U Tern

Well, it has been a while.  Whilst Andrew has been tracking down all sorts of good stuff.  I have been cooped up with work commitments.  The only birding I have done is trying to get footage of a woodpecker in the back garden.  That’s a story in itself, but I digress...

It was time to get out and about with great haste! I hopped into my car with thoughts of Marsh Harriers and Bitterns in my head.  Turned the key,... dead.  

My heart sank.  After much wailing and gnashing of teeth I pulled out the bike (at this point I probably should have gone to the garage rather than birding... but you only live once)

On my way to Westhay I caught sight of a Kestrel hover hunting.  Always a pleasure to see as these falcons are struggling a bit.  Moments later he was gone.  I carried on, only to see him reappear on a post.  Whipping out my camera I managed to get some footage.

What a greedy guts!  Apologies for the shakiness.  I was knackered.

At Westhay I made a bee-line for the raised platform.  A Water Vole hurtled into a ditch, obviously rather nervous of a giant wheeled frame bearing a loft a hairy, panting human.
The platform is a solid spot for Hobby watching. Except there weren't any.  

I text Andrew to have a moan.  As I hit send, the first Hobby swooped across.  Then it went a bit mental.  A Buzzard flew low over the reeds, harried by a female Marsh Harrier.  Above a second hobby appeared.  Then a Cuckoo flew in front of the hide, followed by another 2 cuckoos (a flock!).  Then a Kingfisher flew onto a tree not 20 feet from the hide.  I raised my camera... In a flash he was gone.  I was really annoyed.  I had missed pretty much everything with only the Harrier on film (and it was pretty poor quality)

I decided to drown my sorrows with a bottle of coke and a ham sandwich.  It went quiet for a bit with just an over enthusiastic Cetti’s warbler for company.  Then the Hobbies returned 5 or 6 darting about the place.  Let me tell you, Andrew did well to get pics of them.  They are fast and very wiley!
A much slower target emerged.  A beautiful Harrier flew quite close to the hide and provided some outstanding views.
But it wasn't over just yet.  Tracking one of the Hobbies I noticed it descend and... land!
What a great bird.  Sat quietly on a dead tree.  He didn't do a lot so i just admired.  At that point I noticed another, slightly odd looking grey bird in a nearby tree.  A fourth cuckoo!

I got both into the frame (just).  I thought it might be interesting..

On to Shapwick.  A Kingfisher zipped across the track.  Meare Heath was a bit quiet with just a few GC grebes and a few Lapwings.  At Ham Wall I halted at VP1.  I was full of expectation as Andrew really has done well around here in the past few weeks.  I wasn't disappointed.  2 Bitterns were flying reasonably high and interacted briefly before vanishing from sight.
I wheeled my bike down to the new hide.  I saw precisely nothing and wheeled back again.  It was then that i noticed two very smart looking Common terns on the little floating island.  They looked like a pair of star crossed lovers gazing into each others eyes and making the odd high pitched call to one another.  Then the romantic scene was shattered.  A grumpy heron decided that the island belonged to him.  His greater size and strength quickly overwhelmed the dainty birds and off they scattered.  The heron, obviously pleased with himself stood proud on his new bit of land.  His victory was short lived.
The terns re grouped and exacted swift retribution.  Dive bombing the hapless Heron.  He squawked and complained as the terms streaked into him.  Unable to take anymore the old fisherman admitted defeat and fled.  The scene ended with the terns returning to their floaty island.  A happy ending then.

Back on VP1 I met two very nice chaps and between us we managed to spot a Female Marsh Harrier and 4 separate Bitterns.  Most pleasing!

For reasons unknown I decided to perform a u turn and go back through Shapwick heath.  I am glad I did.  Just before reaching the exit to Ham Wall I very nearly squashed a large Grass snake sunning herself on the path.  I screeched to a halt, grit flying everywhere.  The snake did an awkward spin like a dog chasing its own tail.  Once it had sorted itself out, it slithered into a nearby bush. 
Back through Shapwick another Kingfisher flashed in front of me and two GS woodpeckers flew over head.  As I peddled past the freshly ploughed fields at Westhay I noticed a large brown rabbit... Wait it was a hare!
Andrew and myself have often lamented at the lack of hares around.  It was great to see this one and I feel lucky that I managed to get a photo of him.

Looking a little startled!

When i got home I tried the key in the car ignition just one more time.  This time it worked.  I must have made the wrong tern last time round :-)


Excuses, excuses

The light was bad, it was half a mile away, I need a better camera and all that................

