It'll break your arm

We where a team again today. First for a while as it happens. It started out with just the one having a cycle out through Hamwall and Shapwick to have a cuppa at EcoBites. Its a good job I did too since I happened upon a Cuckoo sitting within arms reach of me as I passed by. Needless to say it flew as I stopped but I did get this pic as it flew out of the tree it had landed in after I disturbed it.

Cuckoo in flight

But back to the beginning. The cycle through the Enchanted wood had the resident woodpecker leaping before me as I passed through. I did stop and see if I could get him but as usual I didn't. This happens on a regular basis. One day I will have you! House Martins flew at Aqueduct Bridge and would have made a good shot if I had had the patience to stay long enough. May be next week.

On to Ham Wall VP2 and there seemed to be a lot of visitors from afar including a nice couple who had just moved there. I gave them all the best spots to go. I managed a nice shot of a Black Headed Gull.

Black Headed Gull

The Marsh Harriers where out in force. Well it was Ladies day as no Males where seen. Never managed to get a very good shot though. I took the time to nip out to the Reed hide where not alot was happening so I got this Cormorant went by. Still a nice bird and often ignored. Actually always ignored!

Cormorant in flight

So the deal was to meet up back at VP2. Time passed and thats when I popped over to have my cuppa and choc biscuit. I sauntered back but no sign of James. He had been delayed.......................

A few hours free so I quickly made my way down to Ham Wall.  I really should have cycled but mainly due to laziness on my part I still haven’t got my bike fixed.  It is letting the side down somewhat but normal service will resume soon.

Anyway, Andrew was already down there somewhere (drinking tea at Ecobites again).
At VP 2 I spied a Bittern but he was too quick for me and dived down into the reeds before I even got a chance to press the shutter.

Getting a little restless I took the opportunity to wander down into the reeds to get in amongst the foliage.  Ray Mears style.  I wish I hadn’t. The denizens of the reeds are a lot less visitor friendly than the main track wildlife.

Chief amongst these antagonists are the Horse flies.  They are not all buzzy and light like a Blue bottle.  Oh no these are seriously heavy duty versions of their light footed kin. Horse flies don’t care what you think of them.  They will bite you no matter what, they can’t be bargained with, they show no fear, or pity or remorse and they absolutely will not stop...

It was all too much... I aborted my wanderings and headed back to the safety of the main track...
Only to be confronted by 2 very angry (as always) swans.  The male hissed and flapped his wings.  It scared me off for a bit.  I waited then phoned Andrew to see if he could cycle down like a silver chariot, leaving only white feathers in his wake.  He wasn’t keen so i faced them alone.  I stamped and shouted a bit, the swans closed their eyes nonchalantly and started to go too sleep!

Plucking up the courage I jogged forwards, the male hissed but did slip out of the way into a nearby ditch.  Proud that I had beaten a swan i met up with Andrew back at VP2.

Much discussion ensued regarding cameras, blogs and houses with good views of Marsh harriers.  Speaking of which, we saw loads.  At one point there were 3 of them scrapping mid air.
A very nice golden hued Bittern flew along providing a good extended view, along with a Sparrowhawk and a Hobby.  Just as we were packing away a Cuckoo flew past as well.  All very nice.

There were also plenty of swans!

Andrew showed a few birders a picture he had got last week of something that shall not be named for the time being... Stay tuned :-)

Hobby in flight

Are these the culprits?

Have you seen this Swan looking aggressive anywhere?


Going (K)Nuts(ford)

Another little trip away and this time to the North West. A quick Google revealed Knutsford Moor. On paper (or rather on screen) it looked very promising however when I arrived it was more of a town park. Very nice but not particularly inspiring and carrying a backpack with a tripod was a bit conspicuous! Walking around the back I found a small track which led to Tatton Park Dog Wood. A SSSI apparently with Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers. I didn't see any. This brought me out onto the side of the Lake. Still nothing save for a few nesting Great Crested Grebes.

Working hard at building the nest

Still working hard!

Nice Crest

So on I plod resigned to just a nice walk in the park. Beautiful summers afternoon for it as well. I stopped at the foot of a small hill where a few Swifts where busy feeding. One House Martin was amongst them as well. I settled down and thought Id give the Canon a go at getting a few shots of my favourite bird. These things where very low indeed. Looking at me as they almost clipped my shoulders. I love their awedacity. They just know they can go right past you and avoid you before you have even though about lifting your arm and plucking one out the air. An Ultra bird. So 1317 shots and a full 32Gb card later I couldn't wait to get home and see if there where a few diamonds amongst the sand. See what you think......................

Love this one

Just about to swallow a fly!

