In the Dog House!

The EFRS went hi-tech this week but more of that later. I've said it before and I'll say it again..... What a beautiful day it was. It is still a little deceptive though, that sun might be bright but the wind is still keen so its not advisable to venture out in the wilds without a coat. So with James' tee shirt flapping in the breeze we started early and headed off for a full circuit. Whizzing down over the Aqueduct crossing and on to the start of Ham Wall viewing platform 2 gave little to look at so onward to VP1. Again this held little of interest to those who have been there regularly before. (Are we becoming complacent or just turning into grizzled old hands) But now there is the added adventure into the midst of the reeds with the new hide. From there we had excellent views of two Great White Egrets and many Herons skulking around. This is where James managed to capture a close up video of a Little Egret who quit blatantly dropped down right in front of the hide. Are they becoming more accustomed to humans? This would never have happened a few years ago. Even the Great Whites where disinterested in us despite us being within ear shot and definite eye shot of. How times change. There was endless sightings of Hobbies which turned out to be either Buzzards or Crows. The fever had struck.

The rout continued with a brief stop in the company of the esteemed Jeff Hazell otherwise known as The Levels Birder. There was something very interesting in the bushes but we're not allowed to say what. Mums the word I'm afraid. We didn't see it but we did hear it.

We skipped over to Shapwick where we stopped in front of a couple who had fixed their sights on the skies above Noahs. I instantly knew in my blood what they had spotted. Sure enough, high above there were two genuine, 100% Hobbies. Finally we had spotted our first of the season. Joy of joys! As a celebration we had lunch.

From here we ventured to new pastures. At the end of Shapwick we turned left, well actually we turned right and popped down to Eco-Bites for a cuppa and a biscuit. As we munched and supped we heard a call in the sky, jokingly I declared they were Cranes thinking they were either Geese or Swans. They lady in the RSPB next door ran up and declared that four Cranes where circling. The EFRS rushed to action and binoculars were quickly focused on the giants way up high. Along with a fellow birder we watched for some minutes hoping they would head for Catcott but no joy. They soared higher and higher then sailed off as dots. They truly are a wonderful sight even at a distance. Perhaps even more at an enigmatic distance. They are still a tantalizing experience when seen. Its not known if they were wild or the reintroduced.

So, yes, we headed left past Canada Farm and round the corner where the new Hawk and Owl reserve had just opened the week before. Well done to them. Its big, easily accessible and the hide is well placed with views from both side, either to the feeders close up or from the top of the ridge over fields not to mention the Badger hide. This promises to be an excellent place and be assured the EFRS will be visiting it regularly.

Another advantage is the track carries on and links up to the Canada Farm hide. James was keen on getting a Kingfisher or two since we hadn't seen one all day. We were greeted by a very large dog running free and the calls of its owner shouting for it to come to heel. Thats good for nature spotting! The sanctuary of the hide was our only escape. As I approached the door was open. Okey someone is coming out or in? But no, out of the gloom there appeared another very large tan dog, well I say dog it was more of a wolf. Exasperated I went in and came directly out. The dogs had their day there I'm afraid!

Not deterred we sped off down to the Heronry at Tealham. A little quiet but still some nice views of Herons preening, calling and flying in and out. Little Egrets joining them at times. Its a very odd sound they make when they gobble away. I really like Herons, more than the Egrets. At this point I decided to show off my new found filming skills. Tripod out and camera at the ready, I aclimatised myself, no rush just settle down to film a Heron coming in to land. Well, lets just say that the film you are about to see which was taken unbeknownst to me by James has had the sound removed to save delicate ears and my blushes. We would have to but an age restriction on it otherwise. Pride before a fall springs to mind. I did however get a nice video of a White Throat on a wire and a Heron and Little Egret preening on their nests as a conciliation.

The day was done, or was it. On the way back we popped into the Sheppey at Godney for a debrief and pint but despite the door being open, lights on and music playing they were shut apparently! We had to make do with the Who'd a thought it in Glastonbury. Now a year or so before we were sat in just that place having a debrief when two Red Kites flew over. This time we were treated to a Sparrow Hawk being harried by two Crows and two Gulls. Poor thing didn't stand a chance.

Heres the video of our day

Now on to the Hi-tech stuff. I've got yet another bag for my bike. Its a top bag for smart phone and I use it along with a back up power pack to plot our routes. Heres an image so you can see where we've been. It even shows the aborted attempt to go to the Canada Farm hide and the Sheppey pub. Love it.


Hard to Swallow

The sun was shining and I had the opportunity to get out and about.  I toyed with the idea of cycling down to Greylake but I was just feeling a little lazy and opted for four wheels rather than two.  Driving really isn't the best form of transport. It always makes me feel a bit detached from the surroundings.  When you are on a bike you are part of it and it just feels better.  Still at least I could get there quicker.

Wandering along the boardwalk at Greylake I considered the flooding that had taken place only a couple of months ago.  It was hard to believe that the whole reserve had been underwater.  Surely the animals living there would be depleted or worse still... 