So I was feeling a little lazy. I had had a long weekend off with quite a bit of entertaining. I needed some fresh air and sun. Off I trots to the usual location. Sort of not quit on duty. There were tales of a Black Winged Stilt on the Scrape. Ok Ill take a few shots and then just chill in the breeze. Entering Shapwick Car Park I called to Mike, who was having a cuppa as usual in his van, "Is the Stilt still there?", "No" was the reply. "No!"
I cycled on regardless. It was one less thing to be bothered to see. At this point I had only taken one shot and that was to show someone else the zoom on my Canon. It was a buzzard. Woo hoo!

Then all hell broke loose. I sauntered back down to VP1 at Ham Wall where Mike was. There were a pair of Common Terns trying to make a nest on a raft opposite. Unfortunately the locals hadn't realised that they had new neighbours and kept popping on to the raft. Mallards being the worst but at one point there where Herons, Lesser Black Backed Gulls and Cormorants at one stage or another invading their personal space. There is a purpose built raft about 20 feet away that they could have had all to themselves. Must be like cats then,

Oy! (Common Tern and an even more common Female Mallard)

It was then Bittern central. Must have been about 20 in total flitting back and forth. Had a wonderful display of three performing in the air grappling with their feet. Here's a couple of pics I managed to get close up.



Next was a Great White Egret. Not too unusual for Ham Wall except I hadn't seen one for a few weeks now. There where probably about 6 in total. This one wandered amongst the reeds in an exquisite way.....

Enigmatic Great White Egret

Who then proceeded to try and shove this down his gob!
(He failed)

The Terns then went for a turn in the sky.

This has an unexpected appeal in an Impressionist sort of way.

Common Tern

Now if this had been in frame and in focus and and and....

Common Tern
(Could have probably been the best photograph ever taken)


How could things possibly get any more frustrating. I'm off duty after all. No pressure. However Mike told me there was also a Barn Owl off at the far end near the Wood at the back of VP1. Yes there was. So with poor light I proceeded to try and photograph a white bird half a mile away. Enjoy......

Barn Owl

Barn Owl

Barn Owl

Barn Owl

Barn Owl

Did I mention there were a lot of White throats around?

White Throat

Considering this was supposed to be a quiet day off duty it was quit exhausting. I stayed until 7pm waiting for that Barn Owl to come out to play again and fly straight past me for that final shot of all shots. Young lad next to me was there to show his mum some bitterns. He spotted a Tawny Owl going into a near by tree. Funny, we had heard one  a few hours earlier. We couldn't find it again despite much looking. 


Nature From Tooth to Claw

What better way to start the day with a bit of death. Before I even got to a nature reserve nature presented itself in all its raw drama. My eye was caught by this rather dapper fella in a field just past the Aqueduct Crossing.
Dog Fox on the hunt

Dog Fox on the hunt

Dog Fox on the hunt

He seems to have already caught something but I cant make it out. He goes back a couple of times to it, catches a snack for himself then trots off with the previous kill probably for the young back at the den.

But I had already wasted time and had to put a pace on. I had a date with our Grand old Mr Riley. As I cycled through Ham Wall and Shapwick along the old railway line my mind switched off from my EFRS duties as I didn't have time to stop. I transported myself back to the days before Beeching. A time when there where tracks laid. I was in a carriage. Sitting in comfort but with the window open. In times when carriages where made of wooden frames and cotton coverings on the seats. Still a semblance of connection with the real world. Still an earthiness. I was Betjeman in a rain coat. I put the cycle on autopilot and glanced to my right and left watching the trees rush past. The crunch of the cycle tyres where transformed into the hiss and clatter of steel and coal.

I arrived at Catcott Heath and switched back to the task in hand. Mr Riley was waiting. Now as you know James and I are more of the big stuff of the Marsh Harriers, the drama and excitement of the Hobbies etc. Mr Riley on the other hand we find within a tranquil haven of peace and calm. Of a more gentle time that Betjeman would have been proud of. Catcott Heath is a little gem that few people know about. A little boggy at the moment but it is awash with beauty. Unfortunately, and much to my annoyance, Riley was lame. He should have been in hospital or rather shot. 'What on earth are you doing hobbling around a bog in your state' I disclaimed. 'I didn't want to let you down again' Was his reply. They don't make them like this anymore do they.
Tunnel Spider Nest

A lesser Spotted Riley in its natural environment and in pain!!


