So long, and thanks for all the Dragonflies

With apologies to Mr Adams

The mist was thick as I cycled down out of Glastonbury on my last day of holiday. Thoughts of the crystal clear waters of Sardinia* where still in my head. I wasn't disappointed by this change in weather. I love contrasts. Bring it on I say. If it was always baking hot sun all year round it would be boring. So on I peddled knowing the sun would break through later. The enchanted wood was in flux. The leaves where raining down with a constant trickle. Just before the wood starts I looked to the field besides and hunting between the feet of the cows was a Grey Heron. This took me back to last week when I jumped out the hire car to snap a Cattle Egret doing just the same.

Grey Heron in the mist

Nice sight I thought. Then my blood ran cold. My mind focused and I girded my loins for the battle ahead with my nemesis. The Woodpecker of the Enchanted Wood. I slowed and dismounted. I would meet him on foot. Camera in arm I slowly entered. As usual he was waiting for me. Before I could react he flew. But wait, he flew towards me and perched on a trunk. Ha! A fatal error my worthy adversary You are mine. Oh how I was wrong. He was simply toying with me................

The Phantom Woodpecker of The Enchanted Wood

For days about 20 minutes I stood but no sign was seen. He had spat in my eye and was merrily tapping away on a distant tree.

The Enchanted Wood looking Autumnal

I sometimes forget I can zoom back from 400mm!

So to Ham Wall. VP2 was looking good. Few people around today being mid week. Quit a few new arrivals of ducks including Gadwall and Teal. A pair of Black Tailed Godwits on the far bank and a couple of Ruff feeding. Even a female Shoveler A few chats and I was off again to VP1. Not a lot at this spot except a nice volunteer who I chatted to for a while. Interesting talk about Marsh Harriers and the fact the males can often look very un-male like. That explains a lot.

Gadwall in flight

Canada Geese Roler coaster (Not a composite they are all flying together)

The Scrape at Shapwick proved far more productive. Lots going on. Gadwall, Pochards, Bar-tailed and black-tailed Godwits, Ruff feeding again.

Ruff Feeding

Godwits and Lapwings (Theres a ruff in there too)

Godwits and Lapwings

All the while these birds where being spooked by Marsh Harriers. They where coming in low and close to the water. Usually they are far back above the reeds. Not this time though.

I cycled on passed Noahs, stopping for a mo. I heard two Tawny Owls call very close in the wood opposite. I had a quick look but was hungry. Lunch at Eco-Bites over with I popped back to the Mear Heath wood and hide. No sign of the Owls but these Bracket Fungus caught my eye. Its been a while since I studied fungus.

Birch Polypore (Probably)

Popping into the Mear Hide it was business as usual. Absolutely sod all save a Solitary Male Tufted Duck doing a bit of practicing before the big date.

The 'Just checking for Pike' look

The 'Im coming to get you' look

Check me out girls

Back past the scrape and on back to VP2 at Ham Wall where I met up with James with his new Scope. Not a bad job for the price. Nice zoom up to x74.

Thats when things got interesting. I thought I had seen a Kestrel far away when James arrived. We where wrong. It was the last of this seasons Hobbies. He put on a very good display. Right above our heads. Along with the Marsh Harriers that flew close we were snapping away for some time in the yellow evening sun.

James tried out my camera with this one!

Male Marsh Harrier making an appearance

I thought to myself  how a few months ago I wrote how we where all shouting from the roof tops that there was a Hobby in our midst. Now at the end of the summer we are doing the same. It gave a good display for us. As we both walked back to the entrance at Ham Wall we stopped. In the tree to our right there was a dark figure perched amongst the bare branches silhouetted against the low sun. It was our Hobby.

Right Im off to Africa. See you next year...............

Being overly personific (Is that a word??) for a moment it did seem like thats what it was doing. Giving us a final hurray then waiting for us to pass with a backwards look. The sun was getting low early, the Starlings where gathering a little more each day. The leaves are raining. Its begun. Even though the air is still unusually warm, the heating isnt on and the kids have only just gone back to school that Hobby is telling us its over. Get your warm coats and dry boots ready. Thank you summer, its been a blast....................................... Soon it will be as if Summer never was

* Ive just been on a Holiday to sardinia. Not officially a birding holiday but I did happen to take my camera and bins. Ill be posting it in parts over the next few weeks between our regular local posts so look out for the mention on Twitter or pop back here.


Eyes like a Hawk(e)

My Mum is visiting from Australia.  She is a rare but regular vagrant species to these shores.  I thought it best to take her out to some well known Somerset tourist destinations.  Today was Cheddar gorge.  After a stint in the cheese shop (not a Little Stint) we walked passed the old Mill Hotel (now sadly abandoned).  Then  I noticed a brown bird bobbing about on the shore.  He span round to flash his white breast.  A Dipper and sooo close.  I cursed the lack of camera and tried in vain to get him with my mobile.  Here are the results...