I was especially concerned for that much maligned beast, the Grass snake.  Greylake has always been a good spot for these, the largest of our slithery reptiles.  At that point a big female slid into a ditch and then disappeared into some long grass (a large female snake, just to avoid confusion).  At least one had survived then...

I tried pointing it out to "the lady".  She will be known by this name as she plays are part in the story.  But she arrived about 2 seconds to late...

I decamped at the raised hide and had a good scan around.  A Great White Egret was fishing to my left and a Little Grebe was struggling with a hapless Roach. He was finding it hard to swallow.  But eventually the plucky duck eventually won and gulped down his prize.

Then I spotted a yellow flash out in the field.  Locking on with my binoculars I spied a Yellow wagtail.  What a splendid bird.  Very similar to a Canary.  Two other chaps were also casually viewing.  I tried my absolute best to show them where it was and even offered up my scope but to no avail...  they could find it.

The exact same thing happened when "the lady" popped into the hide.  At this point a second wagtail had joined in.  Being a polite sort I persevered but it didn't work.  I always feel that an experience shared is always for the better.  Perhaps the large swan sat next too me saw wagtails as well.

Then there was a rather loud "clack, clack, clack" under the hide.  It sounded like someone firing a pop gun.  A frenzy of uncertain looks and pacing around the hide ensued.  But there was nothing.  I had no idea... neither did anyone else.

On the way back "the lady"  told me that she had seen an RSPB warden and he thought it was something hitting the electric fence... what an anti climax.  I had hoped that it was some king of exotic vagrant that sound like a pop gun.

Still this Reed Bunting was fairly happy to be gawped at, as was this Chaffinch at the feeders in the carpark.

Next stop was Catcott.  I was hoping that the Garganeys might be there.  On the way I noticed a new carpark and... a new reserve!  I hopped out and with half an hour was in a brand, spanking new hide.  I did get a good view of 2 displaying Sparrowhawks and 2 Roe deer munching on some grass.  At this point "the lady" walked in. 

I pointed out a Blackcap which promptly flew off as soon as she walked across to see it... It was the theme of the day.

I did notice a raptor flying low and fast, but it all happened so fast I couldnt I.D. it.  I would place my bets on a Sparrowhawk but it might have been something more unusual.

This will be a great spot in the winter.  Watch this space!

On the way back I chatted with "the lady".  We discussed various birding stories and encounters.  Now birders can at times be show offs (there, I have said it).  If you have seen an elephant than they have got a box to put it in.  I was very careful to avoid this and luckily she did to. 

The lady was off to Ham Wall.  I decided that 3 encounters would just be weird so on i went to Catcott. 
Here I found the first cute chicks of the year.


Other than that it was pretty quiet.  I was told that I had missed 2 Marsh harriers (typical).  After a couple of Egret flybys I had had my fill.  Last stop was Tealham Moor.

It was like stepping back in time.  At one point I half expected a T.Rex to come crashing through the trees.  The herons were making all sorts of primeval barks and weird bubbly, gurggly sounds.  They really are from another time.  I think we take these ancient  fisherman a bit for granted as they are truly impressive birds.

Heading home I stopped to look at a swallow sat on the wires.  These heralds of spring a one of my favourite birds.  But they don't like sitting still.  Unfortunately my camera struggles with fast moving subjects (and slow ones in poor light).  Still a bad workman always blames his tools.

I settled for this shot and thought it looked quite nice in black and white (just to be different).  Hopefully I can get some better ones as the summer begins.

Its definitely hard to Swallow...


Harriers and non Hobbies

I was greeted at Ham Wall much as James had left it the other day. Trikes, kids, unconcerned parents and dogs. But hey everybody got to enjoy themselves somewhere and even if 90% couldnt care less if just one of those kids in later life remembers the day and takes up the study of the wonder that is nature it may have been worth it.

But on to the day. The sun was showing a promise of things to come. This is one of those special times in the year when you begin to remember what summer is while the cold and wet of the winter is still fresh in your mind. In a few months we will have forgot the chill and the sun will be the norm. Short sleeves and leaving your coat at home is the every day. Funny how we have such short memories. We acclimatise ourselves so readily and other climes become forgotten until the shift begins again and the seasons sway our minds to warm coats and dry boots.

I wandered over to Shapwick and was pleasantly surprised to see the Scrape had reduced in level revealing the little islands that the waders have been waiting for. Plenty of Black Tailed Godwits and a solitary Little Egret walking casually across the shallows reminding me of Jesus.
Now one thing I always enjoy when amongst fellow birders diligently looking in the allotted direction from a platform is to just turn around and look in completely the opposite direction. You can often see some interesting things. This is how I discovered one of my favourite views. Opposite the scrape between the trees by the middle bench you get a great view of a large uninterrupted reed bed. A good spot for Marsh Harriers. Over the years Ive noticed a single female flying her territory. Today it was a resplendent male and an elusive occasional and somewhat grumpy female. Possibly my one from other years with perhaps a son, lover or enemy. I spent quit some time watching the male in particular fly back and forth. This is when I thought it was a good opportunity to get my camera out and try the video again. This is the result of about one and a half hours of watching and recording. I could edit it more but I will let you see as much as you want or as little. Its eight minutes long so I dont expect you to watch it all but there are exciting bits scattered through it! Shot at full x50 voom.

