A tight fit


Proper day out today by a full squadron. What with the beautiful weather of Saturday Sunday was going to be even better wasn't it. It wasn't it was grey, very grey, greyer than four Grey Herons.

Heron No1

Heron No2

Heron No3

Heron No4

James had decided to forgo the cycle to Hamwall and drove to the new car park. This was going to prove very fortuitous as you will find out soon enough. We met at VP1. I was there a few minutes before him and I was snapping merrily away at a Bittern that was sailing across the waters. He missed it.

The bittern James missed

Half a second before it disappeared into its natural environs

We stayed a while looking at the various few ducks but little was stirring after the Bittern. We moved on to the Avalon Hide. On the way James met an old work colleague so lagged behind. I got to the hide and as I was setting things up another Bittern decided to saunter passed. James came in as I was finding one of the shots to show him. He had missed it!

Really showing the colours on it's wings nicely here

As we looked around the hide it seems something was using it as a roost, something big by the looks of the splats. I've always said they should put a door on the hide!

We were intrigued by the Owl box. Was there anyone home? We spent quite a while looking into the deep dark hole convincing ourselves that there was a feathered shape in there. I don't think there was.

Who said romance was dead

The only Gadwall we saw

Again we moved on and went back to VP2 for a few mins. As we arrived we noticed a Great White Egret very close to the near bank. We made a quiet approach. Not satisfied with the view James crept round and went to the other bank to get even closer. Wise choice as the foliage was in the way for me.

Nice one James

After a warming hot chocolate at Eco-friendly bites we set of for the long haul to Catcott. We were looking forward to seeing if the duck numbers were up after the recent rain. As we left the car park James mentioned his tyres were a bit flat. We pondered on pumping them up there or waiting until we got there. This was James' second wise choice. It wasn't going well with the pumping up of tyres. James isn't the most practical of people as you may know. In fact only the other day he was demoted to teaboy while his good lady assembled the flat pack wardrobes! I amused myself with hunting Little Owls in the large ivy covered tree opposite. After a while I took a look and came to the conclusion he wasn't going to get far that day.

Erm! I don't think this bit is supposed to come off James.

Undaunted we made a hasty decision and cycled back to his car which meant the short op back to the Shapwick entrance and then the rather longer skip through Shapwick. Logistics was against us though as his tyre was flat and hard work. Also he has a rather small car. 'Yes I could get my bike in' he said. Oh! I thought thats ok we'll just put mine on top. 'But you can't get any passengers in though'. Hmm I'm sure we'll be alright. I lent him my bike at the Shapwick entrance and he sped off. I amused myself with listening to the F1 final race. Alas that didn't work out how I wanted. James sped up about 30 minutes later and we were off. I just had to throw his buggered bike in and we're off. That was the easy bit. With all those wheels about the seat was pushed right forward. I folded myself in half and like a dog I had my paws up on the dash eagerly panting against the window.

Woof woof woof

It was of course sods law that to get to Catcott from Shapwick meant going along possibly the bumpiest roads in all the Levels. I kept my hat on for added protection. A press on the accelerator had me squeezed into the seat that closed even more like a crocodile since the seat was in push forward mode. A press on the break saw me pressed against the windscreen! James was enjoying himself. Getting in and out was rather difficult birth!

Catcott was in full swing of winter duckland. Lots of the little buggers calling and dabbling and squabbling and flitting away. The vast majority were Wigeon with a smattering of Teal and a hand full of Pintails. Far off in the distance were the noisy boys of Greylag and Canada Geese. One Great White and a few Swans completed the scene. There's nothing like the ducks to get you into the winter spirit. On such a calm and grey day it was a welcome treat. It's always interesting to watch them going about they're business when suddenly something spooks them and the whole lot go up. We were wishing for a Peregrine. I don't think they were.