Catcott Heath

Much debate was had about what constitutes natural, the demise of bird life, the politics of nature conservation and other heated topics. Three hours flashed past. I did manage a few shots of Hawker Dragonflies

Hawker Dragonfly

Hawker Dragonfly

Hawker Dragonflies

It was as I took these pictures that I realise only yesterday I was watching Hobbies a few miles away at Westhay catching and eating alive these very same beauties. I almost encouraged them to do it.

We call this beauty. The delicate entrapped by equal delicacy. It is also the futile end of the hopes of a flower.

I relaxed and cycled back through Shapwick to VP2 at Ham Wall. I just enjoyed the day. It was quiet. A few Hobbies in the distance. Nothing to entice me into a frenzy of photography as the day before. Male and Female Marsh harriers for entertainment. Meeting 'Cooky', a familiar name from the SOS site and now a familiar face. Good to meet him. We debated Bridge Cameras. The he spotted that a Male Marsh Harrier was hovering over the reeds. It was going for a duckling. An attempt was made but repelled. For Cooky it was job done and he left. Not for the Marsh Harrier though.

Marsh Harrier Attacks

Prey in its Claws

It was a beautiful day................


You had to be there

James has often mentioned over the last few weeks and in fact for quite a while now that he hasn't had a good sighting of a Cuckoo. When you do hear them they tend to be about a mile away. Never in the tree next to you. So as I set off from Glastonbury I thought to myself 'Its a Cuckoo day today'. With gritted teeth, flies tend not to taste very nice and my vegetarian ethos forbids eating insects, I set off at a pace on my trusty steed on a fine sunny Somerset morning. Squeezing through the gate at the far Sharpham end of Ham Wall I was greeted by the sight of a Cuckoo flying straight across my path. 'Lovely' I thought, Thats ticked that one off the list. But no. As I carried on a few yards I looked to my right and sat upon a dead tree was another Cuckoo not 50 paces from me. Whipping out the bins and camera I snapped this.............


And I recorded this................. (I have edited out the gravely footsteps of a passer by and the light aircraft over head!) (You may also just hear a Bittern which called at the end) (Cetti's Warblers and Little Grebes are also rather noisy so you will have to excuse them!!)

James wasn't there.

On the Viewing point 2 where I stayed for an hour or so. A couple of Bitterns flew past and that was it. On again to Viewing point 1. The same again. A few Bitterns and a few Marsh harriers. Just the one Hobby. But an added bonus of a Peregrine, James favourite bird, flying low over the viewing point.

James wasn't there.

On again and I bump into our Mentor and Sage, Mike and family. Haven't seen them for ages. Was great to see him again. They to had seen a Cuckoo.

James wasn't there.

Shapwick was pleasent but quiet except for a nice little gathering of Godwits.

Black Tailed Godwits with a few Bar Tailed Godwits
(Please excuse the Little Egret showing off)
James wasn't there.

A quiet stop at The new Hawk and Owl trust for a spot of lunch. So quiet there. I love it. Not quiet because of a lack of wild life. But there is no one there and the road is quit a way away. I sware I saw a Female Marsh Harrier hover over in a far field then drop down into the grass but dont quote me on that.

James wasn't there.

A cycle up and past Canada farm brought me back to a nice cuppa of Earl Grey, no milk, splash of cold at the Eco Bites cafe. There I spotted this little chap in very vivid colours considering its summer.


James Wasn't there.

James wasn't here either.

Onwards to Hobby central. Otherwise known as West Hay. There at the raised viewing point I spent a very frustrating hour or so desperately trying to capture Hobbies as they swooped and fed low directly in front of me. Heres the best I could do.



Hobby Pair


Hobby feeding



Hobby feeding
James wasn't there

A few brief views of a pair of Marsh Harriers to plus a Heron carrying nesting material.


James wasn't there.

So the day was nearly done. Or was it! You will never guess what happened. No James didn't turn up. But this did.................

Cuckoo in full song

James wasn't there.

So The day was done. Off I went stopping for a last time at the new Tor view Hide. (I still think it should be the Reed Hide) Not a lot save a very low and near Hobby. Passing through e gate and back up to VP1 a car came to a halt. The driver jumped out I thought he was going to open the gate for disabled parking. Nope he grabbed his impressive camera and started snapping at a pair of Bitterns that few directly across the water and into the reeds. I managed to spot where one came down and you could just see him in the reeds.

Can you spot it?

James didn't. He wasn't there.

Does it never end? Only after another low flyby of an impressive Female Peregrine as I texted James to tell him what he was missing.

James wasn't there.


How many RSPB wardens does it take..........