As I practised I became more at ease following him. Less jaltay, calmer, getting a feel for what he would do next. Interesting process, I assume this is what the professionals do. Spend some time getting to know your subject then finally getting a smooth, flowing and almost predictable shot. It was a very enjoyable time. I could get used to this!

HOBBY!!!!! No, sorry it wasn't. A couple came by me and commented about five sightings of a Hobby. About ten minutes before I had been watching a raptor above the scrape. One thing that struck me was the protruding of its talons in flight. A very characteristically Hobby thing to do. I immediately cried HOBBY in my head then reality came home and told me not to be silly. It was far too big and very Buzzard like. No red underside. All wrong. If you watch the video you will see that a Marsh Harrier will let its legs dangle beneath on occasion. I think it was a Female Marsh Harrier and everyone was getting far too excited. This does happen from time to time. People go into a feeding frenzy. Like they did with the Penduline Tit a few weeks ago.

Give it a few more weeks and it will be as if Hobbies had always been here.


Heart Attack

Ham Wall.  Its a gem.  Made popular by booming Bitterns and the (in)famous winter starlings.  But unlike a gem, Ham Wall is a living breathing entity.  A delicate mesh of life brought together in one small area for our viewing pleasure and it is this which will prove to be its downfall.

A new hide has been constructed in the reserve's heart.  Amongst the reeds, raised up so that we can survey across the reeds.  A pathway runs up through the once hidden sanctuary.  It allows unprecedented access and should be perfect for Bitterns, Marsh harriers and maybe even a Little Bittern.  Except after half a dozen visits I havent seen anything noteworthy  Indeed the only birds I have seen could easily be found at my local park, and is that what Ham Wall is turning into?

Plans are a foot for a new carpark and a shop.  The main track is littered with bikes,trikes and buggies.  Now more of the reserve has been sacrificed for us.  Unfortunately the increased footfall means there will be more disrespect for wildlife and others.  This was domonstrated clearly when a family came strolling down the new accessr oute to the hide.  Two teenagers were shouting at each other and did the same inside the hide.  The Pochards scattered and the booming Bittern went silent.  At that point I left...

I suspect this happens everyday.  I don't think shy birds like the Bittern will hang around for long.

It is more important than ever that EVERYONE respects the surroundings they are in.  Nature reserves should be accessed by everyone and not the preserve of avid wildlife hunters as long as respect is given.

Ham Wall is loosing its luster.  I hope that the new hide isn't the proverbial stake through its living heart.. 

Little Egret - Ham Wall

Goldfinch at Godney


Fangs a lot

I have noticed a lot of snake photo's appearing on Twitter.  Many taken on the mendips.  So I thought I would get a slice of the action.  A couple of days ago I did spot a decent sized Common lizard (actually my wife found it) at Ubley Warren but he was to quick for me and I didnt get a photo.

So i headed up there again this afternoon.  I noticed an awful lot of dog s***.  This does annoy me immensely as the area is really beautiful but a lot of people cant be arsed (excuse the pun) to clear up after themselves.

Avoiding the disgusting piles I set about searching for snakes.  Now I am not very good at this and quickly started getting a bit distracted.  It just feels a bit unnatural staring at the floor.  Anyway after half an hour I hadn't seen a thing.  Then something odd happened. Some dogs were splashing and barking around a pond.  Moments later a good 20 Snipe flew up.  I was really surprised to see these little birds up here and especially in such numbers.

A GS woodpecker put in an appearance as well as a Grey heron.  I looked around the small ponds but didnt see any snakes or frogs.  I nearly stood on a bunny rabbit as it fled into its warren.

A single Raven flew above but I was to slow to capture a picture.  Then a Buzzard flew lw over my head.  Its a shame the light was poor as these could have turned out much better.

On the way home this Pheasant posed on top of some mud... It looks a bit like he is in a studio.  It wasn't staged - honest!

I am still yet to see a snake this year... Perhaps Shapwick might be a better bet.  There is definitely less s*** there.  If I were an adder I would move house.  Ubley Warren has gone to the dogs (sorry).


Easter Bunnies

Its nearly Easter.  So I decided  to get a picture of a cute bunny to celebrate.  Luckily the Mendip foothills are covered with them!  After a few minutes I stumbled upon this furry ball of sweetness.


Spring is definitely in the air with Chiff Chaffs singing away and wodpeckers drumming like mad.
 I heard a right commotion behind a small hillock.  I actually thought it was a person (or people!!!) getting up to something they shouldn't (well it is springtime). I nearly jumped out of my skin when two male pheasants exploded into the air.  If I had been more stealthy I could have got a really good shot of them scrapping but alas it wasn't to be.
I went over to a spot where I have seen Peregrines in the past.  Almost immediately I heard the familiar Peregrine scream.  Scanning about with my camera I eventually managed to lock on.  Its very distant but you get the gist of it.
I also caught a glimpse of a Male Bullfinch and two Jays.
Finally a Sparrowhawk flew low over the trees.  Not bad for a quick evening outing.  Happy Easter!