there and non staying for more than  5 minutes or so.


All the wildlife is starting to rev up ready for the big blast into summer. The Bitterns were booming widely and constantly lots of birds you don't usually see in flight such as Grebes were over head and everything is getting so single minded they don't care about getting too close to you. Great White Egrets were great to photo today. The dull light helps with white birds.

The day was done, we had seen some stuff, rode a bit, well I did anyway James mostly jogged and I was developing mild indigestion but a swift cycle home should cure that. Chinese tonight I think. Hope it's nice and hot....... mum.


On it like a car bonnet


Hello! Yes we're still here! You'r reading this quite a while after the event due to unforeseen circumstances so apologies to you all. There may be some omissions of the tale due to age and incontinence or is that incompetence. Well what you don't know you wont miss. So on with the tale of a potential new era in the EFRS.

Erm! how did it all begin? Hmmm..... Oh yes we were supposed to do a cycle around Steart then we decided it was a bit chilly so a cycle along the usual route then we admitted defeat and plumped for Grey Lake. This conveniently gave us the excuse to not take the bikes as it's a bit too far away for all that. You wouldn't catch me cycling along the A39 anyway.

So we were off to the haunt of the likes of Mike Tout and Carl Bovis. Neither were there as we practically had the place to ourselves. Save for a small group of four in the main hide we had the cammo raised hide all to our selves.

'Tis the time for Fieldfare and Redwings

Rather nice Reed Bunting by James from the safety of the Carpark

The sight that welcomed us at the Hide.

It wasn't long before we saw the cause not one but two Marsh Harriers and a rather plump and well fed Female Peregrine. When they were on the prowl they set the whole lot up.

Spot the Pintail

That Pintail again

The Peregrine having a look-see

Having a rest

The Peregrine made quite show with several guest appearances along the way

Peregrine and Great White Egret

Peregrine on her own

Peregrine, Marsh Harrier and Crow

Peregrine, Marsh Harrier and Grey Heron

While she had another rest the Crow and Marsh Harrier did another turn

Ah! she's back

Far off at the back of the reserve there were murmerations occurin'

Lapwing were up and off

Enough of the raptors what about their food?

How cute are Teal?

Shoveler the odd one out here

That was Greylake very dark and very grey with only the odd glimpse of pale blue between the dark clouds. We'd had enough and began to realise why everyone else was in IKEA that Saturday. We however were made of sterner stuff. We headed back over to Catcott for more action. I was determined to see this Hen Harrier that Lee Dutton had seen on more that one occasion. Why should he have all the luck. Perhaps his regulation blue RSPB flees had something to do with it? Perks of the job perhaps??
Unfortunately Catcott was having one of it's quiet days. It's an odd place like that and often either feast or famine. It was definitely famine today.

Coot chocking on a reed

The Wigeon getting territorial

To encourage something a little more exciting James went for a stroll back up the track. He came back pretty soon with the same picture count that he left with.

Being a little down at heart we wondered what to do. James had a stroke of genius. With a deduction worthy of Sherlock Homes himself he calculated that Tealham Moor would be good for close up birds. We headed straight there without delay. With slightly less deductive powers he had also predicted a hive of activity amongst the Heronry which there was nothing but a few dead twigs falling silently in the breeze from the skeleton trees still waiting for the birth of the next generations of themselves and the birds.

He was spot on about Tealham though. His reasoning being that it was quiet especially with cyclists so birds would be more inclined to go towards the edge of the roads. But how would we do this? Would we wander walking down the road or drive and stop at spots along the way. We did neither. We cruised along. I did the driving in my corporate chariot which is more used to cruising at 80 up and down the countries motorways all day so a gentle crawl at 12mph  along a single track was probably a blessed relief. It was for me, thats why I do this and you do to more than likely.

It worked.........

Tree Creeper

Little Egret

Great White and Little Egrets

We ended up by the T junction passed the bridge with James very happy save for the fact we had not seen a Kestrel all day. There's usually one or two around but not here. His eye was in however and called for a halt. There was one sitting on a gate. He got him. As is often the case if you try and stalk a bird they sit there and think "Why is that thing stalking me? I'd better fly away" so they do. If you just drive up and stop, wined your camera out and snap without a care in the world they often don't take a blind bit of notice. Which is what we did.


Feeling a little left out it was my turn to snap on the return journey

Rather demure teenage Signet/Swan

Crow eating what looks like a Shrew

And James doing Artsy!

With our ardor up we were on a roll and getting excited. So excited that we screeched to a halt (Well as screechy as 12mph will get you!) and spotted another Great White Egret along a rhyne.

'That' Great White Egret

With a bit of a giggle we called it a day and drove home but not before stopping at a sorry figure looking forlornly into the fields yonder. He spun round as we stopped to enquire as to what he was looking for. It was non other than Cliff Smith (Twitter name: @01000011S ) looking for the White Fronted Geese. Someone else who spends a lot of his time sprinting up and down the motorways of Britain but for more pleasurable motives. He's an ardent twitcher of the highest order. I often admire his determination on Twitter when I read where he's been gallivanting off to. He had managed to see some Golden Plovers! We thought of stopping at the Sheppey as it has been a while but it was early Sunday afternoon and roast was still in full swing. We settled for the G&P in Glasto but not before I had thought I had seen my first......... I stopped and with hushed tones proclaimed to James. "I think I've just seen my first Little Owl". I reversed slowly to the Pillbox by the road looking into the gun slit preparing to see the grumpy look of an owl.............

'That' Little Owl

It was a good day in all. Greylake produced, Catcott had its ducks and Tealham was full of it. James did well with his prediction. You could say he was on it like a car bonnet. EFRS had discovered a new way of doing things and with our gathering years perhaps this could be the norm? I doubt it folks. We'll be back on two wheels in no time. Well once the weather warms up and the bones stop aching and the back stops playing up and as soon as I find that tube of Wintergreen and thermal socks.

Just to show Lee Dutton we're still on the ball I let him know we had seen a Peregrine. His reply? He saw FIVE!! Two sitting next to each other. I was right, perks of the job init!!