Thursday, September 11, 2014

Swallows and Martins, Sparrowhawk and Chiffchaff!

One of the advantages of my job working on the roads is that I am regularly somewhere out in the Somerset countryside! Yesterday, the 10th September, I was working near the Quantock Hills at Fiddington, near Nether Stowey. It was a lovely day, and aside from playing with the traffic, I was aware of groups of Hirundines (Swallows and Martins!) on the overhead wires near a farm beside the road. During late Summer these birds regularly gather on cables and wires, often in small family groups, but sometimes in their 100s! They are preparing for their huge exhausting migration to Southern Africa, which still baffles and amazes me to this day, being such small and delicate looking birds!
 Once my job had finished I took my dinner break and grabbed my camera to try and get some shots of these beautiful birds. Ordinarily, they are a nightmare to photograph in flight, they are so quick and small and they can twist and turn unexpectedly, making them extremely difficult to focus on! However, I hoped to take advantage of them coming into land on the wires, and I managed some pictures I was pleased with!
  There was also a family group of Pied Wagtails on the nearby farm building, and they were fiestier birds than I had previously given them credit for! A few times I saw one chasing a Housemartin, not for a brief couple of seconds either, but for almost a whole minute, round and round!! When a Sparrowhawk circled low overhead, the Pied Wagtails even joined the Hirundines to mob it, calling loudly to warn other birds of it's prescence!
  I also watched a Chiffchaff on a garden wall, a tiny Warbler, and at one stage it tried to join the Swallows on the wires, but got chased off or spooked by one of the Swallows, and decided against it!
 There were also a family group of House Sparrows, always a lovely thing to see, especially now they are sadly a fast declining species in the UK.
  All in all, a great addition to my working day, and a much better way of spending my dinner break than reading yet more depressing news in  a newspaper, as I would normally do!

Below are some of the pictures I took;

^^ Above ^^ - Housemartins

^^Above^^ - Sandmartin

^^Above^^ - Swallows

^^Above^^ - Record shots of a Pied Wagtail chasing a Housemartin!

^^Above^^ - Passing Sparrowhawk with accompanying Pied Wagtails and Hirundines

^^Above^^ - A young Goldfinch, yet to get it's distinctive red face!

^^Above^^ - tiny Chiffchaff on a wall.

^^Above^^ - The Chiffchaff approaches the Swallows (top) but is frightened off! (Bottom)

^^Above^^ - Male House Sparrow

^^Above^^ - Hose Sparrow, landing Housemartin and a young Swallow.

^^Above^^ - 'You're not landing here', a young Swallow seems to be telling a Housemartin!

^^Above^^ - The difference between a Housemartin (Left) and a Swallow.

^^Above^^ - Swallows and Housemartins gathering on the overhead wires.

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