Friday, August 15, 2014

Ravens and Butterflies at Wavering Down.

I took the week off work with the intention of going out and about daily with my family! Just my luck that our hot Summer decided to take a holiday at exactly the same time, sending rain and storms in it's place!
   Yesterday a storm sent hail hurtling onto our garden gazebo, almost bringing it down. The kids trampoline looked like a ball pool, a very icy one!
   I had managed to get out on Wednesday, between the showers, and went up Cothelsone Hill on the beautiful Quantocks. I was rewarded with a view of a beautiful male Redstart in a bush on the open hilltops. Only the 4th time I'd ever seen this gorgeous Summer visiter!
   This morning was quite bright and much more promising. My family and I had breakfast then headed to the Mendip Hills near Winscombe.
  We walked through woodland, where we saw and heard Nuthatches, to the hilltops of Cross Plain, where Cows and their Calves roamed freely, along with Sheep and Horses!
  There wasn't a great number of birds, the most common and numerous easily being the Meadow Pipits, an upland speciality! A few Buzzards soared overhead, there were a couple of Kestrels, a noisy Wren and some Crows and Magpies dotted about.
   We walked right along the hill and up on to Wavering Down. On the way we saw Stonechats and a Whitethroat, as well as a solitary Song Thrush.
  Around the scrubby areas of Heather and Gorse were some delightful little Butterflies, Including Skippers, Common Blue and Brown Argus. Further up on open tops were Small Tortoishell Butterflies and Wall Brown Butterflies.
  In this area I encountered another upland speciality. The Raven! It was the call overhead I heard first, a distinctive low deep 'croak' that is nothing like the Caw of the very similar but smaller Carrion Crow. 2 Ravens were having a half hearted attempt at bothering a couple of passing Buzzards. They soon tired of this and instead flew lower and used the thermals alonside the Northern edge of the hill to twist and tumble and chase each other, seemingly simply for the fun of it! They are masters of the sky! The most I saw at any one time was 4, and this area of the Mendip Hills is one of the best areas to see them in Somerset, although they occur all over, increasingly on lower land too!
   The views from Wavering Down are stunning! 360 degree panoramas taking in landmarks such as Cheddar Reservoir, Glastonbury Tor, Crook Peak, Brent Knoll, The Quantock Hills and Exmoor and the Bristol Channel and Wales!
  A fabulous walk in great weather! The joyous Ravens being the highlight! :-)

^Above ^ - Male Redstart at Cothelstone Hill 

^Above^ - Ravens enjoying the sky!

^Above^ - Song Thrush

^Above^ - Female Stonechat

^Above^ - Wren making a getaway!

^Above^ - Meadow Pipits

^Above^ - 2 of the Calves, being hassled by flies, poor things!

^Above^ - Curious Sheep!

^Above^ - Common Blue Butterfly

^Above^ - Brown Argus Butterfly

^Above^ - Skipper Butterfly

^Above^ - Treble Bar Moth!

^Above^ - Heather and Gorse

^Above^ - The view to Brent Knoll

^Above^ - Looking towards Crook Peak and the Bristol Channel

^Above^ - Stone Wall at Wavering Down

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Brilliant birds at Shapwick Heath and RSPB Ham Wall.

