That Jacques Cousteau moment


This weekend saw my bezzy mate Steve come down from North Wales for a bit of a catch up. The idea was an EFRS trip with James. Unfortunately he was otherwise engaged so it was just the two of us. After recovering from the night before we set off on Saturday for a classic run the same run we always do. Hamwall saw the usual suspects of Marsh harriers and attendant crows being a nuisance.

If we stay still do you think they wont see me AGAIN!

We passed through Shapwick like a dose of salts and refreshed at Eco-friendly bits we carried on to London Drove in a vain attempt to see the Fire Crest that had apparently reappeared. We didn't see it but we did see

A Great White Egret

Who then did a bit of sky writing!

I thought I would give Steve the full tour so we ended up at what I call the 'Hobby Platform' The one that overlooks the reed beds. My favourite spot in Westhay. Absolutely nothing happened until Steve spotted a Kingfisher in a branch. The light was so poor you'll have to forgive the rather grainy ISO settings!

Like this one

Another thing he spotted was this Mink. It went into the reeds and flushed a Moorhen who was not best pleased.

So it was a rather quiet day but still rather pleasant. Steve enjoyed the peace and change of pace. It was well worth it. We sauntered back towards the Viridor Hide. We had been seeing a Kestrel hover hunt all the time around Westhay. This may have been the chap. It was rather small for a Kestrel and rather worryingly tame. I got to within a few dozen feet of it and it had no qualms about flying straight at me to sit on the hide roof! 

It didn't seem too steady when it landed. To a while to find it's feet.

The day ended with a meal at The Sheppy in Godney. As you do.

Sunday was a great opportunity to venture back to Steart since I had to drop Steve at the Station in Bridgwater. We had a man hug and I left. Steart was a place I wanted to go for two reasons. There had been reports of a Leucistic Sparrow Hawk and more interestingly an NPW had recently migrated there to feed on the local sightings and take vigorous notes. A perfect opportunity I thought.

Unfortunately I must tell you that I failed to spot the NPW. Yes I was looking forward to bagging that Mega since it wont be around for long. It usually flies of to Norway or Africa. Still I'm sure it will come around again.

I did manage to meet up with yours and mine friendly local warden at Steart, Joe Cockram. He was raking up the grass right at the end of the estuary side. Not a bad job if you can do it on such a day. It was a bit like a scene from a period play. There I was striding up on my trusty stallion bicycle with some local yokel working in the fields. "I say you, yes you there, have you seen a fella by the name of NPW?" "Aye Sir 'e be yonder by the screens". Ok so maybe it wasn't quit like that. Joe was doing something constructive and worthwhile and being payed to be where I have to work to afford to be but I did have a few hours to toy with the idea. Forgive me!
I settled down there to await the inevitable appearance of the white ghost. I waited.............. and waited..............and waited. In the meantime I amused myself with some other stuff

I thought the GWE might have been a Spoonbill. Joe was very patient with me.

Liking the colours on this one

BOOM!! Out of the blue I thought I had seen a Swift! It can't be! Then a thought occurred, just like it did the first time I actively spotted a Peregrine, it's a Merlin. I have never knowingly seen a Merlin before but something just told me it was. It was doing a hell of a lick. Going somewhere important by the looks of it and didn't hang about.

My first Merlin - Woo hoo

And some more nice colours

The Kestrels around here are quit tame, not as tame as Westhay though!

All the hours I was stood in that corral I was watching the Goldfinches. They were getting more and more. Occasionally dropping down in the waterside grasses.

As much as I enjoyed all the sights, not least the Merlin and Goldfinches, I was a little disappointed not to see that pale enigma. All the time as I cycled back in the falling light I was looking at every Little Egret and Gull wishing it where that angel in the sky. Every close of the gate seemed to be another turn of the key closing the door on what was now my angelic vision. The final gate closed and back by the pylons along the gravel pathway. End of the day. Oh well! I'd better go and write it all up.

If you'r over forty you may remember sitting of an evening watching the amazing adventures in the deepest darkest depths of the seas with that amazing trail blazer Jacques Cousteau. There was a running joke in our house. The program always ended with him eventually catching sight of the beast he had set out for. This was accompanied with the eternal line "And just as we were giving up hope there it was"

I glanced up and saw a crow harrying a Little Egret. What on earth is a Crow bothering with an Egret for, Oh! I managed to whip out my bins and catch sight of a beautiful and yes, angelic sight of a pale hawk. Rummaging in my bag to get the camera out caused me to loose sight. All that remained when I did focus was the crow settling down on a branch. Bugger!
I scanned and scanned. Nothing. All the white dots were either gulls and egrets. Was this it?


Time went and the light lessened. Then a white dot on a post. I locked on..............


The EFRS was in its element. I swung round and mounted my bike. 400mm in one hand and steering with the other I cycled low and steady back along the grassy path bumping and swerving avoiding the ruts. It stayed put. It was mine. Walking would have taken too long. This was what the EFRS was designed for. Stopping at a good distance to get another few shots just in case it flew.

A little bit closer

 I continued as far as I dare. The last few crouched steps on foot had me hidden by a row of tall grass just before the double gates. It remained and I took aim.

What a beautiful bird. It really made my day. Thank you Steart.

All the time I was stalking that beauty I was looking over on the far side. Silhouetted against the grey sky and just to the side of screens was a figure, a birder figure. Those screens were the ones the yokel said the NPW was seen at.................


  1. Anonymous18/10/15

    Congratulations Andrew! Great blog illustrated with excellent images. And especially well done for finding AND photographing the Merlin AND the spectacular leucistic Sparrowhawk. Sorry I missed meeting you today. Mind you, I shouldn't have been hard to find because I staked out the same spot for 7 hours today. :-) NPW.

    1. But the mystery remains! Was that you on the far side next (Left hand side from your view) to the screen. Leaving about 5ish?