A bridge too far


It was a bit of a grey day again. It always does seem to be a grey day when the EFRS are out. Saturday and for that all the days before were wonderful sunny late summer or should that be early Autumn day. Monday and Tuesday and today were lovely. Sunday however, the day we went was grey, flat, overcast with only a passing glimmer of the possibility of the sun and blue sky actually appearing. It never did. Enough of the excuses and whining. It was what it was. On with the day.

I keep saying this but it has been a long time since we merged as one as the EFRS. Today was the day and to cap it all we brought along the much missed honorary member the Right Honourable Member for all things right and true Mr Riley. God bless him and all his foibles.

We met at 10 at Hamwall carpark. For once it was I who was late. James impatiently calling me huffing about 'where are you then'. Only a couple of minutes but still not good enough for a teacher I suppose. We sorted out the steeds and set off to find the foot troops. Mr Riley had said to meet him at the bridge. At last count I believe there are 4 bridges along the Shapwick / Hamwall section. A phone call confirmed he was heading from the far end of Shapwick despite asking him if he was close to the Scrape Hide. 'Theres a Hide by the Scrape?' he said as I watched him walk right passed it from the Ashcott Road bridge.
We met at the other bridge at the crossing for Mear and Noah's Hide. I can't remember the last time we went to Noahs so off we went. I must say we were very impressed with the new one. Nice and big and airy with plenty of space. Well done on that one Natural England. We were so excited to be out and about we did make rather a lot of gabbling noise when we pulled up. Apologies to the South Walian couple who were enjoying the peace and quiet and the bittern that had just gone down in the reeds in front of the hide. James added to the embarrassment by opening the noisiest packed of crisps in the world!

There were a few things about. Nothing too exciting save for the occasional passing of singing Kingfishers. I did manage a Sparrow Hawk which showed high to the left as I had to lean out of the window. It was a lovely scene though. Gulls, Swans, Herons and a mass of Grey lags at the back calmly going about there business.

Yeah it's as good as it gets for Sparrow Hawks.

I had to take a call so exited to save more embarrassment. While out there there was of course a nice close pass bye of one of the Marsh Harriers that were wandering around. Captured nicely by James.

Apparently he got a better shot but his card stopped working!

Enough of Noahs and lets pass over the rather terse request of 'You can close that window if you like' from the new residents as I rose to leave. We came out and discussed a rather nice example of Bracket Fungus on a beach tree as we wandered back along the path to the main track.
The hide at the scrape has never appealed to me. Doesn't work in my opinion. The scrape is very overgrown these days so not too many things to spot. Never seen it like it. Not much in the way of waders however there was a little excitement as a Heron decided it had had enough of a Great White and flew over to stake it's claim. This juvenile obviously didn't quite judge the distance x size very well as this was a Great Great White. They had a cautious glance occasionally and decided to keep their respective distances

We moved on again over Ashcott road and into Hamwall not stopping until VP1. This, to my mind, is one of the least interesting of viewing spots. Very little happens here. The Tor Hide on the other hand is a stroke of genius having it sat smack in the middle of the reeds. You often get Egrets and Herons at close distance plus the Marsh harriers can sometimes come closer than usual. We stayed at VP1 for a while and it was here that David and I exchanged a mutual belief about our relationship with nature. David has kindly written a short piece on the subject. Here it is. I wonder who agrees?

The nature reserves, the museums of all living things might salve our conscience that we are doing everything possible for nature but there is little future in these disconnected islands of plenty. And who are they serving? The visitors or the wildlife? I would suggest the former! Walking with Andrew and James from the EFRS blog this morning in Shapwick Heath and later Ham Wall nature reserve we discussed the future for these managed, shop window pockets of birdlife. Is this really the future for our flora and fauna?

Ever since I can recall I've had an affair with the countryside - that very word 'countryside' conjures up wild, serene, pristine places - some rarely explored - and almost always bristling with wildlife.In the 1950's and 60's you hardly ever saw anyone in this 'real' countryside yet the wildlife abounded and farmland seemed less managed - more amenable to wildlife.The countryside was nature's playground and it was limitless and boundless.

In these modern times of convenience and manufactured, manipulated pleasure even the wildlife is on 'tap' concentrated in disparate pockets called 'Nature Reserves'  museums of the living vestiges, wildlife on the edge of extinction where people can visit and deceive themselves that all is well in the 'countryside'. It simply isn't. The real countryside, the vast proportion just beyond the pockets of reserves is in critical decline when it comes to wildlife. Wildlife once it migrates beyond the reserves is in mortal danger - the environment beyond the reserves is a chemical basin of herbicides and pesticides an over-managed, manicured landscape with an arable mono-culture, a barren, sterile world.

