Saturday, 3 January 2009

Keep your birding reports coming....

For those of you taking part in the bird challenge, please leave a comment on this posting, when you have your tally ready, which also includes my list. If you can do this by noon/early pm tomorrow I'll have a summary up and running by Sunday night.
Yesterday, as I had a day off thought I'd do a bit of birding on the Mendips, then back down to the Somerset Levels. The following set of photos explain why my bird tally for the Mendips was............. a Robin.

It wasn't that cold up there mid morning, the thermometer on the car said minus 3, but freezing fog is a strange beast. It was silent, no bird song, no cars, couldn't really see more than 30 feet. Weirdly like being in a dream, just me and my thoughts in an absolutely stunning landscape.

We've had about 4 days of freezing fog and sub zero daytime temperatures above 200 feet in Somerset and Dorset, apparently in Devon too after a text from a friend on holiday there. Consequently the amount of hoar frost has increased day by day until it now resembles snow.

These photos can never show the full beauty of this weather phenomena. And of course if the sun had come out, all would have been lost. More images can be seen on my Art Blog.

I did see a farmer trudging over a field to feed some sheep, it brought back happy memories of my younger days on the land, remembering that frost is the farmers friend. Why? Well it locks up all that mud for a while and makes life bearable, no getting bogged down in gateways, heifers up to their udders in clarts, it's a blessing. Well apart from having to continually defrost all the water troughs.

But even though this landscape was enchanting, and although the temperatures were only minus 3, spending 2 hours outdoors in this sort of environment (remembering that hoar frost is an air frost), even with my polar Musto on I'd had enough, my fingers had stopped working, the camera was beginning to play up, so I needed warmth.

Which came in the shape of Wells. As I drove off the Mendips, it was like another day, sun was out, no frost of course, but glorious. There'd been a report on the SOS website that Dippers had been seen regularly in the city. After a fruitless search for this bird, I headed off for a wonderfully restorative fish pie in the Cathedral's cafe.

Walking back to the car was like spring around the Bishop's Palace, Black Headed Gulls loafing about, willow in bud burst, had I really been in sub zero temperatures only an hour or two before? So off to the Somerset Levels.

When I got there, it was just beginning to get dark. As the sun set staggering numbers of Starlings flew towards Westhay a rough guess 2 huge flocks of 200,000 + followed by numerous smaller flocks. They didn't seem to be displaying, but as I was about 2 miles away watching an equally impressive but smaller sized Jackdaw roost, they may have been.

But a Peregrine caught my eye, as it flew across a flock of Carrion Crow in a field then perched on a Pylon. Nothing remarkable about that and for 5 minutes nothing happened. A second Peregrine flew past, the one perched flew off and the pair began a cat and mouse chase of singles of Carrion Crow as they flew into a roost. 2 super dives from a height, one splitting 5 Crows in blind panic, and one remarkable "up and under" which almost worked. Sadly after half a dozen failed attempts the Peregrine pair flew off as it was nearly dark by now.

I know Peregrines will take prey as big as Crows, but with the huge numbers of starling about, this seemed hard work to me, but then one Crow would make a good feast. Fantastic behaviour to watch though, especially as this was silhouetted against a wonderful sunset, and a perfect end to a perfect day out in the glorious Wessex countryside.... I'll leave you with that image.


  1. Looks like a real winter wonderland, beautiful shots.


  2. Excellent post, Andrew. Surprisingly, we`ve had no weather like that up North.

  3. Great photos, it's obviously been colder up there than here. We have frost but not as much as that. Those pictures are just lovely.

  4. Reading your post I just got lost in the story - thank you, I was entranced!

    Really atmospheric subjects and pictures too. Just goes to show you don't always need sun to create a great picture.

  5. Hi Snowbabies, good to have you drop by. Thanks.

    Dean, Thanks. It must be a north and south thing reading Boulmer Birders account of Scotland

    Goosey, I was on Eggardon Hill on New Years Eve and it was just as impressive there, but it seemes to be patchy on higher ground. Mind you writing this at 4.30am, just looked out the window, white out there at 10 feet above sea level.

    Tricia, Thanks, mind you if the sun had come out just for a brief moment it would have been stunning

  6. These are wonderful pictures Andrew - I'm sure the visit to the Cathedral Cafe was a welcome one afterwards... it was 3 days off re-opening when I was over in November - hope it's as nice as the old one was!

  7. Ahhahh, Miranda here's your comment...see previous posting, I thought I'd lost it... duhhuhh !

  8. Now you've got me confused?!

    As an aside - can I ask what sort of zoom you have on your camera for all your bird shots as they really are great.

  9. Totals on the blog Andrew - 98 sp.Cheers...

  10. Hi Miranda, I left a message on another post then wondered where your comment about Wells was. don't worry. I'm good at confusing people.

    As for the camera I have a Canon G9 12 meg pixel camera with an integrated 7.5 x optical zoom and a 24 x digital zoom. Digital zooms are prone to pixelate so this has a sophisticated anti pixelation piece of software in it, quite impressive as most of my photos are hand held at 24 x digital zoom, once taken about a second later the image reforms itself without any blur (unless of course the operator is shaking, which often happens). It's also fabulous for macro work and can work in full manual mode so camera F stops and speed are fully adjustable if need be. They're not cheep for compacts, about £300, but a G10 is now out which isn't quite as good but is dropping the price a bit.

    It'll never be as good as a digital SLR, but comes pretty close, and one can keep it in the pocket.

  11. Thanks Andrew - that's really helpful as always - I think it's the somewhat lack of digital zoom on mine that doesn't help - it's only 2x but the optical zoom is 10.7x and 28-300mm Lens - unfortunately it's non-removable so will have to do a bit of saving up! :-(