If only I had my proper camera!!!

He even decided to have a swim,,,

After a good minute or so of showing off the Dipper flew down stream.  Leaving me moaning and muttering.  Sensing that my mum was getting bored I moved us on.  About 50 meters on... Another one!!!!

This one was having a nice rest by the water not 20 feet away.  I tried a photo of this one but its even worse than the top two..

Thoroughly annoyed I drowned my sorrows with a cuppa and a Full English....

The morning over with I headed solo over to Greylake.  Fully kitted up this time.

At the carpark I had a quick chat with Mike and his wife before setting out to the raised hide.

Then I got out my new toy!

I immediately got to work finding a Peregrine on a pylon.

Top left...

Then a pair of Marsh Harriers put in an appearance.  

They are the specks in the middle...

Finally a Kingfisher perched up...

He is the blue dot on the left

The theme for the day was "miles away".  At least the scope came in handy.

Luckily I had eyes like a Hawke...


Scoping out new territory

Steart has still got me buzzing at the moment.  Its all this flooding and new hide business thats doing it.

I plodded along the river Parrett admiring the weak hot chocolate colour of the incoming water.

The usual flocks of gulls milled about and a few Little Egrets were hunting intently along the slippery shore.

I took a left and had a wander along the new pathways.  Its all very civil (ideal for EFRS bikes actually).

Suddenly a streak of white flashed right in front of my nose.  A Wheatear.  These are great little birds.  I carefully stalked him and managed this.

Only then did I realise there was more than one.  A flock!

I'm all ears! (sorry)

These fellas were quite friendly and seemed quite unconcerned by my prescence.  I wanted to get REALLY close.  I sat down and looked as unnassuming as possible.  I dont really have a scary, mean persona so I figured that the Wheatears might just ignore me.  It was going well.  They were looking about and even catching some critters on the ground.

Then something bad happened.  A dog plus accompanying handlers came trotting down the path.  I acted quickly.  I fired off a load of shots and got this one.

and one more for luck.

Unfortunately the light was terrible but then you cant have everything.  Sure enough the dog came snuffling along.  The Wheatears flew to the other other side of Steart.

"They are Wheatears?" one of them said cheerily

"They WERE".  It was a short conversation.

Disclaimer: I have nothing against dogs or their owners.  But I do have a problem with inconsiderate people.

I had a look in one of the hides.  Bit posh and very modern.  All fresh and new.

I looked out toward the flooded plain.  A very distant bird of prey was flying low and fast over the flooded field.  It rose sharply before descending and repeating the process.  I am not sure what it was if I'm honest.  Right at that moment I yearned for a scope.  I sold mine a few weeks ago due to excess weight (the scope, not me). 

But that was then and this is now.  I need a scope!!!

The next few evenings will no doubt involve numerous visits to a well known online auction site...

Luckily a GWE did just about come within Bin range.

Outside the hide I met the most stupid caterpillar in the world.

Dont stand here!!!!!

In the air there was lots going on with 5 Kestrels flying about.  One of them starting picking on a Buzzard

He slapped him all over the place.

As I was watching the Buzzard getting a good hiding.  I noticed another dark shape. Angular and fast.  Peregrine.  My viewing experience was hampered by me deciding to video the aformentioned bird.  The focus wasnt up to the task and the video is essentailly a black fluffy blob flying against a greyish background.  It wont be narrated by David Attenborough any time soon.

My 4th bird of prey was a female Sparrowhawk flying low across the marshes, with a steady flap, flap, glide motion.  Excellent!

Time was getting on so I marched back resisting the temptation to go on  a well known internet auction site (phones, the bane of humanity).

Back near the car I thought I had found a real life Star Wars Wookie...

Just after this picture he went mental and wanted to kill me.  I beat a hasty retreat.

After seeing a Wookie I encountered a dragon

An interesting day all-in-all.  Just not enough scope...


Surf and Turf

Last outing was a dual solo effort with us both going our separate ways. Today it was back to a twin seater flight. Well we both went to Steart in the car! A four seater to be precise but never mind.
We're impressed with what's happening at Steart. We still haven't done the full extent but we're getting the idea. Jutting out into Bridgwater bay there is both the shore line and Parrett estuary to get your teeth into. This began at Combwich a lovely little village with a nice air of isolation about it. The area between Bridgwater and the coast does seem to be largely forgotten compared to the M5 side with all its built up industry and housing estates. Like it!

James started proceedings with macro bee action

James: Andrew headed straight to the water and was in his element.  Shooting at gulls, Herons and Redshank.