Female Wigeon givin' it some lip

Nice pair


This chap was stretching rather than calling

Another Wigeon

A flock of Lapwings made an appearance

The highlight were the 5 Pintails far out

A couple of Buzzards set them off

Reed Bunting

The Greylags were on the move

and so were the Swans

That wasn't it of course. James had to drive me home. Well I suppose he didn't have to I could have rode home but that never occurred to me. Instead I squeezed back into the jaws of the Peugeot and we set off. It was an interesting ride. James trying not to be leaden footed. It was a tight fit but we made it! I wasn't expecting all that but it's what the EFRS are all about. We don't let trivial disasters stop us getting our duck!!


A day with Robin Morrison


I'm sorry Robin but this picture is an absolute load of rubbish

Since James Corden has his Carpool Karaoke the EFRS thought they would get in on the act and are pleased to present what will hopefully be the first in a series of occasional special features where we invite a local well known photographer or birder to spend the day with us and have a bit of an interview at the same time. We'll try and give you the person behind the lens.

So for the inaugural post we give you non other than Robin Morrison. Robin is a natural history photographer based in the South West and is known amongst both the local community and further afield. He has been published in many national papers and on-line publications and occasionally picks up an award. Despite working full time he makes full use of his spare time doing what he likes best. He's been a friend of the EFRS from pretty much the beginning. We had admired his work for quite some time and finally met out on the Steart Reserve on a windy day looking for Short Eared Owls a couple of years ago. After that it's been a steady stream of irreverent nonsense on Twitter usually involving the Tor with assorted birds, class envy and poo!

Robin had decided on Westhay reserve. I immediately guessed as to why. It was for the Beardies wasn't it Robin. I'm not daft you know. You see I have a deep seated belief that Bearded Reedlings simply do not exist. I have never seen one in all the years I have been birding. QED!

So on with the day. Meet at 9 in the main car park he said. I was there prompt James would be late he always is. I wasn't expecting Robin to be. He wasn't. We would be on foot so didn't bring the EFRS chariot however I wasn't expecting Robins entrance. He came sailing round the bend on his bicycle with a big grin on his face. "I thought I'd make a suitable entrance" he said. I felt a little deflated not having my stallion with me. Nice one Robin, the day was set to be a good one. James arrived and after a brief chat we wandered down the track to see what the day would bring.

Taken by Robin before his grand entrance!


So talk us through your early days.  

"As a kid I had a Kodak Instamatic 12,6 great little camera which required a small film cassette.. The only way to do nature photography was to find dead animals and photograph those because I couldn’t get close enough to the real ones. My dad buried a badger (local road kill) in the garden once giving it a proper burial and two years later we had a badger skull. The cat usually brought home presents which was always welcome. Of course, back then you sent off your rolls of film, waited three weeks for them to come back and then throw them all in the bin because they were rubbish. Maybe keep one,Not like today when you can shoot a thousand pictures in a day.
Then when I went to college I bought my first SLR which was a Dixon home brand Chinon CM-4 instead of text books and went to the library instead. It only had a 50mm standard lens so still not very good. Then I got really serious after college and got a Pentax ME-Super which was a great camera. Bought lenses for it, graduated and joined the Bristol Photographic Society. That’s when I got into aviation photography doing all the air shows. Five films in my pocket and a 400mm lens, manual focus and no image stabilisation. Those where the days!"


"Come on" he says and leads us to his little set up. He had employed the services of the local amateur dramatics society. Popped down the local Army & Navy store for old cammo gear and brushed off his Blue Peter badge to spray some toilet rolls black and hand them round. Along the track there was a gaggle of birders 'Looking for Beardies' and surprise surprise no one had seen any. The lengths people will go to!

A non Beardie as taken by Robin!

A Kestrel was hunting for some time above the reeds while we were at the board walk. This one by Robin


That was the good old days what about the digital age and why Canon?  

"Well my first was very late in life 2011 after taking a gap year in work and spending it just doing nature photography. I recommend it to anyone and should be looked upon as a positive by employers. I chose Canon after doing some research and they seemed to have the best range of lenses for what I wanted. Although I’m not altogether convinced as a lot of the Nikon guys seem to get consistently better pics than I do with the Canon stuff. Today it’s the 7D and a 300mm lens which does me just fine."