Coming atcha

Coming atcha again!

They looked amazing against the vapour trails

It could be a very frustrating time trying to get these babies. You look one way then they wizz past you from another direction. My method was to just take my time, pic one at a distance then follow it hoping it will turn and head for me. It worked.


Theres always one bigger

Finally I get my super duper all singing all dancing Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM lens. Its white its heavy it’s the best a man can get and it makes me feel complete. I now truly have all the gear and no idea. Read on………..
So I had the opportunity to visit Suffolk. The spiritual home of our Mr Riley but that’s another story. Anyway I found a rather nice reserve called RSPB Fowlmere. An old water cress farm apparently. The water in the streams is truly very clear indeed and a bubbling spring is present in one of the small pools. Bit like The Bishops Palace in Wells but with nature. This was the first outing in anger with the full new set up of Canon 70D and 400mm lens. Now I’ve been a little shy in taking it out in public. A bit self-conscious of its size and the expectations to perform that such a beast can bring forth. So I plonked my bag down in the corner of the first hide I came to. This was the Spring Hide. No one else there just a few young and juvenile Moorhens in the beautiful water before me. I turned and pondered getting it out. Well there’s no one to see me. I could just have a quick play while no one is around. I sheepishly lent down to undo the zip when the latch clanked and the door opened. I quickly straightened and tried to look casual like I wasn’t about to do something! Turning I saw the dark door facing me with the bright light casting into the gloomy hide. I could hear huffing and banging. What on earth could it be? Then slowly and ominously what appeared to be the barrel of a Chieftain tank slowly appeared. The end was the diameter of a dustbin. As it entered the size got smaller and smaller. A gimbal tripod came next followed by a rather large camera. Right at the end of this was a senior gentleman who looked exhausted. I’m not surprised carrying that great thing. We nodded and he settled down. ‘Well there’s no use trying to avoid the inevitable Andrew’ I said to myself and got my new baby out. I looked down and suddenly it didn’t seem quit that big anymore! Then first night nerves kicked in. I held my now somewhat modest toy to my eyes and went to take the first shot. Blackness enveloped me. A meagre smug of light riddled my eyes. Confused I tried to not look too confused and played with the controls. Still nothing. Later at my leisure I watched a video of the pond then the sky then the pond again. Having flicked back to photo I was off and running. Weeds in the bag, Moorhens in the bag, Warblers in the bag, bubbling spring in the bag. Rattling off 7fps. This was fun. Then what seemed like a machine gun blasted out. The monster next to me was spitting out 11fps. I smiled and felt the warmth of a baptism of fire engulf me as I slowly floated down to the soft fluffy pillow of earth with a bump.
A Moorhen Chick

A First year Moorhen and younger probable Siblings

We had a good chat.  Talked about life, blogs, car accidents and how 11fps can soon fill up your hard drive.
A second hide, I felt more at home in, was overlooking a modest reed bed. Hobbies where present a few minutes before I came as evidenced by a shot a guy showed me as we ’swapped shifts’. Have you noticed when you go into a hide it seems to signal for others to leave and you simply change places. Nothing too exciting, a few Coots and mallards, nice though. Large, raised up and circular. Something Hamwall and Shapwick would benefit from. Place one or two of those on the far side with tracks would be a great vantage point. My friend with the field artillery came in and showed me the Barn Owl pics he had just taken. Bored with waiting for the Hobby, We're spoilt at Hamwall etal, I was off and set up shop about 100 feet from the two trees where the young were eager to explore and the parents eager to sleep.
Coots being fed

Male Adult Barn Owl asleep. Look above in the old box. You can just see the back of the female.

Young Barn owl having a look

Young Barn owl having a look
Two Young Bar Owls

On the final leg as I wandered back to the beginning, looking at the fish swimming stationary in the crystal waters, I heard the sound of a Song Thrush. And there it was sitting in a small bare tree right in front of me.
Song Thrush
For the record on the way up I saw 4 Red Kites and a Jay. All on the M4. The return journey showed quite a few Hobbies and another jay.
I still have a long way to go with this new gear. So easy to use and intuitive. I'm already flying without a safety net on manual mode. Hopefully I'll improve and the pics will get better and better. But its not all about the quality of the pics after all is it. Its about the day.