Well that was a nice sociable afternoon in the Somerset sunshine at VP2 Ham Wall. Everyone nice and chatty. I plonked myself down and enjoyed the varied people and wildlife while the gradual changing of the sun made for a spectacular few hours. The Bitterns where out to play with at least 8 in flight. I managed to get my best pic so far of one in flight. I remember well occasions when I could have got fantastic pics in past years but that was before I invested in a camera. But now that I have invested in a new camera........... I need a better camera! Oh when will it end!!

Summers here - Yay!

Not a bad pic if you don't look too close!

Marsh Harriers where here and there with females being the most numerous.

Female Marsh Harrier

Speaking of Marsh Harriers. How many RSPB volunteers does it take to mistake a Buzzard for a Marsh Harrier? About 30 thats how many. OK so it was probably a combination of wishful thinking and over excitement on their part and we've all been there haven't we. A group of blue tee shirted volunteers where taken on a bit of a walk about. They were treated to a Bittern in flight. Suspiciously on cue I thought but is that just the cynic in me? Hee hee

There were quit a few Pochard

Later on a pair of Little Grebes popped out from the reeds and landed smack bang in the middle of the lake. They then sat there looking like they where not sure why they where there but where too embarrassed to move off.

Pair of Little Grebes

So nothing too spectacular or exciting. The day was just............ nice. Peaceful, calm, nothing to bother me. Nice chats about equipment, Bittern and Hobby populations, no wind, sunshine. Even a few helicopters. At one point I had a Hercules and a Hobby in my scope.

I did see one odd thing though. Way off in the distance I saw about half a dozen Crows acting like Hobbies. I have seen this a few years ago. Around the time that Hobbies appear I see these crows, in exactly the same place doing exactly the same thing! Flying up and looking like they are catching dragonflies with their claws. Odd.


On a wing and a prayer

I hated going to church on a Sunday.  My mum would often drag me along.  The long sermons and monotonous hymns would bore me rigid.  I reckon I stopped going, circa 1991.  I was 10.  At that point my head was filled with dinosaurs and Sonic the Hedgehog.  The church didn’t offer either of those (there wasn’t even a mention of hedgehogs in Noah’s ark).

Now 23 years later I am going to church on a Sunday.  Not for prayer but for a Peregrine. 
Strolling along the rather posh, tree lined streets of Bath I wondered how easy it would be too see an urban Peregrine.  Would they be as elusive and difficult as my rural ones?

I found the church without a problem.  Craning my neck upwards I could see a nesting ledge.  But no Peregrine.  I had a wander around the edge of the church just in case I missed anything.
A pair of far eastern ladies emerged and one of them eyed me up from behind her pink glasses.
“You are in the wrong place to take a good photo of the church” she said.  The stereotype of Japanese people carrying cameras immediately sprang to mind.  

I smiled knowingly and pointed to the nest ledge near the spire.  I very politely spoke about wanting to photograph Peregrine falcons rather than church spires (not that there is anything wrong with church spires).
She smiled and pretended to look interested before clambering into the car with her friend.
10 minutes had passed.  It was starting to feel like one of those sermons form 1991.  Even the church cat had fallen asleep...

Then I caught a glimpse of my quarry.  Fleeting and fast (no surprise there).  Within moments it had vanished... It wasn’t going well.  A photo opportunity seemed remote.  I waited on.  My head still pointed firmly on the spires.  People walked passed and politely ignored my obviously bizarre behaviour.
My stomach was growling, so like a hunting Peregrine I swept into KFC for my own spot of avian dinner.  I am glad I didn’t eat in...

Plonking myself down on a bench which faced the river rather than the spire (how inconsiderate) I awkwardly ate my burger, whilst twisting round to check if there was any movement from above.

Pigeons were everywhere as were herring gulls.  Both of these can do very good Peregrine impressions and fooled me a few times.  Then the real deal swooped over head.  My greasy hands gripped the camera.  The male Peregrine flew straight onto the ledge and out of sight...

I kept looking.  Confident he would amble out and give me a good view.  He didn’t amble and he didn’t give me a good view.  About 5 minutes later he shot out like a bullet.  Gone.
Slurping the last bits of coke and scratching for the last chips in the bottom of the bag I looked on forlornly.  It wasn’t going to happen today...

Then in a flash, adrenaline filled moment.  The Peregrine tore through the sky with something in its talons.  It landed on the spire and started its Sunday lunch.  There were feathers and entrails everywhere.  Fantastic!

Going to church isn’t boring in 2014.

Just before tucking in...