I was pretending to be disappointed as we wandered back and found ourselves at the Tower Hide overlooking the reed beds.

Robin and James survey the scene

"And I had this one published in the Telegraph, which was nice"

As is befitting on such an exciting and high profile day we saw bugger all save for a single female Marsh Harrier.

Andrew's version

Robin's version

We wandered further

 So what’s your favourite bird?  

"I’ll have to say something like a Sparrow hawk. Such beautiful birds that you often see on garden fences. Bit of a killing machine but you have to admire them. They’re not too easy to see but can be seen. I like the allure of spotting one. I must admit to really liking owls of all shapes and sizes. Very charismatic. I always feel for owls in a harsh winter either getting wet in the horrible weather or going hungry. They can’t really go out hunting. The noise from wind and rain on the grass means they can’t hear their prey. However my favourite bird can change as I also like the Cranes. Some people are against the project because we shouldn’t reintroduce something that’s died out however I don’t see the problem in giving them a boost."


Aha!! Success! We had found a willing subject in the form of a Mute Swan having a bit of a preen and merrily splashing around. As I was on 'Interview duty' I left Robin and James to it.

"You see this is how you should hold it James if you want to win an award"
{Disclaimer - Robin would like to make it known and be put on record that he was fully aware the lens hood was still reversed when this picture was taken. He did attach it in its correct position to take the excellent pictures of the Swan illustrated below and herein. So endeth the Disclaimer}

'Oh yes baby thats it yes splash it for me baby the camera loves you. Bit more wing, yes thats it now a little more feather ruffling yeah baby splash it splash it good for me

James' version

Robin's version

Another by Robin


Your thoughts on the politics of nature?  

"We do really benefit with all the organisations around here from the big ones like the RSPB and English Nature through to the regional ones like the Somerset Wildlife Trust down to the really local, local ones. When you look at it they make this fantasist corridor for nature from the WWT Steart all the way up to the Poldons and Mendips. Wildlife reserves in isolation aren’t much use. They all work tirelessly to create environment that’s rich in wildlife. We need them to counterbalance other aspects of the countryside such as farming which, out of necessity, has changed and is no longer this idyllic farmer with a few cows living in harmony with nature. A lot of farmers do leave set aside but it’s a small amount. You can’t turn the clock back and we are where we are. You can never recreate what was and we need to adapt with how it is or will be."


 Unfortunately the fun didn't last as we walked on since we found a dead Heron. It looked in perfect shape except for a bold patch on it's neck. Who knows why it died. Interestingly we debated as to it's age since it seemed very small. Was it a rare pygmy Heron? We wondered aloud for a while. Later we realised it was a standard one just twisted and fallen. Live ones aren't all that big except for height in their neck.

Fox food


 What about those big metal birds?  

"I love aviation. That would be my perfect job photographing planes. In school I wanted to be a fighter pilot. I tried to get into the RAF but my eyesight wasn’t good enough. Now I just go and enjoy it. I used to go all around the country watching a magnificent range of aircraft but now as the armed forces has dwindled the number of air shows has gone down so it’s Yeovilton and occasionally RAF Fairford. There’s something about the Red Arrows which makes then unique. I love watching them down at the coast. I managed, by chance, to see them at Sidmouth and they were fantastic. Life is full of the unexpected."

So things weren't going so well on the birding front. No Ahem Beardies and just a single Marsh Harrier to keep us awake. We'll have a see how the new hide is coming along shall we.

We didn't walk down to it of course


Taken at a secret location


 So is aviation your first love?  

"I wouldn’t say that. I’ve always been fascinated by nature but aviation seems more dynamic. I used to go out for the day to the air shows and it caught my interest. The shows are there and you can go along, where, with nature you have to have more time and a lot more patience. You can go out there and buy the kit but if you don’t understand how the wildlife operates and lives then you’re unlikely to see the wildlife at its best anywhere. But what you can learn is the signs leading to behaviour and sounds. This will help you with things like otters. Little sounds,little signs that teach you they are there and eventually you’ll see them."