All Bell but no Whistle

We had a guest rider the other day. My Bezzy mate Steve who’s come down from the land of Chuffs and dragons. A fellow cyclist and birder he was in his element. I treated him to a slap up breakfast at the Tea Rooms at Sharpham. Well when I say breakfast we were one minute past the allotted time but the nice lady took our order anyway. It was 12:46 if you must know!
The day started well with Steve losing his Bittern Virginity within about an hour of arriving at VP2 Hamwall. Marsh Harriers where about, the sun was shining, all was well with the world. A well-earned rest for Stevie Boy.
There now follows a bit of gear talk. Please skip if you're not interested.
Having realised how absolutely amazzzzzing my Canon SX50 Bridge Camera is I have quickly realised its limitations. James is of the same opinion. Now don’t get me wrong. I love my SX50 with its super x50 zoom etc etc but it’s not very good with catching Merlins in flight. The View Finder is next to useless. I tried it today with a Hare wandering up a path ahead of us at the Shapwick Heath Hawk & Owl. I couldn't even find it let alone focus on it. So I have invested in a ‘proper’ camera. Namely a Canon 70D. It’s lovely! Real View Finder, 7fps, nice and heavy, robust, Ugh! Fab. So easy to use. One problem though, I haven’t got my lens yet. I’ll wait to tell you all about that. So I was lumbered with a 200mm zoom from a friend in work. It’s over 20 years old. Now a bad workman always blames his tools but I don’t think I’m getting the best out of the 70D. Anyway all the pics in this post where taken with that set up. Soon I will have my Bell AND my Whistle.
Back to the day…………..
So we made our way through Hamwall and Shapwick. Another bittern or two made a nice fly-by along with quit a few Hobbies. I had an embarrassing moment in the Reed Hide when Steve, instead of following me, decided to have a bit of a wander. He has a habit of doing this and I do tend to have a very frustrating hour trying to find him. It’s like taking your Grandad for a walk! I was standing there talking to a fellow birder when what I thought where a pair of Cuckoos flew past, A peregrine flew past and a Bittern flew past. They were, of course a pair of Stock Doves, A Sparrow Hawk and a Grey heron. Steve had the binoculars with him!

Some Bittern Action going on

So we were ticking quit a lot off of Steve’s Somerset Bucket list. Only one thing to go. We made it to the raised hide at West hey where a few Hobbies where flitting about. It was here that we ticked the last on the list. A Cuckoo sitting in a far off bush. Still close enough for Steve to view it defecating. Something for Steve to tell the grand kids!

Mute Swan in your face

Great Crested Grebe Fishing
After all that damned good debrief was in order. To The Sheppey at Godney post haste saw us sitting out the rest of the summer rays sipping fine micro-brewery ales and watching cows exploring their universe we call a field over and over and over and over again.
Twas a good day experienced too little.


A BAD start

5:30am. The sun is streaming through my wholly unsuitable blinds which don’t live up to their name.  Thats not a problem. I really like the light and warm mornings, which should be filled with the melodious chorus of our feathered songsters.  Except that definitely isn’t happening at my house.  I had left the fat balls out.  Whats wrong with that I hear you cry?

Theres a lot wrong with it. You see if these green packets of food are left out, it equals trouble.  Its the noise that comes first.  Short, loud barks followed by intense scrabbling and the sound of large feathered wings.  This is the Jackdaw.  Or rather 4 and 20 of these black birds  (and I could very easily bake these in a pie at this time in the morning).

To make matters worse a Magpie joins in.  Its grating call making the situation all the worse.  Wearily I get out of bed and do the window waggle.  Allow me to explain this time honoured technique I have learned in my time at Wookey Hole.  Essentiall I open and close the window a few times in the vein hope that the marauders will go away.  As I waggle I can see the scene of carnage below, fat balls are strewn across the yard and black bodies are scrapping over the spoils.

The Magpie sees me first.  He takes off in a blur of pied panic.  Uttering is alrm call.  Then the rest of then take flight.  Alfred Hitchcock would have been proud.  Quite how so many corvids can fit into my little yard is a mystery.  Well over 20.  Actually it isn’t a mystery at all.  The tall trees leading to the cave are home to hundreds of these brash marauders.

I clamber back into a bed.  The scrabbling starts immediately.  This is the quickest they have ever returned.  You see Jackdaws are clever and they have realised that the waggle doesn’t actually hurt them much...
I was wide awake by now, so tramped down stairs.  In a fit of slightly evil pleasure (its just Human Nature).  I quickly raised the blind right in front of the feeder.  Sure enough a Jackdaw is hanging off it looking slightly ridiculous.  Obviously no one told him it wsa designed for a Blue tit.  Anyway he had a major scare as a hairy, bleary eyed human was suddenly right on top of him.  In a heartbeat he was gone.  Probably won’t be back for at least 10 minutes...  I wish they would just Beat it.

