A Great White Christmas


Christmas.  A time of year I rather enjoy.  Its a great excuse to eat loads and drink even more.  Of course such wanton excess causes hangovers and an increased waistline capacity.

The ideal cure is of course a stroll round the classic EFRS haunt of Ham Wall.  This morning it was doing its best to be a backdrop for some cheesy horror film with thick mist hanging in the air and Water Rails squealing like victims of Jason Vorhees.

I met up with Andrew at VP1 (late, as I had to get the ice off my windscreen using an assortment of credit cards, my sleeve and a kettle).

Andrew - Before James arrived I just managed to get the last of the Starlings!

The fog was hampering chances of seeing anything but I kind of liked the atmosphere.  We always worry too much about getting the perfect shot of a bird, bemoaning the lack of light or whatever but over recent months I have become much less concerned by this and enjoy taking photo's even when the weather is bad.  It gives a slightly different feel to things.  

I dont care if I cant quite see a Blue Tits upper primaries in ultra resolution, HD, 4K ness.  Just to be there are getting a picture is fine for me.  Simply enjoying the moment.

After seeing very little we wandered around Waltons.  Plenty of birds were gathering on the lake.

Cormorant contrasting with Little Egret

Grey heron in the gloom
Crow looking sinister

After a bitof a trudge and a chat we headed to VP2.  Here we found some good stuff.  Behind us were 6 big Egrets.  It may not have snowed the Christmas but there was plenty of white stuff here!

I chased the Great Whites around for a bit, until my hands started to freeze.  At which point I gave up.  But not before getting a couple of misty pictures.

Our final destination was the new hide (tower?).  Here I got to see the dismembered bits of bird and a lot of bird s---.  Whoever uses this place probably needs to get some pro biotics to sort themselves out.

Luckily there were a few ducks milling about.  A shoveller drifted in quite close along with some smart Gadwalls.

Through the fog a Marsh harrier flew lazily by.  By this point we were both feeling the cold a bit and headed back to VP1.  Here we were joined by a most friendly Robin.  Andrew was keen to get it to land on his mitten.  Fortunately I had some left over Wotsits.  A slight sprinkle and Andrew stood with arm outstretched.  The Robin wasn’t having any of it and simply hopped passed him…

The Robin!

Bit like a Robin.  Stonechat.

Not giving up Andrew thought he would try again.  Rather amusingly our clever little friend and positioned himself behind Andrew, who was somewhat startled when he turned round to see the little chap staring at him intently.  If Andrew was a worm he would have been snaffled in moments.

Anyway the whole experience of the sneaky Robin put him off doing any more feeding.

Despite the fog and cold it has been a good morning.  Most importantly we did get our Great White Christmas.


All the trimmings


(No turkey here sorry)

I had a call out of the blue from good old dear Mr Riley. Not sure if it was a 'I'm still alive by the way' sort of call or not but non the less he was and we made a date for a wander round Shapwick etc. He was parking on the verge at the far end of Shapwick since he had 'lost' his RSPB membership card (Member for 40 odd years my arse!). I on the other hand being a fine upstanding fully payed up and more to the point card carrying member of almost a full year now was parking in the executive designated area with tea and coffee facilities.
We agreed (I told him) to meet at the old gypsy caravan (Tower Hide) by the scrape at Shapwick. How difficult could that be! Just keep walking, no diversions just keep walk straight as a railway line..... literally! I still got a phone call for directions and he was on the path!! He's been there hundreds of times. I could see him coming for half a mile. Standing there on the platform beneath the hide in full view. It's a bloody great wooden hide on stilts that you walk within feet of. Still I watched him and he walked closer and closer. I got my hand ready to shake his and ................... he walked straight passed! I mean I was within feet of him on a platform beneath a huge shed on legs! I just watched. He walked passed me like it was a public convenience he looked neither left nor right. He appeared to have taken my instructions of 'just keep walking' a little too literally. It was hilarious I with I had video'd it. A large 'AHEM' should do it. Nope he was still strolling along. 'DAVID' did the trick and he wheeled round in startled amazement at the monolith and accompanying human.

We got on with the day.

We stayed at the Scrape for a while with nothing to show. The views over the back were wonderful. It was a true golden day one of those perfect days with cold crisp frost still glistening in the shadows, pale blue sky with only a hint of wispy cloud and a stillness in the cold. Perfect. Leaving aside the Bittern that flew briefly before David arrived there was nothing of interest so we moved on to somewhere the EFRS rarely venture, Noahs Hide.

View from the hide over Noahs Lake

We had much debate on this ID but it is a Pintail

In total we had three Kingfishers. This one stayed with the occasional fishing dive for our entire stay

His other position

Probably his mate who went further in but he didn't seem bothered.

Getting in on the act was a rather nice Grey Heron

Bittern coming in

We discussed how often you see Water Rails and when we last saw one. It was in fact last year when we had last been out together and I had spotted it. David has been eternally grateful ever since. So what should wander out of the reeds in front of the hide and who should spot it? 

I suppose I'll have to be eternally grateful

And a bonus Moorhen (Which you don't see very often these days.)

The lake had quite a good showing of mostly Wigeon with a few others of the usual thrown in such as Gadwall and Pintail but other years have seen more. Is it too warm? It certainly isn't too early. Reports have stated that migration time has increased by over three weeks since the sixties. Are they going further north? Or am I getting it all wrong and the rest will be here next week. 

