Bittern by an Otter

Thank goodness for German efficiency.  New lens ordered and received with 48 hours!
Now I could have gone and seen the Pallid Harrier today.  But I didn’t.  I don’t know why.  Instead I went to Westhay.

Everything was really calm down at the reserve.  Even the gentle rustle of the reeds was completely absent.  The light was awful and there want much to see (yet).  But was was enjoying myself.  It was rather relaxing.
At the raised platform I saw some long tailed tits and in the distance a Great White Egret sat on a tree.

I noticed that the Egret was near a hide.  If I could get over there I cold get a rather nice shot...

Off I went, trudging through the soft mud.  Along the trackway a Jay flew overhead and a flock of Long Tailed Tits skittered from tree to tree.

I looked about for the Egret.  It had left its platform and was busily fishing in the lake.  

I had a chat with a very nice warden who had a very handy bean bag for camera support.  As I was looking at a Grey Heron a Bittern flew up from next to him and went for a nice white poo.  I suspect the Bittern had been their for sometime . Need to be more observant!

At the North hide I spied a pair of squabbling Water rails and a load of Coots.

I then went along to another hide/screen adjacent to the North hide.

These swans provided a nice photo opportunity

Then I noticed a disturbance in the water.  My heart jumped as I realised what it was... OTTER!!!

He  fished for a good 20 minutes catching lots of fish and occasionally glaring his rather sharp looking teeth.  Wouldn't want to be bitten by one of those!  To be honest I was so excited that I hardly noticed the 2 Kingfishers zipping about.


Just outside the reserve this egret was rooting around for a tasty morsel.  Great birds which always make for a nice photo.

Westhay was a a good decision.


A magical moment

Reports of the Pallid Harrier and Short Eared Owls meant that I had to take a trip down to Steart.

It took me bloody ages to get their, mainly due to the throng of tourists visiting Wookey hole caves.  Well it is the season of wizards and warlocks I suppose...

At the reserve I rejoiced as the sun started to peek out from behind the grey shroud.

Walking along the bank of the Parrett I scanned for Avocets but didnt see any.  Plenty of Godwits though along with Shelduck and Lapwing.

I didnt really know where to go so just kept on going straight.

The Harrier didnt seem to be anywhere about.  I had a feeling that I may have made a wrong turn...

Is it over there chaps?

I noticed some comotion over the river as a crow was attacking a Kestrel.  Who decided to fly pretty close.

After a while I had reached the end of the trail. I stayed, looking over the reeds for about 30 minutes without success.  I decided to not get obsessed with finding the Harrier and scan about the place.  As soon as I had adopted this more relaxed attitude, this happened...

I was actually texting Andrew at the time.  I couldnt believe my eyes.  She swept in low and landed in front of me.  I dropped all my gear save for my camera and crept as close as I could.  I believe its a female Merlin.  Absolutely brilliant!!!

The sun was slowly falling and as i went back along the bank a Peregrine flew low from the near bank and scared everything in the river.  It was flying quite slowly and dropped into some long grass on the other side.  A great sight.

I took a cursory glance across the marsh and didn't see a Harier or an owl.  But to be honest Merlin had cast an amazing spell already...


The next big thing

What with all the talk of a Pallid Harrier down at Steart I thought I had better take a look. For some reason I wasn't very enthusiastic about all this. I'm not a Twitcher. The EFRS is not about trying to tick things off although I will be the first to admit I do have a wish list but thats not the same thing. I overheard stuff like "Yep I've seen it so now we can go". What!! Look around you, there's far more to Steart than ticking one bird off in your book.

The estuary was looking splendid in the occasional glimpses of sunlight. Especially with the flock of Avocets.




So I plonked myself down on the Estuary side. Quit a few people but not as many as I had expected. I had visions of thousands lining the banks. Thankfully I had a space in the main car park where I helped bump start a car. The paths are very cycle friendly which was a pleasant change. Just as I did plonk myself down I disturbed a Kestrel with a fresh kill a few feet away. Steart really is Kestrel central. There are loads flying around and very close.

kestrel Diving

Kestrel Diving


Kestrel on the look out

Within 20 minutes the Pallid Harrier flew up then down then up again then down again. This was worse that the Little Bitterns. I didn't have the wherewithal to sort out a shot but I did get a very good view through the bins and scope. I was happy but I needed that shot. (Otherwise how would you lot see it!). The hours passed and I spent most of my time looking at the fellow birders on the opposite bank to see where the scopes were pointing.

Some familiar faces at a safe distance ;¬)

They all seemed to be looking to my left well away from view or photo opportunity. I found myself alone on this side. Should I go with the flow or stick to my convictions? No Andrew you stay put. It will fly past in a bit. Its bound to come back isn't it. I amused myself with the Goldfinches that were flying back and forth cheerfully


Along with the Black Tailed Godwits

Black Tailed Godwit

Black Tailed Godwit

Then it happened. Way over to the right I saw a dark bird flying low. Swiftly I grabbed my bins and yes there it was. Why wasn't anyone else looking? And more to the point how did I miss it going passed? I blame those Goldfinches. Oh well I grabbed the camera and fired. Far too many at once since I was over excited and had to wait for the buffer to clear. When it did go down I did a little 'YES' with a clenched fist and raised knee. Two guys were watching and laughed. I showed them the pics and we were all suitably impressed. However looking at them on the big screen they don't seem so good! Manual focusing with the x2 converter is a skill I haven't mastered yet and sods law dictates that the 'best' birds are always elusive. If it was a Black Headed Gull it would be the best shots you could ask for. Anyway heres the money shots................