We ended up at the bottom hide along London Drove, the horse shoe shaped one you can't get passed in. This is where we settled down for a while and had a good chat and laugh. Robin definitely gets into the EFRS spirit and his humour matches nicely. Just as well since we had to spend most of the day with him!!

As is often the case we all took the same pics so I'll leave it to you to say who's you prefer?



It's all about timing Robin!

The resident Great White Egret

A Grey Heron in a grey sky

Fly-by by Robin

Gadwall Coming at yah! (Robin)

Lots of Gadwall

Bittern landing by Robin

We popped back to the board walk to see if the Beardies had come back. The Am-dram boys had all gone home and all we saw were these darters mating.


And your favourite plane?  

"Concorde no doubts about it. Absolutely ahead of its time. Fantastic! Should have been a world beater. It’s only the politics of Britain and America that destroyed it. Also when the 747 came along and really made transatlantic travel really cheap. So it was too small, too expensive and only had a niche market. Aviation usually goes forwards but it actually went backwards with the retirement of Concorde. I was very disappointed when they had that disaster in France as everyone reassessed it and realised it was too expensive and too risky. If we could have made it so we could all get to America that quickly then it could have been a gold mine. Because travel is good. Travel broadens the mind. You can Skype, you can Google but it’s not the same as actually setting foot in another country, all the people, the cultures, the smells and tastes. You have to be there. You can see all the photographs and TV programmes but until you’ve been there you cannot appreciate the intense cold of Prague in the winter as an example. One of the reasons I love Concorde is because I grew up in Berkshire and the test planes used to come over our primary school. The head teacher just gave up telling me to stop rushing to the window. It was so noisy I couldn’t help going to look. There was nothing else like it. If you went to an air show there were two things that were show shoppers, the Red Arrows the other was either the Vulcan or Concorde. We’ve still got one but lost the other two."

He then started rambling!

"These modern fifth generation jets t are so clever that they can almost spin on their own axis leading to completely different aerobatics than when I were a lad. Those with vector thrust engines are incredible. Lightnings and Hunters used to take off and take half the county to turn around while now aircraft turn on a sixpence so if anything goes wrong its right there in front of you. I think there's more skill today from the pilot than there has ever been. It's very intense. The stresses and strains must be incredible. The pilots eyeballs must be popping out at times. The computerisation is amazing to. So look at cars eventually we will all be in driverless cars. If they were computerised then at traffic lights when they go green you'll get a lot more through because they will all go at once rather than everyone sitting there trying to find the gears, fiddling to the radio, looking around. So come on the days of remote control cars. (I think he meant driverless!) As soon as the lights go green Wham! this train of cars will take off. I'd love to know how long the petrol is going to last. We've been told twenty years since I was a lad."

There's more!!

"Why aren't we all driving around in electric cars? It must be more economical to generate electricity using one big power station than lots of little engines. All that excess heat generated from internal combustion engines is completely wasted. You'd think it's in the car manufacturer’s interest to switch to other energy sources wouldn't you but they're not heading that way. The infrastructure around the car is still set up for fossil fuels. However I did come across some recharging points in the most bizarre places the other day and I thought 'That's really good, that’s just the sort of place you might need one. What a forward thinking council'. There's a trial on the M5 now where they're putting up the prices of fuel in the service stations. What’s the point? It's a complete and utter waist of time. It's a trial to encourage people to shop for the best price but, it’s still way more expensive than anywhere else. What that has told everyone is don't buy your petrol here find somewhere off the motorway. We're always told there are too many signs on motorways anyway. How did we digress from wildlife photography to stupid signs on the M5? …… because ultimately the Human species will destroy this planet for all wildlife and themselves."


Great day with a great guy. Thank you Robin for taking the time especially at the end for the interview over lunch.  If any of you lot don't know about Robins excellent work then he can be found in these locations:


 Any final thoughts? 

"I think it’s the magic of flight. Something about planes and birds that just fascinates me and come on the days of driverless cars! "


So look out for the next 'A day with......' edition. You never know it might be YOU!!!