Another guy getting in on the act was this Cormorant popping in and having a good swim for fish along with the Grey Heron and three Kingfishers. Not a time to be a sprat!

They always look like they've just come out of an oil slick. That black water doesn't help either

Bittern going out

Time to move on. David hadn't seen the new Avalon Hide at Hamwall so he was in for a treat. Last time the EFRS we're there it had distinct signs of habitation of the feathered kind in the form of lots of droppings and we're not talking reed buntings. This time it was a bit of a butchers shop with wings and feathers and bits of bird everywhere. A small sign stated that it was from one of the local Barn Owls using it as a midnight feeding station. David pointed out that he was surprised at that since Barn Owls tend to catch small mammals and was more likely to be a Tawny Owl. I'm going for David to be honest.

Anyway we settled down and got cracking. We we would have if there was anything to get our teeth into. Highlight was a family of three Marsh Harriers Male, Female and what looked like a juvenile Male were far off at the back. The Juvenile settled down on a bush which I've often seen them in while the female wandered around mostly trying to get it to fly up again. Lazy teenagers I suppose. The disapeared probably down the pub with his mates leaving mother to deal with junior.

David was getting agitated. To be honest I was to. There were far too many people for our liking. The answer was to take a lovely wander around the Walton Heath trail. Often overlooked by the casual visitor this is a beauty of an area with long wide swaths of mirrored waters between the golden reeds. Worth the extra while to wander.

Gadwall in the shimmering waters

Black Headed Gull just for good measure

As we returned parallel to the main track I saw a Cormorant gliding in as they do. But wait this one looked a little different. As it landed I knew what it was. One of the Glossy Ibis that seem to have decided to make Hamwall their home. I moved closer and managed to get the best shots I've got so far.

And with that it was off

So will we be hearing the patter of tiny Ibis feet next year? Fingers crossed.

It was an excellent day with a far too infrequent companion. I didn't have high hopes but things turned out pretty good in the end. A veritable feast of feathered stuff. You could say we had it with all the trimmings. You'll be seeing more of David next year I promise.



A cuppa solves all your problems


Ah go on! I thought as I pondered locations for today. We had done Catcott but there was a strong temptation to see if the Hen Harrier was still about. Reports on the SOS had it taking a Teal. Could the EFRS have similar luck? I doubt it but I went anyway. James had about an hour to kill and popped along as well.

The sun was shining lovely in Glastonbury as I started to pack my bag. Unfortunately by the time I had finished the fog had descended and now had the town well and truly shrouded. I headed out all the same and was soon out of the midst of the mist back into the wonderful winters sun. I really love this sort of weather it reminds me of my walking days in cold dry sunshine up snow clad Cnicht.

I was in luck! The mist was gone as I gazed out over the Lows of Catcott. The waters were high and the ducks a'plenty. No Hen Harrier though. I watched out while listening to the wonderful varied sounds the ducks make. Whistles, rasps, cackles and the occasional sarcastic Sid James laugh. But this was short lived I;m afraid. Things were a brewing in the distance and sure as duck eggs are duck eggs the misty wall ominously galloped towards me. Within a few minutes all was gone

Here it comes

One good thing was this Fogbow or White Rainbow caused by the sun refracting through the fog just as it does rain.

It was of course the perfect cue for James to roll up complete with his new Ninja-esk snood. We could just about get some things that were within a hundred foot but after that it was useless. It didn't get any better and after an hour or so James had to shoot off to a Panto. I think he's doing Mother Goose this year! I stuck it out for a bit longer and enjoyed the stillness. Even I had to give up the ghost and decided to do what any blue blooded Englishman would do and go and have a cup of tea. Plan was to head over to Greylake after anyway.

As of Midday

A quick stop at Eco-friendly bites to refuel with a cuppa and a mince pie....... ok two mince pies. I had changed my mind and headed back to Catcott for round two. I wasn't giving up on that Hen Harrier. Luck was with me, well sort of.

As of 1pm

So we can now crack on with the birds.

Distant Black Headed Gull looking very out of synch

This chap was very accommodating throughout the day as you will see

I'm going to go out on a limb and say this is a Water Pipit. What do you think?
(I appear to have lost a leg as this is a Meadow Pipit - never mind)

Wigeon in a rush

They all went up when this Buzzard went off to his favourite roost

It was a slow day so here's a 1st year Herring Gull

and a Lapwing

Angry Wigeon

Look at them all!

Wigeon again. Hey there were a lot of them and the Pintails were a long way away in the mist. Ha!

Incoming Male Shoveler

More Lapwing

Mrs Shoveler

Hurray a Teal

And in the distance a nice little flock of Black Tailed Godwits

And now for a small selection of that Pied Wagtail in the mud

Wigeon in flight

The finale was a Great White Egret which decided to come a bit closer. As with the Wagtail the water was perfect for reflections

It turned out alright in the end. I did keep dreaming of Hen Harriers all that time but never mind. You see if your in a pickle all you have to do is have a nice cup of tea and all will be right with the world again. Ah go on!

James: Meanwhile I buggered off home.  Through the mirk and fog a single Buzzard sat happily on a post.  Rather annoyingly a car was right up  behind me, So it was a quick picture.

Buzzard in the fog - my only contribution to this post...