We need natural corridors linking the reserves - a green, virgin grid throughout the whole country joining up the disparate dots with rambling hedgerows, ponds, wetlands, coppices and wildflower fields - it would require the requisitioning of a small amount of land with the right kind of habitat so that if the wildlife in the reserves strayed they would find a hospitable environment to feed and nest and we might find more pleasure from a walk in the 'countryside!'

The rural idyll of my youth is threatened by agri-businessmen and farmers and landowners intent on extracting maximum profit from what is ostensibly a sterile factory floor. Instead of pastures mown for hay in the Autumn ablaze with wildflowers and carolling skylarks and meadow pipits landowners now cut for silage twice a year.  The future of the 'real' countryside its wildlife, birds, mammals, insects, trees and flowers is at stake and all disappearing at an alarming rate.

Simple examples such as the over zealous cutting of hedgerows every Autumn when a 2 yearly cut is recommended by the RSPB, the payment by taxpayers for the preservation of field margins to prevent toxic spray drift into hedgerows is blatantly and shamelessly misappropriated.

The future for our wildlife looks bleak and uncertain if it is concentrated in nature reserves - we have to look at the bigger picture - we have turn the clock back and make the whole 'countryside' fit for purpose.

And your back in the room. I must add that David also had a bit of a grumble about 'Too many people' etc. 

Looking around and David had gone! It was a while before we realised he had wandered off to the Tor hide. He's a bit like a tortoise. You watch them for a bit, realise they aren't moving very fast and take your eye off them for a second and they've scarpered off somewhere.

Lovely rustling reeds all around greeted us at the Hide. I was just commenting that you often see Water Rails here when I spied a small dark wader close to the hide. Alas it was but a humble young Moorhen. Still it was the best pic I took all day.
A jovial couple came along and immediately spotted a Bittern flying up close. We all swung round to snap it's arse before it settle back down never to be seen again. Sods law init.

Next excitement was James spotting another Sparrow Hawk and quickly snapped that......

 Spot the hawk...

We moved on to the lasted stop of VP2. My favourite spot of all. The nicest views and often a good spot for lots of things. It was here that David said his goodbyes and we parted for a few months more. Bless him. James and I settled down for the last hour. Not a great deal to see again but it was good to catch up on life etc. A small party arrived and one keen birder asked us where the 'scrape' was. We started to tell him to walk over to Shapwick but were interrupted by him exclaiming that they had been there so it wasn't that one. He was looking for the waders, Godwits etc. We were a little bemused and pondered another scrape. We said that there were a couple of other spots like VP1 and this VP2 but that wasn't correct apparently! He had looked at the map! Good for him! The wandered off to explore the far side where there is definitely not any scrapes of any description. Just as they left a small flock of Lapwings went up accompanied by another small group of Godwits plus an even smaller group of Knots. Obviously they had not 'read the map'. The group were later spotted wandering aimlessly by the Otter carving. It's often best to trust the local knowledge don't you think?

James getting the regulation Mallard (Northern)

And a small flock of Godwits to finish the day

A very good EFRS day. Why? you may ask as we didn't see dozens of Grey Phalaropes or flocks of Ospreys snapping fish from the waters or thousands of cattle Egrets following the herds all in brilliant bright blue skies with the sun in just the right position. What we did see is our friends, had a damn good laugh about life and each other plus a seldom seen lesser spotted Riley. Happy days.


Typical isn't it


It's been bleedin' ages init! What wiv one fing an anuvver the EFRS have been rather lax this summer. The call had been given a few times but to no avail on either side until today. It was decided that we would make the annual trip to Westhey. This is the perfect spot for snapping Hobbies and Swifts. Up on the raised hide the air, in passed years, has been black with the wonderful creatures. Swifts screaming and Hobbies swooping. The insects stand little chance

As you can see from these initial pictures things didn't quite work out as planned.

Yes thats right not one solitary, singular, solo, on it's own swift, swallow, house martin, sand martin, red footed falcon, hobby. You name it it wasn't there.

So instead here are a few interesting 'other' stuff.

However as in true Jacque Cousteau fashion just as we were giving up and walking back up London Drove what did we see? A very happy couple. A Grey Heron sitting in the path. It wasn't until when editing the pictures did either I or James notice the Grey Squirrel sitting next to it. I wonder whet they were looking at? Certainly not any jewels of the sky!

Ironically of course when I got home the sky was full of the little buggers! Typical isn't it


The heat is on


Yes it was indeed. The sun, a bit like this blog, hasn't been seen like for ever. So being the fair weather birders we are it was out with the old bikes, dust off the cobwebs and pump up those tires. We were out with vengeance. Nothing was going to stop us doing a full perimeter scan of out patch. Sunday was the day of choice. It's a well known fact that come the weekend it is horrid, all week we can have wonderful fine weather while most of us are stuck in an office or confined by some description or other. You have to take your chances when they happen and Sunday was it.