Yesterday I spent a wonderful  4 hours at the neighbouring nature reserves Shapwick Heath and RSPB Ham Wall. It was a very overcast day and the light was terrible for photography, but it didn't stop me snapping away anyway! I mostly got only record shots thanks to the low light, but the birds were stellar!
   My partner Nick, my 3 young daughters and I left Shapwicks car park and headed up the track towards the Meare Heath hide to start with. We were disappointed that a Black winged Stilt wasn't still present as that was the main reason we'd ventured out, but in the end we wouldn't have swapped any of the birds we were to see for a view of the Stilt!
  There were a few Whitethroats  dotted about, plus Reed Buntings and Reed Warblers, the latter singing from deep in the reeds and occasionally giving very brief views. On the lagoon opposite the track were a group of Black tailed Godwits, numbering about 20 birds.
   We walked over the foot bridge to the Meare Heath hide and spent about 20 minutes inside. Greylag Geese flew over, along with a couple of Herons and Cormorants. Even better were a couple of Great White Egrets, which have become very regular sights at these 2 reserves. Probably the best places in the Country to see these rare white Herons!
  Finally what we were hoping for made an appearance..... rising up from the reed bed to the left and flying to the right and out of view......a Bittern!! We had heard their 'booming' during our journey from the car park to the hide, but for us all to get a great view of one in flight was fantastic!
    After leaving the hide we were about to return to the car park when my other half spotted a Marsh Harrier flying over the reeds further up the track! We walked speedily past the trees and I managed to get a few distant pics. While we were stood here, alongside Noah's lake, a Hobby flew over! Next, we heard a calling Cuckoo. One flew out of the woodland at Meare Heath and landed on a dead tree in the reed bed, then another came from the other direction and landed in the same tree!! The first time I'd ever seen 2 cuckoos! One seemed to be displaying to the other, before they both dropped from view. Fabulous!
  Then a Jay flew across Noah's towards it's hide. A minute later and 2 Great Spotted Woodpeckers flew past us only a few feet away! This seemed to be a great spot for birding! I saw a Willow Warbler in the hedge, heard and briefly saw a Cetti's and a Reed Warbler, saw a Buzzard overhead and another Marsh Harrier, carrying some prey item. Swifts were shooting back and forwards across the track, so close to us you could hear the swoosh!! A couple of Sand Martins were amongst them.
    After a while we returned to the car, grabbed some refreshments for the kids (sweets!), then crossed the road to walk to RSPB Ham Wall.
  At the first viewing platform we saw another Marsh Harrier, which dropped into the reeds and disappeared from view. We then crossed the track to the hides overlooking the reeds and open water. Here we saw 2 Common Terns, which spent some time perched on the islands and some time flying around noisily, at one stage one dived into the water at great speed but didn't seem to emerge with a catch. There were also a family of Great Crested Grebes, a pair of Mute Swans with cygnets, Mallard, Gadwall and Pochard.
    Very luckily a Bittern flew up right in front of the new hide and I managed probably my best shot of the afternoon!
  A family of Blackcaps and Blue Tits were feeding in the bushes and again I was lucky when a Kingfisher landed within a few feet of me! Unfortunately twigs and leaves blocked a clear shot. Just before leaving, as the light was fading even more, a Cetti's Warbler landed in front of me in full view and belted out it's explosive song!
  A quick look from the first viewing platform again was rewarded by a view of a hunting Barn Owl over the back of the reserve! On the walk back to the car yet another Bittern flew up over the reeds!
 A fabulous, exciting day offering a glimpse of the special nature that abounds in this wondeful part of the Somerset Levels!

Below are some pics from the afternoon;

^^ Above ^^ - Bitterns

^^ Above ^^ - Whitethroat with lunch!

^^ Above ^^ - Singing Blackbird in a dead tree.

^^ Above ^^ - Heron

^^ Above ^^ - Cuckoos

^^ Above ^^ - Black Tailed Godwits

^^ Above ^^ - Hobby

^^ Above ^^ - Great Spotted Woodpecker

^^ Above ^^ - Great White Egret

^^ Above ^^ - Marsh Harrier

^^ Above ^^ - Male Blackcap

^^ Above ^^ - Cormorant

^^ Above ^^ - Common Terns

^^ Above ^^ - Kingfisher

^^ Above ^^ - Mute Swans

^^ Above ^^ - Great Crested Grebes

^^ Above ^^ - Cetti's Warbler

^^ Above ^^ - Distant hunting Barn Owl

^^ Above ^^ - Unrelated....a picture from my garden this morning, a baby Blue Tit asking to be fed by a parent.