  I snuck through the undergrowth searching for some mini beast action.

James getting that Bee picture

Not having a lens small enough I turned my sub machine gun set up to more distant things.

Grey Heron in the Estuary

The Estuary

Charlie Chaplin!
(Someone will know why)

I then turned my attention to some textures in the mud banks


erm some more textures

And so the long march began. We headed out of Combwich along the path following the river. Its still not completed and after about a mile we came across sign saying the path was closed. We weren't going to let that stop us. We can slip around that and see how we go surely! Nope its well and truly blocked. We turned and trudged back to the carpark. A bit of a frustrating disappointment.

What we saw along the way however was not so disappointing. As we walked we kept seeing 2 or 3 Kestrels. We came to the conclusion that they were the same ones time and again. Quartering around in a sedate fashion with no hunting action we reckoned they were young fledglings. Lots of flight interaction.


Looking through the many many Black Headed Gulls we noticed another Raptor like bird. Sure enough it was a Peregrine I mean Hobby or was it a Kestrel - Oh what ever!!. Again it didn't look like it was particularly hungry. Sailing along the still air. 

Oh - Its a Hobby!

Here is a Peregrine Juvenile Kestrel (Thanks once again Nick)

The air that day was perfectly still, absolutely no wind whatsoever and a bright if hazy sunlight. Quit a few buzzards quartering high above. Then we noticed something. One of the Buzzards was very different to the other 3 with it. Very pale to the point of being white. Our blood raced with excitement. Honey Buzzard?




That Honey Buzzard

The more we looked at the small images on the back of the cameras the more we were intrigued. Googling made it even worse. Did we have yet another A lister scoop?? We spent the next few hours discussing it intensely. Final verdict? Its one of those very pale variations you sometimes get. Somerset and the South West has a high proportion of Buzzard variants compared to elsewhere apparently. Buzzards can be very variable anyway and this one is an extreme example. We have never seen a Honey Buzzard for real but research does show that the head in particular looks different to a Common Buzzard. Narrow with eyes flush to the head as opposed to the sunken forward facing eyes and stocky head of a Common Buzzard. The tail is too short as well. The pics above with the 'standard' Buzzard are a good comparison. Oh well!!

One of the many old ships left to decay

The Parrett Estuary

As you walk you notice quite a few old posts and boats decaying in the mud banks. Signs of industry passed I suppose. What was once a way of life and a means of sustenance then becomes a decay, an eyesore to those that don't need it finally becoming part of the texture of the land. From function to fascination. Like castles that were once a symbol of oppression and now held in the greatest of esteem. Time is a funny morphosis. What will our children make of pylons?

We amused ourselves with the more common birds like a Raven sitting on a pylon opposite. It was quit a way away but we could still hear the eerie, to my ears, cold misty North Wales mountain, calls for quit a way past it. Ravens, like all carrion birds, are cool. Then a flash of feathers caught my eye and the distinctive sight of black and white rushed passed us. A pair of Avocets where flying down to the mouth of the estuary. I managed to get one record shot.


We were accompanied along a section of the track by a female Wheatear flitting along the rocks

James: We both struggled with this picture.  The light was rather odd!

The end of the path was well and truly sealed as I mentioned earlier. So near and yet so far to the other side. We had to content ourselves with some Whinchats. Managed to get one of them as it sat on the fence behind the barricades marking the end of the route.

Whinchat in a one sided cage

On our return to Combwich we settled down outside the The Anchor pub for a refreshing and well earned pint to debrief. Three Starlings were sitting on a sign opposite. Managed to get them in three degrees of flight.

The Three Degrees!

After mulling over the Honey Buzzard debarcel we decided to pop round the other side to the Bridgwater Bay. James was reluctant but I think it payed off. After upsetting a fellow birder by disturbing a flock of Dunlin and Ringed Plovers we settled down to watch the said birds in flight. They where in flight a lot since its also a popular dog walker beach. Oh well.

Dunlin flying to the right

Dunlin and a few Ringed Plovers flying to the left

James: Just before the dog walker...

There were a lot of Shelduck far in the distance. It was then that James spotted some birds on the shore a way away. What the are they?? We had no Idea. Stealth like we crept along amongst the dunes to a closer spot. They turned out to be Grey Plovers. Similar to Golden Plovers which we thought they were. Quit a find we think.

Grey Plovers

Grey Plovers

Grey Plovers after a dog wandered too close

James: Andrew using that expensive scope wisely

So that was quite  a day. We weren't expecting quite that many species of interest.  Both Surf birds and turf ones as well!

 We were of course mostly looking for Short Eared Owls. We'll give them a few more weeks shall we? Watch this space