Pallid Harrier

Pallid Harrier

Pallid Harrier (it's behind you)

Pallid Harrier

Pallid Harrier

Pallid Harrier

Pallid Harrier

And by special request heres a shot of it flying by two guys who I showed the pic to. They had seen it cross the estuary just after this shot.

Pallid Harrier and Birders

And that was that. Another bird ticked off the list and on to the next big thing. Its a shame there has to be big things. It would be nice to have them all as common as muck. Im sure they would like it that way.


What could possibly go wrong....

Well plenty. To start with we were supposed to go to Steart nice and early. No such luck so we ended up doing the usual rounds of Ham Wall and Shapwick. No bad thing. Then James bike started playing up. A little tinkering and it was sorted. No big deal up till now. We set off down to ham Wall stopping only for this Heron.

Grey Heron

Sweeping through the Enchanted Wood I pondered my Nemesis. Eyes peeled we went slowly. Just at the end my mind wandered just enough to forget for a moment what we were looking out for. Sure enough we hear a cry and James pointed to a bobbing dart flying away to the far side. It was him alright. Sitting waiting for me right at the end.

Ham Wall was a fantastic sight. The sun was bright with enough cloud cover to give fantastic contrast. Perfect photography weather. We settled down at VP2 with only a couple of people around. Lovely. The colours were fantastic. Then a guided party led by a couple of very nice RSPB guys piled in and it was standing room only. They, and we were rewarded with a long slow bittern flight and a distant Marsh Harrier. They soon left though and we were on our own again. This was what I was waiting for. To use my new x2 converter in anger. This is a Great White Egret taken as a tester

Great White Egret

Then I used it for exactly its job. A few Snipe on the island about 200m away.


I was away. Swapping between the x2 with ease. The Lapwings taking everything up including Teal, Gadwall and the Snipe


But what about James you ask? Well he did get his camera out but something was up with the lens. It kept sticking. Very odd. He then spent the rest of the day sulking. Trying to get the thing to work. Sitting like a sullen teenager on his phone and eating everything he could. I in the n=meantime kept telling him to come and look at the pics I kept taking. Such as..............

Gadwall in flight

Gadwall landing

Gadwall in flight

Mallard in flight


Gadwall in flight

I suggested we move on and after a brief stop at VP1 we ended up at the Scrape. James wasn't bothered where we went by this stage. earlier we had met a friend of the EFRS. Lee Dutton an RSPB volunteer. We met him again by the Scrape. Just as I asked if there were any Ruff down came about a dozen. Along with the Lapwings that had put all the other birds in flight at Ham Wall.



We stayed there for a while admiring the cloud formations which were staggering. I entertained myself with the x2 again.

Not bad for a x2 with the 100-400L lens at 200m


With James luck today I was glad to get a text of him after he drove home! However I predict only good can come of this and he will end up with a better lens than he has. Watch this space.

Speaking of new gear I have just got a Battery Grip. If you haven't already got one BUY ONE. It will transform your camera. Forget about the extra battery etc etc I'm talking about just the feel. It will be so much more comfortable in your hands. Don't go spending hundreds on a real one just get a decent copy for about £30. Brilliant things. I pondered it for a while then when I tried my brothers it was a revelation.

Chewing the fat

Its been far too long.

Time to get out with a full EFRS compliment.  Now with added tech!!!

Andrew is now kitted out with a 2x converter giving him sniper like reach along with a battery grip making his camera look like a futuristic cannon (Canon actually).

My upgrade has been an SLR camera from Sony (more on that later) and a Tokina 400mm lens.

Fully kitted out we arrived at Chew Valley.  The usual park birds were there milling around with little cause for interest.  We had  a bit of a perimeter scan and an encounter with a warden (ahem) before stopping at Herons Green Bay.

Here we decamped with gear at the ready.

Andrew decided that my camera is not a proper SLR because its not a Canon. (Thats because its not a Single Lens Reflex Camera :¬P (Andrew)) However I think he did actually quite like it.  We chewed the fat for a while looking out for something interesting.  I took some pictures of gulls flapping about

Black Headed Gulls

Much easier with the Sony than my Fuji bridge!!!

Then some people starting feeding the birds which resulted in chaos...

I love this shot (sadly it wasnt me who took it!).  Even though its a common sight it just looks really interesting.

News of a Skua on the lake got me excited and juvenile gull on the lake was a possible siting :-)

Juvenile Lesser Black Back Gull

Andrew starting pointing is cannon (Canon) at a little brown bird...

Female Wheatear

Probably the best bird of the day!!

Then this big fella flew over croaking away. 


Still no Skua so Andrew pulled out the 2x converter and got photos from a thousand miles away.


Black Headed Gull
"I'll be back..." Just needs a red glowing eye. 

We didn't see the skua but at least will had some stuff to chew on.