Everyone else was asleep so I thought I could get a quick visit to Ubley Warren in, before the gang arose.  My main targets were (in this order):
Redstart (male)
Redstart (female)
Adder (don’t care)
Grass snake (don’t care)

I arrived, but not early enough.  People were walking dogs already!

I did my normal snake hunting tactic which involves blundering about amongst the heather and gauss.  As usual it was wholly unsuccessful.  After half an hour I had seen a heron, two coots and a goldfish.
Then on the way back to the car I got a bit more lucky. 

 A female Redstart put in a very brief appearance but at least I saw her.  I hung around hoping the smart male might be nearby but it wasn’t to be.

A Roe deer was busy eating breakfast and took little notice of me allowing some very close views.
I always find it strange to see Reed buntings here.  They obviously took a wrong turning and are still looking for Ham Wall to this day.

On the way home I spotted a grounded Skylark.  The video comes complete with Michael Jackson playing in the background.  Sorry if you aren’t a fan.  Unfortunately the Skylark didn’t moonwalk.  Now THAT would have got some hits on YouTube...

In fact it would have been a Thriller.  For now we will all have to make do with Rockin Robins...


Seeing Red

I am quite a relaxed and docile chap.  I dont see red very often.

Red kites – they are in my top 5 favourites list.  Elegant and streamlined (except if they are routing around in a rubbish tip).  Now, being a Zomerset lad I haven't seen that many.  Kites seem to have an aversion to our area.  Sure, I know they pass through but they don’t stay.  Its, strange as I quite like the surroundings. My feathered quarry obviously is not so keen.

Reading the various postings on the Somerset Ornithological society message board it appears that although still not a common sight, Kites are increasing in number around these ere parts.  Unfortunately I seem to be the only person who hasn’t seen one of late.  Indeed I have only ever seen 3 Red Kites in the county (all on the same day – two above The Who’d Thought pub it in Glastonbury.  Indeed who the hell would of thought it!)

That was over a year ago.  Since then, absolutely nothing.  A few days ago a very nice chap posted on twitter saying that 2 Kites were in fields around Coxley (2 minutes from my house).  I hopped into the car, drove around a bit, found some crows, buzzards and gulls (I wont say seagulls as Andrew will get upset).  But no Kites.

Last night I headed down to Westhay.  Something told me I was going to get lucky.  Traveling along the windy roads through Godney I noticed that there was lots of grass cutting going on.  Also I was upwind of the god awful chicken factory so the stench of sweaty poultry was kept to a minimum.  So i decided to pull up and have a good scan.  Gulls, Crows and a Buzzard or two.  I took a few shots and faffed about with various camera settings only to realise that a beautiful Buzzard flew right over my head.  It would have made a cracking shot...

Slightly miffed I got back into the car and carried on.  Still no Kites.

I traveled slowly to Westhay, not through choice but a lycra clad cyclist absolutely refused to pull over.  At this point I did see red but definitely not a kite.  After the slowest journey in the world I finally arrived.
The sun was shining and everything looked rather nice.  I made a beeline for the raised platform.  Imeediately  a stunning female Marsh harrier was right in front of the hide.  In a panic I reached for my camera, hit record and missed everything in a truly momentous moment of uselessness.
Again I was seeing red.

Not a Red kite but nice all the same.  It was much closer but I messed it right up.

Settling in I noticed a colourful flash, a Kingfisher.  Brief but very pleasant all the same.  Then I noticed a greyish bird, which I took to be a Sparrowhawk fly behind a tree.   Looked around with my bins but couldn’t see anything until it flew again.  A cuckoo! I have seen more this year than I ever have in previous years.  Things were getting better now.

A Male and the female harrier were flying distantly and interacted a few times.  Utterly magnificent birds which i never tire of seeing.  We are really lucky to have these here and I hope the continue to do well.
I scanned the trees and found another cuckoo.  The wind had got up a bit and he was being thrown all over the place but didn’t want to fly.  I even managed to get the scope out in time and he provided me with some excellent views.  Through the scope I could appreciate the colouration and pattern much more thoroughly.  They really are slightly odd critters and their call is a little bit spooky when you are sat amongst the reeds all by yourself...

 A family of Moorhen created some entertainment as the chicks plopped about uncertain of what to do.

 You can go first....

A little brown job was flying about the place and paused for a quick picture.  Looks nice, I think its a Reed warbler.

Then a Little egret started a bit of fishing.

Only one Hobby today unfortunately.  

As the sun started to give up the ghost I drove home, passed the chicken perspiration.  No kites in evidence.  When I arrived home I had a look on the SOS website.  Someone had seen a Kite in Glastonbury and Cheddar.  I still haven’t seen red...