Saturday, 13 December 2008

Level best birding

By rights, I should be Christmas shopping but this last week has been a bit frantic. Last evening I was at the BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year 08 preview, presented by Miranda Krestovnikoff, who I'm old enough to remember as a junior researcher in the NHU. I'm not sure I agree, and many a debate was under way, with the Winning photo, a Snow Leopard, which was caught by remote camera. My joint favourites were a truly spectacular shot of a Black Grouse backlit, and just a hint of steam from it's mouth by Bence Máté and Snow Swans by Yongkang Zhu. But all the photos were stunning (unlike that which follows in this posting), so if you wish to have a peek, click here.

Anyway this morning I thought, steady on Border Reiver my old son, you need some fresh air. Blow the cobwebs off, so even though it was wet and dull, on with the galoshes and away to the Somerset Levels......

This was my first stop at Mark Moor. If you notice there is a footpath sign pointing to the rhyne, I'm not sure I'd wish to walk that way. The birding began on the journey down, Little Egret, Kestrel, Black Headed and Herring Gull by the motorway, plus a lot of Starling activity.

The opposite rhyne was being patrolled by a Grey Heron and a couple of Mute Swans with Glastonbury Tor in the distance. This was quite a good spot, Robin, Wren, Song Thrush, Blackbird, Blue, Great and Long-Tailed Tit, plus Stonechat were constantly about. A little further off 38 Swans were in a field, some Mallard, and 3 Meadow Pipit.

My original intention today was to go to Catcott Reserve, but I seemed destined to stay here. While driving along a drove road, this male Stonechat flew in front of the car and resulted in this poor photo. However while trying to photo this bird from the car, a Goldcrest landed on a branch inches from my wing mirror... sadly it was off before a photo was possible, though I did see it again 3 or 4 more times.

And so on to Tealham Moor, which is actually wet grassland.

This Carrion Crow was setting up it's cheek to the swan but both finally accepted their presence and they parted friends. While I was watching this performance, a familiar call alerted me to a passing Raven. I'm a happy bunny now I've got my Raven in the log for the day. Some Wigeon and Mallard were in the main Drain, more Grey Heron (7 in total today), couplet of Moorhen, and Meadow Pipit, more assorted gulls made me realise I'd walked a long way. So it was a long way back to the car.

At the far end of the Moor, I noticed a huge flock of Lapwing from the car. Luckily here, unlike some other parts of the UK, Lapwing numbers are holding up. I stopped to get the scope out, as sometimes Golden Plover are mixed in the flock, not today though.

I was just getting the scope out when the whole flock rose together, which can mean only one thing, Bird of Prey, and more likely a Peregrine. But where was it? I was in a quandary, the Lapwing were doing spectacular flocking maneuvers, but I needed to look elsewhere, so a few record shots of the flocking birds, then a 360 scan with the bins. There it was, 100 feet away behind me, coming in low like the clappers in front of the car, more like a Merlin hit and run chase, but then it rose up, the flock split, pandemonium followed, but my witnessing a kill wasn't to be.

So the Perry landed on a tree to watch and wait, the Lapwings left. What was unusual was this Perry was calling continuously, a very strange cackling call they sometimes do.

Keeping quiet and out of the way were a pair of Buzzards, wondering what the fuss was all about. It was while watching the Peregrine that the mobile went off, Stephen Moss inviting me for coffee, as he lives just a few miles away. While chatting to him a woman on a bicycle came into view and stopped for a chat. It turned out this was Alison Everett, a fellow member of the Somerset Ornithological Society, known as the SOS. We'd never met before, but we both knew of each other from the wonderfully names SOS Message Board!! It's a funny old world birding. Middle of nowhere and you meet someone you know, even if just by name.

Anyway just because I like it, this is an arty photo of the tree the Peregrine was in, the Lapwings were to the left. I think that field needs draining !! While talking to Alison Everett, I spied in a very distant tree a weird "black shape", which is in the tree, middle of the below picture at the end of the rhyne going bottom left to horizon.

This turned out to be a Buzzard, but weirdly it was perched with it's wings outstretched, much as a Cormorant does to theromregulate. Very odd given the cool temperature. What was also odd was it stayed like this for at least half an hour. Testing my zoom lens on the camera, especially as it was being hand held, to the limit, the following 2 photos show what I mean.

I've never seen anything like this before and when I popped in for that coffee at Stephen's, he wasn't sure either what was happening, but agreed it was odd behaviour for a Buzzard. Mind you we didn't have much time to talk, Stephen had been left babysitting for a few days while Mrs Stephen enjoyed herself with friends. 3 children under 5 can destroy a house when their mother is away overnight, Stephen was doing his best to control the melee, but I know who was winning. I never knew scrambled egg could stick to a forehead before!! Great fun though.

But time to go, and the drive back also produced a few nice moments.

These Mute Swans with the Mendips in the background were a pleasant discovery, while these Starlings being lifted by yet another Buzzard, provided a very atmospheric view.

And finally a view of Brent Knoll. For 3 and a half years I lived at the foot of this volcanic outlier next the the M5. From there are stunning views across the whole area, plus it's a great place for wildlife. I still miss not living there. But a great morning, and now, back to the Christmas toil....


  1. Well - what a wonderful day out you've had BR. Having been incarcerated all day (pouring rain and still coping with the effects of unwanted wildlife)it was great to get out and about(through your blog) after all and - a day which I thoroughly enjoyed.

    So my thanks BR :D

    (Oh to take pictures like those of the competition entrants - sigh!) I shall be going to see it in due time.

  2. oooh I do like the "arty" picture and the last one puts me in a mood of contemplation for some reason...very nice.