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.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Sand Martins, Marsh Harrier and sunsets!

Yesterday afternoon I popped into Westhay Moor National Nature Reserve on the Somerset Levels. I'd only visited once before despite it being close to where I live, I tend to visit RSPB Greylake or RSPB  Ham Wall if I have the time instead as they are slightly closer and easier to get to.
    The first thing I noticed were the many Sand Martins feeding and calling as they flew above the reedbeds. These birds are fast.... and I mean fast!! Still, I like a challenge, so grabbed my camera in the hope of catching one in flight! I had a very frustrating hour, trying to focus on these little blighters is an incredibly difficult task, not helped by their unpredictable flight patterns as they twist and turn in the air!
  I managed a few passable attempts, plus one pretty sharp capture I was particularly pleased with. Made all the effort and frustration worthwhile!
   Amongst the Sand Martins was one House Martin, my first of the year!
  Summer visiting Reed Warblers sang deep in the reedbeds, also my first of the year! I didn't actually see them though, despite trying, let alone get any pictures! My failure also extended to photographing the Cetti's Warblers that were dotted about the reserve, their loud explosive call prompting me to stop and search the vegetation where they were coming from, I had a couple of brief glimpses of these at least though.
    Nature photography can be so frustrating! However, it can also be so rewarding! It wouldn't be so fun and addictive if it was easy!!
  Yet more frustration came when a beautiful Male Marsh Harrier flew over the reeds and across the track I'd been walking down. Frustrating because the bird was between me and the sun and the pictures I managed were almost silhouetted as well as being quite distant! Still, as a nature moment, it was wonderful to see! Not long ago Marsh Harriers were an extremely rare bird, confined to the Norfolk Broads, now though they are a regular sight on the Somerset nature reserves, but always exciting to see!
  The Sand Martins weren't so pleased to see him though and mobbed him mercilessly, as they did a Kestrel that was hover hunting at the edge of the reserve.
  A very pleasant couple of hours in lovely Easter weather!
On the way home I couldn't resist taking some pictures of some Lambs I saw in a field next to the road in Shapwick.

A couple of days earlier I stopped at RSPB Greylake to get some sunset pictures. Sunsets are lovely here!

Below are some of the pics from Westhay and some of my sunset shots from Greylake;

^^Above ^^ - My favourite Sand Martin shot!

^^ Above ^^ - Passable Sand Martin shots!

^^ Above ^^ - Male Marsh Harrier

^^ Above ^^ - Kestrel, the top picture shows some of the Sand Martins harrassing the Kestrel.

^^ Above ^^ - Heron

^^ Above ^^ - Greylag Geese

^^ Above ^^ - Westhay scenes

^^ Above ^^ - Lambs

^^ Above ^^ - Greylake sunset.