Meeting at 10 in Glastonbury James was suitably dressed in short sleeves and tank top. I admire his optemisum so much. I was expecting flip flops as this is not unknown for him to get frostbite after cycling out in them. Keep it up James!

We were off and down the enchanted wood in no time. Now this shows how long its been. The path has a new addition. Sadly it is a memorial but we very much appreciated how thoughtful it is.

An excellent idea and very well thought about. Thank you. You can read about Amy HERE and give to a fund for Amy HERE 


The Kingfisher bridge (Aqueduct Crossing) was looking resplendent without any kingfishers and just waiting for a few House Martins to whizz under the it.

Entering Hamwall it got off to a good start, three Great White Egrets and three Tufted Ducks welcomed us to the fray.

With the warm breeze in our hair we cycled on to VP2 which is always a grand spot for anything. Today was no exception with a beautiful pair of Marsh Harriers dancing on the far side of the reeds.

You can't beat a good Mallard (Northern) flyby

The booms were heard all around. We even had a fly-by of a few Bitterns. The sun was out, the birds were lively and singing away here and there. The EFRS were a happy bunch so what could possibly happen to spoil this idle.

It was at that moment we saw a familiar sight. Our old adversaries the terrible twosome of Paul and Dave wandering along with a grin each. We gave cordial greetings and passed the time of day. They told tales of the Peregrine grand opening in Taunton. It was also decided that we should bury our various hatchets as it was a new year, well 3/4 of a year anyway. So they left in good cheer.

The Great Crested Grebes were 'at it'

A fine Male Marsh Harrier

A Greylag wasn't bothered as it flew over rather close!

Yet another terrible twosome turned up. Or should that be a threesome as there is a dog included. The ever welcome Mike (The bird man) and his better half plus pooch. Another excellent chat was had and mention was made of a Garganey on the way to the Avalon Hide. We popped down to the bridge on the path for a closer inspection. I tried getting a little closer where upon Mike whispered in clear earshot to James "Does he know what one looks like?" Oh the indignity of it all. How dare he suggest I don't know what a Garganey looks like! I mean I've been birding for over five years. I think I know what one looks like thank you very much.*
After Mike had described what one looked like I still couldn't for the life of me spot it. Mike showed me it in his scope. How the hell your supposed to see these thing I have no idea. It was all tucked up asleep with just the white streak showing which is apparently how you can tell it's a Garganey which I knew of course.

It was decided to go over to the Avalon Hide anyway and on the way we stopped at a very nice little temporary screen erected looking over the small pool of water looking back at VP2. We got a better view of the Garganey and I managed to spot it all by myself. A very handsome Male Pintail was showing off his pin as well as a Grey Wagtail which I always think look rather incongruous in a wild setting as your so used to seeing them in carparks!

Shouldn't you be in a carpark?

Beedin' obvious init

The Avalon Hide produced a very varied selection which kept us amused for some time. I particular a handsome Gey Heron fishing close to the hide.

Bittern wandering along without a care in the world

Now here's something you don't see too often today, a Moorhen

Did someone say tufted?

Still there

James managed to get this Marsh Harrier apparently on a nest right in front of the hide. Should be good for the coming weeks.

Displaying Marsh Harriers

Time was ticking and we couldn't waste any more time before what has to be done at the end of an EFRS day. Mike had told us of a Pink Footed Goose which was the perfect opportunity to get on our way. We rushed through VP1, nipped down to see if Lee Dutton was there, nipped back up over the road when he wasn't, rushed passed the scrape as there was sod all there, stopped to see if there was an Osprey or a couple of thousand Sand Martins on Noahs, swung right after Shapwick, shed a tear at the forlorn and empty Ecobites cabin and pressed on to Westhay. I stopped at the entrance for James top catch up. This took some time! There are only two reasons why James would disappear. Either he has spotted something of a bit of his bike had fallen off. I was betting on the bike. As I stood there contemplating which bit who should drive up but Mike in his red van. He had spotted the Pink Footed Goose a bit further down and described it for me. Oh like I don't know what a bloody Pink Footed Goose looks like! Oh the indignity of it all etc etc etc. James came round the corner  with bike intact. He had spotted a Marsh Harrier but failed to snap it.

OK Mike pick the bones out of this lot!!......................

Not Pink Footed Geese

Neither is this

We pressed on and on and on until we finally reached the most important destination of the mission for the debrief............... The Sheppey at Godney

How one should conduct ones birding

While there we spied what seemed to be a rather large Heron like creature displaying near a farm yard. OK so we had had a few but still the mind can be easily deceived don't you think?

*As well as my 'birding Tourettes' I also have a short term memory issue which lasts about 12 months. Every year I remember what various ducks look like but when the next batch come through the following year I have completely forgotten which were which with the exception of Tufted and Pintails.